Fixing the First Page Feature #21

Photo credit: frangrit on Flickr
We have nearly reached April! Which is the month I graduate college, which is really weird but also awesome. Hard to believe how quickly this year is flying by. :)

But anyway! End of the month means the next Fixing the First Page feature has finally arrived!

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.

Let's do this thing.


Genre/Category: YA Fantasy

First 250:

"If the wind hadn’t blown her poster for History out of her hands and into Jake Hyland’s, Amanda Walker would never have started talking to him. If she never would have started talking to him, she would be on her way home instead of watching her bus pull away as Jake talked her ear off. The only good part about this arrangement was Sam Jude, who was gorgeous, mute, and standing right behind Jake. 
'So, do you want to come with us?' Jake finished, completing the look with teenage boy puppy-dog eyes. Amanda blinked. 
'Sorry, what were you saying?' 
Jake let out an awkward laugh and rubbed the back of his neck, but he didn’t back off. He just bared his teeth in a smile as awkward as his laugh and started over. 
'Me and Jude are going to go check out the old house – you know, the one out on the highway? And, uh, I was wondering if you wanted to come with?' Jake asked. Amanda glanced at Sam, who was looking behind her. 'I mean, you don’t have to.' 
'How are we getting there?' Amanda asked. She didn’t really want to go, but her bus had already left and she didn’t want to walk home. On the plus side, she’d be with Sam, even though Jake would probably be vying for her attention the whole time. 
Sam held up a driver’s license. Jake looked between her and it, grinning. Amanda wondered if he was ever going to give her poster back."

Okay, so, interesting start. I'm getting the sense something is going to happen at the old house they check out, though I'm already wondering if it'd be better to start even closer—like as they arrive at the house, or start to check the house out. This lead up functions well enough, but it doesn't feel to me, at this point, like it's absolutely vital for the readers to see this scene play out (though, of course, it's totally possible something happens on the next page that does make it vital, but I can only judge based off this single page).

So that's what I'm thinking so far. Let's move on to the in-line critique for a second look.

"If the wind hadn’t blown her poster for History out of her hands and into Jake Hyland’s, Amanda Walker would never have started talking to him. If she never would have started talking to him, she would be on her way home instead of watching her bus pull away as Jake talked her ear off. The only good part about this arrangement was Sam Jude, who was gorgeous, mute Rather than telling readers Sam is gorgeous and mute (and do you mean disabled mute or just not speaking right now?), I think it'd be much stronger if we saw it ourselves with a brief description (not necessarily right now) and some action from Sam, and standing right behind Jake. While I understand stylistically how the "if the" structure openings can sometimes work (and they sometimes do!) the conclusion of this paragraph doesn't feel interesting enough to me for this kind of opening to be absolutely vital. Starting with exposition is pretty tricky, and in this case, I'm not feeling that it's really doing this particular story any favors. I think this could be interesting if moved later in the narrative—maybe it's something Amanda could think about later on?—but I'm thinking starting later in the story and with less exposition would probably be more powerful.
'So, do you want to come with us?' Jake finished, completing the look with teenage boy puppy-dog eyes. Amanda blinked. 
'Sorry, what were you saying?' This, to me, just reads as you, the author trying to subtly slide in the exposition, as if Amanda were thinking everything in that first paragraph and wasn't paying attention. But the way the first paragraph is written, I didn't get the sense that it was coming from Amanda. If that's what you're going for, I'd work on trying to make her voice clearer in that intro.
Jake let out an awkward laugh and rubbed the back of his neck, but he didn’t back off. He just bared his teeth in a smile as awkward as his laugh Love this! But you have two "awkward"s in two sentences—see if you can reword one? Perhaps you could describe his awkward laugh in the first sentence instead of saying it's awkward? and started over. 
'Me and Jude are going to go check out the old house – you know, the one out on the highway?. I recommend these cuts because the "you know" makes this "As you know, Bob" dialogue. Super easy fix with the suggested cuts, though. :) And, uh, I was wondering if you wanted to come with?' Jake asked. 
*Suggested new paragraph. Amanda glanced at Sam, who was looking behind her. 
*Suggested new paragraph. 'I mean, you don’t have to.' 
'How are we getting there?' Amanda asked. She didn’t really want to go, but her bus had already left and she didn’t want to walk [this could be a good place to insert the detail of how long the walk would be, for verisimilitude] home. On the plus side, she’d be with Sam, even though Jake would probably be vying for her attention the whole time. 
Sam held up a his driver’s license At least, I'm assuming it's his driver's license? Otherwise technically it could be read like he planned to use someone else's driver's license. Jake looked between her and it, grinneding Suggesting this change because the original read a little awkward to me. Amanda wondered (Filter phrase alert! I recommend rewriting without "wondered.") if he was ever going to give her poster back."

Now that I've read this twice, I'm feeling more like starting later, like as they arrive at the house, or start checking it out, may be a good idea as long as nothing essential happens before then. The looking back opening, if that's what you're going for, doesn't feel *quite* strong enough for me to justify this scene, and I suspect that all the character intro stuff could be slipped in equally well in a later scene. I am intrigued, however, by where this is going though, and if I saw this in the slush I'd probably skip ahead to the scene where they arrive at the house to see how it plays out.

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

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

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks starting in the right place and opening exposition in the 21st Fixing the First Page critique. (Click to tweet)

YA Scavenger Hunt!

Welcome to YA Scavenger Hunt! This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors...and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize—one lucky winner will receive one book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for a short time!

Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are nine contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the BLUE TEAM—but there is also a red team, an orange team, a gold team, a green team, a teal team, a purple team, and a pink team for a chance to win a whole different set of books! You can see the complete lists of authors for each team here.
If you'd like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.


  • Directions: Below, you'll notice that I've hidden my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the blue team, and then add them up (don't worry, you can use a calculator!).

  • Entry Form: Once you've added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

  • Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian's permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by Sunday, April 3 at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.


Today, I'm hosting Sara B. Larson on Writability for the YA Scavenger Hunt!

Sara B. Larson is the author of the acclaimed YA fantasy DEFY series, and the forthcoming DARK BREAKS THE DAWN. She can’t remember a time when she didn’t write books—although she now uses a computer instead of a Little Mermaid notebook. Sara lives in Utah with her husband and their three children. She writes in brief snippets throughout the day (while mourning the demise of naptime) and the quiet hours when most people are sleeping. Her husband claims she should have a degree in “the art of multitasking.” When she’s not mothering or writing, you can often find her at the gym repenting for her sugar addiction.

She’s online at, her blog, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!

There are at least 13 reasons to be excited about this scavenger hunt, including an exclusive look at the first part of a wedding scene for Damian and Alexa from the DEFY series! 

The Wedding

The sun had just begun to set, turning the room golden and amber, when the far doors opened. My breath caught in my chest. The massive hall was filled with people—Antionese and Blevonese, and even a few Dansiians. Before I could catch a glimpse of her, they all rose and turned to face their future queen, blocking Alexa from my sight as she entered the room. Thousands of flowers tinged the air with their perfume and decorated the walls and pews in riotous bunches of color. But I only had eyes for my bride, as I waited for her to turn the corner and begin the procession down the aisle to where I waited.

Alexa had wanted a small wedding, a traditional Antionese ceremony where the bride and groom entered the room simultaneously and knelt to make their vows before their closest family and friends, but Lisbet had convinced us both that this grand affair was needed after the pain and horrors of King Hector and King Armando’s reigns of terror. The people needed to see their king and future queen wed—they needed to witness the dawning of a new hope. Alexa had readily agreed to it after that, even insisting that her dress be the color of dawn—symbolizing the start of a new day—and our new life together.

Just when I had nearly decided to command everyone to sit or to start running down the aisle myself to reach her, Alexa finally stepped onto the white fabric that ran the length of the Great Hall. Whatever air I had remaining left my lungs. She was absolutely radiant as her eyes lifted to meet mine. My heart was like a drum, pounding against my ribs as she began to slowly walk toward where I stood, waiting for her.

Her dark hair was curled but hung loose down her back, a thin coronet of white, amber, burnt orange, and yellow flowers encircled her head, a matching bouquet in her hands. Her dress was simple and elegant, a pale yellow silk that flowed over her lithe body and matched some of the flowers in her hair. She’d had it designed after her mother’s dress that had been lost in the fire that destroyed her home. I knew how badly she longed to have her family alive, to have them sitting in the front row, witnessing her marriage. I knew, because I felt the same way about my brother, my mother. And so many others. Even though the room was overflowing, and the grounds crowded with people who couldn’t fit inside the palace, there was still a pang of emptiness beside my overwhelming happiness for those who weren’t there—and never would be.

But as Alexa finally reached where I stood and took my proffered hand in hers, that remembered pain disappeared in the brilliance of her smile and the warmth of the love that made her eyes glow.

“You’re breathtaking,” I couldn’t resist murmuring, lifting her hand to press a kiss to her knuckles.

“So are you,” she whispered back, a smile playing at the corner of her lips. The golden flecks in her hazel eyes seemed almost to burn in the burnished light from the setting sun. It took all my self-control not to grab her in my arms, kiss her thoroughly, and carry her out of this room and up to mine—ours—right that moment, hordes of people waiting to witness a marriage notwithstanding.

As if she could sense the turn of my thoughts she squeezed my hand with a smirk and then turned to face King Osgand, who stood in front of us, waiting to officiate the ceremony.

We’d waited this long…I could handle another hour or two.


Suppressing my own smile, I also turned to face the king, ready to make Alexa my wife—and my Queen.

* * *

Want the rest of the wedding scene? Make sure to sign up for Sara's newsletter (form on her blog) and follow her Instagram @SaraBLarson – she'll be posting about it and sending it to my followers soon!

And don't forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of signed books by me, Sara B Larson, and more! To enter, you need to know what my favorite number is (not-so-sneakily slipped in above!). Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the blue team and you'll have all the secret code to enter for the grand prize!


To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author, Cate Dean!

Vlog: Conference Tips for Writers

I haven't talked much about writers conferences, but now that I'm back from SCBWI and tour, I thought it as good a time as any to talk conference going tips for writers. Everything from self-care, to marketing, to socializing, here are some things to remember when attending writers conferences.


Have you been to any writers' conferences? What tips would you add?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Preparing to attend a writers' conference? @Ava_Jae shares some conference-going tips for writers. #vlog (Click to tweet)

SCBWI/Book Tour Recap!

Hey guys! I'm back from tour and SCBWI and it was wonderful. It also looks like you guys really enjoyed the amazing guest posts we had, which is really great to see. Yay for all of us!

So now to tell you what I was up to all week.

On Wednesday, March 16th I donned my "I solemnly swear I'm up to no good" t-shirt and a blazer and flew over to Maryland! There I met up with Laura Shovan (The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary), Janet Sumner Johnson (The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society), and Kathy Macmillan (Sword and Verse) and we headed off to the C Burr Artz Library in Frederick, Maryland where we had our very first panel. It was super fun, and we answered questions and signed books, had dinner, and I crashed at Kathy's, who was graciously hosting me.

The next day we went to Ellicot City, where I was dumb and forgot to take pictures (I know), but we had a yummy lunch and saw some cool stores before our second panel, this time at the Bel Air Library, where we took this fabulous picture.

Friday morning, Kathy and I headed to Mercy High School where we talked to a lovely Creative Writing class about our publishing journeys and a bit about our books. The class was super interactive and asked us great questions and half a second after we took a class selfie the fire alarm went off, so Kathy and I made our sneaky escape. From there we drove over to the SCBWI conference center where we ate dinner and participated in fun ice breakers that involved writing a sentence, then drawing it, then folding it up and letting someone else translate the picture into words, etc., and ended up with hilarious results like this.

Then the next day was the big conference day! Janet and I spent the first hour critiquing queries, then after lunch we split up to do our presentations, and I ran a workshop on world building. Right after the workshop, the four of us met up and were on a panel run by Stephen Barbara about working with an agent, which was super fun. After that I took this sleepy picture, we had dinner, I socialized again and heard some hilarious stories, then I went to my room and crashed.

The next morning I attended an awesome workshop run by Andrew Harwell (Senior Editor of MG & YA at HarperTeen) where he dropped some super tweetable tidbits that I lated tweeted about. It was an excellent session.

Also, we took this picture, which looks like I'm taller than Kathy, but actually she was crouching to be nice, but anyway.

After stopping by B&N for funsies, we all headed to Laura's home and ate pizza and s'mores and maybe created a ridiculous video that involves dancing bananas dressed as Harry, Ron, and Hermione that Janet will possibly tweet on her release day TOMORROW. It was ridiculous and fun and a great mid-tour break.

On Monday we had a relaxing morning before heading off to our panel and signing at The Ivy Bookshop. Then on Tuesday, Kathy and I had another high school visit, which was a blast. We then went library/indie bookstore hopping and took a bajillion Sixteener pictures before having lunch at a really cool converted coffee shop.

From there we went to the most beautiful library I've ever been to ever called the The Handley Library in Winchester, VA where we had our final panel in an actual auditorium. And afterward we visited the Winchester Book Gallery, who was hosting our sales at the library, and we had the amazing opportunity to sign the wall they had full of signatures from visiting authors and illustrators, which was completely amazing.

And that was it! All in all, it was an exhausting, but truly incredible week. I had such a fantastic time, and it was amazing to be able to check off my bucket list item of going on tour, and talk to publishing professionals I admire as a publishing professional myself, and so many little amazing things that just made the trip fantastic.

It was, without a doubt, a trip I'll never forget. :)

Returning to Writing After an Extended Period by Wendy Chen

Photo credit: . pralad . on Flickr
It happens to all of us at some point – due to external factors, due to being dried up of inspiration, or due to a lack of motivation – an extended period occurs when we simply can’t write. To start writing consistently again after having spent all that time away can be difficult, and I certainly felt anxious at the feeling of being a beginner all over again. Here’s some advice for returning to writing after an extended period:

  • Remember writing is often difficult, no matter what. When I was returning to writing, I noticed how many instinctive skills had slipped away from me. Creating characters? Worldbuilding? Writing dialogue? I was checking blog posts and articles on writing every second word, frustrated at the sense that there were intuitive abilities I’d lost, and writing my first draft felt like pulling teeth with every word.

    When this occurs, it’s important to remember that writing is often difficult, regardless of your experience or how long you’ve been writing consistently. You’re not a failure if you don’t immediately enter an impassioned state regarding storytelling again. Take it slowly and be persistent.

  • Have a set routine. I don’t think you have to write every day to be a writer, because everyone’s process is different. But if you’re easing back into writing after a long period, I’d advise you to try and do so: it’ll get you back into the rhythm of writing consistently, and help you make progress every day. Set aside a certain time of the day, have a word count goal (no matter how small) and just keep swimming!

  • Find simple ways to keep yourself consistently motivated. For me, that’s using a spreadsheet to track my word count and seeing my progress on the chart every day (My Write Club also does this). Simple rewards for yourself can also be really motivating: buying something nice, using special stationery, watching a film, or FOOD.

  • Work on another creative pursuit you enjoy. For me, that’s piano – I play it simply for relaxation and hence feel a lot less pressure than I do when I’m writing. It’s important to remember the simple joy in art, and if you’ve spent a lot of time away from writing, another creative pursuit can help spark that passion for writing in you again.

Do you have any other tips for returning to writing after an extended period?

Wendy Chen is a writer and student from Australia, with a particular passion for speculative and historical fiction, review writing and advocacy. She posts about writing and books on Tumblr, and is a contributor at That Reminds Me.

Twitter-sized bite:
How do you get back to writing after an extended break? Wendy Chen shares some tips on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Winner + YA Scavenger Hunt Announcement Post!

Photo credit: martin.grondin on Flickr
Quick two-part post to announce the winner of the twenty-first fixing the first page feature giveaway before another exciting announcement! Yay!


And the twenty-first winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, Aurora! 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 April, so be on the lookout! :)

Now for part two of the post...


I'm back from tour and catching up on a million things and there's an awesome guest post scheduled for you guys tomorrow but first! An announcement! I'm doing a fun thing!

March 29th – April 3rd, 2016 I'm so excited to be participating in the YA Scavenger Hunt Spring 2016! What is the YA Scavenger Hunt? The YA Scavenger Hunt is a biannual online event that promotes collaboration between YA authors from different publishing houses, offering fans an opportunity to see the latest and greatest in young adult literature. Participating authors will share exclusive bonus material, give readers access to top secret insider information, and offer fabulous prizes and giveaways for zealous YA fans. You can find out more at YA Scavenger Hunt's site.

Here are the 9 teams of authors for the Spring 2016 hunt! Check out the teams below to see which teams your favorite authors will be on and what their featured book will be, and get ready to go hunting starting March 29!

  • Amy Christine Parker
  • Amy Evans 
  • Austin Aslan 
  • C.J. Redwine 
  • Daw Kurtagich 
  • E. Katherine Kottaras 
  • Elle Cosimano 
  • K.C. Held 
  • Kathryn Holmes 
  • Kathy MacMillan 
  • Kimberly Sabatini 
  • Leah Konen 
  • Maria E. Andreu 
  • Marieke Nijkamp 
  • Melissa Gorzelanczyk 
  • Paula Stokes 
  • Rin Chupeco 
  • Sarah J. Schmitt 
  • Sarah Jude 
  • Yvonne Ventresca




    So that's it! See you all tomorrow with our  next lovely guest post! :) 

    Seven Reasons Publishing is Basically Baby-Making by Lara Willard

    Photo credit: ilyoungko on Flickr
    To give aspiring authors some context when they receive rejections, I've compared querying to dating. Not everyone is a good fit for everyone else! Here I expand that metaphor to put into perspective the entire labor and delivery of publishing, starting at the very beginning: with the awkward years.

    1. Puberty. Writing itself is a solitary effort, a self-searching process. First drafts are always awkward, and they need some time—and plenty of revision— to mature. Friends can give you a makeover like CPs can critique your manuscript, but it's up to you to decide what to accept and what isn't you.

    2. Dating. Once you agree your manuscript is mature enough, it's time to start looking for a baby daddy an agent. Every meet-cute is different. Some writers meet agents at conferences or through a friend. Most find agents through query letters, which is pretty similar to creating an online dating profile. Agents are looking for personality, something they connect with. They're also looking for red flags.

    3. Falling in love. Your agent needs to LOVE your book, not just admire it, because he or she will be spending a lot of time with it. Someday an agent will crush on your writing so much, he or she is going to call you and ask you out to represent you. During the call, ask plenty of questions (see below) to decide whether this is Mr. or Ms. Right.

    4. Tying the knot. Accepting your agent’s representation means signing a contract. Ideally, your relationship with your agent will last through your career. To make that relationship work, remember, this isn’t an arranged marriage. You aren’t a mail-order bride or groom. You don't actually work for each other. You need to work together. Make your expectations known. How often will you communicate? How editorial will your agent be? Will this agent represent any other genres or age categories you write?

    5. Pregnancy. Submission to acquisitions editors can range from several weeks to many months, but no matter how long this gestation period is, the wait is agonizing. You make a birth plan—Ideally, what house would you pick to publish your book? Eventually you will get your book deal, but not until after plenty of ice-cream gorging.

    6. Nesting. Once you’ve got a publisher interested, you can really start getting ready for your book to be born. Ava recently blogged about this time between book deal and due date, from covers to blurbs to debut groups.

    7. Birthday. Everything has led to this moment. It's OK to cry. Or scream. Your loved ones will celebrate the achievement with you.

    No publishing story is exactly the same, and every subsequent baby book will have its own labor and delivery time, either with the same agent or a new one, with a different house or at home (self publishing).

    Each book published adds a new title to your biography, another line to your obituary. Not every book you write will be published—but each one written is something to be proud of.

    Lara “Book Doula” Willard has published fiction, poetry, comics, essays, and two sons. When not editing manuscripts, she coaches writers on their dating profiles query letters. In July, she hosts pg70pit, the writing contest that ditches pitches and spotlights voice. Her blog and Twitter account @LaraEdits help thousands of writers each year.

    Twitter-sized bites: 
    How is publishing like baby-making? @LaraEdits explains in 7 milestones. (Click to tweet)  
    From puberty to baby's birthday, @LaraEdits explains how publishing is like baby-making. (Click to tweet)

    Failing Forward: The Leap from Indie to the Big Five by Danika Stone

    Photo credit: Tom Price Photography on Flickr
    If you’re an indie author, you probably didn’t head into self-publishing right away. You started off bright-eyed and optimistic, eager to get a book deal. You made extensive lists of agents and publishers, searched submissions, polished and rewrote. You queried your book brimming with hope and settled in to wait, certain that it was only a matter of time.

    The first replies trickled in.

    Not the right fit for our agency… not the book we were looking for… Not the right time for this story… No, no, no…

    If you were lucky, there was feedback in the replies. Using it, you polished and revised. And – if your journey was anything like mine – you queried again. Another wave of no’s followed. Eventually you realized it was time to head off the beaten track.

    If you’ve reached that point, you know the question that goes with this choice: How do I make the leap from indie to traditional? There’s an expectation that one day – however impossible it might feel – you’ll reach the longed-for ranks of traditional publishing that holds the keys to author advances, royalties and the coveted space on chain bookstore shelves. The question is: Does it ever happen?

    I’m here to say YES.

    This year I signed two book deals: one with Stonehouse, a small, well-respected Canadian press, the other with the massive publishing powerhouse of Macmillan US. In doing this, I reached the “BIG FIVE” and as a one-time indie writer, this makes me a bit of an aberration. Some would call me lucky. Others would say it was a fluke.

    I disagree with both.

    There’s a very distinct process to making that transition into traditional publishing. Like any major life change, it isn’t easy. But it’s doable! In looking back at the process, these were the key steps:

    1. Let go of your baby. I know you’ve put months and years into loving your indie novel, but now it’s time to let it go. Stop imagining it’s going to be picked up by a major publisher. It’s not. (Unless it’s something massively saleable like Leah Raeder’s Unteachable or E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey, that is.)

      You can’t move forward if you’re tethered to the past. So cut the cord with your indie baby, and move on. Keep your sights on the new.

    2. Write another book. Obvious, yes? But really damned hard when you get down to it. Write. Write everything. Write until you find the voice and story that demands to be told. Then polish that gem of a story until it gleams. If you had a few beta readers before, find ten more. Did two rounds of edits? This time do three.

      Take everything you learned from your first failure and use it to launch you forward. The key is to keep moving.

    3. Make connections. There are endless numbers of online groups just waiting to help you. My personal favorite is #ASMSG: The Author Social Media Support Group which gives indie authors a combined social media reach of over seven million people! And the ASMSG group is only one of thousands.

      Get out. Get known. Help your fellow authors. You never know when they’ll return the favor.

    4. Cast the widest net you can. I know you want that shiny book contract with one of the Big Five, but trust me, there are many ways to achieve it. Enter every contest you find. Don’t be shy. I was a Quarterfinalist in 2013’s Amazon Breakthrough Novel of the Year Award and it was this achievement that led to me signing with Mint Literary. My agent secured me my first book deal with Stonehouse (Yay!), but a few months later, it was the Swoon Reads crowd-sourced YA Romance contest that led to my contract with Macmillan. Not my original plan, but success nonetheless.

      Face it, there are opportunities all over the net. You just have to look for them! It might not be the direct path you expected to take, but you’ll still reach your destination.

    5. Trust yourself. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it feels impossible… but it’s not. Take a look through your local bookstore. Every single writer there went through the same struggle you are experiencing. The difference is, they didn’t give up when they heard ‘no’.

    Writing and publishing can be incredibly lonely, and to get through it, you have to be your own biggest supporter. So put those fears aside. Pick up your pen.

    It’s time to jump.

    Danika Stone is an author, artist, and educator who discovered a passion for writing fiction while in the throes of her Masters thesis. A self-declared bibliophile, Danika now writes novels for both adults (The Intaglio Series, Ctrl Z, and Edge of Wild) and teens (All the Feels). When not writing, Danika can be found hiking in the Rockies, planning grand adventures, and spending far too much time online. She lives with her husband, three sons, and a houseful of imaginary characters in a windy corner of Alberta, Canada.

    Ms. Stone is represented by Morty Mint of Mint Literary Agency.

    Author Site | Second Author Site | All the Feels | Goodreads | Twitter

    Twitter-sized bite:
    Is it possible to make the leap from indie to traditionally pub'd author? @Danika_Stone says yes & here's how. (Click to tweet)

    Imposter Syndrome and the Writing Community by Julia Ember

    Photo credit: kafkan on Flickr
    Before I got back into the swing of writing creatively, I spent several years trying to be an academic. I made it through my Masters and two years into my PhD program before depression set in and I realised I was pursuing a goal that made me unhappy. Imposter syndrome was a term I used to hear all the time: at conferences, in the postgraduate halls. In the academic circles, it was sort of expected that everyone below the rank of Full Professor felt it. Worse, that it was desirable. We were all afraid that we didn’t belong, that our work was inferior, that we’d somehow deceived our respective PhD programmes into admitting us, that we just weren’t smart enough.

    People don’t talk about Imposter Syndrome quite as much in the writing community. Unfortunately, I think it’s equally prevalent. Underlying the anxiety of Imposter syndrome is a feeling that you don’t belong. Many writers start out on the fringes of the community and they’re afraid to engage with established writers because they see themselves as interlopers. For many writers, that feeling of not belonging and the fear of exposure don’t go away.

    Back in October, I went to my first writing conference (yay!). I was terrified that people would ostracise me because I didn’t have an agent. I internalised a lot of that fear and told myself that if they didn’t like me it was because I was worthless as a writer.

    I’m happy to report that I made lots of friends at all stages of their writing journey and I didn’t feel left out. However, when I talked to other writers, it was amazing to realise just how many of them were suffering with anxieties like mine. An agented writer thought she had conned her agent into thinking she could write, since she’d been on submission for a year. A multi-published author was struggling after with internalised self-doubt after her publisher dropped her. Even the keynote speaker, a NY Times bestselling author, talked about her fear that her fans would realise her previous novel had all been a fluke.

    I’m not going to pretend I have the answers to solving Imposter Syndrome or other forms of anxiety. I do think it’s important to remember that so many other writers go through the same experience, no matter what level they’re at. Maybe those shared experiences are what ‘membership’ in the community is about? We all have experiences to offer. Fears or not, you aren’t alone.

    Note from Julia: I am more than happy to respond privately to anyone via e-mail ( who is experiencing anxiety or feelings of impostor syndrome if they want to chat but aren't comfortable sharing on the blog comments.

    A world traveller since childhood, Julia Ember has now visited over 60 countries. Her travels inspire the fictional worlds she writes about and she populates those worlds with magic and monsters. Unicorn Tracks is her first novel and will be published by Harmony Ink Press in April 2016.

    Twitter-sized bites:
    Do you struggle with Imposter Syndrome? @jules_chronicle says you're not alone. (Click to tweet)  
    "For many writers, that feeling of not belonging & the fear of exposure don’t go away." (Click to tweet)

    How Writers Can Use Pinterest by Alyssa Carlier

    Photo credit: Larry Miller on Flickr
    I used to think Pinterest was for recipes or fashion blogs—until one time, I got the traffic in one day that I normally get in an entire WEEK. Crazy moment.

    Turns out my blog post went viral on Pinterest. Coolest thing? It wasn’t even my pin—someone else read my blog post and decided to pin it. Pinterest can bring in readers even when you're not actively pinning on the site.

    Here’s how writers can use Pinterest:

    1. Promote your own blog posts. Create a board JUST for posts of your own blog. That way, when new followers see your profile, they can easily find all your posts in a single place. But of course you should also have boards for pinning other people’s helpful blog posts!

    2. Adapt your images for Pinterest. If you’ve decided to leverage Pinterest as your main traffic source (high five!), use tall images so they take up more space in the Pinterest feed. Include your blog post title in the image as well! Most people are skimming on Pinterest, and a bold headline can catch their attention.

    3. Include a description in your pins. Here’s an easy formula if you’re not sure how to describe your post: problem + explanation + read this post! For example: Tired of YA science fiction cliches? This post discusses ways to subvert science fiction tropes. Read it to make your sci-fi more unique!

    4. Join group boards! To find group boards, search keywords such as “Sci-fi writing tips” in the Pinterest search bar, check out “boards”, and look for those with the grey silhouettes of people in the upper right hand corner.

    5. Include a RELEVANT link in your board descriptions. Say you have an inspiration board for your Fabulous Space Novel. So include in the board description, “Find out more about Fabulous Space Novel here: [link to blog page]!”

    6. Inspiration board for manuscripts. Let’s be honest, this is a procrastination tool more than anything else. But more than once, a pin has helped me visualise a character more clearly … besides, it is super fun.

    Do you use Pinterest? Why or why not?

    Alyssa Carlier scribbles YA fantasy novels about empowered, diverse girls (like herself) in worlds of magic, madness, and murder (unlike herself). Interested in developing your online presence? Join her takeout army and grab the 30-step action guide to define your blogger trademark!

    Twitter-sized bites: 
    Writer @AlyssaC_HK shares 6 ways writers and bloggers can use Pinterest to their advantage. (Click to tweet
    Writers, do you use Pinterest? Join the discussion hosted by @AlyssaC_HK on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

    Vlog: 5 Dialogue Don'ts

    Oh, look! It's a dialogue vlog on bookishpixie! Dialogue is one of my favorite parts of writing, but sometimes it can be tricky to get right. So here are five quick things you DON'T want to do while writing dialogue.


    Have you made these common dialogue mistakes? What other issues do you frequently see with dialogue?

    Twitter-sized bites: 
    Not sure where to start w/ dialogue? @Ava_Jae vlogs about 5 things you DON'T want to do when writing dialogue. (Click to tweet
    Author @Ava_Jae vlogs about 5 common problems w/ dialogue—are you making this common mistakes? #writetip (Click to tweet)

    Fixing the First Page Feature Giveaway #21!

    Photo credit: Rrrodrigo on Flickr
    So it occurred to me that with my impending travels and blog all scheduled through the 25th, that maaaaybe I should get the fixing the first page giveaway going sooner rather than later. Because apparently after travels March will be practically over. O.O

    So! The 21st Fixing the First Page giveaway is a go!

    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 Wednesday, March 23 at 11:59 EST to enter!

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    World Building: Insider vs. Outsider

    Photo credit: daniel.schiersner on Flickr
    So I've been reading a decent amount of Fantasy lately (A Darker Shade of Magic, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (for the fifth time!), Sword and Verse, and The Wrath and the Dawn, to name a few), and it got me thinking about world building. Specifically, about two very different strategies various authors take when building their fantastical worlds.

    The first provides a sort of outsider perspective, often (though not always) from a neutral, third-person narration, even if the characters themselves are from the world being built. This perspective explains a lot of background and details, delving into why things are the way they are, how things work, etc. while continuing with the story—almost as if the narrator is aware that someone outside of the world is reading the story and could use background information. This can be a really effective way to give readers a large scope of the world and everything involved. The good and bad, past and present, etc. is woven into the text alongside the story, and readers often walk away with a detailed understanding of what the world is like.

    The second is a subtler approach, and provides what I like to think of as an insider perspective. Often, (though again, not always), this is done with a first person perspective, in which the protagonist experiences the world but doesn't necessarily explain every detail. Here, the presumption is that the readers will be able to put the gaps together themselves, because the protagonist, who is part of the world, wouldn't realistically feel a need to explain things that are obvious and natural to them. Instead, cultural tidbits are revealed to the reader as the protagonist experiences them, and are often left for the reader to interpret with minimal explanation.

    Both methods require careful balance. With the outsider perspective, background information and explanations can easily become tedious and significantly slow down the plot if the author doesn't balance it with enough action and story. With the insider perspective, the world building can be confusing and incomplete if the author doesn't weave enough information into the book—the key is to give just enough information to immerse readers fully into the story world without going overboard.

    In my own writing, I definitely tend toward the insider perspective strategy, though I think both can be exceptionally effective when handled well. Ultimately which strategy you'll use as a writer will depend on preference, but it's another way to think about crafting a world that'll live in your readers' imaginations forever.

    Which method do you tend to prefer in your writing or reading? 

    Twitter-sized bites: 
    Struggling with world building? @Ava_Jae shares two strategies for approaching story world creation. (Click to tweet)

    Guest Post Contest Winners!

    Photo credit: SKupkowski on Flickr
    So first and foremost, thank you to *all* who submitted guest post entries! You guys totally blew me away with not only the sheer number of entries, but the incredibly awesome quality of entries submitted. It was really, really difficult to narrow down the winners to just five—and even the ones I ended up not taking were still really incredible posts. I totally encourage the rest of you to post your entries on your own blogs, if you have them, because they were really awesome.

    That said! I do indeed have five winners to announce, whose fantastic posts will be up on March 16th, 18th, 21st, 23rd, and 25th (so keep an eye out!).

    And the winners are...
    • Alyssa Carlier
    • Julia Ember
    • Lara Willard
    • Danika Stone
    • Wendy Chen
    Yay! Congratulations, guys! I'll be e-mailing you shortly with your date and instructions for any more things I need from you.

    To everyone else, thank you again for entering! I sincerely hope you post your entries online, because I really enjoyed reading them, and as I said, it was super difficult to choose.

    I can't wait to share these fantastic posts with you guys shortly! :)

    Vlog: How to Title Your WIP

    Coming up with a title for your manuscript isn't easy—trust me, I get it. So today I'm sharing my favorite manuscript-titling strategy, shared with me by my title master critique partner.


    What strategies do you use to name your manuscripts? 

    Twitter-sized bite: 
    Struggling to title your WIP? @Ava_Jae vlogs about her favorite titling strategy. #writetip (Click to tweet

    Plot Essentials: Climax

    Photo credit: BookMama on Flickr
    It's been a while since I've written a plot essentials post, but with the Inciting Incident, Point of No Return, and Darkest Hour/Dark Night of the Soul already covered, I thought it a good time to move on to the next sequential point: the Climax.

    The Climax is the moment the entire book has been leading up to: when the protagonist comes head to head with the antagonist or antagonizing force. In Speculative Fiction, this often means the hero coming against the bad guy in some kind of epic showdown; in Romance, it's the Grand Gesture, where the hero or heroine has to overcome their flaw and make up for being a jerk previously. Everything hinges on this moment: will the hero overcome insurmountable odds?

    Sticking with examples from the previous posts, here are the climaxes for some popular novels (and, obviously, they contain spoilers, so skip if you haven't read them!):

    • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling): Surprise! Harry isn't dead after all—or at least, not permanently—and now he's back and ready to take on Voldemort once and for all, while the Battle of Hogwarts rages around them. 

    • City of Bones (Cassandra Clare): Clary finds Valentine and Jace, who seems to be helping him. Valentine reveals a massive secret: in a Luke and Leia twist, he's Clary and Jace's father and they are—surprise!—siblings. Luke helps Clary fight Valentine off, but will they be able to defeat him and keep the Mortal Cup safe?

    • Divergent (Veronica Roth): Tris and simulation-controlled Four come head to head. Tris needs to shut down the simulation to save her friends, but can she do so without killing Four in the process? Or getting killed herself?

    The climax, for me, is the most difficult part of writing a book—and it's the part I often dread reaching while first drafting. But with the right set-up and a sequence that gives your protagonist a significant role in the outcome (as in, no one should do the hard work for them), you'll craft a climax that keeps your readers hooked.

    What are your favorite climatic scenes from books or movies?

    Twitter-sized bite: 
    Do you struggle to write your WIP's climax? So does @Ava_Jae—but today she's talking tips and examples. (Click to tweet)

    Winners, Giveaway & Fun Announcement!

    Photo credit: r.nial.bradshaw on Flickr!
    Hey, guys! So this has been quite the week. Beyond the Red is officially out in the wild in the US (will be in the UK on the 17th!), the Virtual Launch Party was amazing (if you missed it, the lovely Heidi Heilig storified it), I had a great celebratory dinner with a family member, and it snowed which was really nice.

    I also have the winners for the pre-order giveaway! And they are...

    • Rebecca Kelsey Sampson
    • Michelle Yolanda Hellebrand
    • Gwen Cole
    • Erin Deets Beaty
    • Kelly DeVos
    • Magdalyn Ann
    • Ellie Eghigian
    • lovelypatchworknerd
    • Juniper Nichols
    • Anna Leighton
    • Jessica Gunn
    • Francesca Bartolomey
    • Layne
    • Tilly Latimer

    Congratulations, guys! I'll be e-mailing you all shortly with directions for claiming your prize. Yay! And to the rest of you, thank you so much for pre-ordering and entering! I appreciate it more than you can know. <3

    There are, however, still more fun announcements! For example, for those of you who don't have a copy of Beyond the Red yet, there's still a chance to win one! Like so!

    And! There from now until the end of the month, there is a Beyond the Red fan art contest! The details of which look like

    So those are all the announcements! A few short weeks from now I'll be touring in Maryland and Virginia, and I hope I'll see some of you guys there!

    Vlog: Self-Publishing: Not a Plan B

    Self-publishing is a great option for some people and works well for many indie authors—but today I'm talking about why it shouldn't be used like a casual backup option.


    Twitter-sized bites:

    "If your MS isn't ready to be traditionally pub'd, then it's...not ready to be self-pub'd, either." (Click to tweet)  
    "[Self-publishing] is a career-altering move...not a stepping stone towards traditional publishing." (Click to tweet)

    myWriteClub’s Word Sprints

    Photo credit: on Flickr
    So after over a year of not drafting anything new (because So. Many. Revisions.) over the weekend I finally started playing around with a new sekrit thing. For the longest time I’d depended on Write or Die to get me through first drafts, largely because I found I work best with a timer/word count system and something encouraging to me to stop thinking and keep writing. While I was in endless revision mode, however, I’d heard that my favorite writing buddy myWriteClub had launched a new writing sprint feature, so you can bet I was eager to try it out. 

    So I did, two days in a row. And I have to say, I like it even better than Write or Die

    Write or Die functioned with negative reinforcement—in that the screen would turn red and a loud noise would start up if you stopped typing for too long. And while this was pretty effective, it also meant I quickly figured out a loophole that made the negative reinforcement moot, anyway. Which is fine, because it still kept me typing, but anyway. 

    myWriteClub’s word sprints, however, use positive reinforcement to encourage you to write more, and if you want, it also connects you to other sprinters to race against. 

    So how does it work? 

    First you log into myWriteClub and go to their sprinting page. From there you can join either a global sprint or a custom sprint. From there you type in the browser, which looks like this: 

    The sprints start every half hour and go for 25 minutes, but you’re free to write before or after that—your word count will continue to grow. You get a green star for every 100 words that you write, and a gold star for every 1000 words. The progress bar also grows as you type until you reach 100 words, you get a star, and it starts over. 

    I haven’t sprinted with anyone else yet, but if you do you’ll be able to see the other person’s word count grow, which could be fun if you’re competitive (you can’t see each other’s words, though). It automatically saves to dropbox if you have that activated, and otherwise just automatically saves to the browser—I was pleasantly surprised to find my words from the previous day still in the browser when I logged in the next day (according to the site, your words are stored on your computer and not on myWriteClub’s server, so don’t worry). Usually I write, copy/paste whatever I wrote into my Scrivener doc, then close out. There’s also a chat function which I probably won’t use because distracting. 

    At some point I’ll probably try sprinting with others, but I still find it really helpful and motivational when writing alone. Between the timer counting down, which encourages me to write faster, and the progress bar and stars, the interface really helps me focus and get words down on the page. Which ultimately is the most important part. :) 

    I definitely recommend myWriteClub’s word sprint feature to those who like a little competition and/or accountability. It’s a fantastic addition to an already awesome productivity site. 

    Have you ever used myWriteClub’s word sprint feature?

    Twitter-sized bite: 
    Need some writing motivation? Check out @my_write_club's Word Sprints feature and start first drafting! (Click to tweet)
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