Book Review: BLEEDING EARTH by Kaitlin Ward

Photo credit: Goodreads
So I stumbled across Kaitlin Ward's Bleeding Earth at my local library about a week ago—a Sweet Sixteener book I'd wanted to read but hadn't gotten the chance to pick up yet—and you can bet I snatched it right up. There were two things I knew about this book in advance: it was an apocalyptic book that involved a ton of blood (so much blood) and also a f/f novel.

That is to say, totally right up my alley.

I read it quickly and am pleased to report it did not disappoint. But before I tell you all about this gory book of awesome, here is the Goodreads summary:

"Lea was in a cemetery when the earth started bleeding. Within twenty-four hours, the blood made international news. All over the world, blood appeared out of the ground, even through concrete, even in water. Then the earth started growing hair and bones. 
Lea wants to ignore the blood. She wants to spend time with her new girlfriend, Aracely, in public, if only Aracely wasn't so afraid of her father. Lea wants to be a regular teen again, but the blood has made her a prisoner in her own home. Fear for her social life turns into fear for her sanity, and Lea must save herself and Aracely whatever way she can."

Right from the start I'm going to say this book is gross in the best way possible. It's gory, and disgusting, and easily has the least pleasant apocalyptic scenario I've read yet—from the decay to the paranormal-ish all around unpleasantness, this is a seriously nasty end of the world book.

And I loved every page.

This is not a coming out book. Lea knows right from the start that she likes to date girls, and she's already (just) started dating Aracely when the book begins. And it was really great to read a book with queer girls who not only already know they like each other from the start, but are fighting something completely unrelated to their sexuality. Aracely isn't out at the beginning of the book, but Bleeding Earth isn't about Aracely coming out or people's reactions to two girls dating—it's about the world ending in the most disgusting and inexplicable way possible and two girls trying to survive and hold on to each other while the whole world falls apart and rots away.

This is a creepy as hell survival book that messes with your head and makes you question what you think you know. It's gory (as you would expect in a book about the world literally drowning in blood), violent, chock-full of tension and kept me turning the pages and itching to get back to the book when I wasn't reading.

I definitely recommend this one for those who can handle a little (or a lot) of grossness with their scary. It's so good even though I borrowed it from the library, I pre-ordered myself a (gorgeous!) paperback copy even though I won't get it until February.

All in all I really enjoyed this one and can't wait to read more from Kaitlin Ward!

What have you been reading lately?

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae gives five stars to @Kaitlin_Ward's BLEEDING EARTH. Is this creepy f/f end of the world YA on your TBR? (Click to tweet
Like apocalyptic YA horror? Want queer girls vs a broken world? Try Kaitlin Ward's BLEEDING EARTH. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Pitch Your Book

So you've written your book and the time has come to figure out how to pitch it. Whether you need an elevator pitch or you're preparing to query (or both!) today I'm sharing some tips for perfecting your pitches.


Have you had to pitch your book in person yet?

Twitter-sized bite:
Have you perfected your elevator and query pitches? @Ava_Jae vlogs some tips for pitching your book like a pro. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #24

Photo credit: University of Central Arkansas on Flickr
I don't know how this has happened, but it's nearly July!

As per usual, 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.

Okay. Here we go.


Genre: YA Science Fiction

First 250 words: 

"I need coffee. 
The rich smell from the campus coffee stand, across the plaza from my table, drags my mind from my last minute cramming. I set my screen down and lean back in my chair, pulling my coppery hair into a ponytail. The thick strands refuse to cooperate, but finally I wrestle them into a hairband. Closing my eyes, I tilt my head back to let the sun warm my face. The golden rays caress my skin, though I know the danger those rays hold.  
Yawning, I pick up the screen and scroll back to the beginning of the document to start again. The heading jumps out at me. Midterm Notes - March 17, 2107 - 11AM. I glance at my wrist to check the time on my phone. 10:37 AM. Not long now. The battery blinks red, and I sigh, detaching the phone from my wristlet. I forgot to charge it after classes yesterday, so now I unfold the phone’s panels and spread them to soak up the sunlight. The small solar panels sparkle, sending pinpricks of light scattering across my arms and face. 
My eyes follow the familiar words as I reread the study guide, mouthing them silently. This midterm is one of the last hoops I have to jump through at Dasset Prep before I graduate and secure a job at the Environmental Impact Agency, where I’m an intern. I stayed up late last night to cram, even though I’ve been studying for weeks, but my stomach still twists as the test approaches. 
Laughter from the table next to mine breaks my concentration, and I look up to see a group of students from my class."

Hmmm interesting. Okay, so at this point I'm not seeing any massive, glaring issues that need to be immediately addressed, but I'm not 100% sure this is quite compelling enough either. It'd be enough to get me reading to the next page, which is good, but I'd also be thinking if this doesn't pick up quickly, I'm probably going to put it down again. Not because this is bad, but because starting right before a big test is somewhat common (I'm reminded of Divergent here) so I'm really looking for something different that's going to grab me and pull me into the story.

It's hard to say just off this whether or not we're starting in the right place—I'm guessing the upcoming test is the inciting incident? And I do see hints at conflict and tension here, which is great and the main reason I'd be willing to keep reading for a couple more pages to see what happens.

Okay! Now for the in-line, nit-picky notes:

"I need coffee. 
The rich smell from the campus coffee stand, across the plaza from my table, drags my mind from my last-minute cramming. I set my screen down and lean back in my chair, pulling wrestling my thick, coppery hair into a ponytail (I'm combining the next sentence with this one to condense a bit). The thick strands refuse to cooperate, but finally I wrestle them into a hairband. Closing my eyes, I tilt my head back to let the sun warm my face. The golden rays caress my skin—dangerous, but [insert reason why she's sunbathing anyway]., though I know the danger those rays hold.  I'm suggesting this adjustment to remove the filter phrase of "I know."
Yawning, I pick up the screen and scroll back to the beginning of the document to start again:. The heading jumps out at me. Midterm Notes - March 17, 2107 - 11AM. Clever way to get the date in. I glance at my wrist to check the time on my phone. 10:37 AM. Not long now. Okay, so the main thing I'm missing from your protagonist right now is emotion. How does she feel about her upcoming test? Nervous? Excited? Eager to get it over with? Apathetic? Whatever the answer is, I want to feel something from your protagonist to get a better read on what's going on—but right now it's unclear how your protagonist feels about this test. The battery blinks red, and I sigh, detaching the phone from my wristlet. I forgot to charge it after classes yesterday, so now I unfold the phone’s panels and spread them to soak up the sunlight. The small solar panels sparkle, sending pinpricks of light scattering across my arms and face. Cool! But what does this feel like? 
My eyes gaze follow the familiar words as I reread the study guide, mouthing them silently(nitpicky, but her eyes aren't actually going anywhere). This midterm is one of the last hoops I have to jump through at Dasset Prep before I graduate and secure a job at the Environmental Impact Agency, where I’m an intern. Okay, that's fine, but is that what she wants? Again, I'm not really sure how she feels about any of this. I stayed up late last night to cram, even though I’ve been studying for weeks, but my stomach still twists as the test approaches. Good! This is what I'm talking about when I say I want to see hints of emotion from her—now just add a lot more in so we can read her emotions from the start.
Laughter from the table next to mine breaks my concentration, and I look up to see a glance at the group of students from my class (made this adjustment to remove the filtering of "see")."

Okay, so all in all I think you're almost there, but could use a push a little deeper into the protagonist's POV, which may actually be the key to upping the tension enough to make this a stronger hook. If I saw this in the slush, I would cautiously keep reading, but as I said above, I'd be looking for something to grab me and grab me quickly before I moved on to something else.

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

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

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks deepening character POV, filter phrases, and more in the 24th Fixing the First Page critique. (Click to tweet)

What Diverse Fall 2016 Books Are You Excited About?

So last November I did this post where I talked about diverse 2016 books I was excited about. I was initially going to write another of just books in general I was excited about, then realized 8/10 had diverse casts and it wasn't exactly difficult to replace the two that didn't with others that did so here we are. 

More 2016 books I'm psyched for! Because as good as this year has been for books, there's so much more goodness to come!

Photo credit: Goodreads

As I Descended by Robin Talley (September 6) 
YA Contemporary

Goodreads summary: 

"Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school’s ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them. 
Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey. 
Golden child Delilah is a legend at the exclusive Acheron Academy, and the presumptive winner of the distinguished Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She runs the school, and if she chose, she could blow up Maria and Lily’s whole world with a pointed look, or a carefully placed word. 
But what Delilah doesn’t know is that Lily and Maria are willing to do anything—absolutely anything—to make their dreams come true. And the first step is unseating Delilah for the Kingsley Prize. The full scholarship, awarded to Maria, will lock in her attendance at Stanford―and four more years in a shared dorm room with Lily. 
Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on the former plantation that houses their school.
But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line."

Photo credit: Goodreads

Into White by Randi Pink (September 13)
YA Contemporary
(black protagonist)

Goodreads summary:

"Sixteen-year-old Latoya Williams, who is black, attends a mostly white high school in the Bible Belt. In a moment of desperation, she prays for the power to change her race and wakes up white."

Photo credit: Goodreads

Overexposed by Megan Erickson (September 20)
NA Contemporary

Goodreads summary: 

"Levi Grainger needs a break. As a reality show star, he’s had enough of the spotlight and being edited into a walking stereotype. When he returns home after the last season of Trip League, he expects to spend time with his family, only to learn his sister is coming back from her deployment in a flag-draped casket. Devastated, Levi decides the best way to grieve will be to go off grid and hike the Appalachian Trail—a trip he'd planned to do with his sister. 
His solitary existence on the trail is interrupted when he meets Thad, a quiet man with a hard body and intense eyes. Their connection is stronger than anything Levi has ever experienced. But when Levi discovers the truth about what Thad is hiking to escape, their future together looks uncertain, and uncertainty is the last thing Levi needs..."

Photo credit: Goodreads

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo (September 27)
YA Fantasy
(Disabled protag, m/m couple, and characters of color)

Goodreads summary: 
"Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn't think they'd survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they're right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz's cunning and test the team's fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city's dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world."

Photo credit: Goodreads

Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig (October 4)
YA Thriller

Goodreads summary:
"Flynn's girlfriend has disappeared. How can he uncover her secrets without revealing his own? 
Flynn's girlfriend, January, is missing. The cops are asking questions he can't answer, and her friends are telling stories that don't add up. All eyes are on Flynn—as January's boyfriend, he must know something. 
But Flynn has a secret of his own. And as he struggles to uncover the truth about January's disappearance, he must also face the truth about himself. "

Photo credit: Goodreads

YA Magical Realism
(Latina protag and South East Asian trans boy love interest)

"When the Moon Was Ours follows two characters through a story that has multicultural elements and magical realism, but also has central LGBT themes—a transgender boy, the best friend he’s falling in love with, and both of them deciding how they want to define themselves. 
To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town.

But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up. "

Photo credit: Goodreads

YA Fantasy
(Biracial Japanese bisexual protag)

Goodreads summary: 

"A time-travel story that alternates between modern day and 19th century Japan as one girl confronts the darkness lurking in her soul. 
No one knows what to do with Reiko. She is full of hatred. All she can think about is how to best hurt herself and the people closest to her. After a failed suicide attempt, Reiko’s parents send her from their Seattle home to spend the summer with family in Japan to learn to control her emotions. But while visiting Kuramagi, a historic village preserved to reflect the nineteenth-century Edo period, Reiko finds herself slipping back in time into the life of Miyu, a young woman even more bent on revenge than Reiko herself. Reiko loves being Miyu, until she discovers the secret of Kuramagi village, and must face down Miyu’s demons as well as her own."

Photo credit: Goodreads

by Tara Sim (November 1)
YA Fantasy

Goodreads summary:

"Every city in the world is run by a clock tower. If one breaks, time stops. It’s a truth that seventeen-year-old Danny knows well; his father has been trapped in a town east of London for three years. Despite being a clock mechanic prodigy who can repair not only clockwork, but time itself, Danny has been unable to free his father.  
Danny’s assigned to a damaged clock tower in the small town of Enfield. The boy he mistakes for his apprentice is odd, but that’s to be expected when he’s the clock spirit who controls Enfield’s time. Although Danny and the spirit are drawn to each other’s loneliness, falling in love with a clock spirit is forbidden, no matter how cute his smiles are.  
But when someone plants bombs in nearby towers, cities are in danger of becoming trapped in time—and Enfield is one of them.  
Danny must discover who’s stopping time and prevent it from happening to Enfield, or else he’ll lose not only his father, but the boy he loves, forever."

Photo credit: Goodreads

Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst (November 22)
YA Fantasy

"Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden. 
Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses before her coronation—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine (called Mare), sister of her betrothed. 
When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two work together, each discovers there’s more to the other than she thought. Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. Soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more. 
But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other. "

(no cover yet)

Bad Boy by Elliot Finley Wake (December 6)
NA Contemporary
(trans guy protag and knowing Wake's novels, probably much more rep in the cast)

No current Goodreads summary but I've loved his previous books (written under Leah Raeder: Unteachable, Black Iris and Cam Girl) so I'm psyched.

What Fall 2016 books with diverse representation are you looking forward to?

Twitter-sized bites: 

What diverse Fall 2016 books are you excited about? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)  
Want more books to add to your TBR y/y? Check out 10 Fall 2016 books @Ava_Jae is psyched about. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Winner #24!

Photo credit: Carolyn Coles on Flickr
Quick Thursday post to announce the winner of the twenty-forth fixing the first page feature giveaway! Ready! Set!


And the twenty-fourth winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, Jes!

Thank you to all you awesome entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway in July (July!!!), so keep an eye out! :)

Books(dot)Con Recap!

So Sunday and Monday was Books(dot)Con! And overall I think it went really well—the panels were great and packed full of a ton of great information about all aspects of publishing and writing. And because I know not everyone was able to tune in (which is fine, of course!) I thought I'd link all the panels and interviews here all together.

So! For the interested! Here we go:

Blending Genres with Heidi Heilig, Rin Chupeco, Katie Locke, LR Lam, and me:

Let's Talk About Disability with Corinne Duyvis, Katie Locke, and Kayla Whaley:

Comic Books and Web Comics with Mildred Louis, Nilah Magruder, Taneka Stotts, and Wendy Xu:

Gender and Sexuality with Taneka Stotts, Nita Tyndall, LR Lam, and Fox Benwell:

Alternatives to the Traditional Publishing Path with Dahlia Adler, Taneka Stotts, and Mildred Louis:

Exclusive Interview with Bernie Su:

Culture and Faith with Katie Locke, Nita Tyndall, Kaye M, and Rin Chupeco:

What Happens After You Sign With An Agent with Nita Tyndall, Katie Locke, Eric Smith, Corinne Duyvis, and me:

Neurodiversity and Mental Illness with Corinne Duyvis, Katie Locke, and Nita Tyndall:

Research: from Worldbuilding to Historical Accuracy with Katie Locke, LR Lam, Mildred Louis, Wendy Xu, and me:

A Peek Behind the Veil of the Industry with Alison Weiss, Eric Smith, McKelle George, and Whitley Abell:

Exclusive Interview with Elizabeth Wein:

Twitter-sized bite:
Missed @booksdotcon but want to hear from authors, editors, agents, & more? Check out this compilation. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Don't Worry About Idea Stealing

I semi-frequently hear from new writers who are too nervous to get critique partners because they worry about their book ideas being stolen. So here's why I don't think you have to worry about it.


Did you worry about this before working with critique partners for the first time? (I know I did.)

Twitter-sized bite:
Too worried about idea stealing to enter a pitch contest or work w/ a CP? @Ava_Jae says not to worry about it. #vlog (Click to tweet)

On Taking Self-Care Days

Photo credit: kevin dooley on Flickr
I am a workaholic. This is a downside, I suppose, of (usually) enjoying the work you do—I work in a field I love (publishing), and get to spend many hours a day immersed in worlds I create, in worlds other people create, in blog posts and manuscripts and books, and it's a surprise to approximately no one who knows me that I get very immersed in my work.

(This is also a downside, I suppose, of working for myself. There's no one to tell me, "hey, you've done enough work today—go home and relax.")

So shortly after I graduated college, I realized if I wasn't careful, I was going to work myself into the ground. And so I established a weekly self-care day—a day when I'm not allowed to do any work; not answering e-mails, not writing, not plotting, not editing—this is a strictly work-free day.

So what do I do that day? I read a lot, mostly. And watch Hulu/Netflix, and play Assassin's Creed, or Sims 4, or Civilization V when I'm in the mood. And go out, and chat with my bestie, and do all sorts of things that don't involve working, all day.

It's a nice thing, and I do think it's helped, because come Monday (my day off is usually Sunday) I'm ready to dive in to work all over again.

I really do think it's important to take time off for yourself when you can. Writers are notoriously overworkers—many of us squeeze writing in during free hours or minute between day job, or school, or family, or all of the above, or, or, or—and it can be so easy to forget to take care of yourself.

So here is your reminder to take time off for yourself, too, whatever that means. It's important. You're important.

Do you take self-care days? What do you like to do during your work-free time? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Do you take self-care days? @Ava_Jae talks about the importance of taking time off for yourself. (Click to tweet)

Are You Going to Books(dot)Con?

So we all hear about big conferences every year, and many of us know the pain of watching from afar, stalking the conference hashtags, and looking at pictures, and thinking, wistfully, maybe next time.

The truth is, as wonderful as conferences are, they're expensive. Really expensive. From the registration fee, to the hotel charge, to the travel charge, plus food, and, well—it's not difficult to see why many people struggle to go.

However! The conference I'm participating in this Sunday and Monday is not one of those, because this conference is online—all shared via Google Hangouts and later YouTube. And (mostly) free.

Books(dot)Con is shaping up to be a really awesome conference. With author speakers like Corinne Duyvis, Heidi Heilig, Laura Lam, Fox Benwell, Dahlia Adler, Katherine Locke, and more, editor speakers like Alison Weiss, McKelle George, and Wendy Xu, agent speakers like Eric Smith, and Whitney Abell, illustrator speakers, diversity advocate speakers, blogger speakers, and exclusive interviews with Elizabeth Wein, and Bernie Su, the lineup looks pretty amazing.

I mean, just take a look at this schedule:

I'll also be taking query + first page critiques for the conference and afterward, for those who are interested in that sort of thing. And also there are workshops which look very cool too.

So hopefully, wherever you are, you'll be able to tune in if you're interested. Hope to see some of you guys there! :)

Will you be checking out Books(dot)Con this year?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Check out @booksdotcon, an online conference w/ author, editor, agent, illustrator, & blogger speakers! (Click to tweet)

When Struggling to Find the Words

Photo credit: mdave on Flickr
So I've been first drafting again, now for the second time this year (and, come to think of it, second time in a couple months), which is both exciting because after perma-revision mode for so long, it's nice to be in draft-all-the-things mode, but also scary (because drafting), and a little tiring (because I want to draft something else this year too). Overall it's been really fun to dive into the new project—a project I've wanted to work on for a really long time—but I've also noticed the words, as of late, have not been coming so easily.


Once upon a time, I used to be able to write 1,000 words in 30 minutes, with the aid of Write or Die and music (and 30 minute breaks). With my last WIP, I averaged around 700 words in 25 minutes, with a 5 minutes break, so about 1,400 words in an hour, assuming both sprints ended up in the average range. This time I've been averaging lower—sometimes in the 500 range per 25 minute sprint on a good day, or closer to 300ish words per 25 minute sprint on a not-so-good day.

Of course, even on the not-so-good days, the word count isn't awful, but it does feel noticeably slower—and more difficult, to me.

These harder-to-write days, weeks, manuscripts even happen to everyone regardless of experience level. And while I'm pretty sure I know why the struggle is happening more frequently than usual with this particular manuscript, the struggle is still...well. It's a struggle.

The good and bad news with this is while there isn't really a *cure* for difficult-to-write days (or manuscripts), it's not a death sentence, either. Assuming you stick with it and force yourself to keep writing even when the words are being less-than-friendly, the words will come. But it also means you maybe need to be patient with yourself, or give yourself more manageable goals. I moved my goal for this first draft a couple days to lower the daily word count I needed to meet my self-imposed deadline, for example, which has helped. I've also forced myself to take those five-minute breaks between writing sprints, because they make it easier to then dive in to the next 25 minute block.

The long and short of it is this happens to everyone, and while there isn't a guaranteed insta-fix, the best you can do is keep with it and know this isn't happening because you're manuscript is terrible, or you're terrible, or your writing skills are terrible, etc. If anything, it just means welcome to the club—writing is hard, and we've all been there.

What do you do when struggling to get the words down? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Author @Ava_Jae shares her experience struggling to find the words when first drafting. (Click to tweet

Vlog: On Age and Publishing

Are you a young writer who wants to get published ASAP? Or worried you're too young or old to get published? Today I'm talking about age, publishing, and lessons I learned when I was a teen desperate to get published.


What do you think?

Twitter-sized bites:
"Learning how to write and getting your skills publication-ready takes a lot of time." (Click to tweet)  
On age, pressure to publish ASAP, and taking your time to improve your writing. #vlog (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway #24

Photo credit: wwarby on Flickr
2016 is whipping right past us and we're now nearly halfway through June! Which means it's time for the next Fixing the First Page feature—the 24th, in fact, which means this feature has been going on for two years now! Time definitely does fly.

So for those who’ve missed before, 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 twenty-second public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Monday, June 20 at 11:59 EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

2016 YA Cover Trends

So back in 2015 when the 2016 covers first started hitting the web, I thought it'd be fun to do a cover trend post. At the time there weren't quite enough covers out for me to do a comprehensive post, but now we're roughly halfway through 2016, so most of the books releasing this year have had their cover reveals.

Which means I can finally do this post.

Cover trends are always fun to look at—from the pretty girls in dresses, to the hands and feet trends of previous years, I've always thought it was interesting to see just how many books fit into any given trend.

For 2016 I noticed five main trends:



Big Text Down the Middle

People's Backs

Black Background

I'm not exactly sure why or how cover trends happen every year, but they're certainly fun to look at.

What other cover trends have you noticed this year?

Twitter-sized bite: 
What 2016 YA cover trends have you noticed? @Ava_Jae breaks some down. (Click to tweet)

How to Become a Writer YouTuber

So back in May 2014, I made a vlog to introduce myself to the internet. Prior to that, I had a stack of books as my avatar on all my social media sites, and for whatever reason, I thought the way I would show my face to the internet should be through a vlog rather than a selfie.

I made a channel, bookishpixie, just for that vlog, and then thought, what the hell? I'll just keep doing this.

So I did. And to be honest, I wasn't really expecting all that much in terms of subscribers—I figured there probably weren't that many writers on YouTube, right? It just seemed so different from the written media I was used to seeing writers interact on, and I knew of only a couple writing-related channels, so I figured there probably just wasn't much a demand for it.

Wellllll I was wrong. So wrong.

Turns out, there are a lot of writers and people interested in publishing on YouTube—and I have to say, the writerly community there has been one of the most supportive and welcoming I've ever seen.

So how do you vlog and build a community on YouTube? It's not as difficult as you might think.

Vlog preparation:

  1. Decide on a topic. Like blogging, this is easily the hardest step—figuring out what to vlog about. Luckily, I have nine times as many blog posts as I do vlogs, so if I ever really get stuck, I sometimes go through my archives and pick a topic I've blogged about but haven't vlogged about. Because while some of my YouTube audience has peeked over at my blog, a lot haven't, and even though I share my vlogs on the blog here too, I am more than well aware that most of you haven't read all 900+ posts, so reviving a topic here and there can be helpful for everyone.

  2. Bullet points. While some YouTubers rely on a script, I personally prefer to just jot down a few bullet points of the main things I'm going to cover, then improvise everything in between. This helps because I never sound stilted or get stuck trying to remember the exact phrasing of my script, and it also keeps things flexible. (Note: I use this same approach for speeches, too! Bullet points are so much easier to remember than line by line scripts.)

  3. Film! There's actually a lot that goes into this step—setting up lighting, figuring out where to put the camera, resetting the white balance and exposure on the camera every time I turn it on, etc. I have an advantage here in that I went to school for film for three years, so I know the basics in camera prep, but I'm also missing a lot of the professional gear I had access to in film classes way back when, so...maybe one day. Now I have most everything set up the way I want it all week so all I have to do is turn on the lights and camera when I'm ready to go.

  4. Edit. I have a Mac, so I use iMovie to edit all of my vlogs. Generally, I split up the vlog editing over three days (Thursday-Saturday). Day one: importing and cutting out the pauses and obvious mess ups (I do one long take instead of multiple takes, so this means when I mess up when I'm speaking I just stop and restart. During this step, I remove the in-between silences and frustrated outtakes). Day two: choosing the best takes/deleting duplicate takes (I repeat everything three times ish when vlogging) until I have the basic vlog. Day three: detailing (trimming clips, adding text when needed, cutting more if the vlog is too long, etc.) Note: I personally try to keep vlogs four minutes or under whenever possible, because too much longer than that and people start to lose interest.

  5. Upload to YouTube. This is actually multiple steps—the uploading itself, creating the title picture that will be the still when the vlog isn't playing, filling out the description for the vlog, and writing out the captions. I usually do this on Mondays.

So those are the basics for getting the vlog up. In terms of growing your channel, the main steps I've relied on are basically the same as growing any other social media account.

  • Consistent posting. I decided from the start I'd do one vlog a week (Tuesdays). Vlogs are a lot of work, so the weekly post works well for me because it doesn't add too much work to my already packed social media schedule. The reason consistency is so important, however, is because the more consistently you post, the better your audience will know to come back. Plus it shows your audience that you're committed and aren't going to just drop off the face of the internet.

  • Pay attention to your community (answer the comments). I can't tell you how many times I've had commenters say how nice it is to hear back from me, because most of the channels they comment on never get responses from the creators. While answering *all* the comments may one day be unfeasible (if the channel gets too big, for example), it's good to show your community that you're involved and listening to what they say. I'm not always able to answer channel comments quickly, but I do try to make sure I get to as many of them as I can.

  • Cross-post. Cross-posting whenever possible is sooooo helpful. I cross-post all of my vlogs to the blog here (which then links to my Twitter), tumblr, and Facebook. Cross-posting is a great way to get discovered and spread your creation around—you never know when a tweet or tumblr post will go viral and get you a host of new subscribers, even months after you posted.

So those are my YouTube channel-building tips! I definitely recommend vlogging if it's something you think you could consistently do—it's been a great experience for me even though I was *completely* terrified of the camera when I started, and has not only helped in terms of getting the word out for my blog and book, but has also made me way more confident when public speaking. Bonus! :)

Have you ever considered vlogging?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Curious about what goes into running a YouTube channel? @Ava_Jae breaks down some steps and tips. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: On (Terrible) First Drafts

Writing the first draft can be really challenging—not the least of which because it often feels like the writing is awful. Today I'm talking about first drafting and why terrible first drafts are totally okay.


Do you struggle to get the first draft down?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Not feeling confident about your first draft? @Ava_Jae explains why terrible first drafts are totally okay. #vlog (Click to tweet)  
Do you struggle with the drafting process? @Ava_Jae vlogs about why terrible first drafts are okay. #writetip (Click to tweet)

Book Review: LOVE IN THE TIME OF GLOBAL WARMING by Francesca Lia Block

Photo credit: Goodreads
So about a year ago I'd heard Francesca Lia Block's Love in the Time of Global Warming has a trans boy love interest, which I'd basically never seen in speculative YA (or Contemporary YA, for that matter), so when I saw it on sale at Book Outlet a while ago, I snatched it up. It then sat in my full physical TBR bookshelf for a while I tried to make a dent in my TBR, until I finally picked it up last week.

And I have to say, I'm glad I pulled it off my shelf, because it was a really enjoyable read.

Before I go into why, here is the Goodreads summary:
"Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead. On her voyage, Pen learns to tell stories that reflect her strange visions, while she and her fellow survivors navigate the dangers that lie in wait. In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated."
So first of all, I think it helped going in knowing that this book would be weird. That was something I saw repeated over and over from reviewers—that they enjoyed it, but it was strange. I agree this is a strange one; the writing and events and the way it all blends together was very dreamlike. There's some really gorgeous, lyrical imagery, obvious Odyssey parallels (that the characters are aware of and comment on), and even the characters themselves have a dreamy, ephemeral-type quality to them. 

And you know? I liked it. The lyrical, imagery-heavy writing reminded me a bit of Elliot Finley Wake's style (except, you know, YA), and it was great to see a diverse cast in a post-apocalyptic YA, from the protagonist Pen, who is bi, to the love interest Hex, who is (*minor spoiler*) trans, to their two other companions who also turn out to be queer guys, it was really fun to read. 

My only critique is the ending felt a little too...neat, I suppose. Things came together easy after the main confrontation, which is okay, but it felt a teensie bit anti-climatic to me. That said, I still really enjoyed it overall, from the adventure-y plot, to the Odyssey-like mythology, and the lyrical writing, I definitely recommend Love in the Time of Global Warming for a quick, adventurous read with a cast you won't easily forget. 

Diversity note: As mentioned in the review, Pen, the protagonist is bisexual, the love interest, Hex, is a trans boy, one of the two companions is a gay Black boy, and the other is a boy who likes boys (though I'm not sure if he's gay, bi, pan, etc.).

What have you been reading lately?

Twitter-sized bite:

.@Ava_Jae gives ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ to Francesca Lia Block's LOVE IN THE TIME OF GLOBAL WARMING—is this surreal YA on your TBR? (Click to tweet)

Discussion: How Do You Choose From Your TBR?

Photo credit: *Randee on Flickr
So as I look at my bookshelf full of owned-but-not-read books (yes, I have a bookshelf just for my physical TBR), it can sometimes be a challenge to figure out what to read next. I have so many choices in my TBR (forty-one at the moment, not counting e-books and pre-orders) without even attempting to look at my Goodreads TBR (which currently has over 300 books)—and sometimes the sheer number of options can be a little overwhelming.

What do I read next?

This month the choices have become a little easier because I'm quietly following along with #ReadProud hosted by Julia Ember to at least help me pick out some choices from my stack, including some that have been waiting to be read for a while, like Love in the Time of Global Warming (which I am loving so far) and Cut Both Ways. The only downside of course is once I've read those I will have read all the QUILTBAG books I own, but I suppose that just means I'll have to buy more...

Anyway. After those, I haven't quite decided what I'll pick up next. I've got quite a few series books I could jump into, though I'm thinking I should probably stick to the cases where I have the whole series, like Sekret, because otherwise I'll want to buy more. I also have quite a few stand alone titles I'd like to read, like The Last Leaves Falling, Bone Gap, The Scorpio Races, Dreamstrider, and My Heart and Other Black Holes.

I also have two series enders that I'd like to read, but are so thick I haven't delved in yet: Bitterblue and City of Heavenly Fire...and those will probably stay on the shelf until I've gotten ahead on my yearly goal enough that taking a while to read them won't put me back much.

This is all to say I have too many choices, which is the best problem ever, but I'm curious. How do you decide what to read next from your TBR?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Have a large TBR stack? How do you decide which book to read next? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

On Gendering and Books

Photo credit: upupandabear on Flickr
So last week I got an interesting question on Twitter, namely, if I had any tips for writing a book that would appeal to people across the gender spectrum. With Twitter being the place of brevity that it is, I told the person to just write whatever they want to, because stories aren't gendered, but I thought it was an interesting question to consider nevertheless.

I stand by what I said—stories in and of themselves aren't gendered—but the way we market and talk about books often is. And even more so, the marketing is often (not always, but often) tilted one way or the other based off not the story, but the perceived gender of the author.

For example, let's take a look at some YA contemporary covers with romances, authored by dudes and ladies.

It's interesting looking at the mini-breakdown, because while there are totally exceptions, even though these covers have the same general audience (teens who like YA Contemporary with a splash (or more than a splash) of romance), there's a pretty clear difference between the covers for books authored by guys and those authored by ladies.

To start with, the books authored by guys rarely have a girl on the cover (and when they do, there are also boys on the cover). Even The Fault in Our Stars which is narrated by a girl goes for a more gender neutral (or even boyish) illustrated presentation without any figures on the cover. The illustrated covers for books written by ladies, however, do tend to have girls on the cover, or some kind of feminine indicator, like lipstick. Covers for books written by guys tend to be more illustration-heavy with less gender markers present; covers for books written by ladies often have photographic covers featuring a girl, often with who we assume will be her beau.

That's without looking at font or color scheme, and yes, of course there are exceptions (Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why, for example, has a photographic cover featuring the girl protagonist), but it's kind of hard to ignore some of the not-so-subtle gendering of book covers based solely on the author's perceived gender.

This is one of the many reasons why female-identified authors writing speculative fiction sometimes use gender neutral pseudonyms (most famously J.K. Rowling)—even when the books feature a male protagonist, there's an assumption of sorts that (some) guys won't pick up books written by women, and I can't help but suspect the gendering of covers has a lot to do with it.

Of course, especially in more recent speculative fiction, there are a lot of covers that avoid gender markers entirely regardless of the gender of the author, which makes sense in order to appeal to a wider audience.

But in a world where AFAB (assigned female at birth) kids are taught to identify with characters regardless of gender and AMAB (assigned male at birth) kids are shamed for being too girly and largely fed a host of media for boys, it's no wonder girls won't blink at picking up a book no matter how "boyish" the cover seems, whereas some guys may hesitate to do the opposite.

Ultimately, in terms of writing, my advice remains the same: if you want to write a story that isn't gendered one way or the other (and it is totally valid, by the way, to want to write for an audience of one specific gender) then write what you want, however you want, and the right readers will enjoy it regardless of their gender. But it's also good to be aware, I think, of the ways a book is packaged can affect who picks the book up and takes a look inside to begin with.

Twitter-sized bite: 
From book packaging to the story inside, @Ava_Jae talks about gendering and books. (Click to tweet)
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