End of Year Countdown: 5 Top Fives of 2016

Photo credit: Vicky Brock on Flickr
It's the last post of 2016! Which is a very strange and surreal thing to write, but also means it's time for Writability's annual tradition. Without further ado, here are my top fives of 2016. :)

Top 5 Most Popular Posts (On Writability) 

I actually finally figured out a way to use Google Analytics to show the most popular posts for this year, rather than the most popular posts of all time, which don't change much. Interestingly, none of the most popular posts of this year were written this year either. Also the kissing post got a huge boost this year for reasons unknown. Cool. :)
  1. How to Write Awesome Kiss Scenes
  2. Young Adult vs New Adult: What's the Difference?
  3. Why Use Past Tense?
  4. Why Use Present Tense?
  5. Defining Author Voice

Top 5 Most Active Commenters

As explained every year, I use Disqus’s very nice widget on my sidebar to keep track of how many comments every lovely commenter makes. The system isn’t perfect and only keeps track of accounts, so if you comment on multiple accounts, it thinks you’re more than one person, but regardless, these five fabulous readers are the most active commenters of the Writability community—thank you!

Note: Those with one asterisk were on the top five list last year, three asterisks have been on the top five list for three years, and those with four asterisks were on the top five list the year before that! Thanks for being part of the Writability community, everyone!
  1. Heather*
  2. MK
  3. Robin Red***
  4. RoweMatthew****
  5. Jen Donohue***

Top 5 Favorite (Writerly) Tumblr Blogs of the Year

I really love tumblr. I've learned so much from so many incredible people over there, and it also remains a great place to just find nice—and nerdy—awesomeness.

These are my top five favorite writerly and bookish tumblr blogs, calculated by tumblr off which blogs I reblog and like the most.
  1. Corinne Duyvis
  2. YA Highway
  3. Leigh Bardugo
  4. Nita Tyndall
  5. English Major Humor

Top 5 Favorite Books of the Year

I've read a lot of really incredible books this year, and these especially stuck with me and earned their place in my favorites list.
  1. Strong Signal by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell
  2. A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
  3. Saga Deluxe Edition, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
  4. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
  5. Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

Top 5 Favorite Twitter Accounts

I spend too much time on Twitter, but there are some pretty amazing people there. This favorite list has taken a political emphasis for obvious reasons—the following accounts are mostly all excellently writerly and political with a great balance between the two, except Judd Legum, who is just a great reporter. In no particular order, you should follow these amazing people:
  1. @HeidiHeilig
  2. @nebrinkley
  3. @Celeste_pewter
  4. @JuddLegum
  5. @Bibliogato

So those are my top fives of 2016—do you have any favorites of the year you'd like to share?

Happy New Year, everyone!

Twitter-sized bites:

Writer @Ava_Jae shares her top fives of 2016—what are some of your favorite writing resources of 2016? (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #30

Photo credit: hharryus on Flickr
We're now in the final days of 2016. I've got a lot of mixed feelings about it, but the one definite positive thing is it's now time for the last Fixing the First Page Feature of 2016!

As 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.

Let's do this.


Genre/Category: YA Fantasy

First 250 words: 

"The priests are always telling me that my mother should never have bathed me in the moon. It sets a girl up for mischief, and worse as she gets older. Now that I’m nearing sixteen, I’m far too old to be forgiven for knowing things no natural person should. 
I remember the moon-baths clearly enough, even though I wasn’t quite four when my mother was found out and taken away to Temple. I remember being cold and cranky, whining and stomping as she stripped away my overdress and tunic.

'No, moma, no!' I would shout, my cries echoing off the garden walls. I must have woken up half the compound with my yelling, but no one ever shouted back or lit a lantern to see what all the commotion was. 
'Calm down, Luna, just calm down,' my mother would say. She tried to distract me with special full-moon songs, and showed me how the light played in the big, round basin. I did like to watch the silvery ribbons dash around the polished bottom, swirling like watersnakes. Sometimes she could win a giggle from me before I remembered that I wasn’t going to like what came next.

It wasn’t just the icy feeling of the night air against wet skin - I didn’t like the squirmy feeling the bright water woke in my belly. I’d thrash and protest the whole time, even though mother would promise better and better treats each time if I would just be good. 
I was never good."

Wow, interesting! This definitely has a cool fantasy feel and I'm super intrigued by the moon baths and what that means and where this is going. This is, however, a prologue, so I'm immediately wondering whether this is the right place to start. It's hard for me to really say one way or the other without reading the full prologue and checking out the first chapter, but generally, I tend to recommend flashback prologues are integrated into the story rather than starting way before the story starts and then jumping into the present day.

So props for an interesting opening, but be careful with prologues—I suspect you may be better off starting with the start of the story and incorporating this elsewhere. But either way this does set up some nice world building and intrigue so yay.

Now for the in-line edits.

"The priests are always telling told me that my mother should never have bathed me in the moon. Beautiful opening line and image—I also like how it sets up tension right away. Well done. It sets a girl up for mischief, and worse as she gets older. Now that I’m nearing sixteen, I’m far too old to be forgiven for knowing things no natural person should. Iiiiinteresting. :D
I remember the moon-baths clearly enough, even though I wasn’t quite four when they found my mother was found out and taken took her away to Temple. Adjusted to make the sentence active (vs passive). I remember being was cold and cranky, whining and stomping as she stripped away my overdress and tunic. Adjusted to remove filtering (I remember).

'No, moma, no!' I would shouted, my cries echoing off the garden walls. I must have woken up half the compound with my yelling, but no one ever shouted back or lit a lantern to see what all the commotion was. 
'Calm down, Luna, just calm down,' my mother would say said. She tried to distract me with special full-moon songs, and showed me how the light played in the big, round basin. I did liked to watch the silvery ribbons dash around the polished bottom, swirling like watersnakes. Sometimes she could win won a giggle from me before I remembered that I wasn’t going to like what came next.

It wasn’t just the icy feeling of the night air against wet skin - I didn’t like the squirmy feeling the bright water woke in my belly. Adjusted to remove some filtering and wordiness. I’d thrash and protest the whole time, even though mother would promised better and better treats each time if I'd would just be good. 
I was never good."

Okay, after reading this a second time, I'm more sure that the flashback part should be moved. However, I think I'd recommend the first paragraph was kept. It really sets up great tension and kicks off with some early world building, and I could easily see it used as a transition into the present day story rather than the flashback. I don't know exactly where the story actually starts, but I suspect it'd be easy enough to keep it as the opener even if the flashback is moved later in the narrative.

Other than that, the main thing I'm noticing is some wordiness and filtering, which I adjusted above, but I definitely recommend the author check the rest of her manuscript for both, because if there's this much in the first 250, it's a good signal there's probably plenty more throughout the book.

If I saw this in the slush I'd skim through the rest of the prologue and jump to the opening to see if it grabbed me.

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

Would you like to be featured in the next Fixing the First Page critique? Keep an eye out for the first giveaway of 2017!

Twitter-sized bite: 

.@Ava_Jae talks prologues, great opening paragraphs, wordiness and more in the 30th Fixing the First Page Feature. (Click to tweet

Vlog: My 2017 Resolutions

Last vlog of 2016 means it's time for resolutions! What are you resolving to do next year? I share my resolutions for 2017.


What are you resolving to do in 2017?

Twitter-sized bite: 
What are your 2017 resolutions? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. #vlog (Click to tweet)

2016 Year in Review

Photo credit: Dru! on Flickr
So back in 2014, I started my annual tradition of reviewing all the things that happened over the past year, which I continued last year. 2016's been one prolonged garbage fire, but some pretty big positive things did happen for me. So let's take a look at 2016!

January was a pretty quiet month. I started my last semester of college while silently gearing up for the impending release of my debut two months later. I took both a fantasy and a kidlit class which was truly the perfect way to tie off my college experience.

February I had my birthday and the best birthday present ever: I got my author copies. It was a really amazing moment that I thankfully had the foresight to capture on camera so I could turn it into a happy vlog.

Then March! March was an enormous month. Beyond the Red published and shortly thereafter I flew off to Maryland to speak at SCBWI MD/DE/WV and do a mini-book tour with some lovely fellow Sweet Sixteeners. We had an amazing time and I did my first ever book signings and school visits and did so many panels and all in all it really was a blast. It was the perfect way to welcome my debut to the world and step into Professional Author shoes in an undeniable way. All the while I was working on a secret project which became important a few months later.

April then was finals time. I finished up my last semester of college and graduated with high distinction, in the top 10% of my graduating class. So that was really exciting and felt pretty amazing. I also launched my freelance editing services, which was thankfully welcomed with open arms.

May and June were pretty quiet. I first drafted a manuscript, plotted another, Beyond the Red went into its second printing (yay!) and I also got some fantastic bookish news I couldn't talk about, which meant sitting on my hands until I could talk about it and in the meantime continue working on that secret project. Come to think of it, I guess those months weren't so quiet after all. :)

Then in July I finally got the go ahead to announce my amazing news: Beyond the Red is getting not one, but two sequels! And the first will publish next year! I was over the moon happy about the news, and I finished first drafting Into the Black, a book I'm already very proud of.

August was another quiet month. I started revising Into the Black and joined the Pok√©mon GO craze, which was fun and actually got me out of my writer cave from time to time. It was, however, a pretty bad month health-wise, so that was unfortunate—and a sign to my doctor and I that I need to move to a stronger treatment regimen.

September and October were full of revisions and multiple rounds of critique partners and sensitivity readers while preparing for NaNoWriMo. At the end of the month I sent Into the Black off to my agent, applied for—and landed—a seasonal part time job, and then...

NaNoWriMo! I mean, November! November was an especially rough month, but the good part is I started and finished my NaNo novel before declaring myself exhausted and swearing not to write for the rest of the year. I'd never first drafted three manuscripts and revised one in the same year before and it was tiring but also really gratifying.

And now, December. This month I've (so far) kept to my not-writing promise while trying to catch up on my Goodreads reading challenge, which I am currently three books away from completing and totally determined to manage it, even if two of those books are comics. I also got the laptop I've been saving for forever, and I sent in an application to grad school for a program of my dreams, so I've got my fingers crossed while awaiting the new year. And that's all I'm gonna say about that. :)

How was your 2016?

Twitter-sized bite: 
.@Ava_Jae shares her 2016 year in review. Did you have any big moments this year? (Click to tweet)

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

A fun yearly holiday (re-)post tradition, with apologies to Clement C. Moore, written by yours truly.

Photo credit: Joe Buckingham on Flickr

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the night
Not a writer was writing, not word was in sight.
Blank pages were scattered on desks and on floors,
In hopes that the manuscripts would leap from their drawers.
The radio was humming a song of good cheer,
Yet I, tortured writer, wished a muse would appear.
And I with my coffee and family asleep
Did stare at the page trying hard not to weep.

When out in the snow there came such a noise,
I fell from my chair, disregarding all poise.
I ran to the door, my heart in my throat,
And did throw it open, forgetting my coat.

And Christmas lights glowing on glittering snow
Seemed just for a moment to put on a show.
When to my astonishment—I’ll admit I did shout,
Came a sleigh from the sky led by reindeers on route.

A driver with eyes spilling over with laughter,
His face I did know I’d remember thereafter.
With a beard so white and his cheeks set aglow,
He waved and he smiled, “It’s me, don’t you know!”

I gaped for a moment and stuttered and said,
“This cannot be real—it’s all in my head!”
But Santa, he snickered and said with delight,
“I hear, my dear child, that you love to write.”

“It’s true,” I said, looking down at my feet,
“But a writer I’m not—I’ve admitted defeat.”
And Santa, he frowned—looked me straight in the eye,
And he said, “You’re a writer, don’t let your dream die.”

So I told him my troubles, how the words wouldn’t come,
And he said, “It’s a gift—it won’t always be fun.
It won’t always be easy or simple or kind,
But for writing, my girl, is what you were designed.”

And he lifted my chin with his finger and said,
“These troubles you’re having—they’re all in your head!
So go back inside and rest for the night,
But know that tomorrow, you’ll write at first light!”

He climbed back on his sleigh and took off in the air,
The reindeers—they trampled the stars with their flair.
So inside I went and turned off the TV,
And sat by the fire with a hot cup of tea.

Asleep, there I fell, and I dreamt of the page
And when I awoke—my mind a golden age!
I rushed to my computer and typed until dawn,
His words, I soon realized—they were right all along!

In hindsight I suppose, I shouldn’t have been surprised,
For that day it was Christmas, true and undisguised.
And that man that I saw, whether he was Santa or not,
He brought to my mind things that I had forgot.

A writer’s a writer every day of the week,
On good days, on bad days, on nights that seem bleak.
But I do what I can and what I can is to write,
As Santa reminded me to my delight.

So next time your writing refuses to flow,
Remember what Santa said to me and know,
You’re a writer tonight and always will be,
For writing is truly what makes you feel free.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Fixing the First Page Winner #30!

Photo credit: The Uncommon Cakery on Flickr
Quick Thursday post to announce the winner of the thirtieth fixing the first page feature giveaway!


And the thirtieth winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, Juniper!

Thanks again to all you lovely entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway in January (whaaat), so keep an eye out! And happy holidays to all!

Lessons From a Year of Swag

Photo credit: me
Over the weekend I had my last author event of 2016—so it was kind of fitting that I ran out of bookmarks that day too. It was a little surreal to run out; when I'd ordered my swag in mid 2015, I'd gotten 500 bookmarks and 500 postcards, mostly because GotPrint was running a weird deal that made the upgrade from 250 each just a few dollars more, so I figured eh, why not? It turns out that was a good decision because bookmarks, apparently, are very popular.

You see, aside from giveaways, bookmarks are kind of gold at author events. Generally, non-panel author events go like this: you have a table at a bookstore, set up whatever swag you have and pile up your books, then smile as people walk past you and try to avoid eye contact and while you get people to talk to you so you can tell them about your book.

That actually sounds way more terrifying than it is, but I quickly learned a way to get people to engage: offer free bookmarks.

"Hi, would you like a bookmark?" I'd say, holding out a bookmark. Some people say no, but more times than not people say sure and take your bookmark. Then one of two things happen: either they eye your books and you have an in to talk about it, or they walk away with your bookmark.

My bookmarks have a pretty clip of my cover on one side, then on the other have a teaser and information about my book. This has worked well because I've had people come back after they walked away with my bookmark to ask about my book. Victory! As a bonus, I know even if people just take them home, they have a reminder of my book there.

So lesson learned: bookmarks are author gold. Now that I'm out, I'll definitely be ordering more.

Now postcards. So I kind of took a risk with my postcards in that I put information on both sides. This turned out not to work so well, because it made mailing them harder since I had to put them in envelopes which sort of defeats the purpose of the postcard. Because one side is just my cover, however, I use them more often than not to also give away at author events, but I've found they're not nearly as popular as bookmarks. I'll continue to bring them to author events until I'm out, but next time around I'm definitely keeping one side blank—or at least enough of one side blank so I can stamp/address without covering information—so I can mail them more easily.

Lesson learned: leave space on postcards for stamp and address.

Finally, I didn't have bookplates this year, but I found they were actually requested with relative frequency, so I'll definitely have to look into getting some before Into the Black's release. They're handy especially since my ability to get signed copies out is pretty limited, and shipping for a book is (understandably) a lot more than just mailing a bookplate out.

So those are some of the lessons I've learned from having and giving out swag over the last year and a half. Hope you guys find it useful when the time comes to get some swag for your books. :)

Twitter-sized bite: 
Thinking about getting swag for your book? @Ava_Jae shares lessons she learned from a year of using swag. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: 2017 Debuts I'm Psyched About

2017 is on the horizon so it's time to talk about (more) books! Today I'm talking about four 2017 YA debuts I can't wait to read.


What 2017 debuts are you excited to read?

Twitter-sized bites:
Psyched about 2017 debuts? You should be! @Ava_Jae vlogs about 4 debuts she's psyched to read next year. (Click to tweet)  
What 2017 debuts are you excited about? Check out @Ava_Jae's vlog and join the discussion! (Click to tweet)

Writing Plans for 2017

Photo credit: marceline (asking for trouble) on Flickr
So with the 2016 coming to a close, the time is arriving for everyone to take a look at the upcoming year. And for writers, it means thinking about what we'd like to accomplish next year.

While I'm not coming up with resolutions quite yet (that'll be next), I have started thinking about more concrete writing plans for the new year. For me, this is helpful because I'm a very plan-oriented person, and it gives me some peace of mind to know I've got something planned coming down the pipeline.

Next year, Beyond the Red's sequel, Into the Black publishes in the fall, so my top priority is finishing revisions so I can get the manuscript to my editor and await more revisions. ;) Sometime after I turn that in, I'll also need to first draft The Rising Gold, which publishes fall 2018, and work on initial revisions for that too.

But when I'm not working on the Beyond the Red trilogy? I've got a lot of possibilities right now. I have three first drafted manuscripts, two of which are ready for revisions, so I'll have to decide which I want to prioritize so I can get that revised and to my agent. I've also got a YA Latinx Fantasy idea I'm playing around with that I'd like to start considering seriously and plot out in the near future so I can potentially first draft it next year and get that going, too.

So if all goes smoothly, this time next year I'll hopefully have first drafted two manuscripts, and revised two or three (or maybe four?) others. Which...thinking about it is a pretty ambitious goal, but I did first draft three manuscripts and revise one this year so you never know. It could happen. Maybe.

Either way, I've got a lot of great projects lined up that I'm excited to work on. Writing-wise, 2016 was a good year, and I hope 2017 is even better.

What are your writing plans for 2017?

Twitter-sized bite:
Have you started making your writing plans for 2017? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

The Unpredictable Nature of a Writing Career

Photo credit: free pictures of money on Flickr
A few days ago, a coworker asked me about a writing career. "You don't have to answer this if you don't want to," she said, "but in terms of a writing career, do you think the money's, like...worth it?"

I laughed a little.

The unpredictable nature of a writing career means when it comes to making a living, it's hard to lay out long-term plans. A writer's income comes from advances and royalties—neither of which are predictable. How many deals you'll get, and how much the advances from those deals will be, what kind of rights you sell, and how long it takes to earn out your advance (so you can start getting royalties), etc. all vary really widely.

There are, of course, other streams of income a writer can pursue—appearances at conferences, schools, and libraries can bring in speaking fees and extra book sales, and signing copies at local bookstores can boost sales, and writers with a penchant for editing can offer freelance editing services. But even those things aren't steady, predictable work—events come and go and how much they pay vary, and you can't predict when someone will hire you for a project or an event.

For someone like me who is very plan and schedule-oriented, that my chosen career is so unpredictable in terms of supporting myself complicates matters. This is why a lot of writers pick up full time jobs unrelated to writing—for them, the security of having a steady paycheck to pay the bills frees up mental stress that makes creativity easier. It's also why many writers writing full time (or trying to) also pick up part-time jobs to help make ends meet every month.

When I try to imagine what life might look like in 2018 or 2019, it can be hard to guess much of anything. Right now, the only thing that's certain is what I know: that I'm contracted to publish a book a year until Fall 2018. That in and of itself has given me some peace of mind, because I've got at least two definite projects on the horizon that I'll get to share with the world. But will there be more? The truth is I have no idea what 2017 holds for me in terms of other book sales or plans down that road.

The truth is, a writing career is incredibly unpredictable. With so many factors out of our hands—from what sells on submission, to how much it sells for, to how it performs in the market (which then affects book deals in the future)—what's important is to work on what we can control—the writing—and hope for the best with everything else.

"Well, you don't go into writing for the money," I told my coworker, and it's true. But as unpredictable as a writer's career is, I couldn't be more grateful for the opportunity to do what I love and get paid to do it, even if I don't really know where it will take me in the next couple years. Money aside, it's worth it to me to do something I love, even with a lot of uncertainty along the way.

Twitter-sized bite:
Making a living as an author can be complicated. @Ava_Jae writes about the unpredictable nature of a writing career. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway #30!

Photo credit: ballookey on Flickr
Incredibly, we are now just about halfway through the last month of the year. Snow is falling (in some places), the holidays are practically here, and on Writability it's time for the thirtieth (thirtieth!) Fixing the First Page feature—and the last of 2016.

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 thirtieth public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Wednesday, December 21 at 11:59 PM EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Vlog: How to Choose POV Characters

Choosing POV characters can be tough, especially if you're not sure how many POVs to use. So today I'm sharing some tips to keep in mind when deciding which characters will tell your story.


How do you choose POV characters? 

Twitter-sized bite:
Struggling to decide what character(s) should narrate your WIP? @Ava_Jae vlogs tips on choosing POV characters. (Click to tweet)

10 Diverse 2017 Books I'm Psyched About

So 2016 is coming to close, which in the bookish world means the time to get excited about next year's books is well underway. Like last year, I'd like to feature some diverse books releasing next year, but because there are so many to get excited about, I'm only covering the first half of 2017 for now. 

So! Here are ten diverse books releasing in the first half of 2017! Hope you have your TBR lists ready. ;)

Photo credit: Goodreads

History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (January 17)
YA Contemporary

Goodreads summary: 

"When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course. 
To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart. 
If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life."

Diversity note: The protagonist, Griffin, is a queer boy (#ownvoices) with OCD.

Photo credit: Goodreads

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson (January 24)
YA Contemporary

Goodreads summary:

"Mary B. Addison killed a baby. 
Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a church-going black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say. 
Mary survived five years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home. 
There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary? 
In this gritty and haunting debut, Tiffany D. Jackson explores the grey areas in our understanding of justice, family, and truth, and acknowledges the light and darkness alive in all of us."

Diversity note: Mary, the protagonist, is black (#ownvoices).

Photo credit: Goodreads

City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson (January 24)
YA Mystery/Thriller

Goodreads summary:

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets Gone Girl in this enthralling YA murder mystery set in Kenya. 
In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who doesn't exist. After fleeing the Congo as refugees, Tina and her mother arrived in Kenya looking for the chance to build a new life and home. Her mother quickly found work as a maid for a prominent family, headed by Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most respected business leaders. But Tina soon learns that the Greyhill fortune was made from a life of corruption and crime. So when her mother is found shot to death in Mr. Greyhill's personal study, she knows exactly who’s behind it. 
With revenge always on her mind, Tina spends the next four years surviving on the streets alone, working as a master thief for the Goondas, Sangui City’s local gang. It’s a job for the Goondas that finally brings Tina back to the Greyhill estate, giving her the chance for vengeance she’s been waiting for. But as soon as she steps inside the lavish home, she’s overtaken by the pain of old wounds and the pull of past friendships, setting into motion a dangerous cascade of events that could, at any moment, cost Tina her life. But finally uncovering the incredible truth about who killed her mother—and why—keeps her holding on in this fast-paced nail-biting thriller."

Diversity note: The book takes place in Kenya, and the protagonist, Tina, (and probably other characters) is African.

Photo credit: Goodreads

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (February 28)
YA Contemporary

Goodreads summary: 

"Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl's struggle for justice. Movie rights have been sold to Fox, with Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games) to star."

Diversity note: The protagonist, Starr, is black (#ownvoices). Also the whole premise is based off the Black Lives Matter movement.

Photo credit: Goodreads

The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig (February 28)
YA Fantasy

Goodreads summary:

"The breathtaking sequel to the acclaimed The Girl from Everywhere. Nix has escaped her past, but when the person she loves most is at risk, even the daughter of a time traveler may not be able to outrun her fate—no matter where she goes. Fans of Rae Carson, Alexandra Bracken, and Outlander will fall hard for Heidi Heilig’s sweeping fantasy. 
Nix has spent her whole life journeying to places both real and imagined aboard her time-traveling father’s ship. And now it’s finally time for her to take the helm. Her father has given up his obsession to save her mother—and possibly erase Nix’s existence—and Nix’s future lies bright before her. Until she learns that she is destined to lose the one she loves. But her relationship with Kash—best friend, thief, charmer extraordinaire—is only just beginning. How can she bear to lose him? How can she bear to become as adrift and alone as her father?

Desperate to change her fate, Nix takes her crew to a mythical utopia to meet another Navigator who promises to teach her how to manipulate time. But everything in this utopia is constantly changing, and nothing is what it seems—not even her relationship with Kash. Nix must grapple with whether anyone can escape her destiny, her history, her choices. Heidi Heilig weaves fantasy, history, and romance together to tackle questions of free will, fate, and what it means to love another person. But at the center of this adventure are the extraordinary, multifaceted, and multicultural characters that leap off the page, and an intricate, recognizable world that has no bounds."

Diversity note: The protagonist, Nix, is hapa (#ownvoices), one of the love interests, Kash, is Persian, one of the crew members is lesbian, another crew member is Chinese, and another is Sudanese.

Photo credit: Goodreads

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde (March 14)
YA Contemporary

Goodreads summary:

"When BFFs Charlie, Taylor and Jamie go to SupaCon, they know it’s going to be a blast. What they don’t expect is for it to change their lives forever. 
Charlie likes to stand out. SupaCon is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star, Jason Ryan. When Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought. 
While Charlie dodges questions about her personal life, Taylor starts asking questions about her own. 
Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about the Queen Firestone SupaFan Contest, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe. "

Diversity note: One protagonist, Taylor, is autistic (#ownvoices), and the other, Charlie, is openly bi (#ownvoices) and Chinese Australian.

Photo credit: Goodreads

The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi (March 28)
MG Fantasy

Goodreads summary:

"A trio of friends from New York City find themselves trapped inside a mechanical board game that they must dismantle in order to save themselves and generations of other children in this action-packed debut that’s a steampunk Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair. 
When twelve-year-old Farah and her two best friends get sucked into a mechanical board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand—a puzzle game akin to a large Rubik’s cube—they know it’s up to them to defeat the game’s diabolical architect in order to save themselves and those who are trapped inside, including her baby brother Ahmed. But first they have to figure out how. 
Under the tutelage of a lizard guide named Henrietta Peel and an aeronaut Vijay, the Farah and her friends battle camel spiders, red scorpions, grease monkeys, and sand cats as they prepare to face off with the maniacal Lord Amari, the man behind the machine. Can they defeat Amari at his own game…or will they, like the children who came before them, become cogs in the machine?"

Diversity note: Much of (maybe all of?) the cast is Muslim, including some hijabi girls (#ownvoices).

Photo credit: Goodreads

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (May 30)
YA Contemporary

Goodreads summary: 

"A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married. 
Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways."

Diversity note: Both major characters, Dimple and Rishi, are Indian American (#ownvoices).

Photo credit: Goodreads

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee (June 20)
YA Historical Fantasy

Goodreads summary: 

"An unforgettable tale of two friends on their Grand Tour of 18th-century Europe who stumble upon a magical artifact that leads them from Paris to Venice in a dangerous manhunt, fighting pirates, highwaymen, and their feelings for each other along the way. 
Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men. 
But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy. 
Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores."

Diversity note: The protagonist, Monty, is a queer boy as is the love interest, Percy. I've also heard it has biracial and disability rep, so yay. :)

UPDATE (12/30/16): Originally this was ten books, but then I heard really unfortunate things about the representation in one of them, so I've pulled it off my list.

Twitter-sized bite:
What diverse books releasing in the first 1/2 of 2017 are you psyched about? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

What I Learned From Debuting

Photo credit: Chiara Cremaschi on Flickr
This time last year, I was full of excitement and some trepidation. My debut date, March 1st, was less than three months away, ARCs were out in the world, reviews were coming in, and the knowledge that in just a handful of months I'd be able to live my dream—walking into a bookstore and seeing my book on the shelf—buzzed endlessly in the back of my mind.

December 2015 was an exciting and scary time for sure, and now, with my debut year coming to a close and a class of new, talented authors getting ready to take up the debut year mantle, I thought I'd share some lessons I learned this year.

  1. If you haven't already, memorize your elevator pitch. The first question people always ask when they hear your book is going to be published is "What is your book about?" When you're on any kind of panel or go to any kind of author event, the question you will answer most is "What is your book about?" And if you are anything like me, not having an answer ready for that question will make you freeze up and freak out.

    Practice your elevator pitch until you can say it in your sleep. Say it aloud in front of your computer, in front of the mirror, as you're walking to your car, as you're waiting on line. Say it until you don't have to think about it anymore, because that question—"What is your book about?"—will show up in the most unexpected places, and trust me, you'll be glad you had a quick answer ready.

  2. Everyone handles debuting differently—and that's okay. I love hearing when people are reading my book—it gives me a little thrill and a smile—but I have some author friends who really would just rather not know, and that's okay. Milestones that feel exciting for you may feel terrifying to someone else—and vice versa, and what you find amazing or terrifying says nothing about you except that it's how your brain processes things. Everyone handles debuting differently—all that's important is that you prioritize taking care of yourself along the way and do what works best for you.

  3. The wait feels like forever; but it's over really quickly. When you agree to the offer, your publication date is probably two years away. Two years feels like forever, then a year later one year feels like forever, then six months later six months feels like forever, and well...you get it.

    But once things start happening, they start happening really quickly. Your cover, your cover reveal, your edits, more edits, ARCs, trade reviews, Edelweiss & Netgalley release, blogger reviews, guest posts and interviews, debut day preparation, author copies, giveaways, then, at last: publication day.

    Things get really quiet after publication day.

    The nature of publishing is cyclical. It's this enormous build up until Your Day, then a week later it's someone else's day. Then it's been a month since Your Day, then six months, so on and so forth. Eventually, Being Published and everything that it means becomes your new normal. Eventually, you answer questions like "Yes, I'm a published author and you can get my book [here]" as second nature. Eventually, that you were published will start to feel like No Big Deal—don't let it. Savor those amazing moments along the way—every single one of them—and remember you've done something so many others have only dreamt about. And that's pretty darn amazing.

  4. Celebrate in the way you want to. About a year before my debut, I imagined having an awesome launch party. It felt like a rite of passage, a thing that I had to—and had to want to—do, and I took for granted that I'd want to do it. About four months before debut, I realized reality was a different story for me: not only did I not really know more than a handful of people I could potentially invite, but the stress of putting it together and preparing for The Day was starting to really weigh on me. I was getting nervous, and dreading everything involved, and thinking about how happy I'd be when it was finally over—

    Until I realized I didn't have to do a launch party at all. Until I realized doing one wouldn't be a celebration for me as much as it'd be what I felt was an obligation.

    Celebrate the way you want to. I ended up doing an online launch party thanks to the amazing Heidi Heilig who volunteered to help me put it together so I could celebrate with friends online. It went really well—I answered questions, made some cupcakes, chatted with friends, did a few giveaways, all from the comfort of my pajamas and a hot cup of tea. It was exactly the way I needed to celebrate and I'm so grateful to Heidi for reaching out to me and offering to help.

    If I lived somewhere closer to my bookish friends—like New York or something—I may have chosen to do a physical launch party anyway, because the trade off would've been worth it. But since I don't, and since I was already stressed enough with everything going on, celebrating online was definitely the right decision for me. So make sure you celebrate the way you want to—because ultimately, the celebration is for you.

  5. When you can, keep working on your next book. Remember what I said about everyone handling debuting differently? I handled it by distracting myself with other projects—something that worked really well for me. Some of my author friends, however, couldn't juggle debuting with writing other books, which is totally understandable and okay. Eventually, however, you'll need to get back on the horse and start working on your next book. Careers are very rarely made on a single book—for most of us, our careers will be built on long backlists—and that means putting in the work to get your next book going whenever you can.

  6. Don't read your reviews...or do. Here's another "everyone handles debuting differently" thing—I have author friends who don't read any reviews, author friends who only read positive reviews, and author friends who love reading all of their reviews. Whatever you decide, what's important is that you don't let it become an obsessive thing to check. I personally like perusing through my four star and up reviews, and when I have the headspace for it I'll sometimes look at three-star reviews. I have to be careful though, because reading negative reviews is an insta-anxiety trigger for me, so it's just not healthy for me to look at negative reviews. By looking at three-star and up reviews, however, I have been able to glean some trends that I found helpful to keep in mind while working on Into the Black, so my selective glancing at reviews (which I do much less of now than I did initially) did prove helpful.

But once again, what matters here is you. Whether you look at reviews or not, just make sure that the choice you make is healthiest for you and don't worry about what everyone else does.

Twitter-sized bite:

With 2016 drawing to a close, @Ava_Jae shares six lessons she learned from debuting. #pubtip (Click to tweet)

Gifts for Writers in Your Life

Photo credit: Eric Torrontera on Flickr
So the holidays are upon us, which means the time to buy gifts for your loved ones is here! As I've been planning all my purchases for family and friends, it occurred to me I haven't really talked about gifts for writers, so now seems like a perfect time to do it.

So without further ado, here are some gift ideas for the writers in your life. Or, you know, ideas to give your friends and family for you. ;)

Writing craft books

Writing craft books are always a great choice, because there's always more for writers to learn. Some that I've read and loved or are on my list to read include:

Nerdy mugs ($12.00-19.90)

There are lots of places to find nerdy mugs, like Barnes & Noble, Hot Topic, Out of Print and Etsy. Some fun options include B&N's Harry Potter Ceramic Cauldron mug, Hot Topic's Disney Alice in Wonderland Cheshire Cat mug and Harry Potter Hogwarts Red mug, Out of Print's Banned Books Heat Reactive Mug or some of the many cute selections from missbohemia's Etsy store.

Bookish candles ($18.00)

Frostbeard Studio has a really great collection of bookish soy candles. With choices like Book Cellar, Headmaster's Office, New Paperback, Old Books, Oxford Library, Reading at the Cafe, Study Break Chai Latte, Wizardry Buttery Drink and more, there's a scent for every book nerd.

Nerdy shirts, scarves, sweaters ($20.00-$42.00)

There are so many places to get bookish clothes and accessories. TeeFury has a whole book collection including The Little Wizard and Extraordinary Novelists, Litographs has awesome selections like Peter Pan,  Scarlet, and The Declaration of Independence, Out of Print has great choices like their  When in Doubt (Harry Potter Alliance) Sweatshirt and Fantastic Books & Where to Find Them t-shirt, and Storiarts on Etsy has some gorgeous bookish scarves like Shakespeare's Hamlet Book Scarf, and The Raven by Poe Book Scarf, and also these cool Alice in Wonderland Writing Gloves.

Scrivener ($45.00)

I've written about the wonders of Scrivener many times. While you'll probably want the writer in your life to play around with the free trial first (because it's not for everyone!), I, for one, can say Scrivener has completely changed how I tackle writing books for the better and I will never go back.

AeonTimeline ($50)

AeonTimeline is a pretty handy—and in-depth—program that could be especially useful to writers who write books with complicated timelines. Some of the features are listed here, but when I tried a free trial last year to help me work out a timeline I found it really visually interesting and useful.


E-readers are a writer's best friend. I swear by my Nook e-ink reader, which I got years ago from someone who upgraded theirs and it still works beautifully. The one I have is discontinued but when the time comes to upgrade I'll be getting the Nook GlowLight Plus. If you're looking for an inexpensive tablet e-reader, there's Barnes & Noble's new $50 7" Nook tablet, and over on Amazon there are options like the Kindle, Kindle Paperwhite, and Fire tablet.

Noise-canceling headphones

This is a good higher-budget option if the writer in your life frequently works in noisy environments, but even if not they can be really great to help hone focus. They are, however, on the pricier end, so this would be a more luxurious gift the writer in your life would make great use of.

Cool bookends

BookRiot did a post on fifty awesome bookends earlier this year with some really cool options.

Other random suggestions: nice pens and journals, fancy teas, chocolate, bookshelves, PJ pants, fuzzy blankets, fuzzy socks, whiteboards, cork boards, and, of course, books and gift cards for books.

What writerly gifts are you craving this year? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Not sure what to get the writers in your life for the holidays? @Ava_Jae puts together writerly gifts to consider. (Click to tweet

Vlog: On Important Post-Manuscript Breaks

NaNoWriMo is officially over, which means many of you have completed manuscripts ready for revision. But before you dive in to revisions, make sure you don't skip this important post-first draft step.


Do you take breaks after finishing your first drafts? 

Twitter-sized bites:
#NaNoWriMo is over, so now what? @Ava_Jae vlogs about the importance of taking a break after first drafting. (Click to tweet)  
So you finished your first draft—now what? @Ava_Jae vlogs about developing distance from your WIP. (Click to tweet)

Diverse Books Resource List 2016

Photo credit: mine
Last year, I created my first-ever Diverse Books Resource List, a list of lists containing loads of diverse books from just about every category. While initially I'd hoped to update it indefinitely, I quickly realized that wasn't going to be feasible for me, so instead I've decided to cover every year from here on out.

So without further ado! I present to you the diverse books resource list for 2016, organized alphabetically. Enjoy!

Body-Positive lists:

Disability lists:

Race, Ethnicity, & Religion-related lists:

QUILTBAG+ lists:

Intersectional lists:

If you have any 2016 lists you'd like me to add—especially for the thinner categories—let me know! I'd be happy to see this list grow. :) 

Where do you go to find diverse books?

Twitter-sized bite:
Looking for places to find diverse books? @Ava_Jae puts together resources from 2016 to find rep across the board. (Click to tweet)
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