How to be a Teen Writer Without Making Me Want to Punch You in the Face

The Little Engine that Couldn't

[Disclaimer: I don’t actually want to punch anyone in the face. At the most I’ll give them a disappointed look and maybe make fun of their shoes.]

I strongly support teenage writers. Most of them are pretty cool, and with some you could just tell they’re going to become famous authors one day. Hell, some of them already are.

Still, when it comes to writing and literature, teenagers are constantly looked down upon. There are some people who immediately stop listening to what you’re saying once they find out your age. This actually happened to me once with another blogger. We were getting along just fine, having a nice conversation about Neil Gaiman, and then she found out I was fifteen and never answered back.

While I’ve never actually heard an adult say, “Oh, you’re just a teen. You can’t write,” or anything as obnoxiously condescending as that, I do…

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NetGalley for Indie Authors

For years, NetGalley has been an invaluable tool for traditional publishers. All they have to do is upload one of their books into the NetGalley catalog, and the company distributes it to potential book reviewers. It’s an easy, fast way to reach book reviewers.


Just a few months ago, I thought NetGalley was off limits to indie authors. Luckily, I was completely wrong. NetGalley recently opened its doors to indie authors with two available plans:

 
— $400 for one author and one book. The listing stays on NetGalley for a full year.
— $300 per author for a co-op of 20 authors. The books and authors can be switched out as many times as necessary, and the listings stay on NetGalley for a full year.

 
There’s also the option to join a co-op for a limited time. This isn’t a service provided directly by NetGalley– organizations like Patchwork Press offer this. Because books can be switched out, more than 20 authors can take part in the co-op throughout the year-long period.

 
What this means for indie authors if that you have the option to test the NetGalley waters and post your book on their website for less than $300. I just teamed up with Patchwork Press to post my novel “Counting Shadows” on NetGalley for a two month session. In total it cost $80, and I was able to easily pay through PayPal.

 
So far, the experience has been wonderful. Patchwork Press is extremely organized and efficient, and now all I have to do is wait for the reviews to come in. I’ve been told to expect about 50+ reviews, which is an astonishingly high number, given the price I paid. To compare, my favorite book blog tour company, Xpresso Book Tours, offers a 40-review tour for $150.

 
There are, of course, differences between a book blog tour and a session with NetGalley. For one, a blog tour gives you the ability to connect directly to the readers, and communicate with them during the tour. Also, NetGalley listings don’t include buy-links, and there is no promise that the readers will include these links when they post their reviews. One more thing I should mention–blog tour reviews are usually posted on multiple sites. Reviewers for NetGalley only have to post their review on the NetGalley site–all other sites are completely optional.

 
So is it worth the $80? I don’t know yet. My book has only been up for a few hours, so it’s way too soon to tell. But I’ll write up another post in a month or so, and give an update on how the NetGalley experience has worked for me.

 
In the meantime, here are some very helpful posts about other authors’ experiences with NetGalley:

Susan Kaye Quinn’s experience: http://www.susankayequinn.com/2013/05/netgalley-for-indie-authors.html

Keary Taylor;s experience: http://www.kearytaylor.com/2013/02/the-netgalley-low-down-for-authors-and.html

 

Coming Out of the Writers’ Closet

Some people are totally comfortable having their friends and relatives read their writing. I envy those people big-time. Personally, it scares me every time I hand over a piece of my writing to someone I know well. To the point where I wrote two entire novels before I told my family I was even interested in writing.

 
Now, I can give my writing to my CPs, and they’ll tear it to pieces. I’m fine with this. I actually enjoy this process most of the time. But when it comes to friends and family? Nope. I always feel like I’m going to throw up when I hand over a piece of my writing.

 
I know I’m not alone when it comes to this particular fear, so I thought I’d write a post about how I personally deal with it.

 
1. I always explain that the opinions in my writing don’t always reflect my personal opinions.

 
My family is Catholic. I am Atheist. This is the main reason I waited so long to tell any of them about my writing. I have characters in my writing who not only use magic, but who believe magic is a powerful healing tool. I’m sure most people know how Catholics usually respond to books with magic–when I was young, I was forbidden to read Twilight, The Mortal Instruments, Harry Potter, and many other novels. I have relatives who actually believe J.K. Rowling is a possessed worker of the devil. Basically, in the Catholic Church’s opinion, magic is a terrible and evil thing. In my books, it’s a good thing to have. You can see the conflict right there.

 
When I first gave my mom one of my novels, I was utterly terrified that my parents were going to make me stop writing, and haul me off to an exorcist. I repeated about twenty-bazillion times that it was a fantasy novel. Yes, a FANTASY novel. As in, I don’t believe anything in it is actually real.

 
Luckily, no exorcisms followed. My mom actually enjoyed the novel, and she was perfectly okay with my explanation of the magical elements. But had I not taken the time to explain that vital fact–that my characters’ beliefs don’t represent mine–then things probably wouldn’t have gone so smoothly.

 

 

2. I tell them there’s no need to finish it or tell me what they think.
Whenever I hand my writing over to someone I know, I always say this. If they enjoy my work, then that’s wonderful, and I’d love to hear their thoughts. But if they find it offensive or terrible or boring, then I don’t expect them to fake a smile and tell me it’s great. This seems to take a lot of pressure off people, and makes the whole experience go smoother.

 

 

3. I just say no. 

Sometimes, I just have to tell people that they can’t read my writing. Period. No exceptions. If I believe that my writing might harm the relationship I have with them, then I just say no. It’s not worth losing a friend of relative over something as trivial as a piece of writing. And it’s also not worth the nerve-wracking feeling of worrying how that person will judge me. In cases like this, I just tell people no. They might think it’s rude, but I’d rather be considered rude than a worker of the devil, or worse.

Scrivener for Writers

Along with being a writer nerd, I’m also a tech geek. I love technology in all its forms, and I always get excited about new writing technology.

 
But nothing gets me as excited as the novel writing program “Scrivener”, created by Literature and Latte. I simply adore this program. Upon first inspection, it’s pretty similar to Microsoft Word. But if you take a closer look, you’ll see there are dozens of exciting and helpful features Word doesn’t offer.

 

Some of my favorites are:

 
–The Corkboard:
Scrivener allows you to organize your story on a virtual corkboard. Add the title of each scene, your target word count, a synopsis of the scene, the draft number, and other important writing facts. Then simply click on the index card you want to write about, and a blank page will pop up for you to type in.


–The Folders and Subfolders
Instead of organizing your work in one, giant document, Scrivener allows you to separate your document into interlinked pieces. These pieces are folders and subfolders. All your work remains on the same document, but you don’t have to scroll through 25 pages to reach Chapter Three. Just click on the Chapter Three sub-document, and it’s right in front of you!


–Distraction Free Mode
This mode practically saved my life. It blocks out everything on your screen but your writing. That’s right–you can’t see your outline, your word count, or any other distracting things on your desktop. It makes you sit your butt down and just write, which is something that I love.

 

–Split Screen
This feature is why I use Scrivener for revisions. It allows you to split the screen and have one document on the right, and one on the left. So, for example, you can keep your first draft popped up on the right while you write the second draft in the left portion of the screen. This allows you to view two parts of your writing at once, without switching screens or programs.


And this is just a small taste of Scrivener’s capabilities. Using it, you can set specific word-count goals, track the words you use most often, use any font and style you want, and more. The best part? Scrivener only costs about $40 bucks. And, if you complete NaNoWriMo, it’s even cheaper. Oh, and you can also get the 30-day trial, without paying a cent.

 
Okay, I’m done raving about this program. Now go download it! Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Nine Writing Lessons You Can Learn From Cats

1. Every realistic character needs a dark side.


2. It’s often the tiny things that make great stories.


3. Characters have to fail, or else it isn’t interesting.


4. Sometimes, it’s best to summarize.


5. Every author, even the best of them, will get told “no” at some point in their career.

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6. Small things in the story can have big impacts.


7. Even the worst villains have a personality beneath all that evil.


8. Proper research makes a story feel more realistic.


9. Mustaches make every novel better.

More Books on Eating Disorders, Please

Just earlier this year, I was about 30 pounds underweight. I have two medical conditions that affect my stomach in various ways. Basically, I get extremely nauseous every time I eat, and I have a lot of severe stomach pains. As you might guess, it’s incredibly difficult for me to keep on weight. Yesterday I went shopping, and I was able to fit in a size 4 pair of jeans without them slipping off my waist. I almost screamed I was so happy.

 
My BMI (Body Mass Index) is now just barely within the “healthy” range. The fact that I’m no longer a walking skeleton is something I’m so, so grateful for.

 
But other people seem to think differently. The other day, I had someone in my charter school class say to me, “Wow, you’ve gained weight.” I was about to start gushing about how happy I was, when she added, “You know, my friend has this super awesome diet she uses to stay skinny. I could tell you about it, if you want.”

 
My jaw just about dropped to the floor. I don’t remember exactly what I said in reply–I was in total shock. But I have no doubt that I wasn’t very pleasant.

 
The sad truth is, when I was 30 pounds underweight, I was constantly getting told how “beautiful” my figure was. Practically every girl I knew “wanted my figure”. Even adults would gush about how “lucky” I was to be so skinny.

 
It’s not easy to make me mad. But these “compliments” almost put me over the edge. There is nothing beautiful about every single one of your ribs showing. No one should want to feel light-headed constantly. And there’s not anything lucky about throwing up at least twice a day.

 
Unfortunately, we live in a world with unrealistic expectations of beauty. To put it frankly, this has got to stop. It’s not healthy, and it’s not right. There are thousands upon thousands of people out there with eating disorders, all because of our culture’s bizarre interpretation of beauty. People are dying because of this so-called beauty.

 
Despite all of this, there are only 77 YA books in Barnes and Noble’s book catalog categorized as “Eating Disorders”. This is out of over 67,000 YA books they have cataloged.

 
Fortunately, some of those books are fantastic resources. My favorite on the subject is WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson. Unfortunately, there’s a painfully obvious lack of books on this topic.

 
I’m not sure why this is, but I am sure of one thing: We need more books about eating disorders. There needs to be more awareness about the conditions, and people need to become more open to discussing the topic. Publishing more books about eating disorders would be a big step in the right direction. It would provide people with the knowledge they need to maybe save someone’s life.

 
Yes, they’re usually depressing. Yes, they’re heavy topics. But that doesn’t mean eating disorder books should be left unpublished.

 
To end this post on a positive note, here is a link to a list of YA books about eating disorders. This is the largest list I could find, and there are only 106 books. But it’s a start, and I encourage you to read at least one of these books. You never know how it might change your life, or the life of someone else.

Five Myths about Teen Writers

I get a lot of weird looks when I tell adults I write novels. Because I’m homeschooled, the first reaction most people have is, “Oh, so this is a part of your curriculum?” When I explain that it has nothing to do with my curriculum, their next question is usually, “How long are these novels?” When I say my works are usually around 350 pages long, the usual reaction I get is a laugh or someone saying, “Aw, that’s cute. Let me know if you ever finish a story, okay? I’d be willing to read it for you.”

 
Unfortunately, most teenage writers aren’t taken seriously. I find this extremely sad, because the belittling comments adults make can be discouraging, and even drive teens away from the craft of writing. So, in order to help people understand teen writers a bit better, I thought I’d bust a few myths about my kind.


1. Teen writers are too naïve to write realistically.
Many teens have more real-world experience than the average 30-year-old. It’s a sad fact of life that a lot of teenagers left their childhood behind years ago. For me, it was impossible to stay naïve when I grew up in doctor’s offices and spent my school vacations in hospitals. You don’t stay innocent very long in the face of that much pain. Other teens face different difficulties that strip away their naivety–pregnancy, homophobia, bullying, mental illness, ect. And, sure, most teens are pretty dang naïve. But that doesn’t mean all of us are.

 
2. Teens don’t have thick enough skins to deal with critique.
I joined my first critique group at fourteen, and I wasn’t even the youngest member. There are entire forums and blogs on the internet dedicated to critiquing teen writing. There are even professional organizations and camps who work with teens to improve their writing.
Truth is, most teens want to learn and improve their skills. And we’re more than willing to take critique, even if it does sting sometimes.

 
3. Teen writers expect special treatment, just because of their age.
Most of us just want one thing: to be treated like regular writers. In most cases, it’s not the teens who ask for special treatment–it’s the adults who treat us differently.

 
4. Teens are too young to deal with the harsh business of publishing.
Publishing is an extremely harsh business. But, as I mentioned in Myth #1, many teens have a lot harsher things in our lives. We’re accustomed to not getting things easily, and many of us are willing to work our butts off to achieve our goals in publishing. There are a lot of traditionally published teen authors who prove this. You can check out a fantastic list of them here.

 
5. Teen writers don’t have the patience to finish writing a real novel.
This myth has been proven wrong so many times. Just look at NaNoWriMo–hundreds of teens win that event every year. Not all teens will finish the novels they start, but thousands have done it, and thousands more will do it in the future.

 
So, to sum things up, most teen writers aren’t very different from adult writers. We all have the same passion and practice the same craft. Luckily, there are a lot of people out there who recognize this, and who treat teen writers just like they treat adult writers. And I’m crossing my fingers that more and more adults will adopt this mindset.

Why Indie Book Covers are So Expensive

Just a few years ago, I cringed practically every time I saw a self-published book cover. But, more and more frequently, I’m finding fantastic indie covers. So fantastic, in fact, that they look better than many traditional covers. Here are some examples of some indie covers I’ve recently fallen in love with:

 

Flutter by Melissa Andrea

Flutter by Melissa Andrea

Sovereign Hope by Frankie Rose

Sovereign Hope by Frankie Rose

One by LeighAnn Kopans

One by LeighAnn Kopans

Beautiful, aren’t they? After looking at these gorgeous covers, you kind of have to wonder why all indie authors don’t have this quality of cover. Good covers bring in sales, make the author look professional, and attract readers. So why don’t all indie authors have kick-ass covers?

 
The short answer? Because they’re expensive as hell. One of my CPs uses a cover service that charges around $1000 dollars for one cover. While that’s generally considered a high price, most good indie design services charge at least $200. I’ve heard a ton of grumbling from indie authors about the prices cover designers charge, and this tends to drive me a little bonkers.

 
I’m a cover designer myself, so I’m one of the lucky authors who knows the whole cover-designing process. I thought I’d take a moment to break down the expenses of covers, so indie authors can see why these type of designs cost so much.

 
1. Design Equipment
Photoshop CS 5, the version I use, costs around $800 dollars. My Wacom Tablet (used for digital painting aspects) cost $240. My high quality laptop, which I need to run Photoshop, cost around $700. Most cover designers need all of this equipment, and sometimes more. Already, you can see why cover designers have high prices.

 
2. Stock Images

The average price is about $10 per stock image, but I’ve paid up to $75 for stock. These prices add up quickly, especially since covers can easily incorporate 5+ stock images.

 
3. Design Process
It takes me at least three hours to design a cover. My cover for “Frost Fire” took around 22 hours of work, and months of tweaking after that. Let’s say someone wants a cover like the one I made for “Frost Fire”. If an author paid me minimum wage for each hour I worked, that’s around $200.

 
4. Fonts
Fonts are pricey to buy and use for commercial use. They average around $75 for a commercial license. But, if you want pretty lettering on your cover, the designer has to pay for pretty fonts.

 

 

So, as you can see, the design expenses are extremely high. This is why cover designers ask for so much money–because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be able to stay in business. Make more sense? I hope so!

 
Are you now wondering why it takes so long to design a cover? I have that answer, too. Below is a start-to-finish look at my 22 hour process of creating the cover for “Frost Fire”. Obviously, it’s quite a condensed version, but you can see the drastic differences between the original image and the end.

Frost Fire

Frost Fire

The Benefits of Writing in Multiple Genres

A few months ago, I started singing lessons. My instructor assigned me to learn “Royals” by Lorde, and over the next few weeks, we worked together on that song. Then one week, my instructor abruptly said, “Alright, we’re moving on to a new song.” I was a little baffled, since I hadn’t finished learning the entirety of Royals. When I asked my instructor about this, she said, “Vocal chords involve muscle memory, just like any other muscle in the body. If you work on the same song for too long, you’ll start to sing every song the same way, which will make you sound funky.”

This, of course, got me thinking about writing. Specifically, it made me think about writers who write in various genres, versus writers who write in a single genre. Now, this may just be a personal thing, but I have noticed that writers who write in diverse genres tend to develop their writing faster and better. I’ve noticed this in my critique groups, in indie authors, and even in some traditional authors.
So why is this? Well, I suppose it’s because every genre has something new to teach a writer. Personally, this is what I’ve learned from the genres I’ve written in:

 

 

Epic Fantasy– How to structure a story precisely and layer subplots.
Urban Fantasy–How to develop new, interesting worlds.
Paranormal Romance– How to build relationships between characters.
Dystopian–How to create political systems, both official and unofficial.

 
So when I started to write my first contemporary novel, Tone Deaf, I already knew how to do all these things. Even though Epic Fantasy is vastly different from Contemporary Romance, it helped me with my subplot of cancer in Tone Deaf. Even though Urban Fantasy is the opposite of Contemporary, it helped me create a fictional band that felt real. And so on, and so forth.

 
Personally, I think it’s a great idea for writers to experiment with multiple genres. There are tons of benefits, and not many drawbacks.

 
Of course, when publishing, you do have to worry about branding. It’s probably not a good idea to publish five standalone novels in five completely different genres, because it will confuse your readers about who you “are” as a writer. But when working up to publishing, I feel it’s wonderful to write in various genres. It will help you learn faster, research harder, read wider, and write better.

How I Got My Agent

So this story starts way back when I was fourteen. (I say “way back” rather sarcastically, since that was barely three years ago.) Anyway, I was really sick at the time, so I was reading an awful lot of books. I started noticing a trend to the novels: Either the MC was perfectly healthy, or they were about to drop dead any second. There was no in-between. In other words, there were no MCs who were like me–very sick, but used to it, and just living life as normally as possible.

 
So I started writing a novel featuring a disabled MC, with a plot that didn’t focus on her disability. This novel turned into “Tone Deaf”, and after being posted on Wattpad, it gained over 850,000 hits and 20,000 interactions.

 
Now, this was back when I was fourteen. This was only my third novel. It sucked big time. It needed work, and I knew it wasn’t nearly ready to publish. So I tucked it away and decided to rewrite it someday when I had more experience.

 
That “someday” turned out to be June 2013. I dusted off the manuscript, made some major plot changes, and rewrote “Tone Deaf”. The first draft was done within about a month, and revisions came along at a relatively fast rate. So by the time it was late July, and I was about to attend the PNWA conference, I figured I’d try pitching it. I didn’t expect any results, but I thought I’d have some fun with it.

 
Before the conference, I sent a draft of my pitch to Laurie McLean, my super-boss-extraordinaire. I’d been interning for her since February, and since she’s a fabulous literary agent, I thought she’d be a great person to critique my pitch. Below is the pitch I sent her for critique:

 

Ali Blinde was a prodigy destined to become one of the greatest musicians of the 21st century.
Until the brain tumor struck.
Now seventeen, Ali lives in a silent world where she gets by with sign language and lip-reading. When she’s not avoiding her abusive father, Ali spends her time shoving away the memories of the music that once completed her life. So when she meets Jace Beckett, she thinks he’s her worst nightmare come-true. At nineteen, Jace is already a world-renowned musician—the exact type of person Ali hates and resents. And his personality doesn’t make him any easier to like; Jace is angry, arrogant, and just as hot as he is hot-headed. The rotten cherry on top is his mysterious grudge against deaf people.
But when Jace learns that Ali is living in an abusive home, it strikes a chord, and he reluctantly proposes a solution: run away with him and his band as they tour the country. With freedom in sight, Ali takes the offer. Immediately, she’s swept into a world of wild punk music, wilder musicians, and maybe—just maybe—love.
TONE DEAF is a 65,000 word Young Adult Romance.
The first chapters of the novel have already received over 800,000 hits on the website “Wattpad”, and the book has a large and active fan-base.

 
Laurie did critique my pitch. She also asked to see the full manuscript.

 
At this point, I was all like, “Whhhhaaaaaa?” (Yes, I know, an incredibly articulate thought process.) But, I mean, this was LAURIE MCLEAN. She’s my dream agent, and she was asking for the full manuscript. So I polished it up, sent it off to her, and expected nothing. After working with Laurie for months, I knew how picky she was about writing. I was 99.99% sure she’d hate everything I’d written.

 
But she didn’t hate it. She actually kind of liked it. In fact, she sent me an email shortly after she received the manuscript, and told me, “This beginning rocks!” Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell if she was being serious, or if she was making a kick-ass pun, since the book is about a rockstar. I was still putting my bets on the pun when she asked if she could call me.

 
Now I was having a freaking panic attack. I didn’t know if this would be a “Good Try” phone call or an “I Want to Agent You” phone call. But I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to offer me representation. Because, like I mentioned before, this was LAURIE MCLEAN.

 
We set up a time for the phone call, but it had to be postponed because of exciting news. (I don’t think I can reveal this exciting news yet. But it’s EXCITING. And it’s NEWS.) So after all the Exciting News was dealt with, and I was at the point of standing by phone just staring at the thing, Laurie finally called.

 
And she offered me representation.

 
At this point, I was just trying not to faint. I’m not kidding about this. I have a cardiac condition that makes it super easy for me to faint, so I was trying sooooo hard not to black out. I’m pretty sure I made absolutely no sense for the rest of that conversation, but by the time our call ended, we’d made a plan for “Tone Deaf” and discussed some future publishing works.

 
AND I HAD AN AGENT!

 
So that’s the story of how I got my agent. It’s a little different than most stories, but it’s basically the same as usual–pitch, full request, offer of rep. I’m still in shock over all this, and I keep pinching myself to see if this is a dream. But, apparently, it’s not. Because…

 
I HAVE AN AGENT!