Saturday, December 7, 2019

Stumbling into the Side Hustle that Saved Me

Okay, so 'saved me' - as the title to this post states-- is possibly a bit over-dramatic, but not by much. Three years ago I knew I needed a more solid income again. Husband's job had changed, I was at an impasse about the option book for one of my publishers, I wasn't digging the unpredictable nature of substitute teaching, and for a variety of reasons, cobbling together a series of paid school visits for my YA novels wasn't as steady a set of extra gigs as I wanted either. Mostly, I think, after five years of working primarily from home, I was going stir crazy. I loved writing every day. I loved the freedom. But I wanted more structure. I wanted colleagues I had to get out of my pajamas for. I wanted to talk to someone on the daily who wasn't the dog.

So it was that I, with zero retail sales experience (unless you count McDonald's when I was seventeen, which I think is a stretch but was the last and only time I'd worked a cash register) but a solid, although admittedly author-side only knowledge of the publishing industry, stumbled into a job at Houston's oldest indie bookstore. "Children's Specialist" they said. That's what they needed. Part-time, although we tussled a bit over how many hours that would be. 15 sounded good to me. 30 sounded good to them. We ended somewhere in the middle... at least to start. They taught me how to use the cash register. Having only taught school or wrote from home, I learned what it was like to have a job where at least some days there was an actual lunch break of more than 7 minutes involved.

Fast forward to this week, three years plus later. It's been quite the ride. Not just because the job evolved (as jobs do when you are a Type A human) and I'm now Kids' Programming Director, pitching for events to the publishers, arranging and implementing school visits, broadening the shop's scope and partnerships, buying for kids and YA. (yeah, still part time...sort of) Not just because it turns out I was born for retail and love nothing more than putting the right books in people's hands. Or because I love being an advocate for authors and I love working with librarians and I pretty much discovered that I love it all, including working with publicists and reps and writing reviews and blurbs... and did I mention all those early galleys we get to read? (Are asked to read sometimes by the pubs, which will never stop being a thrill!)

It's also -- this crazy bookseller side hustle--reminded me of all the reasons I wanted to have my own books published in the first place. It's easy to get jaded and burned out in the business. It is after all a piece of the entertainment world, more or less-- always looking for the next best thing, always chasing that elusive something else. For most of us in the middle, that can be a hard pill to swallow some days. Exhausting to keep at it, to keep out there, to avoid getting sucked into the load of crazy that is social media where everyone teeters being carefully curated and shouting into the void. It's easy to think that everyone is doing better than you and guess what? They're not always. Lots of books don't sell the way they are expected to and lots of books get on lists because they are positioned to and what a great thing it is to work at an indie where we can champion any book we love and not just the ones on a corporate script. What a great thing to have a voice through my job to let the publishers know when I love a book.

Anyway. I love this job, too. I'm writing happily again, albeit not quite as fast as when I had hours of each day. I've found my full voice again in a million different ways.

Til next time...

Friday, December 6, 2019

On the Side (Mary Strand)

This month, we’re supposed to blog about side hustles, or what we do to fuel our writing.

I have no idea why I’m always so confused and/or stumped by almost Every Single Blog Topic, but I will note that (1) in high school, when my Spanish teacher said we could write an essay about either Topic A or whatever we wanted, I wrote about whatever I wanted ... and he then assigned whatever topic I’d written about to the class the next week, and (2) “side hustles” made me think about When Harry Met Sally, and how Sally always ordered her food “on the side.”

Harry: "On the side" is a very big thing for you.
Sally: Well, I just want it the way I want it.

(For the record, I agree with Sally.)

It may be that my confusion over this month’s topic will finally send me over the edge, and I’ll do what I used to do in Spanish class: write about whatever I want.

In Spanish.

At this point, I may not need to mention that my brain races in a million different directions, pretty much nonstop, and rarely in the direction that someone else asks it to run.  Also, I love love LOVE movies — I’m all about dialogue, baby — so almost anything that someone says will make me think of a movie I love, and there I go down a rabbit hole.  Like, say, to When Harry Met Sally.  But I’m more likely to quote Bull Durham.

Okay, fine.  Side hustles.  I don’t think I have one.  I actually googled “side hustle,” because I wasn’t sure what one was, which would be my first clue that I don’t have one.  I get the sense that I’d have to actually make money at something for it to qualify as a side hustle, and right now I’m just getting paid for writing novels.


I’m actually working on songwriting these days, and my goal/hope/dream is to write songs I can sell to recording artists, and make money at it.  But would that be a side hustle or simply separate from but equal to my novel writing?  I have no idea.  I love writing songs (although I’m not yet prolific and need to work on that), and I think it’s cool that songwriting feeds my creative soul in a way similar to writing novels.  It fuels my creativity.  I can already tell that if I’m writing novels AND writing songs, and doing a lot of both, the songs fuel my novels and the novels fuel my songs.

(By the way, Music and Lyrics, with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, is a great movie about songwriting.)

Although songwriting fuels my novel writing (and vice versa), I’m not sure that PLAYING guitar or singing does, except that it fuels me as a person, and everything that fuels me as a person  — music, sports, travel, my crazy adventures, books I read, movies I watch, and almost every conversation I have  — ultimately winds up in some fashion in my novels.

But I don’t think any of this might be what I was supposed to write about.

Así es la vida.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Side Hustles and Other Feats of Magic

by Fae Rowen

Years ago when I was thinking about a career change (no, not to "writer") a friend said something that stuck with me. "Your job is just the pump that primes the well." Before that, my job was my all, my place in life, my reason for being.

Now my "main hustle" fuels my writing. I teach, and that provides the shelter and food necessary to sustain life. It also provides many other nice things to have in our modern economy, acting as the credit card for the "side hustles" which inform and fuel my writing.

Travel is important to me as a writer. I get to immerse myself in foreign cultures, try new modes of transportation, clothing, art, and food. When I knew I was going to spend a month in Egypt and Jordan, I took a belly-dancing class. I'm not a dancer; belly-dancing was a real challenge. On the second class the teacher said something like, "Just roll your stomach muscles." Excuse me? The only stomach muscles I know about are busy chewing up that brownie I had at lunch. Despairing of my inability to perform a "belly roll" (yes, think jelly roll) the teacher stood in front of me, pulled up my shirt two inches and said, "Show me how you move this."

I tried. I imagined what that skin should look like when it rolled, I pulled in places of my torso better left unknown and untouched. Then I pushed them out. Nothing in that small exposed area of skin moved. The teacher, who was at least twenty years older than me, shook her head. "I don't know what to say." Neither did I. But I learned the shoulder shimmy, the neck roll, and boy, could I use a veil!

Those experiences lead to a chapter in a book where my main character, a promising ballet student who'd had a serious accident and could no longer perform ballet, learned belly dancing and performed with a friend's traveling troupe. She didn't know it, but the contractor she'd had trouble working with was in the audience. Let's just say belly dancing can smooth over a lot of difficulties.

Improving my craft is important, so I attend conferences, take classes, and read articles and books on writing. Because I believe in giving back, I also write articles and blogs, like this one, speak at conferences and judge contests to help other writers with inspiration and craft skills. I get together with writing friends for writing retreat time.

On a daily basis I either hike trails and look at wildlife or work out with a trainer. Both provide fodder for my imagination and book ideas. "What would this creek look like on a world that has no plants and no animals?" (Sorry, I write science fiction, so much of my musing doesn't sound very sane.) I also love to cook, so, of course, my characters love to eat.

Virtually any place I go, anything I do is fair game for a writing "side hustle" from baby-sitting the kids next door to a spa day with my friends to a long rainy day spent by the fireplace with a book by a favorite author. Reading is always one of my go-to side hustles. I love feeling those emotions, those surprises, and those gasped breaths as much as any reader of a good book.

One summer I decided that I would use a magic trick once a week during my lectures the following semester to illustrate a point, make my students dig for the truth, or just have some fun. I took magic lessons. In fact, I worked as a magician's assistant to make sure I had the "real deal" as to how tricks were performed. From then on, my students were very happy about that side hustle. I was, too. After the first trick of the year, I can get their attention, their real attention, just by reaching for a prop, like a box of matches, a deck of cards, or by wadding up a piece of paper. My first magic endeavor was a mind reading trick that ended with my use of flash paper—which is sadly illegal now. Most of you probably don't know that mathematicians were also called magicians in Ancient Greece. Rightly so, since so many magic tricks are based on mathematics.

But I digress. Everyone's side hustles will be different, based on your interests and your "main hustle." Once your main hustle is perfected, you have more time to spend on side hustles, which can bring more creativity to your writing.

The key is to enjoy whatever you do. That will make you a better participant and more aware of your actions, your emotions, and the reactions of the people around you. Which will make you a better writer.

What is your favorite side hustle?

I want to thank all of you for reading my personal stories and thoughts during the past years. You have helped me soften the barriers between author and reader, and I am humbly grateful to you for that. This is my last post with YA Outside the Lines. I've decided to focus on finishing and publishing two science fiction series for adults, so, for awhile, I won't be working on YA titles once PRISM 2: Rebellion is available for pre-order by the end of this year.

About Fae

Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
P.R.I.S.M., Fae's debut book, a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, and love is now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Fae's second book in the series will be available for pre-order on Christmas, 2019.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Secrets Man Was Not Meant to Know (Brian Katcher)

One of the first things I like to tell groups is that the path to publication is no easy feat.

"You jerks think you can just waltz right into to the publisher's office and sign a contract, don't you? Don't you? Well, I'm here to tell you that's never going to happen, Buster. It takes years of sweat, blood, and deals in gas station bathrooms that I cannot even bring myself to remember. Your eyes are going to bleed and you'll wish you could just hang yourself with your typewriter ribbons by the time this roller coaster ride is over!"

"That's very nice, sir," they'll respond. "But if you don't put some pants on, you'll have to leave this Walmart."

What do they know? But here are some things I wish I knew before that fateful day I escaped from the chain gang and started my career as a young adult author.

1) One publication deal doesn't necessarily mean others. One month you're fending off amorous groupies in the penthouse suite at the Ritz Carlton, the next you're fetal in a back alley as John Green and Suzanne Collins drive their steel-tipped boots into your ribs and Stephanie Meyer hurls whiskey bottles at your skull. That's how fast fortunes change in this industry.

My first two books won awards, while my third was rejected outright. You're only as good as your last book.

2) There will always be another rewrite. I'm sure whoever wrote The Epic of Gilgamesh is still thinking of changes they could make, and they didn't have to deal with publishers, editors, agents, peer readers, and a father who had hoped your be an orthodontist.

3) It's been done before. They say there are only three basic plots: A stranger comes to town, a man goes on a journey, or an idiot man child is forced to return to elementary school to prove to his wealthy father that he's mature enough to take over the family chain of hotels. All stories are variations on these themes.

I was once super excited about a literary device I thought I'd come up with, until I saw it already in Moby Dick.

4) Most authors cannot support themselves by writing. If you ask a writer what they 'really' do, expect them to smash your face into the bar. But this is because the truth hurts. I'm often forced to sell my body to wealthy dowager countesses just to afford to fill my inkwell.

5) No one ever reads 'secrets of writing' lists.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Secrets, Reveals, and Consequences by Dean Gloster

            One of the most delightful things I’ve read lately is the short story “Thrown” in the The Hero Next Door. An autistic boy makes the transition from the kids’ class in Aikido to the teen and adult class. In addition to it being a wonderful story, it’s by a guy I know, middle grade author Mike Jung, who I actually practice Aikido with. And it’s set in an Aikido studio that resembles the one where we study, Aikido Shusekai in Berkeley. The characters have names slightly changed from real people I know. (Anika Sensei! Kristof! Brandon Sensei!)

            One secret of publishing is that sometimes we writers borrow from real people for characters in our books, or pluck their names.

I wrote a book, Dessert First, about a teenage girl who was dealing with the most difficult year of her life, even before her younger brother had a cancer relapse, and she became his last hope, as his potential bone-marrow donor.

            For the nurses in that book, I took the first name of one law school classmate and then the first names of half a dozen nurses I knew.

And I’m not alone in that practice. I’m lucky enough to know lots of writers now, and one thing I notice is them slyly putting each other’s names in their books. So my current novel in progress might have a principal and teachers with names Principal Kisner, Ms. Sarig, and Mr. Reichs. Unless someone inserts a graphic here, we’ll never know from where my subconscious could have gotten names like that:

(Oops.) That’s the thing about secrets. If there’s a paper (or electronic document) trail, they’ll often be found out. As a friend of mine said, “Dance like nobody’s watching, but email as if it’ll be read aloud in court.”

I thought about that recently, as I read Ronan Farrow’s gripping bestseller, Catch and Kill, about his breaking the story of Harvey Weinstein’s serial sexual assaults, which—as the book described—had been hidden by decades of aggressive litigation, threats, gaslighting, intimidation, and non-disclosure agreements. In the end, a number of women agreed to come forward—expecting that doing that would further wreck their lives—because they wanted to stop Weinstein's future  assaults. NBC killed the story, under pressure from Weinstein, but The New Yorker ran it, and that, in turn, caused many other women to come forward publicly.

Despite tremendous efforts, the truth will out. And—if we pay attention—it will have consequences. Shortly after the story on Weinstein broke, he resigned from the board of The Weinstein Company and he was fired. Eventually The Weinstein Company filed bankruptcy. Weinstein was arrested and charged with sex crimes and now faces trial.

As I write this, coincidentally, the President of the U.S. has been accused by at least 67 women of inappropriate conduct, as detailed in the recent Barry Levine/Monique Al-Faizy book, All the President’s Women: Donald Trump and the Making of a Predator. Two Courts of Appeal have ruled that the President cannot prevent his accountants from turning over his subpoenaed tax returns. This week, another federal judge ruled that his aides have no blanket immunity from being required to comply with subpoenas, and still another federal judge required the turnover of documents showing that aid to Ukraine was withheld by the President. There are reports of multiple additional whistle-blowers coming forward with further complaints of specific misconduct.

There will be a paper trail, an email trail, a text message trail, and probably the clumsy smudge prints over all of those, showing an attempted cover-up. The truth—or at least conspicuous parts of it—will out. And then the only question will be—will that matter? Because it’s partly up to all of us whether it does.

On this day of thanksgiving, may we be grateful for what we have, and may we continue to have things to be grateful for, including the rule of law, the bravery and integrity of individuals who tell the truth, and an involved citizenry willing to take that truth into account in holding people in power accountable.

Happy Thanksgiving and good luck to us all.

Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” His current novel is about two funny brothers who have to team up with their friend Claire to save the world. It has all the usual Dean Gloster novel ingredients: Death, humor, the question of whether it’s possible to save someone, a love interest to root for, dysfunctional parenting, and a slightly off-kilter sensibility. Also a mergers and acquisitions lawyer dad who is missing 74 percent of his soul.

When Dean is not writing, studying Aikido, or downhill ski racing, he’s on Twitter: @deangloster

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Magic writing secret! (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

The secret to writing is ...

Gather close. I'm going to whisper.

Are you ready?

The secret to writing is ... there are no secrets.

There are tools, and tips, and techniques, by the score. But every story seems to have its own lock, and I've never found a master key. Just the key to that story, that time.

I wish there were a magic incantation,a guaranteed spell. Wouldn't that be fun? A few words, a wave of the wand, and behold! A story, intricately plotted and beautifully written!

Some people say the secret is simply Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. But sometimes that doesn't work either; the story doesn't unlock until I'm taking a walk or showering or washing the dishes or working on an entirely different story. (Stories can be jealous that way, tugging on your sleeve when you're trying to do anything else.)

The first thing I tell my writing-workshop classes is: YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary), as they say in the car commercials. Meaning to take every piece of writing advice, including the ones I'm about to give them, with a grain of salt. Everything is a tool. Try it out, give it a chance. But if it doesn't work, don't beat yourself up; don't try to force it. Simply try another tool.

Yoda, the Jedi master in Star Wars, famously said, "Do, or do not. There is no try." I beg to differ. Try this, and try that, and try the other thing, because sooner or later, something will probably work. And that's the closest thing to a writing secret I've found.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Writing’s not for sissies (but it’s worth it) [Brenda Hiatt]

Probably the biggest surprise for me when I decided to try my hand at becoming a novelist was how darned hard it was. After all, I’d always spun little stories in my head, or to amuse friends and family. making up stories came naturally to me. But I was completely unprepared for the sheer stick-to-itiveness necessary to produce an entire, full-length novel. Writing for a living sounded so easy before I actually sat down to do it! 

When I first started, my plan was to write whenever the Muse struck…which I expected to happen with some sort of regularity. Ha ha ha! After six months following this “system” I’d only written a few chapters. I reluctantly realized that if I was ever going to finish the book, I needed to write every day while my toddlers napped, whether I felt “inspired” or not…which netted me a complete novel before the year was out. 

The other really hard thing no one warned me about was how terrible it feels to get a bad review. My books are my babies, and it hurts—a lot!—when someone says (or implies) that my baby is ugly. It never mattered if I’d already received a hundred five star reviews for a book. No, it was always that single one or two star review disparaging my book that I obsessed over until I practically had it memorized. Finally, I heeded the advice of more experienced authors and stopped reading my reviews. (This is advice I highly endorse, by the way!) 

On the positive side, I also didn’t realize going in what a wonderful rush it would be when my characters become real enough to surprise me on the page, taking my story in a different (and usually better!) direction than I originally had in mind. Or how it can redeem an otherwise crummy day to leave my desk having produced a few decent pages on the current book. 

But the biggest, best “secret” nobody told me in advance was how very, very fabulous it feels to get a gushing letter or email from a happy reader. How could I not get choked up when I received this email a couple of weeks ago?

Dear Brenda Hiatt, 

Yesterday was my birthday, and my mom got me the whole star-struck collection. I cried because I was so happy. I had been asking for them for 3 years. I had listened to the audible book (this is an exact number, I asked alexa how many times I'd heard it)
124 and a half times (I'm vacationing to mars again and I'm half way there). So thank you for all of the joy you have brought into my life. It helps me get through school. I can relate to Marsha (Amalaya) (well except for Rigel). So I just wanted to say thank you for all this joy you have brought me. Thank sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much.

This, this is why I write!

Okay, my daughter/narrator freaked out a little bit at the idea of anyone listening to her narration that many times. But for me, a note like this more than makes up for every bad review I've ever received and all the times I just didn't feel like writing. Hearing that I've touched a reader this way will send me back to the current book in progress every single time. So here's a huge thank you to every reader who has ever taken the time to let me, or any other author, know that you've loved a book!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Writing a Book But Were Afraid to Ask

This month we’re discussing the secret life of authors or the secrets of writing. I don’t have any burning secrets to share, so instead we’ll call this post
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Writing a Book  
But Were Afraid to Ask

Here we go:

Question: I just finished my first book. So now I’ll send it to Random House, they’ll send me a huge check, Jennifer Lawrence will play my heroine in the movie version, and Reese Witherspoon will take me out to dinner and invite me to join her book club.

Answer: Well no, not really.

First of all, you can’t send your book to Random House. Most large publishing houses only read manuscripts sent to them by agents.

Question: Okay, fine. So how do I get an agent?

Answer: You send out many query letters, explaining how your book is just like other books that sold a billion copies, except that your book is also different in a new, original, and high concept way. Like, “It’s The Walking Dead meets Little House on the Prairie,” or “It’s The Mandalorian meets Pride and Prejudice with an adorable Baby Darcy character.”

This is called a “comp.” You’ll also include a brief but scintillating summary and a few pages from the book itself. You’ll spell check and proofread this query a thousand times. You’ll re-write it over and over again. You’ll have your friends read it and give you advice. When it’s perfect, you finally send it to a bunch of agents. 

And then…nothing happens. Silence. Electronic crickets. Now, it isn’t that agents are mean and terrible people who enjoy torturing writers. I can honestly say that every agent I’ve met at a conference or a pitch session was kind-hearted, compassionate and funny.

But they receive hundreds and hundreds of queries every year. They may send you a rejection letter. Or you may hear nothing. 

However, if you are really lucky and there’s a full moon and Mars is in retrograde and you say four Hail Mary’s and click your heels together nine times while wearing your lucky hair scrunchie when you press send, they will read your query and your pages and love your book. They will offer you representation, meaning, they’ll call you up and tell you they’d like to be your agent.

Being offered representation is like being told you’ve won the Nobel Peace Prize, the lottery, a Pulitzer, and an Oscar while simultaneously being asked to get married and go to the prom ALL IN ONE PHONE CONVERSATION. It’s fantastic, especially when the right person asks you. For the record, I adore my agent and she would also be a ton of fun at the prom.

So, you’ve now been rejected twenty or fifty or a hundred times, but you have an agent. Yippy! You are on your way. Many people give up before getting an agent. You are clearly stubborn and have a high tolerance for personal rejection. As you will learn, this is more important that being a talented writer. 

Your agent will now try to sell your book to a publisher. Because remember, many publishers only consider books sent to them by agents. This is known as “going on submission.” 

Only the strong survive.

Before you go on submission, identify your vices and eliminate access to each one.

For example, if you binge on Utz Cheese Curls and Lindt Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Truffles when under stress, ask your local grocery store to stop carrying them. If retail therapy is your vice, cut up your credit cards. Being on submission will drive even a normal, well balanced person to madness. And if you’re a writer there’s a good chance you aren’t normal or well balanced.

On submission, your inbox becomes a poisonous snake. You open G-mail with one eye closed, gingerly holding the computer away from your body because you just don’t know what’s lurking inside.

It could be an email from your agent telling you that because so many publishers desperately want to buy your book there will now be an auction where your book will be sold to the highest bidder. Ching Ching. 

The earth could also be attacked by aliens. Theoretically, this could happen. But an alien invasion and your book going to auction are unfortunately equally improbable events.

There could also be NO email from your agent. And you’re waiting, day after week after month in literary limbo, in publishing purgatory, for some word from someone about the fate of your book. 

Or, and this has happened to almost every writer I know, you go on submission for the first time with this beautiful book that you loved and labored over, and guess what? 

No one wants to publish it. 

Your agent gently tells you that everyone has “passed.” This is what editors say. Like agents, editors are kind people who really do love books and the people who write them. They never say, “I really hated this book and no one in their right mind would ever buy it.” Instead they say things like, “I really loved this, but unfortunately, I have to pass.” 

You crumple up in a little ball and listen to the crackling noises inside your chest. That’s the sound of your heart breaking. 

Then your agent says, “So…what else are you working on?”

And you dry your eyes and put down the cheese curls. You wipe the chocolate from the corners of your mouth and stuff the shopping bags filled with utterly unnecessary new shoes back into the closet. 

Because during all of this you’ve been writing something new. Because writing is the only thing that keeps the crazy away when you’re on submission, the only thing that brings any relief. 

And this new book? This is the one. The one that will sell. You just know it. 

So you repeat the process, over and over again until you either give up, go crazy, or get an offer. And that is how you get a book published with a traditional publisher. Are there any questions?

Question: Yes. What’s wrong with you? Why would anyone put themselves through all this? 

Answer: That’s the question you should have been afraid to ask.


         Christine Gunderson is a former television anchor/reporter and former House and Senate aide who lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, children and Star, the Wonder Dog. When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasion, or unloading the dishwasher. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Cover Design Secrets by Patty Blount

In this month's blog, we're talking about secrets.

*shifty eyes*

I've got a BIG one.

I don't always like my book covers.

There. I said it. It's out there.

Traditionally published authors don't have much control over the publishing process and cover design is often one of those decisions that's a like or it lump it deal.

I have six YA novels published to date and of the lot of them, my favorite cover is SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW. The art department at Sourcebooks is nothing short of brilliant and they really captured the novel's premise with this design.

The "NO" nested inside KNOW is perfect. The character's physical appearance and her posture are both completely on target. And the grunge background is also perfect. 

But they're not all home runs. My third novel, SOME BOYS, almost went to press with a completely different cover, a cover I completely despised. 

The first cover concept Sourcebooks sent me for that book featured a blond model wearing a knit hat. 
Grace Collier's hair is black. 
Grace Collier would have frozen to death before ever wearing a knit hat. She's Goth and wears black metal studs and leather. A knit hat woud have made her sneer. 
Worst of all? The expression on the model's face. She was staring down, on the verge of tears. Also not Grace. Grace is a fierce fighter. She gets in your face and tells you off. She doesn't look down. 

I hated that cover with every cell in my body but Sourcebooks was ready to go to press with it. They even posted it to Goodreads. 

Then, a few weeks before release day, another author snagged the same stock image and Sourcebooks decided to do a second cover concept, which is the one that eventually went to press. 

I was okay with this image, but I requested more Goth make-up and luckily, Sourcebooks' art department was able to do that. Overall, this could be Grace Collier. 

If you're interested in the first pass, here is the one I hated. 

Authors don't control their covers unless they self-publish. There you go... a publishing secret revealed! 

Which cover do you like? Tell me in the comments. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

There's Something Authors Aren't Telling You (Alissa Grosso)

By now, most of us (hopefully) realize that what we see on social media is, if not an outright lie, at least an idealized version of reality. Instagram photos are staged and that high school friend who posts photos of her ridiculously organized family home has days where she feels utterly frazzled. She just doesn't share those with the rest of the world. As you scroll through your social media feed feeling envious of the folks you follow, know that what you are seeing is only part of the story.

This is true when it comes to authors as well. Authors and other creators use social media to spread the word about new releases and share their excitement about accolades or forthcoming works. So, if you are someone who follows authors you admire on social media platforms, you'll likely hear about when they have a new book coming out or when they've signed a new publishing contract.

What you're less likely to hear about are when a book they have written gets rejected or when a deal they're working on falls through. Some authors are very upfront about all the rejections they received before they sold their first book but don't usually post about the rejections they've received after selling their first book, because publishing a book doesn't meant that you will nevermore receive a rejection letter.

I'm a firm believer in focusing on positive things and not dwelling on negativity. (In fact, my personal view of rejection letters is you should destroy every last one of them. It's not healthy to save those things!) Alas, the reason you don't hear about the challenges authors are facing in their social media feeds isn't always because they believe in only focusing on positive things.

It's important to remember that our social media profiles are public things. As authors that means not only does your mom, that guy that you worked with once eight years ago and your fans read what you post, but so do editors and other publishing industry professionals.

That means if you want to sell another book, you probably shouldn't publicly rant about everything you hate about your publisher. It also means that you probably don't want to talk about how three editors have turned down your latest manuscript, as it might not inspire the editor who is currently reading it to snatch it up.

After my third book, Shallow Pond, was published by Flux, I had a lot of well-meaning friends and family ask me publicly on Facebook when my next book was coming out or what my next book was about. At this time, the most recent book I had written had been turned down by Flux and was out on submission, but I there was no way I could explain this without letting potential publishers know that the book I had submitted to them had already been rejected by my previous publisher.

I'm divulging these secrets to you, not because I want to fill you with thoughts of doom and gloom about how difficult it is to be a successful author, but because I think it's helpful to keep in mind as you are reading with envy about the latest publishing deal that another author has just received, the halcyon view of the author life that you see depicted on social media is only part of the story. Publishing, like any business, has its ups and downs. If you feel like you are alone in your struggles to make it as an author, rest assured in knowing that a lot of other authors are in the exact same boat despite what their Twitter feed might say.

That's why it's a good idea to make some author friends who you can connect with off of social media. Whether you're dishing to each other in an ongoing email conversation or meet up in person to vent about the crazy world of publishing, it might help you to step away from the distorted reality of social media, now and then. Also, destroy those rejection letters--every last one of them!

Alissa Grosso is the author of six published books for teens and adults and a whole lot more books that never actually saw the publishing light of day, but you don't know anything about those books because she doesn't talk about them on social media. If you would like to know more about her and the books she had published you can visit her website at

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Keeping Secrets from Ourselves (Jodi Moore)

The secret to writing is honesty.

We’ve all heard Ernest Hemingway’s famous quote: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” (Well, at least you have now.)

But I think we too often keep secrets from ourselves.

Sure, we tell ourselves we’re being honest. Open. Authentic.

And we do try. We strive to create believable characters. We work to write captivating stories. We scramble to find the best words to make our readers laugh. Or cry. Or think. We dig deep to develop the best plots and scenarios to help people remember. To feel connected. To heal.

It’s one of the reasons so many of us create.

But we’re also human and fiercely protective of our secrets. We too often bury what has hurt us in the past. We lock it away and insulate it in an effort to keep it suppressed. 

We dust off our hands and think our secret is safe. And we think we can forget.

Then one day, something somewhere begins to gnaw away at that insulation. The secret we thought we’d entombed finds a crack. A portal. It presses for release. Thoughts begin to bubble up that give us chills. Words eek through our typing fingers and emotions leak out of our eyes.

We find the secret staring us in the face.

Sometimes it’s embarrassing. Distressing. Other times, it’s grounding. Freeing.

It's a personal decision as to whether or not we wish to share it, but very often, we do. Because as writers, we know that some of our readers may be struggling with the same secret and need to know they’re not alone. And we know that the rest may need to be made aware of the challenges the others may face.

However, in the spirit of “the rule of 3”, there’s something else I’ve recently learned.

I’m currently working on a “secret” project, one that I’ve put off for years, but that I’m now ready to confront. Because even writers need to know we’re not alone.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

NaNoWriMo Really Works For Me by Sydney Salter

My secret: writing fast in the month of November really works for me. I love how I get immersed in my characters' stories as I push through to that 1,666 word count each day. I like forcing myself to get those words written even when I'm making a Thanksgiving feast or have lots of other things to do.

My first published manuscript MY BIG NOSE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS was a NaNoWriMo novel. So was SWOON AT YOUR OWN RISK.

I thought I didn't need NaNoWriMo anymore. I was still completing manuscripts, albeit slowly.


After eight years I will be emerging from a publishing slump when my science-fiction sports novel SPONSORED is published by ChiZine Publications in September 2020. I sold the novel to the press more than three years ago, after a two year wait to hear about my initial submission, so it still felt like a big old slump until I finally got my editorial letter a few weeks ago.

Pushing myself through the slump has been hard at times. It's been so easy to read someone else's published book through my writing time. Easy to say - I'll write tomorrow. I added a few words. That's good enough for today.

But it's so much harder to pick up a story that's been sitting for a few days and get back into the voice, not to mention the plot! I always used prime writing time to reread what I'd written so I could simply remember things.

I wasn't using my time efficiently by writing so sporadically. Writing that way felt like something I was avoiding rather than embracing. If I could have stopped writing, I would have stopped. So many of my partners in writing have stopped - leaving our once thriving writing group with just two of us.

In spite of feeling like a slumpy loser, I kept finishing one manuscript and planning the next one.

Working on my edits for SPONSORED reminded me how much John Truby's The Anatomy Of Story helped me plot an interesting story. So I decided to postpone drafting my next WIP and dived into more thorough preparation. I worked through Truby's book - and found myself with better developed characters and a long list of scenes as Halloween approached.


I logged onto the NaNoWriMo website - just to poke around. Turns out my last NaNoWriMo was in 2011. I'd written 50,000 words of a novel called SPONSORED.

That was enough to convince me. I signed up my new WIP and got ready to write! I'm 15,205 words into my new story, and I'm loving my characters and loving the rush of writing fast.

No time to doubt. No time to question. No time to procrastinate. Writing feels fun again! I'm ready to add another 1,666 right now!

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Secret to My Amazing Writing Life by Kimberly Sabatini

Deep breath...

     This might not be
        what you expect.

            I kinda didn't expect it either.

                  But its the truth--or at least it's my truth.

It's been SEVEN years since I published TOUCHING THE SURFACE.

And like most neurotic creatives, there was a period where I was a little freaked out by the passage of time between my first book and my second book. There were voices in my head and on my shoulders and maybe even in my shoes, that were whispering all the worst things I could dream up and piping them directly into my brain and my heart.

It sometimes felt scary and sad.

My self-doubt and insecurity had a way of creating more self-doubt and insecurity.

    But I kept writing,
because I couldn't imagine life without it.
And the longer I kept writing,
the more something wonderful happened...

I fell deeper in love with muy creativity than ever before.
I'm aware I didn't hit that traditional measuring stick at the "optimal" time.
And just so you know, it wasn't that I didn't try to hit it.
I really did.
Somedays I had a stick in each hand
and I was swinging like mad.

In fact, since that first novel published, I've written two full YA novels and I'm almost done with #3.
     I've written a young Middle-Grade Novel.
          And I've also written multiple Picture Books. 
                I'm one of the SCBWI Eastern NY Hudson Valley Shop Talk Coordinators.
                    I attend several conferences a year.
                         I constantly immerse myself in books on craft.
                              I  take online classes. 
                                    And I volunteer my time to help both writers and readers whenever I can.
                                         I'm also all those other things in my life that aren't directly related to craft.

And all these things bring great joy and satisfaction to my life.
So, guess what?


How could I be? 
I'm making art every day and it makes me so freaking happy and proud of myself. 

And I'm good at it and getting better all the time.

That feels like success. 
It tastes like chocolate and smells like fall.

I'm also confident that my second book will arrive for me when it's supposed to. 
And I suspect I will be glad that I took the time to get it right.
Because who really wants to write one--wrong?

Do I wish I was prolific enough to put out publishable novels a couple times a year? 
Not gonna lie--that would be amazing.

But that's not where I've been standing. 

My secret is...

I'm just a person who thinks very deeply about the things she writes and takes her time mining her inner self and the world around her in order to try and create something meaningful--first and foremost for her own growth and well being. 

  And I deeply believe that if I write and create with curiosity and purpose, 
my work will connect with others because like attracts like. 

Can I get faster?
Become a better writer?
Brush up on marketing?
Make more connections? 
Improve in a variety of ways that will progress me on my journey?

Yes, I can and I'm always working on it!

But while I do, I can also remind myself that the secret to my amazing writing life is...ME.

What's the secret to your amazing life?

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Secrets, Truths, and Lies (Mary Strand)

This month, I’m supposed to blog about the SECRETS of my writing/publishing life, even though on Facebook I pretend that my life is an open book.

1. My life is not an open book. Not even remotely.  J

2. This shouldn’t be a secret, but authors are DESPERATE for reviews. (I am one of them.) Amazon reviews help the most, but BookBub and Goodreads and anywhere else your little heart is willing to post a review is great. A short, quick, and honest review is totally fine: you don’t need to gush and give me 5 stars if my book wasn’t (in your opinion) the greatest thing since Hugh Jackman. Amazon and BookBub are primarily fixated on the NUMBER of reviews a book has, and authors can’t get any traction without reviews.

Hugh Jackman loves this blog, I'm quite sure.

 3. For the record, my books ARE the greatest thing since Hugh Jackman.

Chris Hemsworth may also be the greatest thing since Hugh Jackman. I try to be flexible.

4. Actual writing time includes staring out windows, at cobwebs (unfortunately), and (if I’m writing in public, like at Sebastian Joe’s in Minneapolis) at people. I pretend I’m not staring at them, but I am.  I’m also listening to them.  Their conversations sometimes wind up on Facebook or in my books.

5. Everything I see or hear, and all the people I know, might wind up in my books.  No one ever recognizes themselves, though, so I can write pretty much anything.  People THINK they recognize themselves in my books if the character in question is the coolest thing since, well, Hugh Jackman.  They are almost always wrong.  Two different women (including my mother-in-law) absolutely KNEW that the utterly epic matriarch of a family I wrote about was really them. It was, in fact, a tribute to someone else.

6. None of my characters are based on a single person, so quit speculating already. They’re a composite of all the people I know, thrown into a blender in my mind and poured out as a character.

7. Item 6 isn’t completely true. One horrid character in a book I wrote was based pretty entirely on someone I know who’s awful. In the first several drafts, I killed her off in a fiery car crash.  I was advised that killing her off was too easy, so I instead left her with significant injuries from a fiery car crash.

8. Almost every author dreams of doing what I did in item 7.  But I dislike very few people on this planet, so I’m guessing that item 7 will remain my one and done.

9. I hope (a) you’re still reading this and (b) you’ll consider writing a review of one of my books. (Pretty please with sugar on top.)  If you break down and write a review (you ADORABLE person, you!!), the first book in a series is often the most helpful to an author.  For me, that would be Pride,Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras, because I would love to offer it as a “deal” with BookBub, but BookBub cares nothing for me if I don’t have enough reviews.  Yes, that’s a link to the book’s Amazon page.  I am clever (and desperate, yet charming) that way.

10. Writing is solitary, and that’s okay for a lot of writers because most are introverts.  But I’m a huge extrovert, and it is HARD.  So I do everything possible to get out and about with other human beings.  Even one day that’s entirely alone is difficult for me.

11. Major knee issues kept me from writing new stuff for the last year, because I didn’t feel funny enough to write funny stuff, and I write funny stuff.  So I spent much of that time either in considerable pain or working on revisions to existing manuscripts or playing guitar or writing songs, the last of which is something I discovered I could do even with painful knees.  Today, for the first time since June 2018, I wrote new words (on a book, not this blog post).

12. Tomorrow, when this blog post is actually published (as opposed to today, when it’s being written), I’m headed to Sebastian Joe’s.  To write.


Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at