Wednesday, February 29, 2012


How about them Oscars, huh? Actually, my wife and I found this year’s production to be a bit dry and slow. But even so, if you’re like me, you watched the show and found yourself rooting for certain people. Maybe an actor you’ve always liked? For me, that actor was Jonah Hill. I liked his departure from his regular (bathroom) humor type role to the phenomenal job he did with the dramatic role he took on in MONEYBALL (which I loved). Or maybe you were rooting for a director or a writer? Like many, I was rooting for all things HUGO, since I am such a big fan of Brian Selznick’s book. It was like seeing one of us on the grand stage, you know? Speaking of HUGO, do you remember way back when (before the movie was released) when I blogged about the movie? I actually thought of that post as I watched the clip of the movie during the show.

So with that little lead-in, I wanted to have our own little MG writing award show, Project Mayhem style. We'll call the awards the Mayhemers. Look at this amazing trophy that's at stake:

Here are our categories. Feel free to vote for one or all categories. Remember, this is MIDDLE GRADE only! Make your votes count!

Best MG Book (does not have to be a 2011 book; equivalent to Best Picture)

Best MG Author (let’s say this award is for the author’s overall body of MG work; equivalent to Best Director)

Best MG Boy Main Character (does not have to be from a 2011 book; equivalent to Best Actor in Leading Role)

Best MG Girl Main Character (does not have to be from a 2011 book; equivalent to Best Actress in Leading Role)

Best MG Boy Supporting Character (in other words, best boy secondary character, and does not have to be from a 2011 book; equivalent to Best Supporting Actor)

Best MG Girl Supporting Character (in other words, best girl secondary character, and does not have to be from a 2011 book; equivalent to Best Supporting Actress)

Monday, February 27, 2012

An Exciting New Release

Explorer: The Mystery Boxes

Expected publication: March 1st 2012 by Amulet Books

Amazon Blurb:
Seven clever stories answer one simple question: what’s in the box?

Funny, fantastic, spooky, and suspenseful, each of these unique and beautifully illustrated short graphic works revolves around a central theme: a mysterious box and the marvels—or mayhem—inside. Artists include middle school favorites Kazu Kibuishi, Raina Telgemeier (Smile), and Dave Roman (Astronaut Academy), as well as Jason Caffoe, Stuart Livingston, Johane Matte, Rad Sechrist (all contributors to the groundbreaking comics anthology series Flight), and upcoming artist Emily Carroll.

This is a fantastic compilation of short graphic novel stories, put together by eight top comic creators. Seven different stories and fabulous color graphics will keep middle grade readers engaged for hours. Both my 10-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter LOVED it. In fact, I had to steal it from my daughter in order to write this post.

My son's favorite thing about these stories was the endings. He told me he loved the way they kept the mystery alive, even at the end, and then insisted on reading three of the endings to me. Both kids loved the recurring theme of the mystery boxes in every story. I love the graphics.

I highly recommend picking up a copy of this one. It's scheduled to be released this Thursday!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Marketing Consultation Giveaway!

It might be just me, but the words "self-promotion" send down a shower of stressful thoughts and stomach-tightening anxiety. On the off chance some of you other lovely authors cringe at the thought of look-at-me marketing tactics, Project Mayhem wants to help! Marketing genius and MG author Shelli Johannes is here today to offer us some strategic methods that can help get our writing into the hands of readers. In a non-obnoxious way.

Not only that! Shelli has offered to give away a one-hour phone marketing consultation to one lucky reader. Read on to hear from Shelli and learn how to enter.

PM: Welcome Shelli! Thanks again for joining us. Let's get to it. What is the #1 self-marketing tool authors should consider.

Shelli: I hate to call it marketing...

PM: Thank you for that! So do we! :)

Shelli: ...But I think building a platform and social network is critical. Build relationships online and help others. What comes around goes around. That, to me, is the best tool an author can have. Other than that,
it depends on your target audience.

PM: What, in your opinion, is a time waster?

Shelli: Being online all day. You need to schedule your online time. Choose one hour in the morning to tweet, facebook, answer e-mails, blog questions, etc. Then, turn off your wireless and work. Maybe schedule three intervals a day and do it all at once. You can use tools like twaitter to schedule tweets if you want them out there. So look for tools that help you streamline online.

PM: This is so true. All the online possibilities and demands can really cut into writing time. And there's so many options! Twitter, Google-plus, Facebook, blogs - how's an author to choose?

Shelli: An author needs to do what they feel comfortable doing. Don't get on Facebook or Twitter if you are not going to use it to your advantage. Don't start a blog if you blog four times a year. It's not worth the energy. Pick one or two things, and do them really well. There are so many places - Wttpad, Tumblr, Pinterest - you could get lost. Pick one and go for it. Make sure you pick one where your target audience is. Don't hang out on Facebook all the time if you are trying to reach eight to twelve year olds.

PM: That's a great point. It seems like there's a lot of good advice out there about marketing, but it can be so overwhelming! And when it comes to a book launch, things just increase exponentially! You've launched two books recently, UNTRACEABLE for YA readers, and your tween novel ON THE BRIGHT SIDE. What do you recommend as far as swag and giveaways?

Shelli: If you do signings or massive giveaways - have swag. Everyone loves to get free stuff. But you can be creative. Does it have to be a bookmark? No. I have a friend who has a book in winter and an accident happens on ice. She gave out ice scraper key chains. Try to give out something different to get attention.

Also, when I say massive giveaway, I mean if you do a giveaway online, then don't just give out free bookmarks, because the stamp to ship costs more than the bookmark. Do one or two big packages - t-shirt, bookmark, and a book. Make the shipping worthwhile.

If you don't have tons of money, do one big giveaway at a singing to those who show up and use that as a marketing tool to get people in. Everyone loves pens and bookmarks and they are not expensive. If you do them, make sure it has book title, author, and a website or isbn - something so they know what it is later.

PM: I would love a bookish ice-scraper! What a brilliant idea! This has given us lots to think about for online marketing. What about bricks and mortar promotion?
Shelli: I recommend contacting indie store owners or librarians. Call them and say hi. Maybe send them a reminder by post or e-mail about your book. Think about what you can offer them. Do they have a book club? Do they like bookmarks for their readers?

Again, don't just send out a mass e-mail or a mass postcard mailing. It isn't personal. This is where relationships come back into play.

PM: That seems to be a theme running throughout all your responses. Taking the time to build personal relationships - whether online or in person - not only helps get your writing into the hands of readers, it's fun! The online community of writers and readers is wonderful, welcoming, and full of interesting people. Thanks so much for sharing your tips with us today, Shelli! We'll put them to good use!

Now, I'd love to hear from our readers in the comments. What thoughts do you have on book promotion? What drives you crazy? What do you think are especially helpful means to connect with middle-grade readers?

To enter the giveaway for a one-hour phone consultation with Shelli, follow Project Mayhem and leave a comment below! The contest will be open until midnight EST on 2/29 (happy leap year!), we'll choose a winner through, and the winner will be posted on 3/1.


S.R. Johannes is the author of UNTRACEABLE (a teen wilderness thriller) and ON THE BRIGHT SIDE (a tween paranormal). She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her dog, British-accented husband, and the huge imaginations of their little prince and princess, which she hopes - someday - will change the world. After earning an MBA and working in corporate America, S.R. Johannes traded in her expensive suits, high heels, and corporate lingo for a family, flip-fops, and her love of writing.

You can visit Shelli online on her blog, twitter, facebook, and goodreads.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Virtual Journeys

A couple of years ago I took up running--and discovered that I loved it!! I totally get a runner's high. But keeping it up hasn't always been easy. The most convenient time for me to run is at the end of my day, between 6 pm and 8 pm. In the wintertime, it's dark. In the summer, it's often still 90+ degrees, and as much as I enjoy running, I don't much fancy the idea of heat stroke. So I got a treadmill. Problem solved, right? Now I could run in the comfort of my own home at any time of day or night no matter what the weather. Ok, that's all well and good, but now I had a new problem. Running on a treadmill was boring. B-O-R-I-N-G. I mean, I was staring at a wall the entire time. A white wall. With no window. You get the point: boring.

Then, quite by accident, I stumbled onto a company called Vita Digital Productions online. These people have a wonderful product for the bored treadmilling likes of me--virtual jog/bike ride videos. You see, Vita Digital Productions is run by a retired videographer and his wife. They do a lot of traveling, and they go on walks/bike rides in beautiful locations around the world, filming from the point of view of the walker/rider. These videos are meant to be watched while on a treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical trainer, so you can go on a "virtual jog" in these beautiful places.

Here's some sample footage from their bike ride around Loch Etive in Scotland:

And here's a walk on the Isle of Capri:

And here's one of my favorites, a walk through swampland in a Florida national park:

I've ordered lots of their videos: Scotland, Ireland, Egypt, Florida, Hawaii, Italy. And yes, my treadmill time is a lot happier and more exciting now. And interestingly enough, it just seems to fly by because I'm enjoying the virtual scenery so much. 

It recently occurred to me that I love these videos for the same reason I love a good setting in a book: it sucks me in and makes me feel like I'm there. I can hear the birdsong in the trees, see the sunlight glint off the water. I can hear the hustle and bustle of the crowds, see the people rushing past, hear the dogs barking in the distance. From time to time, I notice little details that really give me a sense of place, like the beautiful wrought-iron gate gracing the front of an Italian villa, but, of course, it's the large details that really grab hold of me, like the sweeping cliffside ocean view. I'm not stationary but moving through the scene, seeing it through the eyes of someone who is actually there.

As writers, what we do is pretty comparable to making a virtual jog video. Ok, I know that sounds strange, but think about it: we're taking readers on a virtual journey, too. So remember, no white walls--make the scenery worth it :)

-Dawn Lairamore

photo credit: kaneda99 via photopin cc

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Monday, February 20, 2012

Giveaway of new MG mystery debut DIZZY MISS LIZZIE and interview with R.M. Clark

I’m very pleased to welcome Robert Clark to Project Mayhem today to talk about his new middle grade mystery debut, DIZZY MISS LIZZIE, and to offer a giveaway of it. My 11-year-old daughter read it first and liked it so much, I had to take it away from her at the dinner table and then also the same night when she went to bed (mean mom.) She got up early the next morning to finish!  That’s about the biggest endorsement I can give to a book. The book also has some fascinating real history in it, which I always like in a story. In interviewing Robert, I found out some interesting things about him as well. It’s always a surprise to find out about a writer’s background!

First, here’s a description of DIZZY MISS LIZZIE:

Thirteen-year-old Kasey Madrid finally has the freedom she's always wanted. Instead of putting up with sitters or camps, she can spend the summer home alone in their "new" house. Never mind that the house is a creepy old place built in the nineteenth century. The creep factor skyrockets when Kasey meets a nineteenth-century girl named Lizzie Bellows in the basement. It takes some time for Lizzie to convince Kasey she's not a ghost, though neither girl understands why they can see each other when they live 120 years apart. The difference in their worlds doesn't stop the two from becoming fast friends. Lizzie's life isn't easy though. In her time, her parents died in a fire many believe Lizzie started herself. As the summer passes and Kasey learns more about her own past, she is shocked to discover Lizzie is part of a terrible Madrid family secret. It's up to Kasey to go back to Lizzie's world to unlock the secret and clear Lizzie's name.

Bob, you have a fascinating background for someone writing books for middle graders. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I'm a computer scientist with the Department of the Navy. I live in SE Massachusetts (near Fall River) with my wife and two sons. I started writing fiction in early 2007 and am currently at work on my eighth novel. Dizzy Miss Lizzie is my third and it got me an agent in the fall of 2009. The agent couldn't sell the manuscript and we parted ways after less than a year. I kept writing new material while submitting Lizzie to smaller houses. I turned down several offers, then finally agreed to a contract with Marsha Morris at Stanley Publishing in August, 2011. As luck would have it, I got an agent for another book (Good Golly Miss Molly) just two weeks after signing with Stanley. I am now represented by Frances Black and Jennifer Mishler of Literary Counsel.

How did you think up the idea for the book? (Dee’s daughter’s question) 

I live a few houses away from the one-time summer home of Lizzie Borden's family (Lizzie lived there in the 1880s). We thought about buying the house, but it was too old for our tastes. As I walked by it one day, I wondered "what if we did buy it" and "what if we could talk with a young Lizzie Borden." I changed the main character to a young girl whose family buys the house and I created a secret room in the basement for them to meet. The whole "friensdship with Lizzie Borden" proved to be too dark for my first set of readers, so I created fictional Lizzie Bellows and lightened the mood considerably.

I was interesting the setting, the southeastern part of Massachusetts near Mount Hope Bay. How did you research that part of the story?

The story is set in the fictional town of Chepstow, across the Taunton River from Fall Fiver. Chepstow is a composite of two "towns across the river," including my hometown. I thought it best to use a fictional setting. Our public library has some great books on Victorian-era Fall River, plus I scoured the internet to ensure historical accuracy about clothing, transportation, speech and even the details of the Slade's Ferry Bridge.

Is there any basis in real life for the legends used in the stories? (I’m thinking of the curse stones in particular.)

The Boston Post cane, given to the oldest living resident of a town, was real. The Fall River Press cane and its legend are fictional. Curse stones do exist, but the history and usage in the book are made up.

Did you read mysteries or ghost stories as a child?

Oddly enough, I didn't enjoy mysteries until I started writing. My childhood goal was to become a sportswriter, so I spent many hours reading bios of famous athletes. I went through a Stephen King phase in college, but mysteries are a recent pleasure.

What are you working on now?

I writing an Alice In Wonderland-type middle grade story about a boy who wonders why all the big clocks in his town have stopped. He gets sucked into a crazy "clock world" where two rival villages battle for control and the only way to solve the conflict it is to find the elusive Tick Tick Man. It's completely different from my other stories and it should be done some time this spring.

Robert, thanks so much for taking the time to stop by Project Mayhem. We’re offering a signed copy of DIZZY MISS LIZZIE as a giveaway. To enter, if you are already following Project Mayhem, just leave a comment. If you aren’t yet following us, join us and then leave a comment.  The deadline to enter is 12:00 A.M. on Tuesday, February 28th, and the winner will be picked in a random drawing. I’ll announce the winner later that day.

~ Dee Garretson

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

This post originally ran at Caroline by line December 2011.
My boys are at an age when my suggestions for read alouds aren't always greeted with enthusiasm. There are times I'm able to win them over by reading a few chapters, but more often than not, they'll turn down my titles and suggest something of their own.  At eight and ten, I can hardly blame them for developing their own tastes -- it's a good thing! But it does make me a little sad when they show little to no interest in titles I've enjoyed in the past or new books I would like to read.  Enter THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET. I bought a copy of HUGO while teaching in Louisiana (thank you, Scholastic Book Orders!) but had never gotten around to reading it. When I learned there would soon be a movie based on the book (now nominated for a gazillion Oscars), I decided to give the story a try with my boys. I'm so glad I did.  

 We raced through HUGO in a couple of days. Both boys finished before I did then indulged me in reading the ending again. The combination of pictures and words and the mysterious nature of the storyline really held their attention. 

 Last week I took them to see the movie. It did not disappoint. The natural lighting used to mimic the style of early film, the Paris-as-cogworks opening image -- it was wonderful. All three of us loved the experience and the way the story unfolded on the screen. It was interesting to see what changes were made in the book's translation into a visual story:
  • stronger development of the villainous station master
  • the addition of several dream sequences
  • The absence of the character, Etienne
For those of you who have both read the book and seen the movie, I'd love to hear your impressions. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lessons from Animal Farm and Giveaway!

"No question now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which." - George Orwell, Animal Farm

As writers, we are encouraged to read pretty much anything we can get our hands on, especially new books in our chosen genre with fresh new voices and fresh new stories, thereby inspiring us to create the same. Reading is a weapon in any writer's arsenal. It's what makes the gears in our minds start turning and the ideas flowing. 

As important as it is to read new books, it's equally important to read the old ones. Books such as The Wind in the Willows, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H, The Phantom Tollbooth, and scores of others come to mind--books that as children got those gears turning, and perhaps made us the people and writers we are today.

All that good stuff said, I recently picked up my old dog eared copy of Animal Farm by George Orwell, required reading when I was in middle-school. I know, many of us cringe when we hear "required reading", but in this case I'm glad it was required. 

Though written in 1946, Animal Farm transcends its publication date, being especially relevant not just for its many political aspects that seem to always suit the world somewhere, but for another reason. It's the perfect model of a classic children's novel. I know there's some controversy as to the age range of this book, but I feel it's particularly  applicable to today's middle-grade or tween reader. It does have violence, though not too much. It has excitement, battles, though not too bloody. Unique and interesting characters can be found in the beloved horse Boxer, and the intimidating pig turned farm owner, Napoleon ( "Napoleon is always right."), along with many others. It has a riveting beginning, middle, and end, all compactly stored in 100 brilliant pages--the perfect embodiment of a middle-grade novel. You can see by the many covers (and this is just a small sampling) the great impact this book has had.


I remember reading this as a child and to this day I recall the beginning of the book wherein Major, the white boar that started the animal revolution, is standing on his platform, convincing every farm animal that they deserved better. It's an image that has stuck with me all my life. 

In the spirit of this post, let us know what childhood books YOU can't get out of your head or maybe you have a son or daughter reading Animal Farm right now. What are their thoughts? If you're a teacher, what books do you think are important to your students and should be considered more than simply required reading? Do you think this appropriate for middle-graders? Did you love or hate Animal Farm or have you still not read it? Well, no fear if you have not, here's your chance!

Because I love this book so much and think it's such a perfect example of what works in middle-grade writing, I'd love to give away a brand new copy to one lucky winner. To enter, follow Project Mayhem, and leave a comment. Tell us your thoughts on this book or required reading in general. :)

Winner will be announced on Tuesday of next week! 


Monday, February 13, 2012

Who's Your First Reader?

Photograph by Jennifer Zwick

You've finished your first draft. You're giddy. You know it may need a tweak or two, (heck, who are you kidding? It needs to be rewritten till the cows come home) and you're wondering who you should get to read it and give you all the love and praise you deserve. After all, you've written a complete novel, for jiminy's sake.

Back when I started writing--in the Mesozoic age--this was the sort of mindset I had. I shudder when I think of the first novel I wrote, which I happily shipped off to agents in first-draft stage, expecting to unleash a tag-team wrestling frenzy to represent me. I wish I'd kept the rejection letter which essentially said, "yes, we'd all like to be published, but wouldn't it be nice if we learned to write first?" Ouch.

I'd had my wife read my novel, and my in-laws, and all of them had declared me a genius. They're intelligent, well-read people--so how could we all have been so wrong?

The answer is that there is a span as wide as the Gulf of Mexico between those who read for pleasure (most people) and those who read for business (everyone in the publishing business.) Fortunately, I'm a 60W bulb, and not a 40--and I realized I needed help. I took writing classes, I read and read and read, and I joined critique groups, members of which were published authors or working journalists. These were people who liked me but didn't love me, and who were all too willing to point out my flaws--and give me the tools to fix them.

These critique group members are now my first readers. I think my wife feels sad about this, but the reality is she is my first beta reader--the first person I let read the draft I think is done.

(I've yet to let the following be my first readers: my uncle, the lawyer finalizing my will, my gastroenterologist, assorted students, and my dental hygienist. Yes, all of them have asked to read my novels at one time or another. I'll remind them of that when I'm out in hardback.)

Who is your first reader?

Michael Gettel-Gilmartin

Friday, February 10, 2012

When Did You First Fall in Love, with Books?

I feel a little silly sharing this video and writing this post after all the great, deeply researched, and courageously shared posts by my fellow Mayhemers lately, but this has been on my mind, and the video is fun! So I'm writing it anyway.

First things first, I love this parody, because this guy, whoever he is, is so fearless in his love of Harry Potter, and is not the least bit uncomfortable rocking his nerd card - hard. That's inspiring to me, because when I was young, and especially in middle school and as a teen, I was often ashamed of my passion for things like books, dungeons and dragons, and imagination in general. It just wasn't considered cool to be into those things, and I often got called nerd - or worse.

This guys has no such fear, and I really love it, because now that I'm old, I feel the same way. Books are cool. Imagination is cool. Expressing yourself is cool. I'm so glad that culture has changed enough (many thanks to Jo Rowling for being a huge part of that) that my kids are very popular, and yet also very bookish.

Anyway, I wanted to talk about falling in love with books, and poll our readers to hear their stories too. Before I get to mine, I just want to talk about the part of this video that really inspired this post. The nerdy singer guy is cool, but it was something else that made me write this post.

The wand battles are very cool, and look like so much fun, but there is this scene at the end, after 3:30, where the little kids leave some books on the porch of an even littler kid, and it's like he's discovering this amazing new world of fantasy and adventure, and you just know his life is going to change forever - for the better. I'm not ashamed to admit watching that kid pick up that book and fall into it's pages makes me cry, just a little bit, every single time.

I think Jo Rowling gave the world a beautiful gift when she gave Harry Potter to our children, but it became even greater than the sum of its parts when our children gave it to us. I have a very cool, and slightly embarrassing story about how I came to love Harry Potter, but it's not for this post.

Today I want to share with you about how I first fell in love with books. I was the middle of three children, with two sisters. My dad was the stage manager for the Seattle Opera, so he was rarely home, but when he was, he often shared his love of books. He and my mom had this huge California king-sized bed, and it was so big our whole family could fit on it. My sisters and I would snuggle between mom and dad, and dad would read to us - from The Lord of the Rings. I remember like it was yesterday the first time I met Frodo and attended Bilbo's birthday party, and to tell you the truth, my heart has never really left Hobbiton. Like George R.R. Martin, I'd forsake heaven, as long as I could end up in Middle Earth.

The first book I read by myself (that I can recall after picture books and early readers) was the Hobbit, a natural progression after falling so in love with Tolkien's work. I was absolutely engrossed. I got the read along illustrated books, the Rankin-Bass production on betamax, everything I could get my hands on that would allow me to continue the dream. Technically, I was a bit below middle grade reading level at the time, probably about 7 or 8, but the point is, once I fell in love with books, I never turned back. Making that connection between a book and a young person is what it's all about. It's why we write for children, I believe.

When did you first fall in love with books?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Reaching Reluctant and Struggling Readers

An author friend who is scheduled to speak at a school asked for my input on how to connect with both struggling and reluctant teen readers—the student population I worked with for fifteen years.

I realize that different teachers will have different styles and also may be somewhat limited in what their schools will allow them to do. Given that, here are some things that worked for me in my classroom full of 13 to 19 year-old struggling and reluctant readers over a period of 15 years. Most of my students were boys.

1. Read out loud to your students w/out requiring them to follow along. Just require that they listen. Make sure it is a good book or short story with a lot of action. Make sure you know how to read out loud. Nothing kills a story easier than a reader who hasn't taken the time to hone up on their read aloud skills.

2. Have quiet reading time every day at the same time where the students can choose what they want to read. Do not require them to keep a reading journal. No strings attached, just read a book, the newspaper, a magazine, whatever. (My goal is to eventually get them to read books but forcing that up front creates the opposite result. They need to choose it.)

3. Have a wide variety of books available and be an expert on what those books are by having read many of them yourself. You want your students to have confidence in you as someone who knows what they are talking about when it comes to books.

4. Do frequent book talks/teasers where you read a snippet and talk a little about the author or story and then make the book available.

5. Bring your own books in and share them.

6. As the teacher or person in charge, you also need to read during the silent reading time. This shows your students that you value reading. And, if other adults happen to be in your classroom during silent reading time, they need to read too.

7. Let kids stop reading a book if they want to, just like us adults do when we want to.

8.  If you have a book in a series, make sure you have the rest of them. (I once had a student eat up 13 books in a series he started.)

9. If a student is having trouble connecting with a book, hand-pick a few based on what you know about him and set them on his desk. This personal touch goes a long way.

10. If you see a student is really engrossed in a certain book you might mention another book that is related or similar when they are almost finished.

11. If a student actually wants to read a book that he’s already read, let him.

12. Bottom line—you have to meet the kids where they are and not try to impose some program on them and expect them to fit into it.

13. Allow your students the time to develop into readers. Every time you get into a power struggle with a kid about reading you are potentially driving them away from reading because of that negative experience.

Thanks for stopping by. I’d love to hear your thoughts on engaging struggling and reluctant readers. What has worked for you? What hasn't worked? What do you think will work?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Winner of ON THE BRIGHT SIDE giveaway!

Congratulations Kristina Springer!

You have won a copy of Shelli Johannes' ON THE BRIGHT SIDE. Please leave your e-mail in the comments, and Shelli will connect with you sometime soon.

Thanks for playing, everyone!


Monday, February 6, 2012

Spellcheck: the ultimate frenemy

This is a real screenshot of my current work-in-progress (tentatively titled Faking the Aurora Borealis) being highlighted by Word’s built-in spelling and grammar proofing.

People of all ages are warned not to rely on spellcheck to proof their documents. As we’re all aware of, spellcheck doesn’t always distinguish correctly between heard or herd, or they’re and their, and sometimes it even incorrectly suggests changing it’s to its. We get it: spellcheck doesn’t always work.

But let’s not forget the other side of spellcheck—the grammar. (Is there such thing as grammarcheck? …Oh, probably not. My word processor just underlined the word. Think I should “add to dictionary”?)

Grammar proofing will pick things up like:

Fragments. These babies are vital in dialogue and interior monologue—in fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you have no fragments at all, you’re doing something wrong.

Order of words. Seventh graders won’t always speak in noun-verb-noun sentences, now, do they?

Improper grammar. Same as above. As well, when saying something like “I paused, then took a step back”, Word will insist on placing an “and” in front of the “then”. This has always bamboozled me. Anyone have an explanation?

Tense shifts. When your protagonist is thinking something, the tense is present. However, you may be writing in past. When the two tenses are cobbled together in one sentence, spellcheck throws a fit, as you can see from the image above.

Other languages. Word’s “detect language automatically” is a failure. My protagonist has a French background, and therefore French words are dropped here and there. And yet, simple things like oui (“yes”), non (“no”) and d’accord (“okay” or “I agree”) don’t get picked up. So either I live with the underlining, or manually highlight each word and change the designated language to French.

Now, to deal with these, you’ve got a few options.

Turn off grammar proofing. If you have Microsoft 2007 or later, you can go to File > Options > Proofing and deselect “Mark grammar errors as you type” and “Check grammar with spelling”. This will turn off any kind of grammar check.

If you don’t want to turn it off completely, choose Ignore rule. When mousing over a green-underlined word or phrase, right-click, choose “Grammar…” from the drop-down menu and click “Ignore rule”. This is especially handy for fragments.

Finally, you can Hide grammar errors in this document only. Again, under File > Options > Proofing, at the very bottom you’ll find this option, along with a choice to hide spelling errors.

The bottom line here is: sometimes grammar/spellcheck has no idea what it’s doing. It’s all about context, and only you can judge if that “improper grammar” sentence really is improper grammar—or if it’s just the way an eleven-year-old speaks.

You tell me: how much do you rely on spelling and grammar proofing?


Friday, February 3, 2012

A New (Publishing) World

Do you have tunnel vision when it comes to publishing?

I must tell you up front that I am one of those writers who has never really thought of—or at least, never consciously recognized—anything other than traditional publishing. It’s always been the *only* way to do it in my eyes, like I have tunnel vision and can only see the traditional route. As a writer, it goes something like this: write a book, edit & revise, get an agent, edit & revise with your agent, have your agent sub to publishers, get a book deal, see your book in print. Then repeat. 

I think I still see it this way. I…think.

The thing is, I got a Kindle last year and I thought I'd hate it. Nope, I ended up loving it. Now I do perhaps 80% of my reading on my Kindle. One simple device severely changed how I read in one calendar year. Pretty impressive. And this forced me to view the publishing world in a new way. Lately, I’ve been observing (and attempting to analyze) the many changes that are occurring in publishing. I’ve had discussions with my agent, my writing friends, and other people in the industry who are much more business-savvy than I, and we are all in agreement that publishing is changing. Drastically. Quickly. I have to be honest, though, that as I type this I am not sure how I feel about these changes. But it doesn't matter how I feel, or anyone else, since we are now in the midst of a new (publishing) world. And we better embrace it.

Let's start with self publishing. The self publishing realm not only has become more accepted by those in the industry, but it has also become a place to scout for new talent. Agents and publishers are now keeping an eye on self-published books (and authors) to see which books (again, and authors) have developed a following. Amazon is now a place for agents and publishers to visit and see who might be ripe for the proverbial picking. Not all agents and publishers, mind you. Some still look at those who self publish with the stink eye. But more and more, things are changing. In fact, I challenge you to visit the websites of some of your favorite BIG literary agencies—try visiting, say, 10—and see how many have some sort of e-pub or self-pub division. You might be surprised. Oh, and when it comes to publishers embracing self-publishing, perhaps you didn't see that Penguin has actually moved into the self-publishing world.

Getting back to that strange combination, literary agencies mixing with self-publishing, some authors say it is a conflict of interest for a literary agency to have one foot in the traditional-pub pool and one foot in the e-pub/self-pub pool, yet I say it’s simply a sign of how different things are, and how agents need to embrace this difference and help their authors better function—and succeed—in the new marketplace. Because let’s be honest, if there were ten pools, I would wish my agent had ten feet, one in each pool.

And while there once was a stigma attached to self publishing—and there still is for some people—that stigma has begun to fade as self-publishing success stories continue to surface. Yes, I know that many of you might be saying that those self-pub success stories are nothing compared to the many, many self-pub authors who have barely sold any copies of their books. “Few and far between” and all. But here is the thing: I have seen waaayyy too many traditionally published authors who have barely sold any copies of their traditionally-pubbed books. Even with the backing of that “Big 6” publisher, I’ve seen authors literally begging people for reviews, or begging for people to buy their books. So it goes both ways.

Anyone who has been “aspiring” for more than a couple years knows how slowly things move in publishing. Traditional publishing, that is. But there is a vast difference between the traditional route and the self route. First off, while things move very slowly on the traditional end, self publishing moves as fast as you want it to. For authors who write slowly and perhaps put out a book every few years, the glacial speed of the traditional route might be a good thing. The slowness might not bother those types of writers. For those who write quickly and pound out multiple books a year, the slow-motion traditional process may seem intolerable. Sometimes I shudder when I see a book deal announced on Publishers Marketplace and I see the pub date three years from the date of the announcement. It’s hard to imagine waiting that long for your book to appear on shelves. But the waiting aside, it’s hard to imagine NEEDING three years to get a book ready. Is that really necessary? And by the way, is it even good business?

Speaking of good and bad business, I have noticed that some publishing houses don’t have electronic versions of their books available, which severely limits the ability to get the book in many eager hands. What about people who read on e-readers exclusively? You've lost that segment of the market, which I mentioned is growing every day. Or sometimes the problem is that the e-book version comes out eons after the print version comes out. That's bad business as well, because you're not taking advantage of the buzz while it's at its height (on release date). And then there’s the inflated price of e-books through traditional houses, which seems to be the biggest disadvantage, in my mind. I mean, to spend $10 or more on an e-book is tough for some people to do when they have a family to provide for. Personally, I have no problem spending a couple dollars on an e-book, but the average price of most traditionally-published e-books is in the double-digits, so they lose my business, sorry to say, until there is some sort of sale or a drop in price. I just can’t rationalize spending that much money on an e-book. I hear authors gripe about this all the time, and they should. Some publishers are hiring e-marketing & e-pricing experts because they desperately need to have someone who specializes in the electronic market; they need help staying competitive electronically. 

And I’m sure these e-experts are noticing, as many people who sell electronics are as well, that sales of e-readers are blowing up. As a teacher, I have seen more and more of my middle-grade students sporting e-readers, as have some writer/teacher friends of mine out there, like Tracy Edward Wymer.

All this is to say, there are multiple ways to go about this crazy publishing game, and there are new and exciting changes taking place every day in this "new" world. In fact, the idea of writing a serial novel is intriguing. I’ve seen some news recently where writers have signed on to write a series of “chapters” that will be published at set periods of time. A lot of news. Did I mention I've read news about serial publishing? Other individual authors and small presses alike are trying out similar methods, where each “chapter” will be sold individually, and then when the entire book is complete there will be a full-book option for purchase.

Then there are other start-up publishing companies trying out other methods, and many of these companies I see in the vein of the throwback type ventures. And I love that! It gets me excited to see innovative people getting a read on the changing climate and then developing a new and fresh approach. Coliloquy is an example of a company trying out the exclusive e-book format, but they are attempting to make reading more interactive, as featured in Publisher's Weekly. A different approach, yes. And to that I say, "Go for it, Coliloquy! Take this new [publishing] world and put your stamp on it!" I hope it works, and I hope it fosters more innovation and growth.

Someone who has recently decided to write a YA novel in serial form is a writer I think has a wealth of talent, Shaun Hutchinson, author of DEATHDAY LETTER (SimonPulse) and the forthcoming A TALE OF TWO PARTIES (SimonPulse). The difference with Shaun’s serial novel, called THE DARK DAYS OF ME AND HIM, is that Shaun’s is completely free. He is writing what I call an “important” story in serial format, and has decided to put chapters up on a website every two weeks. The series began this past Wednesday with the first two chapters, and I encourage you all to visit the site and take part in his experiment. The website is HERE.

So now that I've had a chance to paint a picture of this new world, any thoughts from you out there about the changing publishing landscape around us?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Successful Momentum

What simple action could you take today to produce a new momentum toward success in your life?
~ Anthony Robbins

Our writing journeys have definite periods of productivity and periods of lack of productivity. We get stalled by lack of ideas or plotting or writer's block or "the end" or any number of things. So then what? 

Rich Fettke, author of Extreme Success, has 10 tips for maintaining our momentum:

1. Take some time to clarify your desired future outcome. Success is seeing what you want and moving toward what you see. 

2. Use visual reminders of your intention. Get some magazines and cut out pictures and words related to your goal. Put them where you’ll see them on a regular basis, like on your bathroom mirror, in your wallet, next to your computer screen, or on a poster board.

3. Set clear goals with clear timelines. 

4. Be action-oriented.

5. Ask yourself, "How much and what kind of fun will I have with this project?" This will help raise your energy. If you’re dreading the process there’s a good chance your momentum is going to get stifled.

6. Fill your mind with inspiration. Read books, listen to audio programs, and watch videos that educate, uplift and inspire you. Go to seminars and attend conventions related to your goal. Read about and learn about people who have done what you want to do.

7. Take a Risk a Day. So often to move towards what we really want requires us to get out of our comfort zone. By getting into the habit of taking a risk a day you will strengthen your courage as you take those important actions that can lead to your greatest opportunities.

8. Create a support team. Ask a few of your friends to form a group to support each other on your goals. Find a mentor, someone you think would add input, support, advice, feedback, and/or accountability to help you keep your attention on your intention.

9. Consistently review your top three intentions. This will add fuel to your fire and will help you focus your attention on what matters during your day. It will also help you recognize the opportunities that might help you move toward your desired future outcome.

10. Clarify how your intention also helps others. The fuel that can come from helping others can inspire you to take action and stay focused on your goals.

Numbers 7, 8, and 10 are my favorites, although I think they are all brilliant. When I first read #10, I thought of Elana Johnson and her e-book From the Query to the Call, and I thought of the WriteOnCon team and all they've done for writers online. There are so many ways we can use what we've learned to help each other.

So . . . what simple action could you take today to produce a new momentum toward success in your life?