No Posturing, Just Posting

Keeping it real for a minute. No posturing, just posting. 🙂
People always assume that everything is great for everyone on social media-it’s not. It’s just that it’s better to present a positive spin on life, than a negative one.
I’m keeping it real here today just because why not? Maybe someone out there is struggling and needs to know that we all have it hard at some point. Especially those of us who have a creative career.
I was explaining to someone at Highlights last week that for me there is no backup plan, this is what I do for a living, and this person didn’t seem to get it. It’s funny to me.
I feel like I’ve been drowning my entire life, but I’m doing what I love and trying to continue to do that.
My writing is not where I wanted it to be at this age. I have been paid to write, I have sold stuff, but I wanted to be further, I’m not, but that’s okay. I get up every day and I write, or I think about writing, or I don’t do anything and then tomorrow is a new day.
Money?? Ha, I look around and see everyone with savings accounts, owning houses not living like they are in college still, and again, I thought that would be me, it’s not. But I’m okay with it.
Marriage, kids? Same.. but it’s okay.
The point is, that no one is perfect and no matter what it seems like on social media, life is hard a lot of the time.
We are all in this together!!!
Don’t give up. Keep reaching for your goals and don’t compare yourself to others-it will make you crazy.
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Stephanie Olivieri: Illustrator’s Gallery

My day job!!

Kite Tales

10Illustrator and animation artist, Stephanie Olivieri, takes us on her journey from pencil to pixel in this quarter’s “Illustrator’s Gallery.” Read on for tools, tips, and encouragement if you’re looking to switch from hand drawing to digital, are deciding if you should, or would just like to compare digital notes with another fantastic illustrator!

I made the transition from hand drawing to drawing on the computer officially in 2012. It was something that I fought against for years, saying that people still needed and loved traditional art, but now that I’m digital, I have found that it’s invaluable. I sometimes will do a mixed media piece, but the freedom that an artist has once on the computer is amazing. I find that with enough practice, an artist can mimic traditional illustration and painting, with the biggest difference being drying time and the ability to make changes easily.

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Sorry I’ve Been Writing

I have so much to say to you all, but it’s been a crazy few months. I can’t believe March is almost over! How did that happen?

WOW. I’m working on two YAs and hoping to sign with a new writing agent later this spring or summer.

Meanwhile, I will start posting more often starting in April. THANKS for understanding!

11/19 Webinar: How to Be a Writer Without Losing Your Mind

This is awesome! Thank you John for being so generous with your time.

John M. Cusick


Hi all! If you’ve enjoyed some of the craft-focused and inspirational posts I’ve done on this blog, you should check out my November 19th webinar with Writers Digest, HOW TO BE A WRITER WITHOUT LOSING YOUR MIND: Balancing Work, Life, and Craft. There will be a Q and A as well as query critiques for all attendees. You should check it out!

ABOUT THE WEBINAR

Being a writer can make you crazy. The writer’s life is at once invigorating and exhausting, it can be isolating and wonderfully social, inspiring as well as demeaning. As writers we bring our deepest, most sensitive selves to the page, and often the world can feel like a hyper-critical and uncaring receiver, where competition, criticism, and even the success of others can make writing feel like a chore, or worse-utterly terrifying. And yet, we’re driven to return to the page and express ourselves despite…

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Revise! Revise! Revise! Then? Revise Again

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Hello, writers!

Today I wanted to write a quick blog about revising, something that all writers should be very acquainted with but many aren’t. Revision is part of the process. It doesn’t matter if you are Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or someone brand new; if you write novels, you must plan on revising.

I personally love revisions. They are where the heart of the story really comes to life. It’s exciting for me to dig deeper and get to know my characters better and help them tell their story even better than I had originally planned it. I know that may sound a bit crazy, but trust me, it’s not. My characters always have the final say in how their story is told.

You may have heard the term “pantser”? Yup, that’s me, on the first draft. I am the writer who just sits down sometimes with not much more than a name of a character or an idea, and I pound the keys until 70,000-90,000 words later I have a novel. Then, the work begins, and I revise and revise and revise and then when I think it’s done, I start taking it to workshops, and I revise again.

Let’s talk about the process after you do all that, and I really hope that you will, you will then give the book to your agent, or you will get an agent or a new agent, and most likely you will face another revision there. Don’t feel bad, it’s just what happens.

When the book is sold, guess what? Yup, more revisions. Expect it, it’s part of it. Your editor will know how to sell your book. He/she will know what is working and what isn’t. Remember they do this for a living, they know the market, they know what their houses already have in the pipeline, and they know how to tell your story, listen to them. Remember that Katie Holmes commercial for Garnier hair coloring? The tag line was “Trust them, they’re experts.” This is the same thing.

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You must trust the people who know better than you. I know it’s hard to do sometimes, but usually the editor, at least the good ones, have reasons for what they are saying in your editorial letter. Be thankful they didn’t just say, “this is brilliant, here’s your pub date.” I had that happen with one of my adult (chick lit) novels, I went with a small publishing house that wasn’t right for me, and I was new, and all excited to have a deal, so when they said that I was happy. I thought that it meant I was so good that I didn’t need to change anything. Well, then it went to copy editing, and I think it was run through Word or something because it was published with lots of mistakes. The book didn’t sell well, and I learned a valuable lesson.

Sometimes you may not agree with your editor, and that’s okay, but talk to her. You are a team working together; it’s important to understand this step and why she is asking for these changes.

Before you even get to this step, with the editor, make sure that someone better than you reads your entire manuscript and gives you thoughtful notes on the story, plot, character, voice, structure, and what isn’t working. You need that. We all do. You can have a mentor do it, or you can go to a week long whole novel retreat, do a class online, but you must not skip this step.

True story, my current WIP is a young adult coming of age story about a spoiled teen who thinks that his whole world is falling apart even though it’s not until it does. I wrote the first draft of this in NaNoWriMo last year (after writing it as an adult novel a while back, so I knew the story, but was just telling it differently). Then I workshopped it at an SCBWI retreat with an editor. Then I went to an SCBWI conference and did a one on one critique with an editor at one of my favorite houses; then I worked on it until June revising with their comments and also my crit groups, and what I know of revisions myself.

I thought it was done, and I sent it off to the Highlights Foundation for the upcoming Whole Novel Workshop thinking that I would only be polishing. Well, I have since taken our 36,000 words that were in a second character’s POV, that I was struggling with the whole year. I changed the setting, I changed my MC’s intentions, I changed so many things that I can’t tell you and guess what? It’s so much stronger. I’m working on it now with a teacher/mentor from Highlights, who is doing an online class, and it’s getting stronger with every pass. I am now at the word level. I call this stage the shining stage. I polished the story, plot, scenes, and now I’m making word choices, it’s HARD work, but worth it.

I’m not saying hold onto your work forever. You do need to say, “it’s done” and let it go. But all these revisions I have done have still been less than a year. I’m planning to send it out in the early spring, only because the holidays are here. Some writers never think their work is ready, but that’s a horse of another color. There is a difference to being Goerge McFly “I don’t let anyone read my work. What if they don’t like it? What if they tell me I’m no good. I don’t think I could take that kind of rejection.” and jumping the shark too soon.

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My advice is to revise. Pay attention to your story, dig deep and don’t be in a hurry to sell it. If you send it out too soon, it won’t sell, and or if it does get picked up, it won’t sell on the shelves. You need it to be great.

Study, work hard, work with people who are above you. Listen to what people are saying. Trust yourself.

When you do get an agent, or when your agent sends to editors, accept that you aren’t done yet, and do the revisions. If you feel strongly about a story, still listen, you may find that changing that thing you think you can’t change, can change. Talk to your editor about it, and trust yourself. I’m not saying to just do whatever anyone says, but honestly most of the editors I know at the big publishing houses are right.

Okay, happy writing!! Go forth and be brilliant.

I have a list of resources on my website RESOURCES

and if you have specific questions, post or email me.

If you are doing NaNoWriMo-which I recommend for a first draft, I’m stephnewyork so add me as a buddy.🙂

Your Query Mishaps and How to Fix Them

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Hey, writers!

So it’s time to submit, but you now have to write your query and your mind goes blank. You can’t form a coherent sentence, and you just write something too long, too boring, or just plain bad. Why is that?

I think it’s like a game of GOLF-all in YOUR HEAD. You put the pressure on yourself to write something amazing and BAM! just like that, nothing good comes out.

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There are tons and tons and tons of resources for how to write a good query, so I won’t bore you with those details. GOOGLE how to write a query and I promise you tons will come up. I have some favorites, but everyone is different, so I want you to do what speaks to you.

That said, as someone who used to run a query clinic, and I often work with writers one on one with their queries, let me share some of the most common mishaps that writers make.

  1. The letter isn’t personal. It’s a form letter that gets blasted out to 80+ people.
  2. There is way too much about the story-telling what happens in order, which usually sounds like a little kid telling a story about what happened. “And then… and then… and then…” You know what a mean.
  3. The writer lists a bunch of “credits” that have nothing to do with what they are submitting.
  4. Typos, grammar errors and spelling the person’s name wrong.
  5. It’s too long.
  6. It doesn’t show any excitement for the work.
  7. It’s boring.
  8. It’s not coherent or makes no sense.
  9. It doesn’t tell what the story is about.
  10. The writer talks about all the reasons it’s the next Harry Potter, etc. and how much money it will make.

So what can you do to write the perfect query?

  1. Make it PERSONAL. Why are you submitting to this person? This is HUGE.
  2. What is the story about? Be specific, and get to the point.
  3. Keep it short. I think queries where the about the story part is only one or maybe two short paragraphs are the strongest. There is a reason in advertising K.I.S.S. is said. Keep It Short Stupid/Silly
  4. List only things that are relevant to why you wrote this story.
  5. Spell check, use GRAMMARLY, and have your friends & critique partners read it.
  6. MOSTLY be EXCITED about your story!! If you aren’t excited and can’t sell it, how will an editor?

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I think that people get caught up in the this must be perfect and freak out. Writers can obviously write because they just wrote a great book.

Two more things, words of advice I can give you are:

  1. SPEND TIME crafting this query. Make sure every word counts.
  2. SEND only when your novel is READY. One of the biggest mishaps I see writers making is sending out too soon. The book isn’t done or is in the first revision. Don’t panic, that agent, editor, etc. will be there. WAIT before you send out.

Okay, one more.

BE VERY SPECIFIC about WHO you send to. You don’t need to send 100 queries. Choose a small handful of people to send to, and get your manuscript ready for them. Tell them WHY you think that you will be great working together. If you are sending to everyone who you think of, trust me, that comes off on the page. Think of your agent like your spouse. This is a relationship. You need to interview them as well. This may be via social media posts, conference talks, but you need to send to the right agent.

I hope these tips help you. I want every writer to succeed, so if you have questions feel free to post. I’ll tell you this. I have a very high request rate when I query. I have made the mistake of sending before the book has been ready and then failed at the manuscript stage. I have had three agents for writing. Currently, I’m finishing a YA, which will be my debut into teen fiction so I am being really picky about who I am sending to, or will be sending to soon. PATIENCE is something that is key.

DON’T GET DISCOURAGED!

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Good luck. Contact me if I can help you. I also do work one on one with people. Here’s my website for more info.

Sometimes I tell my writer friends and clients, first just tell me what your book is about like we’re friends out having coffee. Nine times out of ten, what they tell me as a friend is MUCH stronger than what they just wrote in their query. I’m telling you all, it’s all in your head. Be EXCITED for your book, and start by being casual about why it’s great.

If you want you can do this exercise.

Write a letter to a friend about your new book!!! Trust me, a lot of what you write in there can go right into your query.🙂

Sometimes if you can’t simply say what your book is about, then your book probably isn’t ready to be queried. Keep that in mind. If you are really struggling, there MAY be a reason for it.

WORK WITH ME ON YOUR QUERY

With Gratitude-My WRITING and All That I Have Given Up

These past two years I have been making so many changes and sacrifices to reach my ultimate goal of being published with a big traditional publisher for my YA-and not only that, MORE IMPORTANTLY to TELL A GREAT STORY, one that has meaning. (This is big for me, coming from writing comedy to writing something important-or that I think is important).

I have given up so much, gone more into debt to be able to go to SCBWI conferences, workshops, Highlights, taking classes online and more.

Not to mention the time I am taking to do this right. It’s been INTENSE. But ever since the beginning of 2015 I am seeing my current novel getting better with each class, workshop, retreat etc.

I’m so happy that I have waited to start submitting it, because trust me I wanted to at the beginning of 2015. I learned how to be patient this year.

I am GRATEFUL to all my mentors and teachers and fellow writers who have helped me, guided me, spent time with my characters.

I am grateful for Ben (my bf) because without him there is no possible way I could have gone to so many things this year.

I just had to share this because I know that many of my creative friends go through those ups and downs, usually more downs than ups and sometimes it seems like things will never happen, but they do, it just takes time. Everything is a journey.

Am I scared? All the time.

Am I broke? All the time.

Am I tired? All the time.

Am I HAPPY? ALL THE TIME!!

There’s still more work for me on this book, and then I get to start the process all over with the next one. It’s really awesome being an author, it’s not a quick and easy job, but it’s amazing when the story starts to click and become the one you had in your head when you first thought of the idea.

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GREAT YA-NOT AFTER EVERYTHING by Michelle Levy

Do you want a GREAT YA novel about a truly sad, messed up kid dealing with overwhelming grief? Read NOT AFTER EVERYTHING by Michelle Levy

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*I chose the above photo because to me, it says everything about the main character in this story. I found it on the internet, but here is the actual cover.

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This book is the BEST book with a boy lead that I have read in years. I can say that immediately it reminded me of S.E. Hinton’s THE OUTSIDERS, and J.D. Salinger’s THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. I was obsessed with both of these books as a middle school kid going through more than any kid should-and they are why I became a writer.

When I opened Michelle’s book I couldn’t stop reading it. Although since I was on a plane headed to a workshop for writers, I had to. I picked it back up on the return flight and finished it. The day I finished it, I started again from page one and read it a second time. I rarely reread a book the same day that I finish it, but I wanted to savor every single word because it’s so authentic, gritty, raw and tragic.

To say that I love this book is a gross understatement. I beyond loved it. The reason? TYLER-the main character is so REAL that it’s scary. If I didn’t know Michelle personally I would swear this was written by a man because she nails the voice of a teen boy. I even have read passages from it to my boyfriend who agrees wholeheartedly.

*I also write boy leads from the POV of the boy, so this gives me so much inspiration to know that I can do it. Michelle is my female-writer-boy-POV-guru!🙂

This book reminds me of Andrew Smith’s work. Andrew is the author of many teen books with male leads such as GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE, 100 SIDEWAYS MILES, STICK, and my favorite WINGER (and now the sequel STAND-OFF). When I first started reading Andrew’s books, I was taken in immediately by the voice. Michelle Levy does the same thing in NOT AFTER EVERYTHING.

I don’t like reviews that give away everything in a story or rewrite a synopsis so I will spare you that. But I will say that this is a tremendous look into grief, heartache, pain, addiction, social bullshit that comes in highschool and financial hardship. TYLER has lost his mother to suicide before we even meet him. His plans for college and his future have been undone by the actions of his mother. He is struggling to find his way back throughout the book. He discovers a lot about himself through his new friendship with Jordyn-a goth girl at school, who he used to be friends with before he became popular and she became weird.

At the beginning of the book, he isn’t playing football anymore, and things with his girlfriend are falling apart. The only time they are together she is using him just to be seen helping the sad, sad, boy. Told in the first person point of view, the reader gets an awesome insight into the mind of this kid going through hell. When they break up, he is even more alone and depressed. Then he reconnects with Jordyn and she is the only one who isn’t pussyfooting around him, feeling sorry for him, or treating him differently. While it takes them a bit to connect when they finally do, it’s amazing.

There is a part in the book where he hooks up with a random girl who he meets at his job. I especially like this passage because the way he feels when she leaves is HONEST. He feels even more alone than he did before she came over, which is very real, even for guys.

Now onto the big issue his mother’s death by taking her own life. Suicide is a particularly hard thing to deal with, especially for a teen. Whenever we lose anyone in life, it’s hard. When the person is a family member, it’s really hard. When the person is a family member, and they kill themselves, it’s devastating. How we react is everything about who we are. How Tyler reacts to his mother’s death is tragic, hard to watch and yet beautifully sad at the same time.

This book was compared with a couple other books that I just don’t understand. If I were to say anything about where this belongs on the shelves, besides the TEEN BEST SELLER list, it would be with Jay Asher’s THIRTEEN REASONS WHY and Jennifer Niven’s ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES. Not just because they are books that involve suicide and death because they are books that deal with the way characters handle suicide and death.

Or I would say, and am saying this. If you like Andrew Smith’s WINGER, and you like Jay Asher’s THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, you’ll LOVE Michelle Levy’s new book NOT AFTER EVERYTHING.

If it were a few decades back, I would say the same but replace the above books with S.E. Hinton’s THE OUTSIDES and J.D. Salinger’s THE CATCHER IN THE RYE.

Buy this book, tell your friends about it, because it’s deserving of it, and you will love it. If you really want to get inside the head of someone going through some tough times, read this book.

GOODREADS

AMAZON

BARNES AND NOBLE

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