Writing A Novel 101: 6 Things To Know

Because it is #subtips Monday (check out my #subtips hashtag on Twitter), here are a few Q&A’s writers frequently ask when they get started writing. 2014-03-03 12.37.52Writing is a complex field with tons of variables and questions and distractions, and sometimes it helps to just ask questions and get answers. Let me know yours below!
Q: Do I have to have a title before I start writing?
Nope. My manuscripts sometimes have a title before they have a first page, and others I’m still struggling with titles for even after they’ve been drafted and revised. Titles often change during the publication process anyway, so I wouldn’t get hung up on finding the perfect title. I’d just start writing, and it may come to you as you go. Lots of authors find their title while writing out those gorgeous lines. Don’t sweat it.

Q: Do I have to have a thorough outline before I start writing?
Nope. Some authors have to have one, and some find it drains the inspiration from the creative process. I’d say you definitely need a firm idea of what the story is about– what’s the main character’s problem? Figure that out, develop it, find out what stands in the way of him/her solving that problem. Basically, know the big events that have to happen. If you don’t like outlines, that’s okay. Just be sure you have a solid concept in place so you aren’t writing enormous tangents or piles of words with no goal. That can be discouraging.

If you have a clear conflict in mind for your characters and you know what’s keeping them from solving the conflict, that’s a great place to start. I use a method that works great for me: I get to know the conflict and the characters, then I start writing, treating my outline like I’m driving in the dark; I only need to see as far ahead as my headlights will show me. Each step shows me a little bit more of what’s ahead, and that’s enough! Just make sure each scene contribute to the main character’s goal/problem.

Q: Is it a good idea to let family and friends read my manuscript? 
In the early stages, I say no– for similar reasons that it’s not a good idea to let your friends and family name your children. They won’t want what you want for the book, if you don’t take their advice, they may be upset, and quite frankly, you love them too much. The opinions of family and friends usually mean so much to us that it can make filtering their feedback difficult, and it also puts you in the awkward position of having disagreements with them over what’s best for the story and potentially doing exactly what they said was a terrible idea. On the other hand, well-meaning advice can set us off on the wrong path. I’d look for feedback from people who are good writers, because they usually have a more solid idea of what to critique and their feedback is usually more helpful.

Lots of us are plenty strong enough to not let relationships cloud what’s best for the book, but even when that’s the case, it’s hard to deal with. Save yourself the angst, and have them read, if you must, once it’s done and you’re no longer accepting feedback. Chances are, they’ll tell you they love it and it’s perfect, anyway. :)

Q: How long should my novel be?
The first thing to know is that writers almost always measure book length in words, not pages. How many words fit on a page can vary so much that it’s just not an accurate measure. Most word processors track the word count of your document for you, so check (probably at the bottom) for how many words you have.  How long your book should be depends on the category and genre. Here’s a pretty solid breakdown from Writer’s Digest. Keep in mind a standard page is about 250-300 words.

Q: What if I screw it up by writing the wrong thing?
You will write the wrong thing. Trust me. Don’t be afraid of it! Here’s the thing: you’re smart, motivated, and creative. Anything you can write, you can un-write. So much of writing is rewriting that I like to think of it as a puzzle. I’ve got all these pieces, I found the corners, and now I’m shifting them around to see what fits where. That’s what drafting is all about. Don’t pressure yourself too much to know everything before starting to write pages.

Legos is a good comparison, too. They can be taken apart and shifted around to fit a different way if I discover my creation isn’t looking like I want it to, or the structure isn’t holding up. It may be painful at first, but you’ll learn from it, and you know your characters and plot better now than you did before. This one is going to be better because of it. Trust yourself– if you made something good once, you can do it again, so if you need to rework something, that’s okay. You can take it down and make something else good, too. Trust yourself to find a good thing in all those building blocks and make it take shape. Reshape as you go. Jump and and do it. And redo it. Good writing is rewriting!

Q: How much revising should I plan on doing?
Well, I like to compare drafting and revising to raising a child. You put months into planning, developing, and writing that book, and when you finish drafting it, you have a brand new book baby! Congratulations. It’s a huge moment. But just like you’re not done when you’ve successfully created a brand-new person, you’re not done with that book yet. You have to shape that child and spend 18 years teaching him or her how to be a successful, happy adult (who are we kidding? We need our parents well into our thirties), and you have to shape, focus, and polish your manuscript. It’s a book now, but it needs a lot more love before it’s ready for the world. Now, hopefully, this won’t take 18 years, but it usually does take 3-4 thorough rounds of revisions with beta readers and critique partners to really make the book live up to its potential. And that’s before agent revisions and editor revisions. However: here’s the great part. All this work can be so much fun. Just like parenting, there are parts we hate and parts that make us cry and parts we wish we didn’t have to do. But it’s worth it.

Do you like this blog series? Tell me, and I’ll keep it going! Submit your questions for the next one!

So, Why Did I Write A First Cousins Romance?

When people hear the pitch for my debut YA novel, HOW WE FALL, one of the first questions I usually get asked is “so, why did you write a cousins romance?” In case you’re interested, too, I thought I’d write up something about it.

Yes, it’s an actual love story about first cousins. No, I didn’t write it to support cousin marriage in particular, or because I ever had a relationship with my cousin (I didn’t, and neither did any of my siblings or cousins). Here’s the quick pitch:

In the wake of her best friend’s disappearance, 17-year-old Jackie throws herself into an obsessive relationship with her cousin, only to find out her best friend’s secrets might take him, too.

So, yes, there’s a bit of tragedy to it. And they don’t start out with an entirely healthy relationship. If you’ve read How I Live Now, Flowers in the Attic, or Forbidden, you know those kinds of love take a toll on people. It’s not entirely tragic, though, and the relationship isn’t an abusive one. It’s a flawed one, and a difficult one. (And most relationships are flawed and difficult.)

So, why did I write about first cousins?

1) I love best friend romances. I think they’re sweet, and deep, and full of little tensions. There’s not much like discovering the person who knows you best is the one you want to share your life with. To me, HOW WE FALL is primarily a best friend romance, even though it’s a taboo one. I liked the idea of writing a sort of extreme best friend love story, and the cousin dynamic seemed like a fascinating one to use. For a lot of people, the cousin relationship is a unique one. Cousins know your family, but don’t necessarily share the same baggage. They know your siblings and parents and the special aggravation that can come with them. A lot of people grew up seeing their cousins frequently, so there’s no use having pretensions– they’ve known you since you were little. They’ve been there, they know you, and they’ll be there for the rest of your life.

2) I mean, why not write about cousins? a) It’s not illegal. Cousin marriage is legal in about half the states, and is only considered incest in a few. b) It happens. Some form of cousin marriage accounts for 20% of marriages worldwide. I personally know of three cousins marriages. c) People do write about it. We have a history full of famous cousin marriages, as well as a number of famous novels (including Mansfield Park) where cousin marriage is part of the story. (Also, hey, if you haven’t seen Arrested Development, you really should. Clever, hilarious, great fun.) d) Cousin crushes happen a lot. One thing I find really interesting is the stories people tell me when they hear about it. Turns out, a lot of people kissed their cousin when they were little and a lot of people crushed on an older cousin.

Yes, there are safety issues, similar to other forms of nontraditional relationships, and yes, there are genetic issues, though the genetic issues with children from first cousin marriages are widely exaggerated. The risk of birth defects for children of first cousins is only 2% higher than for the general population. Your own personal genetic history plays a bigger role in your children’s birth defects than marrying your first cousin. Author John Green actually created a very interesting video about cousin marriage. Skip to about minute 7 for his comments on genetic and ethical issues.

3) There’s a lot of conflict. The problems and issues surrounding cousin relationships are exactly why I wanted to write about it. Conflict makes a story, right? Usually, the deeper the struggle, the more fascinating the story. We’ve seen that with other prejudices– biracial, cross-cultural, and same-gender relationships, relationships crossing political, religious, and status lines, and just about any other boundary we put up between people. When the conflict is an immoveable fact with deep-rooted prejudices and potential to harm your family, that’s a significant and difficult struggle. The problems with cousin relationships are a huge part of why I wanted to write about it. It would test my characters in ways not much else could.

4) It’s not really about cousins. That’s the fabric, sure. But to me, How We Fall is about self. About finding out what you really want out of life, and being brave enough to go after it. It’s about emotional dishonesty, and courage, and roots, and missed opportunities changing who you become. And really, I hope it’s a fun read. There’s humor, produce farming, and Casablanca quotes, and flirting, friendship, and sisters. It’s about parents, and being uprooted, and sneaking off in the dark, and Hitchcock movies. It’s about a girl and her family, and the guy she can’t/won’t/desperately wants to go after.

So, that’s a peek into why I wrote the novel. And hint, it comes out November 11, and if you pre-order it now, you’ll be one of the first to get it. :) (You can also add it on Goodreads.)

Have you read any other taboo YA? I loved Unteachable by Leah Raeder, and of course the three sibling/cousin stories I mentioned above: Forbidden, Flowers in the Attic, and How I Live Now. Do any others come to mind?

cover

Amazon: Not Cheaper or Faster For Buying Books?

Popular myth can be a beast. I’ve been hearing from my social circles a lot lately that Amazon is faster, cheaper, more convenient: “I love Barnes and Noble, but you know. Amazon has everything and it’s cheaper.” I thought that, too, if I stopped long enough to process it. But I haven’t bought books from Amazon for a while, so with chasing down buy links for my novel releasing this year, and stalking my critique partners’ books online, I started to notice something.

So, I tracked down all three of our upcoming releases to compare purchase price, shipping cost, and shipping times. Take a look:

From Powell’s

(same price for Joseph-Beth Booksellers and Books Inc. for all 3 titles.)

The Hit List: $9.95, paperback.Hit List

Anomaly: $9.99, paperback.

How We Fall: $17.99, hardcover.

Shipping is $3.99 for economy mail, no matter how many books you buy. $50 order total or more, and shipping is free. Arrives in 4-9 business days for economy mail or 2-7 for standard mail.

From Barnes and Noble:

The Hit List: $8.25, paperback.

Anomaly: $9.99, paperback.Anomaly

How We Fall: $13.31, hardcover.

Free shipping on orders over $25 for qualifying items (most new books). Arrives in 2-6 business days. Great membership program that’s free for 2 months, then $25 a year after that. Free shipping and arrivals in 1-3 business days, 40% off hardcover bestsellers.

Books-A-Million:

The Hit List: $8.25, paperback.

Anomaly: $9.99, paperback.HowWeFallCover

How We Fall: $13.31, hardcover.

Arrives in 3-7 business days. Free shipping for club members ($25 a year), or $3.00 plus $0.99 per item for non-members.

Book Depository:

The Hit List: $12.78, paperback.

Anomaly: $8.93, paperback.

How We Fall: $16.09, hardcover.

Free shipping worldwide, customer responsible for local shipping and taxes. Delivery times vary depending on country.

Amazon:

The Hit List: $8.42, paperback.

Anomaly: $8.99, paperback.

How We Fall: $13.31, hardcover.

Shipping is $4-5 for one book for non-members. Free shipping on orders over $35. Arrives in 4-5 days. Amazon Prime allows free 2-day shipping for eligible items, $99 a year.

Things to note:

THE HIT LIST is more expensive from Amazon than from B&N and BAM, and only about $1.50 more expensive from most indies. Varying shipping costs and a member program can easily make up that difference and even save you money, especially since Amazon’s prime membership is so much more expensive than B&N’s.

ANOMALY’s price varies by $1 no matter where you buy it. Amazon’s list price is $1 cheaper, but shipping is $4-5 if you aren’t a member. The cheapest option would be to have a B&N or BAM membership, or even cheaper, to bulk-order your books from Powell’s for 0 shipping costs and 0 membership costs.

HOW WE FALL’s price is more expensive from most indies, but B&N, BAM, and Amazon all have it for exactly the same price. Without memberships, the cheapest option is to buy it and another book or two in a $25 purchase from B&N. With memberships, the cheapest option is B&N. As a single-purchase item with no memberships, the cheapest option is Books-A-Million.

Amazon isn’t the cheapest option anymore. It isn’t the cheapest way to buy any of these books, once you count in shipping.

Amazon isn’t the fastest option, either, depending on your location. Barnes & Noble ships to nonmembers in 2-6 business days. Amazon’s nonmember shipping gets to me in 4-5 business days.

Amazon isn’t necessarily the most convenient, either. All these stores have fully functional websites and stock just about every book I could think to search. Amazon may not even have the book you want, given the issue with Hachette, and given that “shares are down sharply this year and analysts are cutting earnings forecasts” (see New York Times article linked before quote).

Even Amazon’s membership isn’t the best membership deal. B&N has a much cheaper per-year cost and greater discounts on books for members. Even for nonmembers, B&N’s “free shipping on $25″ is a great deal. I almost never order one book and ship it by itself, so this is convenient, cheap, and quick for me. Powell’s offers a similar deal for $50 order total (just place bigger orders less frequently; same cost.) with similar shipping times. Amazon’s shipping times and “free shipping on $35″ isn’t necessarily cheaper, faster, or more convenient.

No matter how you add it up, Amazon is operating within slim margins more or less expensive than any of these booksellers.

I didn’t calculate ebook costs, as ebooks for these 3 aren’t up yet at all of these locations and I don’t typically buy ebooks if it’s a book I really want to own.  Not having shipping and being able to click and have the ebook at a no-shipping price is great, and might tip the scales one way or the other, especially depending on what e-reader you have. (Though ANOMALY’s ebook is $5.99 at both B&N and Amazon.) And true, this is only based on three books.

I should also note that while you can buy writing/craft materials, games, books, music, and movies at many bookstores, especially the large ones, many more categories of products are available at Amazon. The wide variety available at Amazon does make their $99-a-year membership program more valuable overall, if you tend to order a lot of non-craft/media items online. I don’t. Clothes, food, furniture, gifts– I pick those out by hand. Even Christmas shopping, I tend to do in physical stores, because I make it a date with my husband and we get drinks and spend time discussing family members and what special item we could find for them while we browse. I wouldn’t give that up to buy most of my gifts online. So for me, Amazon’s membership is not cheaper, even given the variety of items available.

Basically, this boils down to Amazon not being a landslide better value. It just isn’t. The difference is small when it is a better value, and often it isn’t. And even when it does inch ahead in cost effectiveness, I’m going to vote with my dollars.

I have accounts at BAM, B&N, Books of Wonder, and Powells. I’m going to use them.

My Cover Reveal for How We Fall!

I’ve been waiting for this day for a while. Covers are special; they’re the face of our book, and a big determiner in whether or not our story catches the reader’s attention. This manuscript has been a long time in the making, and it’s so much fun (and stress/nervousness/excitement) to see it becoming a book. I’m so happy to be sharing the cover of HOW WE FALL with you today!

I’m also launching my author Facebook page today, and giving away two ARCs to random readers who like my page, so be sure to head over there to see the cover and enter to win an ARC!

HOW WE FALL by Kate Brauning

YA contemporary
Publication date: 11/11/2014
Publisher: Merit Press, F+W Media Inc.
ISBN-13: 9781440581793
Hardcover, 304 pages

 

About the Book:

He kissed her on a dare. She told him to do it again.

Ever since Jackie moved to her uncle’s sleepy farming town, she’s been flirting—a bit too much—with her cousin, Marcus. She pushes away the inevitable consequences of their friendship until her best friend, Ellie, disappears, and the police suspect foul play. Just when she needs him most, Marcus falls for the new girl in town—forcing Jackie to give a name to the secret summer hours she’s spent with him. As she watches the mystery around Ellie’s disappearance start to break, Jackie has to face that she’s fallen in love at an impossible time with an impossible boy. And she can’t let Marcus, or Ellie, go.

The Reveal!

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HowWeFallCover

Sneak Peek Page:

 

Chapter One

 

Last year, Ellie used to hang out at the vegetable stand with Marcus and me on Saturdays. This year, her face fluttered on a piece of paper tacked to the park’s bulletin board. Most weeks, I tried to ignore her eyes looking back at me. But today, Marcus had set the table up at a different angle, and she watched me the entire morning.

The day that photo was taken, she’d worn her Beauty and the Beast earrings. The teapot and the teacup were too small to see well in the grainy, blown-up photo, but that’s what they were. She’d insisted sixteen wasn’t too old for Disney.

The crunch of tires on gravel sounded, and a Buick slowed to a stop in front of the stand. I rearranged the bags of green beans to have something to do. Talking to people I didn’t know, making pointless small talk, wasn’t my thing. My breathing always sped up and I never knew what to do with my hands. It had been okay before, but now—surely people could see it on me. One look, and they’d know. Chills prickled up my arms in spite of the warm sun.

Marcus lifted a new crate of cucumbers from the truck and set it down by the table, his biceps stretching the sleeves of his T-shirt. Barely paying attention to the girl who got out of the car, he watched me instead. And not the way most people watched someone; I had his full attention. All of him, tuned toward me. He winked, the tanned skin around his eyes crinkling when he smiled. I bit my cheek to keep from grinning.

The girl walked over to the stand and I quit smiling.

Marcus looked away from me, his gaze drifting toward the girl. Each step of her strappy heels made my stomach sink a little further. Marcus tilted his head.

He didn’t tilt it much, but I knew what it meant. He did that when he saw my tan line or I wore a short skirt. I narrowed my eyes.

“Hi,” she said. “I’d like a zucchini and four tomatoes.” Just like that. A zucchini and four tomatoes.

Marcus placed the tomatoes into a brown paper bag. “Are you from around here?”

Of course she wasn’t from around here. We’d know her if she were.

“We just moved. I’m Sylvia Young.” The breeze toyed with her blonde hair, tossing short wisps around her high cheekbones. Her smile seemed genuine and friendly. Of course. Pretty, friendly, and new to town, because disasters come in threes.

“Going to Manson High?” Marcus handed her the bags.

She nodded. “My dad’s teaching science.”

Finally, I said something. “Three bucks.”

“Hmm?” Sylvia turned from Marcus. “Oh. Right.” She handed me the cash and looked over the radishes. “Are you here every day?” Her eyes strayed back to Marcus.

“Three times a week,” he said.

“I’ll see you in a day or two, then.” She waved.

I was pretty damn sure she wouldn’t be coming back for the radishes.

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Pre-Order How We Fall: Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, IndieBound, Books Inc., Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Book Depository, Amazon U.S., Amazon Canada, Amazon U.K., Amazon Germany, Amazon Japan.

 

Add How We Fall on Goodreads!

 Head over to my Facebook author page to win an ARC!

(Open to U.S. residents only.)

 

About the Author:www.jenniophotography.com

Kate spent her childhood in rural Missouri raising Siberian huskies, running on gravel roads, and navigating life in a big family. Now living in Iowa, she is married to a videographer from the Dominican Republic, and still owns a husky. She loves bright colors, fall leaves, unusual people, and all kinds of music. Kate has written novels since she was a teen, but it wasn’t until she studied literature in college that she fell in love with young adult books.  Kate now works in publishing and pursues her lifelong dream of telling stories she’d want to read. Visit her online, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

 

 

Review: CALL ME ZELDA by Erika Robuk

Review: CALL ME ZELDA by Erika Robuk

Review by Alison Doherty
Call Me Zelda
Erika Robuk
NAL Trade, 2013

Since I first read The Great Gatsby in high school, I’ve been fascinated by the Fitzgeralds – especially Zelda. In a lot of ways their story as a couple both eclipses and bolsters F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books. Lately with the resurgence of nostalgia for the 1920s, aided by Downton Abbey and Baz Luhrmann’s film, even more people are interested in Zelda. They are interested in Zelda, the southern belle who charmed all the officers, or Zelda, the flapper who drank champagne all night and danced in fountains. CALL ME ZELDA, by Erika Robuck doesn’t focus on that Zelda. Instead the book shows her in the 1930s, trying desperately to recover from a mental breakdown and trying to forge an identity separate from her famous husband.

The book succeeds in large part because it is told through the perspective of made-up character Nurse Anne Howard. Anne has a history and problems of her own, but as she gets more and more absorbed in the Fitzgeralds so does the reader. Anne eventually quits her job at the psychiatric hospital to move into the Fitzgerad’s home. She starts feeling more like a family friend than employee, but the ground in the Fitzgerald household is always shifting.

During this time, Zelda cathartically writes out memories from iconic periods of her life for Anne. While these times are fun to read about, I think it was a little too bold of Robuck to assume Zelda’s writing style. Anne joins Zelda in her obsession with finding the diaries, which F. Scott Fitzgerald stole for material for his novels and proceeded to lose. They both begin to think if the diaries can be recovered Zelda will be able to recover her identity from being mixed up with her roll as Scott’s muse and literary archetype.

Even though historical fiction hasn’t been my favorite thing to read lately, overall I really enjoyed this book. I became as absorbed in Anne’s personal story as I was in this interpretation of Zelda and Scott. It is hard to take on such iconic historical and literary figures, but I think setting the book after their success made this easier.

Both Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald created their own fictionalizations of this time period and Zelda’s breakdown. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote TENDER IS THE NIGHT about a famous psychiatrist who sacrifices his career to marry one of his patients. Zelda wrote the very autobiographical SAVE ME THE WALTZ, in which she portrays the couple’s whole relationship. In fact, CALL ME ZELDA shows both characters working on these books.

If you want to learn more about Zelda I would suggest starting with either of those or checking out the biography ZELDA, by Nancy Mitford. However, if you are looking for something easier to read or have already read those books, CALL ME ZELDA, is definitely a book I would recommend. Erika Robuck has also written novels about Edna St. Vincent Millay and Ernest Hemingway, if stories about those authors sound more interesting to you.

Alison Doherty

I’m Signing At BEA!

Hey, do you know what this is? This screenshot with my name on it? It’s the list of authors signing at BookExpo America this year!

Screenshot 2014-04-24 10.26.09

So, yes, I’ll be signing ARCs of HOW WE FALL at BEA next month! I’m so thrilled to be going, and even more exciting to be signing copies of my book. Here are the details of when and where I’ll be signing:

Screenshot 2014-04-24 10.39.31

Are you going to BEA this year? Will I see you there?

 

Want to be on my street team?

Hello, readers! This is a super exciting post for me. I’m starting to build my street team, and you are invited to join. :)

In case you aren’t familiar with the concept, they can work a few different ways, depending on the author, the book, and the publishing house, but basically it’s a team of people who sign up to help promote and support a book through word of mouth. You don’t have to have a large social media platform– it’s just as helpful to suggest the book to your friends and family and do on-the-ground support. The power of fans is huge, and I’d love to have anyone involved who either has read and loves How We Fall or supports my writing. (Click the image to see the book description.)

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You can live anywhere and still be a part of my team, and the hourly commitment will likely be pretty low– the basic idea is just to have you aware and telling your friends! All street team activities will be flexible and optional, but of course I want people who are enthusiastic and genuinely want to help my book succeed. I’d especially love anyone who regularly reads my blog or interacts with me on Twitter, and anyone who thinks How We Fall sounds awesome. A lot of you have been around since I first started writing on this blog and have seen me query, write new manuscripts, query again, and sign with my agent, and I’d love to have anyone who has stuck with me that long!

What kind of things might you be doing? Asking your library and bookstores to stock How We Fall, telling family and friends about it, placing a preorder if you’re going to buy it, adding the book on Goodreads, hosting the cover reveal, sharing teasers on Twitter, Facebook, your blog, etc.

What are the perks of being on my street team? Sneak peaks, a chance to have a character in a later book named after you, a chance to win an annotated ARC and classic film collections, awesome swag like bookmarks and buttons, updates about what’s going on behind the scenes, and of course, my sincere gratitude and appreciation. It can also be pretty cool to be involved in launching a book, and I’ll have a few surprises in the works, too!

Thank you to every one of you who has been reading my blog, following me on Twitter, and making a space for me to talk about my books and hear about yours. The community of writers and readers is a wonderful place to be.

How can you join? Contact me below!

 

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