Tuesday, September 27, 2016

GUEST POST: "Why Mom is Missing From TRUTH OR DARE" by Barbara Dee

Six years ago, author and children's editor Leila Sales wrote a notable piece in PW about the ubiquitous "dead parent" character in middle grade and YA fiction. She called the "dead parent" storyline "lazy writing" in which the author evokes instant sympathy for the kid protagonist and avoids the difficult task of creating a non-boring adult character.

As a MG author who loves writing adult characters, I know it may seem odd that I chose to "kill off" the mom in my new novel, Truth or Dare. I'm not sure exactly where this impulse came from--except I know it wasn't the product of "laziness." Truth or Dare is about a 12 year old girl named Lia who is feeling like a late bloomer, struggling to catch up to her friends in both physical and social development. The fact that she is mom-less as she faces puberty and friendship issues leads her to reach out to several other women in her life, basically auditioning them as substitute moms. Eventually (and spoiler alert!) she embraces her free-spirited, iconoclastic Aunt Shelby, who lacks some of the characteristics Lia cherished in her mom, but who offers her own quirky brand of support and sympathy.

In a real way, Lia's mom is never absent from the story, because Lia is constantly comparing these other women to her mom, or to her (possibly idealized) memory of her mom. One of the implied themes of the book is: What makes a good mom? Is Aunt Shelby someone you'd want for a mom, or is she better as an aunt? What's the difference between a mom and an aunt? I had great fun creating Aunt Shelby, who is quite nurturing and generous in some ways, but also disastrously self-centered and unpredictable in others. And I think that by portraying this charismatic but exasperating woman, I'm allowing Lia--and the reader--to focus on the qualities that made Lia's mom so beloved: her empathy, predictability, and yes, even her "boringness." I do think that by the end of the book, Aunt Shelby "grows up" a little--just as her niece does--but in certain respects, she remains the immature yin to Lia's mom's yang.

In her PW piece, Leila Sales faults the "dead parent" story as not just "lazy" but also implausible (" It is not believable that so many kids are missing one, if not both parents. Slews of them! Hundreds!").  Yes, point taken: if you look at kid protagonists as representative of the population, you could conclude that few kids live in two-parent families, which obviously isn't the case.

But I came at the "dead parent" character from another perspective. In the awful year before I wrote Truth or Dare, my own son was diagnosed with cancer (he's okay now). Also around this time, a teenager in our town was killed in a car accident when the driver was texting (which is how Lia's mom dies). So I know that while it's highly unlikely, sometimes bad, out-of-the-blue things do happen to family members.

In Truth or Dare, I tried to show that life goes on after tragedy, that it never stops being messy, difficult, sad--and also funny and surprising. I'm hoping readers see Truth or Dare as a positive, humorous book (despite the missing mom character), with one of the happiest endings I've ever written. And I hope it focuses the reader on what it means to "grow up"--which is not the same as being a grownup.  

Barbara Dee is the author of the tween novels Just Another Day in my Insanely Real LifeSolving Zoe (2010 Bank Street Best Children's Books of the Year), This Is Me From Now OnTrauma Queen, and The (Almost) Perfect Guide To Imperfect Boys

She lives with her family in Westchester County, New York. You can visit her on the web at www.barbaradeebooks.com.

Click here to see her face the 7 Questions.

Lia’s four best friends have always been there for her, in good times and bad. It’s thanks to the loyal, supportive friendship of Marley, Abi, Makayla and Jules that Lia’s doing okay after her mom dies in a car crash.
But the summer before seventh grade, Lia’s feeling out of sync with her friends. And after a vacation up in Maine with quirky, unpredictable Aunt Shelby, Lia returns home to find her friends…well, different. For one thing, they’re fighting. Also, they’re competing. And some of them are making her feel like a “late bloomer.”
When her friends launch into a game of Truth or Dare, Lia tells a lie about her summer just to keep up with them. Then she tells another lie. And another. Soon it’s hard to remember what’s a lie and what isn’t. Friendships are threatened, boys are getting kissed (or not), and Lia’s wondering if there’s anyone to confide in. Surely not Aunt Shelby, who means well, but who can’t help being a force of chaos.
In this funny, touching coming-of-age story, Lia learns that it’s possible to face the hardest truths–as long as you have the right people by your side.
"Dee has a keen ear for middle school worries. Her characters talk and act like young adolescents…This is a good book to give to middle schoolers, especially young women on the verge of puberty. They will recognize themselves and their friends and may decide that when it comes to forging friendships, honesty works better than fanciful tales."—School Library Journal
"Although the characters are archetypal, they’re well enough rounded to add excruciating reality and believably illustrate one of the many forms of bullying. Lia’s problems ring fully true, and her eventually learned life lessons are timeless. Entertaining bibliotherapy but also a useful road map to resolution of the age-old problem of severe cattiness."—Kirkus
"Dee captures the anxious intensity of a middle school friend group with crystal clarity and warm sympathy…The book offers plenty of understanding, with some extra wisdom for girls worried about facing the harbingers of adolescence."—Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

Sunday, September 25, 2016

School of Ninja

Please forgive my brief absence, Esteemed Reader. It turns out publishing a serial novel is a lot less like publishing one book broken into five parts and a lot more like publishing five books about one story. The fourth chapter of The Book of David, available Halloween day, is longer than Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees or All Together Now. 

I got hold of a great story and it turns out to be a long one, which is fun, but also a whole lotta work, which is why this blog's posting schedule will probably be a bit erratic until Chapter 5 and the inevitable compilation of all five chapters have been published.

But our old friend Barbara Dee will be here Tuesday with a fantastic guest post and I've got some great interviews to share with you and a few posts actually written by me as well. But I'm a writer of books first and a blogger second since y'all don't pay nothing for this here writing:) Book writing leads to bill paying, blogging leads to "exposure," whatever that is.  If you'd like to continue freeloading, the first chapter of The Book of David is also free all day every day:) 

If you'd like to come tell me to my face how offensive it is (I know already, but I love to hear from readers), I'll be teaching two classes at the Indiana Writers Center this month and would be thrilled to have you in attendance. I'll also be speaking at two panels at the Indiana Author Fair held at Central Library in Indianapolis on Saturday, October 9. In you're in Indy or close, come see me, my homies, Sarah J. Schmidt and Skila Brown, and a whole bunch of other writers.

Here's some details on my classes:

The Basics of Self Publishing

Date: Saturday, October 1
Time: 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Location: IWC
Cost: $76 nonmembers, $52 members, $44 student members/teacher members/senior members/military members/librarian members

Editor Peggy Tierney says she receives thousands of manuscripts per year, reads perhaps fifty, and publishes only one or two. With publishers consolidating and purchasing fewer books each year, advances shrinking, and legacy contracts becoming more restrictive than ever – and with breakout self-publishing successes like Hugh Howey, Andy Weir, and Amanda Hawking making headlines – self publishing is no longer a marginalized zone for writers not talented enough to get a "real contract." It's a practical approach to to making real money through writing and reaching actual readers that's so much more fun than sending endless queries into the void.

Writing the Horror Novel

Date: Saturday, October 22
Time: 1-4 p.m.
Location: IWC
Cost: $57 nonmembers, $39 members, $33 student members/teacher members/senior members/military members/librarian members

Author and film director Clive Barker says, "Horror fiction shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion." Do you like scary stories? Do you want to hold your readers frozen in heart-pounding suspense until they can turn the page and either breathe again... or scream? Robert Kent, author of All Together Now: A Zombie Story and other tales of terror, will share some of the most common tricks of the trade. He'll discuss popular plotting strategies, effective characterization techniques (for people as well as monsters),  establishing credibility in a genre about the incredible, and many other spine-tingling subjects. Most stories could benefit from incorporating a little romance, but ALL stories could benefit from incorporating elements of horror. Whatever your preferred genre, expect to gain a deeper appreciation for horror's place in fiction to improve your own writing and reading.

Indy Author Fair: Writing for Young People - Panel Discussion

Adults and teens are invited as noted authors will share their experiences and expertise covering writing styles ranging from young adult novels to chapter books and picture books. This program is presented by the Indiana Writers Center and features John David Anderson, 2015 Emerging Author Finalist Skila Brown, Rob Kent and Sarah J. Schmitt. As a program of the Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award and the Library, this event will be held in Central Library's Clowes Auditorium.

Indy Author Fair: Self-Publishing Tips and Tricks

Adults and teens are invited to learn the ins and outs of self-publishing during this workshop presented by the Indiana Writers Center featuring Rob Kent. As a program of the Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award and the Library, this event will be held in the Knall Room.

Monday, September 5, 2016

GUEST POST: "Are Authors…Mentally Unstable?" by L. R. W. Lee

I’m just gonna put it out there: After several years in the publishing industry I’ve concluded authors are either nuts or sadistic. There, I said it. 

Why have I come to that conclusion? We take a brilliant idea, build a world, add characters and put them through horrendous obstacles. And if we’re good writers, we wrench our reader’s emotions in an oh so unkind way in the process. Why? Because they like it (I’ll not go into that mental disorder at the moment). At some point, we play god and let our characters overcome their obstacles returning the reader to the world from which they wished to escape for a time. But even then, we know the readers, too, are sadistic enough to want to put the characters through another set of equally wretched problems in the future. In fact, we authors hope for it. 

If you’ve been mentally unbalanced (I mean, an author) for any amount of time, you know that’s fifty percent of your job. Only fifty percent, you say? (Please ignore the fact that I’m talking to myself. It’s nothing really). Absolutely. Don’t deny you long to prey on increasing numbers of victims (readers, I mean), inflicting your brand of mental instability on them to create an addiction. And there’s only one way to do that… that nasty “m” word (and no, it’s not mental institution): Marketing.

For many authors, especially if you’re indie published and write middle grade fiction, that ‘m’ word causes either silver bullet psychosis or severe depression—both states manifest the underlying malaise in which we authors live. We all want to sell more books, but how do we get noticed? As one who has suffered from this disability right along with you over the last four years, I’d like to share what I’ve found to work for me and my Andy Smithson, MG/YA coming-of-age, fantasy adventure series. A word of warning: you’ll not find any silver bullets. But perhaps you can take away a nugget or two and see if it’ll work for you.

The middle grade fiction market is tough. Our readers, in large part, aren’t old enough to be online. Some authors go the school visit route and proclaim success, but I’ve never found those opportunities turn a profit. If your objective is to sell thousands of books and become a full time author you need to scale your efforts. 

Since I published the first book in my series back in April 2013, I’ve distributed over 200,000 books. But even with that, I’m unknown to most book buyers. I’m going to assume you’ve been in this business for some time and already follow traditional advice and practices (professionally designed book cover, professionally edited content, write more books, etc). 

I’m always looking to see what actions produce the greatest return. Some folks rave about social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc). Blogs are much the same. While I have over 50k Twitter followers, based on Twitter stats, I don’t see much interaction happening there. And Facebook pretty much makes you pay to talk to your followers which I refuse to do. My blog isn’t much better. Sure I post periodically, but a single post doesn’t usually get much traction. 

Don’t get me wrong, these tactics used to work, but they don’t anymore. So what’s an author to do to sell more books these days? What I’ve found is as follows:

First, permanently set the price of one of your books to free and use it to give potential readers the opportunity to get to know you and your work at no cost to them. If they like the first book, they’ll buy more.

Second, run promos on BookBub and similar reputable sites. These sites have gathered thousands of email addresses of interested readers and they send them deals on discounted books daily. I’ve run five BookBub promos since I started, all promoting my freebie novel, and I’m never disappointed. The initial downloads get the freebie out there and the follow up sales of the rest of the books in my series make it profitable. The key is to get the freebie novel out there. After that it’s just math that determines success. Of the 200,000 books I’ve distributed, three quarters are freebies that fueled the 50,000 copies I’ve sold.

Third, turn yourself into BookBub. What I mean by that is make building your own email list a priority. As you’ve probably found by now, BookBub is very selective. But what would it be like to have an email list of your own, of readers interested in YOUR books that you can contact whenever you want. You only need a handful or two of raving fans to make a go of publishing as a career. I’ve taken to running Facebook ads, giving away my freebie, book one in the series, as the enticement to sign up. Yes, it’s an investment, but isn’t it worth it if you can build a career?

Fourth, rewrite your weakest book. I think we would all agree that our first book is our weakest. Back in January 2016, when I published the fifth book in the Andy Smithson series, I committed to rewriting my weakest book. It had been four years of learning and improving my craft and I knew I had grown as a writer. I knew that even though I give it away free, it is the determining factor of whether folks chose to buy the next book in the series, or not. Since republishing it in March, I’ve seen book two's sales steadily increase month over month. In fact, the improvement has rejuvenated sales of the entire series. Now that I’m about to publish book six with the final book seven to follow, my revenue is growing.

A final word: The publishing industry is constantly changing. Strive to do the same. Blogs, free social media, and similar tactics used to sell books. They don’t anymore (except this blog--MGNinja). Stay informed as to the current trends by listening to podcasts like The Sell More Books Show or Self Publishing Formula. Join Facebook author groups with authors who aspire to become self employed from their publishing efforts. Take the time to fill your mind with narratives that will help you succeed as an author at this time in history.

If you found this post informative and helpful, I encourage you to join my email list at http://bit.ly/MiddleGradeNinja. You’ll get the first book in the Andy Smithson series for free at the same time!

L. R. W. Lee is the award-winning author of the Andy Smithson juvenile fiction series of epic fantasy books for kids 9 to 99 including teens and young adult, set in medieval times with knight, magic and mythical adventures. Her characters are young and fearless, but in real life L. R. W. can't handle scary movies, Stephen King novels, or cockroaches. She knows she wouldn't last long in one of her books. Nope. But give her a drink and a Hawaiian sunset and she'll be just fine. 

She lives in scenic Austin, TX with her husband. Their two children have flown the coop. One came to roost at Microsoft and the other in the Air Force.

Andy Smithson just found out how much the zap of a wizard's curse can sting. But after an epically bad day, he finds wizards are the least of his problems. 

An otherworldly force draws him to a medieval world where fire-breathing dragons, deranged pixies, and vengeful spirits are the way of things. Trading his controller for a sword of legend, Andy embarks upon an epic quest to break a centuries-old curse oppressing the land. It isn't chance that plunges him into the adventure though, for he soon discovers ancestors his parents have kept hidden from him are behind the curse. 

Blast of the Dragon's Fury is a coming-of-age, epic fantasy adventure featuring fast-paced action, sword fights, laugh-out-loud humor, with a few life lessons thrown in.