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From the President
Welcome to all the new members and subscribers who have discovered SPAWN this month!
Every once in a while, I take writing procrastination to a new level. Today was one of those days. As usual, it didn’t end well.
As I usually do, last night I got the SPAWN newsletter all ready to go out, except for this little "From the President" note. I don’t write well on Friday afternoons, so I put off writing it until this morning. When I sat down at my computer, I still wasn’t in the mood to write, so in a fit of avoidance, I surfed approximately 7,000 web sites reading stuff I actually have little interest in knowing. My dawdling was interrupted when the power went out.
Several expletives later, I realized that the SPAWN newsletter was going nowhere until the electric company got its act together. So I decided to do some gardening, which requires no electricity. Any gardener will tell you that "I’ll just move one thing" can easily turn into a gigantic project where you have rearranged half your garden. That was me this afternoon.
Now my gardening is done, I’m exhausted, and we have electricity again. So you get the newsletter. Sorry for the delay. If you are a writer who never procrastinates, I envy you. (And I don’t believe you.)
Have you seen something like “stress really put her through the ringer” in a story and wondered how that typo got past the writer and editor? It’s because whoever wrote/edited has heard the phrase but has no inkling about a wringer washer. Pre spin cycle, a wringer washer had two rollers that smashed your clothes as they squeezed the water out after washing, as you fed them into the jaws—hopefully without your arm getting pulled in too—before you took them outside and hung them up to dry. And then you sprinkled them with water from a soda bottle and a special sprinkler top and rolled them up to stay damp so you could iron out the wrinkles and get them dry again the next day.
With that in mind, how can an adult write young adult fiction and keep the dialogue and phrasing such that the readers feel connected to the story? A faulty phrase can stop a reading teen in his tracks like the sentence above does for me. Do you speak “teen?” Is it possible to keep up with the ever-changing lingo? Do teenagers even know what lingo is?
Like any other language, you can learn to speak teen. It takes time, work and a desire to write well once you’ve mastered it. A spare teenager or two to work with you as a “voice” coach would be a big help.
Or you can follow the advice given by Christine Verstraete and Alison Caldwell-Beers in their articles below, as they demystify YA, which is currently the hottest market for writers.
Also included is an update on the LA Festival of Books by Patricia Fry whose birthday is this month. She’s gifting SPAWN members with an especially full Market Update. Bobbie Christmas gives suggestions on how to use dialogue tags, always a pet peeve of mine (she remarked with a smile).
— Sandy, Editor, SPAWNews, email@example.com
SPAWN Market Update
by Patricia Fry
Be sure to read the June issue of the SPAWN Market Update. Since June is my birthday month and I’m all about gifts, you will reap the benefits. This issue includes over 50 opportunities, tips, recommendations, resources and lists for authors, poets, freelance writers and others, including access to massive job boards and resource directories. Learn how to spot a publishing scam, where to find paying markets for fiction and poetry, which publishers accept young adult mss, where to go for credible book promotion ideas and much more. (Happy Birthday, Patricia Fry!)
If you have yet to join SPAWN and receive all of the benefits.
Join SPAWN this month by going to www.spawn.org and click on Join/Renew.
Report on the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
by Patricia Fry
Virginia Lawrence, former executive director of SPAWN and current board member, and I womanned the SPAWN booth at the Los Angeles Times Festival (LATFB) of Books in April. We were host to 7 SPAWN members who sold their books and talked about their services from the double booth this year. We also had around a dozen members’ books on display. And we handed out somewhere around 500 SPAWN Catalogs of Members’ Books and Services. (I hope your book was in the catalog.)
This year, member Tammy Ditmore joined us in the booth and did an excellent job of talking to some of the hundreds of people who come to us with questions about SPAWN and about publishing. Thank you so much Tammy. Virginia and I have worked the SPAWN booth together for many, many years. And this is the first time we’ve had lunch together there. What a treat!
It was a great event this year. The weather was beautiful, the volunteers accommodating and the crowds friendly and eager to learn about some of the new books on the market. Nearly 200 authors and others interested in publishing signed up for a subscription to this newsletter. And we sold books—probably around 75 in all. One member’s books didn’t arrive in time for the festival, yet she sold 8 copies just by talking about it and handing out her attractive promotional material. As sometimes happens, there were a few members who sold only a few or no copies of their books. They said, however, that they learned an enormous amount about book promotion through the experience and they feel that they received some benefits from the exposure that were well worth the time and money spent.
Here are some of the comments from members who participated:
“We always find it valuable to get out and meet others who share our interest. It seems to give us more insight and helps us to hone our techniques. Although we did not sell any books, I think the knowledge and experience was something we could not get anywhere else.”
Another member said, “Rating my experience at the Festival and in the booth on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being best, I give it a 20!” (This author sold nearly 30 copies of his novel.)
A second year member (to participate in the booth) said this: "The overall festival experience and booth involvement was great! The weekend highlight for me was spending time with Patricia and Virginia. This always makes for an energizing experience for me and I return home ready to put in another productive year! Put me down as a definite yes for participating next year."
Ask the Book Doctor:
About : About Agency Reputations, Media Mail, and Dialogue Tags
By Bobbie Christmas
Q: I have found several agencies to approach. I could use any input, especially on how to address mail to an agency that is changing names. Also, how do I know which agencies are good ones?
A: To check on a name change, call the agency. Find out when the change will be effective. If the submission will arrive before the date is effective, use the old name; otherwise, use the new name.
For input on the agencies, use the Internet to research the names to check for any bad publicity on the agency you have selected or go to http://pred-ed.com/pealo.htm to find agencies and see which ones this site does not recommend. Don’t believe every bad comment you read, however. Remember that some disgruntled writer that can’t handle rejection may have posted a negative comment. If you see specific adverse comments or more than one damaging comment about an agency, reconsider whether to submit to it.
Q: Can a completed book (not a manuscript) be accompanied by a personal note via Media Mail, or does the proscription against notes apply to anything in an envelope marked Media Mail? What constitutes a personal note? Is something very brief okay, like "Bobbie, Here’s my book. Hope you enjoy it?"
A: First, here’s what the U.S. Postal Service says about Media Mail: "Media Mail service is a cost-efficient way to mail books, sound recordings, recorded video tapes, printed music, and recorded computer-readable media (such as CDs, DVDs, and diskettes). Media Mail cannot contain advertising except for incidental announcements of books. The maximum weight for Media Mail is 70 lbs."
You may interpret that information as you like, but as I understand it, a personal note, even though not advertising, is stretching the limits. I don’t know of anyone who has been prosecuted for including a note in Media Mail, but with the Patriot Act, who knows? Look on the bright side. If thrown into prison, you will have more time to write.
Q: Regarding dialogue tags: Does the word "said" disappear and not seem obvious, which I think, or should we strive not to use tags at all?
A: As you suspect, dialogue tags, also called attributions, become less prominent when a common term such as "said" appears. When an author strives to avoid using "said," though, and stretches for uncommon or constantly varying tags such as "confirmed," "acknowledged," "requited," "reiterated," and such, the opposite happens, and the tags draw attention to themselves.
I have three recommendations regarding dialogue tags.
First, keep them simple, as in this example: "I’ll take these," Mary said.
Second, avoid tags when possible by replacing them with action, even body language. (Example: Mary pointed to the books on the counter. "I’ll take these.") Don’t, however, consistently avoid tags, because of my third recommendation. Read on.
Third, avoid patterns. Never use only one style of attribution or attribution avoidance. Sometimes start with the attribution, and sometimes end with it. Sometimes use a simple tag such as "said," and sometimes use action. Use an occasional, but very occasional, substitute attribution, such as "responded," "remarked," or "replied." Put the action at the beginning at times and at the end at other times. Good writers stay vigilant in their writing and never fall into lazy writing habits.
While using action to avoid tags, remember, that people speak dialogue; they cannot chuckle, groan, or smile dialogue. (Wrong: "I love you," she laughed.) Writers can, however, use such words as action tags. (Correct: "I love you." She laughed.)
For more questions and answers, order Ask the Book Doctor: How to Beat the Competition and Sell Your Writing at http://zebraeditor.com/book_ask_the_book_doctor.shtml.
Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more "Ask the Book Doctor" questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.
Guy-Write, What Every Guy Writer Needs to Know by Ralph Fletcher.
Henry Holt and Company (2012) http://ralphfletcher.com
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9404-6, Hardback, 166-pages, $15.99 (US)
Review by Patricia Fry
Ralph Fletcher writes for children. He also writes for writers. The point of this book, it seems, is to get young boys interested in writing. He tells his readers that writing isn’t for nerds, “it’s about power; it about fun; it’s about spoofs, humor, sports, blood, farts, superheroes, giant monsters tearing down the city and serious subjects, too.”
If you know a boy who has the imagination for and maybe some skill in the area of writing, you might want to purchase this book for him. It’s a kick to read and it is full of examples and quotes as well some hard and fast instructions for guys who want to write.
His chapter titles give a peek into the focus of the book: Dude, You Are Not Alone; Emotional Writing Isn’t Just for Girls; Riding the Vomit Comet—Writing About Disgusting Stuff and Draw First and Write Later. Has your son, grandson or student expressed an interest in writing scary stuff? Fletcher will help him with that. And his list of suggested reading is incredibly interesting. He includes books on humor, freaky and scary books, sports and writing.
This isn’t a book of just straight text. Fletcher offers a variety of formatting and fonts and he surprises young readers with a drawing or two, as well. I like this book. It is useful and fun—a perfect combination.
YA for Everyone
by Alison Caldwell-Beers
Young Adult Fiction is a scorching hot market right now. It’s everywhere—dominating best seller lists and box offices, with franchises like Harry Potter and Twilight grossing billions of dollars in revenue. Critics of YA fear this genre is a plague infecting the minds of our youth. This negative attitude saddens me because it comes from stereotype. Well-crafted YA is fast paced, has strong characters and can rival anything in adult literature. As someone who enjoys and sees the value of young adult fiction, I want to show that it is a relevant literary genre by clearing up some misconceptions.
The most common misconception is authors are selling out because writing YA is so much easier than writing real fiction. Actually, YA is far from simplistic. Rather, it’s a careful balancing act. In order to capture the attention of your core audience, you must provide your main character with a strong voice by tackling point of view and language. Then, writers have to deliver clean, descriptive prose that propels the plot while addressing touchy subjects, all without being preachy. Not to mention, you have to keep up with teen culture, which is difficult since it’s in a constant state of flux. Oh, and don’t forget, you do all this while channeling a hormonal teenager.
Young Adult fiction contains so much more than shallow characters. Within the pages of well written novels are complex characters with substance, not just whiney teenage girls worrying about what they will wear to the prom. These characters provide a sense of belonging to teenagers in a time where extreme awkwardness and feeling like a social outcast often rules their world.
Many think YA is for girls between the ages of twelve and eighteen. First off, the idea that only girls enjoy YA is completely false. There is an abundance of wonderful YA geared toward the male population—Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Stormbreaker, Little Brother, Lightening Thief, Eragon and Punkzilla—just to name a few. As far as the age range of YA, recent studies show the YA audience spans from ages ten to thirty five. I am one of many adults who loves to read Contemporary Young Adult Fiction. That’s right I said it—and I refuse to be a closet YA reader. I spent 13 years of my life teaching Language Arts to teenagers and believe reading what they’re reading is a great way to gain insight into their culture. So, no matter what you like to read or how old you are, there is a YA book out there for you to enjoy.
Another misconception about young adult fiction is it’s confining. Writers believe only paranormal stuff sells. Yes, the supernatural plot-line is wildly popular right now, but you may be surprised at how flexible the market has become. And here’s what I know: the only consistent thing about young adults is that they are inconsistent. They constantly seek new trends, plus they love to bend and break rules. So as a writer, that leaves the door wide open to give them something new, exciting and unique.
If you are a YA critic and insist on hating this genre, you are entitled to your opinion. What can you do? Haters gonna hate! But let me leave you with this: we live in a country where literacy rates are in decline. So I say bring on as much YA as can possibly fill the bookshelves because even if kids are reading—what some consider—crap, they are still reading. Sparkly vampires may be a fad, but love for reading lasts forever.
Alison Caldwell-Beers graduated from the University of New Brunswick in Canada with bachelor’s degrees in Arts (English & History) and Education. Originally from New Brunswick, she now lives in St. Louis with her husband and son. After teaching for thirteen years, she decided to stay home with her son and pursue a lifelong dream of writing. She is currently working on her first YA paranormal novel.
Writing YA & Paranormal
by Christine Verstraete
Mention Young Adult (YA) and Paranormal in the same sentence and many people immediately think, ugh, spooky, dark stories.
Yes… and no.
In recent years the young adult section has come into its own, with readers of all ages finding interesting, unique reads that often test the boundaries.
Yes, many do deal with darker topics and often feature supernatural beings such as demons, devils, witches, ghosts and zombies, plus supernatural-paranormal settings. Other books like The Hunger Games challenge the reader’s moral compass with a premise of teens killing each other in a survival game. Zombies, too, have become a big topic on their own, thanks to shows like The Walking Dead and books like World War Z.
But once you get past the gore and other things that some readers often think fit only in the horror genre, you’ll find important elements that make the reader want more. While many books could be termed adult as they often contain similar topics and events as YA books, the main difference is the protagonist’s age—they are usually under 20, which provides a unique set of circumstances for the writer.
One way to establish a character’s age is setting. Beyond the main setting of the book, writers should keep in mind what is important or relevant to teens or the young adult: do they go to school or have they left school? How do events in their life affect them, and change them or their circumstances? What about friends and pastimes? Belongings and possessions also establish their surroundings and personality.
In my book, GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie (August 2013), the protagonist worries about returning to school after falling ill; after all it’s not every day you turn into a part zombie. Becca’s situation there turns out to have its own set of problems and obstacles as well, offering other themes familiar to younger readers—the idea of fitting in, feeling accepted and bullying.
The bottom line is, even if the character lives in a supernatural place or even if the story has paranormal elements, make their world real to them and to the readers.
"Whoever your character is, you need to go into a deep daydream, putting yourself in that character’s place," notes Marian Allen, author of the SAGE series and her first YA title, Dead Guy in the Summerhouse, about 17-year-old Mitch Franklin who insists he’s NOT possessed by dead guy Albert Alaister, but someone thinks he is–someone who killed Albert before and doesn’t mind doing it again. (www.marianallen.com ) She says the writer should ask, "What would that feel like? How would that make you think and act?"
Excerpt from Dead Guy in the Summerhouse:
Then Corrie did something that, two minutes earlier, I would have given my right eye for. She threw her arms around my neck and pressed herself against me. But now, I didn’t like it as much as I might have. And the reason I didn’t like it so much is what she whispered to me:
"You’re back! Oh, Albert, you came back to me, just like you said!"
Well, something had broken the ice.
Another tip: make the story BIG. Go beyond the usual and often boring everyday stuff.
"I don’t just write paranormal, but I do try to write stories that are larger than life, "says Shevi Arnold, author of Why My Love Life Sucks (The Legend of Gilbert the Fixer), the tale of a tech geek and the one thing he can’t figure out—the gorgeous vampire who wants to turn him into her platonic BFF-forever. (www.sheviarnold.com/ )
"If I want to read a realistic story, I’ll watch the news or read nonfiction," she says. "Fantasy and science fiction—like paranormal—lets you explore ideas in new and bigger ways."
It’s the exploration, and how real life gets melded with the fantastic that make paranormal-themed books intriguing reads. And while some YA books can be more realistic in terms of the sex and violence, some authors prefer to keep a lot of that other stuff off-stage.
"I write the story however the story works," says Allen. "Given the choice, I’d rather read/write a story with strong imaginative elements, and graphic sex, violence, and foul language all bump me out of the dream a story weaves," she says. "So that’s why YA ‘Paranormal’ covers such a large field. When you come right down to it, every story is about something out of the ordinary, isn’t it?"
Humor or comedy also can be used to heighten a serious moment, and lighten the tension. I mean, spooky can be funny, right? At least that’s what Becca tries to show when she tries to apologize to her cousin, Carm, after her first "zombie hunger attack" at home.
Excerpt from GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie:
"Carm, I owe you an apology. Big time. I’m sorry I scared you."
Her eyes round, she tried to make light of it. "It’s okay, Bec. It’s just, uh, I didn’t expect you to stare at me, you know, like-like that."
"You mean like your arm was a giant chicken wing?" I asked.
"Paranormal also works well with my other preferred genre: comedy," adds Arnold. "If you want something to be truly funny, you have to surprise the reader. Paranormal is a genre that comes with a lot of clichés and expectations, which makes it ripe for comedy. For example, when you think of a vampire hero, the last person you’re likely to think of is a pimply, bespectacled, teenage, tech geek who’s afraid of beautiful girls. Break the reader’s expectations, and you’ll have the reader breaking out in laughter. That’s what I tried to do with Why My Love Life Sucks."
In this scene, explains Arnold, after she’s turned him into a vampire and he’s over the paralysis, Amber asks Gilbert to meet him at a family-friendly arcade.
Excerpt from Why My Love Life Sucks (The Legend of Gilbert the Fixer):
“I lean forward in the padded vinyl seat of the booth, put my elbows on the Formica tabletop and rest my face in my hands. I just can’t believe what is happening to me.
“Is there any way to undo this?”
“No.” And just like that, she’s smiling again. “But believe me, you are going to be so much better off as a vampire.”
“Are you kidding? Girls are going to be throwing themselves at you for eternity. You’ll never get sick. You’ll never get a day older…”
The biggest thing to remember: Have fun. Even in the darkest stories, there are light-hearted moments that show the characters’ other side. And enjoy the story—if you’re not having fun writing it, will anyone have fun reading it?
Christine Verstraete is author of the upcoming, GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie. For details and to read chapter one, visit her website, www.cverstraete.com and check out her blog, www.GirlZombieAuthors.blogspot.com
SPAWN president Susan Daffron spoke about fundraising, saving money and cutting costs at the recent Humane Society of the United States EXPO in Nashville, TN. The session drew on information from her books Funds to the Rescue and Publicity to the Rescue. One of the attendees told her it was "the most useful" session he’d been to all week.
SPAWN member Wendy Dager will speak at the June meeting of the Ventura County Writers Club June 11, 7PM at the Pleasant Valley Senior Center, 1605 Burnley Street, Camarillo, CA. Topic: Awful and Awfully Funny Stories about Freelance Writing Tales from Wendy’s diverse career. Open to Members and non-members. No fee. For information on the Ventura County Writers Club, visit: http://www.venturacountywriters.com
Sandra Beckwith spoke on book publicity and promotion at BlogPaws, the conference for pet bloggers, in Washington, D.C., last month. She also spoke about publicity for nonprofits at a regional conference for nonprofit organizations in May. In addition, Sandra recently introduced her new online course for novelists, Book Publicity 101 for Fiction: How to Build Book Buzz Premium E-course.
Barbara Florio Graham has added a Quick Reads page to her website. It contains book covers, brief descriptions, and web links for a variety of books written by members of Bobbi’s Private List. The first book, of course, is Prose to Go: Tales from a Private List, which Bobbi helped put together. She contributed three of the 34 stories and served as Managing Editor. The page is at: http://www.SimonTeakettle.com/quickreads.htm
Find Barbara Florio Graham on Facebook, LinkedIn, BranchOut, Pinterest, and Google Plus.Simon Teakettle III (Terzo) blogs at: http://www.SimonTeakettle.com/blogterzo.htm his 2013 calendar is now available from http://www.OttawaPhoto.com and his Very First Video is at: http://lnkd.in/fKsbhH
Roger Ellerton’s (www.renewal.ca ) article Forget the Golden Rule was recently published in Canadian Mortgage Professional magazine. See it at: www.mortgagebrokernews.ca/contents/e-magazine.aspx?id=173885 issue 8.4, pages 42 – 44). His article is based on his book, Win-Win Influence: How to Enhance Your Personal and Business Relationships.
From Dallas Woodburn: I graduated from Purdue with a Master’s degree in Creative Writing and just finished inputting final grades for the last two courses I taught there, Business Writing and First-Year Composition. I am back in Ventura for the summer.
From Bill Benitez: My company Positive Imaging, LLC will be publish two new books. One is a total revision and update of a small book that I wrote back in the 80s, now out of print. It was out of date so I kept what I could, updated the rest and wrote about what I had learned since then. It is called Woodworking Business 101: A Basic Business Guide for Woodworkers. I have it on prepublication sale now in paperback at: http://woodworkingbusiness101.awilliambenitez.com/ and it will also be available shortly as a Kindle e-book. It is 110 pages of valuable, no-fluff information for anyone interested in starting or running a woodworking business. The second book is also about woodworking but geared to the actual shop work with a specific tool that simplifies and speeds up woodworking. The tool is called the Biscuit Joiner and I have been using one for over 30 years. Biscuit Joiner: A Woodworker’s How-To Guide to Biscuit Joinery is a comprehensive how-to that includes details about Biscuit Joiners, projects to build using one, information about all the joints possible with the tool, and illustrations to help even novices to take advantage of this valuable tool. It is now on a prepublication sale in paperback at: http://biscuitjoiner.woodworking-business.com/ . Because of the 8X10 size it will not be available as a Kindle book but it will be available as an e-book from Clickbank. It is 156 pages of valuable how-to information for any woodworker. Questions and comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
From Raven West—a Rave Review for Undercover Reunion: On April 28, Detra Fitch said, "I have never seen an episode of the old television show The Man From UNCLE, but after reading this book I plan to search various streaming internet sites in hopes of viewing a few. You do not have to be a fan of the old show in order to fully enjoy this tale."
From Arlene Uslander: I am happy to say that I got a wonderful new review for my anthology, The Mystery of Fate: Common Coincidence or Divine Intervention? in the Tennessee edition of Examiner.com, a Huffington Post type of news forum. I am getting orders for my reprinted That’s What Grandparents Are For. I received an absolutely beautiful story for my animal-fate anthology written by SPAWN member Joanna Celeste, and still need about ten more stories.
Contests, Events and Opportunities
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