chasingthecrazies

Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

Query 101 Series: Body Copy – Character, Conflict and Cost March 28, 2014

Filed under: Blog,Literary Agent,Publishing,Query — chasingthecrazies @ 7:37 am
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One of the most daunting tasks of writing a query is having to compress the plot, characters, and conflict of your manuscript down to 2-3 paragraphs. I’ve interviewed many authors who have honestly revealed that this process was more aggravating at times than writing their entire book.

 

So how do you accurately depict your story, while adding character, conflict, cost (not to mention voice) so that an agent will want to request more? I could easily break down the construction of the pieces and parts, but I think a more effective way is to show you a successful example that worked.

 

With her permission, Mary Elizabeth Summer has agreed to let me share her query for, TRUST ME, I’M LYING (Delacorte Press – October, 2014). In my opinion, it is a perfect example of what the body of a query should look like.

 

HOOK:

 

Julep Dupree is not a real person. In fact, Julep isn’t even her real name.

 

Boom! Right away you are intrigued. You know instantly the character is hiding something. Is it sinister? Is it for her own protection? As a reader, you want to know more.

 

CHARACTER:

 

She’s a grifter, a con artist, a master of disguise, and a sophomore at St. Agatha High. The downside of St. Agatha’s is that its private-school price tag is a bit higher than Julep’s father, an old-school grifter with a weakness for the ponies, can afford.

 

Character is revealed, and we learn who Julep is and what her world looks like.

 

So Julep makes up the difference by running petty scams for her classmates, while dodging the dean of students and maintaining an A+ (okay, A-) average.

 

Stakes are revealed. What happens to Julep if her scams are discovered? We are already pulled into the story, and we haven’t even gotten to conflict yet.

 

CONFLICT:

 

But when she comes home one day to a ransacked apartment and a missing dad, Julep’s carefully laid plans for an expenses-paid golden ticket to Yale start to unravel. Even with help from St. Agatha’s resident Prince Charming, Tyler Richland, Julep struggles to trace her dad’s trail of clues through a maze of creepy stalkers, hit attempts, family secrets, and worse, the threat of foster care.

 

Conflict is revealed. It is clear and concise. We know who and what are at risk. Plus, the writer does a skillful job of weaving in the love interest.

 

 

COST:

 

 

With everything she has left at stake, Julep must tap all her resources and use every grift in the book to find her dad before his mark finds her.

 

This is a great sinker. It’s clear what Julep’s challenges are, and we, as the reader, understand everything she has to lose. Notice too, that we are left on a cliffhanger. Will Julep succeed in saving her dad? What about her future? All elements that have the reader, and hopefully an agent, asking the most important question: what happens next?

 

 

It’s true, writing the body of a query can be a monumental task. But the key in writing an effective one (as shown above) is to grab the reader from the beginning and never let go.

 

To recap, there are three key elements to remember:

 

  1. Who is your character? What makes them unique?
  2. What is the conflict? Is it clear? Does it intrigue the reader?
  3. Cost? What does the character stand to lose and how will that play out over the course of the story?

 

 

This is just one example of a query that works. The style, or approach, may not fit your manuscript, but it is a good structure to start with. If you’re curious about other queries that have been successful, I suggest you check out the following sites and blogs which provide a great sampling of other categories and genres.

 

 

Writer’s Digest: Successful Query Series

Kickass Writers Series on Gina Ciocca‘s Blog

http://writersblog-gina.blogspot.com/2014/03/kickass-queries-series-1-michelle-hauck.html

Successful Query Series on EM Castellan‘s Blog

http://emcastellan.com/2014/03/03/successful-queries-day-1-summer-heacock/

 

 

 

 

 

 

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with EM Castellan March 26, 2014

WOW

 

 

 

I love sharing stories where authors have had a writing dream since they were very young. Maybe they started with poetry or a short story. Perhaps they’d written a novel filled with hopes and ideas from their childhood. Whatever the case, as they grew into adults they held onto that dream until it became a reality. Today’s featured author, EM Castellan, is one of these cases. Writing since 13, she recently signed with an agent for her YA Historical Fantasy, LILY IN THE SHADOWS, a dark tale set in London in the late nineteenth century. EM is proof that if you hold tight to your dreams, they CAN come true!

 

 

Many thanks to EM for sharing her story…

 

 

 

Amy: When did you complete your first Young Adult manuscript?

 

EM: In January 2010. I had been writing for many years (since I was 13) and very few people had read my stories. Then one of my friends asked me why I didn’t try to get published and after a few weeks pondering this, I started writing a YA Sci-Fi novel with the intent to get it published one day. A few months later I had a first draft and I began researching how to get this obvious masterpiece published. That’s when I realized things would likely take some more time!

 

 

Amy: You live in an English castle (which is beyond cool!) Are any of your experiences from living in the castle worked into your YA Historical Fantasy, LILY IN THE SHADOWS?

 

EM: No, actually. I have written stories set in a castle similar to the one I live in, but LILY isn’t one them. Instead LILY is set in Victorian London, which is such a wonderful setting! Having my story set in the capital also gave me a good excuse to go there often, “for research” of course.

 

 

Amy: Did you have critique partners or beta readers that helped you polish LILY IN THE SHADOWS?  If so, how critical were they to the process of completing the manuscript?

 

EM: I did! My CPs Jessy Rubinkowski and Allie Schellong helped a great deal, as well as my 7 other beta readers. It took me nearly a year to write LILY, polish it, then rewrite it following several R&Rs. My CPs’ input was crucial during all this time, especially to make sure I kept true to the book I wanted to write.

 

 

Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?

 

EM: My query process wasn’t really frustrating. However, it was LONG. I started querying in late June 2013 and I signed with my agent in January 2014. That’s 6 months. I was querying “successfully” (i.e. getting requests, positive feedback and R&Rs), but the whole process took a long time.

 

 

Amy: How many agents did you query for LILY IN THE SHADOWS?

 

EM: LILY was the second manuscript I queried. As a result, I felt I knew what I was doing this time around, and after doing A LOT of research, I only queried agents who were specifically looking for YA Historical Fantasy. I queried 33 agents, I had 19 requests (including 13 full requests), 4 R&Rs and 2 offers of representation.

 

 

Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for the requests/rejections?

 

EM: I’ve read MANY posts by writers who signed with their agents only a couple of months after sending out their first query. Here I want to say it’s not necessarily the norm. After a slow start in the summer, I queried 22 agents at the same time in late August. I heard back from the majority of them within a month, which I thought was reasonably fast. What was interesting was that I either received rejections or full requests. I had very few partial requests. I’m mentioning this to show that a good query letter allows you to skip one querying step: agents either know straight away they want to read the whole story or they know it’s not for them. As a result of all those full requests, however, I then had to wait for the agents to read my manuscript. The quickest one took 1 week and the slowest one 4 months. Their average reading time was 10 weeks.

 

 

Amy: You entered a few contests with LILY IN THE SHADOWS. What did you learn from those experiences?

 

EM: I entered two contests in which LILY was a finalist: Christmas In July (organized by Michelle Krys and Ruth Lauren Steven) and Like A Virgin (organized by Kristina Perez and Rhiann Wynn-Nolet). Contests were a great way to polish my query and first page, as well as to “test the waters” with agents. I also took part in two Twitter Pitch Parties during which I got my request from Erin, who would end up offering representation a few months later.

 

 

Amy: What was your call like with your agent, Erin Niumata?  How did you know she was the right fit for you?

 

EM: Erin emailed to ask if I had time to talk on December 16, but with the holidays we only managed to speak on January 2nd. Which means I had 2 weeks to panic/flail/prepare before the Call actually happened. Erin did most of the talking and answered a lot of my questions before I asked them, which was a good sign. She seemed to have the same vision for my book and career as I had. I also liked the fact that Folio Literary Management has offices in the US and the UK. In short, I had a long list of Things I Expected From My Future Agent and Erin seemed to tick all the boxes.

 

 

 

Amy: What is one piece of writing advice you got early on that you still use today?

 

EM: I love this quote by Michelle Hodkin (author of the Mara Dyer trilogy): “The only secret to getting published? Keep at it.” I love it because we’re all plagued by self-doubt, but Michelle tells us we can all get traditionally published, as long as WE DON’T GIVE UP on our dream. I like the idea that hard work gets rewarded in the end. So there you have it. Keep at it.

 

 

 

 

EMCastellanEM Castellan is a writer of YA Fantasy novels. She lives in an English castle, travels extensively, reads voraciously, listens to music from bands few people have heard of and watches too many movies to count. In case you are wondering, she also has a full-time job, so she mostly writes at odd hours and drinks a lot of tea. She is represented by Erin Niumata of Folio Literary Management. She is a member of the British Fantasy Society as well as SCBWI British Isles. For more on EM, check out her her blog, Facebook,Twitter,Tumblr or Pinterest.

 

 

CHASING A GOOD READ – IF ONLY by AJ PINE March 24, 2014

Filed under: Blog,Book review,New Adult — chasingthecrazies @ 7:10 am
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If Only

 

 

Every once in a while you read a book that seeps into your bones and stays with you a while. A line of dialogue remains in your head long past the final page, and remembering a character’s funny quirk makes you smile. IF ONLY by AJ Pine has all these wonderful elements.

 

Set in Scotland, this New Adult Contemporary takes you on Jordan’s  journey as she navigates a year abroad in Aberdeen. For Jordan, the year means a chance to reinvent herself and hopefully find a relationship that will pull her out of her self-imposed “nun” status.

 

It doesn’t take long for things to change as she meets All-American boy (and perhaps player) Griffin on the train from London. But as soon as Jordan thinks she’s met the right guy to turn her love life around, she encounters Noah, whose penchant for literature, and unexpected kisses, spins Jordan’s head.

 

AJ Pine intricately weaves the plot, and subsequent complications, together beautifully. Scotland is the perfect backdrop for the story, and the writer creates a vivid picture of the country’s surrounding beauty.  The secondary characters are well-sketched, and I found myself yearning for more details about each of them. The pacing fits the tone of the story, and I found myself moving through the pages of this book, eagerly awaiting the ending – which is both well thought-out and satisfying.

 

If you’re looking for a New Adult read with stunning writing, and characters who stay with you long beyond the last word, I highly recommend AJ Pine’s, IF ONLY.

 

RATING: Absolutely WORTH the chase

 

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Jen Malone March 18, 2014

WOW

 

 

In my opinion, reading is an incredibly HUGE part of being a writer. It helps build your skills for dialogue and worldbuilding, as well as getting a feel for voice in a particular category. Today, my featured author, Jen Malone, shares what an important part reading has become for her as a writer. I love the fact that she considers it part of her job. In fact, I completely agree!

 

Many thanks to Jen for sharing her writing journey today…

 

 

Amy: When did you first begin seriously writing with the intent of wanting to be published?

 

 

Jen: I can’t say that I did. In January 2012, my youngest had just started to read and was so crazy excited about her newfound ability that, on a whim, I thought it would be fun to write something just for her. I sat down one afternoon to come up with something short and suddenly it was a month later and I had a middle grade novel I was excited enough about to think, “Hey, could I sell this?” Until then, I’d never even considered writing a book, though I have a background in journalism and PR, so I’ve always been into writing, just in different forms.

 

 

Amy: When did you complete your first Middle Grade manuscript?

 

Jen: February 2012. And it was terrible. Did I know this? Heck no. I could not have been more enthusiastic about it and the bestseller status it was sure to achieve when it was snapped up by a huge publishing house and hit shelves that summer. Um, yeah. I didn’t even know what a literary agent was, much less how to get one. Luckily, I ran into a woman I hadn’t seen in over ten years who I remembered wrote picture books and, in a burst of nerves, I asked if she would look over my novel. And then I formatted it like a real book (with a dedication page and acknowledgments and ever a cover.) Full permission to cringe right now, because I sure am!) Her comments were unbelievably sweet and included such things as, “These four chapters have no dialogue and you might want to think about including some.” More cringing? Yes!! Fortunately, she was also very encouraging about what was underneath that mess and I got the bug hard, so by that point I was gobbling up every blog post, book, etc. on both writing craft and the publishing business and had joined SCBWI.

 

 

Amy: I love that you have so many varied life experiences from traveling around the world, to being a past publicist for 20th Century Fox. Do those experiences influence what you write? Have any of those experiences made it into your books?

 

Jen: Most definitely. In AT YOUR SERVICE, which is about a tween who lives in a hotel and works as a junior concierge assisting all the kids who stay at the hotel, I drew on a few things from my real life. I used to manage a youth hostel, where I lived in an apartment in the basement. It was NOTHING like the fancy schmancy hotel where Chloe lives, but I did sneak in a few details from that time. I drew a TON on my movie publicist experience. When Fox would send a movie star to Boston on a press tour my job was to book all of their TV and radio appearances, plan a screening of the film where they’d do a Q&A, schedule a full day of print interviews, and then escort them to all of those events and make sure everything ran smoothly. Very professional stuff. However, my job was also to pull apart Double Stuff Oreos and create Quadruple Stuff Oreos, if that was something in the star’s contract with the studio (yes, I’ve done this. I can’t tell you who for, but they’re actually pretty delicious.) It was a weird line to walk- dealing with the high-level stuff, but also being the one the star would call at home at two o’clock in the morning when the light bulb in his hotel room burned out. And I couldn’t just say, “Dude! You’re twice my age, have a huge career, and millions of dollars. Pretty sure you can handle dialing zero on the freaking room phone and calling the front desk yourself.” Those experiences really helped me identify with some of the situations Chloe finds herself in and the push/pull of wanting to be seen as a competent professional while being tasked with lots of things that would make most of us roll our eyes. It was kind of fun to torture her.

 

 

Amy: How long did it take to write AT YOUR SERVICE? Did you use critique partners to help polish it?

 

Jen: It took about five weeks. I either write really fast or painfully slow- there’s not much in between. I definitely used critique partners, and could never do any of this without them! It took me another month of revision to polish it before it went to my agent.

 

 

Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?

 

Jen: Definitely a roller coaster. I was either very Zen about the process or very moody. There wasn’t much in between- hmm, I’m sensing a pattern here… The more I remembered that this was only a part of my life and not ALL of my life, the more I could relax and compartmentalize the experience. Distraction helped a lot!

 

 

Amy: How many agents did you query for AT YOUR SERVICE?

 

Jen: I had my agent already when I wrote AT YOUR SERVICE, but my previous novel was the one I queried Holly with and I queried seventy-four agents with that. Ugh. Lots of refining my query in between rejections!

 

 

Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for the requests/rejections?

 

Jen: I started with only a trickle of requests, and it wasn’t until I put my query out there during WriteOnCon and got feedback from a lurking agent, saying I needed to expand upon the conflicts, that I noticed a HUGE jump in requests. I went from a 5% request rate to 40% and I’d only added seven words to the query. But they were all about the stakes, which I hadn’t illustrated clearly before. From that point, things moved very fast. That was in late August and I signed with Holly in early October.

 

 

Amy: What was your call like with your agent, Holly Root? How did you know she was the right fit for you?

 

Jen: Holly’s nickname is the Ninja agent and she definitely lived up to her reputation in this case. I was very lucky to be weighing four other offers and had given other agents reading a deadline of Friday at three o’clock. I think Holly called at 1:30, literally in the middle of my drafting my acceptance email to another agent. She really sold me with her enthusiasm and her reputation. The deciding factor for me was the list of books she repped- every last one of them was a book I had either read or wanted to and were very much in the vein of what I saw myself writing. I knew she would have the right editor connections for my work. It was also one of those gut feeling things. Talking with one of her clients immediately afterward doubly sealed the deal for me. It was strange though- I had lived with my decision to sign with another agent for a few days by that point and was excited about it, so it was weird to switch at the very last minute! That was a hard email to write. It’s surreal to be on the other side of the table, passing on agents versus the other way around.

 

 

Amy: What is one piece of writing advice you got early on in your career that you still use today?

 

Jen: I still consider this “early in my career,” and I’m a bit wide-eyed about all of this, so there’s that! But I would say the thing that has never ever steered me wrong is this: read. I haven’t written books for long, but I started reading them when I was in nursery school and I haven’t stopped. When I was in 4th grade, I participated in the MS Read-A-Thon and read more in one month than the rest of my class combined and these days I try to read between two and three books a week. I’m fairly calculated when I read- I might focus on a particular imprint to get a sense for what they’re publishing or I might focus on writers who have reputations for being masterful at dialogue or world-building or whatever I’m struggling with at the moment. I approach it as part of my job, but then again, it’s not such a bad day’s work!

 

 

 

At Your Service

 

 

 

Thirteen-year-old Chloe Turner wants nothing more than to follow in Dad’s footsteps as a respected concierge in a posh NYC hotel.  After all, living at a hotel is heaven, and perks like free concert tickets and all-access passes to boutiques, restaurants, and attractions aren’t too shabby either.

 

When the spoiled brat child of an important guest is only placated by some quick thinking on Chloe’s part, Chloe is awarded the role of Junior Concierge. But she might be in over her head when tasked with tending to the every whim of three royal guests: a twelve-year-old princess who can’t stand Chloe, a cute fourteen year-old prince(!), and their ten-year-old sister, who has a nasty knack for getting herself lost. After the youngest princess slips Chloe’s care, Chloe and the remaining royals must embark on an event-filled hunt for her through NYC’s best tourist spots. (Releases August 26, 2014.)

 

 

JenMaloneJen Malone is the author of the middle grade novel AT YOUR SERVICE, which publishes with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin in August 2014. She is a recovering world traveler who now lives in Boston with her husband and three children and (just as soon as she talks her husband into it) a pet hedgehog. For more on Jen, check out her website, follow her on Twitter or Facebook!

 

Monday Musings: Pushing Past “No” March 17, 2014

Filed under: Blog,Creativity,Inspiration,Publishing — chasingthecrazies @ 7:48 am
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I get a lot of questions about how I came up with the idea for both the W.O.W. and First Five Frenzy series. There was not a “lightbulb” moment for either one. Honestly, the ideas came from my own need for information.

 

With the W.O.W., I wanted to hear what writers had to go through before they got “the call.” Did they query 10 agents or 100? Was there a time they ever wanted to give up? These were the answers I sought from my heroes and wanted to share.

 

The First Five Frenzy was the same thing. I was struggling with my first chapter, and I needed agent advice on what they wanted to see in those first pages. Simple as that.

 

These were both series I was very eager to publish on my blog. The only problem? Getting people  to sign on.

 

What would I say in an email to authors I admired? Please help a lowly blogger and answer a few questions. LOL! Those first interview requests were pretty much EXACTLY that. And want to know a secret? The first couple of authors I asked, said “no.” One even sent their agent after me to tell me I was unprofessional and needed to go through their publicist if I wanted a prewritten reply to interview requests. Uggh! (Mind you this well-known author had not been published yet!) Was I upset? A little. Did I give up? Hell no! I had an idea, and I knew if I could get authors to share their journeys it would inspire so many people to keep writing.

 

The requests to agents was a whole different ball game. I sent out five emails to agents I admired. Guess what happened?

 

*crickets*

 

Undaunted, I sent out another 10 requests. And hurray, one very kind agent said, “yes.” A few days later, a few more agreed. The series was finally coming together.

 

What these two series taught me is to NEVER give up. I was disappointed at the beginning (as I thought everyone wanted to be interviewed -haha!) But I learned that if I really wanted it-I had to work for it.

 

The same applies to writing. For a few it may come easy, but for the overwhelming majority of us it is difficult work. Each day is an uphill battle to eke out a word count and put together a series of sentences that don’t suck. And the rejection? It comes in all forms: from beta readers and CPs, to contests, and subbing to small journals or big time agents. It’s a part of the process you must accept as a writer.

 

What you do not have to accept, is that the response of one person is the final word on your writing. You’ve got to push past that “no” until you hear a “yes.” You have to read in your category & genre and expand your boundaries. Share your work and understand that critiques are a necessary part of the process. And most of all, you have to KEEP WRITING. If you do, your craft will continue to improve.

 

It’s true, “no” is hard to hear over and over, but if you keep at it, there will be a “yes” in your future. You just need to believe in your writing and continue to work every day.

 

How do you push past the “no” in your life? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

 

First Five Frenzy with Katie Shea Boutillier of The Donald Maass Literary Agency March 14, 2014

Filed under: Blog,Literary Agent,Publishing,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 7:36 am
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FFF SideWords

 

 

 

If you’re like me, you toil for hours editing and fine-tuning the first pages of your manuscript. You look at the first lines to make sure they are compelling and tight.  You examine the next few paragraphs, hoping your MC’s voice is already taking hold of the reader.

 

The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first pages of a manuscript. By reading each agent’s comments, I hope you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that will be requested time and time again.

 

Today, I am proud to share Literary Agent, Katie Shea Boutillier’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.

 

 

Amy: Many writers have the impression that a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?

 

Katie: I must agree, the first line of the novel is important. It immediately sets a tone. You want to make sure that you give you novel a certain feeling when you open with your first line. This first line shows the reader where, who, what and why. Make it as unique as you can and transport your reader into another perspective.

 

 

Amy: Many times a writer is told to stay away from common openings like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, etc. What are some common openings you recommend writers stay away from?

 

Katie: I often see women’s fiction writers start with a scene when the main character is about to lose it. Her husband just left her. She just found out she has an illness. I also see many realistic YA writers start in a typical school setting. I would like to see less of these examples. Starting your novel on the right foot means the reader is seeing a major change in the main character’s life – and where might this happen? Think of a place that is either particularly intimate for your reader or maybe a place that would excited your character – with lots of things going around, but focusing on what is most important – your MC. Some good examples of this may be in the streets of a major city, in the subway/train, at a concert, at a party, at a graduation. Go beyond the ordinary and set into a particular setting that reflects what is happening to your MC.

 

 
Amy: When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full manuscript, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?

 

Katie: The first pages have spoken to me. I have made a special connection with myself and to the storyline, the setting, and the characters in the novel.

 

 

Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?

 

Katie: Writers don’t go far enough. They are too afraid to let go. To write what they fear. To use emotions that they might not feel they need (or even want) to. I want to feel like the main character is my best friend. And I will follow her anywhere.

 

 
Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?

 

Katie: If the writer has taken me out of my current state and immediately has thrown me into the main character’s life, you got me. However, this has to happen fast. Like I’ve said before, I need to connect. If I don’t connect with the main character, then I start skimming. I want to be able to feel the beat of the novel. Action, emotion, voice, and setting. All of those thrown at me, together, at once. And then you got me.

 

 

Katie Shea Boutillier joined the Donald Maass Literary Agency in 2011. She is the Rights Associate for the agency’s Subsidiary Rights Department, where she assists in selling the agency’s translation, audio, film, and electronic rights. In addition, Katie focuses on her own client list of women’s fiction/book club; edgy/dark, realistic/contemporary YA; commercial-scale literary fiction; and celebrity memoir. She looks for projects with the perfect balance of plot and emotion. Katie loves novels that seek big truths, touch on important social issues, and explore unique family dynamics and unlikely friendships. She is a cum laude graduate of Marist College. Some of her clients include Carolita Blythe, Kathryn Craft, Judy Huddleston, and Andrea Portes.

 

If you’re interested in submitting to Katie, please make sure to check The Donald Maass Literary Agency website for their guidelines.

 

W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with AJ Pine March 12, 2014

 WOW

 

 

It’s not often that I have the inside scoop on a featured author’s writing journey. Many times when I request an interview for this series, I send an email and wait for a reply. But today, I have the inside line on this writer’s journey, because it’s one of my CPs, AJ Pine. AJ doesn’t know this, but I’ve been dreaming about sharing her journey since she sent me an email to tell me Entangled Publishing was going to publish her New Adult Contemporary story, IF ONLY.  I am so proud of her, and her work, and thrilled to finally share her writing odyssey today!

 

 

Amy: How much does being a high school teacher influence your writing? Do you find yourself memorizing certain conversations or interactions to use in your work?

 

AJ: I don’t get too much material from students, probably because most of our conversations are classroom based, and I’m not much of a hallway lurker. Haha! But the best way my students have helped me is by volunteering as audience. I read my YA manuscript aloud to one of my classes last year, and they were fabulous editors. Reading aloud in general is a remarkable tool for self-editing. My students also gave me the thumbs up for writing in a teenage voice, but this ability probably stems from an obvious lack of maturity on my part. As long as I fool my students into thinking I’m a grown-up, though, all’s well.

 

 

Amy: Was IF ONLY your first completed manuscript?

 

AJ: Nope. It’s my second. My first manuscript, the one I read to my students, is a YA dystopian novel…with an element of romance, of course. Because KISSING.

 

 

Amy: How long did it take to complete?

 

AJ: IF ONLY was a book that I couldn’t stop writing. Drafting is my favorite, my ultimate happy place, and it was a really fantastic experience not being able to contain the story. The first draft took me six weeks. I did NOT query my first draft, though.

 

 

Amy: Did you use critique partners for IF ONLY? If so, how did that affect your writing process?

 

AJ: Drafting is a collaborative process for me. So far I’ve drafted three books alongside my good friend and fellow writer Lex. When we are drafting, every other Friday is known as Friday Swap. We share what we have up until that point, read, and critique. I swear Saturday mornings are like Christmas, waking up to her notes. Then I revise based on her comments/suggestions before drafting any further. So when I type that final period on that final page, my first draft has already been through somewhat of an edit. Plus, the commitment to share pages every other week puts me on a deadline. It motivates me to write every day and hit a decent word count before we swap, and I absolutely love writing like this. When you find CPs you can trust to see your writing in its rawest form, it’s a pretty beautiful thing.

 

 

Amy: When you first wrote your query for IF ONLY did it come easily or did it go through many drafts?

 

AJ: Haha. Query writing…easy. No way. I wrote many drafts. For queries, in general, what ended up being my life saver was the SAVE THE CAT logline formula. I used this as a jumping off point and expanded it to make it query length. Not until the manuscript that came after IF ONLY, the one that connected me with my agent, did I feel like I finally got the hang of writing the query.

 

 

Amy: What was your call like with your agent, Courtney Miller-Callihan? How did you know she was a good fit?

 

AJ: By the time Courtney and I had the call, I had already interacted with her a bit on Twitter, and I loved her in the twitterverse. She was professional yet funny, always sharing great information for writers. I was a nervous wreck for our call, not that she could tell [She could totally tell…because I flat-out announced it. I was out of town for a conference with literally only an hour to spare, and she called right when I told her I’d be free. Aside from some quick pep talking from Natalie and Megan, two of my other lovely CPs, I was so unprepared for the call, and Courtney was pretty fabulous from the start, especially with me having an emotional freak-out, on the inside of course. On the outside I was the picture of calm [totally lying]. The first thing she said was that she loved my book, currently titled ONE NIGHT, but that the purpose of the call was to see first if we clicked before officially offering representation. And as nervous as I was, as much as I forgot to ask (and later bombarded her with  emails full of questions) I felt the click. She didn’t just want to represent my book but my career, and she was on board with all I wanted to do with this book and beyond it.

 

 

Amy: As most writers know, publishing is a very difficult business. What was the one thing you think you did to garner agent interest?

 

AJ: I actually first garnered interest from Courtney during #pitmad, the Twitter pitch party following Brenda Drake‘s Pitch Madness. But that doesn’t mean a Twitter pitch got me an agent. I still had to send the query, first three chapters, and synopsis. Many agents have said this, and I agree–whatever is in those first pages has to be enough to make your reader want to read more. Putting my first pages up on WriteOnCon this summer was a huge help in seeing how readers reacted to chapter one of my book, and it helped me sharpen what I had before I began querying. A great query is your foot in the door, but it’s those first pages that have to grab the reader, and I’m really grateful mine did.

 

 

Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?

 

AJ: Honestly, no. I never wanted to throw in the towel because being published or not, writing is so much a part of my fulfillment that I’d be missing something without it. I didn’t get an agent or a publishing deal with my first book, but having that moment of, “Holy #@*%! I just wrote a book!” gave me the confidence to try it again, to write the next one and the one after that. The more I write, the better my writing gets [or so I hope], and that’s motivation enough to keep going.

 

 

If Only

 

 

It’s been two years since twenty-year-old Jordan had a boyfriend—which means it’s been forever since she, well, you know. But now she’s off to spend her junior year in Aberdeen, Scotland, the perfect place to stop waiting for Mr. Right and just enjoy Mr. Right Now.

 

Sexy, sweet (and possible player) Griffin may be her perfect, no-strings-attached match. He’s fun, gorgeous, and makes her laugh. So why can’t she stop thinking about Noah who, minutes after being trapped together outside the train’s loo, kisses Jordan like she’s never been kissed before? Never mind his impossible blue eyes, his weathered, annotated copy of The Great Gatsby (total English-major porn)…oh, and his girlfriend.

 

Jordan knows everything this year has an expiration date. Aberdeen is supposed to be about fun rather than waiting for life to happen. But E. M. Forster, Shakespeare, and mistletoe on Valentine’s Day make her reconsider what love is and how far she’s willing to go for the right guy. (Releases March 24, 2014)

 

 

Amy PineAJ writes stories to break readers’ hearts, but don’t worry—she’ll mend those hearts with a happily ever after…maybe. The first book she wrote was YA, but now she’s two-timing her first love with NA. She’s always in the middle of reading two to three books, adores online shopping (everything from groceries to shoes), and she still loves vampires, whether it’s Eric Northman or the Salvatore brothers. When she’s not writing, AJ is sneaking off to her day job as a high school English teacher or hanging with her husband and kids in the Chicago burbs. Her debut new adult romance, IF ONLY, releases with Entangled Embrace in March 2014. For more on AJ, check out her website, follow her on Twitter or check out her Facebook page.

 

 
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