Category Archives: Writing Advice & Tips

8 Lessons Learned From Subbing to Swoon Reads

 This is a reposting of an article I wrote for the YA Buccaneers, a blog run by a group of wonderful YA authors — one that has since dropped anchor because those authors have become all sorts of busy with authorly things. Since the Buccaneers are no more, I wanted to save this material and keep it available, as I think it’s helpful to those who are considering submitting their manuscripts to Swoon Reads (my publisher). I’m reposting as is, with only a few supplemental additions, which I’ve marked with asterisks.

First, some background information on Swoon Reads, borrowed from the Swoon Reads “FAQ” page:

“Swoon Reads publishes young adult and new adult romance novels. Writers can submit their original, unpublished manuscript to the Swoon Reads website, and readers who sign up can rate and comment on manuscripts to help us [editors] choose which titles we want to publish. Swoon Reads is an imprint of Macmillan publishing under Feiwel & Friends and was founded by Jean Feiwel.”

I submitted my contemporary YA romance, Kissing Max Holden, to Swoon Reads in early October (*2015). Here’s what I’ve learned so far…

1. Submit for the right reasons.

I spent months exploring Swoon Reads and thinking about whether I wanted to upload my swooniest manuscript, Kissing Max Holden, to the site. Factors that led me to believe Swoon Reads is an opportunity worth pursuing:

  • The untraditional path to publication Swoon Reads offers is very cool. They get readers involved and consider their opinions when deciding whether to acquire stories. (*Though, Swoon Reads is not a popularity contest. The Swoon Team is looking for quality manuscripts that fit in among their list. While ratings and comments are important, they aren’t all that matters.)
  • Swoon Reads members leave reflective comments on submitted manuscripts, Swoon Reads authors, editors, and publicists blog about the writing and publication processes, and readers share the stories they love via social media. All of this fosters a community that is helpful, warm, and enthusiastic. (*I continue to experience this sense of encouraging community, more than eighteen months after selling Kissing Max Holden!)
  • I’ve read a few Swoon Reads stories and they’re wonderful. Unique concepts, lovely prose, compelling relationships, and characters who leap off the page. The quality is extraordinary.
  • I truly believe my story is a great fit for Swoon Reads. I’m a romance girl through and through (Kissing Max Holden is proof!), and I’m all for an imprint that celebrates swoon.

2. Submitting to Swoon Reads is fairly simple.

You’ll need an original YA or NA manuscript of at least 45,000 words, formatted to the Swoon Reads specifications. Swoon Reads focuses on romance of all sorts, so bring on the swoon no matter what genre you write. (*Now, Swoon Reads focuses on all YA, whether it includes romance or not! If you write fantasy, mystery, sci-fi, etc, keep Swoon Reads in mind.)

3. Entice Swoon Reads members/potential readers with an appealing cover.

It’s okay to use the default cover provided by Swoon Reads, but I recommend creating a cover image that captures the tone of your story. I made Kissing Max Holden’s cover using a free stock image and the photo editing site Pic Monkey.

Cover(*This homemade cover will always hold a special place in my heart, but I love the final cover designed by Swoon Reads so much more!)

4. It’s important to nail down your manuscript’s genre.

Swoon Reads categorizes stories so it’s easy for readers to find what they’re interested in. Once you’ve chosen a genre (contemporary, adventure, historical, paranormal, etc.) you can get even more specific. For example, under the “Contemporary” heading, you’ll find these subtopics: Beach/Summer, Holiday, School, Family, Issue, Friendship, Mystery.

5. Snag readers with irresistible story descriptions.

If you submit to Swoon Reads, you’ll need a short pitch, as well as longer query-like summary. For me, this was the hardest part of the submission process! I tend to be wordy, and it was a challenge to pare my pitch and summary down while ensuring they grabbed the attention of potential readers.

6. Promote, promote, promote.

Swoon Reads is all about reader feedback, which means you’ve got to attract, you know, readers. After I submitted Kissing Max Holden, I had to get brave and spread the word. (Why is it SO scary to share our work with the world?!) Here’s what’s worked for me in the way of promotion:

  • I’ve posted my story’s cover on all of my social media platforms, and I’ve shared about how Swoon Reads works, which has people excited. Even those who don’t normally read YA romance seem to be eager to be part of the publishing process; lots of my family members and friends have created Swoon Reads accounts because they want to help give writers a shot at a book deal.
  • I’ve created graphics with Kissing Max Holden teasers to post on Instagram and Twitter and, since my story’s main character is an aspiring pastry chef, I’ve shared photos of my own baked goods along with the story’s link.
  • I’ve talked about the Swoon Reads process on my blog, and I’ve shared the story’s first chapter with an accompanying link, so those who’d like to read more can.
  • For me, the biggest help in spreading the word about Kissing Max Holden has been the people who’ve read and enjoyed the story. I feel so lucky to have had readers and fellow writers recommend Kissing Max Holden to their friends and followers via social media.

7. Engaging with readers can be fun.

I think we’ve all heard some version of this very important publishing advice: Don’t respond to reviews! Except at Swoon Reads, writers are encouraged to reply to the comments left on their stories. This, at first, made me very nervous. (What if someone hated my story and listed all the reasons why they thought it was terrible? I’d have to come up with a gracious response while simultaneously sobbing and eating a gallon of ice cream.) But here’s the thing: Swoon Reads members are awesome, and they love stories, and they want to help writers improve. Have all the comments my story’s received been glowing accolades? Not exactly. But every single one has been thoughtful and kind and enthusiastic, and it’s a pleasure to respond with my heartfelt thanks.

8. Enjoy the process.

There’s no guarantee that any one book submitted to Swoon Reads will be published by the imprint. Kissing Max Holden might catch the team’s collective eye, or it could be passed over. No matter the outcome, I’m so glad I posted my story on the site. I’ve fallen in love with its characters all over again, I’ve interacted with some incredible readers, and I’ve learned so much. So far, the experience has been amazing. (*My experience continues to be amazing. I’m so proud to be a Swoon Reads author!)

Upperman - Kissing Max Holden HI RES

Preorder Kissing Max Holden from…

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Kissing Max Holden on Goodreads
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Mood Boards

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ve probably figured out that I’m a super visual person. Instagram is my favorite social media forum, and I’m an enthusiastic pinner. In fact, I make Pinterest boards for all of my WiPs, some secret, some not. The drawback to pinning WiP-inspired images on Pinterest, though, is that it’s hard to get an over all picture/mood/feeling for a story without pulling up the whole board. And you can’t use the board unless you’re logged on to Pinterest, which isn’t always convenient.

Imagine my excitement when I heard author Jenny Han talking about mood boards (via Sara Zarr’s awesome This Creative Life podcast). In short, a mood board is an online bulletin board that can be constantly changed, updated, and personalized. Using Mood Share (free!), creative people can “tack” images (uploaded or searched for by way of the site) to their board(s), then save the board(s) for personal use (that’s what I do) or share with other users. It’s fantastically fun, not to mention inspirational. I set the board I made for my WiP, The Road So Far, as the desktop background on my computer so I can access it easily. Every time I look at it, I want to open my doc and write, write, write!

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 2.50.58 PM

So cool, right? Check out Mood Share (and the above-mentioned Sara Zarr/Jenny Han interview) and let me know what you think!

Friday Five

1. Have you seen the If I Stay movie trailer? Oh my gosh… it is so incredibly perfect. Exactly what I was hoping for. Seriously. #AllTheFeels. If I Stay is one of my most beloved books (it’s the novel that made me want to write contemporary young adult) and I have Very Strong Opinions regarding book-to-movie adaptations, especially when it comes to YA, and especially when it comes to books I love. Please, please, please let the movie live up the the trailer’s amazingness.

2. Yesterday I Rocked the Drop, and it was awesome. My girl and I dropped three books (Jellicoe Road, The Sky is Everywhere, and If I Stay — three of my favorite contemporaries) around our town. Here’s hoping three book-loving teens find them and adore the stories as much as I do.

   

   

3. Oh, hey, I wrote some new words. I have an inkling of an idea for a sequel to another of my finished manuscripts, and I started tinkering it with it the other day. I know that sounds ridiculous (why start a sequel to a book that hasn’t sold yet?), but I’ve got these scenes in my head and they’re inspiring me (keeping me up at night, actually) and I figure… Might as well write them and get them out of my system. Problem is, the more I write, the more ideas I have, and the more inspired I feel. A real story’s starting to take shape, which is exciting, but also scary. I can write this story, invest months and months of my life in it, but there’s a chance it’ll never go anywhere; it can’t stand alone without its predecessor. But, words are words and practice is practice, right? I’m pretty sure it’s okay to write what’s inspiring, and to occasionally let go worries of whether or not a story will sell. What do you think? How much time do you spend writing only for the pure joy of it?

4. Along with Open Road Summer (adorable!), I’m reading James Scott Bell’s Write Your Novel From the Middle, which is pretty brilliant so far. It’s all about finding your story’s “heart and heat,” which is most often at its middle. James Scott Bell says some smart things about novel structure, but I’m even more taken by his thoughts on voice. He says, When an author is joyous in the telling, it pulses through the words. When you read a Ray Bradbury, for instance, you sense his joy. He was in love with words and his own imagination, and it showed. This, I think, is what’s at the the core of that unteachable thing we call voice. If you’re looking for a fresh take on novel structuring (plotter or a pantser), this is definitely a book worth checking out. 

5. Happy Easter weekend! My girl and I have decided to spend tomorrow at the beach, and Sunday in our jammies watching movies. She told me she hopes the Easter Bunny will bring her an American Girl sports watch, pink Peeps, and a Slinky. Good news… The Easter Bunny Mama has found and purchased all three items. That may seem indulgent (must get the kid exactly what she asks for!), but my daughter is growing up way too fast and if Peeps and a Slinky help keep the magic of childhood alive another day, then I’m happy to provide them. 

Have a wonderful weekend! 

Here’s a fun idea…

So, I’ve been doing this really cool thing with Alison and Elodie, two of my great writing buddies.. All three of us are in the throes of revising, and all three of us are having moments of doubt, and feeling overwhelmed and discouraged from time to time. Pretty standard writerly angst, I think.

Recently, Alison sent Elodie and me an excerpt from the section of her WiP she’d revised that day. It was predictably awesome, and Elodie and I emailed back to tell her as much. That first little email morphed into (mostly) regular “check-ins.” At the end of our writing day, we drop a quick note into the body of an email, paste in a favorite bit we revised, and send it off to the other two.

I cannot tell you how encouraging and inspiring it is to get emails from Alison and Elodie each day. Not only do I get to read little segments of my friends’ incredible work, but I get a boost of motivation from their productivity, and I get to absorb their positive comments about the excerpts I share with them.

I highly encourage you to give this practice a try with a writing friend or two. It only takes a few minutes, and it’s fantastically gratifying. It makes me feel connected even when writing is a mostly solitary undertaking. Whether you email daily or weekly, I think you’ll learn a lot, work a lot, and smile a lot.

Tell me: How do you stay motivated when writing gets tough?

What’s Up Wednesday

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“What’s Up Wednesday” is a fun weekly meme started by my friends Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. From Jaime: It’s similar in some respects to the Currently… post, but it’s been whittled down to only four headings to make it quicker and more manageable on a weekly basis. You’re invited to join us if you’re looking for something to blog about, a way to let your blog friends know what’s been going on with you. If you’re participating, make sure to link your What’s Up Wednesday posts to the list on Jaime’s blog each week. That way, others can visit your post and check out what you’ve been up to.And now, here’s what’s up with me this week…And now, here’s what’s up with me this week…

What I’m Reading: I finished Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything and while I really enjoyed it, I wanted a different ending for the characters. Totally a personal preference thing, but yeah… Have you read it? What did you think of the conclusion? I also read The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, and I thought it was fantastic. Part of me is surprised because it’s a novel about vampires and that’s not really my thing. But then, I’ve heard awesome things about Holly Black’s writing, and this story totally lives up to the hype. Now I’m reading Leah Raeder’s Unteachable (thanks for the rec, Dahlia!) and I’ve gotta say… I’m loving it. It’s a tough story and it’s making me all kinds of uncomfortable, but the writing is gorgeous and the emotion is raw and so intense. It’s unputdownable, and I cannot wait to see how it wraps up.

What I’m Writing: I’ve started to poke away at my revision. It’s extensive, to be honest, and quite daunting, but I’m finding that my early chapters aren’t nearly as bad as I thought they were. There are even bits of unintentional foreshadowing that really work… Win! I want so badly for this story to be the sort of amazing I envision, and that alone is motivating. I love this stage of the process: the sorting out and the tying together and the prettifying.


Quality control.

What Else I’ve Been Up To: House hunting. We’re looking for a place to rent in Awesome Secret City, and it’s really hard! We’re currently very far away, so we have to take what we can get as far as information available on the Internet. I’m not super comfortable signing a lease sight-unseen, but it looks like that might be what we end up doing. And it’s not just the house we have to take into account — we’ve got to consider schools, shopping, commute times, neighborhoods, and a host of other craziness. I forgot what a challenge moving can be.


So… I’ve been baking and drinking! I’ve posted my favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe here before, but it’s worth repeating. These are the perfect cookies, guys. Especially when consumed with an icy cold Bud Light (or milk — pick your poison).

What’s Inspiring Me Now: Contemporary YA Week over at Stacked, which started Monday and is still going strong. From librarian/blogger Kelly Jensen: I have a nice array of guest posts from contemporary YA authors. We’re going to travel across the globe to talk about Australian contemporary YA, we’ll talk about mental illness in contemporary YA, humor in contemporary YA, and much, much more. In fact, I have 7 guest posts lined up, along with a host of book lists. I thought that in addition to new posts, I’d rerun some older content, as well, in order to give a huge range of voices and insights into contemporary YA. Fantastic, yes? As a huge fan of contemporary YA, I’m so enjoying this series.

Additionally, I’m finding this post entitled The Four Types of Character Flaws from Writers Helping Writers to be incredibly timely and very helpful. Tons of awesome character-related advice to consider as I tackle my revision. (Also, I love Writers Helping Writers. If you’re not following this blog, you should be!)

And, finally, the mama in me got all teary paging through photographer Jenny Lewis‘s One Day Young series. She captured images of mamas and their babies within 24 hours of birth, her aim being to express the extraordinary bonding, tenderness and strength between mother and infant. The photographs are beautiful and heartwarming, and I hope you’ll check them out.

Tell me… What’s up with you today?

What’s Up Wednesday

WUW

“What’s Up Wednesday” is a fun weekly meme started by my friends Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. From Jaime: It’s similar in some respects to the Currently… post, but it’s been whittled down to only four headings to make it quicker and more manageable on a weekly basis. You’re invited to join us if you’re looking for something to blog about, a way to let your blog friends know what’s been going on with you. If you’re participating, make sure to link your What’s Up Wednesday posts to the list on Jaime’s blog each week. That way, others can visit your post and check out what you’ve been up to.And now, here’s what’s up with me this week…And now, here’s what’s up with me this week…

What I’m Reading: I finished April Genevieve Tucholke’s debut, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, which was unique and twisty, then moved on to Kimberly Derting’s Dead Silence. I’ve loved all of her Body Finder novels, and this one is no exception. These murder mysteries are spooky and super well done, and Jay, the series’ love interest, is adorable. Now I’m reading Invisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan. It’s a story that requires major suspension of disbelief (spellseekers and cursecasters!), but I’m invested in Stephen and Elizabeth’s story, so I’m not having trouble letting go of my skepticism.

What I’m Writing: Still plugging away at my WiP. I keep thinking the end is in near, but then… my word count keeps climbing. I am a wordy first drafter, that’s for sure, but I’m hoping to wrap up this first phase in the next few weeks so I can tackle the revisions I already know are needed, and then let my CPs take a look. Yesterday I posted about my writing goals for the remainder of the year, if you’re interested in taking a look.

What Else I’ve Been Up To: Well, I tried to take my daughter apple picking, but unfortunately the orchard shut down its “you-pick” option two days ago. Mom fail! Luckily, we were able to buy a big bag of already-picked apples, so there’s still an apple pie in my family’s immediate future — yum!


There were pumpkins at the the apple orchard, so the day wasn’t a total bust.


On Saturday, my husband and I headed up to Berkeley to watch our Cougs play Cal. We had such an awesome day! We met up with some friends from college, drank cheap beer, and cheered WSU on to victory even though it was hot, hot, HOT in the stadium. Sometimes it’s fun to pretend we’re still wee college kids. 😉


Sunday morning I had some bananas to use up, so I searched online for a banana-y cookie. I came across a recipe for Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal Cookies and whipped up a batch. I substituted an extra banana for the stick of butter and threw in some peanut butter chips, and they turned out tasty. Though they do have sugar in them, these cookies have enough healthy ingredients (bananas, peanut butter, oats) to be considered breakfast, too.

What’s Inspiring Me Now: A post from agent Jennifer Laughran about common manuscript problems, specifically show-don’t-tell spoilers and rhetorical questions, called Nutshell Spoilers and the Rhetorical No-No. Come revision time, her tips will help me to take an extra critical look at my writing.

Also, one of my daughter’s best school friends is a little girl from Pakistan. Her mom invited me and a few other ladies over for lunch the other day and the food was aMaZiNg. Like, indescribably so. The conversation was fascinating as well. Hearing stories about life in Pakistan was incredibly inspiring and eye-opening. One of my favorite things about Army Life is meeting new people and learning about cultures that are different from my own.

Tell me… What’s up with you today?

What’s Up Wednesday

“What’s Up Wednesday” is a fun weekly meme started by my friends Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. From Jaime: It’s similar in some respects to the Currently… post, but it’s been whittled down to only four headings to make it quicker and more manageable on a weekly basis. You’re invited to join us if you’re looking for something to blog about, a way to let your blog friends know what’s been going on with you.

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First—can you believe Ready. Set. Write! is ending in ONE WEEK?! Not that I’m going to stop goal-setting and writing when summer is all said and done, but still… Our fantastic writing intensive is almost over!

On that note, my fabulous co-hosts and I would like to thank you for participating and celebrate your success by offering critiques. Of course, we don’t presume to be experts, but we do know how helpful it can be to get a fresh perspective on our writing. So… Erin, Jaime, Elodie, Alison, and I are offering feedback on the first ten pages of five Ready. Set. Write! participants’ stories. That’s FIVE critique giveaways! All you have to do is pop in next Wednesday (August 28th) and enter via Rafflecopter. (This giveaway is international and is open only to those who have participated in Ready. Set. Write!)

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And now, here’s what’s up with me this week…

What I’m Reading: For starters, I’m about halfway through a captivating beta read. It’s been awhile since I’ve read any manuscripts but my own, and I’m having a blast spending time with this romantic contemporary YA. I feel so fortunate to be able to read work by such talented writers! On the published book front, I read Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway last week and fell head over heels for Audrey and Victoria and James and all their crazy misadventures. This was a truly funny book with exceptional voice (I’ll talk more about it in tomorrow’s Bookanista post). I also read Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments, an enviably clever and amusing adult novel. I adored Lincoln, and I thought the dynamic between Jennifer and Beth was fantastic. Recommend! Now, I’m reading Morgan Matson’s Second Chance Summer, this month’s YA Book Club selection. It’s lovely so far, though it’s making my heart sad.

What I’m Writing: I have to say, I kind of rocked my WiP this week. My goal was a conservative 3,000 words, though I mentioned I was really hoping for 4K or 5K. I ended up with 6,512 words for the week, which I’m excited about, and I also cleared 50K words. Seeing as how I started Ready. Set. Write! with about 9K words, I’m feeling pretty great about my first draft progress. My goal for this week is to write 3,000 words on my WiP, and to begin working on a light revision of another project, which I hope to complete in the next three weeks.
#GluttonForPunishment

Me and Daisy, my writing buddy.

What Else I’ve Been Up To: Oh, you know… melting down about things I can’t control — what I do best. I had a heart-to-heart with my husband the other day and told him all about how I feel like a failure in several aspects of my life, and he (sweetly) told me that there’s something to be said for personal growth. To which I replied, “But I’m growing into a crazy person!”
So, yeah. Living with me can be really fun.


In more cheerful news, on Saturday morning I supervised while my girlie made breakfast. She wanted Blueberry Muffins, so we chose this healthy recipe and they turned out really tasty. I love when blueberry muffins are packed with blueberries, and these definitely were. Yum!


Mostly, I’ve just been spending time with these three, my favorites, and lamenting the end of summer.

What’s Inspiring Me Now: Attachments inspired me, and made me think about writing dialogue in a new way — I posted about it on Monday.

Also, I Hate Strong Female Characters, a must-read article from Sophia McDougall, who shares brilliance like this: I want a wealth of complex female protagonists who can be either strong or weak or both or neither, because they are more than strength or weakness. Badass gunslingers and martial artists sure, but also interesting women who are shy and quiet and do, sometimes, put up with others’ shit because in real life there’s often no practical alternative.

And then there’s this fantastic post, In Which I Go Into Cheerleader Mode by Shannon Messenger, which is honest and true and timely, something I totally needed to read this week. It’s almost like Shannon was in my head when she wrote: Like there’s some ticking clock determining how long they’re allowed to be “aspiring” before they must cross over to “published”, and any second someone is going to realize they still don’t have a book deal and show them to the door. If your journey to publication has ever made you feel like a fraud, please drop by Shannon’s blog and read the full post — you’ll feel better!

And finally, I’m finding serious writing inspiration in this quote:

Tell me… What’s up with you today?
{Don’t forget to link your WUW posts to the list on Jaime’s blog this week!}