Friday, April 1, 2016

Chatting With Fellow Sourcebooks Debut Author Kurt Dinan About The Writing Life and DON'T GET CAUGHT!

One of my favorite parts about the path leading up to the debut of MY KIND OF CRAZY has been becoming friends with the hilarious witty and insightful fellow YA author Kurt Dinan.
Not only do we share a publisher (yay Sourcebooks Fire!) but we also share a release date, and having someone to navigate the murky waters of the unknown with has been such a great experience. We've traded everything from marketing and writing advice to debating about which of Rory's boyfriends on Gilmore Girls was the most annoying. Kurt's real-life wit spills onto the pages of his debut novel, DON'T GET CAUGHT, which is about a high school nobody who, through a series of increasingly inventive heists that turn into an all-out prank war, finds his people and his voice. In his non-writer life, Kurt has taught high school English for over the last twenty-one years, and while he's never pulled any of the pranks detailed in DON'T GET CAUGHT, he was once almost arrested in college for blizzarding the campus with fliers promoting a fake concert.

To celebrate our upcoming debuts, Kurt and I thought it would be fun to interview each other and chat about the writing life and give a little behind-the-scenes of our books. So without further ado, let's dive in!


Robin: In THE BREAKFAST CLUB, the brilliant John Hughes movie that your hilariously witty debut DON’T GET CAUGHT has been compared to, Principal Vernon asks all the characters to write an essay saying who they think they are. They had a thousand words or less to do it, but you’re a writer, and a clever one at that, so in 50 words, who is Kurt Dinan?

Kurt: I’m a father of four who teaches English in Ohio’s largest public high school. When the papers are graded and the kids are in bed, I write. Or at least I try to. I wrote horror short stories for years, but writing juvenile-humored YA is a lot more me, yo.

Robin: It is often said that there are pieces of the writer in each of the characters they create. What was the inspiration behind your main characters and which one(s) do you feel are the most like you? Which one would you most likely have been friends back when you were in high school?

Kurt: It’s funny, because every writing book says you should use the people you know as characters, but this was the first time I ever did that. None of the characters are exact copies, obviously, but I borrow from a few people I was good friends with. In high school I was definitely the most like Max in my feelings of not really fitting in. I got along with people and had friends, but I didn’t have lifelong friends until I got to college. I had a very Wheeler-esque friend in high school--the screw-up who’s probably too smart for his own good--and had a crush on an Ellie Wick-like girl, the all-American teenage girl who has a lot more going on under the surface than people realize. Malone is a combination of two girls I’ve been friends with and they’ve both intimidated in the same way Malone intimidates Max. I use “intimidate” in only the most positive sense of the word, heh.

Kurt in his senior year of high school working at the school radio station.

Robin: I think so many readers will relate to Max. All your characters are wonderful and so richly drawn. Which brings me to my next question: Do you come up with characters first or story? Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you tend to draw your story ideas from real life events that inspire you or a random thought that blossoms into more and takes root?

Kurt: I’m an idiot, so I pretty much come up with a story idea first then shape my characters to suit my needs. That’s the opposite of what every writing book advises doing, and I understand why. It took me forever to get my characters “right”, especially Max. Wheeler, however, came really, really easy for me.

As for process, yeah, I’m definitely a plotter. Like maniacally so. I’ll spend months plotting it all out to the point where I’m probably wasting good writing time. With the novel I’m writing now, I’m trying to be a little less strict and make it up as I go. Like most writers I know, I discover ideas while I’m writing, so I should trust that more. I suppose I’m really just a control freak at heart, unfortunately, but I’m working on it.

With where story ideas come from, I usually do a list of what I’m interested in and/or would be interested in reading and go from there. On the list that led to DON’T GET CAUGHT it says (among other things): ensemble casts, heists, pranks, and juvenile humor. That’s pretty much the novel I wrote, eventually.

Robin: A good friend once told me, “Write what scares you.” Do you have a project you are wanting to write that scares you? Are you interested in writing for adults as well or is YA your niche for the kinds of stories you’d like to tell? Can you share a little somethin’ somethin’ about what you’re working on now?

Kurt: See, I’m practical to a fault, so I only start a project that I think I can sell. It also has to entertain me though, so it takes me a long while to actually get moving. Basically, I don’t have any projects in mind that I won’t write because they scare me; it’s more like I have projects in mind that interest me but I won’t write because I don’t think I could sell them. As much as I’d love to write whatever is in my head, I have to be choosy because I struggle to find writing time to begin with.

I prefer to write YA right now mostly because it’s the world I know. Teaching high schoolers, contantly being around teenagers, it’s sort of a secret “in” that I can use to my advantage. I know my audience pretty well, at least the sort of kids I write for. And since you asked, yeah, I have a new project that I’m working on that is coming sloooowly. Basically, it’s a road trip novel--think Revenge of the Nerds meets The Amazing Race.

Robin: I am SO in! That sounds fantastic! One more for the road: If you had to impart one invaluable writing tip based on your experiences to aspiring authors, what would it be?

Kurt: Oh man, advice? Okay, this is the best advice I can give--find whatever works best for you and do it. There’s no one way to write and anyone who tells you differently is an idiot. I spent a lot of time studying different writing processes and even asking other writers about their processes, and finally the writer Douglas Clegg said, “I think you’re looking for a magic answer, but the truth is there isn’t one.” That helped a lot. My writing process is ever-changing and not very pretty, but it works for me. So my advice, do whatever it is you have to do to make the words right.

Thanks for this opportunity, Robin!

To learn more about Kurt Dinan and to read his interview with me, check out his blog here. You can buy his book at your favorite bookseller or online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and IndieBound. You can also follow him on Twitter at @KurtDinan and be sure to add DON'T GET CAUGHT on Goodreads.

Click on the Rafflecopter link below to be entered to win one of two copies of MY KIND OF CRAZY!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Reviews: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

An inevitable part of writing a book is getting reviews. And part of being a writer is learning how to not to take them personally. Sure, the reviews that compare you to your favorite author or director are wonderful, or the people who say this book changed their life and gave them all the feelings make you feel empowered as you sit down to write the next one, but inevitably there will be bad reviews too.

The reality is: everybody is not going to like your book.

It's important to keep perspective that reviews are merely opinions, and everyone is entitled to one. No two people are going to interpret your work in exactly the same way. Some may embrace the story as just what they needed at the right time while others may dismiss it because they didn't connect to the story at all. Some may wish they were best friends with your main character and wish they knew him in high school, while others may perceive him as exactly the kind of person they would have hated in high school. Because that's high school. And reviews are a lot like being back in high school again.

You put yourself out there, vulnerable and naked, and people judge it. But loudly, and on the Internet, which is forever. Everyone can see and hear their thoughts about your work, and it may influence some readers to discover the book and read it and others to reject it without ever opening the pages and finding out for themselves what is inside.

Despite that the good reviews may far outweigh the bad, it's hard not to focus on the negatives like a big fat red zit. Because let's face it, negative words hurt. You can't stop someone from posting them, but you can only hope, just as in life, that they consider the purpose of their words and if they are truly helpful. If a book is not your cup of tea, it is perfectly acceptable to say why it did not work for you, but it's the way you put it out into the world that counts.

Remember that a book is someone's creative work, and they have spent years pouring their heart and soul into it. Be kind. I personally opt for being of the school of if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all, and I will simply not leave a review for the book. If people want to know my opinion because it is of value to them, I am happy to share it privately. But to take to the Internet and be openly negative for the sake of simply being a hater or tearing something down does not seem to hold real use to me, and I would hope that potential readers can see that as well.

One of the things I love about my editor, Annette Pollert-Morgan, is that when we were doing line edits, she would sprinkle little love notes about places where things were totally working for her and lines that she adored. It made all the difference when faced with a manuscript filled with things that needed to be changed or enhanced or weren't working in their current state. I find the negative reviews that are the most helpful are the ones that also call out what the writer did well, and explained WHY something didn't work for them. It's empty to just say I hated this character or the plot was unrealistic. WHAT made you dislike the character? WHY was the plot not realistic to you? And equally frustrating is when someone says something is missing from the book that is, in fact, right there. But you can't engage. If you're smart, you won't anyway, because this is simply the nature of the beast.

And the best thing you can do? STOP READING REVIEWS. Especially while you are trying to write the next book. If you want to have a sense of what people are saying, find a trusted friend or family member and have them filter them for you and share with you the positive ones.

Instead, turn your focus to the next book and let your writing mojo be buoyed by the positive reviews, the people that are anxiously awaiting reading the next thing you write. THIS is who you write for.

Happy writing!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Check It Out! It's a My Kind Of Crazy/Promposal Sweepstakes!

Read the first three chapters of MY KIND OF CRAZY and enter to win a $250 Spafinder.com gift card. Prom's around the corner, and who couldn't use a little pick me up before all that dress shopping and getting ready for that epic promposal?

To help celebrate the upcoming release of MY KIND OF CRAZY, my publisher Sourcebooks is giving away a $250 gift card to Spafinders.com and offering you an exclusive look at the first three chapters of the book!

It's ALL KINDS OF CRAZY!!!

http://books.sourcebooks.com/my-kind-of-crazy/

Friday, January 29, 2016

So now the book is finished so you just sit back and chill, right? Yeah, not even close, dude....

I apologize for not blogging in so long. Lately, my life has been a little crazy, but in all the best ways. I think one of the biggest misconceptions an aspiring writer has is that they will write the book, an agent will represent it and sell it, an editor will acquire it and help mold it and sculpt it and take it to the next level, and then, after the final round of edits, the author simply dives in to work on the next book and awaits the initial book's release, all the while fielding movie offers from Hollywood. After all, it's been through several rounds of edits and copy edits and it's finished, so what more could possibly need to be done?

So much more.

In fact, now the next phase of the job begins, and it's almost as much work as writing the book itself.

I was pretty excited that my publisher assigned me an in-house publicist, and I am lucky to work with a team who is so enthusiastic about my book and is willing to do whatever they can to channel awareness to its upcoming release. They are the people who coordinate distributing ARCs to bloggers, librarians, reviewers and media outlets. They bring that ARC to industry trade shows and events and try and generate word of mouth. They tweet about the book on social media and retweet links to positive reviews and shout-outs and what-not. They create a marketing plan for the book, organize a blog tour and reach out on my behalf in the hopes that across the various forms of media and social media, people will want to learn more about me and MY KIND OF CRAZY.

So what comes next? I'll tell you.

The first exciting step is the cover reveal, which your publisher may arrange or you may seek out a source yourself. Generally whomever hosts this will also want a bio, an excerpt of up to 500 words and maybe a few questions. No problem! You can fire those off AND get four loads of laundry done, get the dishes out of the sink, play a few levels of Candy Crush Saga, update your Facebook status (#amwriting!) AND get down some word count on the new book. This is easy. And fun!

Then, after the cover reveal and coupled with the efforts of your diligent in-house publicists, you will suddenly find yourself easing on to the radar of bloggers and librarians. If you are fortunate, they will start to contact you wanting to interview you or write a guest post on topics ranging from behind the scenes trivia about the book to playlists to 15 Things You Didn't Know About Me. Often their questions can be similar to another blogger's, but you don't want to give the exact same answer because who wants to read the exact same interview over and over? So now you're putting thought and creativity into these, trying to differentiate each one out of respect to the person taking the time to feature you because how awesome is that??!

If you're smart, you will have teamed up with other fellow authors who share your debut year and will be working to help promote each others' books. This often involves an ARC tour where you read as many of the books from your fellow debuts as you can and then write about them on social media to help spread the word. It's wonderful and it creates amazing friendships and great support, but it too takes time, as you will need to now make time in your schedule for reading all their books. Sometimes you may have two or three that show up in a week, and you need to turn them around pretty fast.

And then you start thinking about swag. People love swag, and writers bring this with them when they go to signings or participate on panels. It's also great for giveaways and pre-order incentives, so now you've got to put on your thinking cap and start coming up with fun stuff to create: bookmarks, bracelets, postcards, buttons, the possibilities are endless. You find yourself spending time on line comparing prices, talking with other writers about what they used, trying to come up with something original that screams what your book is about in a fun way. Note: the dishes have now not been done in a couple of days. This is a good point to get up, stretch, get them done and throw in a load of laundry.

Now it's time to think about appearances, because nothing compares with the ability to have face-time with readers and librarians and anyone who might be interested in your book. If you moderate a panel, you respectfully need to make sure you've read all the books by the people on your panel so you can speak thoughtfully to them about their work and ask pointed questions. Add that on to the evening to-do list and start buying food you can turn quickly into something that passes for dinner. Crock pots and Trader Joes will be your new best friends. You schedule a book launch (make sure you order enough swag!) (and where to have that? Better research that too) and then you look into local conferences and book festivals that feature young adult authors and reach out and see if they might be interested in having you come participate. (By the time you finish this, you should probably throw in another laundry load because that first one has been sitting in the machine for a couple of days and smells funky. Actually, maybe you should just wash that load again.)

Meanwhile, every time you sit down to work on the new book, there's another email, another piece of something to sign off on, and for the love of all things literary, GET OFF GOODREADS!

As the release date gets closer, the momentum does not let up, and that's a GREAT thing because it means more people are interested in reading about your book. And at the same time, it's all sort of daunting. The marketing and promotion side makes you feel a bit like a used car salesman, because you're a person who does not feel comfortable on stage in the spotlight. You are much more comfortable backstage, if not hiding under the stage, and suddenly you've got to learn about things like public speaking and pitching yourself for panels and all sorts of things that are uncharted territory.

But guess what? Nobody can sell your book better than you. And yes, it's a lot of work, but it's super rewarding, because how cool is that that people actually want to read your book? And that even though you aren't supposed to go on Goodreads, you've seen people compare the writing to John Green (OMG!!) and fangirl about your characters. That's the good stuff, and worth all the energy and effort, even if you have one inch gray roots and you could get a square meal off your kitchen floor.

Then the book comes out, and there will be another wave of more of the same, all the while still plugging away writing the next book. And then the cycle begins all over again. And you stop and remember that nothing worth having comes without hard work, and so you push through. And when you feel like you can't adult another minute, you talk to your writer friends who have been there and assure you this is all normal, YOU are normal, and that they've been there, done that and have that t-shirt too. And then you laugh about what a crazy business publishing is while washing that laundry load for the third time because you actually forgot to dry it again that second time and think to yourself how cool is it that you get to spend your days making up stories and feel blessed for this amazing ride.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

COVER REVEALS AND OTHER SURREAL THINGS

I think the second coolest thing to holding one's actual completed book in hand is getting to see the cover for the very first time.

It's been absolutely exhilirating to watch the design team at Sourcebooks work to create the perfect look, and I think they really nailed it. I was also lucky enough to be included in the process, which is rare.

Every writer has some idea in his or her head before the book is even queried what that cover might look like. For me, I had always pictured the title written in sparklers on a night sky background. When my editor asked if I had any ideas to throw into the mix, not only was I excited at the chance to share my vision, but elated when I saw that Sourcebooks loved the idea too and it stuck. The cover has endured many permutations to make sure it holds interest for the widest audience possible and also being so eye-catching that the reader is drawn to pick that one off the shelf because they want to know what that book is all about. That old saying – "Don't judge a book by its cover" – is so true, because like it or not, readers do just that, so it has to be spot on.

The day I received the final cover image and was given the green light to reveal it was a really cool day. In fact, you'd imagine I would have posted this then, but I really wanted to take in that moment.The first breaths the book takes out in the world in any way. Now that it's settled in (as much as it ever could because it's still all so surreal) I am so excited to share my beautiful cover with you.


You can read about the cover reveal and a sneak peek at the opening of the book over at YA Highway.

Also, my publisher is running a giveaway of (5) copies of MY KIND OF CRAZY on Goodreads if you want to check it out. As is my life philosophy: "You can't win if you don't play."

Next step: Awaiting ARCs and proofread pages, which are my final opportunity to make any changes to the book before it goes to press. T minus five months and counting. Crazytown. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Post In Which I Do The I've Finished My Line Edits Happy Dance

Last night was huge. After weeks of revising MY KIND OF CRAZY, I reached the final few chapters and that's when I blasted the AC/DC and ABBA and Alanis Morrissette and took this bad boy to the finish line. As I reached the final sentence, it was one of the most cathartic experiences of my entire life.

I cannot stress the importance of a great editor. I happen to have an amazing one. She pushed me further at every opportunity and knew these characters as well as I did, if not sometimes better. Through our experience of working on this book, she gave me a master class in editing. Until you are deep in the thick of the text, you don't realize how many things you miss on the surface that can make all the difference in a tight story with scenes that pack an emotional punch. Overuse of filler words, flowery language, repetition of mannerisms and information: these are the things that can take a story from good to great. And as much as we can think we know our stories, that second set of eyes is invaluable. And now, as I go back to working on my next book, I benefit from all that I have learned and will hopefully have a stronger richer manuscript from the get-go. Or at least, here's hoping.

My editor and I traded notes and chapters back and forth for weeks. Each time the next bunch of chapters arrived, it was admittedly overwhelming to see the hundreds of comments in the sidebar. It seemed impossible that I could ever address all her points and make all these fixes. But she also wrote little love notes in the margins, whether it be in reference to characters, scenes, or lines of dialogue, and they were everything to me. They kept me going, snapping things back into perspective that she wasn't just telling me all the things that were wrong, but also what was really hitting the mark, and that we were working together as a team to make this story even better. Hopefully, the end result we have created together is something readers will love and it will touch their hearts. It's hard to imagine that people will walk into a bookstore in just a few months and see my book on a shelf and choose to buy it. People I don't know will be reading it. Some will love it, some will hate it, and frankly, that's a little terrifying. But at the end of the day, this book is the story of my heart, and I'm beyond grateful that it will have a chance to live in the world.

Next step is copy edits, where all the fact-checking, spelling and grammar are cleaned up. Thank goodness for copy editors, because they make writers look like they can English with ease. And then . . . ARCs. An ARC is an advanced reading copy, which looks like an actual book, though it is not proofread. It will go to bloggers, reviewers, be used in giveaways, and sent to other incredible writers who are kind enough to take the time to read and blurb my book. It's where the word of mouth begins. The fantastic team of designers at Sourcebooks is hard at work designing the perfect cover, and I look forwrad to being able to share that in a few weeks as well.

I cannot wait to hold this book in my hands and share it with all of you. It's been quite a journey, and I am so grateful for all my incredible friends, family, and of course, my amazing agent Leigh Feldman and superheroine editor Annette Pollert-Morgan, who have been there cheerleading every single step. I raise my Starbucks to each of you and say thank you from the bottom of my heart.



Tuesday, July 7, 2015

What Happens After The Book Sale (i.e. The Real Work Begins)

So an editor makes an offer to buy your book. He/she loves the characters, he/she gushes about all the things he/she loves in your story, and now it's just a matter of signing a contract, cashing a check, waiting for release day and hopefully Hollywood to come a'knockin, right? Ummmm . . . not exactly.

No matter how much an editor loves your work, the odds are that it will undergo several rounds of intense revisions before it ever hits the shelves. The first stage is that your editor will read through your manuscript several times and then send you what is known as an edit letter. An edit letter is a very daunting, usually single-spaced, multiple page document that highlights in a general way what is working and not working in your manuscript. It may include some specifics, some potential fixes, or it may leave it entirely to the writer's judgement as to what is needed. When mine arrived, it was seven single spaced pages and I may or may not have momentarily forgotten to breathe. It looked like this:


Surely if it's seven single spaced pages this book must totally suck, right? I'd heard horror stories from friends who received fourteen page single spaced edit letters, so then again, maybe I was lucky. Fortunately, I have an AMAZING editor, and after spending half of that first page praising all the things she loved, she gently eased me into the pieces she felt were still working but could work even better. And she was completely spot on. Things that just made scenes pop off the page, a moment of heartbreak all the more gut-wrenching, or a tender moment even more feel-the-butterflies-in-your-stomach-ish.

We talked on the phone the next day after I'd had a chance to let her suggestions marinate, and then I set to work. It took me close to three weeks to make that initial revision, following her notes and suggestions like a road map of sorts. After I finished that initial pass, I then did what proved to be the most mundane and eye-opening part of the revision, which was a search and destroy for overused words. I found an amazing website called http://tagcrowd.com that allowed me to plug in my document and it would then generate a word cloud with my 200 most frequently used words. I could then formulate a list and go in to decide on a case by case basis which to keep, which to change to another word, and which should be eliminated entirely. There were over 25 words that demanded my attention in this way, and as such, I had to go through the manuscript another 25 times. Once I finished, I gave myself a break for a few days and then went back and reread the manuscript from start to finish, and the end result of all that work was a much more polished, cleaner, tighter story. My editor was absolutely right, and I sent it back to her, hopeful I'd hit all the marks.

Now I sit and wait for another couple of weeks as she reads my changes and then she will send me her next round of edits, which are called line edits. This is exactly what it sounds like - a line by line edit of the entire manuscript that details more specifically what is working, what is not, what should come sooner, what should come later, words to lose or change, etc. I will be given a few weeks to implement those changes and then it gets sent back to her again.

At that point, it will go to a copy editor, who will check things like grammar, spelling, and make sure I got all the facts and timelines right. Then the book will be turned into what is known as an ARC, or an Advanced Reading Copy. This will look like the actual book, it will have a cover, though it may not be the final cover, but it will not yet be proofread. These ARCS are used to send out to reviewers, bloggers, and sometimes for Giveaways to generate buzz and interest in the book.

The book starts to actually feel like a real book once first pass pages arrive, which are the proofed and typeset pages that look like what the actual pages of the manuscript will appear like. It will also be the last opportunity for me to make any changes to the manuscript before it actually goes to print.

Simultaneously, I have to start thinking about creative ways to get the word out about its impending release. I have to start thinking about things like building a website, blog tours, and trying to set up book signings or interviews with local media sources, and different fun, creative (and hopefully inexpensive!) ways to promote the book.

It's actually quite a mental and emotional journey, and each step is so exciting. It's all one step closer to actually holding my published book in my hand, the fruition of a lifetime dream. This whole process can take anywhere from 6-18 months depending on how much work the manuscript needs and the release date planned for the book. For me, MY KIND OF CRAZY is slated for publication in early April, 2016, so I have nine months to watch it all unfold. Ironically, the same amount of time it takes to have a baby, and for both of these undertakings, a comfortable pair of elastic waisted pants are highly recommended. :)