I’m so thrilled to announce that I have a book deal with Blink (HarperCollins). My book, A TOUCH OF GOLD, is set to publish in Summer 2018.
So what do you do when all your dreams come true? Well, if you were me and got asked that question by your sister, you’d answer with, “Go take a nap.” So maybe that’s not the most exciting reply, but it might be the most honest one because it turns out making your dreams come true takes a whole lot of work.
Most people out there seem to think that you simply write a book and then **poof** you get a book deal. But there’s so much more too it than that. It takes an army of people.
Not only do you need teachers and instructors and mentors and peers to teach you how to write and help you become better, but you need an understanding family who lets you have time to write. You need critique partners and Twitter followers. You need agents and editors. The list goes on and on.
Not to mention this process can take years. I started writing A TOUCH OF GOLD way back in 2012. That’s right. 5 years. Did it take me 5 years to write? No. But it took that long for me to write it, revise it multiple times, let it sit a while, revise it again, have friends and critique partners read it, revise it again, get an agent, revise it after my agent read it, go out on submission, and finally get a deal. Not to mention I wrote several other books in the midst of all that going on.
But it was all worth it to write this blog post because this is the blog post I’ve been dreaming of writing for years, the one that proves all that hard work was worth it. The one that proves that not only do dreams come true, but so do fairytales. And mine is just starting!
Look for A TOUCH OF GOLD coming Summer 2018.
***To stay up-to-date on what’s happening with my book, be sure to subscribe to my blog and follow my author Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorAnnieSullivan/
Sidekick characters can breath life into a story and set your protagonist up for success. But in order to do that, you have to make sure you’re using your sidekick characters to their fullest potential.
However, if you include a sidekick, make sure your sidekick has a clear stake in the outcome of whatever problem your protagonist faces. Next, make sure they have a clear reason to trust and follow your protagonist. Also make sure they have their own backstory, even if not all of it is mentioned. Finally, make sure your sidekick has some effect on the outcome of the story. Whether they’re the ones who figure out one of the mysterious riddles or the ones who save the protagonist at a difficult moment, they need to have a role in the outcome in order to justify their presence.
So, once you know your sidekick is necessary, here are a few ways to make sure you’re using them to the fullest.
Use sidekicks as ways to get information across that the protagonist knows but the reader doesn’t. Maybe there’s a tricky piece of backstory you want to include or some piece of information that the reader will need to know later on. Sidekicks make the perfect sounding block.
2.) Comic Relief
While I’m sure we all wish our main characters were witty all the time, sometimes that role needs to fall to the sidekick. Give them opinions and help them lighten things up.
3.) Hope for the Hopeless
Sidekicks are there in the tough times. They can be the ones to give the protagonist the information or encouragement they need to go on when everything seems ruined.
4.) Access to Information Protagonists Don’t Have
Maybe your protagonist works somewhere where they’ll overhear a key piece of information the protagonist will need. Or maybe they’re off researching someone’s criminal history while the protagonist is off getting into trouble. Whatever it is, sidekicks can be a means of gaining access to information that the protagonist wouldn’t have been able to obtain on their own.
5.) The Company You Keep
Remember that who your protagonist chooses to spend time with says a lot about them as a person. Consider that when you’re creating your sidekick. They also need to balance each other well and have different strengths and weaknesses.
If you’re looking for inspiration on how to write a good protagonist, look at the influences in your own lives. Who has picked you up when you were down? Who’s joked with you when things were tough? What characteristics do those people have in common? Take them and meld them into one solid character who nicely compliments the characteristics your protagonist holds dear. You can also watch movies/read books with some of your favorite protagonists. Model your character after them.
Do you have a favorite protagonist? Let me know in the comments!
Are you a young writer? Know a young writer? Tell them about the amazing Ch1Con (https://chapteroneconference.com/) happening August 5th in Chicago. It’s a conference put on by young writers for young writers ages roughly 11-23. The conference brings in top writers, agents, and speakers to get attendees started early on the pathway to success, all while also providing opportunities to find critique partners and learn the ropes of the publishing industry.
To learn more, check out an interview below with Julia Byers, Founder and Director of the Ch1Con, and afterwards, enter to win a copy of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas!
How did you come with the idea for Ch1Con?
We started Ch1Con my senior year of high school. The inspiration for it was twofold: when I was sixteen, I started attending the big, New York City writer’s conferences. While they were awesome and I learned A TON, I also felt rather alone at them because most of the attendees were adults (and the conferences were definitely geared towards adults). At the same time, some of my best friends in the world were teen writers I knew only online, and we were desperate to meet one another in person. So, I figured, why not kill two birds with one stone: by starting our own conference for young writers, teens like us would be able to learn about writing in an environment that was less daunting—and, you know, I’d get to spend a weekend hanging out with my amazing writer friends.
Why do you think it’s so important for young writers to have their own conference to attend?
As a young writer, it’s really easy to feel alone. Writing is awesome, of course, but it’s also naturally an isolating activity. And, as I mentioned in my previous answer, the huge writer’s conferences catered to adults are great opportunities—except they’re not really designed for kids (especially if you’re shy and awkward, like me), which makes them isolating as well.
And community is so important. Writing is a hard business, so it helps an incredible amount to have a support network in place, to have critique partners to help you fix your plot holes and friends to threaten to TP literary agents’ houses when they reject your magnum opus. [ Editor’s note: Please don’t TP agent’s houses 😉 ]
With Ch1Con, we strive to foster that type of community. Watching teen writers find critique partners and geek out about books together has been the absolute highlight of directing the conference.
What’s your favorite thing about the Ch1Con?
Sorry to use the word “community” a billion times, but I love how much of a community Ch1Con has become. I love how we’re small enough to feel intimate but big enough that we can bring in speakers like our keynote this year, Kody Keplinger (and, of course, the lovely Annie!). So much of what we’re doing now with the conference has developed from the attendees, speakers, and volunteers all just wanting to hang out together more, like our Friday night pizza party or everyone eating lunch together on Saturday during the conference.
Ch1Con might be a lot of work to put on, but it doesn’t feel like work; it feels like I’m spending the weekend hanging out with friends, gushing about OTPs and WIPs. I look forward to it all year.
How long have you been writing? Have you always found it easy?
I’ve been writing for longer than I can remember. My mom likes to talk about how, back before I knew how to read or write, I’d follow her around with a pencil and paper and make her write down my stories for me. (You might say I was a BIT of a handful growing up.) Honestly, though, writing has never really been “easy,” per say. I’ve always struggled with it. It’s just too much of a part of me to ever give up.
What advice would you give to young writers?
Keep going. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s also so important. This is a tough industry, but the really wonderful thing about it is that if you keep working hard and putting yourself out there, you will eventually reach your writing goals. It might not happen on the timeline you want it to, but it will someday. Don’t give up.
What’s your best writing tip?
Every story is a mystery. Whether you’re writing a contemporary romance, or high fantasy, or space opera (or, you know, a literal whodunit mystery), don’t forget to include plenty of clues and twists for the reader. It’s the reader trying to figure out what happens next that keeps them invested in the story. (And, you know, that’s something you want.)
What YA books are you most looking forward to in the near future?
Well, not in the near future, but I would be negligent not to mention The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (which we’re giving away as part of this post!). I’m currently reading it and there are no words to encompass quite how fantastic this book is.
Another book that just came out (but I’m so excited to read) is The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli.
Stuff that isn’t out yet that I’m looking forward to: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera and No Good Deed by Goldy Moldavsky. (I’m kind of cheating with that last one, because I’ve already read it. But it’s hilarious and I highly recommend it when it releases!)
Thanks, Julia, for stopping by to tell us all about Ch1Con! I’ll be there this year, and I hope you will, too! Don’t forget to enter to win a copy of the The Hate U Give:
I attended my first writing conference (the Midwest Writers Workshop) back in 2013, and I went in with one goal: to get a literary agent. Every decision I made was calculated on how best to accomplish that goal. Did I leave that conference with a literary agent? No. But I did leave with the knowledge and connections that helped me land one within the next four months. So here are my secrets to how you can get the most out of a writing conference.
1.) Treat it like a job
If you want to actually make money writing, then you have to treat it like a business. Invest in business cards. Start author pages on Facebook and/or create a blog or Twitter account. Make sure people can find/contact you after they leave the conference.
2.) Define your brand
Since you need to treat writing like a job, you need to figure out what your brand is and make sure you’re consistent. This means, if you’re writing picture books and an agent goes to your Twitter and sees nothing but tweets full of profanity, they may be turned off (unless that’s what your picture book is about, of course.) You need to encompass what you’re trying to sell. This means dressing the part, too. If you’re pitching an agent face-to-face, look presentable. However, if your brand is all about goth vampires, don’t be afraid to let that show in your clothing and makeup choices. You have to be the best representative of what you’re pitching them. This also stands true with alcohol consumption. While some people may need some liquid courage before facing agents during a conference’s cocktail hour, you can leave a bad impression if you consume too much. Keep in mind your brand encompasses all that you do and say.
3.) Strategically plan your agent interactions
Many conferences offer a chance to pitch agents. Take advantage of this. Of course, do through research ahead of time to see which agent is the best fit. At some conferences, they also offer everything from query critiques to first 10 pages critiques, often by editors and agents. If that’s the case, it could be worth the money to do both, especially if there were two or three agents who might be a good fit for your story. By doing a pitch with one agent, a query critique with another, and a 10 page critique with a third, you can successfully get feedback from all three and see if they’re interested. If nothing else, when you do query them, you can include that you met them at that specific conference, which always helps.
**Bonus Tip** Sign up for the conference early for the best chance of getting to pitch/have a query critique with the agent or editor you want. Slots often fill up fast!
4.) Find your people
Conferences are one of the best places to meet critique partners. Talk with as many people as you can to find other writers who write in your genre or age group. Take advantage of activities like “Find Your Tribe” to meet people who write what you do. Even if you leave without making any headway with agents, you might just leave with a new critique partner who can help you polish your next work in progress so it catches an agent’s eye. Or, a new writer friend might have an agent already and be willing to put in a good word for you.
5.) Don’t be a wallflower
If you’re shy or introverted, it can be hard to put yourself out there. But if there are opportunities to read your work aloud or have your first sentence critiqued during a session, speak up. You never know what agent has snuck into a session and is listening. The more you put yourself out there, the more you’ll get in return.
6.) Make the most of every opportunity
Having lunch and there’s an empty seat next to that literary agent you know would love your book? Take it! Did an author give a great session on world building? Stop them in the hallway and let them know. You never know what interaction could open a door for you. Be kind and sincere, and don’t be afraid to take chances. (Note: DO NOT approach literary professionals in the bathroom, and do not blind pitch them when you’re standing in the lunch line. Only tell them about your story if they ask, and generally, they will ask because they’re just as eager to find good stories as you are to get published.)
7.) Don’t be afraid to attend different sessions
Are you a fantasy writer? Don’t be afraid to attend a session on writing mysteries. You never know what tips you might pick up about adding suspense and writing about villains. The biggest thing is to go in with an open mind so that you can absorb all the information being thrown at you, and then, when you get back in front of your manuscript, you can sort out how to implement it.
Above all, have fun and make friends. Being a writer can be tough and isolating, but going to conferences is one of the best ways to break out of those ruts. Take chances, and maybe in a year or two, you could be that author giving a session on voice or point of view. Good luck, and I hope to see you at Midwest Writers Workshop this year!
Maybe your story has swashbuckling pirates. Maybe it has aliens invading from outer space. Maybe it only has a boy, a girl, and their families set in rural Connecticut. Whatever your plot or characters, you’re going to need tension. An easy way to do that is to put someone’s safety in danger. How? Through some sort of fight. It might be with words, or it might be with blades. Either way, here are some things to keep in mind.
1.) Know how big the fight is.
Is this a massive battle? If so, you need to pick who you’re going to focus on. Jumping around from character to character can slow things down if not done correctly. Your character can glance to see how someone else is holding up, but too much of this takes away from the fight they’re in, making it seem not as difficult since they can keep glancing away from their opponent. If you have multiple main characters, it might be worth it to have separate chapters if you need to jump around between characters.
Are only two people involved? If this is the case, you need to make use of good descriptions to make the action leap off the page. This also works for verbal battles (see below).
2.) Be detailed.
What kind of weapon are they fighting with? How is their attacker dressed? Is it dark out? Can you see the attacker’s face? All of these can help build up the fight and make it more real.
3.) Avoid only having action.
Having a scene with constant “I swung my blade. He sidestepped. I pressed the attack. He scattered backwards” are boring. Mix up the sentence structures. Make sure you’re not always starting with I/He/She.
Also, weave in other details, like those mentioned above- type of blade, internal dialogue, etc.
Example: He pulled out a long blade with a jewel-encrusted hilt, and right smack dab in the middle of all those glittering golden baubles was the Ruby of Radiance. I was so busy staring at it, I narrowly got my sword up in time to stop his advance. Stumbling back into the hallway, I spotted guards rushing toward us.
4.) If the fight is verbal, include setting and what’s going on around them.
Say the fight takes place in the kitchen. Maybe a pot is boiling over on the stove and the microwave is going off. These can add tension to an already tense situation. It’s going to be more dynamic if the characters are in the middle of doing something (like the dishes or making dinner) rather than just standing around.
5.) If you want there to be tension, make sure your character is fighting a challenging opponent.
If the opponent is weak, it doesn’t make you character look strong.
On the flip side, let’s say they’re fighting a henchman/solider. If they struggle to defeat this henchman, they can’t then sometime later magically have the ability to defeat the boss/captain of the guards unless they’ve learned new skills/abilities.
6.) Learn to write action scenes by watching them on TV.
If you find you can’t figure out how to choreograph a fight, watch them in movies and TV shows. Mimic the actions blow by blow, but then remember to go back in and add internal dialogue and details.
What’s your favorite fight scene you’ve ever seen/read? Let me know in the comments!
So many authors read blog post after blog post or book after book about writing, but too few authors put the time and money necessary into conferences.
I attended my first conference back in 2013, and even then, I had to be prodded into it by some writing friends. I didn’t see the point in spending money to learn about writing when I’d already paid to get a Masters degree in Creative Writing.
Boy, was I wrong! The conference I went to was called the Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie, Indiana. To be honest, I went because I wanted a literary agent, and the conference offered me multiple opportunities to interact with and pitch agents. (Spoiler alert: what I learned at the conference and the feedback I got eventually helped me land my agent.) But the conference did so much more for me than just help me connect with agents.
Offered great advice on perfecting my query letter.
Helped me learn new skills for revising, plotting, world building, character building, and other craft lessons.
Inspired me to get on Twitter where I connected with countless writers and publishing professionals.
Connected me with multiple critique partners.
Allowed me to talk with editors about what they were looking for.
Helped me establish relationships with big name authors.
Offered free help setting up my blog.
When you look at all the things you can gain by going to a conference, it’s worth the cost because you can’t get some of those things just from reading books about writing.
In that vein, I recognize conferences can be expensive once you add in travel and lodging. So if you can’t swing attending one in person, look for online ones. For example, WriteOnCon is a good one that’s very inexpensive. Another one you should check out that’s coming up soon is offered by the same Midwest Writers Workshop that I went to. It’s called Build a Better Plot with Shirley Jump.
I once attended a conference where a very well-known and well-respected literary agent told us that you were only allowed one big coincidence in a novel. But is that really true? Let’s break it down.
There are different levels to coincidences. Having your heroine run into both her love interest and the man she’s engaged to marry in the same marketplace at the same time is what I would consider a smaller coincidence because they’re in a very well-traveled public place where it’s feasible any of those characters might be found at any given point. Place that scene in the woods, and it feels a little more forced, a little less believable- a little bit too much like a coincidence. And that’s where your problem arises. Anytime something feels too much like a major coincidence, your readers are going to pick up on that.
That’s why that well-respected literary agent suggested you use only one big coincidence because as soon as someone thinks about something being a coincidence, they’re going to be primed to be on the lookout for others. And should they find another coincidence (no matter how big or how small), especially if it’s close to the first, your writing will seem weak and contrived. So you have to use coincidences sparingly and thoughtfully.
Another great rule to follow is to use a coincidence when characters are getting into trouble vs. getting out of trouble. Running into the soldiers hunting for your main character in the marketplace or the woods is going to feel a lot less like a coincidence than a secondary character showing up and quickly pulling your character into a safe hiding spot just as the soldiers are about to stumble upon your main character.
To put it plainly, coincidences are better if they happen in order to get your characters into trouble instead of saving them from that trouble. If Cinderella’s fairy godmother had showed up and let her out of the attic so she could try on the shoe at the end of the original Disney movie, it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying. Let your characters get themselves out of trouble because it will go a long way in showing who they are and how resourceful/clever/smart/driven they are. Let us see your character and not another plot device.
With all that in mind, sticking to one coincidence is pretty good advice because you’re forced to then let your plot do the work of adding tension instead of giving characters easy ways out of complicated and drama-filled situations. This in turn helps with characterization because we get to see the main character in action.
Is there a coincidence in a book that you find just too hard to believe? Discuss it in the comments.
If you’re writing a YA novel, odds are there’s going to be some sort of romance. And it’s not enough to simply have your characters look at one another and instantly know they’re in love. So how can you make sure the romance in the story builds and feels believable? Follow these tips on how to make characters fall in love.
Give them something in common
Characters who have something in common will have an immediate bond. Are they both adopted? Did they both grow up in the same small town? Did they lose a parent at a young age? Are they wearing the same band’s T-shirt? All these are little hints that they might get along because they have something that ties them together- something to talk about with one another. For example, in the movie A Cinderella Story, the main characters connect over wanting to escape their overbearing parents/stepparents and go to the same college.
Start with small bodily gestures
A touch on the arm, focusing on how he flips back his hair all the time, a small glance as one walks away- especially after they’ve just had a talk about something they have in common. These can go a long way to conveying what a character may be starting to feel.
Characters start to change
Maybe where a character would’ve snapped before, they treat the other more gently. Or, perhaps, one gives something up that they would’ve kept for themselves earlier on –food, a blanket, the more comfortable bed. Think of Mr. Darcy going out of his way to help save the reputation on Elizabeth Bennet’s sister in Pride and Prejudice.
Is your hero still making jokes about the time the heroine fell off her horse? It means he’s thinking about her. Teasing someone can be a way to show you care without having to admit it. Plus, laughing at the same jokes counts as having something in common. Additionally, nicknames used in jest at first can be endearing later on. A new book that I loved but won’t name so it doesn’t ruin anything for anyone does this well with a character named Scarlett who gets called Crimson.
Does your character jump to conclusions when they see their crush with someone else? Jealousy can be an easy way to show they care without them having to say it. Think of Hermione not wanting to be around Ron and Lavender Brown in the Harry Potter series.
If you’re writing a high-paced thriller, recognize that it’s hard to fall in love when you’re constantly running for your lives. Make sure you take breaks from the action for characters to bond. The right setting can enhance this- talking at sunset, strolling through the woods, hiding out on a rooftop with a great view, etc. might make for a romantic setting.
As I mentioned with high-paced thrillers, it can be hard to find time for love, but having that shared emotional experience can also drum up some passion. Surviving something together can cause people to cling to each other, and going back to my first point, it will give them something in common.
Think about the 5 Love Languages
Figure out if your character needs gifts or words of emotional support. Make sure their beloved can respond in turn.
Don’t forget about banter and passion
Your characters don’t have to get along at first. That fast-paced, biting banter they use can quickly turn into passion under the right circumstances, like surviving something together and then realizing they’re more alike than they think because….say it with me now…they have something in common. If you’re looking for a good example of this, checkout the book Frostblood.
Physical attraction (teamed with something they admire)
It sounds shallow, but physical attraction is something that relationships do need. It’s okay to have a fluttering heartbeat when you look at someone the first time…or the hundredth time. But make sure there’s more to the relationship than just looks; that’s why I put this last on the list. More than this, they’ll need something to admire in the other person because when you see something you like in someone, then you’re more likely to find them attractive. They may not discover what they admire until later in the story, but when they do, that’s when the physical attraction becomes more about what’s inside than outside.
Now you’re ready to go out there and start building a relationship. But before you do, stop over in the comments and let me know who your favorite literary couple is! I’ll start. Mine’s Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.
Writing a novel can feel like a journey, and in many ways, it is. It takes a good deal of planning, the right itinerary, and getting over a few bumps in the road. In fact, you might just need a vacation from your vacation by the time you’re done with it all!
Here’s a different way to approach writing a novel- think of it like planning a trip:
Figure out where you want to go
Whether you’re a plotter or a panster, it’s still important to know your destination, to know where you want your story to end up or be like. Know if it’ll be fantasy or contemporary, MG or YA. Having this general direction will set you up from the start.
Who’s going with you?
Knowing who’s going with you, aka who your characters are, is just as important as where you’re going. Can these characters exist in the setting you’re thinking of? Do you have enough of them? Who’s the villain, the one no one will get along with- the one that always claims the front seat on the road trip or insist on taking the room with the better view?
Figure out the sites to see
Just as with a trip where you’ll want to do some research ahead of time to know what you’ll want to see, it’s the same with a plot. Make sure there’s enough going on so you know it’s worth making the trip. You don’t want your readers to get bored half way through.
Plan for what could go wrong
Just as you need to know whether or not you’ll need to pack malaria pills or bring seasickness medication, it’s best to know what your characters might encounter to bring conflict to the story. However, unlike with real travel where you try to avoid those complications, in your writing, you’re going to want your characters to walk right into them.
Be open to new experiences/people
While it’s great to know some major landmarks along your plot, it’s also amazing to be open to new opportunities as they arise in your manuscript. Just as that unplanned side trip down a small winding path might turn out to be the highlight of your vacation, so too might be the unexpected idea that pops into your head part way through your draft.
Pack and head out
Once you’ve done your research, pack everything you need in your suitcase and head out and start writing. Don’t let fear hold you back. Go out there and get as much as you can from this journey, I mean draft. It’s okay if you’re an overpacker like me. You can always take something out later. And who knows, you might just need that extra parka when you get caught in a freak rainstorm at Dracula’s castle- trust me, I know from experience.
Once you return home, unpack everything. Go through bit by bit and see what stinks and needs to go straight to the laundry room and what still looks really great. Also, find out what you didn’t need so you’ll know better next time, too.
Share those photos on social media
Once you get back, it’s time to share your experience, or in this case, send your novel off to some great critique partners!
After you’ve got that first trip under your belt, then it’s time to start planning your next one. And who knows, maybe all those places you went in the first one sparked the idea for what’s next.
So get out there and starting planning and writing!