Monday, December 16, 2013

Twitter's Writing Conundrums, vol. 1

I asked Twitter if they had any burning writing questions. Here are the first five. Got another one? Ask in the comments, and I'll do another post later.


Because I'm on Prednisone and Codeine cough syrup, which means I'm full of energy and love for the world. And I also have a major case of the munchies, so don't grab for my Peppermint Patties unless you wish to draw back a nub. :)

The usual caveats: Answers come from my personal experience. Your mileage may vary. My way is not the only way. If you follow my links to Chuck Wendig's blog, prepare for NSFW vocabulary.

1. How do you know if a book is MG, YA, or Adult?

Here's a great post on this topic from Claire Legrand and WriteOnCon.

And here's my quickie version: Who will read and enjoy the book, and how old is the protagonist?

Middle Grade, or MG, is typically for ages 9-12 but might be read by kids as young as 7, considering kids usually read up. MG will have a character in the 10-13 range and have a plot that isn't too scary, doesn't have swearing, and doesn't focus on romance, although there might be some romantic thoughts. We're talking G to PG.

YA, on the other hand, is written for ages 13 and up but might be read by kids as young as 9. The protagonist is a teen, usually 16 or over, and it's often in first person and has an immediate and emotional point of view. There might be swearing, romance, and even sex, if you're getting into the higher teens. PG, PG-13.

On the fence between MG and YA? That's called Upper MG, and lots of kids want it.

NA, or New Adult, is a new sort of age range dealing on ages 18 and over and the concept of changing from a teen to an adult. It often includes a sexual awakening, intense feelings, and adult problems. R. Maybe even NC-17, if you get into Beautiful Bastard-type stuff.

Adult is… for adults. The protagonist can be any age, but the topics are mature.

The thing is, you write the book you write, and then an agent or editor can help you figure out the best way to sell the book and where it goes in the bookstore. I believe in writing the book you want to write first, then looking at where it would fit and tweaking it to fit there beautifully.

Note: There are always exceptions, and some of the best books speak to readers of many different age groups. Neil Gaiman writes books like that. If you're worried about stating the age range during querying, just take a guess. Your query and submitted pages will give the agent the best idea of how to sell it.

2. How do you deal with pacing?

Here's a great post from Janice Hardy on plot and pacing. Her entire blog is gold.

Personally, here's how I deal with pacing.

First of all, I read a ton of books, which means my brain understands the basic layout of a story. Introduction > instigating factor > disequilibrium > go after goal > climax > denouement. So when I'm thinking about my story seed and planning out my plot, I know the basic signposts. When I write a first draft, I write it straight through, letting it happen organically. When I edit that draft, I keep a page of longhand notes on what's missing, what needs to be connected, questions I might still have. When I do the third draft, I try to incorporate all the notes. And that's my fourth draft, which is the first one I feel I can look at critically to consider pacing.

I make an Excel spreadsheet on a chapter by chapter basis, noting how many pages the chapter has, what happens in it, and how exciting it is on a scale of 1 to 10. I don't want a bunch of 2s in a row, but I don't want a bunch of 9s either. I want to make sure that the reader will be excited and compelled to read on, but also that there are small periods of rest to help them catch their bearings. And when I'm reading, if I get bored, I make a note to fix it later. If the writer is bored, the reader will be, too.

To be quite honest, my pacing has gotten better with each book. Sometimes, it just takes lots of practice and absorbing other people's awesome stories. When you read the books that make you feel like you want your book to make others feel, you can replicate how that author achieves the tension that makes you keep reading.

Other tips:
* End each chapter with something that doesn't allow the reader to put down the book. A question, something scary, a footstep in the silent hall.
* Make sure your characters have secrets that will be revealed. Avoid info dumps and let their backstories and secrets come out naturally, like gumdrops along a path.
* Draw out the sexual tension. Draw out blackmail. People rarely say exactly what they mean, and your reader will dwell on every word for the payoff they want.
* When the payoff comes, give the reader proper time to enjoy it. Just a few beats. Not too long. Then on to the next question.

And your genre will also speak to pacing. Literary fiction will be slower than military scifi adventure. Teen contemporary will be slower than teen dystopian. The pacing should fit the subject matter.

3. How do you deal with writer's block?

For a long answer, read Chuck Wendig's post on 25 Ways to Defeat Writer's Block.

Personally, I haven't had writer's block since I started writing books. Once I became open to possibility, the problem became having too many ideas jockeying for attention. I think writer's block happened to me, when it did, because instead of hunting around for something fun to play with, I had this idea that there was a PERFECT IDEA that would yield THE PERFECT STORY that would appeal to EVERYONE ON EARTH and make A BAJILLION DOLLARS. And no idea was ever THE ONE. So I would find fault with every little weird idea instead of properly studying it and discovering what it might become.

I really saw this idea in action at my writers group, where we're given a story prompt and equal time to write before presenting to the group. From a broad prompt like "it's midnight" to a very narrow prompt like using the same first line, it's amazing how vastly different our resulting short stories were. What makes a story or book special isn't the beginning idea; it's your unique take on it, the story that sprung from you instead of any other person in the world. So when you see something that sparks you--a pic on tumblr or a snatch of conversation in a coffeehouse-- give it time, energy, and open-minded space to bloom. It doesn't need to be perfect; it needs to be interesting.

My YA, Servants of the Storm, (out next August) was entirely born of a photo set of Six Flags NOLA after the hurricane. I tag things that whisper about story ideas on tumblr with YOINK so I can find them later. There are ideas everywhere--you just have to settle on one and let it obsess you.

And then you have to pick one thread and write a story without thinking about all the stories you aren't writing or worrying if you're telling the wrong story, because there is no wrong story. Set a timer for 15 minutes and sit in front of your document. You're either writing, or you're thinking about your story. Don't do anything but write or think in that time. With enough time on task, you'll have a book. Sometimes, it doesn't feel magical, and the words don't come, and that's okay. Because sometimes, it will be pure magic. You just have to push through the times that writing feels like work.

4. How do you find beta readers?

When I was first starting out, I used the Blueboard (for picture books, MG, YA) and Absolute Write forums to find critique partners. Now, I have a stable of trusted friends who don't mind reading. You can also ask around on Twitter, Facebook, or on the Critique Partner Dating Service. What's important is that you're specific in what you're asking for and what you expect from them. And what you're willing to give back.

"Agented author seeking critique partner for a YA dystopian, full ms swap" is vastly different from "Need quick beta reader for MG, first book". A critique partner should be at the same writing level as you and willing to provide knowledgable criticism of plot, pacing, characters, timeline issues, grammar, and you must be willing to do the same for them. A beta reader, for me, is someone willing to read for free and out of the goodness of their heart, and I ask for any feedback they're willing to give. Which means sometimes I get an "It's good!" and sometimes I get a Word doc smothered in red, comments, and changes. And you never, ever complain to your beta readers. You thank them for whatever they give and use only what will level up your writing and your story.

So: find someone at your same level or a little bit above where you are, ask for specifics regarding what information you need from them, and be sure to be grateful and to return the favor.

5. How do you find the right opening line?

This one's tough! Sometimes, I know the opening line from the very start and it never changes. Sometimes I realize what it needs to be halfway through the first draft, or while editing another draft, or after my agent and I have talked over revisions. Sometimes it comes to me in the middle of writing, and sometimes I pop awake in the middle of the night. I know it's the right one when the urge to change it leaves. I know it when I see it.

Which means that when I don't see it, I know. But I don't let that stop me. I just start the story where it needs to be started and keep writing. You can always go back and change the first line, and it might come to you more naturally after you've gotten deeper in the story. What you utterly, absolutely cannot do is stare at a blank page and wait for the perfect first line to be whispered into your ear by the spirit owl of Anne Lamott as if the book can't happen until you unlock it with just the right words. The story is more important than the first line. It'll come when it's good and ready.


Hope that helps! Any other questions? Need further clarification or links? Ask in the comments.

Friday, December 13, 2013

So you want to write a book? YOU CAN. Stop waiting.

I was speaking at a book club holiday party last night, and more than one person quietly divulged that they had always wanted to write a book but never had. Still, they felt they would one day. And it occurs to me that most of the advice I see online for writers is aimed at people already in the trenches. And that maybe I should post something for people who are standing outside the Recruitment Office, staring at the posters and nibbling their mustaches and scared to death to step through that door.

You don't have to be a lifelong writer. You don't need a special college degree. You don't need to take any classes. You don't need to quit your job and move to the mountains to think. You don't have to have a dream in which Stephen King arrives, clad in gossamer with angel wings and taps you on the head with a quill. A writer is someone who writes, and you're just as qualified as anyone else. You have just as much spare time as anyone else, because we're all hopelessly, insanely busy. Don't let anyone tell you differently.

The secret is that you need to settle on an idea and think about it a long time before writing. The first time I sat down to write a book, I thought, "I'll write a book about mermaids!" But then I never wrote anything because I didn't know who the audience was, who the main character was, or what the plot was. But I had a great title and had already drawn a cover in Photoshop.


The next time I tried, I knew I was writing a women's fiction about a harried, dry-witted mom who won a cruise and accidentally boinked Zeus on a ferry. I knew she would have a cat fight with Hera, meet the fates, and be courted by various gods. I knew that, in the end, she would be back with her husband and happy for her life and would just see pegasi all the damn time. And once I knew that much, I was able to finally start writing just to connect the main points of interest.

Good plot? No. But it got me going. There is no Perfect Idea that will make it easy. You could spend your entire life trying to come up with something flawless. But you'll never get anything done. Pick something that you can spend a few months thinking about it and just ride that pony.

Whenever you can. Stop thinking about writing as this annoying work that you feel you must do. Think of it like a hobby, like taking a pottery class or fishing or watching a football game. It's great for your mind and soul and self-confidence. It's an activity with inherent worth. Get the support of the people around you and ask for their encouragement to help you meet your goals. Put it on the calendar. Schedule a babysitter. Or just wait until everyone else is asleep and instead of refreshing Facebook or watching Tivo, write.

You've been thinking about your story and know how it's going to begin. Once you've been running the opening scene in your head, you sit down and set a timer for, say, 15 minutes. Set your document to double-space with .5 indent and just write. Don't think too hard about word choice or typos or grammar at this point. Just give yourself the freedom to suck or be weird and let it happen. Don't think, "Wait, that's not right" or "This stinks!" or "Oh, no, wait, I need to go back." Self-editing is the enemy.

Probably not. The timer is more to make you spend the time on task. If the writing is flowing, keep going until the well runs dry. If it's not, save what you have, skip a few lines, and leave notes about things to think about, fix, or do tomorrow. For bonus points, end with something exciting that'll make your next writing session kick off with a bang.

In my experience, obsession drives writing. No matter what else you're doing, the story should be marinating in your imagination, and if you have impulses to encourage it, do. You might want to read some non-fiction on a related topic, do some crowd-sourcing, go on a day trip or take a class in blacksmithing. You might feel the urge to buy a pretty journal and pen and keep them with you to scribble things down. You might just want to build a music playlist that helps you dream. But in order for a book to happen, it needs loving encouragement.

And as I have two children under seven, a husband, and another job, believe me when I tell you that I know what it's like to be so busy you can't think straight. You might have to make a sacrifice. I don't watch TV, and when I'm in first draft mode, I don't instigate plans with friends. Obsession will take its toll, but for me, the self-confidence and power I feel when writing is worth it. And you can always invite your friends over for champagne and cupcakes when you finish your first draft.

Well, why would it be? If this is your first book, you have no right to be awesome at writing it. Much like any skill, you must practice. Stephen King says it takes 1,000,000 words written to gain competence as a writer. Or as Jake on Adventure Time says, "Sucking at something is the first step to being sort of good at something." And just like shooting baskets or centering clay, there's great value to be found in practice. Sadly, most of society doesn't appreciate the value in bad writing, but as someone who did a lot of bad writing before I moved into not-wretched writing and then into hey, this isn't bad writing, I value it.

There's an easy way to avoid this feeling: Don't read your first draft until it's done. You'll just depress yourself. Hell, I depress myself. That's why I advocate going straight through to the end and cleaning up later. You can't edit a blank document.

Just… no.
This is a very bad idea.

Either they read it and love it and tell you how amazing you are, in which case you believe it and will crash hard the first time you receive legit criticism….

Or they read it and don't like it or tell you what's wrong with it or mark it up with red pen and completely kill your spirit and your writing mojo.

Do you see? There's no good ending here.

Just tell them you can't wait to show them the finished product, but you want it to be just right first.

The secret is that you never have to show anyone, if you don't want to.

And if you want to? Have it printed up and make a fun cover for it. There's no feeling like watching someone read your book for the first time.

Every day, set that timer for 15 minutes or whatever other arbitrary span you decide your busy schedule will allow. If you write four words? Great. You sat there for 15 minutes and thought about your story. If you wrote 200 words? Awesome. That's the length of an AP English essay, and few people write those over the age of 19, if ever. If you write a ton? *GOLF CLAPS* You're doing it! You're writing a book!

Some days will be 4 words, some will be 400, some might be 4000. That's normal. Keep going.

Until it's done.

And keep in mind that a first draft might be considerably shorter or longer than it should be. With your first book, I advocate aiming for 50-80 thousand words. That's a pretty manageable size and works out to around 200-250 pages, I think. I like to email a copy to myself every 20 pages or so as insurance against computer crashes. Some people I know use Dropbox, but I prefer email pings.

And at 100 pages, your significant other is legally required to take you out for tacos and margaritas. Don't ask me why. I don't make the rules. Just enjoy it. 100 pages is a big landmark.

You can. I mean, it's your life. But everything that's worth something is hard. Running a marathon is hard. Learning to play chess is hard. Figuring out how to ride a bike is hard. And there's a point, almost always, in every difficult endeavor, when you think… THIS SUCKS AND I WANT TO QUIT.

And you know what? I'll say it. Quitting isn't always bad. If you don't get any joy whatsoever out of writing, no rush or hopeful buzz when you figure something out, then there's no reason to do it. If you want to write a book to impress someone, to make a million dollars like that 50 Shades lady, or to gain stardom, then that might not be enough of an impetus to push you, crawling, through the quagmire of suck.

To finish writing a book, you must love that book, and when it gets hard, you have to keep going.

But here's a secret: for almost every writer and almost every book, there is a point at which they stop and say THIS SUCKS AND I WANT TO QUIT. Some people call it Saggy Middle Syndrome. For me, it usually hits about 60% through, when all the newness has worn off but the story isn't rolling downhill at breakneck speed yet. That's when I have my 4-word days and play on Twitter too much. But I keep going anyway. You can, too. Set the timer, sit there, and do the best you can.

11. I DID IT. I WROTE A BOOK! (If you didn't, skip to 13. It an't over, baby.)
Good for you! Rename your doc as MYAWESOMEBOOK_V2 and close it. No matter what else happens in your life, if you edit your book and pursue a professional career in publishing or if you shove it in a drawer or set it on fire, you've written a book. Millions of people every day wish they could do what you have just done. You are part of an elite fraternity of crazy people continuing the tradition of storytelling, of crafting magic from nothing.

They used to burn people at the stake for that sort of thing.

Now you have several choices. If you want to rest on your laurels and pursue something else, then go and do that. Even if you just want to take a break without that stupid timer, go for it. But if you want to see just how great your book can become, then sit down with a notebook and start reading what you've written. You might see issues immediately, especially considering that with the Write Straight Through method, you know your characters way better at the end and will often find the beginning shaky or incomplete. If you've saved the old draft, feel free to make changes in the new draft. Make notes to yourself about things to change overall or worry about later. And if you start reading and get bored or sick of it, put it down and go live life for a couple of weeks. It'll look different with fresh eyes.

No, it is not.
Your book baby, if it's anything like my first drafts, is riddled with typos and cliches and adverbs and characters who change over the course of the book. With my first book, I was scared to mess it up and make it worse. But you know what? I've been writing for four years now, and I've never regretted hitting the delete button.

One way to free yourself from this worry is to be savvy about saving drafts. My first draft is MYAWESOMEBOOK. Then I start doing edits on MYAWESOMEBOOK_V2. When that's done, I do big revising in MYAWESOMEBOOK_V4. And somewhere after MYAWESOMEBOOK_V11, I save MYAWESOMEBOOK_FINAL.

If you save your drafts as you go along, you can always go back and retrieve something you're scared to change or delete. I also email each draft to myself as I go in case my computer crashes. And if I do a major rewrite or add 20 pages, I email that. I've gotten to enjoy hitting the delete key, but I definitely don't want to lose 3 days of work accidentally.

First of all, if you didn't make it through your first book, there's absolutely nothing wrong with shelving it, putting it away for later, ripping it up for parts, or starting over. False starts are very common with new writers when they realize that an idea isn't enough to drive the entire book. Read other books that excite you. Start thinking of new story ideas or ways to revamp what you *do* have into a broader narrative. It isn't over until you quit writing. And you never have to quit writing. Plenty of people make a living writing short fiction, webcomics, and non-fiction. Writing is writing. You can always start again.

On the other hand, if you've pumped out that first draft, you've leveled up. Congratulations! I suggest hitting my Resources page to savvy up on editing, querying, agents, writing blogs, that sort of thing. My 25 Steps to Being a Traditionally Published Author post might be especially helpful. In any case, you've done the impossible, and for that you are mighty.

Now go celebrate again. I suggest cake.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

11 Ways to Level Up Your Writing

*cracks open Writer's Toolbox*

*wonders why there's a banana inside*

*tries to make a call on the banana phone*

*fails, eats banana*

Ahem. Here are some tools that might help you finesse your writing, if you're still looking for ways to take it to the next level. As ever, this list is not definitive. There are good times to break the rules. Your mileage may vary. But I've discovered them all *since* I wrote my first book in 2009. They might seem obvious to you, but they've helped me, and I hope they'll help you.

1. Kill dialog tags whenever possible.
"Said" is the only acceptable one. Try to kill that, too. For example:
NO = "I'm going to do it," he said.
YES = Ferdinand crossed his huge arms and nodded. "I'll do it."

2. Kill adverbs. Replace them with beautiful writing.
Especially kill adverbs when added to dialog tags. (She exclaimed self-righteously.)
NO = The old man stood painfully and carefully walked to the kitchen.
YES = Helga groaned, her bones cracking like popcorn as she navigated the cramped hallway.

3. Kill all instances of these words: feel, see, smell, hear.
Of course the character is sensing something. It's in their POV, isn't it?
NO = Leo could see the tiger mauling his pet parrot, and he could hear the rending flesh splatter against the wall.
YES = The tiger's teeth ripped into Mr. Cheeky, the scent of copper pennies and raw chicken sending Leo into a gagging fit.

4. Don't end a chapter on a note of complete comfort.
It gives the reader a great place to stop reading. And we don't want them to stop reading.
NO = She fell asleep in Lord Wolfington's arms, sated and happy.
YES = She fell asleep in Lord Wolfington's arms, sated and happy except for the strangest feeling that she'd forgotten something terribly important. In the morning, her maid had disappeared.

5. Become a master at communicating important details with just a few words.
NO = The burgundy and black damask wallpaper was ripped and torn, showing scarred wood beneath it that matched the destroyed furniture and pockmarked floors, all of which had once given the appearance of wealth and abundance.
YES = She hated waiting, especially in a sitting room that so obviously displayed Lord Wolfington's inner darkness, thanks to claw-torn wallpaper and a well-gnawed chaise.

6. Try not to use the same word twice within a two-page spread.
Obviously, "the" and "a" don't count. We're mainly talking noticeable things.
NO = The carnival called to her, from the sound of carnies shilling their wares to the merry song of the calliope to the alluring scent of carnival goodies.
YES = The carnival called to her, from the barker's harsh cawing to the merry song of the carousel to the alluring scent of funnel cake and popcorn.

7. Your ego will try to insert itself into the manuscript, especially in the form of exceptionally clever similes and metaphors. Kill them.
This is what they mean by "killing your darlings". Every time you revise, you'll ponder these phrases. At first, you'll be proud. Then they'll start to grate on you, but you won't want to remove them. This is the sign that they need to die. If you're Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett, you might be able to get away with it.
NO =  The mermaid looked a lot like Goldie Hawn, and not just because of the fish lips and her tendency to be thrown overboard by men wearing eye patches.

8. To up the tension, add a ticking clock.
My agent taught me this one. If the story is just plodding along, add The Big Game and a football scout, a departure time for that big cross-country move, or a date by which Lord Wolfington must be married to inherit his fortune.
NO = "Your happiness is important to me, Linnea. I shall support you even should you become a spinster and haunt my attic forever."
YES = "By God, I am finished with your mucking about in the laboratory, Linnea. You will find a husband by Michaelmas, or I shall put you up for auction!"

9. Torture your character in ways big and small.
Complacent and comfortable aren't exciting. Although the reader needs an occasional win, disequilibrium is interesting and moves the story along. Discover their greatest fear and use it against them.
NO = Lulu was doing fine in school, she loved her job at the GAP, and her grandmother had the body of a forty-year old.
YES = Lulu's chemistry grade had taken a plunge, thanks to a misunderstanding with moles, which meant she spent most of her shift at the GAP studying in a dressing room and praying Chase didn't catch her and fire her. She needed that money to help pay for Grammy's meds, which only seemed to cost more as time went by.

10. Make a spreadsheet and plot out the story to make sure it's interesting.
When you're in the muck of the story, it can be hard to see the big picture. Make a spreadsheet and break it down by chapter. Make columns for what happens in the chapter, what the biggest revelation is, and how exciting it is. On a scale of 1 to 5 for excitement, you don't want a bunch of 2s all in a row, but you don't want a bunch of 10s, either. Check out this post by Chuck Wendig for more discussion. Your plot shouldn't be a straight line, but everything in it should mean something.

11. Think about sentence length.
The first sentence has more punch if it's short. Then you can draw one out, craft it lovingly, focus on the rhythm and beauty of the words. Maybe the next one is of middling length. Maybe not. In any case, you'll notice that there are sentences of a variety of lengths in this very paragraph, and that they start off in different ways, some with "the" and some with "maybe" and one with "in any case". You should always keep this tip in mind. The reader's mind wants to dance with you.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My pal Bronco needs a new heart

Guys, this is my pal Bronco. He's 7 and in desperate need of a new heart.

As you might know, I have some social anxiety and don't flourish at gatherings that involve small talk with strangers. Children's birthday parties are, therefore, my version of hell.

So I was amused when this kid with long hair and a sleeveless jean jacket sat down next to me at one such party. All the other kids were crawling on the rented bounce house and screaming like sugared-up banshees, but this kid just sat down, totally chill, and said, "What's up?" So we had a legit conversation, the best one I had at that party. And he was hilarious and charming and sweet. Back then, I thought he was just another antisocial weirdo like me. Turns out he couldn't run around and bounce because his heart wasn't strong enough. But he had no self-pity, no woe-is-me. Dude's just cool.

And now things are starting to get bad. The last time I went to read to my daughter's class, he hugged me four times and asked questions about the chapter book I was writing. He wanted to know the ending, even though I hadn't written it yet. We had to walk him back to class in a wheelchair. And now he's in the children's hospital until he gets a heart.

That means either he gets a new heart... or he never leaves the hospital.

If you're the sharing type who wants to make the world better, I hope you'll read Bronco's story, sign his petitiondonate to his care, or spread the word about his story and the importance of pediatric organ donation. No one wants to think about what happens when tragedy strikes a child, and kids are too young to check the Organ Donor box on the back of an ID card, but there are kids like Bronco all over the nation, hooked up to machines and praying for a phone call.

I'm a mean, horrible person with no heart, but I can't stop crying when I think about a world without Bronco in it.

Friday, November 1, 2013


So playlists are the hot thing for books.

Authors post them online, share them on Spotify, and speak on panels about them. I personally don't know how I ever wrote without them, as a playlist allows me to use behavioral conditioning to immediately fall back into the book as soon as I hear the music. All of my playlists can be found on Spotify under DelilahSDawson. And I LOVE it when other Spotify users send me songs that would fit well on a playlist or that remind them of my books!

But what if you had to condense your favorite book down to only one song? And I'm not talking about the lyrics perfectly matching up with the plot or theme; I mean the feeling.


If you're curious, here are all my stories and the songs that represent them, for me:

Wicked as They Come - Magnolia by The Hush Sound

The Mysterious Madam Morpho - Smoke and Mirrors by Gotye

The Peculiar Pets of Miss Pleasance - Mowgli's Road by Marina and the Diamonds

The Three Lives of Lydia (Carniepunk anthology) - Like Cockatoos by The Cure

Wicked as She Wants - Listen to your Love by MONA / It's Amazing by Jem

The Damsel and the Daggerman - Give It Back by Sixpence None the Richer

Wicked After Midnight - The Stars Came Out When the Lights Went Out by The Veils


Shadowman: Follow Me Boy - 99 Problems by Hugo

Uncharming (Big Bad 2 anthology) - She Wants to Know by Half Moon Run

Servants of the Storm - God's Children by The Gutter Twins

Delinquent - Take Me Alive by Chris Cornell


If you dig the idea, tweet your own books 
or your favorite books at #1book1song on Twitter!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hallownouncement: TWO-BOOK DEAL!

Jack Skellington brought me the best Halloween gift ever:


The wonderful editor of my upcoming 2014 YA, SERVANTS OF THE STORM, just bought my latest YA, tentatively titled DELINQUENT in which reluctant teen assassin Patsy Klein is tapped by the new bank-owned government to pay back her mother's debt-- or else.


This book is basically my attempt to figure out what might happen on the very first day of a dystopia. The Capitol didn't start out all Effie Trinket, you know?

More news at it comes!

Big thanks to my beloved agent, Kate McKean for making it happen!


Friday, October 25, 2013

BOO! I want to scare the pants off you.

Now available from Monkeybrain Comics:

BOO! #3
The first-ever reality show for horror hosts heats up as one contestant is on the loose and five more are in deadly peril, plus three all-new weird tales of terror and fright!

Yep, my first legit comic is about carousels and horror, 
with illustrations by the talented Nathan Massengill. 

Find out more at Monkeybrain.

BOO! #1 and #2 are definitely worth reading, too, consider they contain writing pals Calamity Jon Morris, Ken Lowery, Chris Haley, Joe Hunter, and more.

Hop on a horse and join us!


Friday, October 18, 2013

Querying, horribly simplified

Think all good writers write good query letters?

Nope nope nope big glass of nope.

When you're the writer, it can be nearly impossible to distill your gigantic book baby into 250 words that will entice an agent to read on. You're too close to it, too far inside it. The urge is strong to tell instead of show, splutter redundant facts, suffer character name diarrhea, and in general ramble on long enough to make an uninvested person yawn.

And that's no good. YAWNING IS NO GOOD.

So here are the simplified bones of a great query, per the magnificent Janet Reid of QueryShark.

1. Who is your protagonist and what makes them special?

2. What is their problem? What choice are they facing?

3. Who is the antagonist and what do they want?

4. What are the stakes?

End with Thank you for your consideration and hit send.

Okay, so it's not that easy. I know how extremely not easy it is. But trust me-- whatever you have, whatever you've been querying with, it can sometimes help to open a new, blank document and answer those questions. Keep distilling until you've got it down to less than 250 words. Then ask someone who's never read the book to read it and tell you if it makes any sense.

Ask them if they care what happens.

For all the info you've ever wanted on querying, read the entirety of Query Shark. For links to every site I used to get a book deal, see the Resources tab up above. It ain't easy, but it's free.

Jump out of the nest! Press send! And may the Force be with you!


Friday, October 11, 2013

The Pen Is Mighty

The first thing I saw this morning was the author list for another scifi anthology that's over 90% male. And my response was that I need to write a TV script lambasting a trope that's not funny anymore.

Here's the story:


Shareece Brown has always dreamed of being an author, but she wasn't able to land a book deal until she concocted a pen name, Dirk Manly. Dirk is a studly brooder, and now that "his" book has hit the top of the bestseller list, Shareece's publisher demands that she maintain her anonymity. Now she's learning the fine art of mustache gluing, pants-stuffing, and fedora-wearing in the hopes of riding her gravy train all the way to the end, where she can finally admit that she's a lesbian and hates hats.

But then she meets Lily White, a farm girl from Kansas and Dirk's biggest fan. Shareece hires Lily to be her personal assistant on the tour and ride on the bus across the country, along with Shareece's dudebro younger brother and sassy best friend. Shareece is contractually obligated to maintain her Dirk facade, but she realizes she can be herself as Dirk's sister and win Lily's friendship and possibly more. Now she spends half her time changing in the tiny bus bathroom and hoping she's wearing the right facial hair when she "runs into" Lily.

Containing such classic scenarios as:

* Is that a sausage or are you just glad to see me? / Can't it be both?

* I've never felt like this about a man before. / Me, neither.

* Your mustache is so lush. Do you give it any special care? / Is 'the trash' special?

* Your brother is so dreamy. / If by 'dreamlike', you mean 'not real', then I agree.

Let's make it happen, y'all.


Monday, October 7, 2013

30 Tips for Surviving Your First (or Any) Writing Conference

I just got home from Crossroads Writers Conference, and boy, are my arms tired!
Not really. But my voice is almost gone.

As we all know, writing is an activity that mostly occurs in solitude. You at your laptop, pounding away. Sure, we have Twitter and Facebook, but there comes a time in every writer's life where you want to meet real, live people who share your struggles and hopes and dreams-- and the people who can help you reach them.

And that's where writing conferences come in.

If you've never been to a writing conference or have had a less-than-stellar experience, hopefully this will help. If not, please don't find me at a writing conference and berate me. Good? Good.

1. Go for the right reasons.
For me, the best thing about writing conferences is meeting other writers. But you also want to find a conference that maximizes what you'll get out of it for your money and is appropriate for where you are as a writer and what you want to do. If you go to a conference for the sole reason of selling a book at that conference, you have a 99.9% chance of being sorely disappointed.

2. Do your research on the conference and authors.
Sad to say, but there are tons of people out there who will promise you the moon and take your money for what feels like no return. Before you sign up for a conference, do the research. See how long it's been around, who runs it, who the guests are, and who's coming back. If a conference doesn't go well, writers seldom wish to return. It's okay to stalk guests on Twitter or Facebook and see what they're saying or to Google "Delilah's 100% Guaranteed Book Deal Writing Conference 2012" to see what popped up on blogs after last year's con. Make sure it's legit before you invest your time and money. Make sure the speakers are people you admire and from whom you'll gain valuable information, or at least make sure they have credentials to speak to the topic. Be sure you're aiming up, that the con will give you new information on your next step. You simply want to make sure the con is going to help you with what you personally need. No matter how great a con is, if you write self-pub romance and go to a con for traditionally published thrillers and horror, you might not enjoy yourself. Or, honestly, you might discover your next great idea. It's all about managing expectations and also how much you're open to new things.

The Pocket Books panel at RWA Nationals 2013, including writer Shoshanna Evers and three editors from Pocket. 
This is the time to ask about the submission and publication process, NOT pitch your book.

3. See if there are scholarships, discounts, or volunteer slots.
Conferences cost money. Which isn't so horrible if you're a pro writer, because they're tax deductible. But if you're completely out of pocket, it might be a burden. Most cons offer scholarships, and if you don't see them listed on the site, email the organizer and ask. Many cons will do a discount period to encourage early sign-ups. Ask about that, too. And make sure you follow them on social media, as they sometimes do contests for registration fees or provide other ways to get in for less. If money is seriously a problem, see if there's a cheaper hotel one block away and if someone you like might want to share a room. Conferences can be crazy expensive, but there are easy ways to make them on a budget.

4. If you are shy, reach out beforehand.
As an introvert, social media is a huge boon to me. If you've met me and would consider me outgoing, it's because I was among friends or discussing a shared passion, like writing. And a big part of that comes from making connections on Twitter. Most of the authors who present at cons are active on social media, and a simple, personalized, "I loved your books and look forward to seeing you at the conference!" is a friendly way to start a conversation. Most cons are on social media, too, and you can see who they're talking to and pre-pave the way to conference friendships with other attendees, especially if they have a hashtag. If I know a couple of people, I'm going to feel so much more comfortable and excited. Set up a coffee break or lunch ahead of time, if you have particular friends you'd like to hang with or if you're intimidated by being alone.

5. Do not print out copies of your query, book, screenplay, or Glamour Shots.
Conferences are for learning and making connections. Even the ones that provide agent and editor meetings are for getting to know the person and discussing your hook; you're not going to sell a book at one of these appointments, I promise. If it is appropriate to bring any part of your work, they will let you know. For example, at JordanCon last year, they asked the authors to do a roundtable where writers could receive a critique of their first five pages, and that was very cool. But this is 2013, and no one wants to pay extra to lug home your 400-page opus in their carry-on to New York. Bring business cards that include your name, email, website, and Twitter handle, and maybe a little blurb that will remind them of what you write. The most effective one I've ever seen is by humorous erotica author Mina Vaughn, who has "kink with a wink" as her catchphrase. But there is no reason, ever, to approach someone at the con with a hard copy of your book. If they're interested, email it later.

6. Bring more clothes and shoes than you think you'll need.
I'm a pretty low-fuss girl, but I take as many clothes as I can carry to a con to make sure I look professional, but like myself. It's so hard to judge the dress code beforehand. Cute dresses and flowy shirts roll up very small. If you feel like you fit in, you're going to have so much more confidence, and there's nothing worse than wearing a cocktail dress/suit when everyone else is in t-shirts... or vice versa. Looking at photos of last year's con online can ensure you're at least in the ballpark. And although I'm a big fan of cute shoes, all my heels are by Seychelles because I know they're comfortable and won't give me blisters. You can't concentrate on business and work when you're crying from pain. And even if you guessed wrong and aren't dressed exactly like everyone else, smile and hold your chin up. I've been there, and you'll survive. At the end of the day, a good attitude can help you sail through a fashion flub. In any case, for either gender, it's hard to go wrong with nice dark jeans, boots, and a shirt that doesn't have Bart Simpson on it. Also of note: writing cons aren't generally the place for cosplay. Business attire and Friday business casual are the norm.

7. Be careful with food.
Don't get me wrong-- I love to eat. But I know which foods to avoid before and during cons. You're there to learn and network, and you can't do that if you have an upset stomach or are burping garlic on people. On the same token, fainting in front of an editor isn't good etiquette, so make sure you drink plenty of water and plan snacks and eat meals that will last, especially for cons that don't have restaurants or hospitality suites easily available. I pack a box of protein bars and nuts and can always rely on Starbucks for a banana. And pack mints!

8. Be careful with drinks.
It's true-- as awesome as the panels are, the best parts of the con often happen at the bar afterwards. That's where you can talk to authors, other writers, agents, and editors one-on-one with just a dash of alcoholic bravado. JUST A DASH. Nobody wants to talk to the crazy drunk lady waving her script around. And nobody wants you to barf on their cute shoes. I rarely turn down a drink at a con, but I always have a glass of water in between. And if I have to present before 10am the next morning, one drink is enough. But this is the time to ask the questions you really want to know and possibly hear some good stories. And although I shouldn't have to say this, most cons happen at hotels, and all the people at the hotel bar are not other writers you know and trust, so hold onto your drink just as carefully as you do in strange places. Also of note: when someone wants to dominate a writer, agent, or editor's time, they often offer to buy them a drink first. Which is totally okay, and which is why they are compensated to be there. But don't make it creepy or weird, and don't be hurt if they say no. Timing is essential.

A room party at Crossroads Writers Conference in Macon, GA, one of my very favorite cons for writers. Crossroads is great for lots of writer/attendee mingling.

9. Don't fall in the Sarlaac pit.
Every conference has one. Really.

10. Carry cash.
If you have ten people at a sit-down restaurant and a panel to catch in ten minutes, you don't want to make the poor waitress divvy up the check and run ten cards. I always bring cash and keep receipts. In larger cities, you might share a cab or grab some coffee from a street cart. I've also been in a place where I wanted to buy a book from the author and didn't have cash on hand, and I'd hate to miss out on a signed book I'd love.

11. Wear your name tag. Make it simple.
Given my preference, my name tag will say DELILAH S. DAWSON and then, underneath that, I'll write @DelilahSDawson so that people will know my name and my Twitter handle. For me, they're the same. But awesome author JT Ellison, for example, is ThrillerChick on Twitter, so I didn't recognize her at first and felt like a derp. If Twitter is your big thing, that's a great way to let people know the best way to find you. Unless you write under several pen names, try to keep your name tag very simple. At the least, focus on the name/genre people at that con would recognize. I've seen some, for example, that say:

Romance writer
JL Smith
Horrorgirl at Bookanistagirls
VP of the Mississippi Mystery Society

And... I have no idea what to call her because she has so many names and so many different blogs and genres. Make it easy for someone to remember your name and what you write, if you can.

12. Meet new people.
It's why you're there. But for me, this is the scariest part. Luckily, at cons, it's so much easier, because you're both there for the same thing and can talk about writing and books all day. My go-to question is always, "So, what do you write?", and I can ask it with honest interest. If that one's done, ask them where they're from or how long they've been writing or where they got their shoes or what they thought of their last session. If you're at a con alone and looking for compatriots, find a likely group chatting in between panels or at lunch and just ask if they have a chair open. I am by no means a conversational god, but I can tell you that everyone at the conference feels about the same as you and would probably prefer to travel in packs. Even asking a leading question like, "Do y'all know anything about lunch plans? I'm starving!" can lead to an invite and a wonderful experience. You can also pre-plan on Twitter to meet people, especially if the con has a hashtag that others are following. And if the absolute worst happens and you can't find friends, it's a writing conference, and you get extra cool points for ordering room service and banging out 2000 words in the comfort of your hotel room. Which I've totally done.

Cherie Priest, John Scalzi, Sam Sykes, Leanna Renee Hieber, me, and Kevin Hearne on the Author Chairdancing panel at Phoenix Comicon in Phoenix, AZ. My friend Cherie invited me, and there I met Sam, Leanna, and Kevin, who are now three of my all-time favorite people. I first met Scalzi at Fandomfest in Louisville. We had a pleasant conversation, and then someone said OMIGOD DO YOU KNOW WHO THAT IS?, and I was like, "Um, no. He was really nice and funny, though." And then I found out. All good stories about being nice to people and making wonderful friends in the writing world.

13. When in doubt, introduce yourself.
Sometimes, you walk into a group of friends and start chatting but don't know anyone's name. Sometimes you get into a conversation and realize you already know each other on Twitter. Sometimes you show up in the same three panel audiences as someone who looks cool, and you just keep smiling at each other like goofballs. All of this is totally normally and still somehow feels awkward. The answer, for me, is just to stick out my hand and say, "I'm sorry; I don't know if we've met. I'm Delilah." You should probably say your name instead, though. And then you'll know that person's name. And there is no shame, should they say, "We've met before", in saying, "Well, it's good to see you again" or, as happens to me often, "Of course I know you on Twitter, but now I know you for real." Whether the con has 300 people or 3,000, no one can keep track of everyone, and some of us go by a lot of different names or don't have a recent personal photo as a Twitter avatar. You never go wrong wanting to shake a person's hand and then, once you've established how you know each other, going in for a hug. There's also nothing wrong with saying something like, "Are you Delilah?" if you think you know someone and want to confirm before launching into conversation.

14. On creeping.
I don't like this topic. I don't want to think that anyone reading this might be a creeper or might get creeped on. But it's going to happen, because conferences are about people who get obsessive and passionate, and sometimes, people who get obsessive and passionate can accidentally get creepy. And there are many levels of creepy, but in particular, let's just say that sometimes at cons, someone wants to get to know you in a way that makes you want to escape and hide, and that's not cool. It's not always dude on chick, either; sometimes, we get super excited to meet our heroes. Sometimes, creepers don't even know they're doing it. If you feel that someone is creeping on you, you must handle it in the way that feels comfortable for you, but please always make sure that you are safe. You have a right to exit any conversation, to turn down any offer for drinks or a meal, or to tell someone else that you are having a problem and use them as an escape route. If you think someone might be following you, do not go bravely into the elevator with them. Find someone, friend or stranger, explain the situation, and ask them to go with you. This hasn't happened to me at a writing con, but it has happened to my friends. Never put yourself in danger for the sake of being polite.

Of note for women: I have several guy friends at cons who would stand between me and a charging bull, if the bull stared at my chest too long. If you know James Tuck or John Hartness or a similar big-hearted teddy bear, develop a signal so they can rescue you if you look terrified or feel creeped on. I'm not saying we women can't stand up for ourselves. But I know what it feels like as someone who depends on appearing professional and polite when you can't extricate yourself from an uncomfortable situation without making more of a scene than you're interested in making. There's no shame in creating outside interference.

15. Go to panels.
Chances are that when I'm not on a panel or teaching a workshop, my butt is in a seat in someone else's panel. No matter how rad a writer you think you are, there is always another way to up your game. Last year at a con, I went to a panel on comics and graphic novels and asked several questions. I was so excited by what I learned there that I'm now trying to get into writing more comics and have my first comic out soon. If there's nothing in that session that's truly applicable, think about what you're going to need further down the line. Want to dabble in another genre? Need to know about the legal aspects of self-pub? At the very least, go into a panel that will be popular, like "Tips for Bestsellers" and start live-tweeting it. You might think you know everything, but you might learn something-- or pass the information on to someone in your tweetfeed who needs it. And use the con's hashtag so others can find you and your info.

A panel on humor at Olde City, New Blood, now Coastal Magic, a con for romance in Florida.

16. Take notes.
When you're listening to a panel, it can be so easy to nod along and feel your brain open up like fertile ground in the rain. And then when you leave, you're like... WHAT JUST HAPPENED I FORGOT EVERYTHING. So take notes, just like in school. Whether you do so in a notebook or on your iPad, jot down the things that will help you later. Livetweeting is great for this sort of thing, but you can be put in Twitter jail if you tweet too much, too quickly, and then you miss all the fun for the rest of the day. Please don't worry about disrupting the speaker by playing on your device if it means you're getting something from the session; just turn off the chick-chick-chick typewriter sound. Speakers love to see their words pop up on Twitter or Facebook, because that means our info meant enough to you that you wanted to share it.

17. Ask questions.
I know it can be scary at a con, whether because there are so many people or there's so much new information or because agents and editors literally have seven heads full of venomous fangs. But this is your chance. This is why they are here: to help you. You paid your conference registration fee, and you have a right to ask the questions that will help you up your game. Granted, those questions should always be informed, pointed, brief, and not rude, but it's understood that if a person is sitting in the hotel bar, they are making themselves available, however briefly.

Good questions:
Are you having a good con? You represent one of my favorite authors, and I'd love to hear how you started working together. Do you think zombies will come back anytime soon, because I know you edited that anthology and I really enjoyed it. Your panel on social media was wonderful, and I wanted to know a little more how you find the blogs you follow on tumblr and inspire them to reblog you so much. I'm having trouble with some self-publishing formatting and really enjoyed your panel, but you didn't speak to formatting for foreign countries; do you have any experience with that?

Bad questions:
So, are you married? Can we go someplace private to talk? Are you looking to represent a book about a were-mermaid from ancient Australia who falls in love with a blind vampire? I heard that author who writes for you is a total bitch; is that true? Your rejection letter sucked, and I'd like to get some more feedback on why you didn't like my manuscript. In that sex scene in your book, did you really try that thing with the monkey bars and the peanut butter? I went to your panel, but I want to tell you all the reasons that you are wrong. I brought my manuscript; would you mind looking at it? Will you tell me if my query is any good? Are those real?

18. Do what works for you, but don't let fear hold you back.
There's a fine line between doing what naturally appeals to you and breaking out of your comfort zone. Conferences are a great way to push yourself into doing new things that will benefit your writing life. Did a slot suddenly open up with an agent or editor that you don't know? Take it. Give your pitch. If it's not a good match, you get five minutes to talk with an agent or editor about anything you want, and that's a great deal. Did a writing group from Canada you just met on the way to your room invite you out to dinner at the Persian restaurant? Change shoes and go, and when they hop on the table to bellydance, join them. Did your Twitter friend hear about an amazing bar with a chocolate fountain and wants to call a cab and check it out? Leave the hotel and have an adventure. Did you get invited to a room party? Check it out! But! Did that panelist just give you what you need to fix your manuscript and you're totally on fire to write? If that's what means the most to you, go do it. Conferences are there to serve you, and if five hours in a quiet room away from your family to write is the best gift you can give yourself, then don't feel pressured to go eat an expensive hamburger and listen to the cozy writer from Kansas as she details her dog's sweater collection.

19. Swag-- do you need it?
Swag really worried me, at first, because I felt that I needed it, and I needed it to rock. But for conferences, in my opinion, all you really need is a tasteful business card with your contact information on it-- mine are from because I like the weird size and the ability to use different images on different cards. If I'm totally honest, I take everything given to me at a con with a huge smile, put them all in a pocket of my bag, go home, and dump out the bag. I go through the cards and find the people with whom I wish to connect on Twitter or Facebook. I keep the pens and the wrapped chocolate. Almost every thing else I take to the swag room or leave on a table for someone else. I can honestly say I have never bought a book or contacted a writer based on a piece of swag; getting to know the author, liking them, and wanting to know more gets me to check out their book or blog. At a reader's conference, I understand swag is a big deal. But at a writing conference, I suggest sticking with a card and good conversation that would make someone want to keep talking to you.

My worst ever swag experience: A writer I did not know came in to her panel late, disheveled, and not dressed professionally. She pulled out a bag of plastic Easter eggs and began throwing them into the audience, where they ponged off people's heads. Inside them were candy and codes to her e-book. Later, she took a phone call while sitting on the panel. I did not even consider downloading the e-book code in the egg because she'd been so disrespectful of other panelists, the moderator, and the audience. Don't be the egg-thrower.

20. Let them know how to find you.
If you're an aspiring writer-- first of all, you're a writer. You write. But if you're not yet published, you need to make sure that anyone who meets you at a con can easily find you online. A business card is great, but what do you put on it, and where does it go? My cards include a gmail address, my Twitter handle, and my website. And that's pretty much it. I don't like phone calls unless they're about paying me, and I don't press people to use my Facebook author site, as Facebook only shows 1/3 of my followers any given post. As for websites, if you don't have one, get one. You can get a site on Blogspot or Wordpress for free, and you don't have to use it as a blog, if you're not ready to do that.  Just use the site to provide a biography, a photo, some information about what you write, and your contact information. Check out the websites or blogs of other writers you admire and see what they're doing, then do your version of that according to your skill set. It also bears mentioning that it can help to make all of your online handles match. If you're RomanceWriter3 on Twitter and write emails from and have the website, it's confusing-- and very 1999. Get a free email address and make it professional. If your name is common, add a middle initial or the word author or writer. Example: JaneLSmithAuthor, JohnQPublicWrites, etc.

21. How to frighten people away.
Granted, these are just the sort of things that make me edge away politely or that ensure I won't be following someone on Twitter or looking up their blog. Your mileage may vary. You might think I'm a bitch. But I'm honest.

Don't pitch to every human being you can catch and talk about your book exclusively and obsessively. Don't tell someone in publishing that you don't read, you think publishing is dead, you hate romance, SFF is stupid, or that your book is different than all that other crap and will be a bestseller. Don't tell an author their books suck, you hate their covers, or here's what you would have done differently; interesting conversation or asking questions is good, but no one wants to hear how much they stink. Don't get drunk and bemoan all your rejections. Don't name drop like crazy. Don't talk sh*t about other authors or only talk about negative things. The thing is, people assume that if they like you, they'll like your writing. And if you appear unlikeable, no one will pick up your books or offer to help. And most writers love helping each other, providing introductions or recommending cons or books or suggesting agents to try.

Also of note: Personal hygiene is important. You know this, but I have to say it. Stay clean, don't be unkempt, don't overdo the perfume or cologne.

22. On self-presentation.
In many ways, a writing conference is simultaneously a party with your friends, a business meeting, a schoolroom, and a job interview. You want to be yourself, but you also want to be yourself at your best in a way that will draw people to you as colleagues and as possible collaborators. You don't want to dress too fancy and look like you're trying too hard, but you don't want anyone to walk away thinking you're sloppy and lazy, because whether or not it's true, they'll think your writing is sloppy and lazy. They say 'dress for the job you want, not the job you have', but you definitely shouldn't wear pajama pants like most authors are right now.

If you're trying to get a traditional publishing deal, you also might want to err on the side of normal and save the wacky for later in the realm of personal presentation. Believe me when I say that it's possible to look professional and still "you". That being said, if you've seen my dear friend Leanna Renee Hieber in her full Victorian outfits, that's legit her--and she rocks it and gladly tells people, "If you like the way I dress, you'll like my books." Find what works best for you but always be gracious and inviting-- and always be genuine.

The Carniepunk signing in Houston at Murder by the Book. 
Note what seven traditionally published authors are wearing.
(Me, Nicole Peeler, Jaye Wells, a reader, Mark Henry, a reader, Liliana Hart, and Kevin Hearne.
I want that red dress!

And here's how professional authors dress at Dragon Con, a comics convention.
Totally appropriate (and expected!) for DC. Not so much for RWA.
I don't know the lovely lady in purple, but then there's Lucienne Diver, John Hartness, me, Faith Hunter, and Tamsin Silver.

23. Sleep. Get some.
You know what's really hard to do on three hours of sleep and hung over? Learn anything. Getting enough sleep at a seriously great con while also staying out with friends can feel impossible, especially when there are informative sessions at 8:30am. Personally, I try to plan ahead and pick one night for serious carousal, usually the night after I've done all my presenting or when I don't have to present until late afternoon the next day. I always bring melatonin to help me get to sleep at cons, because I get so overexcited and my brain won't stop spinning and I have trouble turning it off. There is nothing wrong with going to bed early if you know you're going to have a long day. And there's also nothing wrong with running up to your room for a two-hour nap--just be sure to set your phone's alarm. And there's really nothing wrong with repeating the word COFFEE? until someone finally gives you some. Ask me how I know.

24. If something goes wrong, initiate damage control immediately.
It can be hard, when you've paid for an experience, to deal with the frustration of not getting what you paid for. But I firmly believe that most situations can be saved. If the conference is poorly run, just try to salvage whatever you can by networking outside of the panels and making connections. If a speaker is terrible, leave the panel and sneak into another one. If the people aren't appealing and you're not connecting at all, introduce yourself to new people or go to panels alone and learn every last damn thing you can. If something bad happens to you, figure out a way to make it okay. I once had a horrible experience with a signing in which the bookstore treated me wretchedly... but there was a cupcake store next door, so I walked right over there and sat down for a cupcake and pulled out a book to read. Now I remember the delicious cupcake more than the bookstore.

Although conference organizers can't do much for you in the moment, you have every right to complain, honestly but reasonably, afterword, through an email or letter, especially if you felt that it wasn't worth what you paid. Speaking as someone who's run events before, it's much better to say, "The keynote speaker was notably intoxicated, the hotel had bedbugs, and the provided lunch was not vegetarian, as per my request; it would have been preferable to hold the con in the much nicer hotel up the street that also has meeting rooms but only costs $10 more per night," versus "THIS CONFERENCE SUCKED AND YOU SHOULD DIE IN A FIRE." Let them know what went wrong, what you expected, and what they could do to ensure you'd return.

Not to get all Mr. Rogers on you, but although the experience is out of your control, how you react to it is firmly in your control. I've been to bad conferences, but they gave me a chance to commiserate with new friends, and in retrospect, those friends are totally worth it. At the very, very least, a few days in a hotel room can let you crank out a few chapters in solitude.

25. If someone helps you, thank them.
The conference organizers have spent all year planning the con and probably haven't slept in days. The volunteers have been smiling since 6am. The panelists flew in from LA on a red-eye and haven't seen their kids or pets in a week. So if you get a chance, thank them. If there's something in particular that you appreciated, going into detail about what you liked will make their day. When someone comes out of a presentation, no matter how awesome they are, they're often unsure if it went over well and they truly are glad to know that what they said or did made a difference. You can never go wrong thanking people, and you need to know that your kind words keep them going when things get tough.

26. If you liked a speaker, one of the best ways to thank them is to buy their book.
No matter how good someone's writing is or how much press you think they get, every book sale matters. Especially for new and midlist authors, these conferences are a way of getting our books into the hands of new readers and making connections with fans. There is no greater praise for a panelist than to say, "I really liked what you said, so I went and bought your book. Will you sign it?" And that's why I always leave room in my suitcase: I buy the books of the panelists whose words or attitude speak to me. And I love signed books by awesome people.

This is what my lap looks like on the way back from a writing conference or signing.
I love meeting great writers, buying their books, and telling everyone on Twitter about it.

27. Afterwords, follow up.
The conference might be over, but there's still plenty to do. Find the people you met at the con on Twitter and Facebook. Follow them and send them a friendly tweet letting them know it was nice to meet them and asking them how their experience was. If an agent or editor showed interest in your book, polish it up with what you learned and email it over, along with a reminder note along the lines of, "We met at BookCon last week and you expressed interest in my novel THE RETICENT MERMAID. I've done some revisions based on our talk, and the manuscript is attached." Tag people in  your photos, RT what they're saying about the conference, and keep the conversations going.

28. Blog about it.
Like I am! Seriously, though, if you learned things at conferences, writing up your experience is a great way to remember it yourself and get some blog traffic from other people who might want to go and see what it's like. Post pictures and talk about the speakers who really reached you, but try to leave any name-calling or incriminating photos out of it. Next year, someone might be Googling the con for the first time, and your post could be the one that convinces them to go. Which leads me to...

29. Be generous.
You're not the newbie anymore, but someone else is. If you can give them a hand-up, do. If you see someone at the con who looks shy, invite them into your circle. Introduce them. Ask them what they write. Share your resources, whether you know a great blog or another con that's close to them. I'm so fortunate to have met tons of wonderful, amazing, giving people on my writing journey, and I'm always anxious to help y'all if I can. Any questions? Just ask in the comments.

And give folks the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes, you might think someone is ignoring you at the bar, but they're seeing someone they only get to see once a year. Or maybe that author was a little short when you told her how much you love her book, but she just got a phone call about her mom in the hospital or she really has to pee. Almost every time I've gotten annoyed that someone had given me the cold shoulder, I've met them later under different circumstances and found them delightful. Authors, agents, and editors are all human, and they're doing the best they can.

30. Apply what you learned and move to the next step.
I meet amazing people at conferences who are holding back from that next step. They love their first draft too much to delete anything. They adore their book but are terrified to show it to someone else. They think they're ready to query, but they're scared of rejection. It's easy to fall into the trap of writing and revising without ever sending anything out, but that's part of the process. Jump out of that nest and fly, little bird! You can do it!


Anything I didn't cover? 
Ask away in the comments, and I'll do my best to answer.

Monday, September 30, 2013


True story: I never attended a writing conference until after I was traditionally published.

Also a true story: If I could go back in time and change that, I would tell 2009 Delilah to go to the Crossroads Writers Conference in Macon, GA.

Here's why:

1. I'm the keynote speaker. It's my first keynote address. There's a good chance I'll flub it horribly, and you could catch that on tape and blackmail me.

2. If you're in Atlanta or one of the surrounding states, it's rather close.

3. It's reasonably priced, as is the hotel. If you just drive down for Saturday, the main day, it's only $99.

4. Not only can you attend panels and ask questions, but you can also catch writers in their natural habitat: the bar. Lubricate us and ask that secret question you're dying to ask but, for some reason, won't. And we won't remember, because we'll be drunk!

5. There are panels for traditional publishing, self-publishing, fiction, non-fiction, comics, screenwriting, freelancing, blogging, promotion, agents, editors, graphic novels, poetry, history, and MORE. 

6. While some conferences are about killing your dreams or ripping your words to shreds, Crossroads is about inspiration, about finishing that first draft, about how to keep writing when the writing gets tough and reach the next step. I left last year filled with renewed purpose and started writing a new book the day I got home.

7. You're going to meet amazing people. Writing is often a solitary activity, pursued behind a screen. When you're starting out, it can be hard to build connections and find your colleagues. But here, you'll meet people at all stages of their writing journey who are willing to share and commiserate. The people I met at Crossroads last year have truly become my friends.

8. There's a long list of Crossroads success stories. Writer Cat Scully met agent Carrie Howland last year, and now Carrie is Cat's agent. My own Shadowman: Follow Me Boy e-novella commissioned by Amazon's Kindle Worlds sprung from a Crossroads connection. You never know when someone you meet might help you reach the next level.

9. You'll end up with all sorts of inside jokes that people will never let you hear the end of. Ever. Because Crossroads is helpful, but it's also FUN. But don't bring a flip phone or everyone will make fun of you until you go buy a smartphone, which will actually make your life 100x better, and then you'll be all, MAN, CROSSROADS WAS THE BEST AND SHUT UP ABOUT MY PHONE.

10. Because what do you have to lose? If you're within driving distance and you're a writer who wants to up your game, make new connections, and refill your inspiration spring/still, there's no excuse not to go.

I'll be at Crossroads, starting with the keynote address at 1pm on Friday. And I hope to see you there, too!

You can also follow Crossroads on Twitter or Facebook.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

SERVANTS OF THE STORM: an excerpt! Read by me! Woohoo!

Please blame all problems on YouTube, including the fact that the video is backwards and that my bangs won't behave.

Here's a link to SERVANTS OF THE STORM on Goodreads.

You can also follow me on Twitter or LIKE my author page on Facebook so that you'll have a pre-order link as soon as one is available, because YOU WANT TO GET YOUR PRETTY MITTS ON THIS CREEPYPRETTY BOOK.


I hope so, yes.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Suicide Prevention Week - Your annual reminder that IT GETS BETTER.

I told my story last year. You can read it here.

My message remains the same. I tried to kill myself, and I'm happy that I failed. It gets better. You are worthwhile. Life is worth living. There is help.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Two things I couldn't say during Dragon Con. So I'm saying them now.

Not a round-up of pics and panels. Sorry. Still haven't recovered.

But two things have been bothering me about my Dragon Con experience, so I want to address them while I'm still fresh.

1. During the Fairy Tales and Campbell panel on the new (and AWESOME!) Urban Fantasy Track, Deidre Knight mentioned how storytelling has changed now that you can "click PUBLISH and have your book up in five minutes." And I added, "But you probably shouldn't."

And Ted Naifeh looked at me like I was the antichrist.

So, to clear it up, I will refer directly to Chuck Wendig's 25 Steps to Becoming a Self-Published Author post. I agree with him wholeheartedly on step 1, and this is quoting directly from Chuck:


If you thought the two steps of this process were STEP ONE: WRITE A BOOK, STEP TWO: CLICK “PUBLISH” ON THAT SUMBITCH, you need some deep brain rearranging. If you’re going to do this, you need to take this seriously, and not just upload every barf-bag with your name on it to the Internet at large. Some of these steps are practical. Some of them are about your mindset. These steps are not universal nor are they meant to constitute an exhaustive list. But this process should never include just two little steps.
So please don't hate me, Ted, because you're too damn cool. I just support thoughtfulness in self-publishing vs. speed.
2. During the Women in Steampunk panel, an audience member asked about how to write strong women, and we all had a lot to say on the topic. When it was my turn to speak, I mentioned considering the many aspects of a woman's life that a man might not normally think about. I mentioned menstruation, and my fellow panelists went on attack as if I wanted writers to spend entire books including every bathroom trip and the careful weighing and description of every bodily emission possible.
Unsurprisingly, that's not what I meant.
I think that when a man writes a female character, he wants to make sure she isn't a dude with boobs. And you know what? The way my body works plays big-time into my day to day life. If I ride a horse all day, my thighs ache and my chest is sore from bouncing. If I have cramps, I'm going to be a bitch, and the week before that, I'm going to be extra sharp. If I have a big vacation or trip coming up, I'm counting out my cycle. And if I'm going to do the things that happen in a romance novel, I'm going to be thinking about what I want to prevent or encourage down there. 
So you don't have to mention every occurrence of every aspect above, but if, say, your lead female character is a buxom elf archer going on a two week, cross-country journey on horseback with a guy she likes, it's not going to be all carefree boinking. 
Simply put, there are things on a woman's mind that rarely cross a man's mind. Speaking only for myself, I'm always aware of situations in which I might become a victim, be overpowered, or be approached in a way that makes me uncomfortable. I have to worry about different kinds of clothing for different occasions and what they'll say about me to others and how they'll work for the physical things I have to do all day. If your girl runs away from a zombie in heels, she's going to have to trade 'em out for boots off a corpse soon. And there's one day of the month that I call Irrational Tuesday in which my hormones are totally out of whack and I'm a mess of tangled rage, sadness, and hopelessness on the inside, no matter how calm and collected I seem on the outside.
In conclusion, you won't see me writing a series on AUNT FLO AND THE RED RIVER MYSTERIES any time soon, but I think a man writing a female character would do well to consider how the world looks through the eyes (and Fallopian tubes) of someone driving this kind of body. At the very least, find a female beta reader who's willing to give honest feedback.
If you came to see me at Dragon Con, THANK YOU I LOVE YOU YOU ARE AWESOME. 
Now, back to recovering from 9 panels, 2 readings, and a signing at one of the biggest cons in the country. AND BOY, ARE MY FEET TIRED FROM THOSE HEELS.