Monthly Archives: February 2012

Learning from Self-Publishing

Self-published novels are everywhere today, especially if you have an e-reader. My Kindle is full of middle grade and young adult novels I was able to acquire for less than $2. Even for the free books, I have to be interested in the plot and characters, and I always read the reviews. But I can’t stick with many of them beyond the first few chapters (and with some, I didn’t get past the first three pages).

Rather than get mad or bemoan the lack of quality out there, we can all learn something. The most important lesson is: editing, editing, editing. The need for editing cannot be overstated.

There are many books out there with a great premise. Some even have a great voice. But those two things are not enough. Unfortunately, I’m one of those people for whom grammatical errors and typos jump off the page. Each one interrupts the narrative flow. If that happens three or more times, I’m done, unless I’m really hooked by the plot.

Some of the mistakes I see can be caught by critique partners and beta-readers. Their usefulness also cannot be overstated. If the tense or POV isn’t working, my CPs tell me. If a phrase doesn’t sound like the character saying or thinking it, my CPs tell me. If I’m head-hopping accidentally, my CPs tell me. If I’m doing it on purpose in a MG (as in one of my recent free reads), my CPs point out that it might not be the best choice for that age. If my plot doesn’t make sense, there isn’t enough tension on the page, or I have too many unanswered questions, my CPs tell me.

I know the excitement of a finished draft. I’ve experienced the impatience to get my work out there. But we must be better than that. Read it at least one more time and get the opinion of some fresh eyes. Make sure you find the mistakes before paying readers do.

It may be even more important for self-published work than for traditionally published work. I will give the book I’ve heard buzz about and have borrowed in hard cover from the library the benefit of the doubt over a self-published book. I explain my impatience away by saying I just don’t have time to read anything I don’t like or is more likely to reinforce bad habits, but it’s more than that. It isn’t fair that self-published books are held to a higher standard, but it is the state of the industry at this moment in time.

As for traditionally published novels, I might make it to the end, but if I find the same kinds of problems that stop me reading a self-pubbed book, I won’t read anything else by the same author, no matter who published him or her. First impressions really are that important.

There are other lessons, but above covers why I stop reading. I went through four books last week in as many days before finding one I felt worthy to keep reading. Don’t let your book be one of those that gets “removed from device.”

What makes you stop reading?



Filed under Getting Published, writing

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Jeremy Bender vs. the Cupcake Cadets

Middle Grade Author Shannon Whitney Messenger began Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays a while back. If you love middle grade literature, check out her blog for a list of other sites featuring MG books.

Today we’ll discuss Jeremy Bender vs. the Cupcake Cadets by Eric Luper.

From Goodreads: When sixth-grader Jeremy Bender damages his father’s prized boat and needs to come up with a lot of money to get it repaired, he and his best friend dress up as girls and infiltrate the Cupcake Cadet troop in an attempt to win the Windjammer Whirl model sailboat contest.

From Vicki: I thought it would be fun to combine MMGM with A-Read’s Recs, which is a series based on the Book Talks my 8-year-old son writes for school. As you’ll see, he is not ready for publication, but he knows what he likes.

I was inspired to read this book because my mom said it was a good book.

The story takes place in a town like ours.

The main character in the book is Jeremy.

Here is how I would describe the main character: an average eleven year old boy that loves boats.

Another important character is Slater.

Here is how I would describe this character: an eleven year old boy that loves to skateboard.

The story is about when Jeremy and Slater enter the Cupcake Cadets so they can fix Jeremy’s dad’s prize boat.

The main problem is they have to get 3 caliber badges.

I liked this book because it was funny.

I did not make a connection while reading this book.

I would recommend this book to people that like funny books because it is funny.

I give this book 5 stars out of 5.

Here’s Vicki again: Well, part of the story problem is the boys needing to collect badges, but also the boys trying to pass themselves off as girls, and underestimating the abilities of girls. It would be interesting to know what he’d think of this book if he reads it when he’s 10.

A-Read is right about this being a funny book, though. Lots of funny moments, like when Jeremy and Slater bake a pie to earn a badge. This is actually a girl-empowering story that your daughters might like, too.


Filed under Reading

Planning for the Unexpected

The title for this post may seem like a contradiction in terms, but I assure you it makes sense.

I love drafting a new story. It fills me with energy. I can’t sleep for thinking about it. I spend every minute (waking or otherwise) thinking about this new book-in-the-making.

But, there comes a time – at least one – in the drafting of every new novel, when the energy flags, despite my best efforts before writing. I’m an outliner. I have never hidden that fact. I like following a plan and still letting the creativity flow. But sometimes I reach a scene that I’m just not feeling. I procrastinate, and hem and haw, and eventually eke out a sentence at a time until I refind my mojo.

During NaNo, author Erin Morgenstern gave a pep talk that mentioned sending her characters to the circus when she got bored with her NaNo novel. In case you don’t know her, Erin is the best-selling author of The Night Circus. Ahem.

I tucked that little piece of information away and didn’t think very hard about it. There was certainly no way to send my characters to a circus, or anywhere else too over the top, within the parameters of my outline (and this isn’t the fault of the outline. I could just as easily say within the parameters of my novel). But, I reached that point in the middle where I lost the energy and excitement I’d started with. Because it was NaNo, I didn’t have my usual luxury of procrastinating or eking out a sentence at a time. I needed a couple of thousand words that day.

Then I remembered Erin’s piece of advice and I found something unexpected to do with my characters. It excited me so much that I couldn’t wait to get the idea down on paper, so to speak. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. My characters didn’t go somewhere bizarre for their story. A character I planned on harassing my main character instead apologized, and it led the story in a different direction than I’d planned, but a direction that did eventually lead where I needed the story to go.

Maybe I’ll end up cutting those scenes when I go back to revise, but maybe I won’t. Maybe it was just the kick in the pants the story needed at that point in the plot. Maybe it will deepen both characters. And even if I cut those scenes, I got new insight into those two characters that must show through the rest of the novel. Which gives me an idea for a new pre-writing exercise.

So I urge you to leave room in your outline, brain, heart, or wherever, to allow for something unexpected to happen while you write. Just be open to the idea. Be open to the strange.

Where can you send your characters to shake things up? What unexpected action can they take? Will you do it?


Filed under writing

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Belly Up

Middle Grade Author Shannon Whitney Messenger began Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays a while back. If you love middle grade literature, check out her blog for a list of other sites featuring MG books.

Today I’ll talk about Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs.

From Goodreads: 12 year old Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt Fitzroy has got a murder on his hands and trouble on his tail. Henry, the hippopatamus at the brand-new nationally known FunJungle, has gone belly up. Even though it’s claimed he died of natural causes, Teddy smells something fishy and it sure ain’t the polar bear’s lunch. Dealing with the zoo’s top brass proves to be nothing but a waste of time. They want to see any trace of Henry’s death disappear like yesterday’s paper. So Teddy sets out to find the truth. With the help of Summer McCraken, a fiesty girl with secrets of her own, the two narrow down their prime suspects. Is it Martin Del Gato, FunJungle’s head of operations who hates kids and hates animals even more? Or J.J McCraken, the owner of FunJungle and Summer’s father, who has more concern for the dough he’s raking in than the animals in the zoo? As their investigation goes on, Teddy gets squeezed on all sides to quit asking questions or Henry won’t be the only animal in the zoo to turn up dead. The deeper Teddy and Summer get, they had better make sure they want to know what they want to know because when it comes to hippo homicide, the truth can’t be kept in a cage!

From Vicki: I really wanted to read this one because of the connection to Africa. Teddy grew up until now in the Congo. And I’ve loved mysteries since I was a kid. And I have a soft spot for wildlife conservation.

First off, I love this cover even though it’s a little teensy bit morbid for young readers. Then again, the book is a little teensy bit morbid, so the cover absolutely does its job. This is a mystery with twists and turns and interesting facts about animals. Teddy has had an unusal childhood, enough to make any young reader envious. There’s action and excitement and tension. An unusual element to this story is how many adults there are. This is a rather grown-up story, in fact, with two kids – who happen to be the only kids – in the main roles.

I made the mistake of letting A-Read read this before I did and he discovered three instances of inappropriate language that he marked with yellow sticky notes according to his teacher’s instructions. He marks anything that makes him think or that he thinks is funny or that makes him wonder. One word my 8-year-old thought was inappropriate was frigging, another was hell, the third was a**, all used by adults in the story.

My son enjoyed learning about animals and he liked the story. Luckily, he’s the kind of kid who doesn’t repeat the bad words he hears or sees. However, I wouldn’t recommend this for 8-year-olds. Maybe 10 and up.

What do you think about that sort of language in a MG book? How about a MG book full of adults? Are you willing to look past the negatives to read a great mystery?



Filed under Reading