Tuesday, July 25, 2017

GUESTOPIA: Multi-published author Karen King

Karen King

It's Guestopia time for July and our first guest this month comes in the form a prolific and talented author. Please meet Karen King.

Karen King is the author of over 120 children's books and has had two YAs published, Perfect Summer and Sapphire Blue. Perfect Summer was runner up in the Red Telephone Books YA novel competition in 2011 and has just been republished by Accent Press.

Karen is also the author of two romance novels, and has been contracted for three chick lit novels by Accent Press. The first, I do?... or do I? was published in 2016 and the second, The Cornish Hotel by the Sea, has just been released. In addition, Karen has written several short stories for women’s magazine and worked for many years on children’s magazines such as Thomas the Tank Engine and Winnie the Pooh as well as the iconic Jackie magazine.

When she isn’t writing, Karen likes travelling, watching the ‘soaps’ and reading. Give her a good book and a box of chocolates and she thinks she’s in Heaven.

And here's the interview...

Is this your first published book?

No, I’ve had about 120 children’s books published, two YA, two romance novels, two chicklits and there’s another chicklit in the process of publication.

What’s it called?

Perfect Summer

Which genre?


Which age group?

12+ there’s some gritty scenes!

Is it a series or standalone?

It’s a standalone

Are you an agented author?

No – although I have had agents in the past and may again in the future.

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?

I’ve been concerned for a long time about the pressure society puts on people to have perfect looks then I read a magazine article about girls as young as four or five worrying that they were too fat or too ugly. I thought that was really sad. I started wondering what would happen if people got so obsessed with physical perfection that it became a ‘crime’ to be different in any way. Another concern of mine is how disabled people are treated, so both these concerns sowed the seeds of this story.

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?

I always plan a bit first. I write character profiles to make sure I really know my characters well and don’t change their eye or hair colour halfway through the story. Then I work out a plot outline so I know roughly where the story is going, and then I start writing it up.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?

I started writing the story in third person at first but I felt that it wasn’t flowing right so I changed to the first person and I was away.

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?

Not dramatically, the basis of the story is the same. It’s more refined I guess. I rarely change the plot when I’ve revising, but I do change some phrases that I think aren’t flowing right, or make scenes more dramatic/concise.

What part of writing do you find the easiest?

Getting the initial idea. I have notebooks full of ideas.

What part do you find hardest?

Finding the time to write up the ideas. Then getting the story out of your head and onto the screen/page!
Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?

It depends. If I’m on a deadline I’ll write through them. If I’m not I’ll turn to something else for a while then I go back with a fresh mind and can usually find that the story flows okay again.

How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?

Three or four. I like a variety, and it helps stave off writer’s block if you have another project to turn to.

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?

That’s a difficult one. I’m a writing tutor and basically believe that writing is a skill, so like all skills it can be learned or improved – especially article and feature writing. Story writing, however, is different. You need that spark of imagination, that kernel of tale-spinning inside you, the ability to make a story out of thin air. If someone has that they can be helped to improve how they write their story down but that basic storytelling kernel of imagination can’t be taught.

How many future novels do you have planned?

I’m working on three at the moment, and also a couple of short stories.

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?

Yes, I write short stories and blog posts. I also run a blog called The Writer’s Surgery, where I post articles and tips to help new writers.

What’s the highlight of being published so far?

Signing a three book contract for chicklits with Accent Press, two of the books, I do?...or do I? and The Cornish Hotel by the Sea are now out. The third will be out next year.

Give me one writing tip that work for you.

Just write. Get your first draft down then go back and revise it afterwards.

And one that doesn't.

Write drunk, edit sober – a famous tip by Ernest Hemingway

What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have? What would the answer be?

Can we make your book into a film? The answer would be yes!

Excellent! I imagine most authors want to be asked this, and I expect their answers would be the same too! Thank you so much for joining YAtopia today, Karen. We wish you all the best with your chick lit and YA novels.
Here's a little about Karen's latest YA, with some links to help...

Set in a society obsessed with perfection, 15-year-old Morgan is best friends with the seemingly perfect Summer. But when Morgan’s brother, Josh, who has Down’s syndrome, is kidnapped, they uncover a sinister plot and find themselves in terrible danger.

Can they find Josh before it’s too late? And is Summer’s life as perfect as it seems?

And if you would like to find out more about Karen and her work, these links might help as well!

Twitter: @karen_king

Monday, July 24, 2017

Don't Say It: 15 things that should never be in your query

Before we get down to business, let's stop for a second and celebrate. This is my 100th post at YAtopia!

So we're talking about pitching this month at YAtopia (Just in time for Pitch Wars, too!). Rae Chang and I were just chatting on twitter about what phrases in queries are giant red flags for us. Some of these may seem obvious, but I guarantee anyone who has read slush has seen them more than a few times.

If you find yourself writing any of these phrases into your query, it may be a simple matter of ... you know, not writing them. However, some of these might require some research and maybe an attitude adjustment.

1) "All the YA books out there are poorly written, but mine is different" or some variation thereof

Well. Check out the ego on this guy.

Don't write in a genre/category you don't respect. Period. This may be a matter of you not reading widely enough in your genre, which is easily fixed. Otherwise, it's a lack of respect for the genre/category itself, in which case, why are you bothering? If you believe everything on the shelves in a well-established genre/category is trash, find another genre/category.

2) Putting down literary agents, whether as a group or individuals.

We all know the agent-publisher system is slow and frustrating. However, it's the best we have and we're just all trying to work within it. Why some people think it's okay to complain about literary agents' "greed" or response time or judgement or whatever while also asking those agents to represent them - I will never understand.

3) "There's nothing like this on the market"

Yes there is and I can name ten examples off the top of my head. Again, read more widely in your chosen genre; you don't know your market well enough.

Unless this is literally true, in which case, it's probably unpublishable. Hey, a guy in my first writing group tried to convince me that not having a single piece of punctuation for 9 pages was perfectly fine in commercial fiction (yep, not even literary or experimental).

HOWEVER, every time I've seen this in a query, it's been the former, not the latter.

4) "My book will appeal to readers of Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight, and Jane Austen."

Sure it will, Sparky.

If you can't find comp titles that aren't mega-bestsellers, you (say it with me, I'm going to be saying it a lot) don't know your market well enough.

And you really have to love the authors who are just a little bit bolder and say things like "this book is the next Harry Potter, a guaranteed bestseller."

Listen, not even Harry Potter was the next Harry Potter when it was pitched. Nobody knows whether or not a book will take off like that. Keep your expectations reasonable.

5) "I've loved books since I was five years old when..."

This isn't a turn-off so much as it's ... boring. Loving books doesn't make you special in this industry, so saying this in a query is a waste of ink/electrons. If you don't have a lot to put in the "bio" section of the query, that really is totally fine! You can actually leave it out if you don't have anything beneficial to add there. The book is the most important thing.

6) Drop the cliches

As much as you can, eliminate cliches from your query letter. You have such a short space to show how your book is unique, why would you want to use phrases that we see all the time? Things like "so-and-so was just a normal girl until..." and "will never be the same" and "more than he bargained for" and "an incredible journey" and "falls into the wrong hands" and "to make matters worse" and "will change everything" will make experienced query readers roll their eyes.

7) Your age

It doesn't matter and all it can do is create subconscious bias.

8) That your friends/family love the book

Of course they do. My friends loved the first book I wrote. And it was absolute crap. (Not saying yours is, but I'm saying the opinions of your friends/family (or even your old English teacher) will not sway an agent/editor.)

9) Personal information about the agent

Knowing professional information (the agent's clients & the books they've sold) is great. But when you mention anything that doesn't have to do with the agent's professional career, you've crossed a line. Stalking is a real thing that many agents have to worry about, so there's no reason to raise a red flag like this.

10) "Dear Agent"

Write out their name. To the agent, lack of personalization in the greeting, means that you are mass emailing every agent for whom you could find an email address.

11) "Fictional novel"

All novels are, by definition, fictional.

12) "doesn't really fit in a genre"

If your book sells, it's going to have to go on a shelf somewhere. Pick the closest thing so I know roughly what to expect.

And tbh, most of the time this is said, the book fits perfectly into a genre, which tells me you know don't your market very well.

13) First person POV from your character.

It's often creepy, but sometimes it's just confusing and clunky. All book and character descriptions should be in 3rd person present tense, no matter what the book is in.

14) Rhetorical questions

You are not the exception to this rule. Don't do it. Just don't. Please, trust us on this. They don't work.

15) "trend" and "diversity" in the same sentence.

Diversity is not a trend.
Diversity is not a trend.
Diversity is not a trend.
Diversity is not a trend.
Diversity is not a trend.
Diversity is not a trend.
Diversity is not a trend.
Diversity is not a trend.
Diversity is not a trend.
Diversity is not a trend.

While we're at it, you didn't write "an LGBT novel" unless you have lesbians, gay people, bisexual people, AND trans people represented in the book. You probably wrote a f/f romance or a novel featuring a trans character, etc. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Comp Titles Are Helpful

The theme of this month’s blog post is pitching. But I’m writing about Twitter pitching for my post. Like with #pitmad, #sffpit, #dvpit. Twitter pitching can be intimidating. You’re only allowed 140 characters a tweet, and it can therefore be difficult to capture the uniqueness of a 200 to 300-page manuscript. Although writers shouldn’t let the challenges of pitching stop them from participating in Twitter pitching contests. It’s important for writers to get used to putting their work out there.

Comp titles are an easy way to convey a premise. Yes.  Comp titles can be difficult because of worrying about a comp title being an outlier. And I’ll be the first to admit how I don’t usually include comp titles in query letters. I struggle with coming up with good comps even though I read current MG and YA fiction. Yet comp titles cover a lot of ground in a short amount of space. It’s also okay to use a television show or movie if it fits. I’ll even give you an example of one of my pitches I’ve used for a YA Fantasy novel that has gotten a few likes in Twitter pitching contests.

This is one pitch using a comp title: “ABC's REVENGE + Contemporary Fantasy setting. 17 yo Darren falls for the enemy's son while avenging his parents' deaths. #YA #LBGTQ #DVpit.” Using ABC’s Revenge is a good example because the novel (CROSSING DESIRES) is revenge driven. Combining the revenge premise with setting also helps. Doing so lets me quickly convey the contemporary fantasy world of CROSSING DESIRES without me worrying about explaining the complicated worldbuilding in a short pitch. My pitch is only one example, but it’s simple, which conveys something a pitch needs. Conciseness and clarity is important (even in a 140-character pitch). Vagueness doesn’t help. There needs to be some hint of conflict. Anyway, no need to stress about pitching. “Good” pitching takes practice like writing, and gets easier.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Pitching your novel

So, it's just around the corner...Pitch Wars! Hurrah! This annual contest is great, so it means you have to get your pitch in order. However, Pitch Wars isn't the only contest that runs through the year. There are floods more, from Sun vs Snow, #PitMad, #KidPit, #DVPit, and so the list goes on. Because there are so many, this means that a writer needs to prepare a pitch. Actually, they'll need to do more than one, as there are various types of pitch:

1) A Twitter pitch - 140 characters or less, including the hashtags (usually including the contest hashtag, the age category, and sometimes the genre if it fits).

2) The elevator pitch - this gives a little more room to expand your pitch and add in some details.

3) Your query letter - this is where you can get into a little more meat - basically, it should read like the blurb of the back of a book.

Now, I'm not going to be greedy and talk about how to do all of these pitches myself, as I'm sure my fellow YATopia bloggers are going to have some super good advice to give you. But let's have a look at the Twitter pitch.

Lots of writers panic over a Twitter pitch. 140 characters, you shout? But hey, you took some of those away when you added the hashtags! I don't have 140 characters anymore. Good point. However, it is what it is, and we writers just have to get creative - because that's our job. When it comes to writing a Twitter pitch, most people have seen the general layout:



When CHARACTER learns/does/discovers CATALYST they must overcome OBSTACLE or STAKES.

There are plenty of other versions of these Twitter pitch formats. However, there are other ones that do well, too. For example, you can do the comp title pitch. Word of warning: Don't pitch two titles that are too similar (e.g. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS meets BEFORE I DIE). This doesn't show your market as the books are too similar. You need to show something fresh. For example: BONE GAP meets GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE (I'm not sure how that could be written, but if you have written that, it's going to catch someone's eye!). You also need to be careful of using comp titles that are too big (e.g. HARRY POTTER meets THE HUNGER GAMES). This is the equivalent of saying "my book is going to be a huge best seller and make lots of money" in a query letter. Your book may very well end up being that, but for now, keep it realistic. Otherwise, you'll make agents shy away.

The other thing to remember is to add a hint of what is unique about your book. What is the wow factor? What has your book got that everyone else's doesn't have? Now this is hard, I know that. But think of books like THE SCORPIO RACES for example - vicious sea horse races to the death? Wow. Or THE LUNAR CHRONICLES - science fiction fairytale retellings? Uh, double wow. This is super important, because you need to hook your agents trolling the contest feeds,

When it comes to pitching on Twitter, take time to think about your pitches. Don't just throw one together without much thought. Boil down your book to its essence. What is it your book is about? Not all the subplots. Not all the characters. Not all the generic "or the world will end", or "she will lose her true love". Give the agent something to catch their eye. "Children fight to the death" (we all know what that book is).

Sit down with your CPs and brainstorm. Root through your query letter for ideas. Re-read your book and pay attention to your core theme. Look through your synopsis. Do whatever it takes. Catch an agent's eye, and you're one step closer to becoming a published author!

Most importantly though...have fun!

Good luck Twitter pitch warriors!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Agentopia: Joanna MacKenzie

Welcome to the July edition of Agentopia! This month Joanna MacKenzie from Nelson Literary Agency is in the spotlight.

About Joanna:

As a Chicago-based agent, I am excited to join the Nelson Literary Agency team and to expand my list in both adult and YA. I’m looking for the epic read that, at its center, beats with a universal heart.  In particular, I’m drawn to smart and timely women’s fiction, as well as absorbing, character-driven mysteries and thrillers – both, ideally, with a little edge.  I have a weird obsession with, what I call, “child in jeopardy lit” and can’t get enough kick-ass mom heroines.  On the YA side, I’m interested in coming of age stories that possess a confident voice and characters I can’t stop thinking about.
Originally from Poland, and by way of Canada, I’m all about narratives that deal with the themes of identity and the immigrant experience as well as those that delve into all aspects of the relationships that make us who we are – parents, siblings, best friends, and first love.

What is on your wishlist?

Oh, man, I’m going to try and keep this answer short and succinct.  I’ve always been drawn to stories about the relationships that make us who we are - they don’t have to be positive or long lasting, but rather transformative.  I’m thinking about stories like I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson or Looking for Alaska by John Green.  I’d love to find a “stay up all night reading” sister story.  As someone who was born in one country, moved to another, and now makes her home in the US I’m into anything that deals with the immigrant experience and to that end I’d love to find the YA version of The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.  I’m also a huge Veronica Mars fan, so anything with a gritty sleuth is a must for me.  Also on my #mswl is the YA version of Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.


What is a personal turn-off in a query which is guaranteed to get the author rejected?

It’s always hard for me to read that the author believes their work is 100% unique - so much so that they can’t come up for a comp title.   

Do you google authors and if so, what are you looking for?

I do google authors!  I’m looking for someone who is engaged and professional.  I realize that sounds broad, but I like going to someone’s feed and seeing that they’re talking about what they’re reading, for example, as opposed to criticizing other authors.  I’m a firm believer in the importance of building a community online - one that is positive and constructive and helps to build readers.  I’m always looking to work with authors who want to be partners in their success and who are aware that how they present themselves online is part of that. 

For more info on how to query Joanna, check out her submission guidelines.
Follow Joanna @joannamackenzie 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

GUESTOPIA: Bestselling YA Author Eliza Nolan

Eliza Nolan

It is with great pleasure that YATOPIA welcomes Amazon bestselling author Eliza Nolan to the GUESTOPIA slot today to help celebrate the release of her latest book!

Eliza Nolan was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She lived in Charleston, South Carolina, for a few years, after which she returned to icy Minnesota, where she now lives with her two unruly cats in a house smaller than your closet.

She is an avid reader and writer of YA. She has ghostwritten a novel or two, but also writes her own stuff, and is finally publishing her debut young adult urban fantasy novel, Phoenix Awakens.

Is this your first published book?

This is my fourth published book. The first two were ghost-written. This is the second one I’ve written for myself and that I can claim as my own work. It is the second in the Phoenix series.

What’s it called?

From The Ashes (The Phoenix II)

Which genre?

YA paranormal/urban fantasy

Which age group?

It’s great for tweens, teens, and adults who read YA. 12+

Is it a series or standalone?

It’s book 2 in what will be a three book series.

Are you an agented author?


Which publisher snapped up your book?

J I did!

How involved have you been in the whole publishing process of your book?

Every single step. Which is both wonderful and overwhelming. Self publishing, when done well, is a very time consuming process. Hiring designers and editors, learning how to grow mailing lists, and setup advertising is a full-time job.

Do you have another job?

LOL, yes. I work at a university in administration 9-5. J

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?

I had a few requests which all resulted in rejections. I didn’t query long, because I understood that agents weren’t looking for YA Paranormal. I saw my other writing friends doing well self publishing, so I decided to take the plunge.

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on

The idea for the series came ten years ago, after I finished the Twilight series. I enjoyed Meyer’s story, however I was saddened by the trend of YA paranormal (at the time) to give the boy’s all the power and strength. So I decided to write my own story.

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?

Phoenix Awakens (Phoenix I) was written without a plan. I pantsed the whole thing. From the Ashes had a loose outline. Every book is different for me.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?


How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone? I revised From the Ashes twice before letting Alisha Bade—my friend and the voice on the
Phoenix Awakens audiobook—take a look. It just made sense to share it with her since she’s also invested a lot in this story. J

Did you employ an editor/proofreader or did you have a critique partner/beta readers before you started querying?

I didn’t query this one, however, I have many critique partners and beta readers. I also have it professionally edited before I publish.

Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?

From the Ashes went through about seven drafts before I published it. My first book went through WAY more.

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?

Not too much. There were some setting changes and a character or two who didn’t make the cut. J

Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?

Oh yes. But the things I’d change are small, and the readers want that second book. At some point, you just have to call it.

What part of writing do you find the easiest?

Plotting. I love throwing obstacles in front of my characters to see what they’ll do.

What part do you find hardest?

I struggle sometimes with character portrayal. I know exactly who they are in my head, but my editor and critique partners are the ones who always remind me to share their nuances with readers.  

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?

I’m very deadline reliant. If I have a deadline I’ll push through.

How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?

I currently have three projects going. All in different stages.  

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?

I think you can be born a great storyteller, but the art of writing does have to be learned. We aren’t born with language, but some of us learn to use it more quickly. More gracefully.

How many future novels do you have planned?

I have the three I’m working on, plus a fourth idea I can’t wait to get started on.

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?

I currently only write novels, however, I’m thinking about writing a serial.

What’s the highlight of being published so far?

Being able to share my stories with everyone is the best part.  

Give me one writing tip that work for you.

Join a critique group. I love learning from my writing friends.

And one that doesn't.

I can work with an outline, but it can’t be too detailed. I need the story to be able to go off course when it wants to.  

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?

It takes place in Charleston, SC, where we’ll see some of the characters from book one again and maybe a few from book two.

Awesome! Huge congratulations to you, Eliza, on the release of FROM THE ASHES. For anyone who would like to find out more about Eliza and to follow her journey—and read her fantastic series (book # 1 is just 99c now!)—these links will help!

Phoenix Awakens ($0.99 through July 3): https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B013C6AGSE
From the Ashes: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06XYZLXH8