Is Writing a Series Before You’re Published Worth It?

Photo credit: [phil h] on Flickr
So two years ago I wrote this post about why I’ve yet to write a sequel. And, well, I still haven’t written a sequel (but it’s more likely now than it was two years ago, so yay!), but one of you fabulous people sent me a question about the value of writing series vs. standalone and. Well. Here I am again. 

Before I go on, please do note that just about everything I’m going to say here applies to those who want to get traditionally published. For those who plan to self-publish, it’s a whole different ball game. 

Okay. So. 

It’s no secret that for many many years, series books, particularly trilogies, have been massively popular, especially with children’s books. Over the years, however, with the recession and people just in general getting tired of the same series format over and over, series books have started to fall a little out of style. Not entirely, of course—there are loads of totally successful series still being released—but there’s definitely been a push toward companion novels (rather than strict linear series books), dialogues (instead of trilogies), and standalones. 

It’s not impossible to sell a series. But there’s also no guarantee that if you sell your novel, you’ll end up with a multi-book deal, even if your book does have series potential. 

So what does this mean for unpublished and/or unrepresented writers? 

Basically, writing a full series before you sell the first novel (and yes, I mean sell, not find representation for) is really really risky. In the sense that you could potentially lose a lot of time and effort if your book doesn’t sell (or if your book does sell, but it when it hits the shelves it doesn’t do as well as everyone hoped and you don’t get the chance to publish the sequel). 

Something that’s equally risky? Writing a book with a cliffhanger-type ending that can’t stand on it’s own. Hell, I’d say this is even riskier, because in most cases, books need to stand on their own to sell at all (though, of course, there are always exceptions). Still, it’s probably best you just don’t do this. 

Here’s the thing: sequels are fun—or at least, I think they are—but when you’re a writer, there’s absolutely no guarantee that you’re going to get that multi-book deal. Or that after you sell your debut, you’ll also sell the sequel. I mean, yes, they both happen, but they don’t happen always

I’m absolutely not saying that you should give up all your hopes and dreams of writing and publishing a successful series. I’m not saying that you should never write a book with series potential again. What I am saying, is when (or if) you do, you need to be a professional and be realistic about it. 

Sequels can be good news for everyone—writers, agents and editors alike—but they’re only good news when they sell well. And sometimes you need to prove yourself as a writer before you can get that multi-book deal everyone dreams about. And you know? That’s okay. 

In the end, I think the thing to remember is publishing is a business. And if you act like a professional, and listen to your agent and your editor and your book sells well, then you know what? You may very well see a multi-book deal in your future. 

But until you’ve reached that point, it’s important to keep yourself grounded and focus on what’s important—writing your books, one at a time.

So those are my thoughts, but I want to hear from you—what do you think? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
When writing a novel, @Ava_Jae says every book needs to stand on its own. What do you think? (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae says writing a series before you sell the first novel is risky. What do you think? (Click to tweet

Book Review: THE LIVING by Matt de la Peña

Photo credit: Goodreads
So this was a really fun read. 

I do happen to love my YA full of action and intensity and The Living definitely met those expectations. But before I go on, here’s the Goodreads summary:
“Shy took the summer job to make some money. In a few months on a luxury cruise liner, he'll rake in the tips and be able to help his mom and sister out with the bills. And how bad can it be? Bikinis, free food, maybe even a girl or two—every cruise has different passengers, after all. 
But everything changes when the Big One hits. Shy's only weeks out at sea when an earthquake more massive than ever before recorded hits California, and his life is forever changed. 
The earthquake is only the first disaster. Suddenly it's a fight to survive for those left living.” 
So, yeah, this was pretty much as intense as it sounds. I’ve heard people say this is like a YA Lost without the smoke monster weirdness, and it definitely has that vibe, though I think it reminded me more of I Shouldn’t Be Alive for YA. Either way, The Living is a super interesting read.

Something I appreciated was the incidental diversity. Shy is (half?) Mexican American and many of the important side characters have diverse racial backgrounds, which was really nice to see. And while there are absolutely some themes of race and class coming into play, The Living doesn’t read as an issue book (and it’s not supposed to), and overall, I think it was very nicely handled.

I will say that the ending was kind of predictable and the confrontation between Shy and a particular baddie was, shall we say, a teensie bit evil bad guy Hollywood cliché? Also, there was a thing with super aggressive sharks that I wasn’t totally buying, but the issues were minor and I still definitely enjoyed reading. Now The Hunted just has to come out so I can find out what happens. *frets*

I’m giving The Living 4/5 stars and I recommend it to those who enjoy fast-paced, Adventure/Disaster-type books.

Have you read anything good lately? I’m always open to recommendations (especially YA & NA)! 

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae gives 4/5 stars to THE LIVING by Matt de la Peña. Have you read this intense YA Adventure? (Click to tweet)   
Looking for a fast-paced, intense YA read with high stakes and a diverse cast? Try THE LIVING by @mattdelapena. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Top 5 NaNoWriMo Tips

NaNoWriMo starts THIS WEEKEND. And so in today's vlog I'm sharing my top five NaNoing (or general fast-drafting) tips.

Twitter-sized bite: 
Getting ready for #NaNoWriMo? @Ava_Jae shares 5 tips to help you reach your NaNo goal. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #5

Photo credit: zappowbang on Flickr
So as these things go, I’m going to start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I’ll share some overall thoughts, then my redline critique. As I’ve said before, I super encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (after all, I’m only one person with one opinion!), as long as it’s polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be removed.

Okay! Let’s do this thing.


Category/Genre: YA Steampunk


“The envelope in my hand has corners sharp enough to cut me, and for a long moment, I trick myself into thinking it will if I hold it for too long. The clock on our wall ticks one, two, twenty-two times, calmly enough that I can let it time my inhales. My eyes wouldn’t deceive me - the messenger who passed it to me through a chink in our doorframe was dressed in livery finer than anyone in these parts has seen in decades. But stranger still was his expression, so guardedly incredulous that the memory of it makes me afraid of the letter he’s brought me. 
Strained light coming through the boardinghouse window just barely lets me notice the creamy sheen of the parchment and Mother’s name, printed primly on one side in a hand I don’t recognize. That is what catches me, the unfamiliarity of the writing. For years I’ve been taking Mother’s post in the mornings, but never this early, and never from anyone I haven’t known all my life. My heart shrinks as I stare at the address, undeniably ours, right down to the boardinghouse room. Bone-deep foreboding turns my fingers to stone. 
It’s a letter, Chantilly. The worst it can do is nick your fingers. 
It’s far too smooth to be anything less than Upper City material, so thick that it sets me on edge. I turn it over to break the seal when I see it: the emblem of the king and crown, Clarabel’s dagger overrun by thistles.”

Interesting start! I’m really liking some of the details here, like the thick paper and the clock, which starts us off with some nice imagery. The main thing I’m noticing writing-wise is there’s some wordiness, which I’ll address in the in-line notes below. As for the pacing and plot thus far, I’m wondering if maybe we’ve got a little too much focus on the circumstances of the letter on the first page. This is a bit hard for me to judge without seeing more, but I’m thinking I would’ve liked to see Chantily start reading the letter on the first page rather than staring at it the whole time.

That being said, I often see openings that start too early in the story, but I wonder if this starts a little too late? You mention a stranger delivering the letter, and as you’ll see below, I think if you maybe start there and show us that interaction, it could be a really interesting opening immediately full of tension and foreboding. Overall, though, I think this is well done.

Now the in-line notes:

“The envelope in my hand has corners sharp enough to cut me, and for a long moment, I trick myself into thinking it will if I hold it for too long. You say “long” twice in this sentence, so it’s an easy cut, here. The clock on our wall ticks one, two, twenty-two times, calmly enough that I can let it times my inhales. My eyes wouldn’t deceive me – (This phrase here seems unnecessary to me) the messenger who passed it to me through a chink in our doorframe was dressed in livery finer than anyone in these parts has seen in decades. Where is “these parts”? This is a super easy fix—just give us the name of the place and that one little detail will add to the worldbuilding. But stranger still was his expression, so guardedly incredulous that the memory of remembering it makes me afraid of the letter he’s brought me. I wonder…could you show us this scene? I feel like this would be a really interesting, tension-filled moment and could make a really great opening. Just a thought. Also, rather than telling us about her fear (“it makes me afraid”), show us how that fear is affecting her. It’s much more effective. 
Strained light coming through the boardinghouse window just barely lets me notice the creamy sheen of the parchment and Mother’s name, printed primly on one side in a hand I don’t recognize. What is the light strained through? Slatted boards? Paint? Grime on the window? This would be a nice detail to have. That is what catches me, the unfamiliarity of the writing catches me. For years I’ve been taking Mother’s post in the mornings, but never this early, and never from anyone I haven’t known all my life. My heart shrinks as I stare at the address, undeniably ours, right down to the boardinghouse room. Bone-deep foreboding turns my fingers to stone. 
It’s a letter, Chantilly. The worst it can do is nick your fingers. I really like this line. It shows us Chantily’s nervousness and starts to characterize her. Very nice. 
It’s far too smooth to be anything less than Upper City material, so thick that it sets me on edge. We already know she’s on edge. Can you replace this with something else? Also, the first part of this sentence has some really nice details. I turn it over to break the seal when I see it: the emblem of the king and crown,: Clarabel’s dagger overrun by thistles.”

As I’ve said before, I think this is a great start, and with a little adjusting it could be even more powerful. If I saw this in the slush, I’d probably continue reading, and I’d be cautiously optimistic.

In the end, remember it’s totally up to you what changes you do or don’t want to make (after all, it’s your story!). But these are my recommendations and I hope they help.

Thanks for sharing your first 250, Christine!

Would you like to be featured in a Fixing the First Page Feature? Keep an eye out for the next giveaway!

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks about wordiness and deciding what's in-scene in the 5th Fixing the First Page crit. (Click to tweet)

Some Thoughts on #AuthorYes

Photo credit: torbakhopper he dead on Flickr
So, as I’m sure most of you are well aware, the publishing industry had a bit of a social media blow up this past weekend and earlier this week.

I will openly admit that I haven’t read the full article that started it all, mostly because as I skimmed through it, I started getting a little nervous that reading a post about how an author stalked a reviewer to the point of confrontation might trigger some anxiety issues. So I skimmed the article and watched people’s reactions online.

A few days passed and the conversation continued. The hashtag #HaleNo cropped up and one of my lovely Twitter friends said this:

That tweet kind of stayed with me throughout the day as the hashtag began to pick up steam. And I thought about what I wanted to say, because I felt like I should say something about the whole situation, seeing how I’m someone very much involved in the publishing industry and the whole stalking thing really bothered me, but I wasn’t really sure where to start or if I should even say anything at all.

Then I remembered how during the whole you should be ashamed to read YA explosion, the YA community really came together and started their own positive hashtags supporting YA, and saying why they were proud to read YA, and turning a nasty, negative situation into a really positive and wonderful one.

And I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if someone did that with this situation?

And I realized that’s what I wanted to say. I wanted to change the conversation to something positive, even if it was just within my feed.

So I tweeted this:

And I started nominating writers I really admire, like Beth Revis, and Tahereh Mafi, and Leigh Bardugo, and Corinne Duyvis. And I asked other people to join along.

I thought it’d be pretty cool if a few people jumped in and it’d be really nice if for just a little while, we supported each other and highlighted the really wonderful community we have. I thought it’d be great to bring attention to some authors who deserve it rather than focusing on negativity.

And you know? It happened. Except basically 2,000 times bigger than I expected.

The hashtag exploded, and I know I’m biased and all, having started it, but it has to be one of my favorite Twitter trends ever because the people there? SO OVERWHELMINGLY WONDERFUL. Seeing so many people speak out to bring attention to authors who have helped them, who they admire, who they see as positive influences or just write plain awesome books has been incredible. The whole thing makes me so happy and I might be a little addicted to the positivity in there because it really really is so genuinely amazing.

So I just want to thank everyone. Because the whole thing has been an incredible reminder of how wonderful the writing community is, and it absolutely would not have been the same without your participation.

So thank you. You’re awesome. Virtual hugs for you all.

Fixing the First Page Feature #5 Giveaway Winner!

Photo credit: jessica.diamond on Flickr
Quick off-schedule Thursday post to announce the winner of the fourth fixing the first page feature giveaway! Are you ready?

The winner is…


Woohoo! Congratulations, Christina! Expect to see an e-mail from me very shortly. 

Thanks to all who entered! I'll have more of these (and possibly something super special next month? hmmm), so keep an eye out! :)

Writing Excellent Villains Round-Up

Photo credit: Annoying Noises on Flickr
So Halloween is next week, and so is NaNoWriMo, which means now is the perfect time to talk about villains. Right? Right. 

But first, story time. 

Once upon a time, baby writer Ava thought that in order for villains to be truly villainous, they had to be super 666% evil with metaphorical twirling mustaches and maniacal laughing fits that they practiced in their (evil) mirrors. She was convinced that the best bad guys were just that—super dripping-with-evil bad. 

She was wrong. By a lot, really. 

As it turns out, I’ve found that some of the most interesting characters, whether antagonist or protagonists, aren’t completely good or completely evil—they’re gray characters. And so I wrote a post on writing gray characters

It’s also important, when developing and writing your characters, especially if you want them to feel “real,” is to figure out what they want and what their motivation is—something, I think, that’s especially important for protagonists and antagonists. It also helps to know what your characters are afraid of, because yes, even your villain has fears, too. (Or at least they should). 

Finally, I’ve learned along the way that if you don’t love your villain, chances are your readers won’t love him (or even remotely like him), either. 

Also, for fun, here are my top five favorite villains.

Now go forth and write excellent villains! 

What tips do you have for writing great villains? 

Twitter-sized bites:
In preparation for #NaNoWriMo & Halloween, @Ava_Jae shares helpful links for getting your villains right. (Click to tweet)  
Brainstorming your antagonist for an upcoming WIP? Writer @Ava_Jae shares helpful links on writing villains. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: From Contest to Book Deal

It's Tuesday vlog time! And today I'm sharing the quick version of my journey from being a runner up in a blog contest to getting a book deal. Woot! :D

Twitter-sized bite: 
Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about her journey from blog contest to YA book deal! (Click to tweet)

Discussion: Do (Scary) Books Scare You?

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So it’s nearly Halloween! And as is tradition, I’ve barely touched on Halloween-y posts at all, so I’m remedying that right now. With scary things. Sort of.

When it comes to all things horror, I’m a massive chicken. I refuse to watch horror movies of any kind and to this day often look at the floor during particularly spooky trailers in the movie theater. Probably the scariest thing I’ve watched is Supernatural (because hellooo Jensen Ackles) and I haven’t even finished the first season yet. So.

My point in mentioning all this is I have a very low tolerance for scary things. And yet I’ve yet to be scared by a book.

To be fair, I haven’t read all that much horror (with exception to Ten by Gretchen McNeil and House by Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti which were fun). I have, however, read many adult Thrillers by Ted Dekker, which remain my favorite of his works and were indeed rather eerie. (I mean, creepy serial killers and corpses galore? Yeah).

And yet...I can’t say that I’ve really had a situation where I was reading a book and I felt terrified. Creeped out? Sure. But most of the time when I’ve read something that was supposed to be scary, my brain interpreted it more as exciting and intense than anything else. And well, I like exciting and intense, so I’m not complaining. But maybe I'm reading the wrong books? Hmm.

But now I’m curious. Am I the only easily scared person who hasn’t been scared by a book? Have you had any books scare you? (If so, which?)

Twitter-sized bite: 
Have you ever been scared by a book? Join the discussion & share your spooky reads on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet

Fixing the First Page Giveaway 5

Photo credit: koalazymonkey on Flickr
It’s time again! For another first page giveaway! Yay!

The first page critiques have been fairly popular, so I’ll keep doing them as long as people keep entering. :)

For those who missed it the first time and second and third and fourth time, the Fixing the First Page features is a public first 250 word critique. Using the lovely rafflecopter widget, anyone interested in winning a PUBLIC (as in, featured in a post on this blog) first page critique can enter.

For an example of what this critique will look like, here's the last Fixing the First Page post (and the one before that and the one before that and the one before that).


  • ONLY the first 250 words will be critiqued (up to finishing the sentence). If you win and send me more, I will crop it myself. No exceptions.

  • ONLY the first page. I don’t want 250 random words from your manuscript, or from chapter 3. If you win the critique and send me anything other than the first 250 words of your manuscript, I will choose someone else.

  • I will actually critique it. Here. On the blog. I will say things as nicely as I can, but I do tend to be a little blunt. If you’re not sure you can handle a public critique, then you may want to take some time to think about it before you enter.

  • Genre restrictions. I am most experienced with YA & NA, but I will still accept MG and Adult. HOWEVER. If your first page has any erotic content on it, I ask that you don’t enter. I want to be able to post the critique and the first 250 in its entirety without making anyone uncomfortable, and if you win and you enter a page with erotic content, I will choose someone else.

  • You must have your first page ready. Should you win, you need to be able to submit your first page within 48 hours of my contacting you to let you know you won. If 48 hours pass and I haven’t heard from you, again, I will choose someone else.

  • You’ll get the most out of this if it isn’t a first draft. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if you’re handing me a first draft (though I will probably suspect because it’s usually not that difficult to tell). I won’t refuse your page if it’s a first draft, but you should know that this critique will likely be of more use if you’ve already had your betas/CPs look over it. Why? Because if you don’t, the critique I give you will probably contain a lot of notes that your betas & CPs could have/would have told you

  • There will not be a round 2 (unless you win again in a future contest). I hate to have to say this, but if you win a critique, it’s NOT an invitation to send me a bunch of your revisions. I wish I had the time available to be able to look at revisions, but sadly, I don’t. If you try to break this rule, I will nicely say no, and also remember to choose someone else should you win a second contest. Which would make me sad. :(

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the fifth public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Wednesday, October 22 at 11:59 EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Should You Query That New Agent?

Photo credit: Helga Weber on Flickr
So you're doing your agent research to find the perfect agent out there for you and you come across an agent who is new to the industry. Because you're a super savvy writer, you know the importance of research and finding agents with some experience and a good reputation, but how do you handle new agents?

Do not despair, my savvy writer friends! New agents can be totally fabulous as long as you know what to look out for.

Some questions to ask while researching (in addition to other research questions) include:

  • Where did this agent get his/her training? This is super important. Most agents intern at a literary agency (or two) before they become agent assistants, then finally begin taking on clients themselves, and quite frankly? If they don't go through that process, I would be wary. The lit agency internship/assistant position is where new agents learn tons about the business, about making connections, about everything involved in being an agent. Without this vital experience, they'll be left without connections and relationships with editors and other industry people (the importance of which really can't be overstated) as well as the training that goes into becoming an agent.

    Remember: anyone can call themselves an agent and accept queries. It's up to you to do your research and make sure they're legitimately qualified to do so. 

  • What is the reputation of his/her agency? New agents, understandably, aren't going to have many sales. This is to be expected—after all, they're new to the business and sales take time. That being said, the agency that they're working at should have a nice resume.

    The great thing about agencies is the agents can often work with each other/get tips from each other/build off of each other's expertise. This is especially helpful for new agents who could use the extra support.

    This is one of the many reasons why new agents who start their own agencies are an enormous red flag. So when you're looking at new agents, make sure you take a look at the reputation of the agency they're working at. 

Now you may be wondering why you should query new agents when there are so many excellent experienced agents out there. I've got some answers for you there, too.

Pros of new agents:

  • Actively seeking new clients. Here's the thing with experienced agents—many of them have a full client list, which is fabulous, but it also means they're going to be MUCH pickier when looking at queries (assuming they're open to queries at all, which isn't always the case). New agents, conversely, are still building up their client list and thus are often willing to look at more and consider manuscripts that might need a little more work (though this is not an excuse to not edit your manuscript. Don't do this. Ever). 

  • More time per client. This is related to the last point, but there's another plus side to having an agent with less clients, namely, that they have more time available to spend with each of their clients.

    Now that's not to say that agents with full client lists don't have time for their clients, but it DOES mean that you often have to be patient because, c'mon, you're one out of thirty-someodd people all vying for one person's attention. And each of them have books for polishing/submitting/contracting/selling/whathaveyou.

    New agents aren't initially juggling as many clients at once, so many of them have a little extra time to devote to each of their clients. And that's pretty sweet. 

Cons of new agents:

  • Less experience. I mean, obviously. But as I said above, they can make up for this by learning from their fellow agents in the agency, so as long as they're part of a reputable agency, this isn't too terrible, really. 

  • Other's all I can think of, really? 

Writer's Digest has really great New Agent Alerts that can be an excellent place to keep an eye out for new agents looking for clients. And also because I'm biased and I have a special love for one particular new agent, if you write Young Adult, New Adult (all genres, but mostly romance), Adult romance or picture books, you should check out Rachel Brooks' submission guidelines because she's really wonderful and actively building her client list right now. She also tweets a lot of helpful writerly tips.

Okay. I'll stop gushing now.

Go forth and query those new agents!

Have you/will you query any new agents? Why or why not? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Debating whether or not to query a new agent? @Ava_Jae shares some helpful agent researching tips. #pubtip (Click to tweet)  
Should you query that new agent? Writer @Ava_Jae shares her thoughts. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: 5 Ways to Become a Better Writer

It's Tuesday vlog time! Being a writer isn't easy, but here are five ways to help you improve your skills.

Related links: 

Awesome Industry Blogs: 

What tips do you have for improving your writing skills? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Are you a writer? @Ava_Jae vlogs about five ways to improve your writing skills. (Click to tweet)  
Trade critiques & edit your WIP = 2/5 ways writer @Ava_Jae suggests for improving your writing. What would you add? (Click to tweet

Book Review: WE WERE HERE by Matt de la Peña

Photo credit: Goodreads
Wow. So I’m not really sure where to start with this one, so I guess I’ll start where I always start, with the Goodreads summary: 
“The story of one boy and his journey to find himself. 
When it happened, Miguel was sent to Juvi. The judge gave him a year in a group home—said he had to write in a journal so some counselor could try to figure out how he thinks. The judge had no idea that he actually did Miguel a favor. Ever since it happened, his mom can’t even look at him in the face. Any home besides his would be a better place to live. 
But Miguel didn’t bet on meeting Rondell or Mong or on any of what happened after they broke out. He only thought about Mexico and getting to the border to where he could start over. Forget his mom. Forget his brother. Forget himself. 
Life usually doesn’t work out how you think it will, though. And most of the time, running away is the quickest path right back to what you’re running from.”
I have to say, We Were Here by Matt de la Peña has to be one of the rawest books I’ve read in a while—and I loved it. Miguel’s voice comes through so clear, and it’s so different from any other YA voice I’ve read, and it really fits the tone of the novel perfectly

I’m going to give an example because I love it that much: 
“You know how when you’re a kid and you get a new bad-ass rubber football for Christmas, and the morning it takes a few minutes to remember why you’re so excited? It’s like that for me, only the opposite. When I wake up, everything’s normal for a while. I’m just plain Miguel. And then suddenly it hits me what I did. It punches me right in the ribs. It screams in my ears how everything isn’t normal anymore, it’s fucked.” —pg. 125.
I mean, wow, right? 

We Were Here is written in a journal-like format, but Miguel makes a point of saying he’s not going to talk about feelings, he’s going to write exactly what happens to him. And so we learn about Mong and Rondell (who, I have to say, are extraordinarily memorable and interesting side characters), and how he ends up on the run, and the events that unfold as he and the guys are trying to get to Mexico, and the pacing is so on point—I was totally hooked from the beginning. Which is pretty great, because I don’t usually like diary/journal entry-type formats. 

I could ramble about the many things I enjoyed about this book, but instead I’m going to recommend you guys check out this fabulous YA read for an example of incredible, raw voice alone (though that’s not the only thing to praise). I really enjoyed it, and I’m rating it a five out of five. 

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae gives 5/5 stars to WE WERE HERE by @mattdelapena. Have you read this raw YA Contemporary? (Click to tweet)  
Looking for a gritty YA read w/ great pacing & memorable characters? Try WE WERE HERE by @mattdelapena. (Click to tweet)

On Representation and Research

Photo credit: Steve Goodyear on Flickr
So I’m taking this Creative Writing class focused on the short story. Which has been interesting, because, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t often write short stories. Anyway.

In this class, we critique each other’s work (I know, shocking, right?). And semi-recently, one of my classmates wrote a story focusing on a character with mental illness (OCD and possibly depression) and we had a class critique. 

And some of the suggestions for how the writer could make her mentally ill character more realistic? They made me cringe. Visibly. They were physically painful to my ears you guys, because they were so horrifically stereotypical. 

Not wanting to jump into full lecture mode in the middle of class, I nicely suggested the writer do research before adding anything in. A lot of research. 

I’m going to say here what I couldn’t really get into in class. 

I am of the firm belief that representation of all types of minorities in the media is incredibly important. And I totally 100% encourage writers to do their darndest to represent the world we live in, not the white-washed able-bodied neurotypical world so often portrayed in the media. 

But the thing is, there’s a right and wrong way to do representation, and trying to write a minority without doing tons of research is, quite frankly, disrespectful. And damaging. And painfully obvious.

Look, writing about any kind of minority group you’re not a part of (or hell, even one you are a part of) is scary. And it’s tough. And the thought that someone might read it and call you out on things you got wrong is terrifying. But you know what? People will call you out if it’s obvious you didn’t do your research, and they should. 

I don’t care what you’re writing about, but if you rely on stereotypes to inform your writing, not only are you doing it wrong, not only are you being lazy, but you’re damaging the community you’re attempting to represent. Perpetuating stereotypes is not something to take lightly. Ever. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying your representation has to be perfect in your first draft (I mean, is anything perfect in the first draft? Obviously not). I’m also not saying that you shouldn’t bother attempting to include diverse characters in your WIP, or that it’s impossible for writers to get it right. 

I’m not saying any of that. 

What I am saying is you need to do your research. And a hell of a lot of it. You need to do whatever you can to learn as much about that community as possible—learn about the pre-existing stereotypes, learn about the things the media often gets wrong, learn about the realities of whatever minority you’re writing about, and don’t stop. If possible, try to get feedback from the community—many writers do specific calls for certain types of beta readers to help with that exactly. 

Because the truth is whatever community you’re trying to represent wants you to get it right. We all do. But you need to put the work in, and you need to be respectful, and you need to understand that your perspective on that community may not be entirely accurate. You also need to understand that even after all that research and even with your best intentions, you might still get things wrong. 

But most of all, don’t for a second think you can accurately portray any sort of minority without doing a ton of research. It’s not a step you can skip. The stakes are just too high. 

Have you ever written diverse characters into your WIPs? What suggestions or tips do you have? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae says you can't "accurately portray any sort of minority without doing a ton of research." Thoughts?  (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae says there's a right and wrong way to represent minorities in your writing. What do you think? (Click to tweet)  
When diversifying your writing, "perpetuating stereotypes is not something to take lightly. Ever." (Click to tweet)


You guys.

You guys!



Okay, it's kind of cut off so in case you can't read it, it saysss...

"Ava Jae's debut BEYOND THE RED, in which a feud on a distant, crimson planet with established nanite technology creates a violent uprising that threatens the reign of a teenage queen and forces her to turn to her rebel half-blood bodyguard for help, before the planet's human population is destroyed at the hands of her power-hungry twin brother, to Nicole Frail at Sky Pony Press, in a nice deal, for publication in early 2016, by Louise Fury at The Bent Agency in association with Rachel Brooks of the L. Perkins Agency (World)." 


I don’t really even know what to say besides


and also a whole lotta

My book is going to be a thing! That you can all read! In early 2016! I’m going to be a published author! AHHHH!

It’s so crazy to me that in a little over a year, I’ll be able to hold my book. In my hand. And you guys can read it. AND IT'LL BE IN HARDCOVER. (*SQUEEE*)

You can also add it to your Goodreads shelf HERE. (I can't believe I can actually say that. WHAT IS THIS LIFE?).


I will probably at some point write a more coherent post about this, but in the meantime I want to thank my incredible agent Louise Fury, and Team Fury and Rachel Brooks who all put so much time and amazing hard work into making this book amazing and believing in it, and selling it and I just—GROUP HUG, OKAY GUYS?

Also my CPs.

Also you guys.

Also just the whole incredibly amazing writing community who are my favorite online community ever.


The Ups and Downs of Writing

Photo credit: NormLanier on Flickr
So I’m in the middle of revision mode right now, working on a MS that I was about 95% sure I’d trunk and never look at again after I finished the first draft.

And. Well. I was wrong. Clearly.

Writing is an emotional, internal, weird thing. It tricks our brains into thinking we’re literary geniuses one day (or at least plot geniuses, or character geniuses, or otherwise this manuscript is the best thing ever geniuses), then has us pounding our faces on the keyboard the next, ready to toss every word we’ve ever written ever in the trash. Sometimes that cycle happens several times in a week. Or day, really. It happens pretty darn often.

And you know? It’s hard. It’s really legitimately tough to have confidence in your work and yourself one minute, and deal with crushing, joy-sucking doubt the next. It’s hard to call yourself a writer when you look at your work and wonder what the hell you’re thinking writing this nonsense.

It’s also totally 150% normal.

There are so many ups and downs to the writing life even before you attempt to get published (and after? Ha. Don’t even get me started).

But here’s the thing: writers of all stages, from brand new to published several times over all go through this. I’m not entirely sure why (though I’m guessing there’s some psychological explanation for it), though my guess is it has something to do with the fact that we writers tend to be internal types, and writing sort of forces us to be super internally focused, and the whole writing thing is super subjective and to be honest, the thought of showing people your writing can be kind of terrifying sometimes. Especially because those nagging doubts like to start making themselves known right about the time you hit send.


But there is good news to all this, namely that it really truly is completely normal, and just about every writer will, at some point, experience it (probably many times over). Which is good because when you experience it, you can know you’re really truly and honestly not alone.

Know the feeling won’t last.

Know other writers understand.

Know that this writing thing is hard, but what you’re doing? It’s fantastic and amazing and so very awesome. So go you.

Have you experienced the emotional ups and downs of writing? What do you do to help overcome it? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae blogs about the emotional ups and downs of writing. What do you think? (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae says it's normal to doubt your writing ability one day and love your WIP the next. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Do You Like Book to Screen Adaptations?

People have mixed feelings about when books and movies collide. These are my thoughts—what are yours?

Do you like book to screen adaptations? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs her thoughts on book to screen adaptations. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

How to Write Effective Betrayal

Photo credit: kukkurovaca on Flickr
Betrayal has been a relatively common theme in writing basically from the very beginning. From the Trojan Horse in The Iliad, to Judas in The Bible, to Shakespeare’s et tu, Brute? and more, betrayal is no stranger to fiction.

Writing betrayal effectively, however, isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

I’ve found there are two major components to keep in mind when writing a betrayal:

  1. Set up. A key component to effective betrayal is a set up that makes sense without being obvious. This is a tricky balance to achieve—on one hand, you don’t want your readers to be able to guess that a character is going to turn out to be a traitor, but on the other hand, if it comes too out of the blue, your readers won’t believe it and will accuse you of cheating. And rightfully so.

    Sometimes this requires some reworking after the first draft has been written, which is totally okay. And many times it takes several rounds back and forth with CPs and betas to get the balance right, which is also okay. But do make sure you take the time to get this balance down. 

  2. Emotional involvement. If the traitor isn’t someone your protagonist cares about, then the betrayal isn’t really that powerful of a betrayal. The closer the traitor is to your protagonist, the more it hurts, which is something you definitely want to go for when writing betrayal. After all, if the betrayal doesn’t upset your protagonist, your readers aren’t really going to care, either. 

As I can’t really give examples of effective betrayals without totally spoiling major plot points, I won’t name any names, however a great way to learn about how to craft an effective betrayal (or, in some cases, how not to do it) is to read books with betrayals in them. So make sure you take some time to catch up on that TBR list.

So those are just a couple things to keep in mind when writing betrayals, but now I want to hear from you: what tips do you have for writing effective betrayals?

Twitter-sized bites:
Do you have a betrayal in your WIP? Writer @Ava_Jae shares some tips to help you get it right. (Click to tweet)  
Et tu, Brute? Writer @Ava_Jae shares two key components to writing an effective betrayal. (Click to tweet)

NaNoWriMo Round-Up

Photo credit: mpclemens on Flickr
It’s October! Which means it’s NaNoPrepMo! Which means it’s that time of year when I remind you guys about the wonders of NaNoWriMo and encourage you to participate in it’s awesomeness. 

The thing is, I’ve written about NaNoWriMo a lot and I don’t really want to rehash absolutely everything, so instead I’m doing a round-up post of all things NaNoWriMo. Ready? Okay.

For those who haven’t decided on whether or not they want to NaNo, I have a post for you. For those who don’t click, I will say that I participated the last two years and totally loved it. I’ve written three manuscripts (or a good chunk of it at least) in NaNo-like settings (two November NaNoWriMos and one Camp NaNo), and the community and excitement and pretty graphs all make me very sad that I probably won’t be participating this year because I’m in crazy revision mode and will be for probably the rest of the year. So.

(But if you are not in crazy revision mode, I super recommend you consider NaNoing! Because it’s fun. And you’ll have a shiny new WIP (or part of one) at the end of it.)

Because it’s October and NaNoPrepMo, you will very possibly find this post on Pre-NaNoWriMo Tips helpful! Because prepping for NaNo, I’ve found, makes the whole NaNoing experience much easier.

To contrast two very different NaNo experiences, the first time I NaNoed, I made NaNoWriMo super difficult for myself by abandoning my first NaNo project on day fourteen and scrapping 24,000 words to start something new. (Yep). Then last year I went a little type-crazy and finished in nine days. Still not totally sure how that happened. Ehem.

I’ve also shared ten foolproof secrets to winning NaNoWriMo (which are actually not foolproof and please don’t do those things mmkay?).

And finally a compilation of helpful NaNoWriMo links that I shared on the first day of NaNoWriMo last year but I’ll give to you early! Because I’m nice like that. And pretty links.

If you have any helpful links for future NaNo-ers, share them below! And also, will you be participating in NaNoWriMo this year? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Thinking about doing NaNoWriMo this year? Writer @Ava_Jae shares helpful links for all of your NaNoing needs. (Click to tweet
Participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Writer @Ava_Jae shares many NaNo-related links & tips for you. (Click to tweet)

Discussion: Are You a Book Collector?

Photo credit: lifeisfoo on Flickr
Bit of shocking news for all of you today: I love books. I know, unbelievable, right? I wouldn’t have guessed, either. 


I’ve sort of mentioned this before, but I’m a little weird about my book-buying habits. Why? Because about 97% of the time when I decide I want to read a book, it means I’ve also decided I want to buy it. This applies even to authors whose books I’ve never read before. 

The thing is, I don’t just love books, I love collecting books. My pretty bookshelves are basically my favorite thing and I never tire of adding a book to my shelf after I’ve read it (fun quirk: I won’t place a book in it’s alphabetical spot until after I’ve read it). 

I’m also kind of anal about the format, though. 

If I buy the first book in a series in hardcover, then I’ll buy the rest of the books in hardcover as well. Same goes for paperback. Or e-book. This sometimes means that I have to wait extra long to buy a book because the paperback doesn’t come out until well after the hardback (*cough* City of Heavenly Fire *cough), but even if it’s many many months away…I wait. Because there’s something about having all the books in a series in the same format that, I don’t know? It’s a quirk. It looks pretty. Sorry not sorry. 

Talking about book quirks is fun, so I want to hear from you guys: do you collect books? And/or do you have any book-related quirks? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Writer @Ava_Jae shares some of her book buying quirks. Do you have any book-related quirks? Join the discussion: (Click to tweet)
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