Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, January 29, 2010

Headed to Texas

Today I'm on my way to the land of Shiner Bock and Schlitterbahn for the Austin SCBWI conference. Looking forward to seeing some of you there!

But even though I'll be spending my time today making my way through security lines, I'll still happily give you the news of the week:

iPAD!!!!!!! OMG OMG OMG iPAD OMG iPAD OMG!!!!!!!

And there you have it.

(Actually I'll be back on Monday with Last Week in Publishing)

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

RIP J.D. Salinger

One of the true greats has passed.

Vacation Query Stats

While I was away on vacation last week I received 327 queries, all of which I have now answered. There are 165 more that arrived so far this week alone, which I haven't yet gotten to. The queries are massing at the gate! Man the ramparts!

I kept stats on those 327, and here they are in all their glory:

By Genre:

I lumped these into broad categories:

Young Adult (of all kinds): 73
Mystery/Suspense/Thriller: 53
Fantasy (includes paranormal and urban fantasy): 28
Historical Fiction: 26
Literary Fiction: 25
Science Fiction: 18
Memoir: 18
Spiritual Novels: 12
Women's Fiction: 12
Mangst: 11
Middle Grade: 8
How-to/Self-Help: 7
Misc. Nonfiction: 7
Short Story Collection: 6
Religious Manifestos: 5
Biography: 5
Romance: 3
No freaking clue: 6

Word Count:

Out of the 327 queries, 214 listed the word count of their work:

less than 25,000: 5
25,000-50,000: 16
50,000-75,000: 65
75,000-100,000: 72
100,000-125,000: 31
125,000-150,000: 7
150,000-175,000: 9
175,000-200,000: 7
200,000+: 2

Miscellaneous factoids:

Here are some more random counts. Please note that I don't automatically reject anything, even if it's addressed to the wrong agent, and especially if my name is misspelled. I know mistakes happen.

Queries beginning with a rhetorical question: 14
Queries that misspelled the word "query": 2
Sent query as just an attachment or link: 3
Addressed to another literary agent: 2
Addressed "Dear Literary Agent" or "Sir": 10
Queries that were personalized: 108 (33%, same as the last time I compiled stats)

And out of those 327 queries I requested 4 (a little over 1%)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How Did You Come Up With the Idea for Your Work-in-Progress?

Inspiration is something that really fascinates me. It's quite the magical and mysterious process, whereby either synapses and brain gunk align just so or the idea fairies flutter down from the magical idea kingdom and knock you over the head with idea wands. You know. Depending on your belief system.

What I find interesting about inspiration is that it's something that's mainly outside of our conscious control. It would be pretty nice if you could just make inspiration strike on cue, but then, that wouldn't be much fun, would it? Also it would be annoying to walk down the street shouting, "EUREKA!" every five seconds.

So where and how did you come up with the idea for your work in progress? How fully-formed did it emerge from the inspiration ether? What do you do when you need inspiration to strike?

JACOB WONDERBAR emerged very roughly formed: all of a sudden I decided I wanted to write a wacky middle grade science fiction novel and then simultaneously thought of one of the planets the kids visit, which I shant share because it's a spoiler alert. Everything after that emerged from staring at the screen and wringing out ideas.

What about you? How did you come up with your idea?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The iTablet Cometh

You've probably heard the news, unless you have been living under a rock that blocks all incoming internet signals as well as the Apple nerd at work and even then HEY YOU UNDER THE ROCK, tomorrow is the big day that Apple announces the worst best-kept secret in the multiverse: the mythic iTablet or iSlate or iSomething that promises to be a game changer or not or who the heck knows.

Already this is shaking up the publishing business. Publishers have been rumored to be in discussions with Apple, and Amazon recently announced a (caveat heavy) deal whereby people who publish with the Kindle will receive a 70% royalty provided they meet certain criteria, which some have viewed as a preemptive response to Apple's dealmaking (via reader Brandon).

With rumors rampant about what the tablet will look like, what it will cost, and whether it will be the most awesomest most awesome thing in the world or merely awesome (or even not awesome), I'll leave all that to the rumor sites.

But it seems clear to me that the days of grayscale e-books are likely coming to an end. While the iTablet will probably be too expensive to change things immediately, it's a harbinger of things to come: color and video and audio are coming to e-book readers near you.

And it's going to be interesting to see how it shakes out. Who will be the first author with an animated cover? Will people crave enhanced e-books or do people want their e-books to remain static and moving-part free? Will Apple come to dominate the e-book business the way they do e-music, or will other competitors like Amazon remain strong? Will dedicated devices still appeal to core audiences?

I personally think a big question is: will people still read books on a device so eminently capable of distracting you with movies, the Internet, games, and anything the geeks of tomorrow invent?

We'll see. But I suspect the future of publishing is about to take another lurch forward.

What about you, any predictions?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Think About What Everyone Else Would Do: Then Do Something Different

I am back! A round of digital applause for the intrepid guest bloggers last week for keeping us all entertained, informed, and uplifted. A fine job all around.

While I was away I was chatting with a friend who reads grants for a living, a job that bears some striking resemblance to query letter answering. And if you happen to be thinking about writing a grant at this very moment, I have a piece of advice for you: don't quote Gandhi.


Apparently everyone who applies for a grant quotes Gandhi! And while Gandhi is no doubt eminently quotable and no one will argue with his very uplifting and memorable sayings, reading Gandhi quote after Gandhi quote will steadily drive even the nicest grant reader insane.

Her experience struck a chord with me having judged two contests and having answered a deluge of queries, and it gets at something really basic. If you want to stand out, think for a second about what you think everyone would do: the joke everyone would make in a query, the approach everyone would take in a writing prompt, the pacifist leader that everyone might quote in a grant. Then do something different.

I know this isn't the most earth-shattering advice in the world (it may not even be porcelain shattering), but just stepping back and thinking about what you're about to write from a "what would everyone do" standpoint can save you from doing that very same thing. And trust me: when writing a query or entering a contest or writing a grant it pays to stand out from the crowd.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Guest Blog Week: You May Be a Bestseller on Tralfamadore

Anne R. Allen is a freelance journalist living on the Central Coast of California. She has published two novels in the UK with maverick indie publishers Babash-Ryan: Food of Love (2003) and The Best Revenge (2005.) Babash has, alas, shuffled off this mortal coil, so she is out of print and scrambling down in the slush pile with everybody else. She writes a blog that she hopes will help new writers benefit from from her prodigious collection of publishing mistakes at

A few months ago, Nathan posed a question on this blog: “How Do You Deal with the ‘Am-I-Crazies’?

Those are the blues that can overwhelm the unpublished/underpublished novelist as we slog away, year after year, with nothing to show for our life’s work but a mini-Kilimanjaro of rejection slips.

The truth is, most fiction writers spend our lives sitting alone in a room generating a product that has zero chance of ever making a penny—or even being seen by a person outside our immediate circle of friends, relations and/or personal stalkers.

So—not surprisingly—we occasionally ask ourselves that big, existential question: WHAT ARE WE—NUTS?

Trying to answer can plunge a writer into despair. So how do we cope?

Most of the over 250 respondents to Nathan’s post answered with variations on the following advice:

1) Embrace the crazy and accept that we are, most of us, deeply and certifiably Looneytunes.
2) Chocolate helps.
3) Ditto booze and caffeine.
4) Ditto sunrises, music, and long walks.
5) Ditto the company/blogs/tweets of other lunatic writers.
6) And reading good books.
7) Or crap books, because we know we can do better than THAT.
8) Funny, nobody mentioned sex,
9) But denial is good. Really good.
10) And keep writing, even if it’s just for ourselves, or the one person who reads our blog, or the dog, or whoever…because: WE CAN’T STOP OURSELVES.

And why is that?

Well, I have a theory: It’s the Tralfamadorians. If you’ve read your Vonnegut (and what business do you have calling yourself a writer if you haven’t read Vonnegut?) you know about Tralfamadore. It’s a planet where a super-race of toilet plungers exist in all times simultaneously. The name of their planet means both “all of us” and “the number 541,” and they control all aspects of human life including social affairs and politics.

Since these beings have infinite time on their hands, I figure they’ve got a lot of leisure to fill up with reading. And how do they get their books? Of course! They compel earthlings to write novels. Hundreds of thousands of them. Way more than earthbound publishers and readers can handle. But on Tralfamadore—hey, they’re consumed like Skittles.

In fact, the Tralfamadorians are so eager for new material, they’ve figured out how to transmit stories right from our brainwaves to their TralfamaKindles the minute you type “the end” on that final draft.

And it could be that right now, as we speak, your first novel—the one that has been sitting in the bottom of a drawer along with its 350 rejection letters and the restraining order from that editor at Tor—could be at the top of the New Tralfamadore Times bestseller list.

Think about it. You could be the Dan Brown of that whole part of the galaxy, where readers are desperate—pining, pleading and panting—for your next book.

And that voice in your head telling you to pound away, day after day, trying to finish that opus, even though everybody, even your girlfriend—and your MOM for god’s sake—says it sux? That’s a transmission from the Doubleday Company of Tralfamadore saying, “Hurry up, dude, we gotta have this for our Christmas list!”

Hey, just prove to me it’s not true.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Guest Blog Week: Is Your "But" Too Big?

A novel and short story writer, Jon Gibbs blogs at An Englishman in New Jersey. He's in the process of launching, a free to join/free to use 'database' for writers from all around the world who want to find or set up writing groups near where they live.

He can usually be found hunched over the laptop in his kitchen. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.

Never shy about giving people the benefit of her opinion (whether it was asked for or not) my old gran was always telling someone their ‘but’ was too big.

On the face of it, that seems a little rude, even for my old gran, but she wasn’t talking about pants’ sizes. She was referring to those built-in excuses we like to keep handy, in case our sub-conscious starts prompting us to chase our dreams.

“But I’m too young/too old.”

“But he/she’s out of my league.”

“But people might laugh at me.” [Not a problem if your dream is to do standup comedy]

Writers’ buts.
Writers too, have built-in ‘buts’ as it were:

“I’d love to write, but I just don’t have the time.”

“I’d love to write, but I don’t know anything about grammar.”

“I’d love to write, but there’s no writing group where I live.”

If you ask me, none of those ‘buts’ matter. They’re all just a way of avoiding the real problem, the biggest ‘but’ of them all:

“But I might fail.”

The fear of failure can stop a person from even trying. Have you ever almost pitched a story to a high-paying magazine, almost sat down to write a novel, or almost entered a writing contest? If so, then join the club. I imagine just about every writer has had that experience at some point or other.

I’ll bet there are thousands of great (or potentially great) storytellers out there who’ll never get published. I suspect for most, it’s because they let their ‘but’ get between themselves and the chance of success. You’ve probably met some of them.

Be wary of such people. Many of them carry a virus, Excusitis, a mental affliction which can kill writing dreams by causing the person suffering from it to doubt themselves and their ability. Symptoms include excessive use of the phrases like ‘I wanted to be a writer, but…’, ‘I’ve always thought I had a book in me, but…’, ‘I love writing, but…’

While not always contagious, many sufferers become bitter, unable to wish other folks success in endeavors which they themselves once dreamed of pursuing. Instead of support they offer mockery, instead of encouragement they try to plant seeds of doubt in your head.

Avoid these people at all costs or risk becoming infected yourself.

So what’s the difference between writers who go on to achieve their writing dream and those who don’t?
I don’t believe it’s talent – though it would be naïve to think that talent isn’t a vital part of the equation.

It certainly isn’t luck – that’s just a silly excuse used by folks who think there’s an easy path to success.

I believe the difference is simple.

Successful writers refuse to allow their ‘buts’ to get in the way.
They see a ‘but’ as an obstacle which must be overcome rather than an excuse to quit... at least that’s what I’m hoping.

Me, I’m nearer fifty than forty; between leaving school at sixteen (with a poor academic record) and my 42nd birthday, I’d never written a word of fiction. Believe me, I could come up with a dozen more great excuses. The point is who cares? I figure all those things will just make my 'How I done it' story a little more interesting if and when I become successful as a writer.

How about you?

What ‘buts’ have you put behind you as you chase your writing dream?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Guest Blog Week: Are You a Word Nerd or a Grammar Rebel?

Suzannah Windsor Freeman is a writer and blogger at her site, Write It Sideways.

I recently came across this amusing post on Humorous Reminders of Common Writing Mistakes, which made me ask myself this very question.

Reading through the list of writing faux pas, I kept vacillating between, “Oh, I would never do that!” and, “Uh oh, I do that all the time.” Once, I would have referred to myself as a definite Word Nerd (because I must admit to the guilty pleasure of reading the dictionary).

Today, I’m not so sure.

So I stopped to consider what separates Word Nerds from Grammar Rebels, and what unites them in their love of language. This is what I came up with:

Word Nerds are well-educated in the technical aspects of language and believe we should obey its rules.

Grammar Rebels are also well-educated in the technical aspects of language, but they believe it’s okay (and sometimes necessary) to break certain rules.

So, what’s the one thing Nerds and Rebels can still agree on?

There are certain language rules that must never be broken. Ever. (Well, except if you’re writing dialogue and your characters can’t speak English properly.)

Here’s a list of rules that both groups of writers agree shouldn’t be broken:

* Spelling: Unless you’re talking about the difference between American and British English, spelling is not a matter of preference.
* Double Negatives: Say, “I don’t have any cash,” not “I don’t have no cash.” If you ‘don’t have no cash,’ you actually do have cash.
* Semicolons: Semicolons separate two clauses that are related to one another, but which could be used on their own. Alternatively, they can separate items in a list. Don’t use them for any other reason.
* Apostrophes: There’s no juggling these little guys. Use them only to show possession or in a contraction.
* Commas: Commas should only be used when necessary and they must be put in the right spot.
* Redundancy: Snow can just be snow–-not ‘cold snow’ or ‘white snow.’ All snow is cold and white.
* Quotation marks: There are hard and fast rules about how to use quotation marks. Learn them and use them correctly.
* Punctuation: Periods, question marks and exclamations should only be used where they’re meant to be used. No swapping allowed.
* Formal writing: If you’re writing a business letter, an formal essay or a work document, adhere to the commonly accepted rules of grammar.

Can you think of any others?

Now, for the rules Grammar Rebels routinely break:

* Split infinitives: It’s okay to say, “I’m going to pick Johnny up from school,” instead of the proper “I’m going to pick up Johnny from school.”
* Run-on sentences: I’ve seen this done in fiction to produce a stream-of-consciousness type feel.
* Sentence fragments: Your sentences don’t always have to be complete with subject and predicate. Like this.
* Beginning sentences with conjunctions: You can start sentences with and, but and or for emphasis. But don’t do it all the time or it gets annoying.
* Contractions: You can freely use contractions in any kind of informal writing. We use them everyday in speech, so they’re somewhat necessary.
* Ending sentences with prepositions: Usually you can end with a preposition and it sounds fine. In cases where it sounds better to use the more formal structure, use that instead.
* Paragraphs: Paragraphs length is up for experimentation, but variety is the key.
* “They” as a singular pronoun: You can use they or them to mean one person, informally. In fact, you probably do it all the time when you’re talking. “What did the person on the phone say?” “They said to call back in an hour.”

Which camp do you fall into? (Or should I say, “Into which camp do you fall?”)

I highly suspect there’s a little Rebel in all of us. In fact, I’m almost willing to guarantee you’re less of a Word Nerd than you might think.

When is it okay to break the rules? When is it not?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Guest Blog Week: One, Two, Three, Five, Four

Bryan Russell (aka Ink) blogs at Alchemy of Writing. He is moderator/sheriff in the Forums and has my vote for Prime Minister of Canada

I had a very clear image, when I was young, of the path I was going to take. The Writer’s Journey. More specifically, the writer’s journey I would take, carefully laid out, 1, 2, 3, 4. It was a neat little trip. Very orderly. Very tidy. In high school, once I knew that yes telling stories is what I wanted to do, I decided to major in Creative Writing at University. Thus, The Plan: 1) Study Creative Writing. 2) Write A Book. 3) Get An Agent. 4) Get Book Published. (Yes, everything on the list was capitalized. This is Important Stuff)

And note the neatness! The tidiness! Note the lack of anything implanting itself between the end of University and the Glories of Publication!

I had a plan. It was very comforting, that plan. So I went to school, got good grades, wrote a few short stories, won some academic awards. 1… check. In fact, number 1 was so fun that I added 1b: Grad School. A Masters Degree and a chance to write a novel! I could squoosh 2 into 1b! Bonus marks for me. So Grad school and a novel.

Yet, somewhere along this path, I learned that writing was hard, getting an agent harder, and getting published even more so. But this was an abstract knowledge. Getting published was very hard, yes. You know, for other people. I had a plan, you see. It was right there on the list, number 4: Get Book Published. See? No problem. Obviously the whole idea of difficulty did not apply to me.

But, just to be safe, just to uphold the proper hardworking image, I got a degree in Education. A job! A career! But it was okay because I had my book. In fact, I had a few books. Peachy! Ahead of schedule. Here I was, just out of school, and I had books!

So I sent one of these books off to an agent and they said yes. This was good, and all according to The Plan. See? Right there, number 3) Get An Agent.

1, 2, 3. Neat and tidy. And then something funny happened, something… messy. We’ll call it 5) Life. And 5, let me tell you, was pushy. It would not stay in line. It had to jump in there ahead of 4.

There were lots of parts to number 5) Life, lots of addendums, provisos and postscripts.

I developed a disease, Colitis. And then my father died suddenly and everything went a little dark. There were shadows I had never noticed before, the weight of light shrugged off and forgotten. In these shadows it seemed hard to find words, to gather them in and set them down in neat little rows, the tidy rows I had always loved so much. And then my agent died, cancer stealing her away just when she was about to start submitting my novel.

5) Life.

Yet I had just gotten married. I bought a house, started a family, left one career and started another, having decided to open a little bookshop. There were lights in the darkness. And I remembered, always, a winter day just after my father died. Snow on the ground, the air sharp as a pine needle on cold skin. And the light, this slanted light coming down and refracting off the snow, a clean glow rising like mist and lingering in the air. So beautiful it ached, a permanent visual echo lodged in my memories… and I knew this was something important. Even here, on the far side of loss, there was beauty and light.

I began to write again, thinking of that halo of light over the snow. I put the old novel away. It wasn’t ready yet, anyway, agent or no agent. I’d rewrite it some day, but now I needed something new.

New books, new family, new store. New life, in a way, though forever tethered to the old. And now the process continues. I’m back at 3) Get An Agent. The list, now, is dirty, wrinkled, old. Well worn. I laugh at the Capitals. I know a little more about 5) Life. And, what’s more, I know a little more about writing. The two are not unconnected.

It’s a different plan, in many ways, a different understanding. Difficulty can apply to me as easily as it does to anyone else. Indeed, some have had it easier… though many have had it far worse. Yet that difficulty is part of my path. Perhaps I’m even better for it.

Still moving forward, full of hope.

And you? What keeps you moving forward on your path… or keeps you moving forward even when you’re off the path? I see clean light on snow. I see it and know there’s something yet to share, to say, to write. To live. And you?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Guest Blog Week: How to Make a Book Trailer

Myrlin A. Hermes is the author of THE LUNATIC, THE LOVER, AND THE POET, which will be published on January 26th by HarperCollins

Book trailers are all the rage these days, but it can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to have one professionally made—an expense your publisher will probably be reluctant to shoulder unless yours is a genuine blockbuster. And most of them, quite frankly, still end up looking generic, cheap, and dull. But it’s not that hard to put together your own book trailer for next to nothing; and many of the same creative issues we deal with as writers--such as establishing tone and setting, creating vivid characters, pacing, and remembering to edit--are also applicable to creating an effective video.

You don't need fancy equipment, either--I put together mine using Windows Movie Maker on a tiny 10" MSI Wind netbook. Just a disclaimer: I am not endorsing any product--of course, if you have Photoshop and professional video editing software, or even a Mac with iMovie 2, the mechanics will be easier. Nor am I claiming any particular expertise--in fact, I had never done any video editing before--but I'm willing to share what I learned through trial-and-error as I put together the trailer for my novel The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet. It took me about four days to make--in retrospect, I would recommend scheduling a bit more time for the project, especially if your plans also include eating or sleeping!

First, you'll want to select your background music. This can be very helpful for establishing the tone and genre of your book, but it's important that your selection be royalty-free, so you don't run into rights issues. Kevin MacLeod's site Incompetech has a very good selection of music clips searchable by both genre (examples: African, Electronica, Silent Film Score) and feel (Driving, Eerie, Uplifting). These are all available for use royalty-free: he requests only credit on YouTube (or wherever the final piece is uploaded) and a $5 donation per clip used. I was so happy with the short piece I found for my book trailer, I donated $25. Still a bargain compared to hiring a professional!

Once you've chosen your music, it's time to pick out your images. This is where you as the author have a real advantage over the professional video-editor, who may not have even read the book. Take some time to "cast" your characters and choose images that resonate with your themes and settings. Again, you'll want to make sure that these images are in the public domain or that you've secured the rights to use them. There are stock image and video sites on the web where you can pay a flat fee per image or clip, but I was able to find everything I needed for free on Wikimedia Commons. To edit and resize my pictures and add the text, I used the open-source GNU Image Manipulation Program, or GIMP.

Don't get too wordy or complicated with your text--a few phrases about the premise and characters are fine; repeating the entire jacket copy on plodding powerpoint slides, as so many book trailers seem to do, is a sure way to cause eyes to glaze over and browsers to click shut. Yes, your target audience is readers--but remember--this is a visual medium. Let the words support the images.

Windows Movie Maker allows you to drop photos and movie clips onto a storyboard, cut between them using several different transitions, and apply a variety of effects. These effects can be a lot of fun to play with--but, just as 90% of the time the effectively invisible "he said" is a better tag for dialogue than its showier (muttered/sputtered/exclaimed/interjected) replacements, I would stick mostly to the basic cut and fade transitions, unless you want your trailer resembing an '80s music video. In my minute-and-a-half long trailer, I only ended up using four "specialty" transitions.

One thing you can't do on Windows Movie Maker (at least on my version, 5.1 for Windows XP) is the pan-and-scan or "Ken Burns effect"--a nice way to give a cinematic and dynamic feel to still photos. For this, I downloaded a piece of Freeware called Digital Clip Factory. It's another video editing program, and in theory I could have made the entire trailer using nothing else--but I found WMM a bit more versatile and easier to use, so I mostly used DCF to create short video clips of 1-2 second pans across individual photos, which I then imported to my WMM storyboard.

Try to vary your pace a bit--just as you wouldn't want to fill an entire page with sentences of the same length, mixing longer and shorter shots and alternating pans and zooms helps to hold the viewer's interest. I also included a fun bonus "easter egg"--a flyaway page of the Poet's writing (which I put together using GIMP) passes by too quickly to be read, but can be perused at leisure on my novel's Facebook group.

In general, shorter is better--aim for under two minutes, and don't worry if that doesn't give you time to cover every twist in the plot. Get across the genre, setting, and general premise of the book, briefly introduce a compelling character or two, then direct the viewer to your website or blog for more extensive information. Remember--the point isn't to win an Oscar for your brilliantly complex cinematic achievement, but to get people to buy the book!

How effective is a book trailer as a promotional tool? Well, that depends on how you use it. Sitting on your website, it probably won't help much--after all, those readers have already heard of you! But posted in relevant communities or sent to targeted recipients in the media, it can act as a virtual "calling card" for you and your book. These days, people are accustomed to multimedia grazing on the internet, and it's easier to click on--and forward--a YouTube video than download and read a sample chapter.

Want to see what I mean? You can check out my trailer, below. (You've got to be a bit curious about it after all this, right?) If you think the book looks interesting, or know someone who might like it, wouldn't it be easy to share the YouTube video, tweet it to your friends, or repost it to your blog or Facebook page? In fact, why don't you take a minute and do that right now? No, that's fine, go ahead--I'll just wait right here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

This Week in Publishing 1/15/10

Um. Hi there! Is it really after 8:00 in the evening and I haven't gotten This Week in Publishing up? Why, yes. Yes, it is.

The day. It was busy.

First up: the guest blog contest! I have selected the winners and they have been e-mailed the news. However, I shant be revealing them publicly so as not to spoil the surprise. Since all the entries were posted publicly it wouldn't be very sporting to just reveal who the winners are so that everyone can go read them before I post them on the blog. All will be revealed next week! Monday and Tuesday are pre-reserved slots, contest winners will be posted Wednesday through Friday.

Now then! There was a week in publishing.

Michael Cader has been a one man Woodward and Bernstein over at Publishers Lunch this week, collecting all the important information about the situation at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's parent company, which has... well, let's just quote Cader: "Two debt restructurings last year still left Houghton Mifflin Harcourt parent company Education and Media Publishing Group (EMPG) straining to sustain their debt obligations and covenants, and reports from Ireland indicate yet another restructuring is in the works that would wipe out equity-holders entirely and turn the company over to its secured lenders." The good news is that the debt restructuring is anticipated to leave HMH on solid footing.

Some very sad news this week as Laura Hruska, a beloved publishing veteran and co-founder of Soho Press, passed away this week. Sarah Weinman, Stuart Neville and my client Lisa Brackmann were among those penning tributes. She'll be missed.

The Tenners, a group of plucky authors who have debuts publishing in '10 (including THE SECRET YEAR author Jennifer Hubbard) conducted a seriously fascinating Tenner poll. Among the interesting poll nuggets: Only 18% of the Tenners were published without an agent and only 6% still don't have one, and 82% have an unpublished novel in the drawer. Lots more interesting tidbits here.

Rachelle Gardner has a terrific post on why agents are still needed: among other reasons, agents are the ones holding the line on e-book terms and even unagented authors benefit from the pressure agents exert on publishers when establishing industry standard terms.

Your publicist asks that you please not contact journalists directly and let your publicist do that.

In e-book news, there was an interesting study recently by a company called Attributor, which suggests that as much as $3 billion in revenue could have been lost to e-book piracy, and estimated that 9 million copies of books were illegally downloaded. Bob Miller at Harper Studio wonders: is this really such a bad thing?

And speaking of piracy, Daniel Alarcón, author of the fantastic novel LOST CITY RADIO has an upcoming piece in Granta about the Peruvian publishing scene, which has a shadow pirate publishing industry that is just as big as the legit publishing industry. He talks about it in an interview here.

And finally, The Rejectionist has also noticed quite a query deluge in this early 2010, proving that it's not just agents-blogging-under-their-own-names who are experiencing an uptick. Le R has, per usual, an extremely hilarious explanation for the increase in queries.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Guest Blog Contest Spectacular


Next week will be an official guest blog week, and I currently have three open slots. These shall go to the persons who write the best, most spectacular, most repostable guest blog entries in the multiverse. Want to build blog traffic and/or pontificate on a topic that you find pontificatable?

Here's how this will work:

- Please post your entry as a new topic in the special Guest Blog Contest Spectacular forum in the, uh, forums. In order to do this, if you haven't already you will need to register yourself in the forums. You see where I'm going with this. YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED INTO FORUMS. Ha. It's not dangerous though. In fact everyone there is quite nice.

- Please limit yourself to one entry.

- You may enter a post that you submitted for the last guest blog contest but it's probably best to send something new.

- Please do not e-mail me your entry.

- I will choose the three best, most helpful, funniest, awesomest posts to run next week and link to the guest blog author's blog or website or Amazon page or favorite charity or what have you. The topic is totally up to you, although some relevancy to this blog's themes will probably receive preference (but not necessarily!).

- While I will choose the entries based on their merit and general awesomeness, any tie will go to the person who is active in the forums. This is, after all, a rather transparent effort to drive traffic to the forums. Forums forums forums forums forums!!!!

- I will lock the forum at 8:30 AM Pacific time tomorrow morning and will announce the winner tomorrow also.

- Rules and guidelines subject to change without notice.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti Earthquake

My heart goes out to the people in Haiti affected by the earthquake, as well as their friends and family. Reader Allison Morris reached out with a way of helping out: as the New York Times mentioned, Doctors Without Borders is already on the ground and providing medical assistance to the people there. Particularly with so many medical facilities damaged, their help is badly needed. If you'd like to donate to Doctors Without Borders, you can do so here, and you can keep up with their progress here.

UPDATE: Another way to donate via Other Lisa: "Text "HAITI" to 90999 to donate $10 to @RedCross relief efforts in #Haiti. It is *that* simple. Learn more here."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Key to Marketing Your Book: Time Well Spent

I was recently interviewed by Shelli over at Market My Words, and one of the questions had me stumped: what are the top three things every author should do to promote their work?

I stared at the question and stared at it and stared at it until I realized I could only think of one: every author should have some sort of Googlable web presence so that when someone sees your work or hears about you they have a way to contact you. This can be a website or a blog or a Facebook page... something, anything so that opportunity knows where to knock.

Beyond that, however, I think with so many marketing options available to authors in the era of the Internet there's sort of been a new expectation/conventional wisdom creeping up that the key to being a Good Hardworking Promoting Author is to blow out your blog, your Facebook page, your website, your Twitter feed, your Myspace page (still people there!), your Goodreads network, your Flickr account, and better yet, all of the above and by the way you need to set up your own author tour and try to get some media appearances going we'd love it if you placed some articles and stories and where's your book trailer oh also don't quit your day job and don't forget about your manuscript deadline and make sure the next book is incredible and amazing and could you spend some time with your family please?

Needless to say: unless you were born with more hours in the day than the rest of us, doing everything is not possible.

Nor is doing everything productive! If you don't have a passion for blogging it's going to show. Readers will notice and your blog will remain obscure. Not a newsflash: obscure blogs don't sell books. No one should be blogging (or Tweeting or Facebooking or etc.) for the sake of blogging (or Tweeting or Facebooking or etc.).

It takes time to make a good blog, a good Twitter feed, a good Facebook page, a good book trailer, etc., and if you dilute your time and try to do everything you might end up without a good anything.

Instead: do what you're best at. Don't make yourself miserable doing what you think you should be doing, do what you enjoy doing. Utilize your time where it's best spent:

- If you have a talent and passion for blogging: do that.
- If you enjoy Twitter and know the ins and outs: do that.
- If you are a great public speaker and love attending writers conferences: do that.
- If you have media connections and can utilize them: do that.
- If you love pounding the pavement and meeting with local bookstores to arrange signings and events: do that.
- If you are an amateur filmmaker on the side and have an idea for a killer book trailer: do that.
- If you think creatively and enjoy thinking of wacky publicity events: do that.
- If you are fabulously wealthy and you want to drop books from an airplane with $100 bills attached: do that, and please make sure to stop by San Francisco.

Mix and match as appropriate.

There's no one way to promote a book, and if there were a surefire way to get a book to take off and become a bestseller I would patent it and sell it to you for seven trillion dollars. Know your strengths, utilize your time well, and remember that at the end of the day the whims of fate and word of mouth are more powerful than any marketer.

Do what you can in the time you have. Just be smart about it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Query Deluge!!

Whoa boy am I getting a lot of queries these days.

In addition to the 400 or so I received over the holidays, I came in this morning to another 100+ that had accumulated over the weekend. To put that in perspective, last year I received about 110 over a three day weekend, and that had been a record.

I'm not totally sure why this all is happening, but I'm guessing it's a combo of:

- NaNoWriMo novels have been edited and are ready for submission
- Contests tend to bring new blog readers and new blog readers tend to bring queries
- People had some time over the holidays to prep their submissions
- Cylon virus weakening human race by compelling people to spend time writing novels instead of fighting robot uprising

And yet, despite my best guesses there are also some slightly unexplainable aspects to this new deluge. For instance, I'm receiving an abnormally high volume of personal religious manifestos. Why? I have no idea. Certain trends just come in waves.

I also really do believe we're in a cultural moment where an abnormally high percentage of the population is either writing or thinking about writing a novel.

I'm not complaining about all of this - after all, many of these new projects are quite good! It's just making for a tricky couple of post-holiday weeks.

Any personal theories about the query deluge?

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Winner!!! (And This Week in Publishing 1/8/10)

Thanks so much to everyone for joining in as we celebrated the publication week of THE SECRET YEAR with a teen diary contest and shared the books that were our favorites when we were teenagers.

After 650+ entries, five finalists, and hundreds of votes: we have a winner.

And what with it being THE SECRET YEAR week and all, how appropriate that the winning teen diary entry is about teenagers with a secret.


Jenny and finalists, please e-mail me to discuss your prizes.

Thanks again to everyone who entered and participated!

Now then. There was actually some news in publishing this week and over the holidays, so let's get to it.

It was end of the year prediction time before New Year's, and among those chiming in was Bob Miller, publisher of HarperStudio, with a best of times, worst of times roundup. Some of his predictions: publishers will focus on lowering overhead even as they face pressure to consolidate, big publishers focus on fewer titles even as there more self-published books out there, and authors with track records will receive still bigger advances even as the advances for everyone else shrinks. Definitely worth a read.

Agent Janet Reid looked back on the manuscript-reading year that was 2009 and added up all the reasons she ended up passing on manuscripts. And meanwhile, from the other side, Del Rey editorial director Betsy Mitchell posted about the reasons she passed on agented projects. (via FinePrint)

Looking forward to this new year is The Millions, who has a great roundup of the most anticipated books in 2010. (And by the way: are we all agreed we're saying "Twenty-Ten?" Or are some people still saying "Two thousand ten?" Help me out here.)

Also looking forward is Pimp My Novel: twas the season for the holidays and book sales, but now tis the season for returns.

And amid all the doom and gloom you normally read about the publishing industry and how we're all going to disappear and be replaced by Amazon's latest algorithm, you might be surprised to know that, book sales at outlets Bookscan tracks were only down 3% for the year in 2009. Sky: not falling after all!

You need a subscription to see it, but Publishers Lunch has a seriously awesome roundup of the new eReaders that are about to hit the market, including one by Samsung, a "Dualbook" with two facing screens, the Alex (partnering with Borders), and perhaps most intriguing, one called the Skiff that has a large screen and bends. If you don't have a subscription to Publishers Lunch: get one.

The Guardian UK also takes a look ahead at what an e-book future might look like, with ideas ranging from the perennial favorite Netflix-style book renting system to a "playlist" idea for books. Yeah...... don't know. Netflix-style book renting systems have been tried but have a hard time competing with libraries (many of whom already have e-book lending programs), and my "playlist" is comprised of the many books I downloaded on a whim and haven't had time to read yet. (via Neil Vogler in the Forums)

In publishing advice news, Janet Reid has fifteen things you need to know before you query, editor Cheryl Klein has tips on how to write a great query letter, author Adrienne Kress posts about how yes, the odds are long, but that doesn't mean you should be sweating them, and agent Rachelle Gardner reminds you that yes, we do give advice on queries so we can spot your work, but at the end of the day the book is the most important thing.

The winners of the Literary Lab genre wars was announced! Congrats all.

Almost finally, my client Natalie Whipple has a comprehensive post on how she tackles the revision process, which has an incredible list of questions she asks herself as she's revising, and which you will likely find extremely helpful as you edit redline revise.

And finally finally, I'd just like to give another heartfelt thanks to everyone for participating in the contest and spreading the word about THE SECRET YEAR! It's been a lot of fun, and I was so impressed by the talent on display in those teen diaries.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

THE SECRET YEAR Publication Day! Plus Finalists!

Confetti!!! Streamers!!! Ticker tape!!!

Big congrats to Jennifer Hubbard as THE SECRET YEAR is now officially on sale at bookstores around the country!! Please be sure and pick up or order your copy as it is quite an amazing book, in case you haven't heard.

And we have finalists for the THE SECRET YEAR Teen Diary Contest Extravaganza!

But first I thought I'd explain a bit about what went into my (ridiculously difficult) decisions.

Choosing the finalists was way more subjective than usual, even by contest standards, because there's really no easy way to judge entries that varied so much - some seemed like excerpts from bigger stories, some seemed like they were meant to stand on their own, and there were so many different goals for what authors were hoping to achieve. It was also extremely difficult to judge these out of context: some may have been completely perfectly appropriate in the context of the story, but take them out and it's harder to determine how well they may have fit into a larger narrative.

So please bear in mind that this was extremely difficult, and just because yours wasn't chosen doesn't mean it's not fantastic.

The thing I love about Julia's diary entries in THE SECRET YEAR is that they are completely in character. It's not an epistolary novel, but they pop up at key moments in the narrative and hearing her voice is extremely powerful. Particularly since we know Julia is dead, it's all the more compelling/poignant/tragic for Julia's personality and voice to just leap off the page. There's a vivid picture in the entries of a brash, forward girl, who also sometimes tries to stretch and use evocative words and images because she wants to be something more than what people think of her. So in choosing the finalists, I was drawn to ones that showed a unique, distinguishable voice, which was the most important factor in my decision.

I'd also like to be clear that I wasn't actually going strictly for verisimilitude. It wasn't a contest to sound most like a teen - it was a contest to write the most compelling entry. Just as with other first person narratives, I think the best entries give the illusion of a teen diary without actually making it sound completely literally what a teen diary reads like in real life (if you read my actual real life teen diaries you'd probably want to end yourself).

So if these end up sounding more eloquent than what most teen diaries would be like in real life: well, yeah!

Some random preferences/common themes/extra thoughts:

- There were a whole lot of teen rants, and I found that these were extremely difficult to pull off unless they were funny. There were quite a few that read, essentially, "This sucks! I hate this, I hate this so much let me tell you PRECISELY HOW MUCH I hate this, God have I mentioned I hate this?" Stretch this over 500 words and it's extremely difficult to keep the reader engaged and to keep the character from being completely unlikeable, particularly out of context.

- There were also a ton of unrequited crushes, which, hey... I'm sure at least half of the ink produced in the history of the world has been spilled in teen diaries about unrequited crushes, but when reading many many entries in a row these ended up running together just a tad unless there was something unique.

- I found myself drawn more to ones that told a story rather than just providing scattered observations.

- There were lots of notes to selves, letters to dead people, and therapists/parents forcing kids to write a diary. Also pregnancy sticks.

- Some of the entries felt more like excerpts from a novel with a "Dear Diary" tacked on and didn't provide enough of a sense that they were from a diary or unsent letter.


The honorable mentions, who I'm afraid just missed the cut of finalists but who done quite good:

Holly Bodger
virg nelson
Liz Czukas
Kelly R. Morgan
Ryan @ 12:53

Good work!!!

Before I announce the finalists for real, please remember the voting rules:

In order to vote for the winner, please leave a vote in the comments section of this post. You will have until approximately 9-10 PM Pacific time TONIGHT to vote. Please not e-mail me your vote.

Anonymous comments are closed for the voting.

Also: No campaigning for yourself or for your favorites out there on the Internet. Let's keep this fair. Please remind friends of this as well.

The grand prize winner will be announced tomorrow.

The five finalists are............

Jamie B!

Dear Pop Pop,

There's sand in Nana's hair. It's the last time I'll see her like this, on the beach, collecting shells, her blue veins showing through her delicate skin.

She stumbles and Mom catches her arm. Both of them laugh as waves rush up their calves.

Her smile still looks the same as it did when she was younger in the photograph Mom has of the two of you on the mantle.

Remeber the time you let me cast your rod into the ocean, certain I'd tangle up the line and lose your bait? Remember how shocked we all were when I reeled in a flounder?

The Outer Banks aren't the same without you.

Now she'll be missing from the cottage too.

But, she'll be with you again. I can still hear the two of you laughing and playing cards in the summer evenings out on the screened in porch. Ice tinkling in your High Ball glasses.

We've taken care of her for you, and it's almost time for you to take over again.

She's looking down at her hand and twisting her wedding ring that she'll never remove.

She's looking forward to being with you again.

I'll see you someday, Pop Pop.




Things I love about Jake: 1. The way his hair curls at the nape of his neck when it gets too long. It reminds me of water skiing in the third grade when his parents and my parents would drag us to the lake and we'd tumble through the water--he'd toss his head and send droplets into my eyes. 2. The way he hunches down over his desk, like now, when he's taking notes and I'm writing this, pretending to take notes. I wonder what he doodles in the margins? He'll get up soon when the bell rings. He'll uncurl like a cat and that's the best part about watching him. 3. The way he remembers my name in the hallway and says "Hey, Amy" even when his arm is around Brina's shoulders. People are surprised we know each other. Him: a boy with torn-knee jeans and rock and roll t-shirts. Me: laced up science wiz. 4. The way he guides Brina into a room with his hand at the small of her back. When I see that, I feel the cold space of skin beneath my shirt and know his hands would warm it. 5. All the bits I've collected of him: his Grateful Dead keychain, his iPod (with earbuds), his essay on the Civil War, his cologne. If I lean forward now I could smell it on the cotton of his t-shirt, but that'd be too strange. Better to watch his hair curl from here. The bell's gonna ring and, like always, he'll unfold himself, turn around to grab his backpack, which has fallen on the floor--he'll nod, smile his half-smile that ignites the dimple beside the corner of his mouth, say "See ya, Amy" and walk out of Mr. Timberly's class as if we didn't share a secret.


May 5, 1780
Full sun, unseasonably warm

I know it is an awfully uncharitable thing to think, but I cannot be in the room with Aunt Madeleine’s spoilt children for more than five minutes before I start to wonder if Swift’s Modest Proposal could be tested in our household. Perhaps this is why Mother protested so violently to Father allowing me to read modern writings, though I believe the primary reason to lie more solidly in her own inability to read any but the most elementary of compositions. Anyone knows that I am most conscientious to avoid prideful thought or uncharitable comparison, but I cannot escape the fact that my mother not only far less educated but less inclined to education than I. Regardless, I shall be escaping ever the more often to the library to escape Ophelia and Cornelius (are those not the silliest names you can imagine bestowing upon children?) as they will be with us for another fortnight.

Perhaps I am in a particularly foul mood on the subject of those children as it is on their account that I am being kept from the dinner party at the Greenes’ next Thursday evening. Mother thought it a delightful idea that I remain at home and watch the miniature terrors so that Madeleine could attend the party. I protested that my old nursemaid would be better suited to the task, but as she is now the plantation’s pastry cook Mother felt she would be kept too busy at her own tasks to properly manage the children, too. In addition, she felt it would be beneficial to my moral character and maternal instinct to watch them. Maternal instinct, indeed! As though one could feel maternal toward a pair of sticky-handed demons.

It is almost as though Mother knows that Betty Greene has been contriving to arrange dancing after dinner, and to provide her middle brother for my partner. Betty can think of no better amusement than match-making her brothers away to her dearest friends, hoping, I suppose, that she can eventually add us as sisters. It is not that I find Jerome Greene terribly appealing—he is too short, for one, and his red hair does not suit him—but it would be nice to dance for an evening like a proper adult. No, instead I am chained to a pair of prattling, screaming Lilliputians. It seems that everyone around me is permitted some acquiescence toward adulthood—my brother joining the Congressional forces of his own volition, Betty with her little dance parties. I must content myself with books, I suppose.


Dear diary,

Oksana left today. Dad's parting words were "Never believe a mail-order bride when she says I love you." He was so chin-trembling, tear-stained-cheek sad watching her tear up our lawn that I wanted to cry just looking at him.

Oksana, on the other hand, was throwing her luggage around and cursing him in Russian. I wasn’t sure how safe it was for either of us standing by the living room window with so much glass around.

Dad always said she was different. I thought he was referring to the Belarusian catalog she came from, but his tears were genuine.

He whispered, “Sorry about the eggs.” This morning, Oksana accused him of deliberately making runny, undercooked eggs. It escalated to an accusation of salmonella poisoning. Finally, she revealed the real reason for the argument.

Dad and I both know that she keeps this house so clean you can eat out of the sink, drink from the toilet, and perform surgery on the kitchen table. And neither of us thanked her for it. I guess I stopped noticing what she did for us when I began expecting it.

Dad thinks she'll come back. Every time she's left us, she's come home apologetic after the mall closed. I haven't told him that this time is not like the previous ones. I saw her take the kitchen timer. Who takes a kitchen timer with them when they leave? People who move.

Just before she left, she paused in her ranting and looked at me. Her expression softened like she was going to cry too. Could it be that Oksana, the step-mom with the maternal instincts of a broom, was going to miss me? That's when she waved good-bye to me slowly, three times with one hand, and got in the car.

As she backed out the driveway, I think I surprised her as much as she surprised me by mouthing the words "thank you."


Dear Future Losers of Brookview High,

The world looks a little brighter when your head’s suspended in a toilet. In between the water swirling around your ears and your silent thanks that nobody’s taken a piss in the bowl this morning, there’s a strange sort of calm that comes over you. Mouth closed. Eyes open. Water whooshing ‘round a porcelain sky. The hell of high school disappears and for a moment, you feel at peace. Because you know, that for those seven seconds, life can’t get any worse.

But then the jerk holding your feet lets you down and you’re gasping for breath and the world comes rushing back. You stare at the bowl, water dripping down your face, wishing you’d been flushed down the pipes and spit out in the James (or wherever piss-water goes). Because the moment your feet touch the ground, your seven seconds of peace are over.

If you’re a loser (and if you’re reading this I guess you are), the best advice I can give you is gain weight. Fast. Forget the dollar menu. Super-size those fries, scarf down all the quarter pounders you can swallow and keep right at it. Because an extra layer of fat is the only defense against the jerk-wads of the world.

Sure, you’ll get the lard-ass jokes. But, take it from me, if you can gain a few pounds-or thirty-do it. I’m cursed with an ultrafast metabolism my mother would kill for which means no matter how much lard I shovel down my throat, my bony ass doesn’t get an inch bigger.

I’ve been stuffed in lockers, trash cans and believe it or not- a tuba case. And that’s not even the worst of it. Did you hear the rumor about the geek who went dumpster diving for his retainer on mystery meat day? Yep, that was me. The total dweeb whose locker was plastered with pictures of the Jonas Brothers? Me again. The dork whose underwear got sent up the flagpole with him in it? You guessed it.

So let me tell you, if you’re as big a loser as I was, plunging head first in a toilet bowl might just be the highlight of your day.

Thanks again to everyone who entered, and congrats to the finalists!

UPDATE: Voting is closed! Winner will be announced tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Teen Diary Word Cloud

So! The 650+ contest entries ended up being around 235,000 words (I'm currently about 1/3 of the way through). Here's the word cloud for the entries:

Very interesting!

I'll be back tomorrow with the finalists.

What Was Your Favorite Book As a Teenager?

First off, if you haven't already entered the THE SECRET YEAR Teen Diary Contest Extravaganza, please do so in the official contest thread! The contest will be open until 4 PM Pacific time today, so best get diarying.

Tomorrow THE SECRET YEAR will be published, and it will soon, dare I predict, become a favorite for many teens out there. And since we have both teens and former teens alike here on the blog: what was/is your favorite book as a teenager?

And by popular demand, a bonus question for the former teens: what was the worst outfit/hairstyle you wore as a teenager? Bonus points for a link to a photo.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Holy cow, the THE SECRET YEAR Teen Diary Contest Extravaganza is going strong, and we already have enough teen angst to power a nuclear reactor. An extremely disaffected, SO OVER THIS nuclear reactor.

Honestly though, the entries so far have been awesome.

Just a few updates!

- Please enter if you haven't already in the official contest thread!

- For more THE SECRET YEAR-related fun, author Jennifer Hubbard is hosting a very cool blog party. Not only is she donating 50 cents for every comment to local libraries, every commenter will have a chance to win some awesome prizes. check it out!

- Two days until publication of THE SECRET YEAR!

- Exclamation point!

Thanks so much for everyone who has entered so far. I can't wait to read through all of the entries. I'm sure they will put me right back in my high school days, where I had a bowl haircut and wore a lot of flannel. Oh yes I did.

Monday, January 4, 2010

THE SECRET YEAR Teen Diary Contest Extravaganza!!

The holidays and the turn of the year are always a time of great reflection for me as I reminisce about the year and contemplate the passing of another....... oh what the heck, let's just get straight to the contest shall we??

This week marks the publication week of Jennifer Hubbard's spellbinding YA debut THE SECRET YEAR, which is about a high schooler, Colt, who was secretly dating a rich girl for a year, and no one knew - not even her boyfriend. When she dies in a car crash he discovers her diary, which is full of memories and unsent letters that describe how much she cared about him and reveals the things she didn't have the courage to tell him while she was alive.

It's a poignant and unforgettable novel about love and loss, and, per Booklist, "is a fine addition to the pantheon of YA literature." Really really amazing, heartbreaking, moving, and etc. Though books don't have a ratings system, THE SECRET YEAR is intended for an older young adult audience and as always all the parents out there should use their own discretion.

So. For the first time IN BLOG HISTORY (er, well, for this blog's history anyway), in honor of THE SECRET YEAR we will have a writing prompt contest!

Your prompt: Write the most compelling (fictional) teen diary entry. It may be a diary entry or an unsent letter, but it should be in a teen's voice.

That's all you gotta do.

Let's start with the prizes.

The GRAND PRIZE ULTIMATE WINNER of the THE SECRET YEAR Teen Diary Writing Contest Extravaganza will win:

- A signed copy of THE SECRET YEAR (pending winner's proximity to the US of A)
- Their choice of a query critique, partial critique, or 10 minute phone conversation/consultation/dish session
- The pride of knowing OMG you are like the greatest writer for teens ever.

Runners up will receive a signed THE SECRET YEAR bookmark (pending finalists' proximity to USA), plus a query critique and/or other agreed-upon prize.

Now for the rules. Please note that all rules may and probably will be amended at my sole (and fickle) discretion.

1. Please enter one teen diary entry not to exceed 500 words in the comments section of this blog post. E-mail subscribers: you must must must must must (must) enter in the official contest thread. Please do not e-mail me your entries! If you need help leaving a comment, please consult this post.

2. You may enter once, and once you may enter.

3. Spreading the word about the contest is not only encouraged, it is strongly encouraged.

4. Snarky comments, anonymous or otherwise, about entries, the weather, the Na'vi tribe of blue people, and/or Mike Tyson will be deleted with relish. You will find the nearest free speech zone approximately 500 pixels away from this blog.

5. Please please check and double-check your entry before posting. If you spot an error after posting: please do not re-post. I go through the entries sequentially and the repeated deja vu repeated deja vu from reading the same entry only slightly different makes my head spin. I'm not worried about typos, nor should you be.

6. I will be the sole judge of the contest.

7. You must be at least 14 years old and less than 137 years old to enter. No exceptions.

8. I'm on Twitter! You can find me at @nathanbransford and I may be posting updates about the contest.

9. The deadline for this contest is 4:00 PM Pacific Time on Wednesday January 6th. Finalists will be announced Thursday morning, and you will have the opportunity to vote on the winner, which will be announced on Friday.

To get you in the teen diary spirit, here is a brief excerpt from one of Julia's unsent letters to Colt in THE SECRET YEAR:

Dear CM:

I can't stop thinking about you. I'm supposed to see Austin tonight, and I'd rather chew on sandpaper. If I have to listen to one more story about how wasted he got, or the magic chemical mixture he invented to clean a smudge off his car seats, I'll hang myself. Why do I stay with him? You never ask, but sometimes I wonder if it bothers you that I'm with him. Maybe you're even glad. It lets you off the hook. I told you once that you wouldn't want to be my boyfriend, and you didn't argue with me.

The thing about Austin is, we have a lot in common. We both like dancing and partying, and it's fun until he gets too drunk. Sometimes on Sunday afternoons, I go to his house and the family's sitting around with the Sunday paper all over the place, and maybe we play a game or something, and it's nice. I belong there. With Austin, everything fits. With you, I never know.

Good luck! May the best teen diary writer win!

UPDATE: Time's up! Thank you so much for entering!

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