Books, Glorious (and Not So Glorious) Books

pexels-photo-264635Chances are pretty good that if you’re a writer, you’re also a reader. Books are glorious! But chances are also good that you’ve read a not-so-glorious book, one that left you scratching your head. As in “how did an agent, then an editor, THEN a whole acquisitions team at a major publishing house think this was good enough to publish?”

Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. I just finished a middle grade novel like this, and yes, I did finish it. I kept reading even though the protagonist was whiny and unlikable. I kept reading even though the plot was something I’d seen a hundred times before. I kept reading even though the other characters were mostly undeveloped and/or stereotypical. I kept reading to the whiny, predictable end.

There was a time when I would let a book like this get the better of me. I’d stew and sulk and possibly–I’m not saying I did this, I’m just saying maybe–throw the book across the room. But not any more. Now, I read those books from start to finish. Because I want to know the why. What did an agent, an editor, and a whole acquisitions team see that I’m not seeing? Why did a book get published?

And while I’m pondering, why are kids reading this book? Because this particular book had a ton of reviews–great reviews! (Except for one which funnily, listed just about everything that had annoyed me.)

Publishing is a subjective business in some ways, but more importantly, it’s a money-making business. So if a publisher sees dollar signs, it’s a book they’ll acquire, in spite of cardboard characters, tired plots, or a boring protagonist. My mission, when I’m reading so-so books, is to see why it sold.

And here’s what I’ve found again and again: concept trumps everything. There are some subjects ( plots) that middle schoolers are always going to read. And there are emotional concepts that are highly relatable to the middle schooler. If I can find that relatable concept in a tried-and-true yet fresh plot, I’m halfway to the shelf.

You can be, too, in whatever you write. But first, you gotta read a lot of books.

(P.S. You might want to check out the Great American Read for more glorious but also head-scratching books. I mean, Fifty Shades of Grey? Seriously? On the other hand, look how much money that book has made…so yeah. I rest my case. Feel free to share your strong opinions.)

 

 

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Whatcha Reading?

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The reality of my book shelves

Writers tend to be voracious readers, don’t they?

Of course, I was more voracious before I started writing so seriously; now, I squeeze in my reading in odd little increments here and there. Still, I savor any snippet of reading time, and I’m sure I’m a better writer because of reading.

During early days of writing kidlit, I read a lot of kidlit. Because I was drawn to writing middle grade and chapter books and humor, those are the books I sought out in my library. And then I immersed myself in picture books because I had a hankering to write a picture book or thirty-seven. Then back to middle grade and YA novels where my heart was calling. If I wanted to write kidlit, I figured, I needed to be kidlit.

Or something like that.

But a funny thing happened. I missed adult books. I missed mysteries and women’s fiction and award-winning novels. I hungered for Brit wit and classics and Neil Gaiman’s fairy tales. Oh! And ghost stories! I love true ghost story collections!

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The book shelves of my sweet dreams

And so I began to sneak in an adult novel here and there, or a cheesy ghost story paperback, into the old TBR pile. To be honest, those sneaky books would always somehow end up on the top of the pile. So I’d practically read ’em under the covers– and get back to my serious kidlit reading before anyone caught me.

Until one day when I realized that any reading–even the really bad stuff– is good for me and my writing.

Goodness. That was a long way to go to ask what are you looking forward to reading in 2018? Do you have reading goals? I hit my goal over at Goodreads for 2017, thanks to a pile of terrific rhyming picture books I read there at the end of the year (and a ghost book or two).

So. I started this year with a book of essays, I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE CAKE by Sloane Crosley.

And you know what? I’m enjoying every delicious minute of it!

 

Friday’s Fun Find: A Goodreads Glimpse at 2014

Goodreads pic close upI opened the inbox today to find my Goodreads Year in Books!

I love Goodreads so ridiculously much! At the start of the year, I sign on to the Reading Challenge and get motivated to pile up the reading points. (My goal this year was 60 and yep, I made it!) At the end of the year, the Goodreads team gives you all kinds of stats about the books you read.

For example, I read 12,143 pages this year. Which sounds pretty impressive, even though I know about a dozen of my books were picture books. But a book is a book, no matter how small. And goodness, I read some wonderful big AND small books this year!

(Thanks to Goodreads, I can even remember them.)

Psst. What was the best book you read this year?

With Leap Day, You Get Extra: Editor Kristin Daly Rens

Leap days are extra, so I thought it’d be swell to give you an extra bit of wisdom from Kristin Daly Rens (senior editor from Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins) who spoke at the conference. Plus, I had a pic of her with Cathy-on-a-Stick and that’s always a bonus, right?

So Kristin (who is funny, delightful, smart, and charming and I’m not just saying that because she happened to do my formal critique) spoke about dialogue and plotting. But (and I’m sure this will come as no surprise to you) I cannot find my plot notes. So we’ll be sharing dialogue notes today.

She had a ton of great tips about dialogue, and examples of sparkling banter in books. Um, apparently, I did not write down the book titles. But Debra Mayhew, who sat next to me, wrote down every single book mentioned and then she shared them on her blog. (Why thank you, Deb!).

So now, let’s dash to Kristin’s tips, starting with what to avoid in dialogue.

AVOID SAYING SOMETHING YOU’VE JUST SHOWN. (Yes, I know that seems like common sense. But it’s a terribly common problem and one you should check for when editing your manuscript. Because…

TOO MUCH DIALOGUE SLOWS DOWN THE STORY (Who knew? I LOVE dialogue. In fact, I tend to read the dialogue in books and skip all that descriptive stuff. But it occurred to me that I can do that because I read good books where the dialogue is used correctly. How so, you wonder? So glad you asked.

DIALOGUE SHOULD BE SIGNIFICANT  (Every word of dialogue should matter to the story. Every. Single. Word. Yes, you want to be authentic, but not so authentic that you bore your readers. So don’t put in all those umm’s and uh’s. Put in the words that matter and most importantly…

PUT IN THE WORDS THAT MOVE THE STORY FORWARD  (That tip speaks for itself, doesn’t it? Get it? Speaks for itself? Um, yeah…we’ll just move on. Like your story should do with great dialogue.)

Because now I think you have enough dialogue information to make your own banter extra sparkly. And you’ve got an extra day to do it!

Finding BOOKS! And a CONTEST!

So, remember when I told you all about Gail’s trip to Chautauqua and her book giveaway? And then I told you to rush over there and sign up so you could win?

I won! I won two swell books! And they came in the mail today:

I’ve had so many people recommend Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine, so I’m thrilled to have it! And though I don’t have a book of my very own yet, I have high hopes. So I’m eager to jump into Jacqueline Deval’s Publicize Your Book to learn a thing or two. So thank you, thank you, Gail! I’m so glad I dashed over to your blog for the book giveaway!

Speaking of dashing over, I wouldn’t have won, just sitting here on my boomerosity, thinking about how swell it would be to win books. I had to, you know, actually do something. So here’s your chance to do something and win, too. It’s the Family Friendly Short Story Writing Contest. There’s no entry fee but there are prizes! You can win cash and a subscription to CBI (Children’s Book Insider). Not too shabby, there.

All you have to, you know, actually do is write a story that’s family friendly. You can do that. And you can win, too. (Now dash off and start writing–you only have till Oct. 1st!)