All The Way YA

Second Book Blues

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about publishing novels, it’s that there are no guarantees.

In my previous post, I wrote about finding an agent–and then having to find another when the first one didn’t work out. Here, I want to write about publishing my first book–and then having to work even harder to publish my second.

Common sense says it shouldn’t be that way. After publishing Book #1, Book #2 should be easier to write (thanks to experience) and publish (thanks to reputation). But for many writers, that isn’t the case. Consider:

  • One of my friends had a two-book deal. Then her publisher folded after Book #1.
  • Another friend also had a two-book deal. She submitted no fewer than three possible Book #2 manuscripts to her editor. Her editor rejected all three.
  • A third friend had a one-book deal, but (when Book #1 did quite well) figured he’d be able to sell Books #2 and #3 of a trilogy. His editor told him to wrap up the story in Book #2.

My experience was similar to his. In my contract for SURVIVAL COLONY 9, I had the standard “option” clause: I needed to offer my next novel-length work to my editor, who had the option of buying it before I showed it to anyone else. I produced a sequel, part 2 of a planned trilogy, and had my agent send it to my editor.

Who took almost six months before telling me she hated it. I mean, HATED it.

By this time, I’d nearly completed Book #3. Theoretically, having satisfied the option, my agent could have shopped Book #2 elsewhere. But with SURVIVAL COLONY 9 being my debut, what editor was going to look at a manuscript the editor for Book #1 had rejected?

My editor suggested I combine Book #3 with the (very few) parts of Book #2 she liked. That meant crunching two 80,000 word manuscripts into a single 80,000 word manuscript. With my mad math skillz, I calculated I’d have to trim 80,000 words overall.

Somehow, I did it. I kept the first chapter of Book #2, chopped out the middle, added the middle chapters of Book #3, then wrapped it up with the end chapters of both manuscripts.

Or something like that. It was far messier than that makes it sound.

In the end, I had a manuscript my editor liked enough to make an offer on. She still wanted major changes–as in, she sent me a four page, single-spaced letter and a manuscript full of post-it notes telling me everything I needed to change–but she also sent a contract. As of this writing, I’ve completed the revisions and am crossing my fingers that she’ll like what I’ve done enough to send the book to copy-editing.

I don’t want to sound as if I’m complaining. I do have one published book, and may soon have a second. I also have a very supportive agent and editor, neither of whom gave up on me during my struggles with Book #2.

But I do want to be truthful. It’s possible I’ll get to the point where anything I write will sail through, either because I’ve become such a brilliant writer or such a bestseller no one would dream of saying “no.”

The reality for most writers, however, is that each new book is a new challenge, with no guarantees.


“To hate YA is to hate your inner teena

“To hate YA is to hate your inner teenager, it’s to hate a part of yourself.” #5On #YARules #Amreading #Amwriting

Hannah Goodman in today’s ‪#‎5On‬: “Th

Hannah Goodman in today’s ‪#‎5On‬: “The criticism [of YA fiction] comes from snobbery and small-mindedness.” #YA

Think Critically! My First Critique Group / @StephanieKeyes / #scbwi

We’ve talked on this blog before about the often solitary life of a writer. Many people believe that they don’t need critique groups, or even other writers for that matter, to thrive. To those peeps, I say this: Nothing good has ever been created in a vacuum. Vacuums suck. Suck up your energy. Your inspiration.

Before you argue with something akin to, “I am a creative Hoover,” look at it this way. As writers we need inspiration from the outside, we need to grow, but we also need validation. Now, if you are really good at self-validation, just stop reading now. Then go find a corner and hug yourself.

For the rest of us…two things happened that drove me in this direction:

  1. A driving need to be the best writer I can be.
  2. An overwhelming sense of loneliness.

So I discovered the first organization that changed my life: The Society Of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Ironically, two days later I found my SCBWI critique group through one of my first freelance editors.

Now, I won’t lie to you. I went to that first meeting with a book already planned for publication–so I expected minimal feedback on the first chapter of that same title. Man, was I wrong. They flayed my book alive! Now, I should add that this was done in such a kind and supportive way that it didn’t feel like my work had been dragged across barbed wire and left to bleed in the street.

photo credit: 131 via photopin (license)

photo credit: 131 via photopin (license)

So why did I go back? Because I learned more about writing in those two hours that I had in the previous four years on my own. Naturally, I immediately wanted to rewrite my first book. I didn’t. Instead, I took what I’d learned on things like deep point of view and getting inside a character’s head that I applied to my second book.

What was even better? My critique group was right there with me, coaching me chapter by chapter. When my publisher’s deadlines prevented me from reading the entire manuscript in group, several members offered to read the entire manuscript–over five hundred pages–and give me feedback.

Dave Amaditz, who blogs on this site and also co-leads my critique group, gave me some of the most valuable feedback on The Fallen Stars. “What’s Cali feeling? She’s going through these major changes and she’s coming across as cold.”

“Well, she’s feeling–”

“Don’t tell me. Show us. How are you going to do that?” Dave asked.

I thought about it. That thought resulted in gutting my second book for one purpose: two add a second point of view. In went Cali’s reaction to the cold (something new for an immortal Star Child), in went her growing infatuation for Kellen St. James, in went her fears and all of her determination. Could I have conveyed her emotions without Cali’s point of view? Maybe? But probably not. The Fallen Stars is a completely different book because of that single question.

The truth is that since that day when I went to my first meeting three years ago, my writing has never been the same. It all has to do with how I spend my Monday nights. My critique group calls it like it is (with kindness) and they’ve made me a better writer. No, they make be want to be a better writer.

I hear stories from people all the time about how they tried critique groups and everyone was miserable. They didn’t care about helping anyone–just gave extremely harsh feedback. Others tell me that they were bombarded by platitudes. “This was wonderful! There’s nothing wrong with it!” Which, let’s face it, helps no one. Especially, a writer.

To those folks I say: keep trying. Obviously, that wasn’t the right group for you. The right group is out there, though. You just have to find them.

Be brave. Be strong. Be open to being better than you are and they will come.

To those still hugging themselves in the corner? Yeah, I guess you can stop now.

Tripping / @LaurelHouck

Expecting a few groovy words like psychedelic, far out, or flower power? Not that kind of tripping, Dude. I’m just a YA writer, putting one word in front of the other, as I march toward that big publishing goal.

It’s that time of year when the world beckons us to leave home for parts unknown. There’s something in all writers that mirrors the explorers of old. We may not be Lewis & Clark, but we yearn for uncharted territory, aka the unique idea that will put us on the publishing map.

Certainly, any trip can be mind-expanding: billboards along the interstate, chance conversations at the beach, unsung heroes from well known historical sites. We stuff tidbits into a mental duffle and haul them home, the best of souvenirs—because they enhance works-in-progress or spark new projects.

This year, I’m tripping to Kenya. Because I like off-the-beaten-track travel, my writing reflects a worldview. If the globe is shrinking, and we’re all one big extended family, it makes sense to write about it all.

A brief nod to the elephant in the room—not the ones I’ll soon see on safari. There are two schools of thought about what we’re equipped to write. One: Write what you know. It makes sense that being part of a particular culture, religion, or nationality better equips one to describe it. Delving into an unfamiliar culture can be at worst offensive and at best poorly done. Two: Write what interests you. I think it’s great to write what I know, but I already know it. I prefer to come at my work from a multicultural perspective. The status of a responsible observer can be quite insightful.

As creative people, writers have the capability to learn about things in which they’re interested. And to craft a story around the concept. There is a caveat, particularly when dealing with cultural issues. The subject should only be addressed when it’s something that makes your heart pound, that moves you, that creates passion in your soul. Because those moments that hook us will also hook the reader. Become immersed in another culture, and a piece of you will begin to own a piece of it.

Personal experience helps. Musa, a jeep driver in Tanzania, touched me with the simplicity of his belief; picture book. Climbing Mt. Sinai at two o’clock in the morning led to a sunrise that tinted the monochromatic landscape red; MG political thriller. Trips to the concentration camps in Germany, dovetailed with Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, were chilling; YA historical fiction.

But not everyone is a world traveler. That doesn’t mean multiculturalism has to be avoided. We live in a nation that embraces differences. Research that which interests you. Ask questions, read books, go to museums, listen to music, taste new foods.

When the time comes to write, including foreign words and phrases for your characters—defined in context—is one way to ground them in their specific culture. On-line sites and even guidebooks provide translations for individual words or simple phrases. Unless you personally know someone who can speak the language, it’s important to hire a professional to proof foreign words once the manuscript is completed. Get a price up-front. Some services are reasonable, others quite costly. But it’s a must to be certain the correct meaning and nuance has been captured.

I only speak English, but I did well at peppering a manuscript with carefully researched Arabic words and phrases. When it got proofed, the translator pointed out I had used the word baksheesh to mean bribe, when instead it connotes alms. She provided the correct word, rashwa. It made a huge difference to the meaning of the scene.

Probably the most important thing about writing outside of one’s own cultural experience is to be scrupulous with accuracy and to do whatever is necessary to avoid offending. It’s our responsibility. In this, as in every area for children’s writers, we have the responsibility to make sure the information we provide is accurate and sensitive.

Use your summer to get high—on writing! Don’t be afraid to explore the unfamiliar, as long as it grabs you in the gut. And bring cultures together by demystifying the unknown for yourself and for your readers.

This summer you can find me in Kenya, on the patio with my MacBook Pro, or on my web site:

Laurel H Children



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People “Against YA”?

Adults reading YA literature. A point of controversy in literary circles. “Against YA” an article by Ruth Graham in Slate was quite a flashpoint. The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Washington Post are among the erudite institutions that also weighed in on the “problem.” But I wouldn’t say the problem is with adults reading novels written for young adults. I think the problem is the fiction written for adults.

When I wrote a women’s novel, I delved into the world of women’s upmarket/bookclub fiction. Some of it I absolutely loved. Yet the majority of it I disliked so intensely, I’d throw the book down and refuse to pick it up again. The novel describing the position of a fly in a salad as “the insect’s supine and slightly sensual posture” ended up in the trash. There is nothing sensual about a fly in a salad.

I started reading more YA when I began to write a YA novel. I fell in love with reading again. The variety in YA contemporary is astonishing. There are light plot driven books with happy endings or even not-so-happy endings, there are high concept page turners and there are deep, character driven books whose endings are so real they make your throat ache.

But they all have one thing in common—YA fiction is about the character. Most women’s fiction is about a topic. It seems counterintuitive but the proof is in the writing.

The Spectacular Now, a brilliant YA contemporary novel by Tim Tharp, is about Sutter Keeley, a teen guy who happens to be an alcoholic. It is not about teen alcoholism in the guise of the character Sutter Keeley.

A recent upmarket novel that I didn’t finish reading is about addiction to prescription painkillers. I can’t tell you the main character’s name because all the characters, and all the plots, and all the topics of the books of that genre are stored in one gray lump in my memory—older (meaning mid-thirties to late forties), stressed out wife and mother has an issue or a secret, a boring, lukewarm marriage, and self-centered, bratty, spoiled children. Oh, and usually an affair is lurking somewhere in the mix.

I may be one of those older women, but how old I am is vastly different from how old I feel. I’d much rather read about a young adult whose feelings resonate with me, than commiserate with a woman about her age.

Litmus Test

Below are blurbs from two NY Times bestsellers. Can you guess which is YA and which is WF? Hint: One is about a topic. One is about a character.

  • (Author’s name) examines what it means to be a good parent, a good sister, a good person. Is it morally correct to do whatever it takes to save a child’s life, even if that means infringing upon the rights of another?
  • Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job! Or Should You? The Realities Of Money and Writing /@StephanieKeyes

When I began my first novel, I had no intention of leaving my job. I loved Human Resources training. Not only did I enjoy helping people, but it was a role that couldn’t have suited me better. So, even as I worked on my first draft of The Star Child, I planned to continue working full-time, dedicating my weekends to writing and family.

So…I Might Have Changed My Mind

My discontent with trying to fit both working full-time and writing into my schedule kicked in after I had my second son–the one we affectionately refer to as Bam-Bam. With a generous maternity leave, I not only had time to spend with the new little guy, but also to self-publish The Star Child. It was a huge accomplishment–especially with a newborn. It also planted a seed:

What if I don’t go back to work?

It was a big decision. There were dozens of factors to take into account. My company had always been extremely generous–I’d be giving up a lot more than just a salary if I left. At this point, I only knew two things: I was done sidelining my writing and tired of leaving my family to travel all over the country.

With my husband’s support, I decided to turn in my resignation. Signing my first publishing contract with Inkspell Publishing, spurred me on–the suggested I demanded release schedule for the series, which I was determined to meet. I’d get to write full-time and stay home with my boys. What could go wrong?


Courtesy Philip Taylor, Flickr Commons

 The Truth Behind the Choice

It all sounded good on paper–or to be exact, my color-coded Excel spreadsheet. Once I’d left my job, though, it all hit me. After being a high-earner for years, I came face-to-face with life as someone without an income. Sure, my husband was still working, but I wasn’t making any money. I’d told everyone I’d freelance in whatever–graphic design, web design, whatever I needed. The truth, though, is that freelancing is tough work. Customers have strict demands. Freelancing rarely paid well, at least when I factored in all of the time. Plus, there was the culture shock.

I went from being able to buy whatever I wanted, to pinching pennies to buy coffee. With my job, the health insurance was so wonderful that I never saw a bill. With my husband’s insurance? I saw $4000 worth of bills in three months. Yeah, I wasn’t prepared for that.

By the time my first book launched in September of 2012, I went from having no credit cards, to $10k in credit card debt. Then my first royalty check came–well, at least I could afford to buy that coffee.

The good news was that I was still able to pay all of my bills. The bad? I couldn’t take my kids to the museum or on vacation or do anything at all. How could I possibly promote my upcoming book with no room to breathe financially? Forget trying to promote my work. I couldn’t afford to buy a copy of my book, let alone spend it on advertising.


Courtesy McKay Savage, Flickr Commons


The Proof Is In The Budget
Something had to give. So we took a good hard look at our finances–here’s where we landed. We:

  • Looked at every bill. Where could we cut? We changed cable plans, cell phone plans, paid off our cars to eliminate car loans.
  • Consolidated loans.
  • Refinanced our house.
  • Wrote down every recurring expense and tried to plan for them.
  • Tracked expenses by category.
  • Did our best to budget for expenses and put aside money for savings.
  • Talked about every expense we had–in-depth.
  • Started shopping smarter, buy food at stores like Aldi, devising stricter grocery lists. This even resulted in healthier eating.

After all this was said and done, I rebooted my expectations. No, I couldn’t live the way I used to, but I could live a better life, a richer one.

Now, I make hard choices about where and when I spend money. Book marketing is usually done on a quarterly basis and planned in a year in advance. I try to minimize surprises.And all those bills? Well, they’re still there, but we’re working on them.

Okay, maybe it’s not writing for a living J.K. Rowling-style, but I write every day, watch my kids grow up, kiss my husband goodnight each evening. The only time I spend on airplanes is on family vacations.

So, guess what? It didn’t work out the way I thought it would. But now, coming up on my third anniversary outside of the corporate world, I’m still more than okay. And most important? I’m still writing.

The Upside of NOT Having A Book Deal (Yet)

Last week, Kacey wrote about the bennies of friends with book deals, which I truly appreciated, needed to read, and happen to agree with wholeheartedly.

However, it was a far more positive perspective than what goes on inside my mind when I read on social media about folks I know getting book deals.

Before you tsk, tsk me, hear me out: As an emerging psychotherapist, I’ve done extensive research and study on the human psyche and can reassure all of you that to be envious is to be human. According to the DSM, envy is not pathological.

But before I wax psychotherapist, let me discuss my (irrational, envy-filled) take on the whole-friends-with-book-deals.

First, I must take you back to when I was fifteen…Things in my life always stem from when I was fifteen. It was a painfully awkward time for me­; I was chubby, had crooked bangs, and longed for boys who didn’t like either of those traits. Pretty sure I went a little emo for a while (before emo was a thing). Think I wore bright green eyeshadow, too. Think I might have worn combat boots with pajamas a few times. But I digress…

When I was a fifteen, I envied girls with flat stomachs, hot boyfriends, and perfect grades.

At thirty-nine, I’m very content with my body, my man, and my grades (seriously, yes, I’m still in school for, yet, another degree). Instead, I envy girls (and boys) with hot, sexy book deals.

My jealousy is totally sophomore year—always the girl, who, on the outside, seemed quite apathetic about being regular, average, not cool. But deep down, I wanted it all. I wanted to be Homecoming Queen. I wanted to sport crop tops with flat abs peeking out. I wanted to make out with the captain of the football team under the bleachers. But alas, those boys always chose the prettier, skinnier, and smarter girls.

So when my writer-friends get book deals, I definitely turn into fifteen-year-old me, and writer-friend becomes “the other girl” and the book deal becomes “the boy I want and cannot get”.

And like a jealous-psycho-teenage girl, I stalk the other person’s FB page and Twitter feed for evidence of why they got the deal (the boy) and I didn’t. I know, I know. Believe me, I don’t like to admit this. The thing is, I can’t find evidence (I mean, really, it doesn’t even make sense!), but when you want to find evidence, you will go so far as to invent it. So in my stalking, if the person who got the deal writes in a particular genre, then I tell myself, “So easy to get a book deal when you write in that genre.” Or, if it’s a book that’s similar to my own writing in style or theme, I say, “My work is just as good as theirs! What the eff! Life is SOOO unfair!” Sometimes I will evaluate the publisher, and if it’s a small one, I reassure myself that means it’s not a big deal.

Total teenage girl. Total bratty, snarky teenage girl.

But instead of indulging in her—my inner fifteen-year-old self—I turn to a more grown-up approach. A shift in perspective. One that embraces the idea that another person’s success is not a mark against my own. That there is room for us all.

So instead of comparing, judging, evaluating, and being a snarky brat, I do the following:

The Upside of Not Having a Book Deal:

  1. I have the time to pursue my other passion. Becoming a psychotherapist.
  2. This is actually related to number 1—thank God I’m becoming a psychotherapist because the only thing in my life that drives me to therapy is being a writer.
  3. I don’t have to leave my family and go to on book tours or conferences.
  4. I don’t have the pressure from a publisher to meet a deadline.
  5. I can design my own book covers, edit my books the way I want, and create my own literary anthology that features other emerging writer-folks.
  6. NOBODY owns my work but me!
  7. I have time to write this blog, and in this blog I can say whatever I want (see number 6).
  8. I’ve worked long and hard on my craft and as a seasoned human being who did get a book deal in her twenties or thirties (unless it happens in exactly five weeks), I will be truly ready for it when it comes, and I know it will come.

And now, I will wax psychotherapist: Also part of the human cognition and not named in the DSM as pathological: Comparison Bias: when we seek out information to confirm our own interpretation of a situation or event.

The key to all this is awareness…or as we say in the psycho-therapy biz, mindfullness.

Namaste, writer-friends. The Upside of Friends The Upside of Friends With Book Deals @kacimari @StephanieKeyes #New #Blog Post #amwriting

Standing in the Shadow of Success


1. Early reads. That’s right bitches. I read it when it was a draft!

photo credit: Manuscript via photopin (license)

photo credit: Manuscript via photopin (license)

2. Looking cool at parties. Oh hey, nice book. Check the acknowledgements for my name. (Because I know all of you go to parties where the main theme is reading.)


photo credit: Shock-ed via photopin (license)

3. Feeling like a Twitter rock star when your famous friend replies to your tweet. #BFF #WriterFriends #IKnewHerWhen

zombie tweet
4. Getting signed copies in the mail from the author. Psh. Book signings. All I have to do is ask.

5. Geeking out about authors you love. Omg! I can’t believe (SUPER FAMOUS AUTHOR) blurbed your cover. Did you mention my name?

more books (2)
6. Going to conventions. Why yes, I am her assistant.

photo credit: Library via photopin (license)

photo credit: Library via photopin (license)

7. Movies. Did you hear my BFF’s book was optioned for film? What are you doing with your life?

8. Friend critiques. Like, I know you’re famous and everything, but will you please take a look at this?

9. Living vicariously. Because, let’s be honest, we’re super happy for you, but we kind of hate you a little, too.

photo credit: Cat is angry. via photopin (license)

photo credit: Cat is angry. via photopin (license)

10. Being in the “in” crowd. Just think, once you finally get that book deal, you’ll already know EVERYONE in the biz.

photo credit:  via photopin (license)

photo credit: via photopin (license)

Author photoKacey Vanderkarr is a young adult author. She dabbles in fantasy, romance, and sci-fi, complete with faeries, alternate realities, and the occasional plasma gun. She’s known to be annoyingly optimistic and listen to music at the highest decibel. When she’s not writing, she coaches winterguard and works as a sonographer. Kacey lives in Michigan, with her husband, son, and crazy cats. Kacey plans to publish her fourth novel, Stepping Stones, in August, 2015. Kacey’s short fiction can be found in Sucker Literary Vol 3, Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things, Out of the Green: Tales from Fairyland, and the upcoming Spark Vol VII.