Dead Boy Is Out Now!

Dead Boy, my debut middle grade novel, is available now.

Praise for Dead Boy:

"Gale takes readers on a dark and surprisingly funny journey.... A great recommendation to middle grade fans of dark humor." –School Library Journal

"A stinky, creepy tale for anyone who's ever felt like an outsider." –Kirkus Reviews

Get a copy at AmazonBarnes & Noble, or your local bookstore.

Revision Checklist: The Big Picture

Congratulations! You’ve finished your novel. Time to kick back, relax, and—

Just kidding. It’s time to revise.

Yep, the hard work has barely begun. Before you send your manuscript to a beta reader, an agent, or an editor, you want to make sure it’s the best darn manuscript you’re capable of producing on your own. To do that, you need to get serious about revision. 

To help you revise your novel, I’ve put together a list of issues to consider. Today, we’re looking at the big picture. Next week, we’ll focus on the nitty-gritty details. 

Is there a clear plot? This is a biggie. You should be able to summarize the basic plot easily. If you can’t, it either means you don’t have enough plot or you have so much going on that it’s become a muddled mess.

Are the characters strong? Make sure all of the important characters are fully developed with their own goals and fears, and that they show growth and change throughout the novel.

Is there enough tension? You don’t need constant explosions, but you should have some sort of conflict on every page.

Is that scene/character/paragraph really necessary? If it doesn’t add to the plot or character development, cut it—no matter how much you like it.

Did you rush the end? Maybe you were worried that the word count was getting too high, or maybe you were just ready to be done with project. Either way, a rushed ending is not a satisfying ending. You’ll need to flesh it out. Make sure you’ve resolved the major plotlines—without resorting to deus ex machina or the revelation that it was all a dream.

Is there too much backstory? A little goes a long way, and it’s a good idea to spread it out. The reader doesn’t need to know everything at once. In fact, a little mystery can become another reason to turn the page.

Is it too short? If the manuscript falls far below the normal word count range for its age group and genre, think about ways to expand it. My first drafts tend to have little description, and I add more as I revise. Other manuscripts might need new scenes, chapters, characters, or subplots. Just make sure you’re not adding fluff.

Is it too long? I’ve personally never had this problem—I tend to write short—but I’ve heard of enough 250K-word manuscripts to know it’s a common issue. You might have too much description, too many characters, or too many subplots. You might have started the novel earlier than you should have. You might have a lot of scenes that add little to the story and should be cut. If everything really, truly needs to stay, think about dividing the manuscript into two or three books.

Writing and Selling Your Novel: Resources for Authors

Navigating the world of publishing on your own is difficult. So don’t do it on your own. Get help.

I’ve found the writing community to be extremely supportive, and there are a lot of great resources out there to help you with everything from planning your novel to getting it published and beyond. If you need some support, here’s a list of sites you should check out.

Meetup: This website helps you find groups that meet in real life. It’s not focused on writing, but there are a lot of critique groups and book clubs.

Absolute Write: I love this site. There are discussions on every writing-related topic you could think of, password-protected places where you can post your query or samples of your manuscript to get feedback, places where you can look for beta readers and offer to beta read for others, and threads dedicated to making sure agents and publishers are legit before you submit to them. It’s a great site for all writers, whether they’re just beginning or have a long list of published works. Editors and agents also frequent the site.   

SCBWI: I only recently joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and I should have joined it earlier. There are conferences, local meetings and events, critique groups, online resources, awards, and more for people who write or illustrate for children. An annual membership fee is required.

Literary Rambles: This site focuses on children’s books and publishing. There are author interviews and book giveaways, and the agent spotlight is a great way to find and learn more about agents who represent children’s literature.

Query Shark: This blog dissects queries. Submit your own or just read through other writers’ queries and learn.

Query Tracker: This site lets you search for agents and manage your queries. You can use the regular service for free or upgrade to the premium service.

The Grinder: If you write short stories, this site is a must. It lets you search for short story markets based on various criteria, including length, pay rate, and genre. Duotrope is a similar service that requires a subscription.

Writing and Selling Your Novel: The Path to Publication

Ahh, the glamorous life of an author. Sleeping in. Wearing pajamas all day. Traveling the world on book tours. The fame. The money. The glory. That’s the life for you.

Okay, this isn’t really the experience of most authors, but writing is still a pretty good job. If you want to be a novelist but don’t know the publishing process, this introductory guide is for you. (Note—I’m focusing primarily on traditional publishing because that’s what I know.)

Step 1: Write the novel. Yep. Writers actually have to write. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, you might want to reconsider your chosen profession. How you go about writing the novel is another topic for a different post, but you need to write it from beginning to end before you think about publishing.

Step 2: Edit the novel. It’s probably best if you don’t show the first draft of your first novel to anyone. Polish that thing till it shines. Look at big picture stuff (characters, plot, pacing) and small picture stuff (grammar, punctuation, word choice, dialogue).

Step 3: Get feedback and edit some more. You have a few options here. You can join a critique group, in which case you’ll probably share your novel a chapter at a time. You can find a beta reader, someone who reads the book and gives you a critique. If you have the money, you can hire an editor. Just make sure someone else has looked at your manuscript, especially if you’re fairly new to writing.

Step 4: Write a query. This is the letter you send to agents. It’s one page and includes a couple of paragraphs summarizing your book, the genre, the word count, and anything relevant about yourself. The summary should include the main characters and the basic plot, but it doesn’t include all the details, the subplots, or the ending. Keep it short and focused. It’s meant to entice the agent to read more, so it’s a little like the copy you see on the back of a book, but it tends to be more specific in terms of plot twists and mysteries—you’re not worried about spoilers. Don’t go on about how your friends and family love the book or how amazing it is.

Step 5: Submit the query to agents. You’ll need to create a list of reputable agents with good sales records. Avoid agents with no experience or who charge fees. Send your queries out in batches of 5 to 10 in case you decide to tweak the query later. Most submissions are done via email these days. Follow the agent’s instructions; many ask to see the first 10 or so pages of your manuscript, too.

Okay, this is where the process starts to diverge depending on the response you get. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure novel!

Scenario One: An agent requests your book and offers to represent it. If the agent looks legit and the two of you have compatible visions for the book, you sign. If several agents offer, you pick the best match based on sales, communication style, and vision for the book. Then your agent submits to publishers, probably while you work on your next project.

Scenario Two: No agents offer representation. You decide to edit the novel and query and try again.

Scenario Three: No agents offer representation. You decide to work on a new novel and start the process over.

Scenario Four: No agents offer representation. You decide to submit to publishers on your own. Most big publishers don’t accept unagented work, so you’ll be dealing with small to medium publishers. This process is a lot like querying agents, but you’re going directly to the publishers.

Scenario Five: No agents offer representation. You decide to self-publish. Really think about this first. When you self-publish, you have to provide the editing, cover design, and marketing yourself. Also, be realistic. Did your book fail to land an agent or publisher because it wasn’t at a professional level yet? If so, self-publishing is a bad idea. Instead, refine your skills as you work on a new novel. If you’ve gotten feedback that the novel is great but publishers don’t want it because they already have similar titles or the market is too niche, self-publishing may be a good option.

Writing and Selling Your Novel: Tips and Misconceptions

These days, I like to think I understand the publishing world pretty well. Of course, this hasn’t always been the case. Years ago, when my husband first suggested I use my writing skills to pen a novel, I knew so little about the process that I dismissed the idea as ridiculous. I reconsidered, obviously, but for a while, I maintained some pretty far-fetched fantasies about the publishing process. It took some time, a lot of research, and big helping of hands-on experience for me to learn everything I needed.

We all have to start somewhere, but the abundance of confusion and misconceptions out there doesn't make it easy for new writers. If you’re embarking on your own publishing journey, here are a few things you need to know.

1. You have to write the entire novel before you submit it to agents or editors. Seriously. The entire thing. You have to edit it, too. Yes, established authors can sometimes sell books based on a synopsis, but you’re not an established author yet. You have no track record. So write the book first. Then worry about publishing it.

2. Your first book might not sell. A lot of first books don’t. Mine didn’t. (That’s a good thing, too.) But please, don’t think of all that work you put it writing it as wasted. You learned so much, and you second book will be better because of it.

3. Your second book might not sell, either. Or your third. Or your fourth. And so on. If becoming a published author is your dream, you’ll stick with it.

4. You can get a book deal without any connections. I constantly hear people say this isn’t true, but I know from my own experience as well as the experiences of countless other authors that it is. You don’t need to know anyone. You just need to write a great book and a stellar query. Okay, maybe “just” isn’t the right word.

5. A bad agent is worse than no agent. Once you have an agent, your book is in that person’s hands, so those hands need to be amazing. Don’t settle for an agent who doesn’t know publishing. Look for someone with a good sales track or a new agent at a successful agency. And do NOT pay your agent upfront fees. Legit agents earn commissions when they sell your work.

6. Likewise, a bad publisher is worse than no publisher. You don’t have to hold out for a deal from one of the big five publishers, but you do need to hold out for a good publisher. If you’re considering a small publisher, make sure it produces professionally edited books with beautiful covers that can be found in bookstores. Books published by ebook-only publishers won't be in brick-and mortar-stores, obviously, but make sure the marketing and sales are good. Beware of publishers that ask you to cover the costs yourself.  

Defeating Writer's Block

Sometimes the words flow, scenes practically write themselves, and everything is fine in the world. Other times, crafting a single sentence seems like an impossible feat. When this happens, I always wonder whether this is it. The end. I'll never write anything worthwhile again.

I can't give into writer's block, though, because doing so would mean abandoning my dreams and quitting something that gives me true fulfillment. I have to find a way to defeat writer's block. The best way depends on the underlying problem.

So here are some common problems and the solutions that work for me.

Problem: The manuscript isn't working. If there's an issue with my project, my writing grinds to a halt and my passion fades.

Solution: When this happens, I need to accept that there's a problem and focus on fixing it. Instead of tryingunsuccessfullyto plow ahead, I need to stop and reassess the manuscript. This generally involves reading what I've already written, adjusting the plot and/or characters, and cutting the parts that don't work. It can feel like a step backward, especially if I'm losing a lot of words, but it's the only way to move forward and to produce a finished manuscript I can be proud of.

Problem: I'm thinking about another project. This usually becomes a problem when I'm waiting for feedback on a finished manuscript. When I try to write something new, I find myself obsessing over the coming responsewhat it's going to be and when I'm going to get it. I may also worry that as soon as I get really into a new project, I'll have to stop to do revisions on the other manuscript.

Solution: Write something other than a novel. I'm at my happiest when I'm working on a project, so I don't want to take a long break, but sometimes starting a new novel just isn't a good idea. Instead, I should focus on something elseblog posts, short stories, picture books, etc. These things aren't easier to write, but they are different, which can be refreshing. They're also shorter, which is perfect when I don't want to invest in a big project.

Problem: I'm feeling down. When I'm having problems in life, it can be difficult to muster the energy and motivation needed to write.

Solution: Commit to a short writing session. If I tell myself that I only have to write for ten minutes, it doesn't seem so daunting. When the ten minutes are up, I may decide to stop, but more often, I'll have gotten into the project and I'll want to keep going. A good writing session always makes me feel like I've accomplished something. It boosts my mood, making it easier to write again later.

What triggers writer's block for you? What helps you defeat writer's block?

Real Location Or Fake Location?

When you’re deciding on the setting for your novel, should you pick a real location or a fake one?

I don’t think there’s a definitive answer to this question, but there are certainly pros and cons to both sides.

Some people like using real place because they like writing what they know. They enjoy placing the story in the town where they grew up. They know readers who have been there will get a kick out of it, too, and that could boost local sales. Maybe there’s a city that fits the story perfectly. Maybe the story was created with a real place in mind.

Personally, I prefer to use fake locations. This gives me the freedom to create a world that suits my story. If I want a river flowing through town, boom, I have a river. If I need a cliff, I have a cliff. It means I don’t have to worry about getting facts wrong and annoying the people who live there. It means I can say negative things without angering people.

If you’re using a real location, it's smart to pick a place where you’ve lived, or at least visited. If you need to place your story in a place you’ve never visited, and you can’t go there as research, try to get someone who has lived there to beta read for you.

If you’re making up a location, you’ll need to develop it thoroughly. What is the climate? The population? The wildlife? The crime rate? It’s like creating a character. You need to know a lot, far more than your readers ever will.