Hit “Send” to my editor at 2:15am PT today (5/1/2019).
124,183 Words. And it’s a good book.
by Guest Blogger, Cara Landi
Q: Why do you write?
A: Because I have so many stories in my head. If I don’t get them out, they’ll drive me crazy!
Q: What’s your favorite genre?
A: Medieval Fantasy. I used to like horror stories best. Then I had kids, and horror movies lost their luster. Teens getting killed in the woods doesn’t intrigue me now that I’m not a teen and I have a couple of them. I do still love a good monster story.
Q: What is it about Medieval Fantasy?
A: I like the idea of chivalry that is associated with the (loosely interpreted) time period. I’m not sure if people actually were chivalrous, but the concept makes for good character motivation, hypocrisy, and internal conflict. The other fun I have toying with the medieval genre goes back to Dungeons & Dragons, where I learned to imagine medieval scenarios. I have a strong vision of what fantasy medieval worlds can look like.
I also like the low-tech setting. In my new novel, Die Klinge Des Waldes (BLADE to my US fans), I have an inventor who designs and builds things that I get to dream up. They seem fantastical, but possible. It’s hard for me to write sci-fi these days. With the advances in the technology of our time, it’s difficult to imagine innovation beyond what innovators are actually doing. We’ve been wowed to death by amazing tech. It’s easier for me (and fun) to imagine what might be astound people in medieval times.
Q: What’s an example of that?
A: A mechanical elephant in a medieval world would be fascinating. In our modern world it would be an internet sensation for maybe a day. So when I create my mechanical elephant with flames coming out of its trunk and crossbow bolts shooting from its tusks my characters (and audience) say “how can that be?” or “that’s amazing!” instead of “huh, cool, what else is on youtube?”
Q: Where do your stories come from?
A: A couple of places. One is the drama of real life–problems anybody might have like, “oh no! I’m going to get killed and I don’t want to….” That’s a real problem now and in medieval times. In fact, it was likely extra-challenging to live and survive back then. Other everyday drama can include things like “I don’t love you” and “you’re fired.”
I also ask myself, “what if?” The answer is then the story. For Die Klinge Des Waldes, I thought “What if you took a Disney princess and had awful things happen to her? How would she handle that?” The answer in my world is: not very well initially.
The ways people deal with conflict is what makes for a good story. The more challenging, the better. The struggles of a fallen princess are especially awesome.
Q: Die Klinge Des Waldes (Blade) features a strong female protagonist. In your dozen or so previous books you’ve used primarily male protagonists. Did writing a female change your approach to this story?
A: The Mapper Series had a female protagonist in one book, and I enjoyed working with a female lead. Building on that experience, this character is even more well-developed. She should appeal to both men and women. Her struggles are very human and mostly genderless (such as “I don’t want to get killed”), but she lives in a world where being female has its own unique challenges.
Q: What drives your stories first–character, plot, world-building?
A: It used to be the plot, but now I am more character-focused. Readers like characters. If readers love the character, they want to see what that character will do, even if the conflict is as simple as, “what’s for dinner?” For this work, I focused more on our princess’s evolution than the events around her. But of course a zebra can’t change its stripes. There are still some big plot twists!
Q: How else has your writing evolved?
A: My world-building has gotten better. When you read Die Klinge Des Waldes, you experience a complete and detailed world. Having environments that are really developed is fun for readers. It’s very much like Game of Thrones, in which the world is extensive and has many distinctive characters and locations. The city I’ve created in Die Klinges Des Waldes has 35-districts, each with its own personality. It’s almost like Munich, Barcelona, Lagos, Seattle, Tokyo, and Rio all pushed together beside each other to form one big city, only its medieval.
Q: What is your favorite district?
A: The Carnival District! And it’s the favorite of the city’s citizens as well–parties, performances, politics, and a crazy/brilliant Duke who runs the show. I’m pretty sure it’s also the favorite of my editors who created a blow-up of the carnival castle and circus tent on one of two beautifully illustrated maps for the novel.
Q: Yes. Tell us about the maps! They seem to be an important part of your medieval fantasy books. Can you talk about that?
A: It started with my second best seller in Germany, Die Karte Der Welt (The Map of the World). My publisher, Blanvelet, asked me to sketch a map. I scribbled out an amateur diagram so they knew where the landmarks were, and they hired professional cartographer, Andreas Hancock, Bielefeld) to create a real map for the entire Map of the World series. Super cool. In my new novel, the world is so extensively developed that, even though the story subject wasn’t maps, my editors wrote and said, “I know you’re busy, but can you sketch up another amateur map of your world so a professional can draw it?”
Q: Was that a fun process for you?
A: Oh yeah. Yes! I have to admit I really dig making maps. In fact, I got a little obsessive and spent a week re-reading my entire 600 page novel to get every location right. Then I sketched it like a kindergartener…or at least a kindergartener with Photoshop. I also wrote three pages of detailed notes about the map. Random House hired a professional who translated all of the materials I provided into beautiful maps for the interior of the novel. It was awesome!
I don’t think every author gets that much creative input with their novels’ artwork. My publisher did, however, reject my cover idea. They said my concept was too polarizing, and then they sent me the beautiful cover they had already created.
Q: What do you love about Die Klinge Des Waldes?
A: I love Flora. She’s a complex person. She starts simple and becomes very complicated. It’s like watching her grow up, only there are wars and swordplay and mechanical elephants that shoot flame from their trunks.
Q: Why should other people love the story?
A: It’s big and cinematic and intimate at the same time. We get to know a lot about Flora, and then we get to see her on a huge stage trying to deal with disasters, triumphs, and everyday problems, like the overthrow of entire kingdoms and spats with her older sister.
Q: What’s different about this story from others that you have written?
A: This is an adult story, and so it is different than my bestseller Damliche Damonen (Demonkeeper) in the same way that Game of Thrones is different from Lord of the Rings.
Q: What’s next for you? Any new projects on the horizon?
A: Yes. I am always thankful that my editors believe in my work. I am currently writing another medieval fantasy with Blanvalet. It’s due at the end of the year, and I expect will be released some time in 2019.
Q: Is Die Klinge Des Waldes going to be available for U.S. fans to read?
A: I certainly hope so. I will be taking it to US publishers soon. But that’s a new blog entry entirely…. Stay tuned!
By Royce Buckingham
My 16 year old son just earned 1st Place for his composition in the Washington State Young Composer’s Project. While I understand that this news is most exciting to my immediate family, it reminds me of how important contests were in building my writing resume and ultimately leading to my first deal.
I started by submitting short stories to contests, wrote and submitted my first novel (which is still in my desk drawer, by the way), and then moved on to screenplays. First, I chose regional contests and then expanded to national opportunities. With each new honorable mention, second place, and outright win, I gained the confidence and inspiration to continue developing my craft.
Eventually, my entry into the Academy Nicholl Fellowships earned a semifinal finish, which led to my first book sale and a movie deal with 20th Century Fox.
Here are the things I looked for when choosing which contests to enter:
Price: Most budding authors don’t have a ton of money to throw around. Make sure the cost is in line with the size and reputation of the contest.
Is the contest reputable? Find out how long its been around. Check out past winners. Research what others have said about it. Review the list of judges.
Exposure: Make sure success in the contest will get people to take you seriously at the next level. Also, what type(s) of promotion does the contest offer, and is there a solid web and social media presence?
Feedback: You need to hear what others think about your work. Contests that include critiques by judges are extremely valuable to improve your storytelling and evaluate whether to continue developing and marketing the story you submitted or chalk it up to experience and move on to new material.
It takes much more than a riveting story to grow a brand and successfully market titles. – Christian Smythe
With so much content out there, traditional and indie publishers are looking for innovative ways to market their authors. Christian Smythe suggests a few interesting concepts here.
Top 10 lists are all a matter of the opinion. What speaks to one person might not to another. I find them helpful, however, to see where my experiences align with others and to gain new perspective. In this list, for instance, #s 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10 resonate the most for me and are similar to my thought process and practice of writing. What speaks to you?
1. Don’t write linearly: Don’t set out to write something from beginning to end. A story is meant to be read from front to back, but not necessarily created that way. If you have an idea for writing the sixth chapter first, then start there. The epilogue can even be the first thing you put down on paper, then work your way back. Scattered chapters will eventually be filled in, and it will force you to look at the story from different angles, which may present different ideas or new approaches. You’d be surprised how well this works when a whole book starts coming together. It’s also great for getting around writer’s block.
2. Have two or more projects on the go: Speaking of writer’s block, having more than one project on the go is never a bad idea. Although focus and dedication are paramount to completing a work, sometimes you inevitably get stuck. It’s good to be able to move on to something else instead of feeling frustrated and stagnant. You don’t have to have a few big projects happening either … maybe you’re penning a novel, but also some short stories and an article or two.
3. Be your own editor: There are days where I have difficulty writing altogether, so I’ll switch to editing my stories rather than trying to create them. Never assume it is someone else’s job to fix your mistakes. Find all the errors first, and deal with them yourself. The more polished and refined your work is, the more favorably it will be received when you’re finally ready to present it.
4. Ask for (and take lots of) punishment: It is well worth finding yourself a professional writer or editor and asking/paying them to look at your work. Tell them to give you highly critical feedback with no sugarcoating. Let them go so far as to be cruel too, just so you really get the point. There is a lot of rejection and criticism involved in the publishing industry. Getting accustomed to it sooner than later is advantageous. If you want to be serious about your writing, then you’ll need to know everything wrong with your writing. Accepting and understanding the harsh realities of your shortcomings is a most important step to getting better.
5. Disconnect: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pintrest, the Internet in general … we know how invasive social media and technology is in our lives these days. We also know that it can be good for promotion, building a brand, and having an online presence. But you know what else social media and technology is really good for? Procrastination, distraction, and countless wasted hours. Being able to unplug for long periods of time is more important than you may think. All those tweets you’ve posted might have added up the word-count of half a novel by now…
6. Learn what good writing is: Honestly, there’s so much terrific writing out there, but there is also considerably more garbage as well. I’m constantly surprised by how many people don’t know the difference between the good and the bad. Art is subjective, true, but it isn’t that subjective when you remove ignorance and replace it with education. Duke Ellington said it best: “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind”. The same applies to writing.
7. Have your own workspace: It’s trendy nowadays to take your laptop to coffee shop or bar and write in public. I even advocate a change of environment/atmosphere when writing feels stifled. But I believe it’s more important to have and maintain your own private workspace, a spot you can call your own with a desk and preferably a door you can close when you need to shut out the world in order to create your own.
8. Dedicate to the craft: Serious writing is not something you merely do if or when you can find the time. It’s not just for Sunday afternoons, or the occasional evening, or a few hours a week when you can give it some attention. Make the time, and make lots of it. Tackle the craft daily and dedicate a generous portion of your existence to honing your skills. You’re only going to get out of it what you put into it, and serious writing requires a lot of investment.
9. Time management: When it comes to the hours or days you’ve reserved for writing, make sure you stick to your guns. Consider it sacred. To most other people, your ‘writing time’ is merely ‘flexible time’. They will invariably think that you can cancel, minimize or postpone working when it suits you (or them). Tell these people that your personal work time is not negotiable; much like theirs isn’t at their day jobs. You don’t need a regimented schedule, but you do need to clock in the hours.
10. Remember the Three “P’s”: I’ll admit there’s still a hell of a lot more to say on the topic of writing tips, but what it all comes down to in the end are three things I believe writers need to remember above all else: Patience, Perseverance, and maintaining your sense of Purpose.
Here’s the link to the Messum’s column in Writer’s Digest.
Column by J. Kent Messum, author of 2015 novel HUSK (July 2015, Penguin UK). HUSK was optioned for an international TV show by Warp Films in the UK. Messum is an author who always bets on the underdog. He lives in Toronto with his wife, dog, and trio of cats. His first novel BAIT won the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for ‘Best First Novel.’
Someone (Adam Whitehead) took a lot of time to compile author book sales in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Genres. Fun to see my name pop up.
And remember, both of my best selling German series, Demonkeeper and Mapper, are now available in the US. You can purchase for your eReader now and they will be available in print really soon!
When I returned from the SCBWI’s Weekend on the Water writer’s retreat in Dumas, WA last month, I dove back into the hustle and bustle of my day job, sports carpools, parenting, and an onrushing deadline for my latest 500 page project for Random House-Germany, Princess Assassin. It’s due Dec 1st. Am I panicking? The answer is “absolutely.”
Despite all this life happening to me, I have a moment to share some great stats and insight I learned from Chelsea Eberley at the retreat. Chelsea is an editor for Random House Books for Young Readers, which is a big reason I decided to attend the retreat. Coincidentally, I write books for young readers, and I have more stories for young readers to tell. I appreciate Chelsea’s time and insight and want to share some of it with you.
If you ever wondered….here are the Page Counts/Word Counts for different types of children’s books:
Here’s a Good Exercise to Try: Pretend the scene is being used as a cover quote, and read it aloud.
And finally, some parting words and advice from Chelsea…
While it is hard to take the time out to attend conferences and events, the connections made are excellent. The information that I have shared above is uber-useful (like a reasonably priced ride on the path to publishing) and, as important, not copyrighted.
Additionally, the opportunity to talk personally with an editor who is in tune with current trends and willing to take the time to discuss my very own current story pitches is invaluable.
A big thanks to Western Washington’s Chapter of SCBWI and Chelsea!
Some really great tips here…and not just from yours truly. 🙂
Thanks to to Hannah G for including Demonkeeper (Book I) in her ‘spooky book list’!
Is Halloween your favorite holiday? Do your kids like books? Do you want your kids to appreciate your aesthetic, without being traumatized for life? You’ve come to the right place! I’ve…
Designing book covers is fun! I’ve always thought so but have not been so intimately involved in the process until recently. I’m working with ePublisher Gere Donovan Press to bring my best selling German series, Mapper, to the United States. We decided to expand the three book series into six parts for U.S. readers. Here’s the visual process we went through to come up with our final (and awesome) designs!
In August, Gere Donovan sent me this image with the idea that the cover would stay the same for all six books but with different titles.
It didn’t win my team over – spoiler, there is no giant spider in my story – it was a little busy for the eye, we wanted different cover images for each book, and there was something oddly familiar about the illustration. Upon some research, I discovered that it was the same image used for Author/Illustrator Walter Moers’ book, A Wild Ride Through the Night.
The illustration is in the public domain, as it’s one of hundreds of engravings created by Gustave Dore. That got me thinking…
….I looked up Gustave Dore and found other images. Did I mention there are hundreds?
While I messed around on Photoshop, I conducted a highly scientific survey of friends (a one-line Facebook post) about the proposed book cover from Gere Donovan. Many liked the artistic look of Dore’s work. But my team and I wondered…”will it sell books?” I recalled once talking books with THE buyer for a major retailer who said definitively, “I can tell if a book will sell by its cover.”
She then looked down at the copy of my soon to be released book The Dead Boys. Let’s just say she did not immediately place a big order. (Insert sad face here and shameless plug – if you loved the new series Stranger Things, you will also love The Dead Boys.) Anyway, back to the Mapper Series covers. My team decided to experiment with something more modern-looking.
We raided iStock and other photo sites to find some images with cool looking knights and came up with these.
We kind of liked them. But some of our friends from the follow-up Facebook survey thought they were boring. Too traditional.
We probably spent way too much time on this process (but hey, I was having fun) and then decided we should have a conference call with Scott from Gere Donovan. We fretted about letting them know that we weren’t sold on their first idea (the Gustave Dore image). But we shouldn’t have been so worried. Five minutes into the call, Scott said he was really happy that we didn’t like the cover! Upon reflection, he had already decided he didn’t like it either. Phew! After further discussion, Scott suggested that we could use more modern images and cited some trends he’d recently noticed in book covers. We liked his thoughts and, after several rounds of shuffling images between six books, Photoshopping, and further extensive surveying of our beta viewers, we loved what they came up with!
Oh…and by the way, they are Kindle-ready by by clicking here!