What’s Your Story’s Big Idea?

Posted by annastan on January 27th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

On Sunday, I attended a panel on non-fiction writing at the Writers’ Loft with authors Sarah Albee, Loree Griffin Burns, Leslie Bulion, Susan Goodman, and April Prince Jones. It was an all-star line-up, and the panelists had lots of valuable things to say. I was especially struck by one thread of the conversation on finding your story’s Big Idea.

Several of the authors highly recommended writing a book proposal for a project before you start–whether or not you’re going to be trying to sell the project on proposal or not–to help you figure out your “big idea.” By this, they meant the approach to your story that will make it unique. So instead of simply writing yet another book about snakes, you can find a way of talking about snakes that makes the concept feel fresh and unique and you.

The wisdom in this advice is two-fold and applies to any type of writing, including fiction. When you’re starting a project, it’s a good idea to first take notes and brainstorm to get at the heart of your story. This is true even if you’re writing a picture book. I often jump in and write a terrible draft of a picture book first, but then I step back and work on pinpointing what’s going on below the surface of the story and how I can make it stronger. And when I’m working on a novel, by the time I’m done writing and revising the synopsis and opening chapters, I usually feel like I’ve found the novel’s voice and central conflict so that I can keep going all the way until the end.

The second part of the advice, though, about finding the “you” in your story, I think is even more important. When you’re working on a manuscript, it’s vital to think about how you can put your own unique spin on it. How is your story about friendship different from the other ones already out there? It can’t simply be fun or cute. It has to feel fresh, even if it’s a story that’s been told numerous times. That freshness will come from you–your voice, your perspective, your sense of humor, etc. No one else can write the book the same way you can, but make sure you’re pushing the “you” in it as far as it needs to go.

Do you put together a proposal when you begin working on a project? How do you go about finding your story’s Big Idea?

Launch Party Pics and Other Tidbits

Posted by annastan on January 20th, 2015 | 6 Comments »

It’s been a little quiet around here the past couple weeks while I’ve been locked away in the writing cave, but I wanted to pop in and share some pictures from the Gossip File launch party. The event was held at The Writers’ Loft, which seemed like a fitting place for it since I spent many hours writing and revising the book there. (Please forgive the wacky spacing. WordPress was not being terribly cooperative today.)

Gossip File Launch 1

You can definitely see my baby bump in this picture!

Gossip File Launch 2

Quiet, please. Author busily signing books.

Gossip File Launch 3

I put together a Gossip File raffle basket which included lots of chocolate (of course) and a copy of the book with little hand-written secrets throughout.

Gossip File Launch 4

My books look kind of pretty all lined up like that, don’t they? :)

And, of course, a picture of me grinning like an idiot.

And, of course, a picture of me grinning like an idiot.

Thank you to everyone who came to help me celebrate the book’s birthday! I have a couple other events coming up in March, so keep an eye on my Events page if you’re dying to come say hello in person.

One more bit of news: I found out that My Epic Fairy Tale Fail will be in the Scholastic Book Club where it will join the first UnFairy book and the Dirt Diary series. I could not be more excited to see my books working their way into the book club! It’s been so exciting to see my books reaching new readers thanks to the book clubs and fairs.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to lock myself up in the revision cave and start hacking away at my terrible first draft of FINDER REAPERS (sequel to I’M WITH CUPID). Wish me luck! I may need a machete.

And the winner is…

Posted by annastan on January 7th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Thanks so much to everyone who took part in the Gossip File Twitter contest yesterday and made up funny bits of gossip about fictional characters. There were some hilarious entries, and it helped make the release day a lot more fun!

I had a really hard time choosing a winner, so first, here are a couple of honorable mentions.

Veronica BartlesI heard red *isn’t* Anne Shirley’s natural hair color!

Hayley BarrettHave you seen Winnie-The-Pooh lately?!? He went Paleo 6 months ago and now he’s #Skinny-The-Pooh.
Can you see why I had trouble picking one? And now, for the winner.
Ann Marie Stephens Harold and his purple crayon are currently serving time on felony vandalism charges.

Congrats, Ann Marie! I’ll be contacting you about your prize. And thanks again to all you for helping me to celebrate The Gossip File’s birthday. I was grinning all day thanks to your tweets and FB messages and blog comments. Release days must have been a sad occurrence before the invention of the interwebs!

Happy Birthday to THE GOSSIP FILE!

Posted by annastan on January 6th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

I can’t believe the day is finally here: The Gossip File is officially out in the world and the Dirt Diary series is all wrapped up!

gossip file cover

When my publisher first suggested the idea of publishing all three books in the series in the span of a year (January/July/January) I was nervous about the idea but also excited to give it a try. Overall, I’m glad we went about it that way since it’s created some nice momentum for the series. From the writing perspective, I must admit that there were times when I wasn’t sure I’d make my deadlines. Ultimately, though, the experience taught me that I’m capable of really buckling down and getting things done, even when they seem impossible.

So how am I celebrating the release of my new book?

Twitter contest! Swing by Twitter before midnight EST tonight and tweet a bit of silly fake gossip about a fictional character, using the hashtag #thegossipfile, and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of the book! (e.g. “Anne of Green Gables sleeps with 300 stuffed animals #thegossipfile” or “Harry Potter was spotted canoodling with Bella Swan #thegossipfile”)

Release party! I’ll be having a book launch this Saturday at 2pm at The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, Mass. Hope to see you there! (If you can’t make it to the launch but would like a signed copy, just contact Wellesley Books before the event, and they’ll make it happen.)

Writing! Yup, I sure know how to party. I’ll be spending a good chunk of the day working on my next book. Ah, deadlines… :)

I’M WITH CUPID Cover Reveal!

Posted by annastan on December 29th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

I’ve gotten the go-ahead to share the cover of I’M WITH CUPID (the first book in my new series with Sourcebooks) with all of you guys. Are you ready? Here it is!

cupid cover

Isn’t it so much fun? I can’t wait for the book to hit shelves in July!

Speaking of books hitting shelves, I’m not sure how the time has flown by, but next week is the official release date for THE GOSSIP FILE! Be prepared for a lot of confetti next Tuesday. (By the way, thanks to my publisher, you can win the entire Dirt Diary series.)

And finally, I’m pretty sure my husband won Christmas this year. He found someone on Etsy to make a real-life version of Little Robot, the main character from my forthcoming picture book. I love his little smirky face! (Bonus: You might be able to spot my baby bump in this picture.)

little robot christmas

That’s the end-of-the-year excitement here. Happy New Year, everyone!

A Sprinkling of Book News

Posted by annastan on December 16th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

It’s been a week of bookish news! Let’s start with POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT which received its first review from Kirkus. First reviews are always nerve-wracking, so it’s a relief when the reviewers don’t hate it. Kirkus seemed to really like the illustrations (as do I!) and they said the book it will “earn fans of all youngsters who engage in bedtime battles.” You can read the full review here.

Also, guess what came in the mail today? A finished, hardcover copy of LITTLE ROBOT! I may have squealed a little when I opened the package. The illustrations are so pretty and colorful! I can’t believe it’s going to be in stores soon! (I tried to take a picture of the dog with my book, but for some reason she was scared of it. Clearly, she’s not the target demographic for this one.)

little robot hardcover

In other book news, thanks to my other publisher, Sourcebooks, there are currently 5 copies of THE GOSSIP FILE (Dirt Diary Book 3) up for grabs on Goodreads.

And, in case I haven’t mentioned it here yet, I’m planning a launch party for THE GOSSIP FILE on Saturday, January 10th at The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, Mass. at 2pm. If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you there!

Finally, in writing news, I sent back copyedits for I’M WITH CUPID yesterday which means I can now fully focus on drafting the sequel. I went through and put word count goals on the calendar for December and January, so hopefully by the end of next month, I’ll have a terrible first draft all ready for revising. Wish me luck!

What’s your news this week?

Some Fun Recent Reads

Posted by annastan on December 10th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Things have been a little nuts around here thanks to deadlines and end-of-semester grading, so I haven’t had much time for reading. When I’m most stressed, I tend to gravitate toward light, fun reads. Here are a couple I enjoyed recently.

Not in the Script by Amy Finnegan

I was excited to read this book not only because it sounded fun but also because it was written by one of my agency mates. I was not disappointed. The story grabbed me from the start, but what particularly stood out were the characters. I found myself reading about movie stars and believing they were real people! The minute I finished this one, I recommended it to my middle school librarian friend who’s always looking for good books for her younger students who are interested in reading YA but might not be ready for the racier stuff yet. (That’s the beauty of Bloomsbury’s new If Only imprint with its focus on “clean YA.”)

Dream a Little Dream by Kerstin Gier

I really enjoyed the Ruby Red series by the same author, partly because of the time travel but mostly because of the voice, so when I saw a new title by her on NetGalley, I was excited to dive in. Once again, I was sucked in by the character’s voice and the humor running throughout the story. On top of the slightly supernatural premise, there was also a cast of wacky characters and lots of believable teenage emotions. This is the first in a series, but I appreciated that (unlike Ruby Red which ended on a cliffhanger) this title could stand on its own.

What have you been reading recently?

How do you know if your idea is any good?

Posted by annastan on December 2nd, 2014 | 6 Comments »

A couple days ago, I wrote down my last 2 ideas for PiBoIdMo and cheered. I had reached my goal of 30 ideas in 30 days! But that excitement was short-lived as I went back through my list and realized how few of the ideas were any good. That got me wondering if I always know when an idea is going to work. The answer is: Maybe?

While I can’t always tell if an idea is going to be one that actually clicks, I have noticed some commonalities between the ideas that have turned into publishable books. Here are the main ones.

1. Level of excitement

When I first had the idea for Power Down, Little Robot, I was so excited about it that I furiously wrote the manuscript and revised it in the span of only a few days. I just couldn’t stop working on it. That doesn’t often happen to me, so I had a feeling I was on to something. And, luckily, my agent agreed. But that furious energy isn’t necessarily the only sign of a good idea. In fact, if you’ve been working on something for a while and you still feel invested in it, that’s also a good indicator that you might be on to something.

2. Marketability

Is it crazy to think about the market when you haven’t even written the story yet? Yes and no. You probably don’t want to abandon an idea simply because it’s not an obvious sell, but if you come up with an idea that automatically implies an audience then that’s another reason to keep working on it. And if you manage to come up with a fresh take on a familiar topic, that’s often idea gold.

3. Test of Skill

I don’t know about you, but I love when I have an idea that I have no idea how to write. It becomes a challenge as well as an opportunity to push myself to do something new. With I’m With Cupid (another idea that hit me and demanded to be written) I realized that this was going to be a rather dark book with a lot of humor in it, and it was also going to be my first dual-POV novel for tweens. Both those challenges actually made the project more exciting. I feel like I’ve learned a lot by working on this novel, even though there were times when I wasn’t sure how I was going to pull it off.

4. Personal Connection

I can be a pretty guarded person sometimes, but I’ve had to break through that when it comes to my writing. If your books don’t have genuine emotions in them then they won’t speak to readers. When I’m evaluating an idea, I try to find myself in it. Is there something that this project says about me or my way of viewing the world? Is there some emotional truth that I can relate to? If I can connect to the idea on an emotional level then, chances are, others will too.

So how do my PiBoIdMo ideas hold up after I’ve gone through this list?  I think I might have a few worth pursuing, ones that have been bouncing around in my head since I wrote them down. None have been the kind that demand to be written immediately, but I’m not giving up hope yet. Instead, I’ll keep playing around with them, and maybe one of them will start to sing.

How do you know if an idea is any good?

Using Writing Techniques in Everyday Life (and Some BIG Non-Writing News)

Posted by annastan on November 24th, 2014 | 9 Comments »

I’ve always thought of myself as a fairly organized person, but now that I know how much time and effort goes into planning, writing, revising, and promoting a book, I realize that old me had NO idea what real organization meant. I’m happy to report that the organizational techniques I’ve developed in writing have started helping me in other parts of my life ,too.

BIG NON-WRITING NEWS TIME!! I’m pregnant with my first wee one, due in April! Hooray! That means there is LOTS of planning to be done. Here are some of the writing techniques that I’ve found amazingly helpful so far.

Spreadsheets. I’ve been going through what will become the nursery and sorting the stacks of books that I need to decide what to do with. Just like I would do for a novel after finishing a first draft, I’ve created spreadsheets of which books I’m getting rid of, who to give them to, etc. Not only does this make those stacks of books easier to organize, but it also forces me to consider where the best home for each book might be.

Research. The next step has been deciding how to set up the nursery. As I would do with any book that contains things I don’t know much about, I’ve been Googling what we need, where to get it, pictures of things to give me a sense of what they are/how they work/etc. And, of course, I’ve been keeping a document full of brainstorming notes, just like I would with a new novel project.

Maps. Now that I have a sense of what we need for the nursery, I need to figure out where it’ll go. That’s where map-making comes in! Yup, just like I’d create a map for a story to figure out the setting, I’ve created a little diagram of the layout of the nursery to get a sense of what needs to go where and the scale we’ll be working with. (I’m also working on doing this for our kitchen since we need to rethink the layout in there.)

Mentor texts. In the past, I’ve talked about re-reading novels you admire and that you can mine for techniques to help guide you in your own writing. Similarly, I’ve started accumulating books on a variety of topics to help guide me through pregnancy and beyond (What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Baby’s First Year, 7 Steps to Raising Your Child Bilingual, Childproofing Your Dog, etc).

I know this must all sound unbelievably nerdy, but I have to say that if I’d been trying to get ready for a baby even five years ago, before I really got into the swing of this whole writing/publishing life, I think I would have been pretty overwhelmed without all these strategies to help me. Now I’m just excited to see things coming together and looking forward to welcoming a Human Baby into the world next year, alongside my Book Babies. :-)

How have you found writing techniques useful in your everyday life?

Thanksgiving Came Early This Year

Posted by annastan on November 18th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

On Sunday, I had the pleasure of speaking to the Teen NaNo group at The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, Mass about conflict and tension in fiction. I had a fantastic time, and I was blown away by how driven the teen participants were. Some of them already had more than one book under their belts, and they were serious about finishing more. I wish I’d been that focused when I was in high school!

The event left me inspired to dig back into my I’M WITH CUPID revision one more time and do a final pass before sending it to my editor. I’m pleased to report that the final revision is done! Next step: copyedits! And, at some point, (hopefully in December) I’ll start drafting the sequel.

I’ve realized that once CUPID comes out in July, it’s going to be my eighth published work. Eighth! If I had told my high school self (or my grad school self) that I would have that many books out in the world one day, I don’t think younger me would have been able to wrap her brain around it. Honestly, I don’t think current me can quite wrap her brain around it.

In the past few years, it feels like my life has gone from “how am I ever going to get published?” to “wow, someone wants my stuff!” to “wow, someone wants MORE of my stuff!” to “wow, I guess this is kind of my job now!” I try not to take any of it for granted because I know creativity (and publishing) can be fickle and unpredictable. Even when I’m stressed by deadlines, I try to step back every once in a while and marvel at the fact that I get to do what I love (what high school me loved) and call it my career.

Welp, I guess this has turned into an early Thanksgiving post. So, why not go with it? That’s what I’m feeling thankful for today. How about you?