A Sprinkling of Book News

Posted by annastan on December 16th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

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?

Gearing Up for a Busy January

Posted by annastan on November 11th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

I’m popping out of the revision cave to share some exciting news. I found out that POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT is going to be available at Target. (This is the first of my books to be stocked there!) Plus, it looks like the book will likely be in stores a few weeks before its official March 3 release date, which means that it might even be out in January. You know what else is out in January? THE GOSSIP FILE, the third book in the Dirt Diary series. It’s going to be one busy January!

If you’re in the New England area, I’d love to see you at the informal launch for THE GOSSIP FILE, scheduled for Saturday, January 10 at 2pm at The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, Mass. I’m also working on scheduling a release event for LITTLE ROBOT, probably sometime around the official release date. Stay tuned!

Speaking of events, there’s a great one coming up at The Writers’ Loft in a few weeks:

Writers Loft Holiday Bazaar Final

Finally, I found out some fun news about my new series with Sourcebooks (as I’m furiously working on finishing up revisions on Book 1, I’M WITH CUPID). The series will be tentatively called Switched at First Kiss. Isn’t that so cute? I should be getting a peek at the cover of the first book soon.

That’s what’s going on with me. What’s new with you?

Writers Need to Be Adaptable

Posted by annastan on November 4th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Remember last week when I said I was doing NaNoWriMo? Welp, there’s been a change of plans. The other day, I received revision notes from my editor which meant that I had to let go of my drafting plans and get back to revising. As I dug into the manuscript, I have to admit that I was a little sad not to participate in the creative energy of November. That’s when I decided to take part in PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) instead.

piboidmo2014banner

This way I’m still able to get new ideas down on paper while staying on track with my deadlines. I’m happy to report that my current tally is one terrible picture book idea, one very vague picture book idea, and one somewhat interesting picture book idea. Not bad for three days, right?

One of the big things I’ve learned about being an author is that you have to be adaptable. You never know when a deadline might be moved up or copyedits might arrive or something else might pop up and demand your attention. It can be hard to balance those kinds of surprises with the creative process (which is already unpredictable). Being a bit of a control freak myself, I’ve had to learn how to switch gears pretty quickly and allow unplanned things to happen. It makes things a bit more chaotic sometimes, but I’m certainly never bored!

How do you deal with the unpredictable nature of the writing life?

What I Learned in the Revision Cave

Posted by annastan on October 25th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

 Things have been a little quiet around here as I’ve been in the revision cave working on a rewrite of I’M WITH CUPID for my editor. Now that I’ve emerged from the cave, I thought I’d share a couple bigger things I learned during the process. (It doesn’t matter how many manuscripts I revise; I always seem to learn something.)

Big suggestions don’t necessarily require big changes. 

This revision was different than many others I’ve done because even though my editor had some big suggestions for things like character development and plot, I didn’t wind up rewriting a lot of scenes. I realized that many of the concerns she mentioned could be fixed by deleting/adding a line here and there.

Now, normally I’d yell at myself to “get out of editing mode and get into revising mode!” if I found myself making small changes in response to big suggestions. And most of the time, I’d be right. But in this case, it felt like the story had a good foundation but just needed some tightening and clarifying. The tightening and clarifying needed to happen all the way through the book, so I did still wind up adding/changing a lot. Unlike other revisions, though, I didn’t actually end up rewriting entire scenes (probably because I already did plenty of that in previous revisions).

Boring characters probably mean you’re being lazy.

My editor commented on one of the minor characters, asking me what made him fun and appealing for young readers. After I thought about it, I realized the character was intended to be funny, but he was coming off as a bit boring and cliched. One of my critique partners started asking me questions about him to see if we could dig into what could make him funny, and that’s when I realized that I didn’t know nearly enough about him. The real problem wasn’t that he was boring; it was that I’d been lazy when I’d created him. Once I started to dig into him a bit more and thought about his backstory, etc, I was able to find a much more entertaining aspect to his personality.

Those are the two big things I took away from this revision. What have you learned in your writing recently?

By the way, is anyone doing NaNoWriMo next month? I’m planning to use it as an opportunity to draft the CUPID sequel. My username on there is plshqueen–let’s be writing buddies!

LITTLE ROBOT Cover Reveal

Posted by annastan on October 15th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

Things have been a little quiet around here lately while I’ve been in the revision cave for I’M WITH CUPID which is due back to my editor next week. But I have some (slightly overdue) news! POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT has an official cover!

Power Down Robot final cover

And I even got advance copies in the mail. (Here’s the front and back of one of them.)

little robot arcs

Now that I’ve seen the almost-finished product in all its adorableness, March can’t come soon enough!

What’s new with you guys?

NESCBWI Encore Presentation

Posted by annastan on September 29th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

This weekend, I was thrilled to take part in NESCBWI Encore at Rhode Island College. It’s a jam-packed day of a handful of workshops that were originally presented during the spring conference. For the event, I took my 2-hour workshop from last time and–after some head-scratching–managed to boil it down to a 1-hour presentation.

I promised the attendees that I’d post my PowerPoint, so for them (or for anyone else who might be interested) here is the presentation of 7 common writing missteps and how to avoid them:

Common Writing Missteps

(Note: I’ll keep this presentation up for the next month or so.)

It was a long but inspiring day, and I’m excited to put some of the nuggets of wisdom to use as I dig into revising I’M WITH CUPID this week.

Happy writing!