Tuesday, March 5, 2019

YA Guy... Reveals All!

Okay, YA Guy admits right up front that the title of this blog post is misleading. I'm not revealing ALL (because trust me, you don't want to know!). But I am revealing the cover to the third book in the Ecosystem Trilogy, HOUSE OF EARTH, HOUSE OF STONE, which releases April 22 of this year (Earth Day, of course). Here it is, in all its glory:

Two notes about this cover.

First, though I love all of the covers my design team produced for the Ecosystem series, I love this one the most. Something about the colors, the layout, and the totally cool circlet they created based on my description in the book--perfect! I hope you like it too.

Second note: this is yet another thing I love about self-publishing. I woke up this morning and said, "Gosh, I feel like revealing the cover to my book," and so I did it. No permission needed. No hoops to jump through. Just me, on my own, doing my thing. Nice!

Let me know what you think about the cover, and I look forward to releasing HOUSE OF EARTH, HOUSE OF STONE to the world!

Friday, March 1, 2019

YA Guy... Lets Go!

Like all writers, YA Guy has from time to time permanently shelved a writing project that failed to pan out as originally hoped. Usually, this happens quite early in the writing, a chapter or two in. I'll be momentarily jazzed by an idea, but then I'll figure out very quickly that it's going nowhere.

Not this time.

A couple of years ago, I had what I thought was a great idea for a YA historical horror novel. I had the title, Polar. I had the premise: a North Pole voyage--loosely based on the final voyage of Commander Robert E. Peary--that goes horrifyingly wrong due to supernatural events. I had the narrator, a teen stowaway named Justin Morrow. As that name indicates, I also had an intertextual reference: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, in which the monster's spree of homicidal revenge begins with the false accusation and execution of Justine Moritz and ends, guess where, at the North Pole.

In short, I had it all.

As someone who's been fascinated by the North Pole voyages since childhood, I plunged gleefully into the research. I read the autobiography of Matthew Henson, the African American man who assisted Peary and who was to play a large role in my novel. I read Peary's accounts of his own polar voyages, as well as his wife's account of an earlier voyage to Greenland. I educated myself on Arctic climate and geography and peoples, on the boats and sleds and other equipment used to mount polar expeditions, on the details of polar living and travel. I read other works of fiction set at the Pole. I had so much material, I couldn't wait to start writing.

And I did start. Given the historical nature of my story, I planned out the writing to a far greater extent than I usually do, with a quite specific timeline of major events, incidents, and locations. I drafted the first several chapters, and I was pleased with the story's direction. I kept going. The manuscript swelled to over two hundred pages. The story got richer, more complex, more exciting. The end was, if not exactly in sight, at least in mind.

But then, it came crashing to a halt. The story sputtered and died. I set the manuscript aside a year ago, and I've kept trying to get back to it ever since, but without success.

I'm not entirely sure what went wrong. Looking back over it, I fear I might have over-planned, burdening my brain and my story with so much historical detail, the story never soars. Or possibly it was that I never found a compelling enough reason for my chosen narrator to be taking this journey and telling this story. I do know that I struggled with his voice, which I tried to model on early-20th-century prose but which, in the end, felt forced and flat. Supernatural elements no longer felt as frightening as they were supposed to be, and the coherence of the story suffered as a result. It started to feel like a very weirdly written history, not a novel--a chronicle, not a narrative.

Eventually, I admitted to myself that I was never going to get it back on track, and I retired it permanently.

Letting go is hard, especially with a story you've lived with and dreamed of for such a long time. Writers pour so much of themselves into their writing, it's quite painful to accept defeat, quite tempting to keep alive the belief that the pieces will magically come together. Sometimes, you get lucky. Other times, you don't. Those are the times you need to let go and move on.

So that's what I'm doing. I'm a bit too drained by this experience to pick up a new project immediately, but I'm waiting for the next inspiration. I'm hoping it'll sustain itself better than Polar did. I'm trying not to feel like a failure.

And, whatever happens next, I'm telling myself this isn't the end of the world.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

YA Guy Can't Wait for.. These 2019 Books!

YA Guy's always on the lookout for great books. Here are five from the first half of 2019--all but one of them for young readers--that I'm particularly excited about. I'll freely admit that I have a personal connection to each of the five authors (heck, I'll even tell you what that connection is), but at the same time, no one's paying or even prompting me to promote their books. I've listed them in order of release date--and the first one on the list comes out a mere week from today!

Louise Cypress, NARCOSIS ROOM (February 19). We share an agent and (sort of) a moniker--she's the YA Gal, I'm YA Guy--but one other thing we share is a love of twisty, creepy sci-fi stories. Her latest, set in a world where one's looks and identity can be surgically enhanced--or destroyed--will definitely freak you out in the best possible way.

Jessica Khoury, LAST OF HER NAME (February 26). I've loved Khoury's books since her debut, ORIGIN, and I love space operas. (I also love the artwork she drew for two of my own recent novels.) Her latest is a sci-fi retelling of the Anastasia story set in a distant galaxy, and it's just what I need to get through the wintertime.

Kat Ross, INFERNO (March 15). Way back in 2014, Ross and I met as members of a debut YA novelists' group. Since that time, she's put out some of the highest quality fantasy novels I've read, including two series that span the centuries and are linked by common characters. INFERNO, the final book in the Fourth Talisman series, promises to be yet another wickedly fun adventure into the worlds of the weird, the monstrous, and the undead.

Cadwell Turnbull, THE LESSON (June 18). Currently one of the rising young stars in science fiction, Turnbull was once a student of mine at the college where I teach. But trust me, I didn't teach him how to write this novel, a wildly imaginative tale of an alien race that settles for unknown purposes in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Nick Courage, STORM BLOWN (July 16). Pittsburgh author Courage writes the kind of books my kids loved when they were still kids. (Now the one in high school reads ancient history, and the one in college reads what she has to read for her classes.) His latest, which focuses on children battling a hurricane, sounds like a high-energy thrill ride.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

YA Guy Has... Trilogy Fever!

The final book in YA Guy's Ecosystem Trilogy is due out in April (on Earth Day, of course). Titled HOUSE OF EARTH, HOUSE OF STONE, it completes a series I first dreamed up in 2011 and have been working on pretty much nonstop for the past two years.

So I figured, while we're waiting for Book Three, what better time than now to offer readers a discount on Books One and Two? From today (which also happens to be my birthday!) through February 11, you can purchase the e-books of ECOSYSTEM (Book 1) and THE DEVOURING LAND (Book 2) for only 99 cents each. That way, you'll be all caught up on the adventures of Sarah, Isaac, Miriam, Leah, and the rest as they battle the Ecosystem, search for love, and defend the City of the Queens--just in time for the release of HOUSE OF EARTH, HOUSE OF STONE!

Here are the links. Enjoy, and let me know what you think about the Ecosystem Trilogy!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

YA Guy Defines... Success!

What does it mean to be a successful writer?

For many writers--and, perhaps, for the general public--"success" means six-figure advances, bestseller status, big-ticket awards (including those just announced for this year's very deserving Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz Award winners).

By that definition, most of us--including YA Guy--are abysmal failures. Given the very nature of publishing, the very nature of any business venture, most people don't achieve that kind of success. Most of us plug along somewhere in the middle, perhaps making some money, perhaps not, perhaps making a career of it, more likely not, perhaps winning an award or two, perhaps not, but never becoming household names.

I've been writing since I was about eight years old. (Actually, earlier than that, but it was around age eight that I tried to write my first novel--on my mom's manual typewriter. After a page of typos and frustration, I gave up.) Since that time, and with increasing frequency from the year I started college (1983) to the present, I've produced numerous creative nonfiction essays, short stories, academic books and articles, and partial or completed novels. Some of the above has been published, some of it hasn't. None of it has skyrocketed to fame. But all of it, even the things I didn't finish for one reason or another (because the idea wasn't as good as I first thought, because I ran out of steam, whatever), has been written.

So I decided to pursue a different definition of "success," one based purely on page totals. In my calculations, I ruled out academic books and articles, as well as short pieces (fiction and nonfiction), and focused on novels. The numbers are skewed downward by that decision, considerably so, but since novel-writing was and is my highest aspiration (as it is for many writers), it made sense to me to narrow my output in that way.

For purposes of this quantitative analysis, I estimated a completed novel (whether published or unpublished) at 300 manuscript pages (except for my earliest novels, written in the years 1981-1987, which tended to be shorter, so I averaged those at 250 pages per novel). An unfinished novel--either one that I've discarded permanently or that I'm still working on--I assigned an average of 100 pages. With those estimates, here's what I came up with:

In total from the years 1981 (when I completed my first novel at age 16) to the present, I've written roughly 4,750 manuscript pages of novel-length works. This breaks down as follows:

  • On average, I've written 125 pages worth of novels per year over a period of 38 years, or about a page every three days.
  • Narrowed down to the years of my greatest productivity, from 2010 to the present, I've written about 3,900 pages, for an average of 433 pages per year. That's over a page a day for almost 10 years.
  • Limited to completed novels, it works out to approximately 3,300 pages or 366 pages per year.
  • Confined further to completed and published novels, it drops to about 2,100 pages or 233 pages per year. However, that number is unacceptably low--because, of the seven novels I've started but not finished, only three of them have been completely abandoned, so the other four might be considered "on their way" to completion and, hopefully, publication. Ditto with the four novels from 2010-2019 that are completed but unpublished; two of them will never see the light of day, but one is currently being shopped by my agent and the other I plan to self-publish.

The point is, any way you slice it, I've been pretty productive as a writer of novels throughout my life, and especially in the past decade.

Dare I say I've been successful?

Maybe yes, maybe no. If the almost 5,000 pages of novel-material I've produced in my lifetime have been complete and utter garbage, then maybe I'm less successful than delusional. But on the other hand, even if those pages have been junk, I've written them, and writing counts for something in and of itself. I like to think my success as a writer has been like my career as a writer: somewhere in the middle. No, I'm not one of the great writers of my own or any time, but I'm not a hack either. I'm a writer like most writers, producing as much work as I can that's as good as I can make it.

I hope this exercise doesn't seem merely a pep talk to myself. My purpose in conducting it was to offer words of encouragement to the many writers who are in the same place that I am: people who've been writing for years without the obvious signs of "success" that some writers have achieved. I'm thinking it would be a good idea for those writers to take the time, now and again, to redefine "success." You can do it quantitatively as I've done, or you can find some other qualitative measure: satisfaction, personal growth, positive reviews, the stranger on the street who recognized you. All of those measures (and many more) are valid, and validating.

So be a successful writer. Your own kind of successful writer.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

YA Guy Hosts... Erica George, author of WORDS COMPOSED OF SEA AND SKY!

YA Guy is delighted to introduce my friend and agency sibling, Erica George, whose debut YA novel, WORDS COMPOSED OF SEA AND SKY, will be published in 2021. That seems like a long way away--but as Erica so eloquently narrates in the following post, her writing journey, like so many others', has been long and unpredictable. (I can relate: though I've wanted to be a writer since age eight, I didn't publish my first novel until age forty-nine.) For all of us who dream of publishing novels, Erica's story is a true inspiration.

So enjoy the post, and make sure to follow Erica on Instagram and Twitter so you can keep track of her as she continues her journey!

Benjamin Churchill first appeared to me when I was thirteen years old. It was a rainy December night, and my family and I were driving home from having seen a production of A Christmas Carol put on in Princeton. I was consumed by the concept of change, whether we were all capable of change, or if, for some of us, it was too late.

I think that’s why he materialized that night, riding a horse, keeping pace with the car—to help me explore this question.

When I got home, I crawled into bed, pulled out my trusty notebook from the nightstand (I still keep one there, by the way), and wrote down everything I knew about Benjamin Churchill, a character that would stay with me for twenty years.

He’s changed a lot since then. He’s been British, he’s been American, he’s been in the Navy, the Army, and then finally I decided he was going to be a whaler. He’s been surrounded by multiple casts of characters, he’s been the main character, and now he’s a supporting character. He’s also been shelved for most of this time.

I’ve always been a writer, a teller of stories, but I didn’t think I was capable of being published until after college. I had just completed my teaching degree and was working with a group of fifth graders. We were reading a fairy tale retelling (that no one was particularly fond of), and one of the students said, “You know, I think you could write a better version of this.”

It was a challenge, but I did it. Having no idea what to do with a completed manuscript (well, at least I thought it was completed), I sought the advice of my neighbor who I knew was a writer as well. She invited me to join her writer’s group, and that’s where everything really started coming together for me.

Writing is a fairly solitary occupation, and it’s easy to be intimidated and keep your work to yourself. This was the first time I was sharing my writing with a group of like-minded people. I received feedback (some positive, some constructive—mostly constructive), and I kept working. Finally, when I felt like I had polished my fairy tale retelling, I decided to attend the New Jersey conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Something must have possessed me, because I also signed up to pitch my book to an agent.

As I waited in line for my turn, I kept rereading my pitch, trying to memorize every word. I was shaking. I was sweating. I could just picture myself trying to describe my book, something so personal and close to me, to someone who just wouldn’t be interested or see my vision. Finally, I sat down in front of Liza Fleissig, took a deep breath, and got halfway through my pitch before she stopped me and said, “I want you to send me the whole thing.”

You’d think the shaking would stop there, but no. Cue more incessant nerves.

Liza signed me as an author at the Liza Royce Agency in 2014, and I was positive, absolutely certain, that it would be smooth sailing from that point forward.

Only no one can truly prepare you for your personal voyage to publication. I figured that because it had been so easy to secure an agent, my book would obviously be snapped up in a second by an editor. That book ultimately didn’t go anywhere. My next two made it farther than that, but ultimately went nowhere as well.

Writing is hard, and giving up is so much easier. But I’ve wanted to be an author since I was little, since I sat in the children’s section of my local library, piling up books to bring home and devour. Books were my constant, and I knew that simply reading stories wouldn’t satisfy me forever. I had to write them. I had to hold my own book in my hands.

It was only this past year that Benjamin Churchill resurfaced for me, and this time, he took the form of a Yankee whaler. He was always tied to the sea, but I finally realized where he belonged, what his story actually was.

My Young Adult novel, Words Composed of Sea and Sky, debuts in Summer 2021 from Running Press Kids/Hachette. It’s told in two alternating points of view, one of Michaela, a girl living on present-day Cape Cod, writing poems in an effort to escape her home life, and the other of Leta, a girl living in the same town but during the height of Yankee whaling, who also uses poetry to escape the social conformities of her time.

You’ll find Benjamin Churchill among the pages, too.

About Erica: Erica George is a writer of Young Adult fiction and a graduate of The College of New Jersey with degrees in both English and education. She resides in scenic Hunterdon County, New Jersey, but spends her summers soaking up the salty sea air of Cape Cod. Many themes of Erica's writing rotate around environmental activism and helping young people discover their voices. You can find her writing, whale watching, or engrossed in quality British drama with her dog at her side.

Twitter/Instagram: @theericageorge

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

YA Guy Hosts... Jamie Beth Cohen, author of WASTED PRETTY!

As you can tell from my past several months' posts, YA Guy loves hosting debut authors, especially when they live in my hometown of Pittsburgh. But it gives me particular joy to host Jamie Beth Cohen, whose debut novel WASTED PRETTY comes out in April, 2019. I first met Jamie years and years ago when I was a counselor at a day camp in Pittsburgh and she was (no kidding) one of my campers, so to see her succeed as a writer is the next best thing to watching one of my own children grow. Now, before I embarrass myself (or Jamie) even more, let's hear from her on the artistic and commercial sides of being a debut author!

Have you seen this image floating around the interwebz? I love it!

Writer Erin Dorney made these suggestions, and I think they really speak to the fact that although publishing is a business, there are still ways we can engage with it that don’t involve money. 

As a debut author, with a young adult novel coming from a small press in April 2019, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to engage with the commercial side of my art. 

And let me just stop myself right here, because I actually don’t consider myself an artist. I tell stories in order to connect with other people and -- if I’m doing it right -- the stories will help them in some way. A reader might feel less alone after reading something I’ve written or might feel better about a tough choice they’ve made after seeing how tough choices are handled in my work. Whatever it is, language and craft are not my top priority. It’s the connection to others that is most important to me.

Art is amazing. Art is important. I love art! And maybe some people consider what I do art, but if they do, I hope they’re talking about the kind that is accessible to everyone and integral to life, not the kind that is set apart from it (hung on walls in expensive museums or unintelligible without an advanced degree).

But I digress…

The truth is, I want my book to be widely read, not because of any monetary goal, but because I did that thing people tell young adult authors to do: I wrote the book I needed when I was a teen, and I believe there are teens out there today who still need it. 

To get the book into the hands of people who don’t know me, I have to engage with the commercial side of publishing. To that end, I have to spend money -- money I don’t really have -- to promote my book in various ways. I will throw parties, I might do giveaways, I may pay for ads, and to make up that money, I will need to sell books.

This is the vicious cycle of capitalism that many writers don’t want anything to do with. They feel it corrupts their art or takes time away from writing, but, as I said, I don’t consider myself an artist. I feel this story is important and to get it out there, I’m going to jump in with both feet and try to figure out this balancing act.

Side Note: Here’s another paradox that people have been asking me about lately: I will make about five times as much money per book if you buy it directly from me, but sales I do “out of my trunk” don’t count in the measure of “how well” my book is doing. My book will be available online directly through my publisher, on Amazon and through other outlets, but in order to quickly make up the money I spend to promote my book, I’m going to have to sell a fair number of copies “out of my trunk.” 

And to be clear, it’s not just small press authors who have to spend their own money on these things. Check out Josh’s great post about what he spent promoting his debut (which came out with a big house) and his other great post about what worked and what didn't.

So, all of Erin’s suggestions above on ways you can help an author are great, but there are some things my writer-heart and my writer-brain are struggling with right now. Taking the lead from Josh, I’m letting you in with the hope that transparency is the way to go. Because people ask all the time how they can support my debut, but I’m never sure if they really want the truth…

My writer-heart wants you to love this story.
My writer-brain wants you to buy this book for yourself, your family, and your friends!

My writer-heart wants you to buy enough books through your local indie bookstore that the next time I want to sell a story, people think I’m a safe bet.
My writer-brain wants you to place an order with me so I can recoup my marketing costs and maybe see a movie with my family.

My writer-heart wants to sit over coffee and talk to you about this story.
My writer-brain wants you to tell everyone you know to buy this book!

My writer-heart wants you to write honest reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
My writer-brain wants you to keep your criticisms just between us. Tell me what you think so I can be a better writer, but please don’t put me on blast.

My writer-heart wants to travel the world visiting my friends and coming to book clubs they set up with their friends.
My writer-brain knows I don’t have the kind of time or cash to make this happen, but I hope I can video-chat with lots of fun book clubs.

My writer-heart wants you to buy my book and love it without me ever having to mention it again.
My writer-brain knows it takes roughly seven mentions to influence behavior... apologies in advance…

About Jamie: Jamie Beth Cohen is a writer, storyteller, and community organizer whose writing has appeared in TeenVogue.com, The Washington Post/On Parenting, Salon, and many other outlets. WASTED PRETTY, her debut YA novel about a sixteen-year-old girl who faces wanted and unwanted attention when she accidentally goes from blending in to standing out, will be published by Black Rose Writing in April 2019.

Stalk Jamie here: