Monday, October 20, 2014

How to engage your critics (if you must) in a safe and productive way

Here's a thing about me--I hate hurting people's feelings. I hate it even worse than having my own feelings hurt. This isn't because I'm a super speshul snowflake or anything. It's just how I'm wired--overactive conscience, conflict-avoidant, poor ability to deal with guilt. Because of all that, I'll admit it--I struggle to understand people who write mean-spirited book reviews. What I don't struggle to understand, is that they have the right to do so.

If you have a twitter account, you've seen at least fifty tweets from authors and bloggers in the past couple of days saying that the correct response to a negative review is to just keep rolling, brush it off, write more books. They're right, and this is what I do most of the time. However, I have responded to critics on multiple occasions--four that I can remember--and all of those interactions produced positive outcomes where both parties walked away with a greater respect and understanding for each other. So a friend asked me to blog about how I do it, and I thought I'd give a few tips. NOTE: I still believe the best response is usually to shut the review window and write more books, so please do not take this blog post as a recommendation to engage your critics.

Also, I am paraphrasing review quotes and actual correspondence with reviewers out of respect for privacy, but the people I'm talking about are more than free to elaborate in the comments section and share their links.

Tip #1: Utilize a cooling off period.
I recommend at least three days. You might need longer. You need to wait long enough that you've stopped physically shaking. You need to be able to fall asleep at night without obsessing for hours. A writer-friend once pointed out a blog post about book packagers and work-for-hire writing. This blogger had only just discovered the concept and to her it was kind of suspect. "Why would anyone want to develop someone else's ideas?" she wondered. "Don't these writers have their own ideas?" [paraphrased] This article went on to mention my work-for-hire pseudonym by name, like "How does Fiona Paul feel about [this] or [that?]" My immediate response was rage, because all I could see was someone calling me out in a blog post without bothering to try to contact me, and then presuming that I was a lesser writer because I opted to write for a book development company. After I calmed down a little (okay, a lot) I realized the article wasn't accusing me of anything--it was asking questions. I didn't like what it was asking, but they were legitimate questions from someone who wanted to know. And if she wanted to know then other people wanted to know. And people think all kinds of bad things about book packaging, but a lot of them aren't true. So with the blessings of Paper Lantern Lit, I contacted her and offered an interview. I ended up writing a three-part series about WFH in general and my experiences in particular. And even though my books are probably never going to make this blogger's favorites list, she has made my favorites list as an unflinchingly honest voice in a sometimes all-too-fake world. I like to think she feels similarly about me.

Tip #2: Recognize it's not all about you.
Even if a review calls you racist, sexist, homophobic, intolerant, unintelligent, etc., it's not a review of you because this person does not know you. They are often incorrectly attributing your character's words and actions to you. Even if your villain says something reprehensible and ten characters call him/her out on it, some people will still take offense to particular words or actions, and that's their prerogative. I tend to agree with what Stephen King says in On Writing, [paraphrased] that my characters do and say offensive things because that's who they are and I'm merely transcribing their words and thoughts. But many reviewers have "hot button issues" so if you included violence against women, violence against animals, two much swearing, a love triangle, etc., they are going to hate your book on principle. I am not saying you are "right" or that reviewers who hate your book are "wrong." There is no right and wrong. You can write about anything you want, but unless you write about a glass of water sitting on a table, chances are your work is going to offend some people.

Tip #3: Recognize it might not even be about your book.
It might be 100% about your particular writing and story. Or it might be about the ten love triangle books someone read before yours, and yours just happened to be the one that made them snap. It might be because they're sick or currently suffering and your character is being a whiny baby about problems that pale in comparison. It might be because your main character reminds them of a girl who tormented them in high school. It could be a whole lot of things that they may or may not even realize. We don't read books in vacuums.

Tip #4: Figure out why you want to contact them.
Wrong answers:
--To yell at them.
--To tell them they hurt your sensitive feelings.
--To tell them they have gotten a fact, or plot point, or theme wrong.
--To explain to them how they missed your point and clarify the awesomeness that is your book.

Possible right answers:
--To thank them for spending time reading and reviewing your book, IF you mean it.
--To clarify a point, IF they asked for clarification in their review.
--To apologize if they pointed out something that personally offended them, and after careful consideration you agree with them and wish you hadn't written it. I would tread carefully here though, because as I mentioned, it's really hard to write an authentic book without anything that could be construed as offensive. Books are usually about people. People say and think and do offensive things sometimes. Such is life.

Tip #5: Recognize and strive to reduce the perceived power differential.
This one is hard for me because I feel like I'm about as intimidating as Mary Poppins. I'm just one single chick holed up in a tiny apartment cranking out stories on a kitchen table that is actually patio furniture. But bloggers don't intuitively know who's a well-connected, high-powered NYC writer and who's not. Bloggers might not even know that some writers are paid $250 for their first book and others are paid $250,000, even though when you set the books side-by-side you can't necessarily tell the difference. But even though I'm not a super-successful Manhattan hotshot, I'm still an author with books on shelves and access to publicists/industry insiders. And that means seeing a Goodreads response or email from me in an inbox after a negative review could cause some anxiety. [NOTE: Never engage publicly on twitter or in a comment thread--that will always feel aggressive.] I personally strive to treat reviewers as equals. I'm not a better person because I'm an author. I'm not necessarily even a better writer. And in many cases, I'm less informed about the publishing industry. I'm not embarrassed to admit that and I'm grateful to bloggers and reviewers for what they've taught me.

Tip #6: Make sure both parties can potentially benefit from contact.
You don't know until you do it, but if your desire to reach out is all about you needing closure or answers, stop right there. Reviewers aren't spouses or bosses or family members. They don't owe you an explanation for anything. I reached out to a girl who wrote a somewhat scathing review of VENOM, my first work-for-hire book. Among other things, she detailed a lot of anachronisms, specifically with the dialogue and voice. Now some of this was what I was asked to do to make the book accessible (use contractions, etc.) but some of it was just fail on my part. Even though the book had several editors and a Renaissance expert, this reviewer brought up a lot of very solid points we all missed. My thought process went something like "Waaaaah. Poor me... Holy crap this girl is smart...I wonder if she'd be interested in reading the third book before it goes to the printer..." She was. I couldn't afford to pay her, but I sent her the very first ARC, thanked her for being a "delta-reader", and offered to write her a research reference if she ever needed. It turned out to be a win-win-win. A blogger felt heard and respected by an author. A book became better. And this girl is now my friend, supporter, and publishing colleague.

Tip #7: Recognize the potential for harm to your career.
You can do everything "right" in contacting someone and still manage to piss them off. Back when the internet was just a baby, I worked retail and restaurant work and remember my managers saying something like "A happy customer tells an average of 7 people about their experience. An unsatisfied customer tells approximately 23." Dude, I don't know what the updated figures are, but I can imagine. I still do not believe that a single person can "ruin a career" (except, perhaps, for an author ruining their own career) but there is always a risk in confronting someone, so be sure to weigh the potential costs and benefits before proceeding.

Tip #8: Err on the side of being overly polite and non-argumentative.
The first critic I ever contacted was when I was brand new to Goodreads. It was 2011. The sale of VENOM had recently been announced. And sure enough, someone gave me 2 stars before ARCs had even been printed. I didn't know back then GR permitted people to rate books based on how excited you were for their release. I didn't know anything. I had clicked "I accept the terms and conditions" without bothering to read them (we all need to stop doing this.) If I had it to do over this is one contact I would not have made, because frankly it was none of my business if she chose to rate my book without reading it. But back then my neurotic author brain was like "Who is this hater and why is she trying to sabotage my book?" and then "OMG, what if there are pirated copies of some crappy first or second draft floating around?" Either way, this 2-star rating had me panicked. (Naive, yeah, I know.) So I sent her a message like: "Hi. I'm brand new to GR and saw that you rated my debut novel. I was just wondering how you managed to read it so early. Basically I'm hoping there aren't copies of one of my old drafts floating around on the internet." She responded, very kindly, that she was a reader for a foreign publisher who had access to my latest draft. She went on to tell me her feelings about the book, including both positive and negative feedback. She ended by saying that perhaps it was wrong of her to post her rating almost a year in advance and offered to take it down until closer to publication date. I declined this offer and thanked her for responding. And I felt silly for doubting her. And then I got back to work. Can you imagine how differently that would have played out if I had been aggressive or accusatory? I could have burned a bridge with a major foreign publisher for all eternity. [ETA: a good rule of thumb is not to write anything you wouldn't be okay with the whole world reading.]

Tip #9: No answer is an answer.
If you reach out and get no response, let it go. Again, this isn't your spouse--it's a stranger. It's the equivalent of someone who viewed your profile on a dating site and clicked no thanks. You asked for a conversation and they politely declined. Who cares if that's not how you do things. The reviewer doesn't have to play by your rules. Move on, already. Don't you have a dog to walk or some laundry to catch up on or a hobby or maybe another book to write? Live your life, or seek help from a confidante or mental health professional if you can't.

Tip #10: Know when to say no.
There are some people it does not make sense to ever engage. Some reviewers are building a brand, and their review is more about their internet platform than it is about your book. People who DNF'd your book are not going to pick it back up because you tell them to (though they might pick it back up if a friend tells them to, as long as you don't act like a total psychopath first.) Most of your 1-star reviews will come from readers who either hated your plot (too late to tweak that), hated your writing style (I don't recommend changing that for 1 or 10 or even 200 people), or just deemed your book "not for them." Liking or not liking a book has an emotional component to it and even the most logical or impassioned argument in your book's favor isn't going to change someone's mind. When's the last time Fox News or the liberal media, depending on your leanings, changed your mind about something? I rest my case. Save your breath. Save your time and energy for your next book. Or better yet, why not engage with some of the people who wrote good reviews? You know, your FANS. In the end, aren't they the ones who really matter?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

THE ART OF LAINEY--Cut Final Chapter

NOTE: If you haven't read THE ART OF LAINEY, this blog post will be spoilery.

Most readers have liked the way the novel ended, so I feel like my agent, editor, and I made the right decisions when we cut three chapters from the end of the book. The submission draft had the the first half of the last chapter with Micah and Lainey in Micah's car as written, but then continued for three more chapters--one at the coffee shop, one at soccer tryouts, and one when Lainey returned to school in the fall. The coffee shop chapter could have been the end of the book, and the other two chapters both felt like epilogues, which I eventually decided the story didn't need. 

I'm waiting for publisher approval to post these chapters on wattpad, but while I wait I thought I would share one of them with you. What follows is the chapter in the coffee shop that would have taken place after Chapter 41 in the book. The original draft had Lainey losing her cell phone at the airport, and then Chapter 41 ending on page 373, after Micah says "I might show you. Someday." (So before they discuss their relationship at all). The main reason it was cut was because the book was running long and the surprise element that happens in the coffee shop felt repetitive. I do really like some of the Denali interactions here, though. Let me know what you think!

Chapter 42
I pace back and forth in front of my dresser mirror. It’s the first day of going to work since Micah and I officially became a couple. At least I think we’re a couple. My lips pulse just thinking about yesterday. After I called my mom back on Micah’s phone and totally lied about having a dead battery, Micah and I stayed snuggled together in the Beast all day. I think we might have set some sort of kissing my record. My lips actually feel a little swollen.
I stare at my reflection. My blotch of freckles is finally fading. Otherwise, there’s no evidence that anything is different. But it is. Will everyone at work know the minute they see us together? What’s Micah going to say? What kind of smartass remarks is Ebony going to make?
The red numbers of my alarm clock creep upward. An hour. I’ll see him again in an hour. I trade my tank top for my Denali tee shirt. What if he pretends like nothing happened? Is that what I want? I definitely don’t want to make a big deal out of things. Sighing, I turn away from the mirror. I wish I could talk to him. I’m going crazy without a phone.
I debate calling in sick again. Good thing my parents own the place or I’d totally be fired. Now that I’m not getting paid to fake-date my best friend’s boyfriend, I might actually need to keep a job.
“Lainey.” My mom knocks on my bedroom door. There’s someone here to see you.”
I open the door a crack. “Who?” I ask suspiciously.
She smiles. “That nice mohawked boy from Denali. Didn’t you know he was stopping by?”
 “Oh, right.” I feign absentmindedness, something I’m pretty good at. “He’s giving me a ride to work.”
“Please tell me there’s nothing wrong with your brother’s car,” my mom says.
I shake my head. “No, we’re just carpooling. Saving the environment and stuff.”
Her lips twitch as I push past her down the hallway. “Well isn’t that socially responsible of you two.”
Micah’s standing inside the front door in baggy cook pants and his black Happy Cheetah tee shirt. His eyes light up when he sees me.
“Let’s go outside,” I say. I tug him through the kitchen to the back door. Behind me, I swear I hear my mom humming some cheesy love ballad. I’m totally going to strangle her later.
I sit at the picnic table, facing away from the house, but toward Mom’s creepy totem poles.
Micah sits next to me. “Sorry I didn’t call you. I didn’t know your house number. I just came by to make sure you weren’t freaking out.”
How does he read my mind like that? “I am not freaking out,” I insist.
He arches his pierced eyebrow. “No?”
“Okay, maybe a little bit.”
He twines his fingers through mine. Turning, he whispers in my ear. “Stop freaking out.”
My insides go all fuzzy. I wish we could just take the Beast somewhere and hide out again, kiss for hours, ignore the rest of the world. “How do we tell people?” I blurt out. “What do we tell them?”
“We could always let Ebony discover us making out in the walk-in cooler,” he suggests. “Let her tell people for us.”
“I’m being serious.”
“Me too.” He leans in to brush his lips across my jawbone and I almost slide right off the picnic table. He squeezes my hand. “How about this. We’ve been pretending to date for most of the summer. So I say we just keep doing our thing and let people think what they think. If they ask specific questions I’ll direct them to you and you can say whatever you want.”
“But what do you want me to say?” I protest. “What are we doing?”
“Label it however you want,” Micah says. “I just—”
The back door opens with all of the subtlety of a gunshot and I spin around to see my mom standing in the doorway, a teacup cradled between her hands. God I hope she’s not going to start going on about new love in front of Micah. That would be all kinds of awkward.
“Your dad just called,” she said. “Leo is going to be late. Can you guys head in a little early?”
“Sure,” Micah says.
We walk hand-in-hand to his car. My mom smiles but she doesn’t say anything.
Denali is packed. By the time we clock in, the line for the front register is almost out the door. Ebony is staying over to work the back with Micah while Bee and I work the front. I don’t have time to wonder what Micah has planned. Bianca rings up order after order and I run from the blender to the espresso machine, making drinks as fast as I can to keep up with the line that never seems to get less than six or seven deep.
In the middle of the afternoon, things finally slow down. A guy in a tracksuit with a cap pulled low over his eyes comes in carrying a small brown box. “Package for Lainey Mitchell,” he says, peeking out from underneath his hat.
I look back toward the prep area. Micah and Ebony are standing in the hallway outside the manager’s office, watching me. I shoot Micah a suspicious look. He shrugs his shoulders as if to say he doesn’t know anything about it. “That’s me,” I say, “Who’s it from?” I ask the delivery guy.
“You’ll have to check out the card.” There’s something weirdly familiar about his voice. I give him a long look but he’s got sunglasses on so all I see are a pair of dazzling white teeth and the beginnings of a blond beard. “Can I get an iced caramel latte with skim milk too?” he asks.
I set the box down by the register and start to ring the delivery guy up an iced latte. Just then, I see two big burly guys pacing back and forth in front of the large plate glass window. Oh crap. The security guys from yesterday—they found me!
I freeze, mid-order. “Bee, can you finish…” My voice dissolves in my throat as I try to decide if I can get away with sneaking out the back. I inch back from the register.
Bianca is busy opening the box. She pulls out a phone.
My cell phone.
            “Hey. Where did you…” My words stick in my throat. The delivery guy removes his hat. He’s got thick spiky blond hair, a lot like…
            “Ohmygod.” The jug of skim milk slips out of my hands and ends up on its side on the counter. Milk pours across the Formica and onto the floor, nearly missing the shoes of none other than Caleb Waters.
            “Whoa.” Caleb jumps out of the way, his trademark dazzling smile still glued to his tan face.
            “Oh. My. God,” I say again, unable to come up with any other words.
            Ebony slides between me and Caleb with a dry towel. She begins to mop up the milk, apologizing profusely. “You’ll have to excuse her.” She points at me. I’m pretty sure my mouth is still hanging open. “She’s got some kind of medical disorder. Your drink is on the house, of course.”
            “No problem. It’s nice to meet all of you,” Caleb says.
            Bianca is still standing next to me holding my phone. “It’s nice to meet you too,” she says.
            “Right,” I squeak. “Nice to meet you.”
            Caleb shakes everyone’s hand while Ebony finishes making his drink. “Sorry about what happened with the security guys. Unfortunately the studio insisted on deleting the pictures you took, but hey, we can take one together now if you like.”
            “That’d be great.” I slide out from behind the counter, almost like I’m in a trance.
            “Excellent idea,” Bianca says. She’s already got my phone ready to go.
            I come around to the front of the counter and Caleb Waters puts his arm around me. “Your boyfriend tells me you’re one hell of a soccer player.”
            “I play striker for my high school team,” I say. “I’m hoping to play in college.”
            “That’s fantastic,” he says, grinning for the camera.
             “Wait,” I say. “Get in here too, Bee. Micah, you take the picture.” I turn to Caleb. “She plays halfback for the team.”
            “Excellent. I was a halfback in high school.” Caleb slides his other arm around Bianca. She giggles. Micah snaps two pictures.
            Caleb looks movie star handsome in both photos and Bee looks radiant. My grin is so big it’s almost demonic. I crack a joke about how Bee should cut me out and hang my picture with the scary tribal masks.
            “Thank you so much,” I say. “We’re really big fans of yours.”
             “I’m a big fan of yours too,” he says. “The crew really enjoyed the barbecued chicken pizzas you guys delivered last night. Very thoughtful.”
            I turn around to give Micah another look. I wonder how he managed to pull that off. Then my dad appears from the back, an impish grin on his face. The two of them look borderline ridiculous standing next to each other. Micah and his mohawk. Dad and his spectacles. They must have worked together on this one.
            Caleb poses for a few more pix with both Bianca and me. We’re both red-faced with shock by the time he slips on his shades and disappears back out into the heat. Through the glass, I see No Neck One and Two hovering right outside the door. I hope they liked the pizza.
            “I can’t believe you guys did this,” I say. I am dangerously close to tears.
            Micah holds his hand out toward my dad and Dad gives him an awkward high-five. “Never underestimate the power of good food and drink,” Dad says.
            Ebony raises one painted on eyebrow. “Wait a second. I just realized something. Did that guy call Micah your boyfriend?” she asks. “Does that mean you two are finally official?” Smirking, she looks back and forth between Micah and me while we both stand there like speechless blushing idiots. “Thank God. I like foreplay as much as the next girl, but eventually you’ve got to just get it on.”
            My dad chokes on his coffee. My blush goes from pink to red to purple to whatever color comes after that.
            “Metaphorically speaking, of course.” Ebony cackles with glee. She points through the side window at a sky-blue Taurus backing into a spot. “Look. It’s Leo. I’m out of here.”
            “Me too,” I say. “If anyone needs me I’ll be in back, dying of embarrassment.”
            “Yeah,” Micah says, shooting Ebony a death glare. “I just remembered something I need to put in the oven. My head, maybe.”
            Ebony laughs again. She gathers her purse and a copy of the Riverfront Times and heads for the front door.
            Micah slings his arm around me and together we head to the back. “I think that went well,” he says, once the door is safely closed behind us. “Except for the part where your dad now wants to kill me.”
             We pass the manager’s office and turn into the hallway where the lockers and bathrooms are located. “Don’t worry. He’s afraid of you.” I wrap my arms around Micah’s neck and pull him close, drinking in every tiny detail--the scar on his temple, the bend of his nose, his beautiful hazel eyes. “But I’m not.” I touch my lips to his. Just a quick kiss to last me until later. “You’re amazing, you know it?”
            “Mainly I wanted to get your phone back for you.” He taps his foot on the floor. “And my boot. Coming by the shop was all Caleb’s idea. Turns out your celebrity crush isn’t nearly as much of a douche as I imagined.” Now Micah’s smiling almost big enough to qualify for the tribal mask wall.
            I look down at my phone, at the picture of Caleb Waters, Bianca, and me. One major life goal complete. Time to come up with some new stuff.
            Bee shuts her locker and slides up to me. She sighs in amazement as she looks down at the screen.  “I swear, Lainey. Being your friend is a nonstop adventure.”
            “Primetime drama, you mean.” Micah winks.
            Leo rounds the corner. “Mr. Mitchell says Lainey and Bee need to get up front.” He looks back and forth between the three of us. “What did I miss?”
            “Lainey lost her phone and Caleb Waters returned it to her,” Bianca says.
            “The soccer star? That’s pretty impressive, even for you, Lainey.” Leo whistles. “Did you get his number? Talk about the mother of all ways to make your ex jealous.”
             “I’m actually done with that whole plan,” I say, slipping an arm around Micah’s waist. I glance around at my friends. “War is overrated. Besides, I’ve got all the numbers I need.”

Friday, August 29, 2014


Hi guys! Happy holiday weekend to those of you for whom that applies. Happy regular weekend to everybody else.

So last month I was lucky enough to meet Rachel Harris as part of the Mighty Mississippi Book Blast!

Team MMBB-Texas with blogger Sara S!

I love Rachel and her books a lot. See:

My first blurb (as my pen name): for A TALE OF TWO CENTURIES :)

I've already gotten to read her upcoming release THE FINE ART OF PRETENDING, and I loved that too! See:

What's it about? Well, it has a few similarities my own book, THE ART OF LAINEY (no wonder I loved it! Ha, just kidding...mostly :D), but they are definitely two totally different stories. Here's more about TFAOP:

According to the guys at Fairfield Academy, there are two types of girls: the kind you hook up with, and the kind you’re friends with. Seventeen-year-old Alyssa Reed is the second type. And she hates it. With just one year left to change her rank, she devises a plan to become the first type by homecoming, and she sets her sights on the perfect date—Justin Carter, Fairfield Academy’s biggest hottie and most notorious player.

With 57 days until the dance, Aly launches Operation Sex Appeal and sheds her tomboy image. The only thing left is for Justin actually to notice her. Enter best friend Brandon Taylor, the school’s second biggest hottie, and now Aly’s pretend boyfriend. With his help, elevating from “funny friend” to “tempting vixen” is only a matter of time.

But when everything goes according to plan, the inevitable “break up” leaves their friendship in shambles, and Aly and Brandon with feelings they can’t explain. And the fake couple discovers pretending can sometimes cost you the one thing you never expected to want.

Because Rachel is awesome, she has given me a signed ARC of THE FINE ART OF PRETENDING to give away to one lucky winner!

And because I love giveaways, I'm going to throw in some extra prizes, including a copy of my latest release, the e-novella INFINITE REPEAT. This is a prequel to THE ART OF LAINEY from book-boyfriend and punk rock baker Micah Foster's POV, and can be read before or after the full novel. I'm also going to throw in a mystery ARC that I won off twitter not too long ago, and a swag pack full of bookmarks, buttons and other fun stuff from the #MMBB authors. Two runners up will also win #MMBB swag packs.


Actual swag received to include some of the pictured items plus more!

This contest is going to involve a lot of mailing costs so I've got to go US only on it. Sorry international peeps. You know I love you :) I love you so much that I'll be doing an international secondary contest for YASH in October where you can win an ARC of my forthcoming twisty murder mystery, LIARS, INC. Did you like GONE GIRL, I HUNT KILLERS, OR DANGEROUS BOYS? If so, you'll probably like LIARS too :)

Who's ready to win? BOOSH! The Rafflecopter is your friend :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Five Things You Might Not Know About LIARS, INC.

Max Cantrell has never been a big fan of the truth, so when the opportunity arises to sell lies to his classmates, it sounds like a good way to make a little money and liven up a boring senior year. With the help of his friends Preston and Parvati, Max starts a business providing forged permission slips and cover stories for the students of Vista Palisades High. Liars, Inc. they call it. Suddenly everybody needs something and the cash starts pouring in. Who knew lying could be so lucrative?

When Preston wants his own cover story to go visit a girl he met online, Max doesn’t think twice about hooking him up. Until Preston never comes home. Then the evidence starts to pile up—terrifying clues that lead the cops to Preston’s body. Terrifying clues that point to Max as the murderer.

Can Max find the real killer before he goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit? Paula Stokes starts with one single white lie and weaves a twisted tale that will have readers guessing until the explosive final chapters.


Tis the season for shiny new e-galleys to be downloaded from Edelweiss and read eight months before the books appear in stores. LIARS, INC. is one of the new HarperTeen titles available, and here are a few things you might want to know.

1. The ARC is a WIP.
There’s nothing horribly wrong with the advanced reader copy of LIARS, INC., but I did make over 100 changes—mostly small—since the galley got printed. So if you read an early version, you’ll be reading the text with some legal/weapons inaccuracies, continuity errors, overused phrases, line-break issues, and a couple hazy areas where Max forgets to share his thought process with the reader. You’ll also be missing a few passages added to strengthen some of the plot/character elements and to tie up one loose end.

Why all the fixes? A lot of reasons, one of which is when I work nonstop doing several revision rounds back to back, I don’t get enough distance from my MS to see what’s on the page. I see what my brain knows is supposed to be on the page, only sometimes it’s not there because I pulled it out in an earlier revision round. Sometimes it was never there to start with. Then the MS goes away for a month or more to be printed and when I get it back to look at again I can suddenly see all the things that I missed. I also got last-minute feedback from a beta-reader who had a few questions she felt didn’t get adequately answered, and I agreed that I could do a better job clarifying a couple of issues. If you are a reviewer and you read the ARC but want to know about the larger revisions I've made, email me via the info on my Contact page and I'll send you a summary of the changes.

2. Once again, the main characters are flawed.
I wrote Max as sort of an emotionally unavailable loner. He starts out fairly standoffish with his adoptive parents, and he really only has 2 friends. He does some questionable things at the urging of these friends, because he thinks they're smarter than him and they're the only people he trusts. Because this is in first-person, the reader is inside Max’s head, which is not always the nicest place to be. Max thinks some snarky and hurtful thoughts during parts of this book, but try to keep in mind what he thinks and what he says are different. All teen boys—all humans!—think angry or sarcastic things sometimes, but just like in real life, the best judge of a person is by their actions.

I wrote Parvati to be a high-functioning sufferer of Borderline Personality Disorder. She’s not suicidal, but she does possess most of the other BPD symptoms in various degrees.

Why did I choose to write about these people? Take your pick:
  1.  Max and Parvati came to me with these personality traits already in place.
  2. These personalities fit their backstories.
  3. There are a lot of people in the world with psychiatric problems (many undiagnosed), and I think these people deserve to be represented in literature.
  4. I find White Knight hero archetypes to be unrealistic and boring. (Remember—you only have to spend a few hours with these people. I live with them for a year or more.)
  5. I have a degree in psychology and psychiatric issues fascinate me.
  6. When you start with people who have problems, there is more room for character development. 

3. This book only barely passes the Bechdel Test.
This bothered me at first because I consider myself a feminist and a writer of girl-power things, and I had been brainwashed by the media to think this test was a gold standard. But then I did a little research about how the Bechdel test originated. And even if you believe this test is a good measure of feminist creative work (After careful consideration, I don’t, though I do think the original context of Bechdel’s cartoon had something important to say about women in Hollywood), you should consider the differences between movies and novels before you start judging. No movie I can think of has ever been shot in first-person limited POV, but many books are written like this, which makes passing the Bechdel Test a lot tougher. And my book features a male protagonist who spends much of the story alone, hiding from the feds and investigating a crime. So no, not a ton of chances for women to talk to other women about non-guy-related things.

But you know what? That’s totally okay with me. For one because there’s plenty of stated/implied women talking to women about non-guy-things going on offscreen. If my book were a movie, could some of this be shown via an omniscient POV? Sure, why not? More importantly, just like the women in the Harry Potter books (some of which I’m told don’t pass the Bechdel test), the women in LIARS, INC. all possess strength and smarts and general badassery. Parvati, even with her flaws, is a fiercely ambitious teen girl who wants to join the CIA someday. She’s reckless, but takes responsibility for her actions. She never lets society tell her who she should be. Her mother is a lawyer who married outside of her race for love, even though that meant being ostracized by her family. Max’s mom, Darla, is her own brand of admirable, as is his little sister Amanda, who suffers from cystic fibrosis but never lets it get her down. The whole point of Bechdel’s “test” was to point out that the role of women in film at that time was to focus their attention on men. My women, yeah, they don't do that. The females of LIARS, INC. are strong, interesting, capable people who know what they want out of life and aren’t afraid to go after it. That’s feminist, if you ask me. For more about the problem of using the Bechdel Test to judge creative works, read this post by Jenny Trout.

4. This book has more objectionable content than THE ART OF LAINEY.
Max is a teen boy, the kind of kid who wears ripped jeans and hoodies and sometimes falls asleep in class. I’m not going to say all of those guys swear, but some do, and Max does. We’re not talking super-profane, but there are about 20 F-bombs, and various numbers of other swears. There is also sex. It’s not gratuitous, but it’s not fade to black. There is also mention of past drug use and one instance of underage drinking. I am not apologizing for any of this--I’m merely telling you it’s there so you can skip my book if that stuff offends you. Trust me, sometimes I wish I could be happy writing the kind of super-clean-teen books that make it into a lot of schools and libraries, but I didn't grow up in a G-rated world and I don't live in one now. I have to create my worlds in a way that feels authentic to me and meshes with my plot and characters.

5. This book is a standalone with companion book potential.
LIARS wraps up all of the mystery threads and addresses the romantic subplot for the most part, but I’ve got at least three ideas for companion novels. One of them is already outlined and partially written. Different story, different main character, but still overlapping in cast. I did this last summer when I had some free time between revision rounds, and it's a really cool tale that takes place mostly abroad and features a racially diverse cast of characters--kind of like OCEANS ELEVEN  meets NIKITA. I have no idea what kind of sales numbers LIARS would have to post for Harper to buy a second INC. book since they’ve already bought more romantic comedies from me, but the thought of letting go of Max and Parvati forever makes my insides hurt. This could very well be the first book I indie pub if the publisher doesn’t pick it up.

Do you want to win an ARC of LIARS, INC.? I'm giving one away (INT) when I reach 1000 Facebook likes, so like my page here. For a second chance to win, RT this twitter status before 8/18.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mighty Mississippi Book Blast Recap!

I'm still kind of winding down from the #MMBB tour, having gone directly from a 12-hour driving day, to a full day of airplane travel, to getting back to work on an overdue freelance project the day after I made it back to Portland. #MyGlamorousWritingLife :)

However, non-MMBBers keep asking me how the tour went, so in the interest of not having to repeat myself (AKA general laziness), I give you:


1. Some people are natural performers and others are not. 
Even though I knew what basic questions I was going to be asked about my book--heck, I even made up some of them--I realized after the first event in Wayzata that I had basically described my book in a rambling and roundabout way that made it sound so unappealing that even *I* wouldn't buy it. Next to me, Philip Siegel was so funny that I probably would have bought his book even if he said it was about how to mix wallpaper paste. I do believe I'm a funny person, but I'm third-draft funny. I'm funny on paper. I'm funny in my comfort zone, surrounded by cats people I know. I am not a natural performer, but that's okay. It just means I should think a little about how I want to present my book before I do it in front of an audience.

Dawn Klehr, Philip, me, and Lindsay on Day One of the #MMBB

2. It's best if I be myself (but with less swearing ;-D)
I don't mean my rambling and roundabout self. I mean if I start out nervous and then try to be funny because everyone else seems to be rip-roaring comedy club hilarious, uh, that doesn't end well. Better to be unfunny but add something else to the mix--thoughtfulness? honesty? encouragement?--than to go for the laughs but come up short. Also, it's also best to dress as myself. Is it a coincidence the two events I felt most uncomfortable at were Iowa and Dallas, the two places where I wore a dress? (Sorry, Mom. I'm just not a dress girl.) If you're doing events for the first time, resist feeling pressured to get fancy. Go in the clothes you feel best represent you...unless those clothes are pajamas...unless your pajamas are really stylish...You see where I'm going with this. People who buy your book because of how you are dressed are probably not readers that you need.

Us in Iowa with bookstore owner, Sue. I look uncomfortable, don't I?

3. Acting silly never stops being fun.
Lindsay Cummings and I played Blair Witch with her phone cam in the bed & breakfast where we stayed in Dubuque, sneaking up to the deserted third floor in the dark. Either the stairs in that place were the creakiest stairs ever or Lindsay and I are really bad ninjas. Anyway, the third floor was deliciously creepy by the light of my cell phone. In one of the rooms we found...FACELESS DOLLS. 

More silliness, in group form. Team Anderson's poses for pix after the event.

4. Doing events gets easier with time and experience.
I'll never look forward to bookstore events because I'm just not an extrovert, but it did get easier throughout the week. Or maybe I was so deliriously tired by the time I got to Houston that I just didn't have the energy to be stressed anymore. Also, I really liked the events that were more about giving writing advice to aspiring authors and less about singing the praises of my books. I love my stories, but it's way less awkward to be my own book cheerleader when I can hide behind the interwebs.

Team Houston, with blogger Sara. Yep, I look pretty tired.

5. Hanging out with other writers is informative and inspirational.
I'll be the first to admit I'm prone to writer jealousy, so you might think that hanging out in groups of authors, many of whom are more successful than me, would be a recipe for disaster. But that's not what happened at all. Part of the reason I even thought I could plan this tour was because I'd heard Victoria Schwab planned tours on her own. I admire so much how she has made a name for herself by being prolific and tenacious. Hearing her and all of the other authors talk about their successes just filled me with this sense of "Hey, I can get to where they are someday, too!" Everyone was so incredibly kind and gracious to each other. Victoria Schwab, Courtney Stevens, and Heather Brewer in particular all shared such wise and thoughtful words that I felt uplifted just being around them.

Memphis was a laid-back event where we spent a lot of time talking about writing craft.

6. Everyone is nervous about the future.
Just like I found inspiration and energy from hearing about other authors' successes, I found comfort in realizing that everyone shares the same fears about their publishing futures. The only way to stay in the industry is to sell more books, and that's never a guarantee until your books have their own theme parks. Hearing authors talk about diversification, hybridization, working with multiple publishers, trying out new genres, etc. made me realize that there are a lot of options when it comes to building a career as an author. 

Dinnertime with Phil, Lindsay, Lydia Kang, and Whitney Miller.
People wearing pink in the back, please :-D

7. Making connections with indie bookstores has a lasting effect.
Setting up a tour like the #MMBB wasn't just about trying to sell a few more copies of our books to a few cities. Unless you are mega-famous, a tour would never pay for itself in that way. For me, it was all about the connections: meeting readers, meeting other authors, and meeting booksellers. When you set up an event with an indie, often times they let you sign stock. Then, after you're gone, your books will continue to sell well because they're signed. And then, maybe the booksellers will remember you and continue to hand sell your books. Maybe they'll be more likely to order your next book. No guarantees, of course, but I sold more than twice as many books in Chicago and St. Louis the week of the tour than I signed on event nights, so I have to partially credit that to the connections made with the bookstores. Indies forever!

Look at all those LAINEYs! Signed copies available throughout the Midwest!

8. St. Louis will always be part of me.
When you spend 35 years in a city, it gets inside of you. As much as I just cannot handle the St. Louis weather anymore, being back in town made me super-nostalgic. I miss my St. Louis author pals like Cole Gibsen, Heather Brewer, and Sarah Bromley. I miss my writer-blogger friends Christina and Jamie. I'm so glad I made the decision to set THE ART OF LAINEY in St. Louis, to highlight the Cardinals and the Arch, Forest Park and Wash U. Sure, some of the places are made up, but many are based on real places where I spent a lot of time--Mississippi Nights? Pi Pizza? Kayaks Cafe? Look hard and you'll find them :) And I'm so glad I got to do this big event with the amazing people at Left Bank Books. They brought me to St. Louis Comic Con, something that will forever be one of my greatest writer experiences. If I ever get famous, I'm signing all the books for Left Bank, no matter where I live at the time. I LOVE YOU GUYS!

Me with Christina from Ensconced in Lit

Me with Jamie from This Isn't Rocket Science

9. Power comes from doing the things that scare you.
A blogger in Houston (hi Nikki!) asked what dystopian world we could survive in and I said I'd be Dauntless in Divergent-land. [Sidebar: Everyone else said they couldn't survive in ANY dystopia and that they'd be killed/eaten first in an apocalypse scenario. This saddened me. Step it up, guys! When the zombie apocalypse comes I want GOOD people for my team :D] I always tell people I'd be Dauntless because even though everything scares me (seriously, everything), I do it anyway. I was scared to plan the tour, scared to go to the events, basically terrified to drive most of the way. I was scared to move to Portland, again terrified to drive there, scared to apply for a new nursing job, scared to quit said nursing job when I sold more books. Going further back, I was scared to live in Korea, scared to pet tigers, scared to ever show my writing to industry professionals. But I did all these things, and now none of them own me. To be honest, I wish I had done most of them sooner. Bravery isn't about not being scared. Bravery is about being scared but doing it anyway! 

Hey! We made the digital sign in Dallas! It doesn't get more powerful than that, right?

10. In the end, it's about the love of books.
Networking and selling copies is great, but in the end a tour should be about celebrating the joy of books with other readers. From Minnesota to Houston, the #MMBB was blessed with good-sized, attentive crowds who were enthusiastic and engaged. I am so grateful to each and every one of you who came out, and to those of you who couldn't make it but still mail-ordered books or spread the word about the events. I say this on basically every Acknowledgments page, but it all comes back to you guys. Without readers, there would be no authors. Thank you for making it possible for us to live our dreams <333

Amazing book cheerleader, blogger, and librarian: Mary from Mary Had a Little Book Blog.
(I swear we're not related. She's just that cool.)

St. Louis had the biggest crowd, but Naperville probably had the most teen attendees.
Thanks for coming to see us! We love you guys!