Monday, November 23, 2015

#BlackFridayDeals: Liars, Inc. $1.99 Sale and Manuscript Critique Giveaway!

It's that time of year again...

So REI is recommending that people #OptOutside this Black Friday. I don't know where they are based, but I suspect it's someplace warmer than where most of us live. Therefore I am recommending an alternate #OptInside idea, one that involves hot cocoa and kitties and books, and does not involve getting jabbed in the kidney by an elderly man with a cane who probably needs that 62 inch flat screen more than you do.

This #BlackFriday, why not curl up with a kitty (okay, a dog is also acceptable), a mug of delicious cocoa (okay, tea is also acceptable), and a copy of Liars, Inc. for the low, low price of $1.99? (Sorry, no other books are acceptable. Hehehe, just kidding :D)

But seriously, HarperTeen has discounted the e-book at Amazon, Amazon-Canada (#YayCanada!), B&N and iTunes. Here's a link where you can read the beginning if you're a try before you buy kind of person :) Maybe check out some of the fun extras while you're there.

But maybe you don't want to read Liars, Inc. because you hate mysteries or slacker boy narrators or you've already read it or you're planning to focus on powering through the rest of your #NaNoWriMo manuscript. I don't officially do NaNo (though I unofficially do it about once a year when I get behind on deadlines >_>), but I am totally in awe of you guys that can maintain that laserlike focus for more than 2 minutes  an entire month.

So I thought in the spirit of awesome deals that I would give away three 10-page critiques (valued at $30.00 each) in exchange for supporting Liars, Inc. You don't have to be a NaNo participant to enter this contest, but the three winners will be required to submit the first 10 pages of their WIP or finished work in standard 12-point font, double-spaced format between December 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016. (This window is just because I am kind of a giveaway machine sometimes and I can't leave stuff too open-ended or I lose track of it.) My published books are all YA, but I have edited MG, NA, and adult, and feel comfortable working with stories in these categories. Winners must be 13+ or have a parent's permission.

And why would you want a critique from me? Well, you can read my shamelessly braggy editor bio on the Manuscript Critique Services site, but the short version is that I've got 5 books out and another 5 on the way, I've worked with editors at Penguin Teen, Paper Lantern Lit, HarperTeen, and Tor Teen, and most importantly, I LOVE to crit manuscripts and query letters. Not just because I like the challenge of analyzing a manuscript or query letter and deciding what is and isn't working, but also because helping other writers helps me grow as a writer myself. Here's a quote from one of my recent clients:

"Paula's thorough, personalized, incisive, thought-provoking feedback is precisely what I needed to make my work agent-ready. I highly recommend MCS. Consider it a shrewd career investment!"

And just to be clear, if you win a free critique, there is no obligation to purchase additional editing, there's no obligation to respond to my crit notes (though I welcome comments and questions), and you will never hear from me again unless you contact me. Sound good? Check out the Rafflecopter below and tell me in the comments what you're really going to do on #BlackFriday :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, November 6, 2015


Last month I did a post about the VICARIOUS cover. Now I'm going to talk about how much I love the cover for GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE. Bonus, I'm also going to link to a contest for the first signed ARC and tell you how you can enter to win the second signed ARC. These are the only ARCs I'll be signing and giving away this year, so if you want to read a printed version of the story early, this is the post for you.

Most book covers are either photography-based or art-based, and both methods can be created in a variety of ways. I don't know much about graphic design, so here's where I stop pretending ;) The cover for GATU is art-based (Illustrated? Someone correct me if I'm using terminology wrong), which means there are no photo shoot stills to share this time. But here's the pretty, pretty cover in jumbo size :D

I did get a couple of cover composition drafts before this, but I didn't ask for permission to share those because they were basically just looser sketches of the final product and that would be like asking to post someone's rough draft. Instead I'm going to show my love for this GATU cover with a Top Ten List:

Paula's Top Ten Favorite Things About the GATU Cover

#10: The title. I was sort of whiny sad when my editor emailed to say that she and her boss thought the original title, Bad Luck Charm, was skewing a little too middle-grade and did I have some alternate suggestions. I had anchored that title into the first chapter and the last chapter. I had been working with it for about a year. I was kind of attached to it, even though I agreed it was a bit fluffy for the book. It just seemed so much catchier than anything else I could think of!

Eventually I sent my editor a whole slew of potential titles and everyone on the team liked Girl Against the Universe. Some of the rejected suggestions include: The Curse Effect, They Call Me Miss Fortune, Semi-charmed Life, and The Day I Tried to Live. (Sorry, Third Eye Blind. Sorry Soundgarden. Maybe next time ;D) It's funny, though. We officially changed the title in early April and since then I've grown really attached to it.

#9: The tennis court. I'm a big believer in covers as contracts between authors and readers. When a cover is all dark and scary and screaming MURDER DEATH KILL (points if you know the movie reference) and the book turns out to be a foofy love story, that makes me reader-me kind of cranky. Authors don't have ultimate control over their book covers, but I would never want to directly mislead readers. So yeah, there is a LOT of tennis in this story. This book might even improve your serve ;)

#8: The color. At first I was like "Orange? But will people think it's a clay court?" (I can be kind of "inside the box" sometimes, like so far inside I'm trapped and I can't get out.)

But then I realized tennis courts can be any color, and that orange is waaaay more eye-catching than the blue or green courts I played on in high school. Fun fact: I wrote an orange tennis court into the book after I saw this awesome cover :)

#7: The background effect. I don't know what this is called, but I love that it isn't just a flat even orange color, like paint. The different shades of orange and swirls of light and dark really make this pop. It's one of those things that makes me go "How did someone even think to do that??"

#6: The tiny but meaningful details. The shoes. The sweatbands. The perfect scattering of tennis balls. Nothing on this cover is trivial. It all adds up to perfect.

#5: The little heart that Maguire has drawn in her luck notebook. She might think she is all business, recording the bad things that happen and doing her five-second checks to make sure danger isn't lurking nearby, but she's not immune to being distracted.

#4: The dreamy and pensive overall feel of this image. Orange could be a really in-your-face color, but it's not overpowering here. The fact that this cover has a lot of open space and that the figure of Maguire is sort of undefined I think helps too. Again, the summation of a lot of separate smaller things add up to magic!

#3: The stylized artwork. I like that you only get a vague idea of what Maguire looks like. It's all exactly how I imagined her, from the hair to the skin tone to the body shape, but she's drawn in a way that still lets the reader fill in her details.

#2: Her realistic figure. We all know there's a tendency to idealize cover images, whether it's Photoshopping an already stunning supermodel or drawing a storybook princess with proportions incompatible with life. I love that Maguire has hips and boobs and thighs. I remember one of my first thoughts when I saw this was: Her leg is quite a bit bigger at the top than the bottom, just like mine. I'm so grateful for this realistic rendering of my protagonist.

#1: The title font. I've been looking at this cover for almost six months and I still can't decide if I like the "Girl" or "Universe" better. And the combination of the two is another one of those "How do people know how to do that??" moments. For realz. My inside-the-box brain would have used one or the other, but the mix n' match here really makes this cover something special.

So those are a few of my favorite things. Thanks so much to the cover designer Aurora Parlagreco and artist Amir Belhoula for coming up with a cover that matches both the tone and storyline of Girl Against the Universe so perfectly! Designers and artists work hard to create covers that readers love. What do you like best about this cover?


You can enter the Rafflecopter giveaway and meet four of the main characters on blogs run by some of my early readers :)

Meet main character Maguire over at Forever 17 Books. (Watch out for the tiger!)

Crystal's got the basics on book-boyfriend Jordy on the Bookiemoji site

If you're into supportive besties, you'll definitely want to meet Jade on In Love With Handmade.

Meet Maguire's therapist, Dr. Leed, (or Dr. Hottie as Stacee calls him) over at Adventures of a Book Junkie.

For a second chance to win a signed ARC (INT), join my mailing list before November 9th and I'll send you details on how to enter in my next Stokes About Books newsletter. For those of you who use Edelweiss, the GATU e-arc should be available soon, but I don't have an exact date. Someone let me know when it pops up, okay?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Cover Love, Part I: VICARIOUS

Last month, the fabulous people over at YA Books Central revealed the cover for VICARIOUS, my August 2016 release. VICARIOUS is the first book in an action-thriller duology, and my first book with Tor Teen. This is a hard book to encapsulate in a single image so I was curious to see what the design team would come up with but I never in a million years expected to fall in love with their finished product the way that I did.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this cover. I want it on canvas wall-hangings and tote bags. I want it on a T-shirt and a wrap-around dress. I kind of want someone to come paint it on my wall :) Seriously. I love it so much that I got permission to share some behind the scenes snippets of how it came to be. (Thanks to Melissa, Seth, David, and Craig for that!)

Before the design team got started, my editor Melissa asked me if I had any ideas for the cover and I sent her a whole document full of published covers I gravitated toward. Some were futuristic and minimalist. Others were more Asian or manga-inspired. I loved the idea of having my main character, Winter, on the cover because she's Korean there aren't a ton of Asian cover models in YA. I also loved the idea of possibly incorporating in the St. Louis skyline. I grew up in St. Louis and was still living there when I wrote this book. Ferguson was in the news a lot when we began talking cover design in early 2015, and it hurt to see my hometown being negatively portrayed by so many people.

My editor emailed back with a suggestion: I keep thinking about the scene with Winter on the bridge from the beginning of the book. How do you feel about something like the Catwoman movie poster?

Source: IMDB publicity poster

My initial thoughts were: Oh crap, now I'm going to envision Winter in that awkward-looking headpiece. And then, Well, I do feel like the book has kind of an action-hero/comic book vibe to it, and that would be a good way to incorporate in both Winter and the city skyline...

So I was initially a bit nervous about this idea but I have always loved the cover art from Tor and I decided to just trust in my editor and the process and see what happened. "Catwoman movie poster! Yeah, let's do it!" I said.

I didn't even know we were using images from a photo shoot until I got thirty-five proofs in my inbox and a note asking if any of them stood out to me. Going through them was so fun :D I remember emailing Melissa back like: I LIKE ALL OF THEM!!

Eventually I picked out five or six, a couple profiles, a couple front view, a couple of the model standing. Melissa and I liked most of the same shots and she sent a variety of possibilities to the design team so they would have a lot of flexibility in creating the bridge and cityscape around the model.

Here's the photo that made the cover, along with a couple other ones we liked. It's amazing to me how this model can look different in every shot. Both she and the photographer are brilliant!

Photo: David Wager

Photo: David Wager

Photo: David Wager

And then one day I got this lovely composition in my inbox:

Artist: Craig White

Both Melissa and I were like: OMG! IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL. But we both also felt like it was a little serene for the story as written, and it was hard to tell Winter was on a bridge. Plus I'm one of those super-literal types, and based on where Winter is located with respect to the city and river, that would make this sunset, which isn't exactly how it goes down in the book.

So Melissa and I suggested things like making more of a bridge if possible, and making it darker or more snowy or roughing up the river a bit. Additionally, I mentioned that when Winter jumps from the bridge there are police cars surrounding the area so maybe instead of the setting sun the artist could incorporate in red and blue lighting. [Note: As you can probably tell by my sad little Blogger website, I know nothing, NOTHING about graphic design or creating cover images. Those were just my clueless layperson suggestions.]

So those suggestions resulted in a couple other comps:

Artist: Craig White
Artist: Craig White

There are things I love about both of these comps. I love the roughed up water in the first picture but didn't like the beam across the Arch. I loved the molding in the second picture but didn't like losing the river. Most importantly, by asking for darker and snowier images, we lost a lot of the beauty and balance of the first picture. Both my editor and I quickly realized we wanted to go back to the initial composition, and the only change that was made to it was to rough up the river.

So then all that was left was figuring out the font. I'm not going to lie--my brain could not conceptualize a title going smack across Winter's body. I was really expecting a vertical title on the far right. Once again, I was wrong. Here are a couple of fonts that were ultimately not used:

Artist: Craig White

Artist: Craig White

Artist: Craig White

Holy crap! What a difference a font makes, right? Obviously the first picture is one of the alternate cover images, but just look at how different the feel of these three fonts are. My favorite of these is number three, but it was sent to me for review along with the final cover font, which both my editor and I strongly preferred over the others.

The final font is not only gritty and futuristic, it's also designed in a way that makes it striking even as a thumbnail. The finished cover feels like a movie poster to me, which is perfect given the cinematic structure and prose of this book.

It's hard for me to choose what I like best about this image--the ideal model for my main character, the fonts, the tilted horizon, the dark and light sky, the snow, the sun as a metaphor for a bit of hope in a very dark story--all of it works so well to me. I am very grateful to everyone involved in the creation of this cover.

Next month I'll be blogging about the GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE cover, which is also amazing and a great fit for the story. In the meantime, what do you think of the VICARIOUS cover? What are some other covers that you think fit perfectly with their books?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Giveaway: GET DIRTY (or any Gretchen McNeil book!)

Hi guys! Man, last week was pretty brutal. It should have been some straightforward copy-edits for Vicarious [See pretty cover in sidebar! Click pretty cover for chance to win an ARC!] but somehow I got sucked into this writer vortex of complex revisions and re-verifying technical stuff and second-guessing everything and biting my nails down to the nubs. And then there were doctor appointments and vet appointments and I don't even know what. And all that stuff made me anxious, which made everything worse. So my apologies because this giveaway is going up late. But hey, it's still officially summer and I'm going to leave this contest going until the first day of fall.

I love Gretchen McNeil :-) I "met" her as part of the Apocalypsies group when I was writing as Fiona Paul. I met her in real life at BEA 2012 and she is every bit as cool as her books. What I like best about Gretchen's books is their compulsive readability--for me her stories are full of high-stakes tension and her prose is thoughtful and descriptive without slowing down the narrative or leading me into a dense metaphor jungle and leaving me there to die. (Have I mentioned I'm not much for flowery prose? ;D)

Next year Gretchen is going to be branching out into other genres, but she'll always be one of my favorite YA mystery writers. For this giveaway you can choose the featured book, GET DIRTY, or any of her other mystery books.

“If you’re a Pretty Little Liars fan, it’s safe to say you’ll love Get Even.” –

Here's the official GET DIRTY flap copy. [NOTE: It's a bit spoilery for GET EVEN.]

The members of Don’t Get Mad aren’t just mad anymore . . . they’re afraid. And with Margot in a coma and Bree stuck in juvie, it’s up to Olivia and Kitty to try to catch their deadly tormentor. But just as the girls are about to go on the offensive, Ed the Head reveals a shocking secret that turns all their theories upside down. The killer could be anyone, and this time he—or she—is out for more than just revenge.

The girls desperately try to discover the killer’s identity as their personal lives are falling apart: Donté is pulling away from Kitty and seems to be hiding a secret of his own, Bree is under house arrest, and Olivia’s mother is on an emotional downward spiral. The killer is closing in, the threats are becoming more personal, and when the police refuse to listen, the girls have no choice but to confront their anonymous friend . . . or die trying.

Here's more about Gretchen:

Gretchen McNeil is the author of the standalone YA
horror novels POSSESS, TEN (2013 YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, a Romantic Times Top Pick, a Booklist Top Ten Horror Fiction for Youth, a finalist for Washington state’s 2015 Evergreen Young Adult Book Award and Vermont’s 2014-2015 Green Mountain Book Award, and was nominated for “Best Young Adult Contemporary Novel of 2012″ by Romantic Times) and 3:59, as well as GET EVEN and GET DIRTY, part of her mystery/suspense series Don't Get Mad, all with Balzer + Bray for HarperCollins. In 2016, Gretchen will publish two novels: RELIC, a YA horror novel, with HarperCollins/EpicReads Impulse on March 8, 2016, and in the fall, I’M NOT YOUR MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL, her first YA contemporary, with Balzer + Bray. Gretchen also contributed an essay to the Dear Teen Me anthology from Zest Books.

Gretchen is a former coloratura soprano, the voice of Mary on G4's Code Monkeys and she sings with the LA-based circus troupe Cirque Berzerk. She is repped by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Here's Gretchen sharing more info about GET DIRTY:

1. Describe your book in ten words or less. 
"The Breakfast Club with a body count."

2. What is/are your favorite thing/s about the story? 
I love the idea of four very different girls who support each other instead of tearing each other down, and who come together to accomplish something bigger than themselves. (That sounds so cheesy...)

3. What was the most difficult part of the writing or publication process? 
 GET DIRTY was my fifth book but my first ever sequel and I found the process of writing it incredibly difficult! Apparently, I'm a stand alone novel writer at heart.

4. If this book became a movie, what song would play during the credits? 
Going along with my answer to #1, "Don't You Forget About Me" by Simple Minds

(I'll just leave this here in case anyone doesn't already have 
that song stuck in their heads. You're welcome.)

5. Free play: ask and answer any question you wish people would ask you but they never do. 
 I actually rarely get asked who my favorite character is! Favorite book, yes. Favorite character, no. And that's an easy one to answer because, hands down, it is Ed the Head from this series. He is...amazing.

Ed the Head is definitely...memorable ;-) And now for the GIVEAWAY!

Thanks for participating in my #SizzlingSummerMysteries incentive. Have a great autumn (or spring!)

Saturday, August 22, 2015


Hi guys! This week's #SizzlingSummerMysteries giveaway is an island mystery! *cue hula dancers* *bonus points if Thad is one of them* The winner of the Rafflecopter below can choose from NIL (highly recommended if you haven't read it) or NIL UNLOCKED.

Truth time. I have not read NIL Unlocked yet and normally I do not pimp books I haven't read. But, I've read NIL and loved Thad it, and all accounts say this book is even better. A 4.29 rating on Goodreads? You'd have to add the ratings for all my books together to get that, and we all know how awesome they are ;) Plus it's Lynne Matson who is pretty much the most epic person ever. So I feel completely comfortable pushing this book in your face like MYSTERIOUS ISLAND. WILD ANIMALS. ROMANCE. DEATH. WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT, PEOPLE? And maybe whoever wins it can buddy read it with me, because it's sitting across the room in a box with all the other Southeast Summer Book Bash books that I bought in June. We will just not talk about the box of unread books I bought in March. Or December. #IHaveAProblem.

Instead, let's talk more about NIL UNLOCKED!

Here's the official flap copy:

"This is a fast-paced, tension-filled story with engaging characters and a strong romantic plot." -VOYA

On the island of Nil, the rules are set. You have exactly 365 days to escape—or you die. Rives is now the undisputed Leader of Nil City, but keeping the City united is tougher than ever.

Raiders have grown bolder, supplies are dwindling, and non-human inhabitants have taken a turn toward the deadly. New arrivals cause rifts within the City, putting the Search system at risk, and calling everything Rives knows into question. Desperate for answers, he teams up with the only other person searching for them: Skye, a new arrival with a mysterious past of her own. Soon the duo find themselves locked in a desperate race to save all the residents of Nil—and possibly destroy the island forever. But at what cost? And who will pay the price?

Here's more about Lynne:

I love books--both reading and writing them. When I'm not reading or writing, you can find me hanging out with my husband and four sons. At any given time, at least one of the 6 of us is up to no good.:)

My books: NIL and NIL UNLOCKED are out now; NIL ON FIRE ends the trilogy in May of 2016. Join the #NILtribe...we have cool snacks :)

Paula: IDK...I went to one NIL Night and the snacks were kinda healthy ;)

Lynne was too busy battling angry pandas writing NIL ON FIRE to answer my questions, so instead I will bring you: FIVE THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT NIL/LYNNE MATSON

1. One of the early titles for NIL was DAYWATCH, but for some people that conjured up uncomfortable images of David Hasselhoff in swim trunks.

2. Lynne Matson is one of the nicest people EVER. If you read NIL and were wondering if anyone could possibly be as nice as Charley, yes they can. Lynne is just as lovely and kind as her MC. [NOTE: This does not mean that Charley = Lynne now or Charley = Lynne in high school. Authors are not their characters and it makes us a little crazy when you assume we have all the same thoughts and feelings as our fictional creations.]

3. Lynne is also a total speed demon with a major lead-foot. Do not get into a cross-country race with her, because she will beat you easily (unless she runs out of gas--apparently she hates to stop for it.)

4. Lynne has a possessed cell phone that auto-corrects randomly and has bestowed nicknames upon half of the YA Valentines. Lynne is Princess Zloty. I am Panda. Kristen Lippert-Martin is K-Snap. 

5. Lynne is a huge supporter of YA literature. I've done a fair number of events and I've never seen anyone buy more books than Lynne. She buys they for herself, for her family, for giveaways, for Christmas presents. If you ever go into a bookstore and the YA shelves are mostly bare, that's probably because Lynne Matson was in the neighborhood. LOVE YOU LYNNE!

I borrowed this picture of Lindsay Cummings, me, and Lynne
from Lynne's blog. Yay Southeast Summer Book Bash 2015!

And now, let the winning begin. I changed up the blog comment question to match this week's island theme :D

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I've got one more of my favorite #SizzlingSummerMysteries to give away. See you next week!