Monthly Archives: December 2014

New Year’s Resolutions

Sparkler.

Photo by Flickr user Amodiovalerio Verde.

I like to sit down around this time each year and take a few minutes to reflect on the last year and look ahead to the next one. First off, I’d like to thank everyone who read, liked, shared, commented on, or followed this blog this year. You all are amazing, and I hope you’ve found my posts helpful. If there’s a topic you’d like me to cover, or one I’ve mentioned that you’d like me to expand on, please let me know in the comments!

2014 was a busy year for me — I wrote a book that got me my first full requests from agents, went to a writing conference as a veteran rather than a rookie, took over the library’s adult summer reading program, and started planning an all-ages convention to kick off next year’s program. The year hasn’t been without its setbacks — rejections from agents, entire drafts of books I’ve scrapped, and missing out on a job as a teen services librarian — but I’ve done my best to learn as much as I can from these experiences.

This year, I’ve given myself both concrete goals/resolutions for 2015 as well as long-term goals/wishes for the future. The former are things I have enough control over to achieve in the next year, while the latter have too many variables for me to expect myself to accomplish all of them in one year. I’ve laid them out here, so you readers can help hold me accountable for sticking to them!

Short-term resolutions:

1. Read more widely. I want to read at least one book in every genre this year — including nonfiction topics. I’m trying to get past the mindset that reading nonfiction = work, because I know there are plenty of nonfiction books I’d enjoy if I gave them a chance.

2. Finish editing my current WIP and dive back into the query trenches. I’m giving myself a deadline of March 31 to send out those first queries, partly because I’ve already spent so much time on several drafts of this book, and partly because of my next resolution.

3. Write a draft of at least one novel in 2015. This means start on page one and get to “the end.” It doesn’t have to be a publication-worthy draft (though that would be nice), but it does need to be complete.

Long-term goals:

1. Sign with an agent and publish a novel. Ideally, the first part of this goal will happen in 2015, but I can’t control the market or agents’ reactions to my writing. All I can do is keep writing, keep reading, keep studying and improving my craft. Eventually, I’ll get the right book to the right reader (agent) at the right time.

2. Become a full-time writer and a part-time librarian. Right now, these two are reversed; but someday, I’d like to be making enough as a writer to support myself. I don’t think I’d want to quit working as a librarian entirely, because I like the wide variety of questions I get, and I like helping people find the resources they’re looking for, whether that’s a test-prep book or a journal article or a science fiction novel similar to their favorite author’s books.

3. Win a Printz Award. I have huge respect for the authors who win this award — their books contain some truly gorgeous writing. I haven’t loved every Printz winner I’ve read — some of the stories themselves just weren’t for me — but I have been able to appreciate the quality of the writing. This is another goal I have very little control over, as selection for these awards is subjective. Again, all I can do is keep writing and improving my craft, and hope to get the timing right one day.

So, those are my goals for 2015 and beyond. Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Any writing-related goals for next year?

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Book Club of Reading Dangerously (or at least more widely)

Book stack. Some of my fellow librarians and I have started a reader’s advisory book club to help us make more informed recommendations in genres we don’t read as often. We’ll each read a different book from the month’s genre, then give a brief summary and share our thoughts on the book in our meetings.

I’m looking forward to improving not only my reader’s advisory skills but also my writing. I think it’s important for writers to read a lot in their genre, of course, but reading more widely can also introduce writers to elements that may not be as present in the genre they’re writing. I write mostly fantasy novels, but thrillers have taught me lessons about pacing, mysteries have taught me about creating suspense, and romances have taught me about crafting believable relationships. You don’t have to be writing a thriller to write something that keeps readers turning pages — and who better to learn how to learn those skills from than the masters?

I’ll post the best reviews from our book club meetings here throughout the year, along with lessons I took from those books as a writer. We’re starting off with romance in January. Do you have any favorite romances you’d recommend?

Finally, I want to wish all of you a happy holiday season! Whatever you’re celebrating (even if it’s just a few days off of work/school), I hope you have a wonderful time!

Best of Lists

Trophy.‘Tis the season for publishers, booksellers, and reviewers everywhere to announce their “best of” lists. From Amazon to the New York Times  to Publishers Weekly, everyone seems to have an opinion on the best books of 2014.

I’m too indecisive to ever come up with a list like this. First, should the list be based solely on my opinion, or should there be a more objective way to judge prospective titles? There are books that people have raved about — books that have appeared on multiple “best of” lists — that just didn’t do it for me. For some of these, I recognize the author’s talent, but the story wasn’t for me, or I wasn’t in the mood for that type of book when I read it. (So subjective, I know, but if I had to describe publishing in one word, that would be it.) But should those books that were good but not right for me make the list?

Even if I based my list strictly on my own opinions, I would have trouble deciding what to put on it. A book that I loved two months ago might not make the list because I’m not in the mood for that genre right now. Or maybe I got burned out on a genre and forgot how great one book was because I read five others that were similar and just okay. This is why I don’t like being asked what my favorite book is. The answer is constantly changing.

Finally, there’s the matter of recognition. Sometimes I’ll promote a book more heavily if I think it’s not getting the love it deserves. I know “best of” lists are supposed to be the cream of the crop, but if there are two books I liked equally as much, and one has been getting a lot more buzz than the other, I’d be inclined to choose the less-known book for my own list. Is that doing the more popular book an injustice?

Bottom line: I’m not even going to try to come up with a “best of” list. Instead, I’m going to ask what you’d put on one. What are some of the best books you’ve read in 2014? Please share in the comments!

Pact to Write Inclusively

We Need Diverse Books.As many of you probably know, I’m a big proponent of more diversity in writing, particularly in books written for kids and young adults. Last week, blogger SC wrote a beautiful post about writing diverse books as a way to combat racial prejudices. I was already on board when #WeNeedDiverseBooks started calling for action earlier this year; I think SC’s Pact to Write Inclusively just takes this a step further. WNDB focuses on making sure kids see themselves in the books they read, while the pact to write inclusively looks at changing the way those kids will see race as adults. If kids read more diverse books, they’ll have greater empathy for those from different backgrounds, and they’ll be less likely to respond with prejudicial fear or hate.

So I’ve taken the Pact to Write Inclusively.

This doesn’t mean I’ll be making all my characters minorities or focusing on race in my writing. There are few things I dislike more than writing to send a message. I write because I have stories I want to tell.

But that doesn’t mean my stories need to be whitewashed. Mark Twain once said that truth can be stranger than fiction because, “Fiction, after all, has to make sense.” The real world is full of diversity, so why shouldn’t my characters reflect that?

I know I’ll get some things wrong, and I’m prepared for the criticism that will follow. My hope is that that negative feedback can be used to start a dialog about the race/gender/etc. issue in question. Because if people criticize the way I portray a character, it means they’re thinking about prejudices. And awareness is the first step to eliminating those prejudices.

Writers, will you join me in this pact?

Twitter for authors

Twitter logo. At Thanksgiving dinner, as my sister shared a picture of her plate on Snapchat, my father posed the question of whether social media is actually useful on a professional level. He and my brother honed in on Twitter — “Isn’t it all just people talking about what kind of bread they got their sandwiches on?”

Well, sure, if you follow certain people. But Twitter is also one of the best professional networking tools available to writers. Here are just three things I use Twitter for:

Discover writing contests

I follow a lot of writers, agents, and editors, and they like to tweet about the contests they’re hosting, mentoring, or judging. Contests are a great opportunity to connect with other writers, whether you make it to the final rounds or not. When I learn about a new contest, I usually follow all of the mentors and agents involved (if I’m not following them already), even if I ultimately decide not to enter. That way I get more updates about those who write or represent my genre and future contests I may be eligible for.

Get more writing and industry tips

Lots of writers and agents have blogs, and many of them tweet about their latest posts. I can’t read everyone’s blog all the time, so I have a few that I follow regularly and others that I’ll stop by occasionally if I see a topic that interests me. I’ve come across some great advice thanks to Twitter, and even discovered two blogs I now read regularly.

Keep up with industry news

This includes everything from new book deals to new agents to opinions on things like the now-resolved Amazon-Hachette dispute. Writers who are querying can also benefit from the #mswl (manuscript wish list), #tenqueries, and #querylunch hashtags.

Those are just a few things I use Twitter for as a professional. I’ve also heard of people who’ve met critique partners and blog co-hosts on Twitter, and I haven’t even begun to talk about Twitter as a marketing tool. So, yes, people may be tweeting about their lunches, but they’re also tweeting about some pretty cool (and useful) stuff.

How do you use Twitter as a professional? Connect with me @lizosisek for more frequent updates on the writing world, or just to say hi!