[ Small Chirps ] Writers, if you won’t speak up for your writing, who will?

When 11-year-old Kahlo Smith saw that the rules of NPR’s Three Minute Fiction contest excluded minors, she had two options. One, and the one of least resistance, was to let out a deep breath of disappointment and close the browser. Instead, she sent the contest organizers a letter to them know about her interest, ask why they had the 18-and-over-only rule, and tell them about her 600-word story.

Today, All Things Considered featured her question and her short piece of fiction on their program. The age rule stays, but Smith will be receiving an autographed copy of Luis Alberto Urrea’s most recent historic novel, Queen of America, and some NPR-related items for her story. You can read her entry and the full story at the NPR article, Minor Details: Three-Minute Fiction’s Age Rules.

For every thousands of young (and adult) writers who look at the rules (or at the impenetrable design of a publisher site, or the distracted and busy life of an agent), there are one or two individuals who will be willing to put themselves out there and write that letter or ask that question. And in the end, that will set them apart.

So this Saint Patrick’s Day, make the resolution to make your own luck.

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Related Reads:

[ Pitch Slaps ] Weekend Picks

Part of the Pitch Slapped Series:

Blurbs can make or break the a book’s sales, especially if the reader hasn’t heard about the author before. A strong blurb is a must for query letters and getting the book read.

For this latest installment of Pitch Slaps, we’re going to do something different. We’ve talked about a lot of things that go wrong when an author writes a blurb. So instead, here is the cream of the blurbing crop from indie books recently submitted for review.

SECTOR C by Phoenix Sullivan

“Cloning Ice Age mammoths and saber-tooth cats for canned hunts seems like a good business venture — until it reintroduces the species-jumping pandemic that wiped out the megabeasts 10,000 years ago. Now history is about to repeat itself, with humans the next target for extinction.”

What works: In two sentences, the book blurb sets up the world (ours, futurist), genre (science fiction, speculative, medical thriller) and the conflict (extinction! corporation-style). It’s clear, concise, and clever.

What doesn’t: The truth of it is, I cut the rest of the blurb (not shown here), going from four paragraphs to the one (shown here).


The Phoenix and the Dream King’s Heart by James Monaghan

“The Phoenix is a cursed ship.

Exiled to the Darkland Expanse, on the fringes of the known galaxy, its captain and crew have spent the last decade struggling just to stay alive. In a galaxy full of cruel gods, terrifying monsters and treacherous allies, though, survival is far from an easy task.

When the King of Dreams offers them a bargain – retrieve his stolen heart in return for a key that may just get them home – Captain Asher Lee and his crew agree to launch a desperate mission across dimensions. When faced with an insane goddess and her army of quantum spiders, though, do they really have a chance?”

What works: This is an example of a blurb that does it all–dramatic tension, a hint at the plot, and a glimpse of the world. It adds an extra lure by promising to combine science fiction (space, dimensions…) with fantasy (gods, monsters…). And of course, who doesn’t like a story that has some treacherous frenemies?

Torn by Dean Murray

“Shape shifter Alec Graves has spent nearly a decade trying to keep his family from being drawn into open warfare with a larger pack. The new girl at school shouldn’t matter, but the more he gets to know her, the more mysterious she becomes. Worse, she seems to know things she shouldn’t about his shadowy world.

Is she an unfortunate victim or bait designed to draw him into a fatal misstep? If she’s a victim, then he’s running out of time to save her. If she’s bait, then his attraction to her will pull him into a fight that’ll cost him everything.”

What works: This blurb takes a different approach. It woos the reader with the very fact that it presents the traditional star-cross-lovers plotline with a dash of paranormal intrigue. There will be romance and there may be betrayal, it says, and in the YA PNR genre, what more can you ask for?

What doesn’t: As a reader, I would love to see what sets this book apart. There is safety in being generic in this genre, but give me a hint of something concrete.

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Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar?  Email it our way with the subject “Pitch Article Submission” at canarypost@gmail.com. 

Read more slapped pitches here.

[ Small Chirps ] Can you publish your NaNoWriMo novel?

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo, for short) is in full swing, and hundreds of thousands of aspiring writers worldwide are hitting Week 2 of their attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. This is my third year doing NaNo, and so far it’s going well: I’m over 2,000 words ahead, giving me a nice cushion in case I have an off day later in the month, and I’ve got a list of writing prompts to help ease me through the notorious second-week slump (for those new to NaNoWriMo, the second week is when the novelty of the story wears off, but the end is still nowhere in sight. It’s a dark time).

I do NaNoWriMo because I become a part of a great community, join a solid writing boot camp to kick productivity into high gear, and the pressure often results in my creative energy leaping off into directions far different from where it goes for most of the year. I do NaNo, in fact, primarily for the excitement of doing NaNo, but there’s always that voice that crops up, from a friend or family member, fellow writer or even that nagging voice in the back of my own mind.

What many of us really want to know at the end of the day is: Will this month of frenzied writing leave us with something we can publish?

Yes and no. Continue reading

[ Small Chirp ] Do novels work in comic book form?

Graphic novels, these literary, comic-book-style stories, have become increasingly mainstream since the ’80s–enough that even a square like me has read Watchmen and the Sandman series. They are creative and thought-provoking and wonderful.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. There is a growing trend in the graphic novel world that I’m not sure what to make of: adapting pre-written novels into graphic novel format.

A few months ago, I was browsing Barnes & Noble and saw a graphic novel version of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. Since Coraline looked a little older than her book self, I guessed it was produced as a way to bring the older Sandman crowd in to check out some of Neil’s other work. I finished it in a sitting and went on my way.

Not too long after that, my mother came home from the library with another graphic novel in her hand.

“I saw this and remembered you’d read it,” she said. “I don’t think you’ve seen this version, though.”

I had read the book, all right. Continue reading

[ Small Chirps ] Books, Internet, and getting out there.

Author of No More Dead Dogs and three 39 Clues books tells aspiring writer: “Post stuff on the internet.”

Just a few years ago, the mantra for anyone planning to go legit with their writing was to say no to the world wide web. Internet meant copyright headaches, dodging book theft, and the terrifying prospect of a publisher having googling skills–they’d track your novel down, and then brush you off as one of those. (Heaven forbid they find your fanfiction.net account.) Continue reading

[ Pitch Slapped ] The Importance of Genre

Long before a potential reader lifts your book to read the blurb, before they even spy your cover, they have to navigate the maze of bookshelves to find where your book is nestled. So before you even start to doodle cover art, you need to answer a fundamental question about your book: What genre is it?

Sometimes you start out writing with a specific genre (“I’m going to write a Victorian era romance”) or trend in mind (“I’m going to write a book like the Hunger Games“).

But other times, you’re crafting your story first, and it just happens to have magic or murder or robots.

Genre-fication:

When Robin Dempsey commissioned us to peck at her blurb, the first thing we zoomed in on wasn’t the story, but her description of it.  Who is the audience? we asked. Continue reading

[ Small Chirp ] Book Trailers the Next Big Thing?

The other day, I received a two-line email from a friend: Book trailers. Love ‘em or hate ‘em?

I replied, “I find them so epically dumb that they escape adequate description.”

But when I brought it up with Canary the First, it turns out that I had plenty of words after all.

As close as I can tell, a book trailer is supposed to serve the same function as a movie trailer. They are nothing more than a hype generator–a way to get people excited about the prospect of the forthcoming publication. Often, they have the same verbiage as a back cover blurb or pitch–only this is far flashier than simply printing it out on paper.

Book trailers are a new-ish phenomenon in which one of three things happen:

1. A slide show of images with words stuck in while music plays dramatically in the background.

2. A whole bunch of images with exceptionally melodramatic narration over the top.

3. By some strange miraclesomething interesting happens.

I find the nature of book trailers so utterly counter-intuitive. To me, it is the equivalent of going to a movie and instead of live-action trailers, there are placards full of text telling me how awesome the movie is going to be to watch. (“There will be gun fights, trust us!” it exclaims in Comic Sans.)

If this is an attempt to capture the attention of the internet generation, I think loads of people are going to be endlessly disappointed when it turns out that they actually have to read a book to find out what happens in the trailer’s story. Either that, or this entire enterprise is a last ditch attempt to stir up interest in a mediocre story. The way I see it, if a book is so bad that it needs a trailer, maybe the publishing house should be investing in some night-school writing courses for its authors instead.

What say you, Canaries? Have you seen any good book trailers?