[ 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:

Small Chirp: The Book as Artifact

From the desk of Melissa, the Library Canary:

There’s so much talk about the future of books lately. As readers turn increasingly to electronic alternatives to paper and the internet book-trade, the usual fingernail-nibbling questions emerge. What will happen to the book?  What will happen to brick-and-mortar libraries and bookstores?

Maybe books will become our bricks and mortar.

A recent trip to Vancouver, BC had me pondering the idea of the book as artifact. In Vancouver, book-oracles seemed to whisper from every street corner, prophesying the destinies of our discarded, unwanted and remaindered books. Here is what they showed me:

The Book Beyond Art:

An art installation at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery at the University of British Columbia suggests one possibility. Continue reading

[ 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 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?

This Week’s Mine Shaft–Upcoming Reviews

Coming this week…

Advance Review of Snuff by Terry Pratchett (Street Date Oct 11, 2011). I’ve been sitting on this book for over a month, and it’s almost time to let this advance review fly. Fly review, fly!

H.E. Ellis, author of The Gods of Asphalt, will be talking about her all-time favorite read–and that one book that deserves to be taken out back and beaten up–in our guest series, Best and Worst.

JediCanary will be taking us on a tour of the 20th Anniversary Edition of Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn and all the reasons it’s a must have.

Robin has told you all about it, but now, we’ll be giving you our side of the story. This Friday’s Pitch Slapped article will be a peek behind the scenes at our revision process.

If you’d like a heads up when we post, subscribe to The Canary Review or follow us on Twitter!

What are we reading?

JediCanary: The Hunger Games Trilogy (YA, Dystopia)

CanaryTheFirst:  Beka Cooper: Terrier by Tamora Pierce (YA, Fantasy) and Infidel by Kameron Hurley (Fantasy)

TheOtherCanary:  Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan (Lit Fic)

What’s on your reading list?


[ Pitch Slapped ] Huh?

Part of the Pitch Slapped Series:

When Randy Attwood sent us his pitch, his big question was this: “Could reverse psychology work?”

We perked up. Now this promised something different.

The blurb began, “This is strange. I need to warn you away from this book.”

Canary The First and I exchanged an e-glance, and then we dove in. A few minutes later, we replied to the email: Thanks for sending us your pitch. We have a quick question: what’s the story about?

Because, even after reading the pitch, neither of us had a clue. With thrillers, there is a fine line between intriguing obscurity and flat-out confusing. You want to draw the reader in with tantalizing half-details, revealing a little of the plot from a sideways angle. The approach this author took certainly was sideways—but it was also upside-down and backwards. I was so confused by it that CanarytheFirst actually had to hold my hand and walk me through it.

Let’s see that original pitch:

Click to full-view!

My first issue (beyond general, feathery confusion) is the tone. As authors, we tend to talk about our characters like they’re real people. And that’s okay when we’re in writing groups or chatting with other authors. But when you present that face to the real world, people tend to give you sidelong looks and look for the fastest exit from the conversation.  And it’s never good to give the impression that you, the author, are not in complete control of the story. That is a one-way ticket to a reader not trusting you. Speaking of trust…

An aside about genre declarations: So, per author request, I can’t tell you what the erotica/porn bit is about. But, as I now know, it really isn’t porn or erotica. It is so far from either that the suggestion actually made CanaryTheFirst get a little (read: a lot) ragey. Mentioning the Erotica genre there almost seems like a last-ditch attempt to appeal to the part of the human brain that likes it some sex.

But there is no worse sin in pitch writing than to offer a false promise. If it’s not about erotica, don’t even mention it.

Back to the pitch: When we emailed the author to ask what the story was about, we got a traditional pitch back. And it wasn’t as intriguing. Attwood was right about one thing: coming at it sideways is the best bet for this story. But how to do it without being so confusing that a reader will simply shake her head and put the book back down?

It’s all about one thing: establishing the oddity.

There are several popular books out these days that are presented as ‘the author didn’t write this, merely reported it.’ Most recently reviewed by tCR is the Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles series in which Riordan claims to have discovered the audio recordings of the book you hold in your hands. Similar approaches was used for oodles of classics as well—such as Nathanial Hawthorne begging away the real-world diary that was the basis for The Scarlet Letter.

The author-as-narrator is a staple of 19th century literature. But to approach the pitch like that, you have to establish just how you came across the story that you are now writing (a recording, a diary, letters, oral tradition, etc).

Tangent from CanaryTheFirst: Presenting the pitch from the point of view of the “I” of the author sets up the entire trajectory of the narration. With this approach, the reader will be expecting to read a novel framed in terms of an outsider-narrator. If the book itself is written as most thrillers are, bouncing between the points of view of different characters, having a pitch such as this one will create unmet expectations–just as it would if you were to present the Harry Potter books with a blurb from Snape’s perspective.

Now back to the story. Let’s give the pitch another try:

The core idea of the pitch is still there—the unknown parts of the neighborhoods, the author’s hesitation to tell a grisly tale. But now the pitch itself tells a cohesive story. No, it may not be the story contained in the pages, and that is for the author to tweak, but hopefully it is enough to make you want to open the book and find out just what had happened to those people that would scare an outsider so badly.

And now we come back to the author’s question: “Could reverse psychology work?”

Perhaps.  But as anyone who has ever argued with siblings/friends/pet cats knows, having someone try reverse psychology on you is just obnoxious.  As my revision above demonstrates, creating an intriguing premise or setting up a mystery the reader wants to unravel is a stronger approach than telling the reader not to pick up the book.

There’s urgency in this pitch—and that makes it irresistible.

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.

[ Pitch Slapped ] When the Going Gets Rough…

…the Readers Start Running.

Birthright by RJ Palmer is a paranormal mystery and suspense novel. The problem? The blurb slams the reader with more than the allotted amount of mysterious; I quite literally had no idea what was going on in the book’s pitch.

For this pitch, I’d say it’s a case of not actually knowing what the story is about, and that’s surprisingly common ailment among authors. It’s hard for writers to condense their darling into just a few, bare sentences. When you are so close to your story, it isn’t easy to step back and talk about the main thrust of the narrative. So, let’s try to parse the blurb down into a tantalizing pitch.

 The original pitch: Continue reading