Writing From Your Strengths

As an editor, I truly wish more authors knew it was okay to focus on their strengths. So much craft advice encourages filling in the gaps in our writing skills. Learn how to avoid soggy middles! Craft a brilliant first line! Create dynamic characters, not static ones! And if you know my subtips, you know I am a huge supporter of learning great craft. But a really vibrant skill in one area can outshine an gap elsewhere.

Gaps in our writing skills can be book killers. But these days especially, the market is looking for strengths. What do you do that’s wild and knew and beautiful? Build a book around it. Plot a book around it. Maybe you’re a genius at describing guinea pigs. Lean into that! Plot around it!

If you’re so real and funny and nuanced with dialogue, take it to the max. Concept the book around the gutting things people say to each other. Plot me a magic system built on the power of words. Make the words visual, life-changing. Make us see words in a new way.

And completely aside from what the market wants, readers often care so much more about what a book does so well they can’t quit talking about it. They’ll often forgive so many weaknesses in a story if completely immerses them through a beautiful strength.

Unfortunately, the publishing industry often teaches writers that we aren’t as good as we think we are. We’re wrong about our gaps and our strengths. Maybe this breeds humility, but maybe it also breeds insecurity. We often end up not knowing ourselves as writers, partially because of that. If you not sure of your strengths, ask other writers. Ask a few readers and librarians. Get to know your own writing. Dig into what fills you with joy about it. Think of what your favorite writers are great at, and see if it’s a strength you share.

Usually, though, if we’ve been writing for a while, we DO come to know what we’re good at. We’re just nervous to claim it.

So please, friend, claim your strengths. Lean on them. Trust them. Write your strengths with bravery and confidence. That can make all the difference.

Dinah is here! And so am I.

I’ve missed this blog. I’m just now getting back to regular writing that has nothing to do with my job, and it feels wonderful to just be talking to you. As we start out the new year, I’ve got some great reasons to be updating here!

My new book is out! The Ballad of Dinah Caldwell has hit shelves, and honestly last year was hard enough I didn’t make a very big deal out of it. So I at least want to tell you about it. It’s a YA thriller with a bit of revenge, moonshine, and queerness. Kirkus Reviews even said “The evocative worldbuilding and action-packed opening will suck readers in… A thriller that takes on enduring questions of loyalty, vengeance, justice, and equity.” But this book really was eight years in the making, and everything I want to tell you about it simply falls flat. So I think I should just tell you about me, and why I wrote it, and who it’s for.

There’s a biblical story of a woman named Dinah (Die-nuh). A man wrongs her, and all the men of her community set out to avenge her. In the entire story, Dinah is swept aside. Who was she? Did she feel wronged, or did the men simply think she was? Did she want revenge, too? We don’t know. We never will. Even in her own story, she didn’t get to speak.

I wrote this book so Dinah could say her piece.

Dinah is for anyone who has ever been so angry and lost they didn’t know what was on the other side. Dinah is for anyone who ever just really, really needed to punch a man in the face. Dinah is for anyone who ever had someone shave away at their survival margins until they couldn’t even breathe. Dinah is for anyone who knows the most evil man in the world is the “good old boy” down the street.

Dinah is for the girls & enbies who’ve been constantly underestimated. Dinah is for the queer kids who just lived with their life because self was so scary, love was too much.

Dinah is for anyone who ever said, “No.” Dinah is for anyone who loved so hard they couldn’t let go. Dinah is for anyone who knows firsthand that hope is a violent thing.

If you want to hear Dinah’s story, you can read or listen to it below. Every time you do, it helps me be able to keep writing. And that’s something that’s wildly important to me. So thank you, really and truly. Storytellers have nothing without someone to tell the story to.

I hope this book helps you take a deep breath. I hope it helps you speak.

Buy On:

IndieBound | Book DepositoryBarnes & Noble | Amazon | Bookshop | Powell’s

Signing With My New Agent During COVID-19

Long time no chat, readers! I have moved most of my personal content to my newsletter and to my Twitter feed so this can be an editor and publishing blog, but I wanted to let you all know something awesome in my author life: I’ve signed with an agent! It was a weird and hard but wonderful road to this point, and I’m so excited about this. The full story on leaving my previous agent, signing with my new one, and the impact of this virus on that process is in my newsletter! You can see more by signing up here.

Stay safe and healthy, friends!

YA Scavenger Hunt: Betsy Cornwell and Giveaway!


Hello, YA Scavenger Hunters! I am Kate Brauning, the author of YA romance How We Fall–it’s the story of two cousins who fall into a dangerous relationship in the wake of a friend’s disappearance. You can find out more about it here and right now it’s ON SALE for $1.99 at Amazon and Barnes & Noble! Grab it before the price goes back up!

Today I’m hosting author Betsy Cornwell and an exclusive playlist for her own book, The Forest Queen for the YA Scavenger Hunt. This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors…and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize–one lucky winner will receive one book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!

Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are SEVEN contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the GREEN TEAM–but there is also a RED, BLUE, GREEN, GOLD, ORANGE, PINK, & PURPLE team for a chance to win a whole different set of books! If you’d like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.

GREEN 18 (1)

Directions: Below, you’ll notice that I’ve listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the green team, and then add them up (don’t worry, you can use a calculator!).
Entry Form: Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.
Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by Sunday October 7th, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.
Betsy Cornwell is the New York Times bestselling author of THE FOREST QUEEN, TIDES, MECHANICA, and VENTURESS. She started writing feminist fairy tales when she was ten and has never really stopped. Betsy received her MFA in creative writing from Notre Dame in 2012, and after grad school she ran away to Ireland to live with the fairies. She still lives there now.
Find out more information by checking out the author website or find more about the author’s book here!

the-forest-queen-new-jacket“An exciting and empowering fairy tale retelling starring a fierce heroine you will love cheering on.” – Bustle

From a New York Times bestselling author, a fresh, female-centered take on “Robin Hood” in which a young noblewoman, like the legendary hero, becomes an outlaw fighting for social justice.

When 18-year-old Silvie’s brother takes over management of their family’s vast estates, Silvie feels powerless to stop his abuse of the local commoners. Her dearest friend asks her to run away to the woods with him, and soon a host of other villagers join them. Together, they form their own community and fight to right the wrongs perpetrated by the king and his noblemen. Perfect for fans of fairy tale retellings or anyone who loves a strong female lead, this gorgeously-written take on the Robin Hood tale goes beyond the original’s focus on economic justice to explore love, gender, the healing power of nature, and what it means to be a family.”

The Forest Queen in music

I always write to music. At a low volume, it keeps me focused, and it inspires the mood I’m trying to set in a given scene. I crafted long playlists for each of my first two books before I wrote them, but I eventually decided I was just procrastinating – now I choose a few key musicians and let YouTube or Spotify suggest new songs from there. I’ve found some of my favorite artists that way: it’s how I first heard Tia Blake, for instance, who became one of the key inspirations for The Forest Queen.

I live in the west of Ireland, which provided a huge part of my inspiration too – I share lots of pictures of my adventures in the Irish wilderness on Instagram. The lush, green, rain-and-sun-dappled landscape and the eclectic music here are both intrinsic parts of this book’s spirit.

Here are nine songs that helped me write The Forest Queen – one of them even made it into the epigraph. I love all of them and I hope you will, too.



“Now Westlin Winds” Band of Burns
“Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” Florence + The Machine
“Hard Way Home” Brandi Carlile
“This Is A Rebel Song” Sinead O’Connor
“Green & Gold” Lianne La Havas
“Hangman” Tia Blake
“Cherry Wine (Live)” Hozier
“The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)” The Decemberists
“Never Going Back Again” Fleetwood Mac

Thank you for reading! And don’t forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of books by me, Betsy Cornwell, and more! To enter, you need to know that my favorite number is 27. Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the green team and you’ll have all the secret code to enter for the grand prize!

Enter the giveaway below for a copy of The November Girl by Lydia Kang! Open internationally to any country where Book Depository ships.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author, Jessica Brody!
Green Team

A Day in the Life of an Editor: April 26

Next up in my “day in the life of an editor” posts– here’s what I do all day!

8:00-8:30: I read the Skimm for the day and this Rolling Stone interview with Janelle Monáe as she talks about Prince, her new album, her family, and coming out. I made coffee and set up my desk for the day on my kitchen bar, which I sometimes use as a standing desk.

8:30-9:00: I organize my to-do list for the day. I like to start with big projects first when my concentration power is at its best and before decision fatigue hits, but today it’s a lot of little things that need done. I use Wunderlist to keep track of it all.

9:00-10:00: I edited two queries that I occasionally do as freelance projects. (If you ever want me to take a look at yours, you can send me an email at katebrauning[at]gmail[dot]com. I charge $25 per edit)

10:00-11:00: Handled all my “ASAP” email, read Publisher’s Lunch and PW Daily, sent feedback on an exciting graphic design project a designer is creating for me! #secretwriting project

11:00-12:00: Drafting a deal announcement for Publisher’s Marketplace (Yes! That means a new acquisition! Can’t wait til this one’s public.)

12:00-1:00 Read the first 40 pages of a client’s new book while eating lunch. And I took all my plants out to the deck because it’s finally sunny and warm enough!

1:00-3:00: Staff meeting for Entangled.

3:00-4:00: Requesting pitches in #DVPit. I requested too many and my slush will not thank me for it but I do not care! Such great pitches in this event.

4:00-5:00: I had a haircut appointment. Very exciting, professional editor business. (It’s actually really nice to be able to split my workday up some like this, since I work at home.)

5:00-6:30: Dinner and a walk by the river at the park with Jesse. The sun is still up and we saw some very nice ducks so it was still worth it.

6:30-7:30: Very Exciting Subrights Emails. A lot of authors make a significant percentage of their money from subsidiary rights. Plus it usually leads to a wider audience and it’s more money made from the same work for the author, so it’s great all around. Plus more #DVPit requests.

7:30 until… I quit for bed or start reading for a critique partner: Finally getting to my main project of the day– pulling together acquisitions paperwork for TWO new series I’m going to be pitching to the acquisitions board. So that means finding comparison titles, writing elevator pitches, identifying hooks and tropes, drafting some amazing marketing ideas, pulling up sales numbers, and a whole bunch of other tasks. You can read more about what it involves in this post here! I am so excited about both of these books I can hardly breathe, so STAY TUNED.


If you enjoy this type of content and want me to do more of it, you can “take me out to coffee” by leaving a $3 tip in my KoFi (works through Paypal)! It helps me keep my online content going and helps me pay my bills. Huge thank-yous and a ton of gratitude!

My Writing #Subtips Threads 2016-2017

I have gotten a few requests for collecting all my past subtips threads into one location, and since Storify is closing down, I’m putting them all here.

First, #subtips blog posts:

A Debut Author’s First Month: How We Fall

You Don’t Grow Out of YA: 5 Reasons I Write (& Edit) YA

The Manuscript, Edit Letters, & Deadlines: Thoughts from an Author/Editor

5 #Subtips For Writers on Drafting

Tips for Preparing for Release Month

5 Things I Learned As A Debut Author

Starting That Novel: #Subtips for the New Writer

A Day In An Editor’s Life- Jan 4, 2017

10 Reasons I Had To Pass on MSs & Queries

I Held A Bear Cub, and I Liked It: Why Writing Is Not A Petting Zoo

When Friends and Family Read Your Book: Survival Tips

Writing Poverty in YA

The Straight-Talk On Social Media for Authors

Finding Fresh Ideas: The Rule of Ten

Writing Advice from Don Draper

Revising 101: 3 Goldren Rules

Fixing Stilted Prose 101

Editor’s Eyes: Fixing Flat Scenes

Tips for Describing Characters

Fast Drafting Tips: Awesome Ways to Get it Done

Next, #subtips Twitter threads, starting with my most recent and going back to 2016. Each of these individual tweets is the start of a thread that further discusses the idea, so click the date of the embedded tweet to go to the thread on Twitter, and the rest of the content will open up for you. (I recommend right-clicking to choose “open in a new tab” so you don’t navigate away from the blog post when you click.)

A note on the thread below: the “not like other girls” issue I’m discussing here is different from the question of gender identity. Nonbinary people and people assigned female at birth but questioning their gender may well not feel like other girls– and that’s absolutely okay and something wonderful to show in fiction. If that’s what’s happening in your MS, it should be clear what the character is doing is questioning or exploring gender. Unfortunately, that’s often not what’s happening when a character puts down girls and lacks friendships with girls– and instead what happens is the (often accidental) sexism I discuss below:

Note: I should not have used the word “crutch” below as that implies crutches are used by lazy people who don’t want to do the work, and crutches are actually wonderful tools to help people gain mobility and independence. Crutches are good things, not bad things, so I apologize for the use here! A better statement would be “It’s overused & often an easy way out.”


If you learn from all this collected work of mine, and you can afford it, I would be incredibly grateful if you could leave me a tip in my online KoFi tip jar! It’s simple to use, and it’s like taking me out for a coffee to thank me. Except I can use it to pay my bills, which is great, because apparently Hy-Vee no longer accepts tweets in exchange for groceries. I really appreciate it, and it helps me keep this content free, so everyone can benefit regardless of their financial situation.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

10 Reasons I Had To Pass

Editors and agents so often say their least favorite part of the job is delivering bad news to clients and potential clients. Authors put their hearts out there in their work, and we then have to make business decisions about it. It’s zero fun and hard for everyone. Being both an author and an editor, I know how painful it is to receive those replies that say “not for me,” “I’m sorry, but I just didn’t connect,” “I liked it, but I had to love it in order to take it on, and x was an issue for me.”

So to shed some light on why editors and agents might be saying no, I’m going to post 10 clear reasons I had to pass on a query or manuscript. One note: these may have been from this week or months ago, or even 2016. And with the hundreds of manuscripts I’m reading, it almost certainly was not yours. 🙂 So here we go!

1: Adult contemporary romance, well over 100,000 words. Not high-concept, the pace was slow in the beginning, and the wordcount tells me it’s slow throughout. Plus, the writing wasn’t emotionally engaging. Pass.

2: Adult paranormal. No central romance in this one. Entangled’s YA doesn’t need the main plot to be a romance, but for adult, it must have romance as the story spine. Pass. (This happens a lot, unfortunately. There are so many great stories out there without enough romance for our brand. It’s not a flaw, just a branding issue.)

3: New adult science fiction. Fantastic concept that immediately hooked me. Beginning started in the wrong place but I was hooked enough to fix that in edits. However, boring, slow execution of the concept, taking way too long to get what was fascinating about the concept on the table for readers. The fix would be a total rewrite, so I had to pass, with a lot of regret.

4: YA dystopian. Nothing particularly new, and one stereotypical marginalized character experiencing a lot of aggression without any meaningful nuance or deconstruction of it. Pass.

5: YA paranormal. The writing isn’t ready. Pass.

6: Adult contemporary romance. Choppy plot, contrived conflict. Pass.

7: Adult contemporary romance. The writing isn’t ready. Pass.

8: YA SFF. I loved the voice,  but the plot was weak and too many scenes didn’t move the story forward in a meaningful way. Pass.

9: NA romance. Solid plot for as far as I read but the writing and concept were too generic to stand out. Pass.

10: Adult romance. No emotional engagement for me, and the writing wasn’t ready, either. Pass.

These issues are all once that crop up multiple times a month for me in the slush pile, so one way to use this list is as checklist for your own writing. All of these things have been true of my own writing in the past–literally all of them. The good news is ALL of these things are resolvable. Books I 100% recommend to address them? Writing the Breakout Novel workbook and The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass. The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird. Master Class in Fiction Writing by Adam Sexton. There are also more targeted pieces on filter words, prose editing, and showing vs telling on my writer resources page. 

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you’d like to see more posts like this in the comments.

A Day In An Editor’s Life- Jan 4

Good morning! Since people seem so interested in life behind the scenes or across the desk in publishing, I’ll occasionally be posting some “day in the life” posts where you can see how all this editor stuff goes. New year, new content, right? Buckle up, it’s going to be glamorous.

8am-9:00am: The first thing I did today was read. A new strategy I’m trying this year to make sure I allow time for personal, for-fun reading of already published books is to give myself an hour in the morning to read. Otherwise, the only material I end up reading is informational works, my clients’ works, and my slush pile. So before I check email for disasters or let the news into my apartment or even get out of bed, I roll over and grab a book. This morning it was Interborough, by Santino Hassell. I’m devouring it.

9-10am: I got out of bed and got ready for my day, with coffee and a spoon of peanut butter as breakfast. Don’t shame me, I love it. I also read The Skimm, my favorite daily news update.

10-11am: Replying to emails, including confirming a conference for May, recommending an editor friend for their faculty, replying to a local writer who wants to know how to get started in publishing, lots of emails about internal book scheduling, and some submission questions. As I work, I’m also watching a nature documentary series on Netflix, Frozen Planet. It’s informative and good company while I work all day alone in my apartment, and doesn’t require much concentration. I may make this a new habit, watching something gorgeously shot and and calming while I do office work. Though I will say there was a pretty dire seal hunt happening as I typed this.

11am -noon: After I finished email, I read the Publishers Weekly daily newsletter. Good news- “Unit sales of print books rose 1.9% in 2017, over 2016…The increase follows a 3.3% increase in 2016 over 2015 with units having risen every year since 2013. Since 2013, print unit sales are up 10.8%…Juvenile fiction unit sales increased 2.1% in the year.” 

Now I’m sitting down for first round edits with a client manuscript. For that I turn off my documentaries or music, put the book on my kindle, and take notes in a notebook as I read. It helps to get off of the computer and away from screens for a portion of the day.

1:00-1:30: Lunch break! I used it to stretch and start laundry. Working from home is great/terrible that way.

1:30: Back to reading the client manuscript.

4:00pm: One of my clients’ books hit Netgalley, A Scandal By Any Other Name by Kimberly Bell so I stopped reading to go yell about that online. It’s hilarious historical romance with spina bifida representation, a scheming duke, a deep sister bond, and lots of hilarious antics. https://www.netgalley.com/catalog/book/127197

Then while I was at my computer, I handled another pile of email. Then back to reading til 4:30, when I had to stop to get ready for a chiropractor appointment. After dinner, I’ll do another hour or two of reading this client’s MS, then be done for the day.

See, very glamorous, just like I told you.

The reality is a lot of days are just like this one. Reading, email, little things that come up, more editing. Some days have contract negotiations and offers of publication and calls and meetings, and some days are just me spending quality time with a manuscript. Quiet days are nice days, though, and I’m happy to have them.

Any questions about this? Drop a note in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer.

Come Play #EntangledBookHunt Oct. 27!

Three– count them, one two three– books on my Entangled list released this month! Approximately Yours by Julie Hammerle, 27 Hours by Tristina Wright, and The Uncrossing by Lambda Literary fellow Melissa Eastlake. Plus, one more releases in less than two weeks: The November Girl by Lydia Kang! And finally this year, Sea of Strangers, the sequel to Erica Cameron’s critically acclaimed Island of Exiles is out December 5, in just 6 weeks!

Holy books, Batman.

To celebrate, I’m throwing a little party on Twitter. And you are invited! In fact, your friends are invited too. Anyone with a Twitter account can come. It’s on the #EntangledBookHunt hashtag. All you have to do is answer book questions to be entered to win that book. So if I asked you, “To win a copy of The November Girl: which book on my list received a Kirkus star?”, you’d run to the book pages of my website here and find the answer. Then you’d reply to the question on the hashtag with the answer. Every correct answer gets you an entry to win that book! It’s that simple. Open nationally for hard copies and internationally for ebooks!

These are the books available as prizes! Almost all of them have inclusive worlds, most are #ownvoices for at least some aspect of the diversity, and all of them are vibrant, swoony reads with something heart-pounding or unique or incredibly imaginative at their core.


Plus these books!


Among these books are an ass-kicking heroine with OCD, a half-lake monstrous girl with one of the most convincing non-human voices I’ve ever read, a sister relationship that made me call home, an adult romance with a male submissive hero that Smart Bitches, Trashy Books gave an A rating, a queer-normative fantasy Kirkus called “a rare gem of a book,” a queer Rapunzel retelling in the magic mafia, a YA contemporary that’s Paris Geller falling for Ferris Bueller, and way more.

Game Play Instructions:

  • Show up on Twitter on the #EntangledBookHunt hashtag Friday, October 27, from 2-4pm Eastern time.
  • I’ll ask questions about specific books on my Entangled list, adult and YA. To answer, go to my website (www.katebrauning.com). Choose the “editor” button. From the green hamburger menu in the top left, open the “YA Books” and “Adult Books” pages (also linked here). All questions will be drawn from the books on these pages. Click the book covers to see that book’s page with all the info.
  • Reply to the tweet with the question on the hashtag with the correct answer.
  • All correct answers to each question will be entered to win a copy of one of these books!
  • Print books are available to winners with a U.S. mailing address. Ebooks are available internationally.
  • Authors and other members of my team may show up to hang out on the hashtag, answer questions about writing, publishing, and their books, and be part of the fun!

Come see me at Barnes & Noble!

Friends in South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska! I’m at Barnes & Noble in Sioux Falls this Saturday the 23rd from 1-6 PM for #bfestbuzz! I’ll be playing games, signing books, talking about writing, and letting you all know what a wonderful thing young adult fiction is. It’s empowering, it’s personal, it’s transformative. Come hang out, chat with me, win books/prizes, and get your book signed! Also there will be brilliant bestselling author Lydia Kang, whose new novel The November Girl broke my heart and put it back together again. You need to know about this book. Come have fun with us! Come whenever, stay as long as you like! 

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