“You don’t grow out of YA”: My Interview with International Thriller Writers

Last fall, The International Thriller Writers interviewed me– they’re a great organization of highly respected authors who do a wonderful job supporting new thriller writers, with Lee Child, M.J. Rose, R.L. Stein, and other greats on the board. Here’s that interview!

From ITW:

A rural Missouri girl, Kate Brauning fell in love with writing at a young age. She was that child who practically lived in the library, discovering all its treasures. Now, she resides in Iowa with her husband and a Siberian husky, and works in publishing. She loves to connect with readers. If you see her and say hi, she might invite you for a coffee and to talk about books.

Her debut novel HOW WE FALL is a young adult tale about two cousins with a secret relationship, a missing best friend, and strange girl with secrets. Will this strange girl be a harbinger of doom? Will they find their friend? THE BIG THRILL sat down with Brauning to find out more.shadow

When did you start writing?

Oh, I was pretty young. I wrote my first “story” at ten or so, I think. I’ve always had fun writing stories, and I wrote a novel all through high school. I loved it, but it just never occurred to me that I could write for a career. I kept on loving it, though. In college I decided that I loved it too much to not try.

Did you ever want to be anything besides a writer?

I decided early on that I wanted to be an author, so no, not really. Along the road to becoming an author, I’ve discovered I love the publishing world and I love editing, so if I couldn’t write anymore, I’d continue to work with publishing houses as an editor.

What got you interested in YA Fiction?

Great question. I didn’t imagine myself as a YA author to start with, actually. I started out writing adult, but it didn’t quite fit the stories I wanted to tell. Young adult fiction explores the teenage years of a person’s life, and those years are a significant point of change for most of us. Teens are tackling adult issues for the first time—serious relationships, jobs, shifting authority structures, new limits and opportunities—but they’re doing it without the experience, and often without the resources, that adults may have. It’s a vulnerable, heady, thrilling stage in someone’s life. Teens are also adjusting to greater independence and more authority in their own lives, but might still be dealing with limitations at odds with those things, like curfews, not having a car, house rules, and the structures of school. YA tackles that.

The experiences we have in our teenage years are formative ones, and the mistakes and choices we make can follow us into adulthood. There’s great opportunity, uncertainty, and passion in those years, and they leave a mark on us. I didn’t start reading YA until I reached my twenties, and I wish I’d found it earlier—seeing so closely into the lives of other teens who are wrestling with the same changes and struggles I was would have been so helpful as a teen. I still find myself identifying with the characters in these stories, because people never stop struggling with change. You don’t grow out of YA.

Did you have a favorite character to write?

HOW WE FALL is a YA contemporary story about two cousins who are hiding a relationship. I chose Jackie as the perspective character for this story because I really love how she thinks. She’s not really honest with herself, and often says the opposite of what she means, so it was a really interesting voice to write. Since it’s first person, the reader is really close to her thoughts, but I still needed to communicate the difference between her thoughts and reality. It was a really fun style I’m looking forward to doing more with.

What was the road to getting published like?

I’ve been writing since I was a teen, but it wasn’t until after college that I finished a novel I wanted to get published. I researched agents and query letters, developed an interest in the publishing world, and started working first as an internship with a publishing house. Then I worked with a literary agency, and started sending out query letters for my novel. I then moved to a job as an editor with a publishing house. While I was querying, I started writing my second novel, which was HOW WE FALL, and the response from agents was much more encouraging than for my first work. I did revisions and signed with an agent after about six months, then we went on submission right after the holidays and I had an offer in late February. It happened pretty fast and I couldn’t have done it without such a fantastic agent. My debut just released in early November, and it’s been a tough but really wonderful journey.

How would you describe your writing process?

I spend a long time working on the concept of the story—living in the story mentally, churning scenes around, and figuring out the focus—before I actually start drafting it. Once I start drafting, I try to fast-draft the first act so I can see how things work out when I write characters into the situation and the environment. Then I go back and heavily revise that first third to get all the layers in place and make any changes to the plot/characters that I thought of along the way. After I have the first act solidly drafted and revised, then I finish drafting the rest of the book. Of course, it depends some on the book and how well I know the story before I start writing it. Doing revisions in that first third makes starting a manuscript slow for me, but I do find it helps me avoid having to change major parts of the story.

What does 2015 hold for you?

I’d love to know that, myself! I’ve just moved to a new publishing house (Entangled Publishing) where I work as an editor with YA fiction, so I’ll be acquiring and editing some really wonderful YA titles. I’m also hard at work on new projects, both adult and new adult, that I’m really excited about. I’m also attending a lot of conferences (I’m a conference junkie), so be sure to say hi if you see me!

_________

PS Did you know there’s a narrative Pinterest board for How We Fall? Have you ever seen a narrative book board? I worked so hard on it! And I love it so much. Tell me what you think? ~Kate

 

Starting That Novel: #Subtips for the New Writer

As a part of my #subtips feature on Twitter, I’m going to start doing some quick blog posts about those same tips and topics.

Writing is a complex field with tons of variables and questions and distractions, and sometimes it helps to just ask questions and get answers. Have questions about querying, submissions, or anything else? Drop them in the comments, and I’ll reply, or possibly even do a #subtips round on Twitter or a blog post about the issue.
Common questions about getting that novel done:
Q: Do I have to have a title before I start writing?
Nope. My manuscripts sometimes have a title before they have a first page, and others I’m still struggling with titles for even after they’ve been drafted and revised. Titles often change during the publication process anyway, so I wouldn’t get hung up on finding the perfect title. I’d just start writing, and it may come to you as you write. Lots of authors find their title while writing out those gorgeous lines. Don’t sweat it.
Q: Do I have to have a thorough outline before I start writing?
Nope. Some authors have to have one, and some find it drains the inspiration from the creative process. I’d say you definitely need a firm idea of what the story is about– what’s the main character’s problem? Figure that out, develop it, find out what stands in the way of him/her solving that problem. Basically, know the big events that have to happen. If you don’t like outlines, that’s okay. Just be sure you have a solid concept in place so you aren’t writing enormous tangents or piles of words with no goal. That can be discouraging and actually damage your chances of finishing the story.If you have a clear conflict in mind for your characters and you know what’s keeping them from solving the conflict, that’s a great place to start. I use a method that works great for me: I get to know the conflict and the characters, then I start writing, treating my outline like I’m driving in the dark; I only need to see as far ahead as my headlights will show me. Each step shows me a little bit more of what’s ahead, and that’s enough for the first draft! Just make sure each scene contribute to the main character’s goal/problem.

Q: Is it a good idea to let family and friends read my manuscript? 
In the early stages, I say no– for similar reasons that it’s not a good idea to let your friends and family name your children. They won’t want what you want for the book, and if you don’t take their advice, they may be upset, and quite frankly, you probably love them too much. The opinions of family and friends usually mean so much to us that it can make filtering their feedback difficult, and it also puts you in the awkward position of having disagreements with them over what’s best for the story and potentially doing exactly what they said was a terrible idea. On the other hand, well-meaning but inaccurate advice can set us off on the wrong path. I’d look for feedback from people who are good writers, because they usually have a more solid idea of what to critique and it can be easier to evaluate their advice.

Lots of us are plenty strong enough to not let relationships cloud what’s best for the book, but even when that’s the case, it’s hard to deal with. Save yourself the angst, and have them read, if you must, once it’s done and you’re no longer accepting feedback. Chances are, they’ll tell you they love it and it’s perfect, anyway. 🙂

Q: How long should my novel be?
The first thing to know is that writers almost always measure book length in words, not pages. How many words fit on a page can vary so much that it’s just not an accurate measure. Most word processors track the word count of your document for you, so check (probably at the bottom) for how many words you have.  How long your book should be depends on the category and genre. Here’s a pretty solid breakdown from Writer’s Digest. Keep in mind a standard page is about 250-300 words.

Q: What if I screw it up by writing the wrong thing?
You will write the wrong thing. Trust me. Don’t be afraid of it! Here’s the thing: you’re smart, motivated, and creative. Anything you can write, you can un-write. So much of writing is rewriting that I like to think of it as a puzzle. I’ve got all these pieces, I found the corners, and now I’m shifting them around to see what fits where. That’s what drafting is all about. Don’t pressure yourself too much to know everything before starting to write pages.

Legos are a good comparison, too. They can be taken apart and shifted around to fit a different way if I discover my creation isn’t looking like I want it to, or the structure isn’t holding up. It may be painful at first, but you’ll learn from it, and you know your characters and plot better now than you did before. This one is going to be better because of it. Trust yourself– if you made something good once, you can do it again, so if you need to rework something, that’s okay. You can take it down and make something else good, too. Trust yourself to find a good thing in all those building blocks and make it take shape. Reshape as you go. Jump and and do it. And redo it. Good writing is rewriting!
Q: How much revising should I plan on doing?
Well, I like to compare drafting and revising to raising a child. You put months into planning, developing, and writing that book, and when you finish drafting it, you have a brand new book baby! Congratulations. It’s a huge moment. But just like you’re not done when you’ve successfully created a brand-new person, you’re not done with that book yet. You have to shape that child and spend 18 years teaching him or her how to be a successful, happy adult (who are we kidding? We need our parents long after that), and you have to shape, focus, and polish your manuscript. It’s a book now, but it needs a lot more love before it’s ready for the world. Now, hopefully, this won’t take 18 years, but it usually does take several thorough rounds of revisions with beta readers and critique partners to really make the book live up to its potential. And that’s before agent revisions and editor revisions. However: here’s the great part. All this work can be so much fun. Just like parenting, there are parts we hate and parts that make us cry and parts we wish we didn’t have to do. But it’s worth it.
Do you like this blog series? Submit your questions for the next one!

Stress And Writing

The stress is getting to me, guys.  I have a book coming out in 7 weeks, one with a dual conflict (rare) and a unusual romance (controversial) with an even more controversial ending (which I love). I’ve also just gone through a major job change that’s requiring a lot of work. And reviews from critics are starting to come in, I’ll finally get to see my book in hardcover when my author copies arrive this week (hopefully!), and I’m knee-deep planning my physical-but-also-virtual launch party (you’re invited!), and I’m 40,000 words into my next MS. Plus, my husband and I partnered with a photographer friend this summer to open up a studio where creative arts professionals can purchase a subscription to the space and come work. Add to that the intense amount of traveling my husband and I have been doing for our careers, and I’m tired. And brain-fried. And stressed.

I’m also happy, and enjoying working on the new MS, and excited to start revising the one I have drafted and waiting in the wings. I have started a warm-water aquarium (I love tropical fish), started a weightlifting class with a friend (if there ever is a zombie apocalypse, I can now save you), and am really enjoying the new seasons of my favorite shows that are hitting Netflix. So, life is wonderful, yes.

But stress. All the million things running through my brain all day. All the worry that there might be something helpful I could be doing for HOW WE FALL that I’m not doing. The change in gears to writing a strictly contemporary story. The worry that I will never be as good a writer as I want to be, that I might not be able to bring a story home and do the concept justice. (I WILL TRY.)

And the stress is a problem, because it’s what holds me back from just doing what I need to do, realizing that how well I write is in my own hands, and most of this is just one-day-at-a-time stuff. Stress overrides what I know. As a side note, if you get the chance to encourage a writer, do it. That little positive bump can mean a lot.

So, this is me staying honest on the blog and letting you know how it’s going. It’s also me saying I’m not going to let the stress control my decisions and it’s not going to take me down. I’ve beaten a whole lot of things to get here, and I just need to get a little more balance and find good way to blow off steam. I’m going to get enough sleep, keep up weightlifting, block off enough time each week for things that aren’t work, and keep reading awesome books. (Recently read and highly recommended: THIS IS NOT A TEST by Courtney Summers, and SEX & VIOLENCE by Carrie Mesrobian. Both brilliant, completely absorbing, and powerfully written.)

Do you have a stress management plan for yourself? What do you do for coping?

Revisions, #Subtips, and Tumblr

Happy Tuesday, readers! I’m back from my week in Colorado to visit my brand-new nephew (born 6 weeks early!) and help my sister out a bit. He’s great, she’s great, and it was so great to have some time with family.

I’m back to writing and editing now, and I have a few fun things for you today.

First, I posted a guide to handling revisions for Pen and Muse’s summer school, where I discuss everything from receiving an editorial letter to turning that advice into specific action items, and from writing your own editorial letter to handling opposite feedback from critique partners: A Guide to Handling Revisions

Second, I recently had several people ask me to storyify some of my #subtips. I’ve put up a few on pacing, character development, writing romance, and gender roles, so in case that’s of interest to you, here they are! #Subtips on Storify

Third, Jamie Adams interviewed me about the best and worst writing advice I’ve ever received, the hardest scene for me to write in HOW WE FALL, my favorite scene (oh my), and my life phrase, in which I quote Kingsley Shacklebolt. Interview with Kate Brauning

Finally, I’m on tumblr! I’ve been figuring out how I want to use it, and since this blog is so writer/publishing-focused, I wanted something more reader-focused. So, if you want awesome content for readers who might not necessarily be writers, follow me there! Here’s what the content looks like:

Music Mondays: Most writers love music, and I’m no exception. Mondays I post a music video that has inspired me or my work. It’s often something from my WIP playlist or one of those life songs that you feel like all your friends need to know.

Ted Talk Tuesday: Tuesdays I post a Ted Talk about creativity, intelligence, literacy, efficiency, or anything else related to life as a creative. They’re fun, challenging short videos from experts in their field and a great way to challenge yourself and learn something valuable.

Wednesday Word Love: I post awesome quotes from writers or their books, news stories about awesome things writers are doing, and awesome new cover reveals and releases. Basically, anything awesome. 🙂

Thursday Thought: On Thursdays I try to post either something I’ve been thinking myself, or something thought-provoking I’ve found elsewhere, usually about books or creativity or literacy or social justice issues.

Fangirl Friday: Posts on Fridays cover anything I’m fangirling over– Game of Thrones wedding cakes, Harry Potter GIFs, YA books-turned-int0-movies that I want to see, etc.

Weekend Reads: Either Saturday or Sunday, I tell you what I’m reading that week, and if I think you should read it too!

So, yeah, if any of that sounds fun to you, feel free to follow me on tumblr!

Thanks so much for reading, guys!

#YALaunch- Get Ready, and Save the Date!

Dear friends,

I’m so happy to be writing this post, and I’m even happier to be inviting you to my launch party. It’s a bit unusual, and a lot wonderful, and comes from a pretty awesome chain of events.

Back in 2012, Nikki Urang and I were both querying our first manuscripts and had shared work, and decided to become critique partners. We didn’t have agents, didn’t have any publishing credentials, and were terrified that no agent was going to want us and not entirely sure we could do this publishing thing. We queried, and revised, and

Welcome to The Hit List: a game of sexual conquest. We won't judge you, but your girlfriend might.  Spencer Hill Press, Nov. 11 2014

Welcome to The Hit List: a game of sexual conquest. We won’t judge you, but your girlfriend might.

shared chapters of a new book we were each writing, and kept at it. We both shelved the manuscripts we were querying, and finished the books we were working on. We drew up lists of questions to ask agents if “the call” ever happened. We analyzed feedback in those coveted personal responses to queries. In March of 2013, a few months into me querying my new novel, Nikki signed with her agent, Nicole Resciniti. I was thrilled for her, because she’d worked hard and THE HIT LIST was awesome. We celebrated, and Nikki encouraged me to keep going. I kept querying, got a bunch of requests from agents, and started working on an R&R through the summer. Nikki’s book deal with Spencer Hill Press for THE HIT LIST was announced, and I signed with my agent, Carlie Webber.

This whole time, we went back and forth with panic attacks, worries, and all the nerves. All of them. But it was crazy fun, too, working through all this with someone who was going through it, too. I went on submission with my agent in January, and Nikki whipped me back into shape during several melt-downs. Nikki got her release date, and we celebrated again, because a fall release date is a wonderful thing. In March of 2014, my agent told me I had an offer. I panicked. Nikki helped me research, weigh the pros and cons, and supported me when I decided Merit Press was exactly what I wanted. The deal was announced, I was told it would be a fall release date, and we celebrated again. I dove right into edits since it would be a fast timeline, and then I was told my firm release date.

Both THE HIT LIST and HOW WE FALL are releasing on the same day. November 11, Nikki and I become published authors, and we are thrilled to have been able to go through all the rejections and questions and celebrations of querying and our debut year together. She’s been a huge support and encouragement for me, and I’ve tried my best for her. Our first signings were even on the same day, May 30 in New York City, at Book Expo America.

Because of all this, we’ve decided we want to have our launch parties together, and you are invited! There’s nothing quite like the writer friendships you make along the way to publication, and we want you there. Watching our families and friends all over the U.S. and even all over the world come through for us with support and

He kissed her on a dare.  She told him to do it again. Their secret could tear their family apart.

He kissed her on a dare.
She told him to do it again.
Their secret might tear the family apart.

encouragement and pre-orders and all those things every one of you has done has meant the world to us, and so we want you, there, too. We know many of you can’t travel to the Midwest for our launch party, but since this day is important to us, and you being there is important to us, we have created the most wickedly awesome launch party.

November 8-11, our critique partners and closest writing friends are getting together for a writing retreat in Omaha. Writers write, right? We’re taking a break from the hectic before-release-day demands and writing all weekend with wine, chocolate, and friends. You’ll see us tweeting about it, doing word sprints online, and having fun on the #YAlaunch hashtag, and updating the event’s Facebook page with fun news. The last night of the retreat is our launch party.

Jesse, my husband and a professional videographer, is going to film and live-stream the event. All you’ll have to do is click a link to join the party. We have games to play (Book Title Scramble, Name That Cover, a make-a-bad title/bad cover competition, and more) with you on Facebook and Twitter, Q&As, and through all of it we’ll be interacting with you live. Of course, launch parties have wine and chocolate, and we’re giving that away, too!

We’re also giving away over 100 books. Yes. 100. One hundred. You’ll want to come even if you’ve never heard of us just to win awesome books! We’re giving away prize packs of our critique partners’ books, books written by our agency/publishing house friends, books that inspired our writing, and books we would just love you to read. We’re going to be releasing a list of the books we’re giving away, so keep checking in to see!

If that wasn’t enough to convince you, we’re also going to be introducing you to the awesome authors who will be on the retreat with us, and you can ask them questions and get to hear about their work! Aside from Nikki and myself, we’re thrilled to be welcoming:

Critically acclaimed Atria author Nicole Baart (THE BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTERS, SLEEPING IN EDEN, & more)

Quirk Books editor and author Blair Thornburgh

YA author multipublished in poetry/literary journals, Alex Yuschik

Faith writer and blogger Kelly Youngblood

YA author Delia Moran,

Entangled author Tonya Kuper (ANOMALY),

MG and YA author Kiersi Burkhart,

YA author, Month9Books editor, and sports writer Bethany Robison,

and

New York Times bestseller, Tosca Lee (THE LEGEND OF SHEBA & more from Howard Books, & the Books of Mortals series with Ted Dekker).

We’re so thrilled to have such a wonderful group of authors with us for the launch party, and we’re so grateful to all of them for their support and time and effort in coming to help us celebrate. You’ll definitely want to hear them talk about their work and get the chance to interact and have a great evening with them.

So when and how do you attend?

When: Monday, November 10, from 6-10pm central time.

Why: books, wine, chocolate, celebrating with Kate and Nikki

Where: Join the Facebook event here and watch the Twitter hashtag #YAlaunch to interact, and watch the live-stream (link to be announced).

Nikki and I would love to see you there! Our friends, families, and fellow writers have kept us going, and we would be thrilled to celebrate with you. We want this to be as much a giant book party as our launch party, so even if you don’t know us, please feel free to come and meet awesome authors and win amazing books.

Please do tell your friends, share this post, and invite others to come! The event is open to the public and we’d love your help supporting awesome authors, fantastic books, and the writing community.

See you soon!

Much love,

Kate Brauning and Nikki Urang

Tweet: Want to win 100 books? Join @KateBrauning and @NikkiUrang’s #YAlaunch party! http://ctt.ec/d3p9a+

Tweet: Want to hang out with YA authors, win books, wine, & chocolate? Join @KateBrauning & @NikkiUrang’s #YAlaunch party! http://ctt.ec/91XNf+

Tweet: Excited for YA contemps HOW WE FALL & THE HIT LIST? Join @KateBrauning & @NikkiUrang’s #YAlaunch party! http://ctt.ec/RJd9n+

4 Essentials for Making Your Prose Sharp

Writers spend a lot of time on their concepts. We put a lot of effort into making it unique, avoiding cliché ringing alarm or dream scenes, and giving it high stakes and relatable characters. Those things are great and absolutely, give those things your attention. But there’s another element that deserves more attention than it gets. A writer who masters this always gets my attention in the slush pile.

This element is an art form by itself. It’s often overlooked or not given the attention it deserves. It can make even an average story concept fresh and impacting. Any guesses what it is?

Prose. Whole books exist on the art of mastering prose. Agent Noah Lukeman wrote The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, which is a whole book on just the first page pages of your manuscript, and a big chunk of it deals with prose. Techniques for creating poetic prose with stark imagery and fluid meter exist, of course, and definitely study up on those if you haven’t. Backloading, front-loading, revolving length, consonance, etc., can be really great ways to add suspense and punch to your writing.

There are, however, four simple things you can do to kick the quality of your prose up a notch. These things will help smooth out your writing and help you avoid those issues that so often plague slush pile pages.

1) Lack of contractions. This happens most often in SF/F/paranormal writing. More formal phrasing is often the first route writers take when they want to make an angel/vampire/elf/immortal of any kind sound as if he or she is from another culture. This idea might have worked for the first few who did it, and it still might work if done extraordinarily well, but it’s such a common device now that it isn’t fresh anymore. Plus, and here’s the kicker, it makes the writing stilted. Even if your character is from another culture,  it doesn’t work. Try saying the lines out loud yourself; if it sounds weird to you, it will to your readers, too. Overly formal writing, especially lack of contractions, pulls me out of the story and makes it that much harder to catch my attention. People think and speak with contractions 99% of the time, so not having them just doesn’t sound natural. If you want to make the voice more formal, find another way to do it.

2) Modifier overload. Adjectives and adverbs are like arms and legs. You probably need one or two, and sometimes they can really help, but more isn’t always better. Modifiers stand out in a sentence; be choosy. An author friend of mine told me her agent says she gets ten adverbs per novel. That’s how choosy you should be. Now, if you’re that choosy, maybe you can do more than ten. The point is, I wonder how many writers are actually aware of how many they’re using. If using words is going to be your career, you have to be aware. Here’s a quick trick to check how you’re doing with modifiers: Take just your first page and highlight how many adverbs and adjectives are on that page. I normally see 15+ modifiers on the first page—way more than a handful per chapter. Of course, the solution is to delete the modifier and use stronger nouns and verbs- “wailed” instead of “cried loudly”, or “hurtle” instead of “run quickly.” I like to keep in mind the principle of “detail that matters.” If it doesn’t matter that the flowers are pink, don’t tell me. They’ll show up as a color in my imagination even if you don’t supply one. But if the tangle of the stems and the withered leaves matter as insight about the protagonist, then by all means, use it. Just be aware, and be intentional.

3) Common phrasing. This is a little more abstract of a concept, but it’s easy to identify in a manuscript. When I read about bright sunny days, fear creeping over someone, half-smiles turning up a corner of someone’s mouth, etc., I get bored because I’ve seen all these things too many times. Cliches are definitely a part of common phrasing, but it’s more just ordinary words being used in an unimaginative way. When I read, I want to see a new perspective on something. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson is an excellent example of breaking away from the ordinary in showing the main character’s thoughts. Not everyone should go so far as to strike out portions of the text, but I do at least want to think, “hey, this writer sees that man’s shoes a little differently than most people would” or “I’d never thought of describing a street like that.” Language that shows unique thought is almost always gripping. In your characters and your concepts, you want to show us something new, and do that with your wording, too. Give us something new.

4) Word clutter. Modifier overload can be a big part of cluttered prose, but there are a few other elements involved, too. Empty words, words that hardly carry any meaning at all, should be avoided: there, are, is, was, were, it, etc. “There are” or “it was” are particularly common and limp beginnings to a sentence. “That” is another big offender. Empty words clunk along, dragging down the prose and drawing far too much attention to themselves. Use ctrl-F to find these words and uproot them. I once searched for “that” in my first manuscript, and found over 800 uses- about 3 per page. I deleted over half of them. Wordcount-wise, that’s more roughly 2 pages of nothing but the word “that.”

A final thing to watch out for is simply being wordy. Conciseness is at the heart of good prose- packing the meaning into your words. Don’t use a phrase when a word or two mean the same. I don’t mean turn your manuscript into a bullet-pointed list of nouns and verbs, and by all means, use the words necessary. But do be concise, and cut every word you don’t genuinely need.

With prose, less is often more. Be fresh, be concise, be intentional. A well-placed adjective or a neatly-turned phrase can make a sentence stand out, but piling on pretty words creates inflated language and purple prose that readers skim. Starkness and simplicity can make your prose gorgeous, so give them a chance.

Are You Letting Rejection Make You A Better Writer?

I just posted last week about handling success as a writer, so this week I’m talking about the other side of the coin: rejection.

When I taught high school English, I tried to keep in mind that negative comments have about seven times as much power as a positive comment. As an editor, I try to give my clients “critique sandwich”- one positive comment on either side of a negative one. People simply feel negative things more intensely- and take them more personally- than they do positive things.

This is especially true of querying and being on submission. It’s hard, discouraging work, with more ups and downs than most people can imagine. We feel rejection intensely. Someone said no, and it’s hard to hear- even though we know agents can only take on projects they love, think they can sell, and are willing to risk their income on. All the reasons aside, someone still said no. Some days I handle it better than others. We can tell ourselves all sorts of things about how many famous authors had X number of rejections, how long it usually takes to get an agent/publishing deal, and how many factors affect those decisions- but those rejections pile up. Even when it’s not a huge pile, it can feel like one.

What rejection feels like is actually really important. For a long time, it felt like no one was interested in the story I poured my blood and love into, it felt like “the call” would never happen, and it felt like I’d trying forever without results.

BUT.

Remember those are just feelings. They are a normal part of the process. Every writer feels them. Writers have to be able to take rejection, try harder, persevere longer, and keep going.

Continuing on when you’re feeling those rejections is hard. Even normal efforts can be draining when you’re discouraged. A lot of people just quit at that point- way before they should. But don’t quit. Use those feelings to make yourself a better writer. Here’s what I try to do:

  • Recognize the feelings are normal. Almost every writer has gone through the rejection blues. It’s not a sign from the universe that you can’t do this. It’s both natural and expected. It’s like the ache after working out; you tried really hard, and now it hurts. That’s okay.
  • Allow yourself some time to wallow- but just a little. Call in sick for a day if you need to, but don’t quit the job. Recognize that it’s discouraging, that it’s hard, and that it makes you worry. Admit it to get it out in the open. Don’t feel like you need to pretend.
  • Use those negative feelings to push yourself. Writers push themselves a lot already in a hundred ways- but when I’m feeling those rejections, I have to remind myself that writing is a job. I have to work when I don’t want to. I have to do things that are boring and frustrating and discouraging. If I’m serious about being a writer, I have to keep doing it.
  • Get back to work- but don’t just slog through feeling like your writing is worthless. I can never keep going if I am functioning like that. Make a plan for dealing with rejection.

Making that plan for handling rejection is important. I use my “rejection plan” all the time. When I don’t have the physical or mental energy to keep trying and manage my mood, I fall back on my rejection plan, and it works. Here’s what mine looks like:

  • Find a critique partner to cry on. They get it like no one else. As supportive as my husband and friends have been, they haven’t been through this in the same way CPs have been. Vent, rant, spew disparaging diatribes if you must. Get it out in a private environment with someone who understands. (Not in public, and not with a professional contact. Keep venting where it belongs.)
  • After wallowing, I pick up a great new book to read. I try to save one that I’ve been dying to read. They helped me discover again what I love about writing, and they inspire and encourage me again. A great new book lets me check out of my problems and discouragement, and gives me the time to find some emotional distance. TV and movies and hanging out with friends often don’t do this for me when I’m discouraged, because even with friends I’m still likely to be discouraged about the issue, and TV and movies (unless they are really wonderful) might let me check out of my problems, but they don’t inspire me to go back to writing and keep trying in the same way a great book does.
  • Then, I resort to my lists. When I’m too discouraged to put words on the page, when I don’t trust my diction and hate all my sentences, I work on items I can break down into lists with a yes or no check-mark. Character profiles, chapter outlines, scene lists,  research, etc. I don’t have to finesse those, and they do need done. Sometimes it’s just sending a new query. When I was querying, part of my plan was to send a new query immediately every time I received a rejection. It was hugely helpful, because it was exciting to find a new agent who might like my work, and send off that email. Hope! And eventually, I sent the query that got me the request, which got me the call, which got me the offer.

Those short-term rejection plans really help me bounce back and limit the damage my discouragement does. Try making one for yourself that hits those same goals– venting, inspiring, and continuing to make progress.

Long term, of course, the most important element of my rejection plan is this: start a new project. Beginning a new MS is exciting and encouraging and full of potential. Having something like that to fall back on kept me going while I was querying and on submission, and it’s what’s keeping me from freaking out during the waiting months before my debut releases. It keeps me from obsessing and it keeps me working, both absolutely necessary things.

So here’s my encouragement: Keep at it in spite of the feelings. They’re natural, and they just mean you’re in the thick of it.

Writers are tough people. Being tough doesn’t mean we don’t want to quit- it means we keep going anyway because we know its worth it. We have stories and characters and what-ifs to share. We love pulling all those things together, and we’ll do what it takes to make it happen.

What do you do when you get discouraged? How do you handle rejection?

2 Ways To Handle Success as A Writer

Book things are finally rolling for HOW WE FALL, my YA suspense that comes out in November. We’re done with developmental edits, copy edits, and final pass pages. ARCs are out. My author website is in development, I’ve had my author photos taken and should get them soon, and I’ve got postcards and book bag buttons on the way! It’s surreal, and stressful, and fun. I keep yo-yoing between thinking “this is awesome!” and “what if no one likes it? Oh no November that’s less than 5 months away everyone will read this book I wrote what am I going to do?”

My CPs keep reminding me to enjoy it. To not let the stress settle too deeply, to keep my focus on productive things. And there’s a bit of publishing advice that goes like this: when an awesome moment happens, enjoy it, because this is as good as it gets. Someone is always doing better than you, selling more copies than you, getting more buzz and attention than you, getting more awards and nominations than you are. Things aren’t less stressful or more certain or better closer to the top. The stress and uncertainty and pressure follows you. So whenever success happens, let it be the win you need. Let it be the awesome moment that it deserves to be, because it really doesn’t get better than that. Thinking about it that way really isn’t even re-framing the idea of success; we might need to pause to think about it, but most of us know that’s just being honest with ourselves. Success isn’t numbers or checkpoints. But sometimes we forget to celebrate the real successes.

If your book comes out, and some reviewers love it, and people start talking about it– enjoy that. It’s awesome, so let it be awesome. Celebrate, and stay away from Amazon rankings and negative reviews. Don’t let those things tear down a moment that deserves every bit of enjoyment and celebration you want from it.

If you landed a book deal with a publishing house and have an editor who loves your story and believes in you and your writing– congratulations! That’s awesome. Let it be a moment where you dwell on nothing but how wonderful that is, and how much it’s taken to get there. Celebrate your own determination and hard work, and enjoy it. Don’t qualify it, don’t second-guess it, don’t wonder what else could have happened. This is it! Let it be a win, because it is.

If you decided to self-publish, and take your book to the world in your own way– congratulations! Your manuscript is going to be a real book, and that’s such an incredible thing. You have more options, more resources, and more power over your career than ever before. Readers all over the world are going to read what you wrote, and you deserve to enjoy the milestone. It’s a life-changing moment. Don’t let worry and doubt crowd out the enjoyment. Celebrate it!

If you signed with an agent

If you finished a manuscript

If a beta reader loved your manuscript

If you wrote a scene and know you nailed it

If your work earned an award or nomination

If an agent requested pages

If someone got excited about your book and let you know they connected with it

Let that be success.

Of course, aim high. Go for it, and keep going. But don’t forget to look around at where you are now, and realize that these wins are the real thing. They are success. Something you created connected with someone else, and they felt it deeply enough to care, and it really doesn’t get better than that. It just doesn’t. This writing business is about connection, and whatever form that happens in, it’s a win. It’s a wonderful, hard-earned, incredible win. Don’t let anything overshadow it, and take the moment to see it for what it is. You did it. Celebrate it!

My Cover Reveal for How We Fall!

I’ve been waiting for this day for a while. Covers are special; they’re the face of our book, and a big determiner in whether or not our story catches the reader’s attention. This manuscript has been a long time in the making, and it’s so much fun (and stress/nervousness/excitement) to see it becoming a book. I’m so happy to be sharing the cover of HOW WE FALL with you today!

I’m also launching my author Facebook page today, and giving away two ARCs to random readers who like my page, so be sure to head over there to see the cover and enter to win an ARC!

HOW WE FALL by Kate Brauning

YA contemporary
Publication date: 11/11/2014
Publisher: Merit Press, F+W Media Inc.
ISBN-13: 9781440581793
Hardcover, 304 pages

 

About the Book:

He kissed her on a dare. She told him to do it again.

Ever since Jackie moved to her uncle’s sleepy farming town, she’s been flirting—a bit too much—with her cousin, Marcus. She pushes away the inevitable consequences of their friendship until her best friend, Ellie, disappears, and the police suspect foul play. Just when she needs him most, Marcus falls for the new girl in town—forcing Jackie to give a name to the secret summer hours she’s spent with him. As she watches the mystery around Ellie’s disappearance start to break, Jackie has to face that she’s fallen in love at an impossible time with an impossible boy. And she can’t let Marcus, or Ellie, go.

The Reveal!

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HowWeFallCover

Sneak Peek Page:

 

Chapter One

 

Last year, Ellie used to hang out at the vegetable stand with Marcus and me on Saturdays. This year, her face fluttered on a piece of paper tacked to the park’s bulletin board. Most weeks, I tried to ignore her eyes looking back at me. But today, Marcus had set the table up at a different angle, and she watched me the entire morning.

The day that photo was taken, she’d worn her Beauty and the Beast earrings. The teapot and the teacup were too small to see well in the grainy, blown-up photo, but that’s what they were. She’d insisted sixteen wasn’t too old for Disney.

The crunch of tires on gravel sounded, and a Buick slowed to a stop in front of the stand. I rearranged the bags of green beans to have something to do. Talking to people I didn’t know, making pointless small talk, wasn’t my thing. My breathing always sped up and I never knew what to do with my hands. It had been okay before, but now—surely people could see it on me. One look, and they’d know. Chills prickled up my arms in spite of the warm sun.

Marcus lifted a new crate of cucumbers from the truck and set it down by the table, his biceps stretching the sleeves of his T-shirt. Barely paying attention to the girl who got out of the car, he watched me instead. And not the way most people watched someone; I had his full attention. All of him, tuned toward me. He winked, the tanned skin around his eyes crinkling when he smiled. I bit my cheek to keep from grinning.

The girl walked over to the stand and I quit smiling.

Marcus looked away from me, his gaze drifting toward the girl. Each step of her strappy heels made my stomach sink a little further. Marcus tilted his head.

He didn’t tilt it much, but I knew what it meant. He did that when he saw my tan line or I wore a short skirt. I narrowed my eyes.

“Hi,” she said. “I’d like a zucchini and four tomatoes.” Just like that. A zucchini and four tomatoes.

Marcus placed the tomatoes into a brown paper bag. “Are you from around here?”

Of course she wasn’t from around here. We’d know her if she were.

“We just moved. I’m Sylvia Young.” The breeze toyed with her blonde hair, tossing short wisps around her high cheekbones. Her smile seemed genuine and friendly. Of course. Pretty, friendly, and new to town, because disasters come in threes.

“Going to Manson High?” Marcus handed her the bags.

She nodded. “My dad’s teaching science.”

Finally, I said something. “Three bucks.”

“Hmm?” Sylvia turned from Marcus. “Oh. Right.” She handed me the cash and looked over the radishes. “Are you here every day?” Her eyes strayed back to Marcus.

“Three times a week,” he said.

“I’ll see you in a day or two, then.” She waved.

I was pretty damn sure she wouldn’t be coming back for the radishes.

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Pre-Order How We Fall: Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, IndieBound, Books Inc., Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Book Depository, Amazon U.S., Amazon Canada, Amazon U.K., Amazon Germany, Amazon Japan.

 

Add How We Fall on Goodreads!

 Head over to my Facebook author page to win an ARC!

(Open to U.S. residents only.)

 

About the Author:www.jenniophotography.com

Kate spent her childhood in rural Missouri raising Siberian huskies, running on gravel roads, and navigating life in a big family. Now living in Iowa, she is married to a videographer from the Dominican Republic, and still owns a husky. She loves bright colors, fall leaves, unusual people, and all kinds of music. Kate has written novels since she was a teen, but it wasn’t until she studied literature in college that she fell in love with young adult books.  Kate now works in publishing and pursues her lifelong dream of telling stories she’d want to read. Visit her online, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

 

 

My Awesome Book News

I have just a tiny bit of news today. News I’ve been sitting on for what felt like a century. News I could not be happier to share. Any guesses? 🙂

Deal

My book sold. A pre-empt, and releasing this November. Yes, it’s fast. Yes, it will be a fall book. Catch me if I pass out.

Merit is a wonderful imprint over at F&W Books, and if Jacquelyn Mitchard’s name sounds familiar, it’s because she’s the author of Deep End of the Ocean (and about 20 other books, including  What We Saw At Night and What We Lost In The Dark.) She’s made a name for herself as an author and an editor, and I am so thrilled to have her as my editor. Merit and F&W are the perfect place for HOW WE FALL, and their enthusiasm for my book has blown me away. I never imagined I’d be dealing with a pre-empt, but I’m so confident in the team at Merit that it’s very much a crazy dream come true.

I love this book with everything in me. It’s a quirky YA taboo suspense about obsession and emotional honesty and not letting the world tell you who to be. And I’m so excited to send it out into the world.

I’m so thankful to my brilliant and wonderful agent, who believed in this book (and me) from the start. Her confidence has kept me going. Thank you for making this happen, Carlie.

My incredibly patient husband, Jesse, has been my biggest supporter. He’s kept up with the writing process, the querying process, and now submission through to a book deal. He’s had to deal with my insanity for years now, and I genuinely couldn’t have done this without him. A bit of who he is works its way into every YA guy I write, so thanks for being my inspiration, Jesse.

My family and friends have put up with my babbling about one day being an author since I was twelve. Evenings making dinner in the kitchen with my mother while I discussed my high school WIP with her gave me the confidence to think I wasn’t crazy in wanting to do this. (And maybe I was crazy, but hey, it happened!) To all of you (Lydia, Rebekah, Trish, Robin, Lynn, Matt, Jess, Sean, Sam, Jake, Nick, Bree, Hannah, Mark, Rebecca, oh my word, all of you) thank you for the support and encouragement and confidence.

And to my critique partners and writing friends– to everyone who read some version of HOW WE FALL, you guys have been one of the biggest factors in this happening. I love you for it. I love you for being honest with me and tough with your notes, for all the conversations and advice and patience and brilliant ideas. HOW WE FALL wouldn’t be the book it is without you.

Stay tuned, readers- there’s a lot more news about HOW WE FALL coming soon. 🙂