Tag Archives: The Kid Editor Crew

Well, Hey There, September!

I’m not even going to look at when my last blog post was. But three months ago I had a kid, and they were right (because they all told me I would get negative-everything done). I have been getting nothing done.

Except I have been getting some stuff done. Since June 12th, I have done the following, in the following order:

1) Had a baby.

2) Completed my first round of offical Greenglass House edits.

3) Nearly finished Bluecrowne. And by “nearly,” I mean I hit page 155 of what was supposed to stay (for budgeting purposes) under 120, which was roughly the length of The Kairos Mechanism.

4) Conferred with my ace Kid Editors about Greenglass House in preparation for the next round of edits, which I expect to receive this week or beginning of next. Once again, they delivered. These young readers are AWESOME and thoroughly deserve having their praises sung in capital letters.

5) Read the following approximately a hundred times each in the last week alone: 

  • Red Truck
  • Orange Pear Apple Bear
  • Polar Bear Night
  • Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You
  • Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See? 
  • If You Want to See a Whale

I have also done the dishes several times.

You’ll shortly be hearing more about Greenglass House. Among other things, Ana and Thea, the fabulous ladies at Book Smugglers, have offered to do a reveal for the cover, so there’ll be that excitement. And the cover is amazing, folks. Jaime Zollars is the artist, and although I’m fairly certain she’s never been to Nagspeake, she managed to capture my beloved home-away-from-home perfectly. (Greenglass House comes out in August of next year, but it’s already available to preorder here and there around the interwebs.)

But since I had initially thought I’d be releasing the next Arcana Project novella this summer and clearly that’s not happening, let’s talk Bluecrowne.

Thing number one: I don’t think I can reasonably call it a novella anymore, since by my best guess it’s going to come in around 175 pages. Thing number two: this throws all my previous calculations out the window. And by “all my previous calculations” I mean my budget. Which is fine, considering I haven’t put together anything in the way of a crowdfunding campaign yet. My initial reluctance to do that before now was due to the fact that I didn’t feel right somehow putting up a campaign when the book wasn’t done. I now see how very pragmatic I was being, even though at the time I thought I was just being paranoid.

There’s also the fact that my slower post-baby writing pace has implications for everyone else involved with this book, including (but not limited to) the wonderful Andrea Offermann, who’s returning for the Bluecrowne cover. 

So here’s the new plan: I’d like to have Bluecrowne to you for the holidays. This still depends on a lot of factors, but I think it’s doable.

I would like not to depend on crowdfunding at some point, but as you see from the progress bar on the right-hand sidebar, I’m nowhere close to having enough in the bank for my original budget yet. Since Bluecrowne’s going to come in so much longer, I’ll be printing fewer paperbacks to start with, but other things like the costs of paying the editor and the reader artists will go up. So there will be a Bluecrowne Kickstarter campaign, I suspect in mid-October, or whenever I get the next Greenglass House edits turned in. And once again there will be a whole bazaar of fun rewards, including another previously-unseen story from The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book in the ebook for Kickstarter backers. (What’s The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book? You’ll have to wait for Greenglass House for the answer to that.) And once again the fundraising will include money to commission a dozen or so young artists to illustrate a special edition. (Don’t want to wait until October to help out? You rock. Click here.)

What will you encounter in Bluecrowne? Well, you’ll meet some new friends and those of you who haven’t yet visited the Sovereign City of Nagspeake will get your first glimpse. But some old friends from all three of my previous books will be returning, too. No, I won’t say who. Not yet, anyway. 🙂 So ends this status report from Milford Command Central. Comments? Questions? No? Great. Here. Have a picture of a few of the research books involved in Bluecrowne, Greenglass House, and The Left-Handed Fate.

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That’s right. I said “a few.”

Novellablog: Seven Days Left for The Kairos Mechanism on Kickstarter!

That’s right, one week remains. Seven days, friends, count ’em. If at any point you were thinking you might want to get involved with the glorious insanity that is The Kairos Mechanism and its equally glorious Kickstarter campaign, now’s the time! Here’s the link. What’s in it for you? My endless thanks, plus goodies. There are so many ridiculously exciting rewards, you just won’t believe your eyes. BUT BELIEVE THEM!!

At the time of my writing this, the campaign is sitting pretty at 110% (that’s $7205). Let me remind you why I still need you:

  • At $7500, the fourteen kid artists behind the illustrated digital edition get their paychecks bumped up, and all backers get a brand-new crossroads story, The Devil and the Scavenger, from me as a PDF. In it, you will meet a new character who also turns up in The Broken Lands. Insights into the secret lives of strange folk, just for you!
  • At $9500 I can commit to a paperback edition of Arcana #2 for May 2013, and all backers will be asked to weigh in on what that novella will be. I’ll post a poll with three simple synopses, and I’ll go with whichever gets the most votes. Want a say in what I write next? Get thee to Kickstarter and ante up.
  • At $13000, I can commit to a reader-illustrated edition of Arcana #2.

And, as always, re-tweets, re-blogs, and spreading the word by any means at your disposal are hugely appreciated. On that note, I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to some wonderful folks who’ve hosted me on their sites and programs in the last week.

So, here we go! The last week! What will I be up to?

  • On the Novellablog, I’ll be discussing McNally’s self-pub services and Outbrain’s content referral services, two things that have been immensely helpful during this process. I’ll also have a guest post from Kid Editor Mason.
  • I’ll be guest blogging steampunkily at Steamed on June 7th. I’m thinking I’ll talk about E.T.A. Hoffmann, because he’s how I wound up well-and-truly obsessed with automata.
  • I’ll be at BEA! I’ll be lurking rather than doing anything official, but if you see a girl with a bag of holding or a girl taking pictures of a stuffed animal made out of socks and gloves, you’ve probably found me. (Lish McBride can’t make it to BEA, so I am crafting an avatar to escort around in her stead. The things I get myself into on Twitter…) And if you find me…well, I *might* have advance copies of things in the Bag of Holding. Just maybe. So you should come say hi. I will probably be glad to unload an ARC on you.

Evidently this post is all about bullet points.

Seven days! Here we go! Let’s bring it home, kids. And, as always, thank you, thank you, thank you. I would hug each of you and bake you a cake if I could.

Novellablog: A Kid Editor Interview with Mason, and My Thoughts on Reading Military History.

Ah, the Kid Editors. We’ve discussed that they’re brilliant. We’ve discussed that giving your book to a kid basically guarantees that you’re going to be given insights about your work, yourself, your talents and your shortcomings in completely unexpected ways. If a kid gets you, give yourself a pat on the back. If a kid tells you you got it wrong, FIX IT IMMEDIATELY.

Well, apart from getting some good story notes, I learned something about myself from the second Kid Editor to check in about The Kairos Mechanism.

Mason is who you want calling you after you get off the phone with Emma. First of all, you know Mason’s done reading because you get his phone call. He doesn’t mess around waiting for me to remember to get in touch with him. It’s fantastic. Secondly, Mason, as a critic, is sort of the opposite of Emma. It isn’t that Emma doesn’t tell me what she likes, or that Mason doesn’t tell me what he doesn’t like, but Mason (after two rounds of beta-reading, now), tends to focus more on what he wants more of, rather than what he wants fixed. Which, in a piece of short fiction, is very helpful. But before I tell you about our discussion about The Kairos Mechanism and what I learned about myself during our discussion, here’s Mason (now 13) on being a Kid Editor.

K: What do you like about being a beta-reader? 

M: I love being a beta-reader because for one thing I love reading, and because I think it’s fun and cool to be able to read something before it’s even really been printed.

K: Is it difficult to do? How is it different from just reading a book? 

M: It is difficult at some parts because sometimes you forget you’re looking for errors and stuff when you get caught up in the book.

K: What can a writer do to help you give her good feedback? Do you like to have questions in advance? Would you rather just read the book and have the writer send questions later, so they don’t influence your thoughts while you read the book?

M: I think it’s good when the writer sends at least an email every week and asks how you like the book, and then maybe she could send one or two questions a week.

K: What steps do you take after you’re finished reading a book–or while you’re reading it–to decide what you like and what you don’t, and what you think the writer still needs to work on?

M: I read the whole book and as I’m doing so, I take notes on each chapter and then go back and look at what I really liked and what I didn’t like as much.

K: Do you feel comfortable telling someone (for example, me 🙂 that you like or don’t like a particular aspect of a book? Is it hard to do? How can the writer make you more comfortable about giving negative feedback? 

M: It’s ok because you know that they want you to tell them what you don’t like as that is kind of the point of you reading it. 🙂

K: How do you involve your parents in your reading?

M: I would always tell my parents what was happening in the book and what I liked.

K: Any other thoughts you’d like to share? 

M: Just let me know when you need your next book read, or if any other authors want to use some beta-readers. I would love to help.

Here’s what we talked about regarding The Kairos Mechanism.

It seems that Mason would, if forced under thumbscrew torture to rate what I’ve written, file The Kairos Mechanism squarely between The Broken Lands (his favorite so far) and The Boneshaker (which loses to The Broken Lands because The Broken Lands has more action and also has lots of fireworks). On one level, there’s a place in the writer’s brain (I suspect–or is it just me?) that always wants to hear a reader say that what they’ve just read is the best thing you’ve ever done; on the other hand, it would be highly problematic if that hypothetical reader actually liked your self-published novella better than the more-than-400-page major hardcover release it’s supposed to be a companion to. So I’m okay with Mason’s ranking.

I could hear him flipping through the aforementioned notes as he told me things that he particularly liked: Miranda Porter, Natalie’s friend, who (in Mason’s opinion) is really turning into a great character; the mechanism of the title; the time spent in the mysterious garden behind Simon Coffrett’s mansion. (Sorry, Cyndy. The thirteen year-olds are outvoting you so far.) He felt I was managing some pretty good suspense. His answer to the question, how would you like me to spend five more pages, was helpful but would be a potential spoiler.

He gave me a few things to fix, all very astute and mostly right in line with what Emma had suggested, but here’s what I really want to talk about. He had high compliments for the historical elements, but he wasn’t talking about the fact that the book is set in 1913. There’s another era that’s invoked in the book, and part of it has to do with a war. And as Mason was talking (having just studied the war in question in school) about how he thought I’d done pretty well with all that stuff, I thought, when did I start wanting to write books that deal with war?

The answer is: never. That was never part of the plan, and it still isn’t. And yet, it snuck in.

Part of it is what I’ve been reading. I’ll admit that right now. Right now I’m finishing reading Bruce Catton’s Civil War trilogy. Last year, I went bonkers for Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August. Just before that, I was all about Six Frigates, Ian W. Toll’s history of the founding of the U.S. Navy during the War of 1812. Two years ago, if you’d suggested to me that I’d have spent the bigger part of my recreational reading on military history, I’d have laughed in your face. But the facts don’t lie, and there are at least seven more books on my TBR pile that follow the same trend.

I’d also have laughed if you’d have suggested that this reading would work its way into what I was writing. I have never enjoyed what I guess I think of as “war fiction,” and furthermore none of my books (so far) have actually been set during wartime, which I guess is why it took me so long to realize how much of its shadow had been sneaking into them.

On the other hand, I’ve either written or written proposals for four books that, in some way, touch upon the ways in which war and the memory of it linger for years afterward. I think it all started because I realized that since The Boneshaker took place in 1913, if I continued telling Natalie’s story I’d shortly have to deal with a world lurching toward the first World War. Not that the stories would suddenly have to be about war–but they’d have to address the reality of taking place in a world at war.

There’s also this, which is becoming more and more clear to me the more I read about different conflicts in different eras: whatever else a time of war is, it’s a time when strange things happen, and do I love reading about the strange quirks of history. That may be the thing that has kept me reading what I’ve been reading, and letting it influence what I’ve been writing.

All stuff I’ve been mulling over since getting off the phone with Mason, who thinks I do a good job with the historical war parts.

Curious.

Novellablog: Yes, You Can Edit Your Own Work, but You Will Probably Frack It Up.

It will not surprise my nerd audience that I’m watching Battlestar Galactica as I write this. But that’s neither here nor there. We are now progressing into the portion of this series I like to call

From Beta Readers to Copyeditors; In Which Kate Panics About the Editing Process. 

Here’s a list of things I am worried about with this project:

  • 1)   Finishing the novella. (April Kate checking in: done and done.)
  • 2)   Raising the money. (June Kate, did you want to weigh in? . . . June Kate . . . ? You there? Or do we not have forward-going time travel budgeted into this thing? April Kate: No, we do not.)
  • 3)   Does anybody actually want to read this thing? (Anybody? Bueller….?)

Then, right on schedule, (I KNOW!!)  I finished the first draft of the novella, and a whole new set of panicky things set in.

  • 1)   Without running the agent/editor gauntlet, how do I actually know this thing is any good?
  • 2)   Who’s going to edit the thing?
  • 3)   Who’s going to copyedit the thing?

I had already decided I needed to have someone else copyedit the manuscript. The biggest complaints I have been reading about self-published works all have to do with poor or absent editing. Heck, traditionally published books get poorly edited all the time, too. So, yes: having editors involved=critical. But I worry that the challenge is bigger than just having a strong copyeditor come in at the end.

We all make mistakes. I’m good with grammar, spelling, and apostrophes, but I’m bad with who/whom and further/farther. I have a tendency to use the words odd, strange, and bizarre too often (if you have read any of my books, you will understand why). I am fascinated by the different kinds of glances and smiles and grimaces that people use to communicate wordlessly, so I tend to overuse those devices when I write. I have characters fold their arms too often, and my first drafts have an excessive number of paragraphs begun with a character’s name. And this is just the stuff I know I do. Let’s not even think about all the awkward writing stuff I do that I don’t know that I do until someone hits me with a rolled-up newspaper and says, STOP THAT.

All of these things get fixed because someone other than me looks at the manuscript in a particular way. Awkward sentences that turn out to be a paragraph long? My husband usually catches those before they go to the critique group. Random missing words and bogus references to antibiotics prior to World War One? Thank you, critique group. “I don’t know why I think this, but I wish you would do this part differently, ’cause it bugs me”? That would be the Kid Editors, weighing in.

And yet. And yet.

A page from the revised final draft of Ellen Raskin's THE WESTING GAME. There is no such thing as a clean draft, evidently.

The last time I got a manuscript back from my editor at Clarion, it was prefaced by an email that said (I am not paraphrasing), “Great job, Kate! This manuscript is in great shape.” And it was still covered in blue. I mean covered. (She uses blue pencil, she told me once, because she figured if any author got a manuscript back with that much red writing on it, they might go into a cave in panic and never come back out.) And that was a manuscript that was in great shape. One on which I did a great job.

What would it look like if she thought the manuscript quote-needed work-unquote? The evil truth is this: even the cleanest, sharpest draft I’m capable of turning out needs several passes of editing before it’s ready to be picked over by a copyeditor.

And I think my critique group will confirm that I turn out fairly sharp drafts before I share them with anyone. This is not boasting. Remember that thing I said before about not always knowing where things are going in my stories before I get there? This means I don’t always even share a draft with my crit group until I’ve gone back and cleaned up the results of my (ahem) particular process, read it back through, cleaned it up again, revised a bit, read again–you get the idea. So who’s going to go three rounds with me with the blue pencil this time?

Then there’s this to panic about: catching potential historical mistakes. I’m a good researcher, and I do my due diligence with everything, but I’ve made some bizarre mistakes before. Only a couple weeks ago, I caught an error I’d made about the use of sugar in fireworks and had to send a frantic email to catch it before The Broken Lands’ ARC materials went into production. I sent the novella manuscript to my critique group still full of notes to myself like (CHECK THIS) or (ERA-APPROPRIATE ANTIBIOTIC) or (COLOR OF STITCHES?).

And how about the moment I realized was that I couldn’t remember whether the word “gingerfoot” had been capitalized in The Boneshaker, or whether Doc Fitzwater was referred to as the Doc or just the doc? I couldn’t immediately find my hand-drawn map of Arcane, so all of my locations were going to have to be double-checked. Last week my friend Lisa noticed that I changed the spelling of one character’s name midway through the manuscript. I fixed the inconsistency, then had a moment of doubt and went back to double-check how I’d spelled this guy’s name in The Boneshaker. Get this: when I’d “fixed the inconsistency” in The Kairos Mechanism, I’d changed all the spellings to the wrong variation of the name.

This nearly sent me into a full-on panic attack as I was reminded suddenly of a series of (incredibly, incredibly bad) fantasy novels I read last year in which the spelling of a character’s name was inconsistent from one novel to the next. How the hell does anyone make a mistake like that? I’d thought at the time, stunned at how very, very bad this writer was.

Okay, to be fair, it was also an adult series from the mid-Eighties, and the name thing was the most minimal of the reasons why these books were so very bad. I mention this because I’m now certain that guy and I are not the only ones to have made this mistake. And a mistake like that doesn’t make a book–or anyone’s writing bad; but it does make the writing in question look careless.

So what’s the answer? Well, among other things, I’m starting to compile a style sheet for myself and for the copyeditor, so that I can at least try to avoid calling a character Wylie when I’m already on record calling him Wiley. But more on that in my next post. I think I feel another panic attack coming on, and I’m going to see if going to the diner to get some new writing done will put a stop to that, at least temporarily.

 

Countdown to THE BROKEN LANDS: the Cover, and a Contest or Two

About a week ago I got to see the final cover of my next book at last. Yes, The Broken Lands jacket art has been finalized, and all I can say is that it’s truly beautiful. Not that I expected anything less for a moment. Andrea Offermann, the amazing artist behind the cover and illustrations of The Boneshaker, returned for this book, and I’m just in love with what she’s done this time. In fact, I’m so in love I want to celebrate a little.

Here is Andrea. Wonder what she's working on...

I’ve also been receiving some fabulous comments about the book from some fabulous writers, educators, and librarians. I want to celebrate that, too. I’m just feeling generally celebratory. So here’s what I’m thinking. I’m thinking: how about I show you the jacket art next weekend, and how about before do, let’s have a CONTEST? In fact, let’s have TWO OF THEM!

Contest #1: Draw some stuff.

I’ll post an excerpt from The Broken Lands later this afternoon, to introduce you to the setting and one of the characters. I invite you to bring either or both of them to life any way you like. Post a link to your art in the comments of the posted excerpt any time this week.

Contest #2 (for those of you who, like me, lack any drawing capability whatsoever): Help get the word out about this contest and the cover reveal next weekend.

Post a thoughtful comment or question here, tweet or re-tweet links about the contest, mention it on Facebook, do what you can to keep the chatter going. Those cool comments about the book I mentioned? I’ll be dealing some of those out on Tumblr this week, and you can re-blog one or two of those if you’re so inclined. I’ll do a random drawing from all chatter-amplifying commentary I can find, and select a few winners. It’s probably best, so that your efforts don’t slip my notice, that you also make it easy for me to find them. Use my Twitter name, @katemilford, or my Facebook name, @katechellmilford, or comment here on the blog as to how you’ve passed the word along. Thoughtful comments or questions will earn you an extra entry. What constitutes a thoughtful comment or question? I don’t know, but I know one when I see it.

WHEN DOES THIS AWESOMENESS CONCLUDE?

The deadline to enter is Friday the 10th. I’ll post the cover Saturday the 11th, and announce the winners Sunday the 12th.

HOW WILL YOU CHOOSE THE WINNERS?

The winner of the chatter portion will be drawn at random, but multiple contributions will earn you multiple entries. The winner of the art portion–well, it depends on how many entries there are. If you’re the only person who steps up and gives it a shot, YOU WIN. If you’re one of only two or three, you probably all win. My blog traffic isn’t that high, so honestly, your chances are pretty good. I’d give it a go.

ARE THERE PRIZES, OTHER THAN A VIRTUAL A PAT-ON-THE-BACK?

My endless gratitude. Oh, and yes, books. The winner of the art portion will receive the ANDREA OFFERMANN CELEBRATION PRIZE: a copy each of The Broken Lands (your choice, advance copy in about a month, or real-live bound book in September) and Sonya Hartnett’s The Midnight Zoo, which Andrea also illustrated.

The winner of the chatter portion will receive the SAYING NICE THINGS ABOUT MY BOOK CELEBRATION PRIZE: The Broken Lands (same choice, arc very soon or hardcover this fall) and your choice of a book by one of the wonderful writers who so generously gave their time to read The Broken Lands. I’ll let you know the specific choices at the end of the week, but there are clues here as to whose books will be up for grabs if you look closely enough.

I should also warn you that I’m overseas this week, six hours ahead of you. It’s 8pm here, and I have somewhat limited internet. So please don’t panic if I don’t reply right away–or, you know, for six hours. Or if something gets stuck needing me to moderate it. Just think of it as part of the fun. And while you’re waiting, here’s an interview with Andrea from just a couple of days ago to keep you busy.

So, without further ado…let’s start…NOW!

The Kid Editor Crew, Part the Third: The Discussion

The discussion begins with a phone call.

Ah, the phone call. I could probably do this by Skype, but I always think I look awful in pictures and video, and while obviously nobody but me cares whether or not I look elegant and put-together in this sort of situation, I don’t want to be distracted. So phone it is.

In the email setting up the phone call, I ask the readers to go over my questions, and, which is more important, to begin writing down their thoughts and questions, if they haven’t already. Some kids are great at talking off-the-cuff and thinking of things in the moment; others will do what I do myself if I don’t make notes, and go completely blank.

When it’s time for the phone call, I have my original questions and the reader’s notes (if they’ve emailed any along the way) in front of me, and a fresh notebook page with the date up in the corner. The next page has a list of all of the major and most of the minor characters.

Now, from here, things can go a couple of different ways. We always go over the advance questions, and any questions that arise organically from those. Then we start talking people, places, things.

We go over the settings. I ask them if they can picture the locations, and which places they most liked visiting. We go over any major weirdnesses I threw into the story (which have, in the past, included everything from alchemical fireworks to mail-order catalogues to creatures made from walking iron to half-told, invented folklore).

We go over basically every character, first with me simply asking the reader what he/she thought of that person, and what he/she liked and disliked. Then I ask who the readers would like to see more of in this book; who they’d like to see come back in another book; and who they’d like to be the main character in his or her own story. For these questions, any character, no matter how small, is fair game. I have been absolutely shocked by what I’ve learned with these questions. Among other things, it’s how I know if I get my villains right. If the readers connect with the villains, that’s always an incredibly good sign.

Then we get into the reader’s questions, concerns, confusions. This is where it’s critically important that these kids understand that it’s okay to tell me, the almighty writer, that they don’t understand something, that they’re confused, that they’re bothered, that they simply don’t like what I’ve done. This is a tough one, too. It takes a while to build up the necessary trust between yourself and the kid editor for him/her to feel comfortable being honest when the truth means giving constructive feedback. I knew I had the right formula when one of my readers, who I will speak more of in a later post, told me point blank, “I wish you hadn’t done that. I wish you had done it more like this.”

Another thing I ask, because I write things that tend toward the scary: was anything too far beyond the pale? Did anything really creep you out? Do I need to dial down the scariness? This question gets the most interesting answers. In The Broken Lands, when I thought I might have crossed a line or two, the two youngest readers told me I could make it more frightening, if I wanted to, and that the villains were just the right kind of creepy. One of my readers had no problem with anything the villains did, but was truly shaken by an act of violence that takes place between two adults that, in her words, “should have known better.” Fascinating stuff.

And, of course, as with any group of readers, sometimes I agree with what the Kid Editors tell me, and sometimes I disagree–although certainly if they’re all in agreement, that’s a big flashing warning sign for me to pay attention.

When we return: your questions answered, and wise words from the Kid Editors themselves.

 

The Kid Editor Crew, Part the Second: How it Works

Continuing with our discussion of kid beta-readers, we rejoin the Kid Editor Crew for Part the Second: How it Works.

Here’s how it works.

When I have a draft almost ready, I send out an email to the Kid Editors to find out what everybody’s schedules look like, and the Editors let me know if they’ve got busy times coming up (family trips, school projects, that kind of stuff), and we figure out when a good time for me to send them material might be. The Kid Editors know that I do not want to get them in trouble with their parents. Nor do I wish to get in trouble with their parents (all of whom, at this point, I consider friends as well).

When it’s time to send out reading material, I come up with a list of specific questions I would like answered. Sometimes I break these concerns into two parts; let’s call them things to keep in mind while reading and questions for afterward (the latter category might involve spoilers, or things I’m concerned might not actually be issues if I don’t point them out in advance and make a big deal out of them). I am learning to make these open-ended questions. I also always ask for the Kid Editors to make note of anything else that leaps out at them that I haven’t asked about, and to note any questions they have while reading, any characters or moments they particularly like, and any they particularly don’t.

The specific questions vary from manuscript to manuscript, but here are a few taken from the email I sent with the manuscript for The Broken Lands, earlier this year.

  • What are your thoughts on Sam? What are your thoughts on Jin? Nathan thinks I changed my mind midway through about who the main character was, and that I need to work on Sam more. I think he might be right, and I think I know what I’m going to do about it, but what do you think?
  • Does hearing Jack’s story from Ambrose rather than actually meeting him make him menacing enough? Do you have a sense of what it would mean for him to take the city of New York? Are you clear on what the stakes are? Does the concept of the pillars of the city make sense to you?
  • What do you think of Walker and Bones? Scary? Too scary? Not scary enough? What about Christophel and Bios and the daemons?
  • The love story–is it good, bad, stupid, annoying?
  • How is the pacing? Am I doing better with getting things moving quicker?
  • Having read this and The Boneshaker, do you understand how they are related? Any thoughts on what you now expect when we return to Natalie?

I want to make sure the specific concerns I have are addressed; but I also want to make sure that the readers know I honestly want to hear their thoughts, not just their responses to my questions.

Now, here I will pause to answer another frequently-asked question. It’s usually framed something like this: “How do you send the material?” I send it in Word, primarily because I’m too lazy to remember to convert it to a PDF, but when asked this question I actually think what people often really mean is, “You send your manuscripts to a bunch of kids? How do you know they aren’t emailing it off to all their friends? You don’t know where that manuscript goes! How can you possibly do that and not wake up in a cold sweat at night?”

I don’t wake up in a cold sweat at night a couple of reasons. I didn’t pick these four kids off the street at random. They are passionate readers, and passionate fans. They understand that what they are being asked to do is, essentially, take part in the secret, behind-the-scenes world of books-before-they’re-books. They know that’s something very special, and they understand it would be a tremendous breach of trust to share the manuscript with anyone else (however, talking about how awesome the book is with anyone and everyone is, of course, highly encouraged). But in the end, it is a leap of faith. Every writer has to decide for him or herself whether or not this is a leap he/she’s willing to take.

Some of the Kid Editors like to give me updates throughout the process. Others are fast readers and want to breeze through on their own. One pair of readers, twin girls, asked their father to read them the last draft out loud, because that’s how they read The Boneshaker (BONUS!! This parent was dragooned into being a Dad Editor). Eventually, though, I get messages from each reader as he or she finishes reading. These emails might contain answers to my questions, or just “I finished it” notes. In either case, the next step is to schedule a phone call.

I don’t ask for comments back in the manuscript itself, for two reasons. Firstly, I want them to be able to read the material in whatever manner works best for them. If they want to print it, that’s fine, but that can get expensive. If they want to read it on the family computer, that’s fine, too, but who knows if the computer can be spared for that. The second thing is, I find real-time discussion to be amazingly informative. Now, one of my readers, who I’ll introduce to you in a later post, is actually planning to become either an agent or an editor, so it’s looking like we may begin to look at options for in-manuscript critiques, too. Honestly, though, there’s a third reason for an actual conversation, which is simply that I like having the more personal contact of talking directly to them. It’s a treat for me. Actually talking to readers is rare, and special.

So, part the Third on the phone call, coming to you on Wednesday.

My Secret Weapon: The Beta-Reading Geniuses of the Kid Editor Crew (Part the First)

Every writer eventually gets asked at least once or twice what she thinks the most important things are for someone who wants to be a writer. There are any number of good answers to this question (persistence, self-motivation, delusions of having something to say, delusions of being able to take criticism, etc). Today I’m going to focus on this one: writers need critical readers they trust. We need them like we need coffee. Which is to say, they are absolutely something we cannot do without.

Now, my mother, my father, my sister, and my best friend are all good readers. They are smart, they ask good questions, and while they might be somewhat deluded about how totally brilliant I am, they are all of them, in one way or another, writers as well, and they know what’s helpful and what’s not. My husband is even better, if only because he is somewhat concerned that I eventually get paid for what I write, since I quit a full-time job to do it. My critique group, which is comprised of ten brilliant middle-grade and young-adult authors, is phenomenal, and takes a near-psychotic pride in its ability to apply razor-teeth to each others’ drafts and/or take those vicious crits like the nerves-of-steel ladies we are. That is an awkward sentence, for example, and I promise you there are ten ladies out there right now dying to fix it.

But in the end, all of these people are adults. And while I certainly hope adults will read my books, they are written for younger readers. Wiser folks than I have pointed out that there is sometimes a huge gap between the experiences of an adult reader and a kid reader, even if they’re reading the same thing.

Enter the Kid Editor Crew.

The Kid Editor Crew–my Kid Editor Crew, anyway–is a circle of four kids between 9 and 12, and it occasionally, but not always, includes their parents and siblings. But only if the Kid Editors decide to allow it. When I have a draft nearing readiness to submit to editors, these are the last eyes that see it before I decide it’s ready to go. Sometimes they see it before my critique group does, for various reasons. I have discovered in my perambulations throughout the writerly world that not everybody has Kid Editors, and I have several times been asked 1) how it works and 2) how did you find them?

Hence, readers, my gift to you this December: all about the amazing Kid Editor Crew and their thoughts on the beta-reading process, with special appearances by these genius kids themselves.

Email me your questions, and they will be passed along to the Kid Editors themselves. In the meantime, stay tuned. Part Two coming up on Monday.