Visiting Author Series: Stacey Lee

We’re delighted to welcome Stacey Lee to Sixteen to Read’s Visiting Author Series. Stacey published her debut novel, the critically acclaimed Under a Painted Sky, with Putnam in 2015. In May 2016, she followed it up with Outrun the Moon, which Kirkus has called “powerful, evocative, and thought-provoking.” Stacey’s third novel, The Secret of a Heart Note, is due out from Katherine Tegen Books on December 27.

Sixteen to Read’s Sonya Mukherjee recently chatted with Stacey about writing, publishing, and what she’s learned so far.

Stacey, thanks so much for taking the time to drop by. To begin, we’d love to hear about the earliest stages of your career. What was the querying process like for you with your first book, Under a Painted Sky?

I began querying when I was fifteen, and that was a very long time ago, before there were computers. All told, I queried about seven different projects at various stages of my life, from picture books to YA. Each project received more nibbles than the prior one, and so I knew I was moving in the right direction at least. Plus, with the advent of the Internet, it became easier to figure out what I was doing right or wrong through sites like Query Shark.

For more detailed information about perfecting a query letter, my agent Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency and I chatted about my original query for UAPS at Literary Rambles.

What aspect of the publishing experience was most surprising for you that first time around? And what was the most fun?

I was surprised by how many people it takes to make a book. There are so many people involved with getting a book on the shelf, marketing people, salespeople, publicists—I’m still not sure I met everyone who worked on UAPS! The most fun was meeting some great author friends along the way. I couldn’t have done it without their support!

Your first two novels were both historical, while The Secret of a Heart Note, which comes out next, is contemporary. What drew you to writing historical characters and settings? And after starting with historical, what appealed to you about contemporary?

As a fourth generation Californian, I always wondered about those Chinese ancestors of mine who first touched down on American soil. So that’s what led me to write UAPS, as well as my second historical, Outrun the Moon. But I also love writing in other genres, like contemporary with a little magic, which is how I describe The Secret of a Heart Note. That one arose from my odd synesthetic ability to ‘hear’ different scents and my interest in natural perfumery. It’s different animal than my historicals, but everyone who has read it says they can tell it’s me who wrote it.

What’s your writing process like? Has it changed over time?

I brainstorm on paper. I take lots of walks to develop those ideas, then plot out some emotional beats I’d like to hit. Then I start writing soon after I get a general outline going. It’s definitely an organic process for me, and often what and who I intend to write about changes along the way.

You’ve been quite prolific. Your first book just came out last year, and you have two out in 2016. How do you balance your writing time with all the other tasks related to publishing and promoting your work? Do you have set schedules or plans that help you divide your time?

I don’t watch TV! I just have to clip bits of time here and there and hope and pray it all gets done! With two kids, it’s definitely a challenge because I don’t start writing until around 9 or 10 pm. I stop around 1 or 2 am.

Can you share anything about what you’re working on next?

Another historical that might or might not involve stagecoaches. J

Lightning round:

Favorite writing beverage: iced coffee with almond milk

Favorite place to write: in my home office

Music to write by: I need quiet. I get too distracted by song lyrics.

Last book you read: I’m reading The Reader by Traci Chee.

Author from the past you’d most want to meet: LA Meyer, author of the Bloody Jack series, who passed away in 2015.

First thing you’d do if you could time travel to one of your novels’ settings: What a great question. I’d learn how to ride a horse.

Best thing about living in the 21st century when not time traveling: Anesthesia.

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Visiting Author Series: Karole Cozzo

We’re thrilled to welcome Karole Cozzo to Sixteen to Read’s Visiting Author Series. Karole’s debut novel, How to Say I Love You Out Loud, was recently named a Carolyn W. Field Honor Book by the PA Library Association. Her sophomore novel, How to Keep Rolling After a Fall, will be released next month. And, to top it off, her publisher, Macmillan’s Swoon Reads, just announced her third novel, The Truth About Happily Ever After, slated for a 2017 release.

Recently, Karole took some time away from her busy writing and editing schedule to chat with Jennifer DiGiovanni.

Jennifer: Congratulations on all your success, Karole! And thank you for stopping by to share your thoughts about the debut author experience with us. First of all, we’d love to know how you came up with the idea for your first novel.

Karole: At the time I was working in an Approved Private School for students with disabilities. The family members were so resilient and amazing, and a lot of times, siblings had to put up with a LOT in the name of meeting the needs of a brother or sister. I started thinking how difficult this must be at times, often having your needs put second, especially during adolescence, and I thought it would be interesting to write a story from the sibling’s perspective, which seemed like something new and different to me. And I will always want to include some element of romance in my stories, so I looked for a way to work in a little bit of love, too!

Jennifer: Your stories are always swoony and romantic! Thinking back to the debut of your first novel, what surprised you the most about the publishing process?

Karole: Two primary experiences come to mind – first, the way the editing process actually worked was a bit of a surprise. I went in thinking editors would mostly focus on rewording this or that exchange or maybe just cutting large chunks. I didn’t realize it was such a collaborative process that involved strengthening the book as a whole from its very core and how much rewriting/reworking is involved at times. At first, it was scary as anything – I didn’t know if I would rise to the occasion or end up destroying the original story. But over time, I’ve actually come to truly love the editing process and the product I end up with afterward.

Second, it took me some time to accept that realization that publication of a debut novel does not grant you direct access to some of the experiences we hope to have as published authors. As many of us know, the road to publication is so long and arduous, that when we reach the coveted holy grail, we want to feel like we’ve ‘made it.’ The truth is, there’s still a tall ladder to climb in terms of increasing readership and sales, developing a following, being asked to participate in larger book conferences, etc, etc. You definitely don’t become World Famous Author overnight. There’s a lot of ongoing development as an author, but after getting a grasp on this, I feel motivated and excited to keep trying to rise to new challenges.

Jennifer: Your publishing journey included crowd sourcing, which is an alternative many writers may not necessarily consider. Can you tell us why it worked for you?

Karole: At the time How to Say I Love You Out Loud was selected for publication, I was a full-time working mom of two children under four. I barely had time to write, let alone take on the daunting and overwhelming query process. The fact that the Swoon Reads community gave me direct access to editors at a large publishing house was so appealing to me! And in the meantime, it was a great opportunity to get to know other YA authors and receive feedback on my stories. It really felt like win-win to me.

Jennifer: I also love the fact that you’re a school psychologist. How have your work experiences shaped your novels and characters?

Karole: As far as How to Say I Love You Out Loud and How To Keep Rolling After a Fall were concerned, I was inspired to write these books because of ‘hot topics’ that were the focus of a lot of discussion and/or trainings (e.g., autism awareness/advocacy, cyberbullying, mean girls, etc.). I wanted to reach teens and provoke thought, reflection, and discussion in a manner that wouldn’t seem preachy or prescriptive. The idea of approaching these topics through fiction, especially with flawed/imperfect characters at the helm, was appealing to me and I hope appealing to readers as well. And just by nature, the part of me that was drawn to the field of psychology… I love thinking about motivation and development and personality. I always feel like the emotional aspects of my stories are stronger than my plots.

Jennifer: What’s your writing routine like? I know you’re a huge planner / outliner.

Karole: Yes, I am. I like to create tables that have a column for plot and a column for character development for each chapter. I also *try* to make myself write stories in sequential order. Sometimes there’s a chapter I’m just itching to write, but I try to think of it as a reward to getting that far! On the rare occasion, I cheat.

Jennifer: I’ve also been known to cheat, especially in the first draft! Are you working on anything else right now that you can talk about?

Karole: Right now my third Swoon Reads novel, The Truth About Happily Ever After, is in editing. This story’s really fun to work on, because it’s less of an “issues” book than my other two. I hope it pans out as a great summer read – it’s set in a theme park during the summer, and the main character, Alyssa, plays Cinderella at the park. I’m not quite sure what I’m working on after edits are done, but I have a few ideas churning around.

Jennifer: I can’t wait to see what you come up with next! We here at Sixteen to Read love our lightning round questions! I know you’re a coffee drinker, so we’ll start with …

Favorite Starbucks beverage?

Grande vanilla latte with a sprinkle of cinnamon
Favorite writing snack?
Haribo red licorice wheels
Favorite movie based on a book?
In Her Shoes, because this was the ONE instance I thought the movie was better than the book.
Last book you read?
I just finished No Love Allowed by fellow Swoon author, Kate Evangelista – fun summer read!
Favorite time / place to write?
Mornings during the summer, in my sunroom
Jennifer: Thank you so much for visiting with us, Karole. We can’t wait to read ALL of your books!
If you’d like to connect with Karole, she’s on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook! You can also visit her Goodreads page for more information.
Karole Cozzo

Laurie Elizabeth Flynn visits Jack London’s writing cabin

…and find writing inspiration on the road.

If you’re not following @laurieelizabethflynn on Instagram, you should be. She
recently completed a two week trip around Canada’s Northwest Territories and the
Yukon, as well as Alaska.

Laurie E Flynn Travels IHere she is at the famous Yukon writer Jack London’s cabin in Dawson City. Jack London came to the Yukon to join the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897, and the struggles he faced in the harsh terrain lent inspiration to some of his most
well-known stories. Laurie was a huge fan of Jack London’s books growing up (she obsessively read THE CALL OF THE WILD and WHITE FANG under the covers when she was supposed to be asleep).

She recently found out that he was a Macmillan author, too! Several of his books were published by Macmillan starting as far back as 1902. This trip (and the advice on daily word count) is a dream for any writer!

Laurie E Flynn Travels II

Laurie Elizabeth Flynn shares her inspiration for FIRSTS

Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

I love hearing about how writers come up with their ideas. Learning about other people’s creative processes is endlessly fascinating to me. I wish I had a cooler story about how I came up with the idea for FIRSTS, but the truth is, it just kind of hit me one day out of the blue and kept me in its clutches until I agreed to write it. I swirled it around in my head, thinking, what if there was a book about a girl who wanted to give guys the perfect first time? What would that even look like?

I was about to find out.

At the time, I had just finished writing my second New Adult contemporary. I figured I’d take some time away from writing to polish it and start querying. My first attempt at querying (with a different New Adult project) hadn’t resulted in representation, so I was feeling a bit discouraged with writing. Honestly, I felt like I had nothing left to lose, so I decided to write that story that had been taking up residence in my brain.

Writing FAST GIRL (the original title for FIRSTS) was completely different than writing either of the New Adult contemporaries. It was a total fast and furious pantsing experience. The only things I knew before writing down a single word were the hook (a girl who wants to give guys the perfect first time), and the main character’s name, Mercedes. The plot and other characters and details just kind of happened, which was both surprising and awesome. I was shocked at how well I knew Mercedes when I hadn’t spent that much time with her. In my other writing attempts, it took me considerably longer to know my main characters. But Mercedes clung on like a barnacle and I couldn’t shake her loose.

It took me three weeks to write the book. I think the reason I was able to write quickly was because I felt no pressure from myself. The novel that became FIRSTS was my, well, first attempt at Young Adult, and I figured if it was crap, I could use it as a learning experience and write the next one. And the other reason? Because I was having fun. I wasn’t letting my inner editor run the show. In fact, I basically gave her the middle finger and told her to take a hike.

Because I had nothing to lose and wanted to see the kind of reaction my book would get (would people like it, or think it’s crazy?), I decided to enter FAST GIRL into a contest called Pitch Wars, run by the inimitable Brenda Drake. (Seriously, Brenda is such a positive fixture in the writing community. She’s amazing.) I almost didn’t hit “Send” on those applications to the mentors I had carefully selected because, well, self-doubt is a real thing. But eventually, I told myself, what’s the worst that could happen? So I hit “Send” and ran away from my computer. (Literally, it was a mad dash.) Later, I was blown away when I was chosen by two mentors, Lori Goldstein (whose fabulous debut, BECOMING JINN, is out now!) and Evelyn Skye (fellow Sweet Sixteen author of THE CROWN’S GAME).

Before Pitch Wars, I had never had another writer read my manuscript. I had no critique partners and basically, no clue how to revise a manuscript besides fixing spelling errors. (Shameful, I know.) But working with Lori and Evelyn taught me so much. Under their guidance, FAST GIRL took shape and turned into FIRSTS, a book that led me to my wonderful agent, Kathleen Rushall, and publication with Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press in January 2016.

That’s the very condensed version of how FIRSTS came to be. In any publication journey, there are countless headaches and revision stress and gaping plot holes and fear and doubt and cups of coffee and bottles of wine (hey, don’t judge). Mine was no different. But when I look back at how mine came together, I wouldn’t change a single thing.

Find out more about Laurie by visiting here website or following her on Twitter.

Tips for building up your Facebook author page

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In September of 2014 I started a Facebook page called The YA Gal. Now, seven months later it has over 6,000 followers. By fall of 2016 when my debut YA novel is published by Month9Books my goal is to hit 20,000. In the meantime I enjoy talking books and building relationships with YA readers.

Why is my page growing so fast? The number one reason is its name, The YA Gal. If I attempted to attract followers using my own name, Jennifer Bardsley, it would be a challenge because YA readers don’t know me yet. But through my FB page, I can make a name for myself as somebody who reads and writes YA books.

The rules that govern FB can shift at any moment, but at the time of this posting FB allows page operators to change their page’s name one time, and one time only. After my book comes out I might change my FB page over to Jennifer Bardsley Author. Or, I might decide to keep posting as The YA Gal. I’m not certain what I’ll decide.

Another way I help my page grow is by following other pages. Go into your FB dashboard and click the icon that lets you be your author page, not yourself. In my dashboard you can see that I manage four pages: Cybersafe Kids, Edmonds United Methodist Church, Teaching My Baby to Read, and The YA Gal. (I’ve applied my FB growth strategies to the last two.)

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Operating as your author page, “like” a bunch of related pages. Authors, publishers, blog tour companies, relevant teenage TV shows etc. Then when you click “home” all of those feeds will pull up.

Every other day I spend about five minutes clicking through the home feed. I leave comments on anything that seems appropriate. Likes are good, but comments are better because your name really stands out. Often time if an author sees you leave comments for several weeks they will follow you back.

What’s different between your author page and your personal page is that on your author page not everyone will see your posts. FB lets you pay to boost your post, but I almost never do this. I did this for my book announcement and that’s it. Next year I’ll do it several times during my cover reveal and launch because it will be worth it to reach my whole list.

The more people like, comment on, and share your posts, the more people will see them. Other pages will really appreciate you leaving a comment. They will definitely notice you, and might follow you back.

I also try to share books about other publishing companies besides my own. My thinking is “If Katie likes book from publishing house x, she might also like my book from publishing house y.”

If you really want to become analytical about FB, try determining which days and times of the week your posts get the most views. For me it’s weekdays at around 8am Pacific Time. You can use this to your advantage by scheduling posts. Nobody but you will know that those posts are scheduled. It’ll make your life easier because you can write a post the night before, and have it run in the morning while you drive your kids to school.

The final way you might choose to build up your page is by paid FB advertisements. Is this worth it? I have no idea. Will FB followers someday buy books? That’s a very good question. Some people describe FB pages as “crop sharing” because you could invest a lot of money into building up a page, break one rule (like the governance codes for raffles), and have your page deleted. That is no way to launch a book! When it comes to paid advertisements, I would advise to proceed with great caution.

Luckily, likes and comments don’t cost any money at all. Whatever your genre, you can find readers on FB who will appreciate you. Have fun, make friends, and share!

img_5223Jennifer Bardsley writes the parenting column “I Brake for Moms” for The Everett Daily Herald. Her debut YA novel, BLANK SLATE will be published by Month9Books in 2016, with the sequel releasing in 2017. You can find Jennifer on Twitter or on her Facebook page The YA Gal. Jennifer is also a member of SCBWI and The Sweet Sixteens debut author group, and was recently a judge in the Pitch Plus One writing contest sponsored by Adventures in YA Publishing. An alumna of Stanford University, Jennifer lives near Seattle, WA. http://JenniferBardsley.net