4 on 400: April Feedback

Thank you to all the brave souls who entered this month’s Four on 400 contest!

Sharing your writing takes courage, and we appreciate your enthusiasm for our contest.

Below, we’ve posted the first 400 words from this month’s winner, along with feedback from at least four of our members. We also encourage our readers to share their (constructive) suggestions and encouragement in the comments section below.

 

Casey Buckles and the Keeper of the Ice Caves

Middle-Grade Adventure

Casey Buckles clutched the torn note, certain its words would lead to his death. He’d found the paper, jammed between the fridge and kitchen cabinet. Thinking it a lost homework page, he plucked it out, horrified at the one sentence.

He sank back in the bus’s musty seat, squeezing his hand around the ominous message. The rickety old coach jostled him about as it bumped along the dirt road. A cold sweat blanketed his arm making it look like the surface of a wet peach. He closed his eyes. The load of noisy kids and vinyl odor made his head swim with scenes of his demise: a slow death, trapped in a pool of water, freezing over.

The grayish paper lay limp across his palm as he unfurled his fingers. Although its contents freaked him out, he hadn’t shown it to his mom. She’d already been hiding her tears at him leaving. This would’ve sent her over the edge.

He smoothed the paper across his thigh to reread the chicken scratch:

Marty, your family, danger, killing, get to the ice caves.

A shiver tingled down his back at his dad’s name. His boring family being in danger was laughable, but he cursed his father all the same for sending him off to these mountains in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho. His hand tremored as he hoped the note was nothing, a joke. After all, he was just going to summer camp—a camp with ice caves.

Outside the window, a dense forest slid by. Pine trees lined the road, offering peeks into the deep darkness beyond. A skittish brown squirrel flew up a tree trunk, disappearing into a shadowy knothole. Casey would’ve liked to join the squirrel. He contemplated sneaking out the bus’s emergency exit to take his chances in the forest. Bigfoot would be cake, compared to four weeks at camp, with a bunch of strangers—oh, and dying.

Enough. He clenched his jaw. His imagination might be off base with the note, but he had to be prepared to keep his family safe. Even if he knew he’d probably fail. He wasn’t athletic, couldn’t swim, and was scared of bees. Yeah, the honey making kind. How could he keep himself safe, let alone his parents?

He pulled a tablet from his backpack, giving the screen a couple of swipes to display the camp’s webpages he’d downloaded last night.

 

Sussu: Thank you for choosing The Winged Pen and trusting us with your work. First of all, I have to say well-done. This is a nice beginning with high stakes. There is a disturbance and I know what the story is about. However, 1) The pace is fast, so fast the passage sounds more like a summary. Show Casey’s reaction when he picks up the paper, his astonishment, the fear growing in his heart, and explain why he would take this threat/warning seriously. Would he hide something that would put his family in danger? 2) Although I appreciate the fact that Casey is facing the problem alone, I thought the initiative and the voice felt very mature. This being said, the writing ran smoothly and was engaging and this is something I would read. Good luck.

Jessica: This sounds like an intriguing story and I love your use of detail (vinyl odor, wet peach, etc.). However, I agree with Sussu that there is quite a bit of room for fleshing all of this out; as it stands, there are several items that might confuse the reader. In particular, it’s not clear why Casey would take the threat seriously, especially since we are told that the thought of his family being in danger is laughable. It’s also not clear why he’d be imagining his own death (trapped in a pool of freezing water) so vividly. Finally, I’d encourage you to flesh out how/why he feels responsible for keeping his family safe–since he’s left his family behind, what makes him think there’s anything he can or might be expected to do? The way the note is written, it sounds to me like he’ll be safe at camp and thus should be more worried about the family he left behind. Thank you for sharing your work and best of luck with your revisions!

Laurel: Are there really ice caves in Idaho? What a fascinating setting! This passage made me think about how to decide what information to withhold and what to reveal. I’m wondering if it’s a good idea to suppress the contents of the note. It almost feels like the suspense would be greater if we knew what it said up front. Say, right after the one horrifying sentence. 🙂 If Casey then thought about all the reasons this message was bad, the tension could still escalate in the same way you’ve built it in here. Are there words missing in the sentence because Casey can’t quite make out the chicken scratch handwriting? The message’s contents could get more attention from the reader if that handwriting hint was a touch broader. I was a little puzzled that Casey thinks about keeping his family safe. The note is addressed to the father, so I thought Casey was in danger. (Hence the icy pools.) There’s a lot of nice detail in this passage that makes the setting feel real. Best wishes for many readers!!

Julie: I agree with everything that’s been said. You’ve got an exciting premise, a fabulous character name, and some intriguing details. But slowing this passage down will help draw the reader in more in this first scene. You’re trying to grab us with an intriguing first line (which is important), but since the next two sentence jump into a the past and then the next paragraph jumps forward–from the kitchen where the note was found to the bus–it’s a little jarring. I also wanted some more details about this world to give us a stronger sense of whether he’s in a present-day world or a magical/alternate world. Some of the words evoke a classic or old-timey feel (rickety old coach, ominous message, shadowy knothole), but then he’s sitting in a vinyl bus seat, swiping a tablet, and using slang like “cake” that feels much more modern. Address these few small things and I think you’ll have a winner!

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Book Marketing Part 1: Fans are Your Best Bet

Whether you are a traditionally published, or an Indie author, or a hybrid author, you will be in charge of marketing your novels.

Many authors do not realize that they must treat their writing as a business. As an entrepreneur, your job is to make sure you have a constant source of income.

Just to be clear, by a traditionally published author, I mean someone who probably hired an agent, signed a contract, and received a four to five-figure advance from their publisher.

By Indie author, I mean someone who decided to publish on their own, who mostly offers e-books, and who earns their income directly from what they sell, minus the cost of the platform where the books are launched.

By a hybrid author, I mean someone who does self-publishing on the side and is also traditionally published. Today, I will talk about building your platform.

 

Having a platform is essential for any writer.

It’s usually a website you use not only to present your work, but also to offer goodies. Your platform not only tells your reader what you have to offer and where to buy it, it helps you connect with your fans and develop fruitful relationships.

Because you are facing a lot of competition, you have to offer something better and connect more.

First, focus. Write in one genre, one age group, and write series. Change your pen name when you write for different audiences. Fans like to stay as long as possible in the worlds they love. They like to know more about the characters they have admired. They like you to write the same kind of books they have enjoyed so that they can keep coming back for more.

Second, build your platform. Publishers will not take another chance on you if they do not see progress in sales. Sales do not depend on them anymore. They depend on you and how you present yourself. You can also chose to invest time in social media. Focus your energy on Facebook. Forget about Twitter. Make yourself available online for school visits, library events, and website tours.

Third, build your fan club. Some authors’ websites just display their books and where to buy them, but others offer a wide range of experiences. Some websites offer board games or video games to entertain their visitors and keep them coming. Others have a forum. Most forums/chat rooms nowadays have moved to Facebook groups, which allow much more freedom such as the use of live events.

EXAMPLES:

Games/Movies/Artwork: 
Brandon Sanderson: https://brandonsanderson.com/
Kit for educators: 
Brandon Mull: http://brandonmull.com/

Art gallery:
Chronicles of Alsea: http://www.chroniclesofalsea.com/writing-whoops-the-silencer/

Q&A: 
Books of Ember: http://www.jeanneduprau.com/answers.shtml

Mysteries included in Books: Spirit Animals: http://spiritanimals.scholastic.com/

Videos/trivia: 
Percy Jackson: http://www.percyjacksonbooks.com/

Note that some of those links use the name of the series rather than the name of the author. 

What you might offer:
  • Something for educators (novel guide or deal). 
  • A VIP password-accessible for loyal fans. 
  • Cut scenes, novellas, prequels to your stories. 
  • Maps, genealogies, charts, symbols. 
  • Drawings of characters & their clothes and food.
  • Fan art gallery.
  • Free novels in exchange for beta readers.
  • Talk about your writing process, where you write.
  • Be creative…

Engage the dialogue with your fans and answer their questions. Some people say 1,000 true fans are better than 10,000 sales. True fans will allow you to make a living while occasional buyers will come and go. To get the best fanbase, prefer connection to income.

Many Indie authors admit that they developed their fan base only after the third book, and they still have to write four or five books a year to maintain this fanbase.

If you are a traditionally published author, you might have to wait for years before the next book gets published, so a website is even more important for you to stay connected with your readership.

As a hybrid author, you probably can afford to wait a few years to get your next novel released in the market while you are offering novellas on the side or give a gist of your next world to your readers while they wait.

No matter what you do, build a strong platform. The more (long term / right kind of) work you put into it, the more successful you will get.

Trust me.

 

RESOURCE:

What Do Publishers DO? 
http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/288447.html

Oliphant, Kirsten. What Is Platform and How Do You Build It?

What Is Platform and How Do You Build It?

If you liked this article, consider reading Sussu’s articles: “Writers Get organized” at Novel Without Further ado: http://novelwithoutfurtherado.weebly.com/

Follow me on Twitter or Pinterest.

Bill Blume and the Teenager Vampire Hunter

 Bill Blume

Website: http://www.billblume.net/gidion01.html

Bill works as a 911 dispatcher for Henrico County Police.

He served as the 2013 chair for James River Writers.

Despite the red covers, little blood is spilled. Gidion is the younger male version of Sookie Stackhouse and Veronica Mars.

A fast-paced thriller. A witty boy. Written by a police expert. Fresh spin on the vampire trope from the hunter’s perspective. Appropriate for MG and YA readers. Last, but not least: funny.

As Gidion closes in on the Richmond coven, he must save his teacher, his girlfriends and his BFF who is a feeder.
A cunning assassin brings more danger. Three generations of secrets spill and shatter Gidion’s beliefs about vampires.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sussu: After writing a review of the exciting duology “Gidion’s Hunt” and “Gidion’s Blood,” the story of a vampire hunter, I thought the next logical step was to ask Bill Bloome for an interview. Welcome Bill to The Winged Pen.

Bill Blume: I remember your review, because it made my day when I saw it. My son was an advanced middle-grade reader when the first book came out, and it was cool to see someone recognize it wasn’t a book that’s exclusive to the YA crowd (even if that was the originally intended market).

Sussu: What choices did you make in order to make the story attractive to boys?

Bill Blume: The main reason I knew boys would be more inclined to like it is probably the most obvious: the protagonist is a boy. The YA market targets girls most of the time (folks more knowledgeable than I am have helped me realize just how complicated an issue that is). I think part of the reason Gidion works well for boys is because his character hits on a lot of the things every boy wants to be at that age: smart, tough, and clever. One review of the book called it a mix of Blade, Encyclopedia Brown, and John Hughes films, which isn’t far off the mark. Most of all, Gidion is at that age where he’s fighting to prove he’s ready to be an adult, which I think any reader at that age can relate to.

Sussu: Why did you choose to write a vampire novel with no gore?

Bill Blume: It’s funny you mention the gore, because I get mixed reactions on that. I certainly don’t dwell on it, because I’m more interested in exploring Gidion’s search for answers. Gidion is basically like a love child of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Michael Westen from Burn Notice.

Burn Notice brought a common sense approach to spy work, and Gidion brings that same kind of common sense way of doing things to hunting vampires.

Sussu: I think kids will connect with the realistic and believable aspect of the story. How did you choose your vampires?

Bill Blume: My goal, before I even realized it would be a YA novel, was to write the best damn vampire hunter story ever. I wanted it to feel as real as possible, like this could happen around us with most people never noticing. Most of all, I wanted my protagonist to be all human. So many supernatural series make the big bads so tough, they have to give the heroes powers to even the playing field. Keeping Gidion de-powered meant going the other way, making the vampires more human, too.

Sussu: Did working in TV news help you as a writer?

Bill Blume: Honestly, no. The biggest contribution had to be working as a 911 dispatcher, which I’ve done for 15 years now. If you’d told me years ago that working in law enforcement would help me write a vampire hunter novel, I’d never have believed it, but it informed the book a lot.

Sussu: What TV shows or novels influenced you?

Bill Blume: Have to give Burn Notice its due. The voice for Michael Westen is also Gidion’s. The guy I got to voice Gidion in the book trailers even watched clips of the show to get the cadence. Only reason I started watching the show was because I was teaching a training class at work and was told I sound like Michael Westen (they were right!).

Sussu: How cool! What is a word you live by?

Bill Blume: The best word to describe me is probably “stubborn.” Haha! It can be such a negative trait so often, but it can be helpful when you need to finish something that requires a long time to stay focused. Writing a book takes a long time, and you doubt yourself more than you don’t as you’re writing. I’m 80,000 words into a non-Gidion YA book that’s very different for me, more character-driven than plot. There’s no guarantee it’ll get published, but by God, I will get this rough draft finished before the end of the month. Very different voice for me, too. Gidion comes naturally, this new character does not.

Sussu: Does that mean no more Gidion’s books?

Bill Blume: Sadly, Gidion is shelved for the moment. The first two books need to prove themselves a little more to the publisher before they will greenlight a third. A manuscript was started, and I know where his story goes next, but the first two books also provide his first major arc. A third book would start him on a new journey, and one day I plan to go back. Don’t think I could abandon Gidion. He’s become a part of me. His quirk for good luck charms and numbers has even infected me. He also turned me into a big, BIG Tim Drake fan. I collect DC comics now to follow Tim, and before that I was a Marvel fan all the way.

 Sussu: It was wonderful having you here. I appreciate your time.

Bill Blume: Thank you! This was a lot of fun.

 

If you liked this interview brought to you by Sussu Leclerc, visit her blogs, at Novel Without Further Ado and Book Riders for MG readers. Connect with her on Twitter and Pinterest. Thanks for reading.

 

Brandon Mull’s Creative Juices

Brandon Mull writes for boys using his relentless imagination and his scouting experience.

He has written Beyonders, Fablehaven, and Five Kingdom among others.

Mull says in an interview with Tori Ackerman, “I wanted to go to a world where there was a lot to discover, but still light and fun.”

If Brandon Mull’s series appeal to every demand of one’s imagination, it’s because the author wanted his worlds and characters to be fresh and new.

With so many retellings inspired by legends and folklore, authors who bravely come up with new worlds are harder to find. Kids are drawn by the novelty of his worlds.

For example, Brandon Mull came up with mysterious castles in the air and jumping swords. Even if the sword is a valuable weapon in one world, it is useless in another. Brandon Mull came up with very distinct worlds within worlds. That’s why the books are reminiscent of framed stories like the Arabian Nights. Each episode brings new discoveries and surprises.

The books are movie-driven with episodic adventures, as well as dialogue-driven. Short, snappy episodes do not mean that the plot is less complex. Obviously, there is a lot going on, but each episode is a new adventure bringing on new characters, even late into the story. The ideas are big, but the way things are explained are simple and accessible. Heroes are driven by the moment, by their instincts rather than by their experiences, but they always come up with smart, creative, and resourceful solutions. Yet, in these fast-paced stories, dialogues go on and on for pages without being boring. That’s because dialogues are used to describe the worlds and their mechanics. They are fascinating.

Brandon Mull says in an interview with Book Zones Boy’s Life, “Scouting has significantly helped my career as a professional writer. To create stories, I need details, and my experiences in Scouting helped me learn at least a little about a wide variety of things.”

Mull’s epic fantasies bring to life ordinary kids who survive by their wits in wild worlds. Kids can easily identify to courageous and tenacious heroes. Mull manages a large cast of characters, realistic endeavors, and honest characters with a strong sense of right and wrong. In Fablehaven, Kendra and Seth’s job is to protect magical creatures contained in a reservation. The sense of danger is always present. Characters are sacrificed. Miracles happen too. Treacherous characters make the lives of the heroes difficult. The reader roots for heroes who do not hesitate to take risks, calculated or not. Not only the pace is fast, the adventures constant and the creatures interesting, but also the main characters barter with each other all the time. Their relationship battles between love, hate, and teasing. Many Brandon Mull’s characters challenge each other verbally, adding tension and fun to the chapters. Kendra reflects at the end of a Fablehaven’s adventure, “Many of her experiences here had been dreadful. […] Life would seem so dry after the extraordinary events of the past couple of weeks.”

All in all, Brandon Mull attracts kids by appealing to their sense of adventure and curiosity. The kids want to know what creatures or monsters are in the book. They know they will be surprised. They also appreciate things that blow up, things that get punched, new creatures, cool little guys, things taken from the mythology and from the pop culture, and non-stop action. The quick, dynamic plots sustain little introspection, but they explore new ideas for kids, out loud. Brandon Mull’s stories are a delight because they are full of imagination, conflict, tension, extreme measures, driving motivations with high stakes, and quirky heroes with weaknesses. It’s a new epic that’s tailored for boys and for kids who dream of quests and new worlds.

Resources:

 Brandon Mull’s website. http://brandonmull.com/

Writing Excuses.http://www.writingexcuses.com/2008/10/19/writing-season-2-episode-2-how-to-write-for-children-with-brandon-mull/

Writing Excuses. http://www.writingexcuses.com/2008/10/27/writing-excuses-season-2-episode-3-characters-with-brandon-mull/

20 Thrilling Books for Kids Who Like Percy Jackson. http://www.whatdowedoallday.com/books-for-kids-who-like-percy-jackson/

♥♥♥

If you liked this article, visit Sussu Leclerc at Novel Without Further Ado.

A follow up on Twitter or Pinterest is always appreciated.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

Star in MG / YA Magazines

Although often not lucrative, magazine publications can offer you many benefits.

  • They help your name get out there and stand out from the crowd of writers;
  • they can give you a unique insight into the publication world;
  • they can help you be more productive and serve as experimental pieces;
  • they can help you connect with other authors;
  • you might attract the attention of an editor and get further and better offers such as writing for series;
  • finally but not least, short story credits will impress agents or editors because it tells them your work is worth both reading and paying for.

(NB: *CTS! Means “Closed To Submission.” Some magazines only accept submissions at specific times.)

 

Middle Grade Magazines:

CRICKET. Covers all ages. Have many different magazines: Babybugs, Clicks. Ladybug. Ask (arts and sciences). Spider. Cricket. Cobblestone (American history). Dig Into History. Faces (cultures). Muse (Fun science and tech). Cicada (YA). Welcome works by writers from underrepresented groups. <http://www.cricketmedia.com/submission-guidelines?_ga=1.139948403.1938444544.1485226635 >

EMBER. MG and YA. Age 10 to 18. Poetry, fiction, flash fiction, creative nonfiction. <http://emberjournal.org/submission-guidelines/>

 

 

 

FROSTFIRE WORLDS. Ages 8-18. Fantasy and science fiction stories up to 6000 words with strong world-building. Adventure stories, space opera, and magic opera. Also accept poems, art, articles, reviews, and interviews.<http://albanlake.com/guidelines-frostfire/>

NEW MOON. Girls 8 to 12. Fiction and non-fiction.
Show powerful women in charge of their lives. Show parents how to support girls “to express their voices, strengths, needs, problems, and dreams.” <http://newmoon.com/getting-published-daughters-com/>

SPACEPORTS & SPIDERSILK. Short stories, poems, art, brief essays on science and the environment, interviews, quizzes, fantasy, science fiction, and mild horror. Open to hard to sell stories. <http://nomadicdeliriumpress.com/spaceportsgl.htm>

 

WEE TALES. Magical, heart pounding tales, 2000 words maximum. <https://goldenfleecepress.com/submissions/>

 

 

YOUNG EXPLORER’S ADVENTURE GUIDE. Combine adventure, space, and science. Diverse characters, strong girls, and fun. <http://dreamingrobotpress.com/young-explorers-adventure-guide-submissions/>

 

 

YA Magazines:

 BALLOONS. 12 years-old and up. Looking for unconventional materials, “elements that could enlighten and amaze the young minds.” <http://www.balloons-lit-journal.com/submission.html>

CAST OF WONDERS. YA science fiction or high fantasy for podcasting. *CTS! <http://www.castofwonders.org/submissions/>

CBAY. Teens. Fantasy or science fiction. *CTS! <http://www.cbaybooks.com/submission-guidelines.html>

 

 

CRICKET. Covers all ages. Have many different magazines: Babybugs, Clicks. Ladybug. Ask (arts and sciences). Spider. Cricket. Cobblestone (American history). Dig Into History. Faces (cultures). Muse (Fun science and tech).

Cicada (YA). Welcome works by writers from underrepresented groups.   <http://www.cricketmedia.com/submission-guidelines?_ga=1.139948403.1938444544.1485226635>

 

EMBER. Ages 10 to 18. Poetry, fiction, flash fiction, creative nonfiction. <http://emberjournal.org/submission-guidelines/>

FOREST FOR THE TREES. Poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction up to 6,000 words. <https://ffttjournal.wordpress.com/contactsubmit/>

FROSTFIRE WORLDS. 8-18 and beyond. Fantasy and science fiction stories up to 6000 words with strong world-building. Adventure stories, space opera, and magic opera. Also accept poems, art, articles, reviews, and interviews. <http://albanlake.com/guidelines-frostfire/>

 

HUNGER MOUNTAIN. Short stories, poetry, novel/novella excerpts, and creative nonfiction. Follows themes. <http://hungermtn.org/submit/>

LUNCH TICKET. YA short stories and flash fiction up to 5,000 words. <https://lunchticket.submittable.com/submit/11940/young-adult-writing-for-young-people-13>

ONE TEEN STORY. Literary fiction between 3,000 and 8,000 words. <http://www.one-story.com/index.php?page=submit&pubcode=os>

 

 

REFRACTIONS. YA fantasy with a delicate, magical touch, 5000 words maximum. <https://goldenfleecepress.com/submissions/>

SPACEPORTS & SPIDERSILK. Short stories, poems, art, brief essays on science and the environment, interviews, quizzes, fantasy, science fiction, and mild horror. Opened to hard to sell stories. <http://nomadicdeliriumpress.com/spaceportsgl.htm>

SUCKER LITERARY. YA fiction up to 10,000 words. *CTS! <https://suckerliterarymagazine.wordpress.com/submission-guidelines/>

SUDDENLY LOST IN WORDS. Poetry, short stories, and memoirs up to 3000 words.
<http://writingcareer.com/suddenly-lost-in-words-re-opens-for-ya-short/>

YARN. Poetry, essays up to 3000 words, and fiction up to 6000 words. <http://yareview.net/how-to-submit/>

YOUTH IMAGINATION. Real issues facing teens, from 200 to 20K words. <http://youthimagination.silverpen.org/index.php/submission-guidelines>

 

 

CONCLUSION:

Think of making your stories crossover because it is difficult to find magazines looking for specific genres you might specialize in. You could make your YA stories reaching into adult realms. You could, for example, submit to TOR and CICADA at the same time.

Keep in mind that magazines pay little but expect the best.

Some magazines will only accept excerpts. Read guidelines carefully.

Have fun exploring and submitting!

 

Resource:

Duotrop Magazine List. < duotrope.com >

♥♥♥

If you liked this article, visit Sussu’s blogs, at Novel Without Further Ado and Book Riders for MG readers. Connect with her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Thanks for reading