Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The write kind of holiday

Merry Christmas / meri Kirihimete / Froeliche Weihnachten


I'm loving this time of year.  Regardless of your faith tradition, I hope you are too.

However, 2012 brings a major change in how I structure my holiday.

I've spent so much time around work-a-holics that  I vowed I would never be one. When I was off-duty, I wouldn't work. Holidays were a time to relax and celebrate.

Then I became an author, and my attitude had to change. I am writing under a deadline. I can no longer measure a project by its percentage of completeness. The book is done--or it's not done.

So, yes, it is Christmas morning. We've opened gifts. We've eaten our 'special breakfast.' We've planned what we'll take to Christmas dinner at the home of dear friends.

And in-between all of that, I'll be writing.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The scariest question

A blogger in the UK, Reading away the days!, has scheduled me for an interview on January 14th.  Megan McDade has sent me advance questions to ponder.

The scariest question: Tell me about yourself.

Let's think about this a moment.  I'm a novelist.  I write fiction! Why would readers trust me to get the facts straight when I'm paid to make things up?

Okay. Deep breath.  I can do this.  Back to writing answers to my first interview as an author...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Hidden gold for writers

I love hanging out with other writers, which is why I belong to several writing groups.  My author-friends in the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood run a great blog to help aspiring authors—and I'm the blog host on Tuesday, December 18.

We'll be discussing websites that we use to gather research for our manuscripts. 

I'm encouraging Ruby Blog visitors to add comments which list their favorite research sites. Throughout the day, I'll update this authoretc post with their recommendations.  By Tuesday's end, I hope to have a wonderful, cumulative list of Hidden Gold.

Free Books and Publications

Government Websites to Cultural Resources and Artifacts
Websites about History and Historic Places
Military, Law Enforcement, Crime, and Forensics


Monday, December 3, 2012

Holiday Giveaway from Spencer Hill

When my book sold, I joined a new community.

Spencer Hill Press (SHP) is a small publishing house. There are about 25 authors (with approx the same number on the editorial staff).  We support each other, cheer each other on, read each other's books, and break out into fist fights over share our beloved editors.

December 3rd marks the beginning of our first annual Holiday Giveaway. 

We have a lot of great prizes: free books, SWAG, gift certificates, and critiques of queries and manuscripts.  (Details for the prize bags/ giveaways are included here.)

All you have to do is enter via the rafflecopter buttons below.

 The contest is like an online scavenger hunt.  You'll earn points by following SHP authors on twitter or visiting the websites/blogs of SHP authors to learn about our upcoming releases.  Rafflecopter supplies the questions; you supply the answers.  (My question is super-easy; if you have seen the cover of my book, you'll have no problem answering the question.)

  • Contest runs from Dec. 3rd to Dec. 16th
  • Contest is open to all ages from 13 to any adult age. 
  • Contest is open to US and Canada residents only. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, November 30, 2012

Lovely Words

My nephew Charlie left us eleven years ago today.

He was a beautiful little kid. Sweet. Happy. Full of life and all boy. Then a disease sunk its claws into him, claiming him so quickly that we could hardly take it in.

One night in the hospital, while his mom (my sister) was off grabbing a quick bite to eat, Charlie decided that Christmas carols were in order.  It wasn't an issue to him that Christmas was still a month away.  What was the point of having an adoring aunt around if he couldn't command her to sing what he wanted to hear?

So sing she did.

I can't recall why—but for some reason, we sat on the floor. Yes, indeed, the cold, hard floor. I scooped him out of the bed—tubes and wires and all—carried him across the room, and slid down the wall until we were in a nice, cozy huddle in the corner. Charlie would call out a song title, and off I'd go. Santa Claus was definitely coming to our town. We were going to deck some halls.  And Jesus, our brother, was kind and good.

Then Charlie got down to business. His favorite.  Joy to the World.
I sang it, all four verses.
Again. Please.
I sang it again, three verses the second time around.
The last one.
Okay then. I sang the last verse.

He nodded and yawned. We grew silent.  Thinking that he had dozed off, I began to shift, preparing to stand.

You sure are pretty, Aunt Beth.


I settled back down.  He and I weren't going anywhere.  We were going to stay in our nice, cozy huddle until someone pried him from my arms.

They were the final words he ever said to me.

I learned two lessons that night from Charlie.  First, statements don't have to be complex to be profound.  Perhaps true eloquence can only be wrapped in simplicity.

The second lesson is harder to achieve, but I'll never stop trying.  Let people know how you feel about them.  Close every conversation with love-ly words. Please.

In memory of Charles Sebastian Barrett
11 July 1997 - 30 November 2001

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Place of Confidence

I've always loved eighteenth century history. When I was in elementary school, that time period seemed so romantic with its pioneering spirit, elegant balls, travel by carriage, and tea parties staged to quench the thirst for freedom.

Before I wrote Whisper Falls, I researched that period of history for six years, visiting historical sites and reading historical tomes.  Along the way, I discovered just how brutal, frightening, and uncivilized that Colonial and Post-Revolutionary America could be. Reality only intensified my curiosity. What mindset did it take for the upper classes to not see the human beings who served them? How must it feel to believe in an ideal so fiercely that the possibility of forfeiting life, family, or fortune was deemed worth the sacrifice?

By the time I began writing Whisper Falls, I had saturated myself with learning about the people of the 1790s. I'd collected reams of data on their clothing, daily life, food, religion, and jobs. The quest for information continued as I wrote. Susanna (the heroine) was an eighteenth-century indentured servant. Mark (the hero) was a modern-day mountain bike racer.  I am neither, so I had to research both. Two luxurious years elapsed between writing the first-word and making the first-sale.

For the sequel, I've had to compress the schedule dramatically.  A Whisper in Time1 must be written and researched in nine months.

In the historical part of the second book, even though a new century has dawned, I assumed that my previous research still held.  Wrong. America evolved a great deal during the ten-year span between 1795 and 1805.  Politics, fashion, architecture, attitudes—all were changing. 

In modern-day part of the sequel, I gave my protagonist an obstacle that involves Federal laws with little precedent, a government official of little imagination, and the thin line between truth and fact.  The protagonist's struggle to wade through the maze of regulations and governing bodies became my struggle.  The process of discovery nearly crippled me.

I hit the jackpot late last night. After weeks of battling websites and dense content, I finally connected the dots and figured out how the system works.  Not surprisingly, it is boring, time-consuming, and often stupid. But it is possible to navigate.

For an author, knowing the system allows me to alter it. Poetic license is possible now that I understand.

The book has resumed writing itself. Once I've done the research—once I have complete access to the facts—only then I am free to write from a place of confidence.
1 A Whisper In Time is the working title for book two of the Whisper Falls trilogy.

Monday, November 19, 2012

366 and counting . . .

November 19 is the big day—in 2013!

Yes, in precisely one year, Whisper Falls releases. It seems so far away. I want it to be here already.

Of course, it's not like I'm lying around waiting. I have more edits to make. Two more books to complete. Facts to research. Readers to meet. Swag to design. ARCs to sign.

And, naturally, there's my life outside of writing. I have two daughters to (s)mother. A house to ignore. A geeky job to perform. A spouse to adore.

Yeah, maybe that year will fly by...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Be Not Afraid

Sunday was a spectacular day in many ways.
  1. North Carolina had another gorgeous autumn day. (Have I ever mentioned how much I love my adopted state?)
  2. It was Veterans Day. People told me thank you for my service to the nation (and I, in turn, thanked those who gave the far-greater sacrifice of service during wartime.)
  3. I attended my first author's event.
I'm about to make a confession, and it's a statement that my introverted little soul never thought I would say: I loved my first author's event! Two hours flew past (at least for me.) After I gave a reading of the first chapter of Whisper Falls, the discussion started. And the questions flowed. We talked books, the craft of writing, historical research, the publishing business, social media...

I learned so much from this wonderful group of young women and their moms. (For the YA writers reading this post, get thee to a book club. You will get way more than you give.)  I asked the group if I could interview them, and they graciously consented. Read on and I promise that you too will benefit from their collective wisdom1.

Q: What do you like least about the current YA fiction market?
  • There is too much sameness. Bookstores have entire sections of Paranormal Romance.  We're seeing too many Twilight knock-offs.
  • The storylines just seem too young.  A lot of today's books are better suited to the middle grade age group than high school readers.

Q: What makes a YA book appealing to you? What would you wish to see more of?
  • When writing a character, allow him/her to be:
    • more real
    • both good and bad
    • multi-dimensional and flawed
  • We want stories with:
    • more complex plots
    • higher quality, especially in execution
    • better writing in general (style, voice, sentence structure, literary devices, vocabulary, etc)

Q: How much slang is okay? How much cursing?
  • Only use slang in dialog.  Leave it out when we're inside the character's head.
  • With cursing, it really doesn't matter.  It's fine either way.  But—if you do use curse words—don't let them be gratuitous. It has to flow naturally from the characters' personalities and the situations they find themselves in2.
  • FYI... we spell out everything in our texts now.  We might be a little easy on the capitalization, but everything else is usually correct.

Q: What topics can authors address in YA fiction?
  • Avoid anything too cliched. We've seen plenty of books on typical teen issues.
  • Give us more about relationships.  Romantic relationships are still fine, but there are other kinds too. We have relationships with our parents, friends, siblings, grandparents, and teachers.  Explore those.
  • It would be great to have more characters who struggle to find their purpose in life.  Why am I here? Where should I go next and how do I get there?  Write books about the process of self-discovery.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring YA authors?
  • Don't try to follow a pattern too much. Don't copy what's already on the market.  If you do, you're missing the point. You have your own good qualities, your own voice, your own unique way of executing a story.  That's the book we want to read.
  • Don't cater to the least common denominator. Don't dumb down the book. We like well-written stories. We like good sentence structure and vocabulary. We want complexity.
  • Let the characters be real. Let them make mistakes and suffer the consequences.
  • Don't be predictable. We don't want to see the plot twists a mile away.  But don't just insert yourself into the story and make things happen either. Surprise us in the right way.

Q: What makes you want to pick up a book in a bookstore?
  • The Cover [the girls said in unison]
  • [laughter]
  • [silence]

Q: Anything else besides the cover?

A: Back blurbs, although not everyone reads them.  Some readers don't want to have too big of a hint in advance.

Q: Tell me more about what you like in cover art.
  • It has to be cool.
  • It needs a great font.
  • We like photographs better than artwork, but it has to be good quality photography.

Q: What types of social media do you use most?
  • Twitter, for conversations
  • Pinterest
  • Tumblr, a little
  • But Facebook? Not so much.  FB seems to be fading away.

Q: How do you find out about books?
  • Word of mouth is the best way.  We get recommendations from our friends and our moms.
  • goodreads.com
  • booklists from teachers3
  • teenink.com
  • magazines
  • Once we like an author, we'll research more books by that author on amazon.com or the author's website.

Wow. Are you not blown away by their wisdom? I'm so glad I asked them for this interview.  The girls4, like their answers, were smart, profound, fun, and inspiring.  I enjoyed this visit so much that I'll just have to beg, borrow, and steal my way into other such opportunities.

America, you have nothing to fear. The next generation is amazing!


1 The answers to interview questions include actual quotes from the book club members. The teens answered more than the mothers, but Moms are represented in there too.
2 The adults agreed with the teens on this issue, which is good since my characters (especially the hero) curse.  I think it is organic to his personality, though.
3 There was a Language Arts teacher at the book club meeting. She told me that her booklists tend to contain classics. She said that it's hard to find well-written books in the current market that she can recommend. That, YA authors, is a sobering statement. Just sayin...
4Thanks to Ellie, Claire, Laura, Melanie, and Michelle for inviting me!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Dog's Tale

My co-worker Ed is visually impaired. He has a seeing-eye dog who has his own blog.

Willie-the-seeing-eye-dog Blog has been in existence for about six months and has had two postings.  Willie and his ghost-writer Ed have been too busy to give it the attention it needs.

Ed has asked me to take over the responsibility of ghost-writing for Willie.  After all, I'm a writer. How hard could it be to switch from writing fictional characters to channeling a live dog?

I've said yes to writing the blog.  But the request reminded me of a simple truth about artists that might not be intuitive. Our abilities tend to be limited to specific genres and forms.  Consider dance. A dancer who has trained in hip-hop for years will not be able to pick up a role in classical ballet overnight.  While hip-hop and ballet are both forms of dance, the style, mood, and required skills can be very different. This holds true for writing. Just because I'm good at novel-length fiction, it isn't a certainty that I will be good at short stories, poetry, or ghost-writing for a non-verbal creature.

But I'm going to give it a shot.  If you check Willie's blog periodically, you may see the ghost of Elizabeth there.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Sense of Belonging + A Cookbook

I belong to many writers' groups, some small and some large.  Not only do they help me learn the business, they also support me in this bloodsport also known as publishing.  Really—if I had to do this biz alone, I'd feel like a freak.

This weekend, I'm heading to the mountains with four other writer-friends (I'll call them NaMoFiBer) for our biannual writing retreat. I have a goal of 12,000 words (approx. 50 pages).  A girl can hope.

I'm also a member of several other organizations for writers, primarily learning from them online.

The Society of Children's Bookwriters and Illustrators (SCBWI) focuses on the publication of children's literature1.  I'm a member because I write Young Adult2 and want to write Middle Grade3. (Waves to Capital Eyes Critique Group.)

Romance Writers of America (RWA) is an international organization for writers of romantic fiction.  Since my novels always feature a romantic subplot, I belong to RWA as well as several of its local chapters: YARWA (Young Adult RWA) and HCRW (Heart of Carolina Romance Writers).

Finally, there are my much-beloved cyber-sisters in the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood.  We found each other through RWA's Golden Heart Contest in 2009. Ruby Sisters live across all corners of the globe (USA, Brazil, and Australia, to name three.)  We've bonded so tightly that it's hard for me to remember sometimes that I've never met most of them in person.

And here is where I interject the cookbook.  The Rubies have jointly contributed to a group blog since Sept 2009, and now we have a group cookbook.

The cookbook is free. You can download it as an e-book from the typical places for downloading free books; check our website for details.

All of the recipes are featured (or suggested) in our novels.  In addition to the recipes, you'll find our book covers as well as excerpts from our books.  And, yes, there are a recipe and an excerpt from Whisper Falls.  So download and enjoy!  


1 In the publishing biz, children's literature covers all ages from birth to 18 years old. SCBWI promotes the careers of writers and illustrators of picture books, early readers, chapter books, middle grade, and young adult. They include fiction and non-fiction.  

2 Young Adult, as an age group, is a bit hard to define. But generally, YA literature is targeted for 13- to 18-year-old readers. Because YA fiction has earned a reputation for high quality, there is large crossover appeal with adults.

3 Middle Grade, as an age group, typically includes readers between the ages of 8 and 12.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The First Appearance

A mother/daughter book club has invited me to visit their next meeting.

My first reaction was yes! 

Then logic took over.  Whisper Falls doesn't release for another year.  The book club knows that--right?

Yes, they knew. And, yes, they want me anyway.

I'm so excited.  I love to talk about writing and the publishing process.  Commercial fiction is a tough business. Breaking-in can be crazy-difficult. Aspiring authors write for years, pouring their hearts-and-souls into their stories.  Yet there is no guarantee that they will sell.  In fact, less than one percent of manuscripts will ever be bought and published!

It gets worse. For the magic few who get one of those elusive publishing contracts, the money is usually mediocre. Only a handful of authors will earn enough to quit their day jobs.

We must be psycho. Really. It takes years of practice to write that first marketable book. A tiny percentage of us succeed in selling.  The lucky ones make very little money. And our success is entirely dependent on the good opinions of people we'll never meet.

Why do we do this again?  

I know why. The book club reminds me.  It's all about the readers.  Meeting them fuels my enthusiasm. I can't wait to infect others with my love for the characters in my stories.  I can't wait to hear what these teens like (and don't like) to read. And I'm aware that the next JK Rowling could be sitting in that room. What I say to the girls in the book club might inspire one of them to write the next Little Women or The King of Attolia.
Even though the meeting is in November, I'm getting prepared. My publisher has given me permission to read an excerpt from Whisper Falls.  There is swag to collect.  It's time to learn how to be better at my new job.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Writing the Jacket Copy

For most book buyers, there is a specific process we follow when deciding whether to buy a book.

  • First, we look at the book cover--both the title and art
  • If the cover interests us enough, we flip over to the back and read the jacket copy.  (For hardcovers, you find the jacket copy on the inside cover.) 

I helped to write the jacket copy for Whisper Falls.  I expected it to be hard, and I was right. There is so much to achieve in approximately one hundred words.

Obviously, we want to intrigue the reader enough that they want to read the story. We have to touch on the book's setting, identify the main characters, and hint at the struggle they are facing. But we can't reveal any plot twists.

I had a really hard time with that last part.  It took three tries for me to hint without revealing.  (Thanks to my cousin Llewellyn for helping with Try III. That version did the trick.)

Lastly, I read it out loud to ensure it flowed smoothly and then sent it off to Spencer Hill for their approval.

Here is the final version of the jacket copy for Whisper Falls.

While training for a mountain bike race, high-school senior Mark Lewis spots a mysterious girl dressed in odd clothing, standing behind a waterfall in the woods near his North Carolina home. When she comments on the strange machine that he rides, he suspects something isn't right. When Susanna claims to be an indentured servant from 1796, he wonders if she's crazy. Yet he feels compelled to find out more.

[The first paragraph gives the setting(s), background on the two main characters, and enough detail to identify the genre/subgenre of the book.]

Mark enters a 'long-distance' relationship with Susanna through the shimmering--and temperamental--barrier of Whisper Falls. Curious about her world, Mark combs through history to learn about the brutal life she's trapped in. But knowledge can be dangerous. Soon he must choose between the risk of changing history or dooming the girl he can't stop thinking about to a lifetime of misery.

[The second provides insight into the struggle in the story that the protagonist will be battling.  I hint at the problem without revealing any major plot points.]

I hadn't seen the cover art when I drafted the jacket copy, but I love how much they "match".

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Getting the History Right

It takes a lot of effort to get the history right in historical fiction.

The author has to think about everything that a person experiences.  Food, clothing, housing, technology, and transportation are visible parts of life that change over time.  But there are plenty of aspects that are not so visible--such as political, moral, and religious beliefs. Sleeping, hygiene, and health behaviors. Attitudes toward marriage, children, work, humor and recreation, social class, education, ethnic groups, and women.

The research for Whisper Falls began six years ago when I visited Tryon Palace in New Bern.  (I love that place.  I've been back two times since, each time focusing on a different aspect of colonial life.)  The docents were extremely knowledgeable and happy to share what they knew.

When I asked about servants, one of the docents/reenactors told me that little is known about the servant class.  Most servants didn't know how to write, and the ones who did would've had a hard time affording ink and paper.  Bottom line: a writer can interpret what it might have been like and it would be hard to dispute.

Cool.  The pressure was reduced somewhat. But, still, servants worked for wealthy people--so I had to learn about both.  My research efforts included:

I also read historical fiction that targeted the same period, although this is a tricky thing to count on.  There is no guarantee that the history is correct.

All these efforts may seem like overkill--but I don't mind.  I love the research.  It's just pure fun for me.  

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Cover!

While training for a mountain bike race, high-school senior Mark Lewis spots a mysterious girl dressed in odd clothing, standing behind a waterfall in the woods near his North Carolina home. When she comments on the strange machine that he rides, he suspects something isn't right. When Susanna claims to be an indentured servant from 1796, he wonders if she's crazy. Yet he feels compelled to find out more.

Mark enters a 'long-distance' relationship with Susanna through the shimmering--and temperamental--barrier of Whisper Falls. Curious about her world, Mark combs through history to learn about the brutal life she's trapped in. But knowledge can be dangerous. Soon he must choose between the risk of changing history or dooming the girl he can't stop thinking about to a lifetime of misery.

Title: Whisper Falls (Whisper Falls #1)
Author: Elizabeth Langston
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press (www.spencerhillpress.com)
Release Date: November 19, 2013
Formats: Paper, e-book

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...

I can reveal the cover for my book on Friday. We'll also include the jacket copy.

I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I do!


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Counting down...

Whisper Falls releases in precisely fourteen months.  That's only 426 days away.

Seems like a long time to you?  Well, it seems like a long time to me too.  But I'm still crazy busy.  In addition to the day job and paying attention on occasion to my family, I have two other books to write and a debut novel to finesse.  I've spent the last two weekends on research trips. I've bought a gazillion reference books. And, along with my publisher, I'll be revealing the cover to Whisper Falls in 8 days.  I really have to learn how to pace myself.

Perhaps the coolest busy-ness of all is booking promotional events.  Yes, indeed, they are trickling in.  I've penciled several events into my calendar already, such as:
  • A blog interview in January
  • Book Expo America (BEA) in May
  • A possible readers conference next summer
  • A possible TV interview next summer
I want to say 'yes' to everything.  I hope that's realistic.  Of course, I can't neglect the day job. Or the daughters. Or the husband...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

It's a Global Reading Community

When my agent sold Whisper Falls to Spencer Hill, she negotiated the contract to include World English rights1 only.  I retained foreign rights, i.e. the ability to sell my book for translation into other languages.

Earlier this week, Agent K asked me to send her my favorite version of the manuscript.  She believes it's a good time to market my book overseas. So I pulled Whisper Falls out, dusted it off, tweaked a word here and a punctuation mark there---and sent that file winging its way across cyberspace.

As of this hour, Agent T (who specializes in selling books outside the US) has my manuscript.  The waiting begins!

1World English rights: the right to print, sell, and distribute the book in English anywhere in the world. If readers buy (legally) a English version of the book in Canada/NZ/etc, Spencer Hill will be the publisher.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Scary Stuff

An author's job is to write good books.  I've been working hard to acquire that skill for years.

But once published, there are many other tasks that an author must absorb. We must learn how to read contracts. We must learn to handle the finances and taxes of the self-employed. We must plan to attend conferences or workshops to improve our writing craft. And a huge part of the published author's job becomes the marketing of her books.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of books are published. Publishing houses cannot afford to market all of their titles.  Word-of-mouth is still one of the best ways to get readers interested in a book.  Authors accept the burden to encourage word-of-mouth when they accept a publishing contract.  We have to talk to people about our books and hope they'll love the books enough to talk about them in turn.

Trying to sell my books to readers was the part of this job that scared me the most.  By nature, I am an introvert. I enjoy being alone. Going to parties or giving speeches or selling products--I don't enjoy that.

The reality has been far different than what I expected.  I like talking to people about books.  I love discussing my characters and stories.  I enjoy sharing my experiences about the publishing industry.

Today, I attended an event for math tutors.  I talked with high school and middle school teachers--and mentioned my book.  Before I left, I'd handed out three business cards, offered to be a guest speaker at their schools, and had a wonderful time doing it.  I love the idea of visiting with students, answering their questions about this business, and getting them fired up about writing.

The part of the author job that I dreaded most turned out to be much more fun than I could have imagined.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

First Glimpse

I had my first glimpse at the book cover for Whisper Falls tonight.  My senior editor sent a mockup of the cover art.  I have two things to say.

  1. The mockup gives me chills. The cover art is going to be amazing. (Holy Moly. I have a photo concept for the cover of my book!)
  2. The editor really wants my feedback.  That is a rare thing in the publishing industry.  Most authors get the cover with a 'there it is.'  If the author doesn't like it, tough.  SpencerHill not only cares about my opinion, they are actively seeking it.  I love this publishing house.

Well, okay, maybe I have four things to say.

3) I did show it to my husband, and he got chills too. My younger daughter didn't like it (which was predictable. She's 17. 'Nuff said.)

4) I would love to send it to everyone and I can't.  Not yet.

But soon.  I promise.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Where does the time go?

I have three part-time jobs.

During the day, I work for a software company doing geeky things. I teach students, write documentation, and help people enjoy their work more.  I love my day job. 

At night, I write books.  I hear voices inside my head coming from characters who are real to me--and I get to record their stories.  I get to laugh with them, cry with them, and hope they prevail. Because I write YA, I get to experience the teen years through my characters.  I love my night job.

24 hours a day, 7 days a week--I am a homeschooling mom. My daughter attends a virtual high school, and I am her administrator, tutor, cheerleader, organizer, chauffeur, and financial institution. I love alternative education.

I'm tired all the time, but it's a good kind of tired.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Hitting the road

Book 2 is due next spring. Half of the story takes place in 2016; the other half circa 1800.

I've had a brainstorming session with the brilliant Laura.  But, as I found with Whisper Falls, delving into the history often unfolds the story.  It's all there, waiting to be discovered.

So I'm heading on a couple of road trips.  First, daughter #2 and I will be traveling through eastern North Carolina, seeking out historical sites--hoping the land, buildings, and keepers-of-the-past share their wisdom.

Two weeks later, I'm heading to Virginia.  One of my eighteenth-century characters earns her living as a seamstress.  I'll explore the life styles, fashions, and textiles of that period in Richmond, Alexandria, McLean, and Mount Vernon.  My amazing husband has offered to drive.

The only thing better than learning about American history is to experience it with my family. I can't wait. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

While I Wait

I'm in a lull period with Whisper Falls.

I submitted my first round of revisions to my editor three weeks ago.  But I am not the only author he supports, and someone else takes precedence.

While waiting my turn, I'm working on another project. I Wished is YA contemporary magical realism novel.  This manuscript won over my agent.  I love the prickly heroine Lacey, the complicated family she protects, and the "genie" who shows up to make a difference.

I'm a better author today than I was four years ago when I wrote the original manuscript.  If I work hard--and with freelancer Laura's help--I Wished could be a great book.

I'm psyched.  This is going to be so much fun.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Continuing Ed

I will never be content with how well I write.

What I thought was good last year I know is not the best it can be this year.  So I spend a lot of time reading, talking, and practicing the writing craft.

I am about to devote 3 days to writing better.  I will attend the Romance1 Writers of America National Conference in Anaheim, California.  There will be amazing workshops, great speakers, and networking with my current and growing support group of writers.

It ought to be great.

1Romance: many readers do not know the industry definition of Romance. So here it is. A romance novel contains at least one romantic subplot and has a happy (or satisfying) ending. That's it to the definition. There are a lot of books out there that qualify as a romance.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Revisions, round one

The first round of revisions are called The Big Picture Edits.  That's where my editor tells me what the big problems are with the manuscript.  Then I fix the ones I agree with.  And I ignore the ones I don't agree with.  (Okay, so not really.  I negotiate with him.  Yeah.  Negotiate.)

He highlighted four major areas to fix.  Sigh.  He was right about 3 of the 4. I had always known those problems were there.  I was just really hoping no one noticed, because I didn't want to fix them.  My editor noticed.

I've made my best first  stab at getting three of the major problems better.  The fourth area is... under negotiation.

Rich asked for the edits to be in by July 15th.  I turned them in July 9th.  Three days ago.  Call me smug.

It may be a while before I hear back from him about round two.  That's okay, though.  I have a life to return to.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Presenting.... The Author Photo

My official photos showed up a week ago in email.  There were 20 or so proofs.

I puzzled over them for several days.  Which did I like best? Which seemed most professional?  Which screamed somebody's Mom least loudly? Which would appeal to the widest spectrum of my target market?

Friends and family weighed in.  There were differences of opinion--but a few began to stand out as having the greatest appeal.  I also asked the photographer, Aimee Elaine, for her recommendations.

Without further ado, here it is...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Oh, how I love a small press - part 1

Writers are a strange bunch of people.

Even though we admit to hearing voices in our heads, we are not committed to institutions.  Indeed, we are paid good money1 to talk to and about imaginary people as if they were real.

I am friends with many writers.  It helps to keep me sane.  We cheer each other, help each other, and commiserate with each other.

We also complain.  A lot.

For many published authors, publishers bear the brunt of the complaints.  Publishing houses don't give authors a large enough percentage of the book's list price. They want authors to revise books too much.  They don't consult authors enough about cover art.  They expect authors to do too much promotion.

That's why I love Spencer Hill Press (SHP).  They haven't done anything for me to complain about.  At least, not so far :)

The day after I accepted their book offer, SHP's senior editor called me and asked what I wanted for cover art.  Yes, she did.  Tuesday, the cover designer/photographer (Coe) called me to discuss my thoughts about the cover, what the main characters looked like, and what clothes I envisioned them (the models!) wearing.  Coe knows many Revolutionary War re-enactors, so she doesn't anticipate any problems with finding a costume for my heroine.

We then spent time discussing the two protagonists' interactions with each other over the course of the book--to make sure the cover captures the essence of their relationship. (Sigh!)   Coe is going to generate some sketches of her ideas and send them to me.

I can't wait to see what she does.

Today, I received email from the PR specialist.  The book won't release for another sixteen months, and we are already talking about promotion opportunities.

I love this job.  So far :)

1 Contrary to public belief, the vast majority of writers cannot quit their day jobs.  We talk about royalties in terms of figures: four-figures ($0-$9999), five figures ($10k -< $100k), etc. It is rare for authors to get 6- or 7- figure sales for their books.  Trust me, the reading public has heard about every one of the 7-figure authors (all five of them :).

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Thank you, Tom

Tom is my personal trainer.  But he's more than that.  He's my coach, cheerleader, spiritual guide, and friend.

For years, he's listened to me talk about my stories.  Then Whisper Falls came along. Since the book's hero is a seventeen-year-old mountain bike racer, I needed help. Tom became my story advisor.

Fortunately for me, Tom began playing sports at a young age. He understands what it's like to be a teen male athlete.  Tom volunteered (at least, that's the way I remember it. Yeah) to help me with my research. So I peppered him with questions, which he answered with patience and honesty. 

Mark--the male protagonist--is a better character, and Whisper Falls is a better book, because I have friends like Tom.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My agent called...

That phrase brings joy to my heart.  Anytime my agent calls, it's good news.

She called today.

Earlier this week, I wrote a proposal for a sequel to Whisper Falls.  I also gave a one-sentence description of a possible third book.  My agent talked with the acquiring editor, who agreed to buy both.

Oh, yes.  My agent called to let me know that she sold Books 2 and 3 of my Whisper Falls Trilogy!

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Check Was in the Mail

I have been paid for Whisper Falls.  The check arrived today.  I won't see any more for another eighteen months, but that is okay.

This is my first real income as an author!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Photo Op

I experienced a rite of passage today. I had my author photos made.

Normally, I hate having my photograph made.  Really hate it.  If you look at pictures from family gatherings, I am either not there or in the back in the shadows.  If you look in my daughters' baby books, there are virtually no Mom shots.

Oddly, I didn't have the same reaction to this.  A professional author photo is a requirement.  I am a professional author.  Ergo, photo shoot.

Planning this event was a long, multi-stage process.

  • I hired a photographer, based on a recommendation. I went to the studio's website and was delighted with the examples of the Aimee's work.  (Of course, she wouldn't be in business for long if her gallery was full of bad shots.)  I contacted her. She stated her a fee. I stated my willingness to pay it. We settled on a location, which didn't work out, so we settled on a different one. 
  • I made a hair appointment. Pam has been my stylist for years--and begged me, for years, to color my hair.  I gave her the go-ahead.  Well, more like a half-go-ahead.  We agreed to take the edge off the gray.  
  • I had to pick something to wear.  I own lots of blue shirts, but none struck me as exactly right. I tried on purple, coral, red, and yellow.  Still not satisfied.  So I went out and bought a new blue shirt in a shade I didn't have--medium cobalt.  (I have dark cobalt and light cobalt already--so medium cobalt is a welcome addition.)

The big day arrived.

My hair received a little more than the half-go-ahead.  More like 90% of the edge came off the gray. I have brown hair again.  But this too shall pass.

The medium cobalt top was well worth its sales price.  And I even put on makeup.

All was ready. Until the thunderstorms rolled in.  Boo hiss.  The location for the photo shoot was outside.

The photographer and I conversed via email and decided to proceed.

Fortunately, the sky cleared.  The arboretum was lovely, cool, and sparkly with real raindrops.  And fifteen minutes later, it was done.

I won't see the results until Monday.  But it was a lot of fun.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

In Search of the Perfect Agent

When homeowners decide to sell their house, they must choose whether to sell it themselves (For Sale By Owner) or to find a a real estate agent.

Writers with manuscripts to sell face the same choice--with one major difference. Literary agents are much harder to find. After a long, agonizing search, I found the perfect agent for me.  I'll share what I learned along the way.

Why I Wanted A Literary Agent

There are a lot of Internet resources (such as this blogpost) that explain how writers benefit (or not) from having an agent. I didn't need to read many articles. From the moment I began to pursue publication, I knew I wanted an agent.  My reasons were fairly simple.

  • Agents enjoy the details of the publishing business. I love to write.  It's a great division of labor.
  • Good agents have access to publishing houses that would be closed to an unagented me.
  • An agent with market knowledge and good instincts can advise me on my writing career.

Writers who don't share my reasons may decide to use the For Sale By Owner route.

Where To Start

First, I needed a sellable product.  So I spent the early years of my writing career like all artisans or athletes; I looped through education and practice until I got the product right [or, at least, I thought it was right.]

Next, I formed a clear idea of what I wanted in the ideal agent.  Obviously, I want a professional who is capable of selling the product--my books. But I also wanted more.  My ideal agent would handle the legal and money stuff, like contracts, royalties, and taxes.  She would enjoy reading and critiqueing my manuscripts.  She would have an open door policy [or, rather, an open phone policy] to talk me through insecurities or tough decisions.

All other traits were negotiable.

The Search

I had a product to sell and a checklist of  ideal agent traits.  I was ready to begin the hunt.  [I didn't bother to estimate how long it would take, which proved to be wise.  It took four years and 60+ rejections before I found the perfect agent for me.]

The Internet is a goldmine of information.  I started and ended the search there.  Here are some tips and links for the resources available in an agent search.
  • agentquery.com is a great tool.  It lists hundreds of agents. It provides an advanced query feature so that I can narrow the search to the agents most likely to be interested in my books. One caution, though: the information is not always current.  Whenever I located an agent that might be a good fit, I always went to the agent's website for submission guidelines.
  • Several agents blog on a regular basis.  Not only do they provide great information about the publishing industry and other agents, their postings can give authors a sense of what that agent would be like to work with.  Two blogs I would recommend are written by Kristin Nelson and Rachelle Gardner.
  • Writing conferences offer plenty of opportunities to meet publishing professionals.  I made an effort to attend writing conferences and signed up for pitch sessions and author intensives whenever possible.  I made an effort to be friendly, courteous, and enthusiastic about my book.  Although I didn't obsess about my appearance, I was careful to dress and act like the kind of author that an agent would want to represent.

The last tip is how I found my agent.  Kevan Lyon was accepting pitches at a conference.  I was unable to get one of her slots, but that didn't deter me.  I researched her on the Internet and thought we might make a good team. I sent a query (as per the guidelines on her website.) She liked the manuscript and arranged to meet me at the conference.  By the time I returned home, I had accepted an offer of representation.

If you have questions or comments about searching for an agent, feel free to leave a comment and I (or other blog followers) will try to help you out.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Thank You, Laura

My agent and I believed that Whisper Falls was a really good book, so we did what often happens in such cases. We submitted it to editors at publishing houses.

Months passed. No one offered to buy the book. And their feedback made me sigh (which is better than making me cry.)
  • Time-travels are a hard sell.
  • The story needs to be tighter.

I couldn't do anything about the first excuse.  But I could do something about the second. That's where Laura came in.

Laura is a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, magna cum laude in English, whose dream job is to be a book editor.1 She's also one of my daughter's roommates.  I needed editing advice, and Laura wanted to freelance-edit--a match made in writer's heaven.

We joined forces to make my book the best it could be. Laura's editing style was gloriously unobtrusive. In response to her gently-posed questions, I was able to revise the book with my ideas, my words, and my voice.  It was the same story, just better.

Three months later, my agent resubmitted the book.  We received an offer to buy Whisper Falls in four days.2

Thank you, Laura! 

  1. I would highly recommend Laura to other novelists in need of freelance editing.3
  2. Results are not, of course, guaranteed. Editing advice may free you to write a better book, but you still have to have a great voice, a great concept, and great market timing in order to win contests, land an agent, or sell.
  3. The publishing house was so impressed by how polished my manuscript was that they have offered Laura contract copy-editing work.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The first edits

Yay.  I received my first edits last night.  It's so exciting.

My editor marked up chapters 1 - 11.  I'll have to rewrite a few scenes and re-research a few facts to ensure their accuracy. It is a little strange to go back through the manuscript, seeing it through someone else's eyes.  I had already experienced this once with my freelancer.  It's cool and fun and a little scary.

I have other author friends who've been through this before, where they closet themselves with their revisions and disappear from loops.  It sounds a bit intimidating to be under deadline with all that rewriting to do. And maybe, at some point, it will stress me out too.  But, for the moment, I just want to luxuriate in the feeling of rolling up my sleeves and making the manuscript better with my new partner Rich.

I will, however, suggest that he not send them at 10:30 pm any more.  I can't resist reading the edits and pondering them---all night long.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

My name ETC

When I was born, my parents named me Elizabeth Thomas--Elizabeth after the Queen of England and Thomas from my mother's maiden name.

I was a female child in a southern family and, therefore, had to have a double-name.  Mine ended up being Beth Thomas.  Really.

Anytime I got in trouble?  Beth Thomas!  And when my mother was particularly mad, it slurred together into something resembling BeTHomas.

But something good came out of this rather long and regal name. My initials are  ETC.   I use them everywhere.  Even after I married Mr. Langston, which forever changed my initials to ECL, I still use ETC.

Now you know why I named this blog Author of YA fiction, ETC.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A New Friend

My book editor called me today.  We talked for an hour about revising Whisper Falls.  He has lots of suggestions, most of which I love.  The rest are negotiable.

As my blog title says, I'm calling him a new friend.  Do other authors use the same label?  Do they think of their editors as friends?  Is it purely a business relationship?  Or somewhere in-between?

It may be too early to tell for us.  But I do like his ideas, his enthusiasm, and how much he loves my book.  I suspect we'll make a great team.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Is it official yet?

I'm listed as an author on the publisher's website and on my agent's website.  It feels official now.

The book cover is the next major milestone.  Once we have it, I can plaster it everywhere.  On my website. On my facebook page.  I can make bookmarks and hand them out.

But, for today, it is enough to join the ranks of other authors.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What Takes So Long?

My book will be available in November 2013.  I’ll have to wait seventeen months to see my book in print. Why, exactly, is the release date so far away?

As it turns out, there are a lot of steps to publishing a book.

The first consideration is getting the word out to bookbuyers at retail stores and libraries. Bookbuyers have to know about my book to order it.  They’ll most likely learn about my book at book fairs or through catalogs. If my name were Nora Roberts or John Grisham, I wouldn't have to worry so much about this step. As a new author, I must list Whisper Falls in the wholesale catalogs six or more months before its release date.

The next consideration is the editing process.

My editor and I will iterate through four or five drafts before the book will be the best it can be.  For a debut author, each of those drafts could take four weeks—so, another five months.

Now, we’re up to a year. That means, in theory, my book could be ready next summer.  So why don’t we release it then?

The main reason is that my publisher only releases a few books each month—and they have already filled their quota until next September.  So there is no room for Whisper Falls in the summer release schedule.

We chose to hold my book until a November release for a couple of reasons.  1) Early fall is a hectic time for teens, my target market. I don't want them too distracted to overlook my book. 2) November is a good time to buy Christmas gifts.

Seventeen months still seems far away, but at least there is a rationale for the wait.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Five Easy Pieces

Okay, the title of this posting is a lie.  The first five items on our To-Do List are not easy.

I. Jacket Copy

Jacket copy is that paragraph or two we put on the back cover of the book to pique a potential reader’s interest.  Jacket copy is also called the back blurb.

It’s tricky to write.  We want it to be intriguing enough that the shopper will buy the book.  But we can’t include spoilers or anything that could be potentially misleading. And we have to be careful with the tone of the blurb.  We don’t want a humorous romance to sound gritty or a thriller to come across perky.
Fortunately for me, when my agent was pitching my book to publishers, she wrote something I could convert to a back blurb.  I’ve passed along a revised version of her pitch to my editor. So maybe I did get off easy on this one.

II. Author Photo

My buddy Liza is an excellent photographer.  Five years ago, she took a headshot of me wearing a blue shirt.  It is one of the best Beth photos in existence.  I use it everywhere. On facebook, on my website, on this blog.

But, good as it is, I’m still expected to have a professional shoot.  So I’m in the process of working that out.  In the meantime, Liza’s shot wins.


ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number.  It’s the 10-digit or 13-digit number you usually see on the back cover near the barcode.

I’ll be getting one soon. Yay!  That makes me feel so official.

It is also SpencerHill’s responsibility to acquire the ISBN.  So this is another item that’s easy for me.

IV. Cover Art

Contrary to what the reading public might believe, authors do not control their book covers.  Nope. Nada. Nein.

At best, authors have influence.  Our influence increases with the number of books we've sold.  For a debut author, that number is zero; hence, our influence is zero.

Happily, when my senior editor asked my opinion and shared her vision, we discovered our ideas were compatible. We’ve discussed paintings vs photography, hiring models, images that are full-body vs torsos, and various color schemes.

This is so much fun!  More on the cover art in a later post. 

V. Author Biography

Writing one’s own bio is awful. Pffft.

I want to present facts that readers will care about, only how do I know what those are?  My target readers are teens, but that is hardly a homogeneous market.  And readers who have already passed their 20th birthday will (hopefully) enjoy the book too.  What facts might they care about?

Ultimately, I had to get this done.  So I limited the content to my family, NC, the geek factor, a couple of my cheesy quirks, and the book.

How strange that the item I know the most about was the one that gave me the most trouble.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Here's The Deal...

My amazing literary agent, Kevan Lyon, negotiated the book deal. The details are:

Publishing House: Spencer Hill Press
Acquiring Editor: Kate Kaynak
Book Editor: Rich Storrs
Release Date: November 2013
Book Title: Whisper Falls 1
Pen Name: Elizabeth Langston 2
Royalties: of course
Advance against royalties: Nice deal 3

One of the things I love about joining this publishing house is how author-friendly  and enthusiastic they are.  The contract showed up within a few days (and downloaded quite nicely in the middle of my vacation.)  They responded to my questions promptly and connected me with one of their current authors for a reference.  We've brainstormed the cover art. And my editor expects to send his first revision letter next week.

While I'm waiting for those revisions, I have a business-oriented To-Do List which, clearly, I'm not getting done.4

1 - Yes! I’m keeping my original title.
2 - Yes! I’m keeping my original name.
3 - In publishing lingo, nice deals fall in the range $1,000 - $49,999.

4 - But I'm having so much fun writing this entry.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Call

Authors call it The Call. It’s the phone call (or email or text or …) that lets us know a publisher has made an offer on our debut book. I received mine three weeks ago, accepted it, and then promptly left for a two-week vacation.

Stuff happens in the first few days after The Call. Exciting stuff. Things to luxuriate in after all of the years spent dreaming about this moment.

My stuff had to be put on hold while I luxuriated in the Mediterranean sun (or rain, depending on the day.) Not that I’m complaining or anything.

But the timing means I’m starting the stuff now and trying to wade through it quickly. Thus far, the stuff is totally fun. I want to remember what this is like—and I’m busy enough that I might not. So I’m going to journal about what’s happening in this blog.  Feel free to ask questions about the publishing business or what's going on with Whisper Falls.  Just lurking works too.