I LOVE WELCOMING SPECIAL AUTHOR GUESTS TO MY BLOG!
It's true. And even more so when I've known the author for a while. I first read some of today's special guest's work a couple of years ago and can still remember clearly the smooth tones of her gorgeous voice.
So, please welcome author Sarah Floyd, whose debut MG BUTTERFLY GIRL is out on March 26, with some wise words for new authors and a little insight into her journey to publication.
Tell us when you decided to take your writing more seriously and pursue publication. Was there a day or a moment when you felt ready to follow the dream?
My dream of writing children’s books started in childhood. If you had asked eight-year-old me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my response would have been “a children’s book author!” But, an adult I trusted convinced me that an English degree was impractical, so I landed in Communication Studies instead, and took a job in professional sales after graduating from college. My dream of becoming an author moved into the background.
Fast forward to married life: For the first ten years of our marriage, I worked as a corporate relocation specialist for a large real estate company, but after our son was born, my love for children's books rekindled. Days spent sharing wonderful picture books with him, volunteering at his preschool, and even helping my husband in his home office (which I still do) brought me deep satisfaction. But with our son moving up to kindergarten, the time for me to return to my former career was approaching, and even though it was an enjoyable occupation when I did it, something in me had shifted—I wanted to do something else with my life, I just couldn’t figure out what “something else” was!
I began thinking deeply about life purpose, legacy, and work that would bring me joy, which led me back to the idea of becoming a writer—but I had no idea how to get started. The only writers I had read about were either bestselling, breakout talents who had catapulted overnight to fame and fortune, or they had spent many years in graduate school to earn degrees that proved their qualifications. Then, one day while walking home after tutoring a group of struggling readers in my son’s kindergarten class, I prayed for guidance on what to do with the rest of my life. I loved being a volunteer reading coach at my son’s school, so maybe I should go back to my corporate job and continue tutoring on the side? Or I could go to grad school and become a Reading Specialist? Or maybe get my MFA and become a professional writer? In that quiet moment of soul searching, a line for a picture book sprang to mind. Within a few minutes the entire plot revealed itself, and I literally ran home to write it. That was my moment of “awakening.” After that I was hooked on writing children’s books and never questioned if I was on the right path. I’m grateful that my husband’s job puts food on the table and keeps a roof over our heads—writing hasn’t replaced my former income, but it brings me the joy I was missing, and I have no regrets.
How long was your querying experience before you landed your agent? Can you tell us a little about the journey from sending out your first query to receiving the first offer?
I started writing in 2008, but didn’t begin querying in earnest until 2011. I was enthusiastic, but my queries back then were pretty terrible. Query “rules” seemed too limiting—I thought it would be best to stand out from the crowd by changing things up to include philosophical thoughts about why the submitted work was important, what writing meant to me, etc., etc. My queries tended to run rather long . . . (it’s hard not to cringe just thinking about it!)
In 2011 I joined the SCBWI Blueboard and started posting my work for critique. That’s when I got some much needed tough-love on how to write a query letter! I also began swapping manuscripts with other writers there, and over time some of those writers became my friends and ongoing critique partners—we grew together as we shared information and critiqued each other’s work.
After a few years of writing and querying picture books, form rejections began turning into an occasional personal response. One of them was from an agent who suggested I might have an interesting voice for MG . . . but I was committed to the picture books I had written and didn’t want to hear that! Writing a novel seemed completely out of reach, but I couldn’t quite dismiss the thought either—and on a whim I picked up a few books at the library about novel structure and craft. A few months later, the first draft of Butterfly Girl was born.
My confidence grew, and I began entering online contests, where I occasionally won a critique from an agent or a published author. I also signed up for WriteOnCon—that’s where I met my first agent, Danielle Smith, in 2014. I was elated when Danielle requested the full manuscript, along with three of my picture books . . . and a few weeks later she requested “a chat.” Finally, an agent wanted to discuss representation! The call went well, I signed with her—hooray! A book deal was right around the corner, or so I thought . . .
Danielle seemed capable and kind, but we couldn’t seem to get things going—no submission list, no revision notes, nothing. This was a few years before she abruptly closed her agency, so no one was talking openly about the problems there, but the uncertainty and disjointed communication kept me on edge and unable to relax enough to be creative, and after six months I knew it was best to part ways. Thankfully, in late 2015 I signed with Essie White of Storm Literary—my experience with her has been nothing but positive. She is a phenomenal agent!
Did you ask and receive any help to polish your manuscript/s before querying? If so, who from and how much?
I received feedback from my CPs, especially on the first three chapters, and occasionally reached out to freelance editors for guidance too. And while between agents, I hired freelance editor Mary Kole, a former agent, for a phone brainstorming session to talk through the plot of my newest novel. Her advice and encouragement allowed me to move forward quickly, and with confidence. More recently, Kate Foster beta-read that same novel, which will be going on submission soon. (Thank you, Kate! Your feedback was SO helpful!)
Giving feedback to other writers has also helped me tremendously—it has taught me to spot flaws in my own writing technique. I have never read my own or anyone else’s self-edited draft and said, “Ta-Da! Done! Ready to submit!” Anyone who believes that is very likely setting themselves up for disappointment. It really does take a village!
How long did it take before an editor fell in love and offered you a publishing contract? How was the experience?
Essie submitted Butterfly Girl to Callie Metler-Smith of Clear Fork Publishing in 2016, with a plan to publish it the following year. Working with Callie and her team has been a wonderful experience! After writing a second stand-alone novel (the one that is going on submission soon), I asked Callie if I could re-read Butterfly Girl before publication to see if anything I had learned might apply. Re-reading ended with me sending her some “Before and After” excerpts to show how I would like to revise various scenes to elevate the writing while keeping the content intact. She agreed with my plan, and we pushed back the release date to give me the time I needed. I’m grateful to have landed with such a collaborative and supportive publisher!
What advice would you give new and upcoming writers, those in the querying and submission trenches?
Read widely in your genre, study craft books, and join a writing community like SCBWI where you can receive support and information, as well as connect with other writers. Also, if you love your book’s concept but it’s not clicking with agents, it might be the writing itself, not the concept—I notice that when rejections roll in, many writers abandon worthwhile (but not quite ready) projects to start something new, instead of digging deeper to fix whatever isn’t working. Butterfly Girl took many years to develop to a publishable level. That timeline has been much shorter for my soon-to-be-submitted second novel, but first I needed to learn how to write for publication, which is a layer upon layer process of drafting, revising, swapping critiques, studying, querying, rinse and repeat—which grows both the work and the writer in the process. Of course we need to be willing to move on if the concept is flat, but if not, keep going! I’m convinced by my own experience that perseverance is the secret ingredient that turns writers into authors.
About the book:
In the summer before seventh grade, Meghan McCoy-Lee discovers there’s magic in the sap of her family tree. She follows instructions in her great-grandmother’s journal . . . and grows leathery wings! Meghan’s story goes viral and her mother, who abandoned Meghan at Grandpa’s Oregon farm six years earlier, swoops back into town with superstar plans for her Winged Wonder Girl. Grandpa says stay on the farm and ignore the paparazzi, but her charismatic mom wants her to leave for Hollywood and start a new life together. The popular girls at school want Meghan gone, like yesterday—she’s getting way more attention than they are.
One thing is certain: Meghan’s going to make up her own mind, and the designer divas aren’t part of the equation. With the help of her brainy best friends, there may be a way to make the queen of the mean girls stumble and fall off her throne. Now Meghan must decide if a glamorous life with the mother she dreamed of is worth moving away from the friends who stood by her—and from Grandpa, who loved her before the whole world knew her name.
Pre-order your copy by clicking here!
Add to Goodreads by clicking here!
Sarah Floyd was born in Carmel Highlands, California, where she and her friends explored, built forts, and acted out magical adventure stories in the woods that surrounded their homes. When she was in first grade her family moved to San Francisco, and then to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She always brought her favorite books, wherever she moved, and she always found new friends who loved to read. Now she writes books for children and teens—for her, it’s the best job in the world.
Sarah is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and lives in Florida with her husband and teenage son. To learn more, please visit sarahfloydbooks.com and follow her on Twitter @kidlitSarah.
I did. I couldn't resist the pull.
...I am pleased to say I will be a 2019 WRITE MENTOR mentor!
Because I love being involved in these opportunities for brilliant, talented upcoming authors; I love the buzz that goes with it; and I love befriending so many fantastic writers.
See? I couldn't really say no to Stuart, could I?!
This is where you'll find my wishlist, but first, GO HERE to learn a little more about this opportunity, if you're eligible to enter, what's involved, and, of course, the all important contest schedule.
I'm getting straight down to business, no GIFs, no fancy nonsense, because I know you'll want to hop around to the other mentor's wishlists and find your perfect fit.
…MIDDLE GRADE which covers books for the 8-12 year old.
I LOVE LOVE LOVE this age group because innocence and hope reign supreme. Books can still cover anything and everything including (and more importantly than ever) difficult topics, but you can have so much fun with whatever content you choose. Immaturity is definitely still allowed so you as the writer get to revisit those silly days where you can get away with things maybe you can't so much now. By this I mean, farts and bums, because they rarely fail to raise a smile, and tears and tantrums, which still feature regularly!
But, these kids deserve respect because they're often much more tuned in and smarter than we realise. Never scrimp on challenging vocabulary, never talk down or patronise, never be afraid to cover darker content though be careful of the details included, and show these kids that whatever they're feeling, it's okay, it's normal. and there is always light and hope somewhere.
I'M NOT RIGHT FOR YOU IF...
…you write historical, verse, or graphic novels. Not that I don't love these, but simply because I'm not the right mentor for you.
That's it. Short and sweet, no frills, no faffing.
Now's the time to get polishing those manuscripts because this is a great opportunity you don't want to miss. The calibre of mentors is extraordinary and I wish I could enter the contest, to be honest.
Looking forward to your lovely MG words!
OMG. I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of this cover reveal for the fabulous and frighteningly talented author/illustrator Cat Scully! And this cover. You need to know more about this beauty before I show you because this is no ordinary cover, and this is no ordinary book! So...first, I asked Cat a few questions and you have to read these answers to understand the level of awesome you're dealing with here!
I would love to know how it all happened! Did you ask your publisher if you could do the illustrations? Did you show them your work and they loved it and said yes, illustrate your cover now!!!?
So, my first cover was a sketch that I sent to our cover designer to express what I wanted the cover to be. It was of two hands coming down around the title out of the darkness. I wanted it to represent the forces pursuing Jennifer, and her name absolutely had to be in gold. Without going into detail, let’s just say there’s a cost to her power. The cover designer at my publishing house, Dyer Wilk, saw it and went... No, you're good. You got this. I was like NO I DON'T. I DON'T GOT IT. I get very nervous about doing covers. There's so much pressure to get it right. He helped me through the process though, making me laugh along the way, and that really helped. The story doesn't stop there though. My agent saw that cover and went “It’s YA. Where is the girl?” Of course she was right. She’s very wise. I immediately came up with four or five alternate designs but none of them felt right. It wasn’t until my friend Todd Keisling, who is a cover designer and writer, suggested I take what I already did and put Jennifer in the middle. It was a stroke of genius! Everything clicked! I was nervous though. I am very self-conscious of my people designs, even though I’m doing part of it comic. A cover sells the book. I wanted to get it right. I made a kind of lineless version of Jennifer, which my friend Chris Golden pointed out to me looked actually more anime than lineless. So it was back to the drawing board again. I redid her face to reflect my character cards and BAM. That was it! That was the cover!
And what other art exactly have you done for the book?
It's part comic, part illustrated journal, part book. What’s going to be the most interesting thing to me will be seeing readers react to how many different styles of art are within Jennifer Strange. There’s a style I used, that’s all pencil with very light Photoshop additions, that was for the journal portions. I wanted Jennifer and Liz’s mother Emily to have her own way of drawing, being that her job is illustration and she’s using her art to warn her daughters about the ghosts and demons that hunt them. This style is entirely different to the comic portions, which feature Jennifer and Liz. I did all of these in Procreate, a digital iPad app, that created a more comic book style. I wanted that to feel very YA, as Jennifer and Liz are both teens and their world would absolutely be different than their mother’s interpretation of the monsters. It will be fun to show readers or even fans of my maps just how many styles as an artist I can hop between that look vastly different but it’s still all me. I’ve never seen this kind of thing done in YA before. It’s definitely going to break the mold in a very visual way.
Do you have to check in with your publisher with sketches or are you free to create?
I was totally free to create! Which I did not expect. I was totally blown away by the freedom. It's easy to get intimated by the blank page. I just started drawing and let it come to me. It took maybe eight drawings, but I got there!
Will you do my artwork for all my horrors!!!!?
HA HA Sure! I'd love to do more illustrated horror! Or any illustrated books for that matter! I love collaborating! I'm such an extrovert.
See, told you! Anyway, no more dallying. BEHOLD THIS GORGEOUS COVER!
And, if you head over to YA Books Central, there's a very special giveaway happening right now. Just click here!
Cat is a writer, designer, and illustrator. When she's not writing and illustrating books of her own, she works in publishing as a freelance designer and illustrator, best known for her world maps in LABYRINTH LOST and WINTERSPELL. Her first book, Jennifer Strange, is out on July 23, 2019. She lives outside Boston with her husband and children and very fluffy cat.You can follow Cat on Twitter or Instagram at @CatMScully or visit her website at www.catherinescully.com
FOLLOW CAT HERE:
Yesterday, I had a bad day. Well morning, really. It did get better as the hours passed. Because, after I'd mopped up my tears and swept away my frustrations, I climbed out from under my duvet, made a cuppa, and grabbed a bar of chocolate, and then I decided to do something brave. I thought I might as well. Why not, right? Fight back, take charge, live a little.
Dramatic, for sure, but my brave act led to me hovering in the middle of a dilemma I know a lot of writers experience.
I've been writing a middle grade uplit contemporary that's a pretty personal story and, other than a couple of CPs reading it, I've kept it pretty much hidden, private, surrounded by a protective shield because oh my heart might break if people don't get it... The whole process has been lengthy and taken me right out of my comfort zone, forcing me to ask a lot of questions. But all for good reasons.
Anyway, I'm not here to talk about me; I want to talk about the feedback I received on the first 1000 words I sent out to a variety of readers yesterday.
Each reader is a writer of MG at varying stages of their careers, and all the feedback offered to me was kind, thoughtful, and helpful. I specifically asked for immediate feelings and thoughts as opposed to in-depth critique because I wanted to gauge reader immersion, voice, pacing, and connection. I am EXTREMELY GRATEFUL to each of these wonderful people for taking the time out of their day for me. You guys rock! :)
But, what I soon realised as the feedback hit my inbox was, EVERYONE HAD SOMETHING DIFFERENT TO SAY!
And I'm not even exaggerating a tiny bit. I received no two pieces of feedback the same.
A few examples:
One reader said they wanted something bigger and more challenging to happen.
One reader said they thought there was way too much happening.
One reader suggested removing a medical term.
One reader thought the use of the medical term was clever.
One reader wanted to get inside the MC's head more.
One reader said the balance of internal and external was spot on.
You get the picture!
So, as I sat pondering each nugget of golden advice, I came upon two solid pieces of my own:
1. It's good, but something isn't quite right about these opening pages.
2. My only option is to choose what feels right for me and my story.
Yep. The one thing that would have made my life much easier in this situation would have been consistency; at least two or three readers saying "Yeah, this didn't work for me" or "I couldn't connect with your MC" or "I got confused here" and so on. Which means the only way to move forward is to trust myself and stay true to the vision and voice of my work.
Obviously I can't run with every piece of feedback -- bummer. So, my plan of attack now is to copy every piece of advice and then to consider each carefully -- deciding how major the comment is, and maybe even incorporating it in a trial page to see if 1. it works with my and my MC's voice, and 2. what the knock-on effects might be -- and finally to decide if it works for what I want from these opening pages.
I know, and every writer needs to remember, that NO READER IS THE SAME. And this is a blessing. It means from all the feedback we receive -- and I suggest getting as much as you can from a range of different people -- we, the writer, get to listen to different viewpoints we might never have considered and understand what is or isn't coming across in the words we've chosen. And then WE GET TO FIX IT AND MAKE IT SHINIER!
And that's where I am today. I can't wait to get cracking on revisions. :)
So thrilled to be a part of my lovely friend's cover reveal. Yes, I'm a bit (fashionably) late but that's so not important when the cover and book is THIS GOOD.
Just pre-order this book, okay. Nuff said.
Welcome to the Cover Reveal for
Within and Without by Deborah Maroulis!
Be on the lookout for this new title from Lakewater Press.
What do you think of the cover?
Within and Without by Deborah Maroulis
Available for pre-order:
“Unflinching, authentic, and the perfect mixture of bold and sweet, WITHIN AND WITHOUT is a story readers will lose themselves in more than once. A debut both heartwarming and heartbreaking from an exciting new voice in YA literature.”
—Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, author of Firsts and Last Girl Lied To
“A moving portrait of first love, friendship, and the pressures we put upon ourselves daily.
Maroulis tackles the delicate subject of eating disorders with a realistic pen, all while maintaining a humorous and hopeful tone. WITHIN AND WITHOUT will stay with you long after you turn the last page.”
—Samantha Joyce, author of Flirting with Fame
“A heartfelt and moving story of friendship, first love, and finding yourself. Maroulis isn’t afraid to tackle tough topics to show that finding love requires learning to love yourself.”
—Kelly deVos, author of Fat Girl on a Plane
The boy I’ve secretly loved for the last three years is parking in Granny’s driveway. The tires of his blue 4x4 roll to a stop, and warbled song lyrics promising a good time boom over the vineyards.
Dear fashion gods, now would be the perfect time to send me something flowy and flattering.
I sink into the porch swing as my heart matches the thump of the beat echoing against the wrap-around porch. I suck in my gut and lift my heels so my legs won’t smoosh against the bench—a trick I learned to instantly look a size smaller. My hands smooth over my jeans in the hopes the fashion gods might reconsider.
Again, no such luck.
The driver’s door swings open, and Jay leaps to the ground, sauntering up the graveled driveway to the porch. To me. Now all that’s separating us is a white picket fence and sixteen years of my inability to be normal in a social setting.
I’ll take Dying Alone for $200, Alex.
He’s abandoned his usual work boots and flannel for a tank top and canvas slip-ons. He’s obviously not supposed to be working—so what’s he here for? Probably been in town with his friends doing friend-ish things. As he works the gate latch, the muscles under his fair skin flex, sending the hundred-degree temperature up another ten. He’s easily the most attractive being on the planet I wish I had the nerve to talk to. I did try once. But we don’t discuss The Dark Days.
You can request Within and Without by Deborah Maroulis for review on NetGalley HERE!
You can also sign up to take part in the blog tour in May 2019 HERE!
Want to guest blog or be interviewed? Got a cover reveal or book coming out?
Get in touch today!