You HAVE to Read This One!

I’ll tell you a secret… There is not an author in the world who can make a living selling books. Authors make a living by having other people sell their books. So you need to get into a position where you’re good enough, you know your craft well enough, you tell good enough stories with enough interest in them, that people will not only read it and go, “That’s pretty good, I’ll read another one,” but they grab their friend and go, “Holy crap, you’ve got to read this book. It’s amazing.” That’s what’s going to get you a living as a writer. —Brandon Sanderson, Writing Excuses podcast, S11.E11

This holiday season, I got more than a few text and emails from people asking for book recommendations for various loved ones of all age groups and I was more than happy to oblige. I love gushing about books I loved, love the puzzle of pairing someone with a new story well-fitted to their tastes, love giving books as gifts! A few of my favorites this year that I think everyone should consider sitting down and reading:

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THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS by Anna-Marie McLemore

YA. Contemporary Romeo and Juliet, with mermaid-nomad performers vs. tree-hopping acrobats. Dark family secrets and grudges and magical realism and so many pretty pretty sentences. Read this in one sitting–which never happens–and I cried. And cuddled the book. I might actually reread this one–which also never happens.

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OPEN ROAD SUMMER by Emery Lord

YA. Summer. Taylor-Swift-esque music sensation BFF roadtrip. Swoony.

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CONSTABLE & TOOP by Gareth P. Jones

MG. Ghosts. England. Absolutely charming heroes and villains.

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HOUR OF THE BEES by Lindsay Eager

MG. Summer vacation. Stuck on a desert ranch with her family (including a bratty older sister and a grandpa suffering from dementia she just met). Family folklore. Magical realism at it’s absolute finest. Yes, I cried.

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SIX OF CROWS and CROOKED KINGDOM by Leigh Bardugo

YA. Duology. Fantasy. Magic. A dirty slum of a city. A heist. A crew of thieves and witches and soldiers and tight-rope walkers. Absolutely some of the best writing I’ve ever experienced.

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A GATHERING OF SHADOWS by V.E. Schwab

Adult! Book #2 in an amazing fantasy series. Pirates and London pubs and royal Olympic-like games of magical talents.

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A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE by Brittany Cavallaro

YA. (Charlotte) Holmes, meet (Jamie) Watson. In boarding school. In New England. All the spit and fire and sass you love from Sherlock dialogue.

 

 

 

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Ready, Set, Read! 48 Hour Book Challenge Starting Line

Ever since I read about the 48 Hour Book Challenge last year, when the lovely Annie Cardi participated, I have been eagerly anticipating the return of the annual event so I could finally participate myself. And it’s finally here! This very weekend! Starting this very day!

The idea? Set aside 48 hours dedicated to reading. Within those 48 hours, the goal is to read between 12-48 of them.

Despite having some exciting and time-consuming plans in the next forty-eight hours that require my nose to be very distinctly outside the pages of a book, I still wanted to commit to participating. One, because life has been so busy lately that I’ve been desperately craving a reading binge, and this official event gives me the perfect excuse to burrow with a stack of books I’ve been eyeing for months without any interruptions. Two, because I find that after reading a lot–really providing fuel for my brain–I suddenly feel the urge to write a TON of whatever WIP is on my desk. And who wouldn’t be interested in stimulating an inspired jump start on that current novel-in-progress?

I’ll admit that I’ve been so nerdy about this challenge, that I’ve actually surprised myself (have I surprised any of you? No, probably not). I’ve been planning it for a few weeks now, in a giddy, obsessed, can’t stop talking about it to everyone sort of way, the way I can only remember replicating when I was planning my sweet sixteen birthday party way back when (it was a tea party on the last day of summer, with antique tea cups I picked up at flea markets, and it was awesome).

Ultimately, I decided upon a theme for my reading material: Under-reviewed books. These are books that have less than 2,000 reviews (sometimes much much less) on Goodreads as of this post and could use a little extra love, attention, and buzz, which I’m only too happy to provide! I decided on this for a couple of reasons:

1. I never write book reviews on the blog, and writing a short review of each book I read is a requirement of the challenge. I don’t write reviews as a general rule mostly because I personally don’t like writing them (though I love reading other people’s! Keep those reviews coming, folks!) So if I was going to make an exception to the rule and post reviews, I really wanted to make them special, important, and valuable book reviews, to both readers and authors alike. In my opinion, we don’t need to publicize yet another general review of The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, at this point. At least, you don’t need mine for any particular reason.

2. I mentioned to my boyfriend a few weeks ago that there are so many books in the world and so little time, that I’ve recently installed a policy where I almost strictly read books that were personally (and highly) recommended to me by a friend who I trust with taste similar to my own or books that have been read by thousands of other readers, resulting in an extremely high rating on Goodreads. His response? “That’s kind of sad. Don’t you want to be a person who discovers amazing books nobody else has heard of yet?” I was instantly struck with such a deep sense of shame because YES I DO! I WANT to read AMAZING books whether other people have heard of them or not! Discovering a book and then recommending it to everyone I can think of is part of the great fun of reading; at least, it used to be for me. What happened to the good old days when I would pursue the library shelves for hours and pick out about ten random book that tickled my fancy, read them all, and then repeat the process two weeks later? Now, I go to the library with an edited list of titles decided upon way in advance and I don’t even glance at other lonely and chock-full-of-potential books on the shelf. This is wrong, and I want to change that.

One additional rule I set for myself for this challenge:

To be included in my list of options, I had to already own the book or, for a limited exception, a way of acquiring it for free. This is mostly because I spend too much money on books as it is and I don’t need to buy more. Especially because I currently have about one hundred books piled about my condo that I have not read yet and want to. This seemed like as good a point as any to start chipping through the pile, instead of adding to it. The only exception I made was for the audiobook–long car rides cannot be wasted on a weekend as important as this were every minute is critical potential reading time!–that I’m borrowing from my local library.

I know my list is improbably long and it would be physically impossible to read all of these books even if I didn’t sleep or shower for 48 hours, but I thought it was good to bring all of these books to the top of my to-read pile, to give them a little attention, and to give myself a wide selection to choose from each time  I finish a book, depending upon my mood. If you’re interested in what I curated for myself, I made a mini list on Goodreads called 48-hours Too Few Reviews.

If you’re interested in joining, there’s still time! Go join!

And on that note, I’m going to get busy reading…right now!

Keeping a Writing Schedule

Over the summer I blogged about making a writing schedule and designed one in Excel that set aside 14 hours a week for writing. At the time, a lot of you wrote in the comments section that this was an impressive, amazing, unbelievable goal, but I didn’t heed your warnings. I kept looking at the Excel sheet and thinking, but it fits. I have four hours of free time every day after work. If I just cut out TV time and doing the dishes a few times a week…

In reality, it ended up being an ideal writing schedule, not a practical one. I dreamed of regularly waking up at 6:00 am to write for an hour or two (yeah right), didn’t take into account all the hours of research I still needed to do for my Byberry book, which cut into fiction writing time, and I didn’t allow room or flexibility for anything to go wrong (for example, I wanted to  write on my lunch break every day, but a lot of lunch breaks I ended up needing to call repair men, schedule doctors appointments, etc.). I’m not saying writing 14 hours a week is impossible (though it definitely was for me at the time last year), but the schedule didn’t fit into my real life schedule, so it didn’t work for me.

To create a more practical and realistic–but still challenging–writing schedule, I decided to do some research on myself and my habits, so I could create a more catered-to-me plan. The reason I was really inspired to do this was that 2013 Business Plan I mentioned before. The first week of January, I set end-week word goals for myself, but I’ve been consistently behind schedule. I wasn’t really expecting too much of myself, I thought–just 5,000 words a week–but still I wasn’t meeting that quota. And it was so frustrating, because I wanted to finish my WIP so I could rewrite the first draft and actually have a finished manuscript I could be proud of. One that I could share with my critique partners and get that pins and needles feeling you get when someone is reading your book and you need them to finish and then fangirl with you over it. I’m dying to stop thinking of myself as a writer in theory and actually be a writer in practice.

To do this, I started keeping track of when I was naturally putting my butt in the chair, for how many hours, and how many words were produced in each session. From this, I was hoping to develop a routine.

So that’s what I’ve done for the past three months.

Week 1 (January 14-January 20):

Total Writing Time: 2.5 hours

Total Weeks Word Count: 2,550

Week 2 (January 21-January 27, aka the week of archive research for Byberry):

Total Hours Spent Writing: 0

Total Week’s Word Count: 0

Week 3 (January 28-February 3):

Total Writing Time: 3 hours

Total Week’s Word Count: 3,352

Week 4 (February 4-February 10):

Total Writing Time: 3.5 hours

Total Week’s Word Count: 7,851

Week 5 (February 11-February 17, aka the week of the Death Cold):

Total Writing Time: 0

Total Week’s Word Count: 0

Week 6 (February 18-February 24):

Total Writing Time: 0.5 hours

Total Week’s Word Count: 1,071

Week 7 (February 25-March 3):

Total Writing Time: 2 hours

Total Week’s Word Count: 4,000

Week 8 (March 4-March 10):

Total Writing Time: 3.5 hours

Total Week’s Word Count: 4,389

Week 9 (March 11-March 17):

Total Writing Time: 3 hours

Total Week’s Word Count: 4,237

Week 10 (March 18-present):

Total Writing Time: 4 hours

Total Week’s Word Count: 6,413

TOTAL WRITING TIME (3 Months): 22 hours

TOTAL WORD COUNT (3 Months): 33,863

I was averaging about three hours of writing time a week, with about four thousand words a week. Not a stellar writing schedule, but it was consistent enough that the WIP was steadily growing, little by little. (For the revision process, which is more about time than word count, I’d like to boost it to a regular 5-6 hours of writing a week. We’ll see how that goes.)

I found that just keeping myself accountable, by writing down how much time I was actually dedicating to writing, and how many words I was producing, it helped me stay on track. It kept me from wandering off for a week or two at a time, distracted by other activities.

I’m happy to announce that as of midnight last night, I have a 54,000 word complete manuscript! All total, it probably took about four and a half months to write. It’s YA, post-apocalyptic, set in an abandoned hospital, and plague-ridden. It’s a mess of a first draft and needs a lot of work. But it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It has characters that are really taking form and who I like. I’m so excited about it! It’s taking all my willpower not to tear into a revision right now, but I’m going to let it sit and simmer for exactly two weeks, so I can get some distance before rereading it and evaluating all its shortcomings.

Until that time, I can just admire how pretty and shiny and hefty the manuscript is on my hard drive. :]