October 31, 2009

Write a Novel in a Month? Sure. Why Not?

I am hereby announcing my intention to complete a novel in a month. Just me and a couple hundred thousand other people at National Novel Writing Month.

Here are the rules:

1. I can't start writing until November 1st and must stop by midnight November 30th.
2. A novel, for their purposes, consists of 175 pages.

That means about 6 pages a day, but I know I'll have a couple days when I can't write -- like my nephew's bar mitzvah mid-month -- so I'm going to aim for at least 7 pages a day.

I'm going to blog about the experience every day. Why? Because the fear of public humiliation is a great motivator.

Please drop in daily to check on my progress, cheer me on or make fun of me, if it's warranted.

And if you're feeling brave and have always wanted to write a novel -- JOIN ME!

Can't wait to begin the writing adventure tomorrow, but for now . . . I'm grabbing a bucket of lollipops and heading outside to enjoy a spooky night filled with trick-or-treaters.

Happy Halloween!!!

October 26, 2009

What Makes a Book a Best-Seller?

While a big promotion budget helps, it does NOT guarantee a best-seller.

Creating a compelling character who faces obstacles and grows as a result is essential, but doesn't mean you'll rise to the top. Excellent books sink without a trace all the time.

Working your tush off by speaking at schools, conferences, book festivals, etc. will mean more books sold, but probably won't be enough to rocket you to best-seller status.

So, what's a writer to do?

Write the best damn book you can. That means digging deep, facing emotional truths, paying attention to structure, revising till it hurts and then revising some more. Do all those things and more. If you do all those things, you may be fortunate enough to have your book published. If so, celebrate. You've come a long way, baby. Then? Let it go.

That's right. It's not up to you anymore. Sure, you'd better be out there promoting and letting people know your book exists. Write articles. Get on the blog-o-sphere. Do interviews.

But the ultimate success of your book is in your reader's hands now.

What makes a best-seller? This: The moment your reader puts your book down, s/he is compelled to tell someone else to pick it up. When this happens, your book will gain traction organically. And if it happens often enough, you may just find yourself sitting pretty on a best-seller list.

Which books have you read that you felt compelled to share?

Here are three children's books and three adult books that compelled me to tell someone else to pick them up the moment I put them down . . .

Children's Books:

1) A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
2) Rules by Cynthia Lord
3) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Adult Books:

1) Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
2) The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan
3) The Help by Katheryn Stockett

I found out about these books through reviews in magazines, on blogs, with a YouTube video sent by a friend via e-mail, on the shelf of a favorite indie bookstore, via an article written for Writer's Digest Magazine. I felt compelled to pass these books on because I was riveted by the stories, utterly emotionally involved. I laughed or cried or shook my head in wonder and wanted to share those feelings with friends.

What are your top three books? What drew you to them in the first place? And why were you compelled to pass them on?

New Title and Book Cover Revealed . . .

How many authors have both a singing hamster and a photo of a toilet on their book's cover?* Even J.K. Rowling doesn't have that claim to fame.

I was delighted when my editor sent my new book's cover design.

Here it is: (The photo of the toilet is on an inside flap, but trust me, it's there).

Recently, my editor told me the powers that be wanted a shorter title for the book. We ended up with HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL.

That change, of course, required a new cover. Here it is:

Which cover/title do you prefer?

* No hamsters were harmed in the making of either cover. (No toilet seats, apparently, were harmed either.)

October 23, 2009

Fun on a Friday

Does this thing come with a user's manual?

Have a fun, fabulous weekend,

October 21, 2009

Do You Know Leo?

My neighbor did something yesterday that reminded me of Leo Buscaglia.

Leo Buscaglia was a warm, wonderful man who spoke passionately about living well and loving one another. After watching him on PBS, I felt inspired to live my best life.

Here's one of Leo's videos about love:

Leo once told a story about how some of his college-aged students came over to his home for a meeting, and while they were admiring the beautiful fall leaves in his yard, a blustery neighbor marched over and said, "Leo, this is unsightly. You'd better get rid of all these leaves. Rake 'em and bag 'em like the rest of us."

Leo didn't rake 'em nor did he bag 'em. He and his students carried them all into his living room and dropped them. There, among the colorful, crunchy leaves, they continued their meeting.

That's how Leo lived. That's how I want to live.

Last night, my neighbor, Pam, knocked on my door. She handed me something wrapped in paper towels. "Leaves," she said, smiling. "And a couple acorns from our trip to New Jersey."

Autumn leaves! Pam knew how much I missed the lovely leaves of autumn, so she brought the leaves to me.

What else could I do with them? I spread them on the living room carpet.

Thank you, Pam. Thank you, Leo.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” -- Leo Buscaglia

October 16, 2009

How to Write a Novel

Want to write a novel?
Hmm. Me, too.
It's got to be easy, right? Just string a few thousand words together and . . . ta dah . . . you become the next J. K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer or Stephen King.
Small problem: They have to be the right few thousand words in the right order.
Hmm. I think we need some help.
Let's turn to prolific writing guru Meg Cabot.
She's got this awesome video to tell YOU how to write a novel.
Stephenie Meyer, look out!

October 9, 2009

12 3/4 Ways to Have a Successful Author Visit and Book Signing

Step 1: Work with a talented, dedicated media specialist like Lisa Petroccia, for example, who may or may not be mentioned in my next novel. :)

Step 2: Show up at the school's cafetorium and discover someone's forgotten lunch on the stage, along with a table displaying your books and a lovely purple orchid.

Step 3: Talk to 400 6th graders about the embarrassing things you did when you were their age. Throw in a story or two about how you sold your book. (Be sure to include all the hard parts like the, er, 9,756,832 rejections you've received.)

Step 4: Read the part of your book that includes Arnold Schwarzenegger. If your book doesn't include parts with the California governor, why not? Stop reading because the bell rings. Leave all the kids wondering what happens next so they HAVE to buy your book.

Step 5: Show up at Barnes & Noble approximately on time. Sit at a table piled high with your books. Direct people to the bathroom when they ask.

Step 7: Act a little bit like an idiot when your son's kindergarten teacher shows up.

Step 8: And when one of your besties comes to support you.

Step 9: And your husband . . . because he has to, plus he's really nice and likes hanging out in bookstores.

Step 10: Sign books for approximately 5,293,285 girls and one boy. The girls will want you to sign their books with a purple pen, if you have one. Have one. Sign the boy's book with black ink. Trust me on this.

Step 11: Have a great time talking with the kids and their parents, especially the parents who happen to be high school reading teachers or come from Philadelphia, like you. "Go, Eagles!"

Step 12: While chatting with the children, remember why you love doing this so much.

Step 12 3/4: When the books are gone, go home.

October 4, 2009

Check Out the Sunday L.A. Times

I didn't realize how excited I would be to see my story in the Los Angeles Times newspaper this morning. But I was!
You can read my short story here.
Big thanks to my editor, Jennifer James, for the great lay-out and nice bio.
Hugs to my friend, Marjorie Flathers, who told me about the opportunity when we met at the 2005 SCBWI conference in L.A. Marjorie has sold oodles of stories to the Times.
And I love Patricia Cantor's illustration.
If you're a writer and would like to try your hand at a story for the L.A. Times, here's the info:


Main Stories

One 600-700-word story

Submission via e-mail is preferred
Payment is $250 per story, if and when it is published

The target audience for these stories is six-years to nine-years old. We are primarily interested in fiction, but if you submit an interesting nonfiction story with at least three references to each fact, we will take a look at it.

In order to get an idea of what kind of stories we like we advise you to study the Kids’ Reading Room page. It appears in the Sunday comics part I.

If you are out-of-state you can access the stories online at www.latimes.com/kids

Please send submissions to: jennifer.james@latimes.com

Best of luck!