So You Want To Write YA Contemporary?

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It’s been a while since I’ve updated the So You Want To Write series, and apparently I never wrote about writing a YA Contemporary, so! Here we go.

What is it?

YA Contemporary novels are what is often described as “Realistic Fiction.” Except for young adults—that is, teens. These feature a world, that for all intents and purposes, is our own and usually takes place in the present, but occasionally jumps back a decade or two (but not much more than that.) There is often (but not always) some kind of romantic subplot, and sometimes (though again, not always) they are what are known as “issue books.”

The main tenant, however, is teenagers dealing with something in our world.

Pros/Cons of Writing YA Contemporary:


  • Popular at the moment. After the explosion known as The Fault in Our Stars, YA Contemporary got a hugenormous boost, which has not only lead to a boost of new YA Contemporary novels, but also of many more YA Contemporary movie deals, which personally I think is pretty darn awesome. So right now, YA Contemporary novels are selling really well, which is fabulous, but also has a down side which I’ll get to below. 

  • Very good for diving into difficult topics. If you’re a contemporary-minded writer who’d really like to dive into a difficult topic that feels important to you, YA Contemporary is a great place to do it. Not only are those kinds of books actually selling rather well, but it also allows you to create books that could be cathartic for teens who have experienced whatever you’re writing about, or a great point of discussion for those ready to learn more. 

  • Will probably never go completely out of style. While I do think the genre is on the verge of slowing down a bit (more on that below), I kind of tend to think that books about life and reality will never completely go away. This is an opinion, of course, and I could be totally wrong, but contemporary novels have been around forever and I don’t think they’re going anywhere. 

  • Opportunity to explore teen life as it actually is today. Teen lives are rich and interesting and wonderful and painful and everything in between. And if exploring that in our world is your bread and butter, this is the genre for you.


  • Popular at the moment. Right, so, downside of writing in a genre that is currently popular is chances are very likely you’ve already missed the wave. It also means there are still a lot of people trying to sell their YA Contemporaries in a very crowded market, but…I mean, the rest of YA is equally crowded. So. 

Recommended Reading:

I’ll keep saying this forever and ever: you must read the genre you write in. It is vital—vital—to understand what else is being published, what’s selling well, what’s not, what’s been done, what works, what doesn’t. And the only way you learn this is by reading what’s being published now.

Note: I’ve either read, want to read, or have heard amazing things about the books listed below.

Helpful Links:

Do you enjoy reading or writing YA Contemporary? Share your experience!

Twitter-sized bites:

Thinking about writing YA Contemporary? Writer @Ava_Jae shares some tips, recommendations and more. (Click to tweet)

Do you write YA Contemporary novels? Share your experience at @Ava_Jae’s So You Want to Write series. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #14

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It’s nearly September and despite my extra long summer, I’m still not emotionally ready to go back to school. But! End of the month means it’s time for the next fixing the first page critique, so yay! 

As per usual, I'll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I'll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (I'm just one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Let’s go! 

Title: SWIM

Genre/Category: YA Contemporary

First 250:

"I learned how to swim before I learned how to walk. 
That’s what they do, when you’re born a couple of blocks from the beach. They teach you young. 
And I swear I still remember it. 
My father’s hands, big and warm on my sides, suddenly gone. 
That moment of freefall, of panic—I can’t do this­— 
And then— 
Legs kicking, arms flailing, but swimming, really swimming on my own. The tang of the sea on my tongue. Emerging gasping, coughing, into sea spray and sunlight. Grinning so big I thought I’d never stop. 
The joy of it all. 
I dream about it, sometimes. I smile in my sleep. 
And then I remember. 
Remember why I don’t swim anymore. 
I stop smiling. 
I wake up.

Chapter One

The spring of my senior year in high school, my mother brought a kitchen knife into the bathtub with her. 
She didn’t cut deep enough, not nearly, they said. But she’d been drinking, and she lost enough blood to pass out. Her head slipped under the water, and if her neighbor hadn’t found her, she would have drowned. 
I wasn’t with her. No one was. My parents divorced when I was in the seventh grade, and I moved away with my dad. 
We sat in the hospital waiting room, my dad and I, not speaking. 
The doctor suggested that after she was released from the psychiatric ward, it might be a good idea for someone to live with her for a little while."

Okay! So, very first thought: we don't need the prologue. I'm guessing it's there to try to be a little foreboding with the protagonist (who...reads as a girl to me? But it's not specified) remembering why they don't swim anymore. But honestly, I don't feel like we're getting information that's vital to know on page one—I'm assuming the swim thing is going to come up again, considering the title, and I think the same information could probably be conveyed later on throughout the prose. On a smaller note, there are also way too many single-sentence paragraphs in the prologue bit—remember, the more you use a stylistic writing effect (like a single sentence/word paragraph), the less impact it has.

As far as the opening for the first chapter goes, starting with so much exposition is a little risky. The first line I think could work—it's definitely attention grabbing—but I don't really feel like I'm there with the protagonist because the whole opening of the chapter is being summarized. I think it'd be more effective if we slipped into the protagonist's POV and saw the scene start to play out sooner.

Now for the in-line notes:

"I learned how to swim before I learned how to walk. That’s what they do, After all, when you’re born a couple of blocks from the beach,. T they teach you young. 
And I swear I still remember it. Any way you could transition into the next paragraph without using the filter ("remember")?
My father’s hands, big and warm on my sides, suddenly gone. 
That moment of freefall, of panic—I can’t do this­Aand then— 
Legs kicking, arms flailing, but swimming, really swimming on my own. The tang of the sea on my tongue. Emerging gasping, coughing, into sea spray and sunlight. Grinning so big I thought I’d never stop. 
The joy of it all. 
I dream about it, sometimes. I smile in my sleep. 
And then I remember. Remember why I don’t swim anymore. 
I stop smiling. 
I wake up. 
Reading this a second time now, I'm about 99% sure I'd cut this if I were editing.

Chapter One

The spring of my senior year in high school, my mother brought a kitchen knife into the bathtub with her. Nice first line.
She didn’t cut deep enough, not nearly, they said. But she’d been drinking, and she lost enough blood to pass out. Her head slipped under the water, and if her neighbor hadn’t found her, she would have drowned. 
I wasn’t with her. No one was. My parents divorced when I was in the seventh grade, and I moved away with my dad. 
We sat in the hospital waiting room, my dad and I, not speaking. 
The doctor suggested that after she was released from the psychiatric ward, it might be a good idea for someone to live with her for a little while.  This could be a good spot to transition to playing the scene out—with an actual line of dialogue of the doctor saying exactly that. Or you could transition right before this by getting into your protagonist's head as they sit next to their dad in the silent room. How do they feel? What thoughts are running through their head? Is the awkward silence something normal for them and their dad? How long has it been since they've seen their mom? This is all stuff you could give us in your protagonist's POV that could help us connect to your MC."

Okay, so you'll notice there aren't a whole lot of line edits here, and that's because the writing itself works for the most part—I'd just recommend being careful to vary your paragraph and sentence length, because I'm seeing a lot of short paragraphs and sentences right from the start. The main issue I'm seeing here, however, is what I mentioned above—the prologue feels unnecessary to me (and, to be honest, I don't think it's as good a hook as the first sentence of chapter one anyway) and I'm not connecting to the protagonist because all I'm getting here is exposition.

I think if those adjustments are made, this could be a really powerful opening with some very emotional content right up front. But as is, if I saw this in the slush, I'd pass.

I hope this helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250 with us, Mary Kate!

Would you like to be featured in a Fixing the First Page Feature? Keep an eye out for the next giveaway!

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks exposition and varying sentence/paragraph length in the 14th Fixing the First Page critique. (Click to tweet)

Book Review: FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe

Photo credit: Goodreads
So I’ve had Far From You by Tess Sharpe on my TBR list for a while, and Twitter’s been telling me pretty much forever to read it, so I was pretty delighted to finally have the chance to pick it up. And now that I’ve read it? I see why Twitter so adamantly demanded I take a look.

But before I go on, the Goodreads summary:

“Sophie Winters nearly died. Twice. 
The first time, she's fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy that'll take years to kick.  
The second time, she's seventeen, and it's no accident. Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina's murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery. 
After a forced stint in rehab, Sophie returns home to a chilly new reality. Mina's brother won't speak to her, her parents fear she'll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places and Sophie must search for Mina's murderer on her own. But with every step, Sophie comes closer to revealing all: about herself, about Mina and about the secret they shared.”

Okay. So firstly, I really like thrillers, and I also really like when the protagonist is part of a marginalized group, especially if it’s one I can relate to like a character with chronic pain. And that’s initially what drew me to this book—because trying to find YA with characters who deal with chronic pain? Not so easy.

What I liked: Sophie deals with disability (among other things), including chronic pain that causes her to limp, and she still kicks ass. I want more of this. I want so much more.

Otherwise, Sophie’s chronic pain is very different from mine, largely because hers is caused by an old injury from a bad accident and mine comes from chronic illness—but of course that’s not at all a fault of the book. It just means I still haven’t found a YA with a depiction of chronic pain I can really relate to.

That said, what I really liked was there wasn’t a miracle cure. Not for Sophie’s injury, not for the chronic pain, and not for her addiction, or her trauma. Far From You does a really fantastic job not sugar-coating reality—it acknowledges that long after the book, Sophie will still have a limp, will still have to deal with a lot of trauma, and will always struggle with addiction. And for that alone, I’m giving Tess Sharpe a massive internet high-five.

AS FAR AS THE ACTUAL PLOT GOES, I really enjoyed this. The mystery surrounding Mina’s death was fascinating, and I love books that keep you guessing, like this one. I had a few theories about who was at fault, but the twist got me—that said, I sort of felt like I mostly didn’t guess because I’d pretty much forgotten some people existed. Maybe my fault. Maybe the book’s fault. Eh. Not a big deal. Overall, Far From You is an exciting book that’ll definitely keep you interested.

Finally, it was really great to see a YA protagonist who is explicitly bisexual, but whose sexuality isn’t necessarily the main focus of the book (though coming out books are definitely important, too).

Overall, I really enjoyed this one, and I definitely recommend it to those looking for a fun, twisty YA Thriller.

Diversity note: Sophie, the protagonist, has a limp from chronic pain caused by a car accident years prior, struggles with drug addiction (opiate painkillers), and is explicitly bisexual. Mina, her best friend/sort of girlfriend was not out, but she was lesbian.

Have you read any great YA lately? 
.@Ava_Jae gives 4/5 stars to FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe. Have you read this twisty YA Thriller? (Click to tweet)  
Looking for an exciting YA Thriller w/ a disabled MC? Check out FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: 5 Signs You're a Writer

A fun vlog on five common characteristics of writers. :)


Can you relate to any of these? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about five common characteristics of writers. Do you recognize any of these? (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway Winner #14!

Photo credit: Jessica Cross on Flickr
Quick pre-vlog post today (the vlog is still coming—don't worry!) to announce the winner of the fourteenth fixing the first page feature giveaway! *drumroll*

The winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, Mary Kate! Expect an e-mail from me shortly.

Thank you to all you lovely entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway next month (in SEPTEMBER—how??), so keep an eye out! :)

On the Creation Process (or Why I Prefer Revising)

Photo credit: Dean Hochman on Flickr
If you read my blog here with any frequency or follow me on Twitter, you probably know that I haven’t written any new projects for a while, because I’ve been heavily into revision mode. You probably also know that I did a thing last year where I wrote two new manuscripts back-to-back even though I already had another manuscript waiting to get revised, which is why for the past eight months I’ve been revising and revising and revising.

I’m not done with that, but I have started brainstorming and plotting something new. And even though I probably won’t write it for quite a while, I convinced myself that plotting it out now would be a good exercise.

I haven’t changed my mind, necessarily, but boy. I forgot how difficult it is to create something out of nothing.

Plotting, for me, I think is the most difficult part of the writing process, because that’s the time when I have literally nothing to go on besides a few vague ideas. That’s when I have to take a sentence and a few bullet points of fragments and blow it up into a full, plausible outline. And to be honest, it takes a lot of staring, (spinning my chair), and asking myself, “Okay…now what?”

This usually takes several days for me, at a minimum. And I have been making progress, which is great, but wow it feels like slow going. Still! Progress is progress.

The next step, of course, after finally finishing the outline is the first draft, which is probably tied for “hardest part of the writing process.” Though at least when it’s time to first draft this project, which will not be immediately, I’ll have something to go on.

But all of this has kind of been a concrete reminder of why I’ve really come to love revising so much. Because yeah, revisions are a ton of work, but taking what I already have and expanding it, and pushing it to its limits, and delving into the details and layers and nuances? It’s fascinating. And it’s so exciting because that’s the step where the distance between the cool story I imagined and the story on the page becomes smaller and smaller. That’s where I really start to see the story reach its potential—and become even more than I first thought it would.

And to me, that process never stops being totally incredible and worth the hard work.

But first I have to figure out where the story is going. And then I have to write it. And as difficult as those steps are, they all become totally worth it, too.

What’s the hardest part of the writing process to you?

Twitter-sized bites:

What's the hardest part of the writing process for you? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet
Writer @Ava_Jae says the hardest part of the process for her is plotting and first drafting. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

On the Waiting Thing

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NOTE: Hi, all! Once you enjoy this post, I'm also over at Adventures in YA Publishing talking about the essentials of a pitch. Feel free to stop by and say hi! :) 

I think I knew, intellectually, that getting agented or getting a book deal wasn’t going to end the waiting game. The publishing world is one that forces people to develop patience—or at least teaches them how not to go crazy while being impatient. Or find really good distractions. Or something.

But writers do a lot of waiting.

  • We wait between drafts before revising. 
  • We wait to hear feedback from critique partners. 
  • We wait to hear back from agents while querying. 
  • We wait to hear feedback from our agents when sending them a new manuscript. 
  • We wait to hear from editors while on submission. 
  • We wait to be able to announce happy news when we get it. 
  • We wait for publishing contracts to be negotiated after verbally agreeing to have your book published. 
  • We wait for $ to come in after contracts are signed. 
  • We wait for edits to begin. 
  • We wait to see our cover comps. 
  • We wait to be able to share the final cover with the world. 
  • We wait for the next round of edits. 
  • We wait for our box of ARCs to arrive. 
  • We wait for early reviews and blurbs to come in. 
  • We wait for the fated day of finished copies to arrive. 
  • We wait for release day. 
  • And we do it all over again with the next book. 

Probably that doesn’t even cover all of the waiting, but it’s a nice chunk of the prominent waiting writers do.

I think maybe I hoped that waiting post-agent and post-book deal would be a little easier because at least I’d know what was going on, buuuut turns out that’s not entirely true either. Kind of like pre-agent and pre-book deal, I have a general sense of Things Happening, and know the landmarks of the general process, but when people ask me specific questions about the future, I usually can’t give anything more than an estimate. Which is fine. Because if there’s anything taking eight years to get agented has taught me, it’s how to be patient.

I think probably the funniest realization I’ve had so far with this publishing thing is how much things change and yet, you as a writer don’t really feel any different. The waiting stuff still feels pretty much exactly the same, and granted while I’ve got some extra exciting things to look forward to (yay!), the in-between part is still very much about keeping distracted while waiting.

Best distractions of course are other projects. Or breaks, when you need them. Or books. Or catch up work or a million other things. But ultimately waiting is something that we, as writers, have to learn to deal with. Because no matter what stage of the process you’re in, there will always be more.

What do you do to distract yourself when waiting?

Twitter-sized bite:
Writer @Ava_Jae says the waiting game never really changes. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature Giveaway #14

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How are we nearly done with August? How is my summer break almost over? I don't know, but it does mean something good for you guys, because it's time to get ready for the next Fixing the First Page giveaway! Hooray!

For those who’ve missed it in the past, the Fixing the First Page features is a public first 250 word critique. Using the lovely rafflecopter widget, anyone interested in winning a PUBLIC (as in, featured in a post on this blog) first page critique can enter.

For an example of what this critique will look like, here's the last Fixing the First Page post.


  • ONLY the first 250 words will be critiqued (up to finishing the sentence). If you win and send me more, I will crop it myself. No exceptions.

  • ONLY the first page. I don’t want 250 random words from your manuscript, or from chapter 3. If you win the critique and send me anything other than the first 250 words of your manuscript, I will choose someone else.

  • I will actually critique it. Here. On the blog. I will say things as nicely as I can, but I do tend to be a little blunt. If you’re not sure you can handle a public critique, then you may want to take some time to think about it before you enter.

  • Genre restrictions. I'm most experienced with YA & NA, but I will still accept MG and Adult. HOWEVER. If your first page has any erotic content on it, I ask that you don’t enter. I want to be able to post the critique and the first 250 in its entirety without making anyone uncomfortable, and if you win and you enter a page with erotic content, I will choose someone else.

  • You must have your first page ready. Should you win, you need to be able to submit your first page within 48 hours of my contacting you to let you know you won. If 48 hours pass and I haven’t heard from you, again, I will choose someone else.

  • You’ll get the most out of this if it isn’t a first draft. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if you’re handing me a first draft (though I will probably suspect because it’s usually not that difficult to tell). I won’t refuse your page if it’s a first draft, but you should know that this critique will likely be of more use if you’ve already had your betas/CPs look over it. Why? Because if you don’t, the critique I give you will probably contain a lot of notes that your betas & CPs could have/would have told you.

  • There will not be a round 2 (unless you win again in a future contest). I hate to have to say this, but if you win a critique, it’s NOT an invitation to send me a bunch of your revisions. I wish I had the time available to be able to look at revisions, but sadly, I don’t. If you try to break this rule, I will nicely say no, and also remember to choose someone else should you win a second contest. Which would make me sad. :(

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the fourteenth public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Monday, August 24 at 11:59 EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Vlog: How to Write Multi-POVs

Thinking about writing a multi-POV novel, but don't know where to start? I share my top multi-POV writing-tips with some book recommendations.


Have you ever attempted to write a multi-POV novel? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
"Every POV needs to be absolutely essential to the story" & other multi-POV writing tips from @Ava_Jae. #vlog (Click to tweet)  
Thinking about writing a multi-POV novel? @Ava_Jae vlogs her top multi-POV writing tips. (Click to tweet)

On (Not) Waiting for Inspiration to Write

Photo credit: Rayani Melo on Flickr
Frequently, when I get e-mails or questions from writers, I get asked a lot about inspiration, or I hear stories about how writers have lost their inspiration and stopped writing altogether. Many times those stories come with questions along the lines of, “What do I do to fix it?”

I give a lot of tough love here on Writability and my vlog channel bookishpixie. Because the truth is, as nice as it sounds, being a writer is not an easy job.

I love the days when I sit down to write or revise and I feel inspired and excited. When I can’t wait to dive back into whatever I’m working on and immerse myself in my story world. Those are the days when the hours pass quickly and progress flies and I forget all about any external stressors or (for better or worse) responsibilities.

It’d be great if those days were everyday. It’d be awesome if every time I sat down to work on a project, I was in that euphoric can’t wait to get started mode.

Unfortunately, that’s not reality.

Sometimes, I’m apathetic about starting. I know I have to, and it’s on my agenda, and I get up early, brush my teeth, then sit half-awake in front of my computer and get going. Those days are okay. I usually slip into my project relatively quickly and I make the progress I need to, then pat myself on the back.

Sometimes, I sit down to work and…I…don’t want to. Those days aren’t quite so fun. Those are the days when just about anything else is interesting. I’ll wash the dishes, check my e-mail and blog stats, troll on tumblr and Twitter and…my MS is waiting. Those days I have to buckle down and focus on my daily goal—whether it’s a certain number of revision points or a certain number of words to be written. And even with my initial desire to procrastinate, I get my work done anyway.

Why? Because no one else is going to do it for me. Because writing is my job—has been my job even before I got agented—and I need to treat it like one. Because more times than not, once I get working, I start to get into it again. And maybe the words don’t flow as well as inspired days, and maybe revisions are more painful today, but in the end, the work gets done, and that’s what matters.

If you’re serious about writing, you need to be serious about writing. And that doesn’t necessarily mean writing every day—that works for some, but not others, and that’s okay. But it does mean holding yourself accountable, and yes, it means writing when you don’t want to. Or when you’re uninspired. Or when you’d rather do just about anything else.

Because if you wait around for inspiration, chances are likely it’ll never come. Writing doesn’t just happen—you have to make it happen. And some days, that’s easier than others, but ultimately it’s up to you to do your job. Because that’s what writers do.

What do you think? Do you try to write even when you’re not inspired?

Twitter-sized bites:
"Writing doesn’t just happen—you have to make it happen." —@Ava_Jae #writetip (Click to tweet)  
Waiting for inspiration to write? @Ava_Jae says it's up to you to make progress regardless. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

Book Review: FOCUS ON ME by Megan Erickson

Photo credit: Goodreads
I have so many squees to share about this book, but first! The Goodreads summary:
“Colin Hartman can now add college to his list of failures. On the coast-to-coast trek home from California, Colin stops at a gas station in the Nevada desert, and can’t help noticing the guy in tight jeans looking like he just stepped off a catwalk. When he realizes Catwalk is stranded, Colin offers a ride. 
Riley only intended to take a short ride in Colin’s Jeep to the Grand Canyon. But one detour leads to another until they finally find themselves tumbling into bed together. However there are shadows in Riley’s eyes that hide a troubled past. And when those shadows threaten to bury the man whom Colin has fallen in love with, he vows to get Riley the help he needs. For once in his life, quitting isn’t an option…”
Okay. Okay.

Remember when I read Trust the Focus and totally loved it? And then the cover for Focus on Me was revealed and I basically stared at my screen forever?

You guys, this series is quickly becoming one of my favorite NA romance series, like, ever.

After reading Trust the Focus, Focus on Me was everything I hoped for and more. I devoured most of it on a train ride to and from Chicago and sat huddled in my seat, flipping through the pages, my heart totally breaking for Colin and Riley. I can’t tell you how quickly I got attached to these guys and while I still haven’t cried reading a book…this one came close.

Colin and Riley’s romance is steamy, adorable, heartbreaking and real. Erickson tackles some really serious issues (depression and an eating disorder), and while I can’t speak for the accuracy for either of them as I don’t have enough expertise, I can say that at least from my perspective, it seemed to be handled really respectfully. I especially loved that there wasn’t a magical cure (or magical healing love interest either, for that matter).

I love this book and I love this series and I can’t wait for the next one. If you’re looking for some great m/m NA romances, I couldn’t recommend the In Focus series more.

Diversity note: this is a m/m NA and both the love interest and protagonist are gay. One of them also suffers from depression and struggles with an eating disorder.

What have you been reading lately?
.@Ava_Jae gives 5/5 stars to FOCUS ON ME by @MeganErickson_. Have you read this feelsy m/m NA romance? (Click to tweet
Looking for a raw, yet adorable diverse NA? Check out FOCUS ON ME by Megan Erickson. (Click to tweet)

Chapter One Young Writers Conference Recap

Photo credit: moi
So last weekend I did a thing! As I mentioned briefly earlier, I had the super awesome opportunity of going to Chicago and speaking to a bunch of young writers between the ages of 12-22—and it was amazing. So amazing.

I won’t lie, the day I was preparing to get on the train to go, I was massively anxious. Like, verge-of-an-anxiety-attack anxious. And it sucked, but once I got to the train station things calmed down a little and soon I felt better.

Then Chicago! Well not really. First a bunch of delays on my train, and a several hour ride, and then Chicago! The lovely lady who picked me up from the train station was also kind enough to give me a driving tour of the city at night, which was super cool, and then I kind of stumbled half-deliriously to the hotel where I met some super awesome people, and then I crashed.

The next day was when the conference actually started, and it honestly could not have gone better. I did my presentation (which was 45 minutes in front of an audience—eep!), listened to other super awesome speakers like Karen Bao, Kaye, Taryn Albright, and Kat Zhang, met some lovely readers, and then…

Yes. That’s me. Doing my very first signing. :D

I was basically on cloud nine all day. Everyone was so awesome, meeting people and chatting about writing and publishing all day was bliss. And as a nice bonus, I won an ARC of George by Alex Gino. (Be jealous.)

A photo posted by Ava Jae (@ava_jae) on  

I wrote a post last week about how things were starting to feel real—things have never felt more real than sitting at that table, signing swag for Beyond the Red. And walking around with a snazzy badge that said “Speaker” on it. And being a conference as a real life author.

It was absolutely incredible and I can’t wait until my next event. I’ve never felt more confident, accepted and absolutely happy. :)

Photo credit: Julia Byers

Now to make the most of my last month of summer before school starts…

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae recaps attending her very first conference as an author. #Ch1Con (Click to tweet

Vlog: All About BEYOND THE RED (Part 2)

In honor of Beyond the Red's cover reveal, I'm (still!) answering questions all about the book! Yay!

This week's questions are mostly about the publication/writing process behind the book. Hope you guys enjoy!


Twitter-sized bite: 
Curious about the writing/publication process behind a book? @Ava_Jae answers questions all about it. #vlog (Click to tweet)

Books Written Before Debuts: Stats

Photo credit: kenteegardin on Flickr
So a little while ago, while I was looking for statistics about the number of books various authors had written before writing their debuts, I found that there was shockingly little information out there. I mean, sure, if you hunted for it you’d find some scattered answers, but I couldn't find an easy database with averaged information.

So I asked around Twitter to see if anyone knew of such a database. And no one did. But the genius @Bibliogato suggested I take an unofficial Twitter poll and hope it got RTed enough to get some decent data. 

So I did. And wow, did it ever get enough RTs. 

Overall, I got over 200 responses from traditionally published writers all over Twitter, which was pretty incredible. Combined with some data I found online from specific authors, it gave me a pretty interesting spread of information. 

The question I asked specifically, was how many novels the respondents had written before writing their debut novel. 

83.8% of respondents said that they’d written at least one novel before writing their debut. The most common answer was one (so debut was the second book), followed very closely by three (debut was fourth). The average was 3.24 books written before debuting. 

  • 16.2% debuted with their first novel. 
  • 17.1% debuted with their second novel. 
  • 13.1% debuted with their third novel. 
  • 16.7% debuted with their fourth novel. 
  • 14% debuted with their fifth novel. 
  • 7.7% debuted with their sixth novel. 
  • 6.2% debuted with their seventh novel.
  • 9% wrote seven or more books before writing their debuts. 

The spread: 

That data point of 20+ books written before debuting? That’s a HUGE author. Like, Twitter-verified, NYT bestseller. AKA: don’t give up. 

Some interesting anecdotes: 

  • One writer spent 17 years writing short stories before writing their debut. 
  • One writer wrote over 40 novellas before writing their debut.
  • One writer spent 10 years writing fan fiction before writing their debut. 
  • One writer spent 25 years writing four books. 
  • One writer spent 13 years writing one book (their debut). 
  • Many writers didn’t sell the first book they signed an agent with. 

All in all, there was a really wide spread here, but I think the takeaway is not to give up. Maybe it’ll only take you one book, and maybe it’ll take you twenty. But if you keep working at it, and writing, and revising, and sending your book out there—one way or another, I think you’ll make it.

What do you think of the statistics? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae asked pubbed writers on Twitter how many books they wrote before writing their debuts. Here are her stats. (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae shares her results from her unofficial Twitter poll on how many books pubbed writers wrote before their debuts. (Click to tweet)  
Feeling discouraged about having to trunk a novel? @Ava_Jae shares statistics you might find encouraging. (Click to tweet

Top Writability Resources for Your Writing Needs

Photo credit: DeaPeaJay on Flickr
So over the course of about fifty-one months, Writability has accumulated over 750 posts. Which is, um, a lot. And while the directory has almost all of them (I try to do my best to keep it updated), I am well aware that scrolling through 750 blog posts can be a teensie bit overwhelming. Kind of like hoping for enough snow for a white Christmas and getting seven feet instead (too soon, Buffalo?).

Ehem. Anyway. 

I thought it might be helpful to highlight some posts for you guys, depending on your specific writing needs. So here we go. 

Brainstorming & Plotting

Are you a plotter or a pantser? There isn’t a right or wrong answer, but assuming you're a plotter, once you have an idea you’d like to explore, it’s time to turn that idea into a plot. One option is to try writing a synopsis before the first draft—which is less terrifying that it sounds (I know! I was surprised too). Otherwise, I vlogged about how I plot my WIPs, and before that I blogged about it. You may also want to check out Scrivener’s cork board, which I love forever for plotting and brainstorming.

Not sure what plot points you hit? I haven’t covered them all (yet!) but here are some plot essentials you want to make sure you include.

If you’re not a plotter but you still want something to work off of, you may want to try plotting without plotting (not a typo!).

First Drafting

Eventually! It’ll be time to dive into your first draft. Remember that you don’t have to know everything before you start drafting, whether you’re a plotter or pantser. Also good to keep in mind that usually, the first draft sucks (really, but it's okay), and you don’t have to get it right the first time. Not even close. 

If you want to get through your first draft quickly, you may want to try fast-drafting. And while you don’t have to think too hard about getting things right when first drafting, you may find it helpful to think about how to write strong supporting characters and awesome face-smooshing—excuse me, kissing—scenes


So you’ve written your first draft! YAY! Before you dive into editing, you’ll want to let your manuscript cool a little so that you can read your writing a little more objectively

But then the time will come to dive into your manuscript again! Which can be a little scary, but not to fear—here are some tips on how not to get overwhelmed with revisions. Remember not to be afraid to make big changes, and while you’re at it here’s how to use what ifs while revising and how to use brainstorming to edit

When you reach the time to line edit, don’t forget to hunt down those filter phrases

You’ll also need critique partners in this stage (and remember—critiquing others helps you, too!). If you don’t have any, here are five places to find critique partners, and how to choose the right CPs.
Finally, if you have Scrivener for Mac and you like pretty colors and seeing the changes you’ve made, here’s how to use Scrivener’s version of track changes


So you’ve polished your manuscript to a beautiful gleam with the help of critique partners! Yay! Now, assuming you want to get traditionally published, is time to prepare to query agents. First thing you’ll want to do is finally get the dreaded synopsis out of the way (I know, I know). 

Next you’ll want to think about what genre and category your novel is in before you start researching agents so you know who to target. Now sure where to start? Here’s how to determine your WIP’s genre—and the vlog version if you prefer. (Hint: YA is not a genre) and here’s part one and part two of my basic genre index, for an overview. 

Know how to categorize your novel? Have your synopsis ready? Awesome. Time to start researching agents—and here are extra researching resources. While you’re researching, here are some red flags to look out for. Ultimately, not every agent will be the right agent for you, so here are some tips on choosing the right agent for you.

Now some tough love: you’re going to get rejected. A lot. And even after you get agented and published, rejection doesn’t stop. But here are some tips to help you get through the query wars, and here are some encouraging stats for the querying writer. Ultimately, I think hope is the best remedy for rejection, so try to remember this is just part of the process and all writers go through it. 

And finally, if it ever starts to feel like too much and you’re thinking about giving up on your writing dream altogether, please read this first.

Did I miss any resources you especially like? What tips would you add to the roundup? 

Twitter-sized bite:

Looking for writerly resources and pub tips? @Ava_Jae rounds up helpful posts for every stage of the writing process. (Click to tweet)

Pub Life: Starting to Feel Real

So last week, as many of you know, YA Books Central revealed Beyond the Red’s cover. Shortly before that Red was listed online at B&N, Amazon, BAM!, IndieBound and more, and is now available for pre-order.

On Sunday, I had my author photos taken. And on Monday, these came in:

I've started signing them this week.

On Friday I’ll be headed off to Chicago for Chapter One Young Writers Conference, where I’ll be speaking (speaking!! as a speaker!!) to some awesome writerly teens about being a teen writer.

So much has been happening the past couple weeks, I’ve been getting a little overwhelmed. But I’m okay! And I’m happy. And totally in awe because this year is more than halfway over and 2016 is very quickly arriving.

And you know? I may not have ARCs yet and I know there’s still a ton of work to be done before next March. But things are slowly starting to feel real. And the more I start to see my cover pop up places I wasn’t expecting, and people I don’t know talk about my book, and the more I start to think about marketing, and events, and what 2016 is going to look like, the more it’s starting to sink in that this is actually happening. This is real. And I couldn’t be more grateful.

I love this job. Even when I’m an anxious wreck anticipating something, or I’m wondering how I’m going to get something done on time, I love this. Even as I anticipate stepping out of my comfort zone and introducing myself to people—something that does not come naturally to me at all—I’m so delighted to finally have the opportunity to do the stuff I dreamed about doing for ages.

It’s scary. And exciting. And sometimes, quite frankly, more stressful than my brain wants to handle. But things are starting to happen, and I wouldn’t trade this for anything.

Slowly, but surely, it’s all starting to feel real.

Have you been doing anything exciting this summer?

Twitter-sized bite:
Curious about life as a pre-pubbed debut author? @Ava_Jae shares how the pub life is starting to feel real. (Click to tweet

Vlog: All About BEYOND THE RED (Part One)

In honor of Beyond the Red's cover reveal, I'm answering questions all about the book! Yay! 

If you have questions about the publication/writing process behind the book, let me know and I'll answer them in next week's vlog. :)


Do you have any questions about the book or the writing/publishing process behind it? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Like aliens, technology, kissing, explosions, culture clashes & monarchies? @Ava_Jae vlogs about her YA SF debut BEYOND THE RED. (Click to tweet)

Platform Building for Beginners: Where to Start?

Photo credit: the tartanpodcast on Flickr
So someone asked me recently if I had a post on platform building in general for beginners, and I sort of have a couple specific platform posts, but not a general one, so here we go. Platform building.

While I still consider myself someone who is learning and growing my platform as a debut author, I have learned quite a bit about growing your social media sites over the last many years, and so here are my top five tips.

  1. The earlier you start, the better. Ultimately, building a platform takes time—and a lot of it. No matter what platform you use, getting noticed, making connections and getting followers/subscribers is a long game. I requires a slow build up of steadily shared content and reaching out to other people.

    I started my Twitter and blog—which is where I have the biggest following—over four years ago. To give you an idea:

    May 2011: 447 monthly page views
    May 2012: 13,292 monthly page views
    May 2013: 31,544 monthly page views
    May 2014: 29,727 monthly page views (stats rise and fall!)
    May 2015: 33,536 monthly page views

    Biggest traffic month ever: October 2014 (43,347 page views in a month)

    So as you can see, it took two years to really get steady traffic going. It’s totally fine, of course, if you don’t have two years to get engagement going, but just don’t expect your follower count to explode overnight.

  2. Stick with platforms you actually enjoy. I’m all over the internet—this blog, Twitter, tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube. But! You definitely don’t need to use all of those platforms if you don’t want to. Instead, I recommend you stick with platforms you actually enjoy using (though if you’re like me and you enjoy using all of them…more power to you)—your interactions will feel more natural and your followers will notice. Plus, keeping them updated won’t feel like such a chore.

  3. Connect with other people. Ultimately, the whole point of having a platform is getting to know other people and making connections. The more you reach out and engage, the more connected your followers will feel. Be yourself and show them you’re a person—not a sales robot.

  4. Consistency is everything. No matter what platform you use, the key is always always consistency. The only way to develop a steady buildup of followers is to continue creating and sharing content. Depending on what platform you use, “consistent” doesn’t necessarily have to mean every day—but the more you share and create, the more engagement you’ll get. That said…

  5. Don’t become a spambot. This is the biggest turnoff for readers and followers of every kind, on every platform. No one wants to see a feed where the only thing shared is about the person’s book. You want to market your books, obviously, but that should never be the bulk of the content you share. Share other people’s stuff, talk to people, create content about something other than your book that your followers enjoy, that way when you do talk about your book it won’t feel forced or overdone.

  6. BONUS: Cross-post! Assuming you have more than one social media account, the best way to take full advantage of your many social media sites is to cross-post the things you share. Granted, you want to do this carefully—and you don't want to cross-post everything. But if you have a blog post, share it on your Twitter and tumblr! Have a vlog? Put it on your blog and Facebook! Have an Instagram account? Share your photos on Twitter! This not only helps boost your output on all sites and get what you share out to more people, but it also helps people who follow you on one channel reach out to you on another. Win-win! 

What tips do you have for platform building?

Twitter-sized bite:
Not sure how to start building your social media platform? @Ava_Jae shares her top tips. (Click to tweet)

On Writing a Series by Vicki Leigh + Cover Fun!

NOTE: Hey guys! Today I've got a super special (and rare) Saturday post to share with you the super epically awesome cover for my CP Vicki Leigh's second novel Find Me if You Dare! And because she's awesome, she's also chatting with us about what it's been like to write a series. AND there's a giveaway. Woot! 


As a reader, I love series. Not only does it give me a chance to stay in the world I’ve come to know, but it gives me the opportunity to hang out with the characters I’ve come to adore, too. So, when I first started writing with the intent to be published, there was one goal that I knew I had to achieve: publish a series.

I’m so excited to announce: Book Two of my Dreamcatcher series is releasing December 1, 2015! The excitement is insane, ya’ll.

But while there was lots of squealing and jumping for joy when I got the contract for the second book, I realized I had no idea how to actually write a series. I understood how to start a story and complete a story arc, but how do you take a story arc and expand on it so that the next book has its own arc but both books are encompassed under a bigger story arc umbrella?

Cue a mini panic attack, am I right?

Well, after a few mishaps and re-drafting the same scenes multiple times, I learned a few things about writing a series—and I want to share them with you!

  1. Have your ultimate end in sight. It’s one thing to worry about the ending of a book, but I think it’s even more important to have the series’ climax planned ahead of time. If you know how you want to series to end, you can then work backward to figure out where each book in the series should end.

    For example, as the blurb for Find Me If You Dare tells you, the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have a significant role to play in my Dreamcatcher series. I then made a clear distinction as to how I would reach that final ending: two Horsemen would ride in Book Two, and the others would (maybe) ride in Book Three. Right there, I had a clear idea of where my plot was heading and how I would ensure my series arc continued over the rest of my books—and all because I knew how I wanted my series to end.

  2. Force yourself to plot, even just a little bit. I know many of you are “pantsers,” and you let your characters dictate what happens in your stories. That’s perfectly fine! I am not telling you to become a “plotter.” In fact, I like to think of my self as a “plotser” because I’m not one of those people who use scene cards or outline from beginning to end. But I still make sure I have some sort of backbone so I don’t lose track of my story arc.

    In my opinion, this is even more important when it comes to writing series. Each book needs to connect to tell one big story, and if you’re simply starting at page one with no idea of what’s going to happen, you will find yourself spending a lot of time in revision, trying to put all the puzzle pieces together. So, even something as simple as Dan Wells’ 7 Point Plot can help make sure you’re moving each book in the right direction toward that ultimate, series end.

  3. Re-read the other books in your series before you start writing the next one. Maybe you guys are already awesome and can jump right into characters’ voices, even though you’ve had zero contact with them for a while. But if you’re like me, and you fully absorb yourself into each new point of view you write, it’s really hard to jump back into an old character’s head. To make sure you’re getting the voice right—and the tone right—the best thing you can do for yourself is to read the first book(s) in your series. Besides, what’s more fun that falling back in love with the characters you haven’t “seen” for a while?

  4. Find a critique partner or beta reader you trust and talk it out with them—if they don’t mind spoilers! One of the great things about my best friend and CP (though she has many) is that she lets me talk out my plot ideas and isn’t afraid to offer advice about where I might be steering the story wrong. Having someone to brainstorm with can make a huge difference because their opinions can absolutely spark new ideas that you never would’ve come up with on your own.

  5. Finally, if you are struggling to determine where your story should go, do some exercises from your main character(s) point of view. Act out a scene as if you were that character. Write journal entries as if you were that character. Actually talk to them if you have to. It’s amazing what can happen if you put yourself in the place of your character and start to think about the story in other ways than plot points on pages. Becoming a character can make a story feel real, and when you’re in “the zone,” many ideas can spark.

And now, for the cover. Ready? 









Isn't it friggin' amazing? Here's what it's about: 

They may have won the first battle, but the Apocalypse has just begun. 
Five weeks have passed since the battle that left Rome and Columbus in ruins. Sheltered in the hidden city of Caelum, Daniel and Kayla train alongside over one hundred Magus and Protectors, hoping that their unified ranks will be enough to take down their greatest threat yet: Richard, his followers, and his horde of Nightmares. Then a fallen comrade is returned to Caelum with a message carved into his chest and a note referencing the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and Daniel knows their time for training is over. 
Finally understanding Richard’s plans for Kayla and the three other Magus born on Halloween, Daniel and the rest of Caelum’s volunteers scout the U.S. in a desperate attempt to stop their enemy before he can unleash his first Horseman. But when massive attacks claim thousands of lives, people all over the world begin to fall ill—including those Daniel and Kayla care about the most. 
With the Horseman of Pestilence released, Daniel knows it’s time to step aside and let Kayla take the lead. Only she has the power to rival her father’s. But when Richard’s plot turns out to be darker than they imagined, their fight is met with more death and destruction—and an enemy who might be unbeatable, after all.

Finally, there's a 22 book giveaway over on her tumblr page, so if free books and swag are something you're into, you may want to check that out. :)

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

What do you think of the post and cover? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
How to write a series—@vleighwrites talks series-writing & shares the EPIC cover for her 2nd book. (Click to tweet).
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