Confessions of a Middle Grade Indie author and other tips to maintain your sanity

Today I’m welcoming Julie Grasso, Middle Grade author to share some seriously amazing tips all the way from writing to publishing and much more!

Image credit: julieannegrassobooks.com

She now has the floor …

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I had a dream to write children’s books.

As a registered pediatric nurse I spent the better part of 13 years literally wrapping children in cotton wool. Every day I witnessed great courage and resilience which lead me to write a story about a little girl elf just like them, but that is the end of the story, let’s start from the beginning.

Confession 1: I didn’t know how to write a children’s book, so I bought a few books

  • Ebook, Become A Children’s Book Writer by Jill McDougal
  • Writing Best Selling Children’s Books by Alexander Gordon Smith
  • Writing Children’s Books For Dummies by Lisa Rojany Bucceri and Peter Economy

These books were absolutely brilliant, but they did alert me to the harsh facts about children’s book writing.

  • It is a very close-knit industry and many publishers will not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
  • Very few agents in Australia take on new clients.
  • It will probably take you several years to hone your book before it is even remotely palatable.
  • They suggested that I read lots of children’s books to get an idea of what other authors are writing about.

So I read a lot of kid’s books. Some I loved, some I couldn’t finish, but they gave me a great insight into the market and what kids are reading.

Confession 2: I do not speak literary

I thought that a Widget was a worm that got into your ear, a Meme was a typo, MC (main character) meant Master of Ceremonies, MS (manuscript) meant Multiple Sclerosis, WIP (work in progress) meant something you use to handle cattle, I can keep going if you like but you get the picture.

Here’s Julie’s Twitter profile (click)

  • When I joined Twitter only about six months ago, I didn’t know what all those words meant, but after following lots of authors and reading their tidbits and profiles and blogs and websites, I began to pick up the language.  I am proud to say, I think I now speak Literary and Twitter and I have found so many useful resources and made many new friends along the way, like Rebecca Berto’s fabulous blog Novel Girl. [Rebecca here: thanks!]

Confession 3: Honey, I shrunk my dream

  • When I started I had high hopes of dazzling the agents and publisher’s alike. I even managed to get the attention of an Aussie publisher, but sadly, there are only so many books they take on per year and they rarely take on unsolicited clients, but they did give me some encouragement. They liked my story; it just didn’t fit for them.
  • I got sucked in by the Agent Pitch Contests: Don’t bet me wrong, they are fabulous, they give you great feedback on your query; I even used some of my query as the back cover for my book so it was not all lost. However, I found myself getting so disappointed that I didn’t get the agents attention; despite having what I thought was a really great story that rivalled the other entrants.
  • I also queried a bunch of children book agents and didn’t get offers, but I feel a path I had to pursue before I was really ready to change my dream of publishing to seriously focus on Self Publishing.

Confession: 4 Honey, I maxed out the credit card

Well, not exactly but my self-publishing dream was not free and there were some costs that I decided I would absorb with the chance that I may never ever recoup. Here is what I spent money on.

  • Early in my drafts, I had a manuscript assessment. This was a paid service through The Writers Workshop in the UK. Val Tyler is a children’s book author. She gave me an honest critique which I used like my bible. I even resubmitted to her my redraft for a further fee, but it was still not ready.
  • I would have to say it was probably another five edits later that I felt my story was ready for professional editing, which I also did. Not for the feint of purse but certainly worth the money.
  • I had an awesome cover created by an animator friend. It was exactly what I wanted but I had a really clear vision of my cover from very early on in my writing. I managed to impart that to my illustrator, David Blackwell of www.drawshootmove.com

Confession 5: I did the formatting myself for print on demand and eBook

  • I posed a question early on my blog because I was not sure if an eBook was going to reach my middle grade audience. I realised I had to do Print On Demand as well as eBook if I was going to even remotely get my book into kids hands. My research showed that the eReader technology is not yet that accessible and affordable for a lot of families.
  • I also researched a few self-publishing companies but I realised that they kind of lock you into their distribution channels making it difficult to get Amazon reviews. I realised that I simply didn’t need them.
  • I used Createspace, which took a bit of learning but their do it yourself stuff is really great. I had my husband help me edit it as he is a computer whizz, but at some point I had to say no more edits, it’s time to go to the mattresses. (Godfather quote FYI).
  • Once my book was ready on Createspace, It was actually very easy to go to Kindle Direct Publishing.  I thought I would not be able to figure this out and would have to pay, but my hubby helped me research it and it wasn’t that hard.
  • I bought my own ISBN in a block of 10. If I had used one of the Createspace generated ISBNs I would not be able to republish using that ISBN in the future if my secret dream of getting a publishing deal ever comes to fruition.
  • I found a great blog site that had a run down on how to get an EIN so that I wouldn’t have to pay 30% tax to the US government as a foreigner. Have a look at http://catherineryanhoward.com/2012/02/24/non-us-self-publisher-tax-issues-dont-need-to-be-taxing/.
  • I read an awesome post by fellow twitterer Christine Nolfi @christinenolfi, about how to get rave reviews www.molly-greene.com/how-to-get-your-book-reviewed. I have been collecting book bloggers sites in a spread sheet for nearly six months and I have narrowed my list down to about 40. I started submitting my review letter to them about three weeks ago after I launched on Amazon. To date I have 16 confirmed bloggers happy to accept my title for review and six author interviews and giveaways. Not bad for a little indie.

Confession 6: Self Publishing is hard work

As my sister once told me she would have given it in a long time ago. However, I want my daughter to one day know that her mum had a dream and she pursued it and this is the result.

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Click image to purchase at Amazon

Check out my cover to the left and you can find me at:

Website: www.julieannegrassobooks.com

Twitter: @jujuberry37

Book at Goodreads:

Escape From The Forbidden Planet

Facebook page:

Julie Anne Grasso books

Buy Julie’s book in paperback:

Amazon

♥♥♥

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Writing tip #2: lose readers vs. grab readers

Okay here’s the guide for this post. If you want to lose your readers, follow the sentences with the strike-out. If you want to grab your readers by their collars and drag their minds through your story (no violence intended), follow the normal sentences:

First paragraph hard up against the margin (And other formatting).

First line: Here's one example from another WordPress blog

Go look around at any novel. I dare you … Also, Use en or em dashes (those longer looking ones) unless you are joining two words together. E.g. Smith-Johnson vs. I hate him — really. Remember that semi-colons are only used to connect two sentences and when separating complex lists. A wrong example: The vomit stunk; so putrid.

Remember to interact the character/s with the setting.

E.g:

“Martin, you shouldn’t be here.”

I rolled my eyes. No way was I going to leave.

“Mart–“

“Shut it. Put a peg over your nose if you can’t stand the smell.”

She gave me the eyes. The “don’t mess with me” ones. “I’ve been working at this abattoir for ten years. I can stand the sight and smell of an animal without a head or its skin.”

(This scene has so — soo — much potential. I want to smell the dying flesh. I want to see what the walls and the items furnishing the room looks like in a place like this. Be stingy! Squeeze out all you can from a scene.)

Flow.

Chunks of word/sentences/paragraphs that are too long or too short concurrently. You want your novel to look as appealing as a beautiful painting. Vary the length of words. Most of the time, however, a shorter word will do instead of a longer one (approved by George Orwell).

A personal tip? When I read I feel like I’ve turned into a stereotypical male. I can’t handle too much going on. I want something simple. I don’t want to see the first page and only two paragraphs!

You feeling what I'm feeling?

You haven’t earned the right to do what you like — yet. You need to do everything in your power to grab me and doing the above is like asking me to run a marathon. Uh-uh.

Create empathy.

I learnt this tip from my TAFE teacher (he backed his theory from every student rebuttal): every opening to a novel must:

a) create humour,

b) involve human suffering, and/or

c) involve family.

Every beginning has at least one of those factors. Make sure yours does too.

Originality!

Cover of "Hush, Hush"

Cover of Hush, Hush

Okay, this one seems obvious but if you are writing about angels, you need to make sure you’re doing something that hasn’t been done before in novels such as Hush, Hush and Fallen.

It’s easy to get caught up in editing and preparing your novel for publication. Consider whether your “One year ago” or “Dream sequence” scene will bring something fresh to your reader compared to their last novel. It’s not a cliché to describe your character as they stare in the mirror.

Overuse adjectives and adverbs.

Here’s what not to do: “The cup was very hot,” she said worriedly.

Here’s what you should do (note that by cutting the original part, it reads punchier): She put her hand on the bench to steady herself. “The cup was … hot.”

This sounds like such a little difference but once you start harping on about the blue, wide, clear sky and how slowly, awkwardly somethings are, you convert to weak writing that Tells instead of Shows. Remember for every “awkwardly” you use, you are taking the easy way out of describing this to the reader (much more effective).

Strong nouns and verbs  are what create good writing (although I’m sure most of you already know this).

Relying on passive sentences.

In life, we use manners. In fact, in Government documents, saying, “The pavement will not be removed by the Council,” is preferred. In fiction? Be a mannerless — fearless — writer. Say, “George killed the child.” (You hate George, don’t you?)

Compare the former sentence with this. “The child was killed.” (Not so angry anymore are you? You aren’t sure who to blame!)

Where's that darn George gone?

One way to easily pick out the suspect passive sentences is if there is no subject (who killed the child?) or if the subject comes after the object (Telling the reader that “The child was killed and then including “by George”). Humans naturally read from left to right. So write:

George (subject) killed the child (object).

Hook.

Okay. I know I’m being super shifty here but I’ve already mentioned this one and I know so many of my lovely readers have already heard me harp on about it, so for the rest who haven’t heard me mention it, here’s the link.

So. How were those rules guidelines? I may have forgotten, like, ten other important ones so now over to you …

Readers: What are your tips for strong writing?