Author Archives: Amy Finnegan

About Amy Finnegan

AMY FINNEGAN writes Young Adult novels and is a host at BookshopTalk.com, where anyone from anywhere can submit reviews about books they love. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, was recently published by Bloomsbury. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, on Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author) and follow Bookshop Talk on Facebook. She is represented by Erin Murphy.

A Fan Letter to Readers

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Dear Readers Everywhere,

I know you probably hear this a lot, but I’m seriously your biggest fan! I’ve wanted to meet you for over a decade, and now that it’s finally happened, I’m totally FREAKING OUT!

You know that one day when you said how much you loved my book? Oh . . . my . . . gosh. My heart was beating a million times a minute. I keep wondering if you’re all secretly related to me, or if maybe my mother has made a hundred or so sock-puppet Goodreads accounts just so she can encourage me to keep writing.

But then you tell me you’re from the Philippines, or Texas, or Canada, or London, or Slovenia, or that gorgeous African island of Mauritius, and I just can’t wrap my head around it! And never in a million years did I think that even one of the 1.2 billion people in India would even know I existed, let alone be excited to read a novel I wrote! Like . . . what?!

You do realize that I grew up in a small town of about 5,000 people, right? That the most outrageous thing I ever dreamed of was going to Hawaii one day? And when that happened at sixteen (my first plane ride), I thought, “Wow. That’s about as good as life can get.”

But then I decided to be a writer. And I hoped people would actually like what I wrote, enough to even pay money for it. But I soon learned that this dream was, as some teenagers today might have told me, totes cray cray.

I had no clue whatsoever how much work would be involved, or how many times I would get my heart broken, or feel like a complete and utter idiot for even thinking I could become a published author.

But you, super-awesome readers, have changed everything. You’ve made me believe that all of the hard work and heartache was not only worth it, but have given me so much HAPPINESS that I’m jumping up and down with jazz hands in the air, wanting to do it all over again!

So sign me up for even more writer’s block, and self-doubt, and pulling my hair out! Go ahead and toss in some of that heartache and rejection! That’s right!

I’m ready.

This time I’m well prepared for the crazy/awful/awesome pathway to publication, because I now know who’s waiting for me at the end of it.

You.

 

All of my fan-girling love and deepest gratitude,

Amy Finnegan, Published author of NOT IN THE SCRIPT, Bloomsbury 2014 (OMG!!!)

Book for Chris

Just one of many amazing people I signed a book for in the past month! #Star-Lord

Gabrielle

Gabrielle from New Hampshire. The first reader I know of to spy it & buy it in the wild!

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Amy Finnegan writes her own stories because she enjoys falling in love over and over again, and thinks everyone deserves a happy ending. She likes to travel the world—usually to locations where her favorite books take place—and owes her unquenchable thirst for reading to Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, came about after hearing several years of behind-the-scenes stories from her industry veteran brother. She’s also been lucky enough to visit dozens of film sets and sit in on major productions such as Parks and Recreation and Parenthood. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, Instagram: StrangerThanFictionWriter, or Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author).

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Filed under Dreams Come True, Farewell, Happiness, reading, rejection and success, Thankfulness, Updates on our Books!, Writing and Life

Ridiculously Fun Research

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Jane Austen’s Writing Desk

My debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, is about two teens who star in a television drama. It’s pretty much as pop culture as you get in young adult lit. So it may come as a surprise to those who don’t know me well that my favorite genre to both read and write is actually historical.

If I were given the opportunity to time travel, I would choose the 1800’s in less than a heartbeat.

Something about this time period draws me in like no other, and I get positively giddy whenever I read a Jane Austen novel. So here’s another thing that most people don’t know: I started writing a novel set in the Regency era a full decade ago. I’ve worked on many other projects during those ten years, including my novel that’s being published this October, but I keep going back to my Regency novel and rewriting it. Not just revising it, but literally starting with a blank page and rewriting it from the beginning. The characters stay the same, but get stronger. And the plot (in my opinion) has much improved with each new draft. But ten years later, I’ve probably written a million new words for that one story.

And I still don’t think it’s ready to submit. Not yet. But it’s getting closer!

One of the reasons I feel that my historical storytelling isn’t quite good enough yet is because I’m comparing it to Jane Austen’s! But realistically, I know I will never reach her skill level. I will never write a single “classic,” let alone several of them. But I had an epiphany a few years ago that led me to look at that shortcoming in a different way: Jane was a contemporary author in her time. She wrote about her own world, about the technology of her day, about her everyday surroundings and social norms, just as I did when I wrote NOT IN THE SCRIPT. It wasn’t a stretch for her to tell readers about strolling down the streets of Bath, or attending the Assembly Hall; these scenes came naturally to her because she had done these things herself.

So I decided one day that if I wanted to write historical fiction more convincingly, I would need to see and experience the world that Jane lived in—or at least get as close as I could to it. And of course, I started in England.

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Christchurch College, Oxford University

My first two trips to the UK were spectacular! I gobbled up every historical site in my path, and inhaled my surroundings in deep breaths.

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The View from the London Eye

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Oban, Scotland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Inveraray Castle, Scotland

But it wasn’t enough.

So on my third trip, I went all out: Cosplay, Regency Style, at the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England.

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I could’ve only done this with a friend who loves Austen as much as I do—thank you, Sara—and oh my gosh (I mean heavens), it was fun!

We were invited to tea . . .

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We hung out with Jane . . .

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We strolled along the Royal Crescent . . .

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We visited the Roman Baths . . .

 

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And the infamous Assembly Halls . . .

 

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Then we even walked down the streets of Bath with hundreds of other Austen lovers who weren’t satisfied living her stories through books alone.

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Immersing myself in Jane’s world was a priceless experience, and I want nothing more than to do it all over again. When I write now, I can feel myself in those uncomfortable shoes, trying to hold up my skirt high enough to avoid the dirt on the streets, but not so high that it is indecent. I can easily picture myself among others dressed in Regency attire, peeking into glass window fronts, and gazing with wonder at the splendor of a grand ballroom.

My friend and I planned our eleven days carefully and visited many other sites that would help me better envision what the home of a duke would be like, or how royalty truly lives. (The following photos are all of Chatsworth House, still home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Bonus points if you can say which movies it’s been featured in).

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History isn’t something that only piques my heart now, it actually stirs my memory. I can draw on it when I’m writing, and the world feels much more tangible—within my grasp. Yes, my experience of dressing up like a Jane Austen character was indeed artificial, but it honestly felt real. And the grand homes and castles are only staged for visitors, but if you add imagination, a writer can dream up any number of interesting things that could and have taken place in those rooms.

I did the same type of in-depth and on-location research for NOT IN THE SCRIPT (which I’ll soon be talking about on my new author blog, AmyFinnegan.com), and it had the same powerful effect on me. Whatever I write, I always try to put myself into the shoes of my characters to feel what they feel, see what they see, and then transfer those thoughts and emotions onto the page.

The world is becoming much smaller, and technology is astounding. So even if you can’t physically travel to where and when your story takes place, seek out online and film experiences that will place you inside that world. (Google Earth alone is an amazing help!)

When it comes to writing about different times, places, or lifestyles, find a way to live it and breath it, and then you can write about it with a more genuine sense of familiarity.

Happy travels!

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IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes her own stories because she enjoys falling in love over and over again, and thinks everyone deserves a happy ending. She likes to travel the world—usually to locations where her favorite books take place—and owes her unquenchable thirst for reading to Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, came about after hearing several years of behind-the-scenes stories from her industry veteran brother. She’s also been lucky enough to visit dozens of film sets and sit in on major productions such as Parks and Recreation and Parenthood. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, or Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author).

 

 

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EVERYONE’S A CRITIC

by Amy Finnegan

simon thumbs down

We all do it.

Whether or not we are the mean-spirited type, we judge other people. We judge music. We judge food. We judge books. We either deem them worthy of our praise, or deserving of our scorn. Sometimes we just give our targets a “meh” and move on.

This topic has been discussed a few times here on EMU’s Debuts lately, which has led me to think more and more about it, especially as the launch of my first novel approaches. But a recent experience helped me view the compulsion to not only notice, but share what one considers a shortcoming, from a different angle . . . one that doesn’t involve the book that I spent several years writing.

It involves my new home instead.

Two and a half years ago I sat down with a piece of paper and sketched out what I envisioned as my dream home, inside and out. Everything I’ve ever wanted. Then I took it to an architect, and over the next 18 months, we pared and pruned, designed and redesigned. It was a very long process and involved much more work than I ever could’ve imagined (much like writing a novel, and getting it published!)

rolled up plansThen a hole was dug. A foundation was poured. Walls were built. I began to see my paper dream house become an actual home. It was beautiful (OMG! Look at what I’ve done!) and also scary (OMG! What have I done?). It was an exciting, exhausting, stressful (!!!!) twelve months of building. I was there nearly every day for several hours, micro-managing every detail so it was truly built exactly the way I wanted it to be.

And FINALLY, it was finished, and it was decorated with everything that my family loved. It was perfect for us. We practically skipped through the halls.

And then, my friends, we opened it up—as we had promised our builder and subcontractors that we would do—to the Parade of Homes, wherein close to 20,000 people walked through every room with little blue booties over their shoes.

Let . . . the . . . criticism . . . begin.

All 27 homes in the parade received written reviews from attendees. Most, as is common with books, were positive. But about 10 – 20% of the reviewers were negative, even scathing. This is what I found interesting though: almost every single house received both praise and scorn for the very same feature. Here are some actual, verbatim, examples:

House A

Reviewer 1: How many different materials can be crammed into a room? Busy, busy, busy. Less is more, more is unappealing.

Reviewer 2: I have never seen a house done so beautifully! Make sure you have enough time to really take in every inch of it . . . every detail is spot on.

House B

Reviewer 1: This house is one of a kind, hands down the best house I have ever been in! Aaaaaammmmmaaaaazzziiiiiinnnnngggg.

Reviewer 2: I was underwhelmed . . . disappointed on all levels.

House C

Reviewer 1: The theater was so bad with sheared fabric on the walls — really!?!?!

Reviewer 2: One of the nicest home theaters I’ve ever seen!

House D

Reviewer 1: Oh. My. Gosh. What more is there to say!?!?! Can I give it 10 stars?!?!

Reviewer 2: Gross . . . . Seriously gross.

In no particular order, these are the homes discussed above:

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raykon

 

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Do any of these homes look “Gross . . . . Seriously gross” to you? In my opinion, all of them are gorgeous, and certainly what many would consider a “dream home.”

But people have their own likes and dislikes, for reasons that even they can’t always explain. To argue with them is pointless.

I don’t like fish. I just don’t. I don’t like the way it smells, or the way it tastes or feels in my mouth. Friends, and especially my husband, have often told me, “But THIS fish is so mild. It melts on your tongue! Here, you have to try it!” And so I do, and *cue gag reflex* . . . nope. There is nothing anyone can do to MAKE me enjoy the taste of any fish. Ever. (I do not like fish here or there. I do not like it ANYwhere!)

As an author, it’s absolutely, positively, IMPOSSIBLE to write a book that every reader will like. It will never happen in the history of the world. I personally feel that Harry Potter is the best book series that has ever been written. It melts my soul with its goodness. I’ve read it over and over and over again, and I laugh and cry in all the same places (and additional ones as well). But online, that series has tens of thousands of one-star reviews. Some people hate it with a passion beyond reason, as though it was written by the devil himself (or in this case, herself).

How can our feelings toward the very same books be such polar opposites? But isn’t that the case with almost anything? Books, music, movies, art, food . . . homes? Everything is subjective, and its value always depends on the eye of the beholder.

I’m saying all of this now because once NOT IN THE SCRIPT hits shelves in October, it will be open to the judgment of the world, and it’s always a bad idea for an author to argue (or even explain particular choices) with his or her critics. So this is my one chance to say: “I invited you into my heart, poured my soul out to you, shared my idea of romance and true love and humor, and if you don’t feel it’s good enough, you’re perfectly free to put the book down, unfinished.”

There was a point during the Parade of Homes—when I was fluffing pillows and such—that a woman looked over the entertainment area in our basement and said, “They don’t even have a pool table! A home like this SHOULD have a pool table.”

It wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to approach her and explain why we didn’t get a pool table, but an unexpected thing happened at that moment. I laughed out loud. Totally laughed. Like, all day long. Because it reminded me of the way book reviewers sometimes trash an entire book because the story doesn’t end how they think it should’ve ended. Would this lady have otherwise been super pleased with my basement if we’d had that one missing element? I doubt it. We already have a LOT of cool stuff down there. Among other features: an indoor sports court, a Harry Potter themed theater with signed props and memorabilia from the movies, an arcade, a Beatles themed music room, a ping pong table, and a four-person air hockey table. Not even this was enough to earn her approval.

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The space in question: a pool table we would rarely use, or a 4-person, tournament-style air hockey table?

So why, dear questioning Parade Lady, do we NOT have a pool table? Because we didn’t freaking want one, okay? Would YOU want a $15,000 pool table if you had two teenagers and one eight year old who constantly had dozens of friends running through your basement? Would YOU want a pool table if you knew pizza and pop and caramel corn would end up on it no matter how diligently  you tried to avoid it? Would YOU want a pool table if no one in your family even played pool? Or would you get one anyway just to impress people who thought you SHOULD have one?

These are the snarky types of replies authors often want to give to critics of their work. And it will definitely be difficult for me to resist doing so. There will probably even be times when a review makes me cry and I will wish I’d never even written the book. It’s going to be tough. I’ll have to develop some thick skin. Most authors I know refuse to read their reviews. They cause too much doubt, I’m told. They mess with your writing mojo. They make you feel horrible about yourself. That’s very sad.

So to all you writers out there pouring your hearts out and giving the world a glimpse of your very soul, THANK YOU FOR SHARING! I don’t care if you don’t have a pool table in your book, or in your basement, or anywhere at all! I love that your stories are exactly how they feel right to YOU!

xoxo

Amy (who doesn’t like fish, but that’s okay! You can eat as much of it as you want to!)

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IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes her own stories because she enjoys falling in love over and over again, and thinks everyone deserves a happy ending. She likes to travel the world—usually to locations where her favorite books take place—and owes her unquenchable thirst for reading to Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, came about after hearing several years of behind-the-scenes stories from her industry veteran brother. She’s also been lucky enough to visit dozens of film sets and sit in on major productions such as Parks and Recreation and Parenthood. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, or Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author).

 

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Happiness, Helpful or Otherwise, Reviews, Social Media, Writing and Life

Hold on Tight and Enjoy the Ride . . . or Why I Love my Agent

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Imagine yourself on a roller coaster—not some wimpy one with a few repetitive twists and turns, but an unpredictable, double-looped, eighty-mile-an-hour roller coaster. Having fun yet? Great!

Now . . . remove all safety devices. Lap belt, gone. Shoulder bars, gone. In fact, you don’t even have handles to hold on to.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t like that ride.

flying coaster peopleI’m convinced that this is what my publishing experience would feel like without my agent. She keeps my head, arms, hands, feet, and legs inside the vehicle at all times. She does all she can to make the ride an enjoyable one. Sure, I might scream my lungs out sometimes and think I’ll never make it off this crazy ride alive, but in the end, I’ll jump out of the cart and race back to the end of the line to do it all over again.

But only because I feel like my agent will keep me from serious harm.

Yep, I’m a play it safe sort of girl. I love the thrill of a fast, bumpy ride, but I want to know that in the end, it will be all right. Having an agent is about even more than that though.

Through a series of fortunate and unusual events, I was able to get an offer for my debut novel without an agent. But I took the advice of several wise friends who told me I should try to acquire one anyway, and thank heaven I listened!

My agent not only negotiated better terms for my contract, but she was also able to explain what the contract terms even meant. I would’ve had no idea what I was signing without her. Boilerplate contracts don’t have to be predatory—though some of them are, so author beware—to make you regret the terms later. A good agent protects you from agreeing to unreasonable clauses. He or she will also work to make sure your terms are the very best they can be.

initial hereAnd even after my contract was agreed upon via email and phone calls, my agent went back through it word by word to ensure that everything that had been discussed was carried through. I could barely comprehend what the papers were saying to begin with, so I certainly wouldn’t have known if the contract had been amended correctly or not. I would’ve just signed it (because, OMG! I have a contract from a major publisher in my hands!!!).

Once the editing process began, I loved having my agent copied on the emails. I’ve been lucky because my editor shared my same vision for the novel, but I know—for sure—that my agent would have had my back if I had needed to fight for something in my novel that my editor and I strongly disagreed over. And if the novel would’ve been better my editor’s way, my agent would’ve been a second voice to guide me in my editor’s direction. And it would’ve been a lot easier for me to make a significant change.

Also, just weeks after turning in my revision based on editorial notes, my editor left for another house. I was heartbroken. I was afraid of being “orphaned.” But both my agent and my new editor made it an easy transition, preventing my novel from slipping through the cracks. I’ve been very well taken care of.

Had I not been . . . guess who would’ve made the important phone call to The Boss? Not me, that’s for sure, because I have a difficult time going after what I want. But my agent would’ve been all over that like ants on a watermelon.

It’s also a comfort to know that my agent is copied on all of my emails involving the sales and marketing side of publishing. For example, she watched over and participated in the creation of my cover and jacket copy. There was a lot of back and forth about both of these important steps, and she was there for all of it.

She’s also told me when it was time to ease off and trust my editor and publisher with particular tasks. She’s told me when I should feel comfortable asking for a bit more support. I trust her implicitly.

She also trusts me. She lets me make the final decisions. She recognizes that this is my career, and my dream, and my name going on the cover of my books. She’s my biggest cheerleader and champion.

Another thing I love is that she doesn’t push me to just “pump out books.” She recognizes that there are other important facets in my life that I often need to pay more attention to (my three kids, in particular). I’m also not the most productive author in the world because I’m an incredibly cautious writer. I need a story to truly feel right to me before I share it with anyone else. That’s just how I work. But my agent doesn’t see me as just another cash cow on her bestseller-producing ranch, and that allows me to give the best of myself, not just the most of myself (which hopefully won’t end up in the dairy section).

I know this sounds like the most shameless commercial ever for my agent Erin Murphy, because she really is the best agent on this entire planet, but last I heard, she isn’t taking on new clients for a while. My actual purpose for writing this is to give those of you who are questioning whether or not you should pursue an agent, a very strong nudge in that direction (check out the fabulous agents at EMLA first! All three of them are the best possible agents any writer could dream up. Now that’s a shameless commercial).

I used to think that having an agent was all about negotiating a deal—which just about any agent can manage—but I now understand that it’s much more about having someone by my side during the entire publishing process.

My best tip for seeking out an awesome agent of your own is to research them like crazy. Get to know their personalities through social media, check out the types of books they represent—do you like them too? And above all things, listen to how other authors talk about their agents. (By far the most common thing I hear published authors complain about is their agent’s lack of enthusiasm or interest in them. Emails aren’t answered, concerns aren’t addressed, and personalities clash.) Pay close attention when authors are raving about their agents in more private situations. Get the name of their agent and begin your research! There are a lot of great agents out there, and one of them surely has YOU on their wish list. Get to know them, and then submit when you feel you’ve found a good fit.

Then hold on tight and enjoy the ride!

 

(PS. In a future post, I’ll tell you why EDITORS are so important, and in particular, why MY editor is beyond amazing. How lucky can a debut author get, huh? I love my team!)

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IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes her own stories because she enjoys falling in love over and over again, and thinks everyone deserves a happy ending. She likes to travel the world—usually to locations where her favorite books take place—and owes her unquenchable thirst for reading to Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, came about after hearing several years of behind-the-scenes stories from her industry veteran brother. She’s also been lucky enough to visit dozens of film sets and sit in on major productions such as Parks and Recreation and Parenthood. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, or Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author).

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Cover Reveal: NOT IN THE SCRIPT

Friends!! It’s here!! My cover!!

And this isn’t just a cover reveal. Oh no. Read to the very end of this post and I’ll give you a link to where you could win an advanced copy of the novel that goes with it. NOT IN THE SCRIPT won’t officially be on shelves until October, but if you win this giveaway, you’ll get to read it within the next few weeks.

Some of you are probably wondering why an author would get this excited about revealing the cover of her upcoming novel to the entire world (or at least to the U.S., my family and friends in the UK, my three friends in Canada, the two bloggers I love in the Philippines and Australia, and my buddy Matt in Hong Kong), but THIS IS A PRETTY BIG DEAL FOR ME!

I started writing with the hope of getting published twelve years ago. NOT IN THE SCRIPT is the fifth novel-length manuscript I started—the fourth that I finished. But it’s the only novel I’ve ever felt brave enough to submit to publishers.

These long years of learning, writing, and revising have been really rough at times. I’ve had a lot of close calls, a lot of heartache. There were plenty of times when I wanted to give up. But whenever I’d see awesome new books on the shelves, with fancy covers and an author’s name printed on it in big block letters, instead of stomping my foot and saying “WHY isn’t that me?!” I’ve tried really hard to tell myself, “One day that will be me.”

That “one day” is today.

I finally have a fancy cover and it has my name on it. Here it is!

FINAL COVER Not_in_the_Script

Click on the cover to make it bigger!

Yay! I hope you love it as much as I do.

But even more so, I hope you’ll love what happens after you turn that cover over and start reading the pages. So here is my very first ARC (advanced reading copy) giveaway, and it’s sponsored by one of my favorite book review blogs, IceyBooks.com. Instructions on how to enter the giveaway will be there!

Another one of my favorite blogs is PopGoesTheReader.com (the reviews are fantastic!), and the host is revealing her own thoughts about my cover today.

This is way too much excitement for just one girl to handle, so thank you for sharing it with me! And a very big shout out to the fantastic art department at Bloomsbury! You guys rock!!

Want to know more about NOT IN THE SCRIPT? Read this: Millions of people witnessed Emma Taylor’s first kiss—a kiss that needed twelve takes and four camera angles to get right. After spending nearly all of her teen years performing on cue, Emma can’t help but wonder if any part of her life is real anymore . . . particularly her relationships. But her new costar, Jake Elliott, couldn’t care less about how many scenes he has to fake his way through; he needs the money. Toss in a reckless heartthrob, desperate for a comeback, and a resident diva who may or may not be as evil as she seems, and the production of Coyote Hills heats up in unexpected—and romantic—ways. Along with offering front row seats to the real life drama that often unfolds within the entertainment industry, NOT IN THE SCRIPT is a story about two not-so-typical teens who are searching for themselves, and just happen to find each other.

You can add it to your Goodreads “Want to Read” shelf here.

NOT IN THE SCRIPT will be released October 7th,  and is now available for pre-order (with discounted prices!) from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Books-a-Million.

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IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes her own stories because she enjoys falling in love over and over again, and thinks everyone deserves a happy ending. She likes to travel the world—usually to locations where her favorite books take place—and owes her unquenchable thirst for reading to Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, came about after hearing several years of behind-the-scenes stories from her industry veteran brother. She’s also been lucky enough to visit dozens of film sets and sit in on major productions such as Parks and Recreation and Parenthood. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, or Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author).

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Why Writers Should Be Readers

galley box largeAs a writer of books for children, the most difficult thing for me to admit is that I wasn’t a big reader when I was a child (which is very a-typical for kidlit authors). I read and loved a lot of picture books during my elementary school years, and then some Amelia Bedelia early readers, but I can literally name—on just two hands—the novels I remember finishing before I graduated from high school. They were pretty much all by Judy Blume and Roald Dahl.

I look back now and can’t figure out exactly why I wasn’t a big reader—my parents both read incessantly and took me to the library all the time—but I have a clue. Truth be known, reading was difficult for me. More often than not, I felt frustrated because I would read five or ten pages and then realize I had no idea what was going on. I couldn’t remember which character was which or how they knew one another. I didn’t feel attached to the story at all. As it turns out, I had a learning disability that I didn’t know about until I was in college. But I won’t put a label on it now because this isn’t the point of my post.

The point of my post is to say this: My writing ability has taken a very long time to develop because I wasn’t a big reader until I was in my twenties. And now I’ve been playing catch up for the next twenty years.

I started with non-fiction (typical for a college student), moved on to the adult market, then finally—for the first time in my life—truly discovered the magic of middle grade and young adult novels. And that’s when I fell in love with reading. It became an addiction.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King says, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”

I wholeheartedly agree. Reading is, by far, the best thing a writer can do to sharpen his or her storytelling skills. Yes, you also need to write and write and write, for development, but very little improvement will take place if a writer isn’t learning from others through a process similar to osmosis. Exposure to excellent storytelling, and lots of it, can’t help but rub off.

As a reader, the more books you read, the pickier you become about loving a book verses just liking it. Or even finishing it. Right?

The same thing has happened to me as a writer. The more I read, the easier it becomes to pick out what makes a plot work and what hurts it. The characters in a great novel become my friends, and just like it’s simple for me to tell someone what I like about my real-life BFFs, I can more skillfully tell my readers what makes a person attractive or repulsive (at least to me). And I can also better understand, by reading excellent books, what my own weaknesses are as a writer. I struggle with the details of setting—how to make it feel natural without overdoing it—and transitions. (Why is it so darn difficult to move a character from one room or thought to another?!)

But when I see the masters at work, I learn. And I absorb.

And this is another critical element: A writer needs to know and understand the genre and market they’re writing for. If you’ve been involved with critique groups and read enough pages from beginning writers (and believe me, I was one of them, so I’m not knocking anyone), it’s likely that you’ve heard sample pages that don’t fit the parameters of the author’s intended market. Perhaps it’s a picture book with 3000 words. Or the story is about seniors in high school, who should be thinking about college applications and their unattainable crush, but is instead filled with pranks on teachers and middle grade gross-out humor.

Knowing what works in each market, and what doesn’t, is obviously paramount to your success. And you’ll only know this if you’re intimately familiar with your chosen genre.

And then there is pacing. This is another thing I struggle with. I think of a cool scene that I’m dying to get to, or that awesome moment when my two main characters finally get things right, and I want to make it happen that very moment. I want the plot to move over so my characters can make out express everything they’ve been holding back. But the best pacing uses restraint for a slow burn; it builds up for a worth-while reveal. It makes a reader work for the rewards. And it also knows when to push all the details about the carpet and drapery out of the way and get on with the story.

I love that about reading, because good pacing is something that can only be understood through experiencing it. It can’t really be taught, and it’s certainly difficult to master.

Another benefit of continuous reading is recognizing clichés or overdone plots. While it’s true that there are “no new ideas, only new voices” editors likely won’t even read your first page these days—no matter how stellar your writing is—if your pitch tells them that the new girl in school is unavoidably attracted to a mysterious boy who is actually—gasp!—a vampire/werewolf/dark angel. While this pitch in various forms sold book after book about seven years ago, writers who keep up with the ever-changing trends will likely know better than to spend their time on a similar plot (but check back in another seven years).

And the #1 reason to read: isn’t reading THE BEST THING EVER, anyway?

I’m still not a fast reader, and my struggles with attention haven’t entirely faded, but once I get hooked on a good book, I’m gone. I’m in heaven. And I want nothing more than to help my own readers experience this same emotion.

So tell me, what has reading done for your own writing? Has it helped you avoid overdone plots or character types? Honed your skills? Does good writing put you in the mood to work? It surely does that for me!

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IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes Young Adult novels and is a host at BookshopTalk.com. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, will be published by Bloomsbury, Fall 2014. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, and Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author). She is represented by Erin Murphy.

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Filed under Advice, Character Development, craft~writing, Education, reading, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing and Life

The Secret Formula for Getting Published

secretformulaYears before I was even offered a contract, new writers started asking me if I would tell them how to get published. Some have asked if I would connect them to an agent or an editor. Others have wanted to know how to write a surefire query letter.

These are the same questions I asked established writers when I was new, and every question is a good one. Every one of them is important if a writer wants to eventually work with a respected, traditional publisher. But—trust me—if I knew a quick-and-easy secret formula, I would’ve used it a long time ago.

If there *were* a step-by-step process, however, it might look a lot like this:

1. Blood

2. Sweat

3. Tears

4. Repeat

But since we’re talking about the Children’s market, rather than the Stephen King method of getting published, perhaps I should use the ABCs to impart the best advice I have to offer:

A: Attend Conferences and Workshops

You don’t need to attend conferences and workshops, but I’m telling you, I would’ve never been published if I hadn’t made the investment in a good education. And I’m not talking about my college English classes.

Writing and selling a manuscript is tough stuff. The good news is that many brilliant authors have done it before you, and especially in the Children’s/Young Adult market, they are more than willing to share their knowledge and experience. At conferences, you get the opportunity to learn from their presentations, ask them questions, and even benefit from their critiques of your work.

Editors and agents are often in attendance as well. Not only does this give you an opportunity to get a feel for what type of manuscripts they’re looking for, but in most cases, you’re then given the okay to submit to them directly. And this is a big deal. Every major publishing house I know of is closed to open submissions, meaning that you need a reputable agent to submit the manuscript on your behalf. And more and more agencies are closing their doors to open submissions, too . . . which means you need to have an “in” with them as well.

So how do you get that “in?” By attending a conference where that agent or editor is presenting.

As far as conference costs are concerned, it’s important to do some serious research. There are workshops aplenty—many of them very beneficial—that are less than $100. And there are also several that are over $1000. Some are even $2500 and beyond. Personally, I’ve never seen a workshop in this later category that looks worth the price (in fact, I think the majority of these highly-priced workshops are predatory). So definitely look into the details, find some conferences or workshops that meet your needs, and decide if the price seems reasonable.

For the Children’s market, you’ll find an excellent array of upcoming events at www.SCBWI.org. And my personal favorite week-long conference—for cost, improving craft, networking, and its impressive track record for connecting writers with their future agents or editors—is called Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers. You can find more info about it at www.wifyr.com  (I’m not paid for recruiting, I swear! I’ve just attended it several times and love it).

B: Be Active in the Writing Community

Form genuine relationships with people who can both formally and informally mentor you. Learn as much as you can about the business from them. BUT keep in mind that it generally makes an author uncomfortable when you ask them to hook you up with their agent/editor. If you are genuine friends with an author, then he or she has likely read some of your work, so if they feel it’s a good fit for their agent/editor, they will likely tell you. Otherwise, do your due diligence, just as they did, and query the editor or agent yourself.

Where do you start if you want to get more involved in the community? Thanks to the internet, the world has become a very small place. Technically, there’s no need to even travel away from your laptop when it comes to making new friends, so get out there and make some. Start following writing blogs, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages, especially those by successful authors. Then just . . . absorb. Listen in, and eventually jump into conversations.

Another critical step for a beginner is to find a critique group. And make sure you connect with writers who write for your same genre, or your experience will likely go sour. For example, if you write picture books, then join a group with PB writers only. Even the best novel writer in the world could steer you wrong with their advice for writing a picture book (which are totally different animals!) And vise versa. It takes some effort, but if you seek out like minds, you will eventually find them. And don’t be afraid to leave a critique group if it’s just bringing you down—killing your confidence. Critiques are usually beneficial, but what’s the point if you’re not being productive? Sometimes a writer just needs to step back and take some time to sort things out on his or her own. But keep in mind that if you continue to hear similar comments that particular issues aren’t quite working in your manuscript, then they aren’t quite working. Editors and agents will see these same problems as well, so figure out how to make the issues work, then revise the manuscript. (Like I said: Blood, Sweat, Tears, Repeat.)

Let’s go back to conferences and workshops because they’re the best way I know to do some critical networking. Some people claim that it’s who you know in this business that can get you a book deal, and guess what? They’re often right. But it might not be what you’re thinking. It’s more like who you know, and what they can teach you. Or . . . who they know, and what they tell others about your manuscript.

I landed my first major book deal last May, and it was the direct result of one Important Person in the industry—who had read my entire manuscript—telling another Important Person (during a typical morning commute in NYC) that she felt my manuscript might be a good fit for Bloomsbury. And it was. So very good things can come from simple networking, which often results in forming genuine friendships.

C: Create a Quality Manuscript

Attending conferences, networking with other writers, and joining a critique group will also teach you a lot about craft. And nothing you do will be as important as writing a quality manuscript.

For new writers, especially, it’s easy to get caught up in the logistics of selling a book (how to write a query letter, how to get connected with agents and editors, etc). But no matter how well you know the publishing business, it won’t mean a thing if you don’t know the craft of writing.

And . . . no pressure . . . but you have to know it well enough to stand out in a sea of millions of others who want a contract just as much as you do.

This will never happen if you’re only doing networking, or seeking opportunities to meet editors and agents, and certainly not if you spend the majority of your time dreaming about how you’ll spend the money from your first book deal. Writing a quality, deliciously-marketable manuscript—that an editor won’t be able to pass up—only happens when you:

1) HAVE YOUR BUTT IN A SEAT

2) YOUR FINGERS ON A KEYBOARD

3) YOUR MIND ON THE STORY

That’s the real Secret Formula, my friends. Now, stop reading this and get to work! You have a book to sell!

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IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes Young Adult novels and is a host at BookshopTalk.com. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, will be published by Bloomsbury, Fall 2014. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, and Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author). She is represented by Erin Murphy.

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Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Agents, craft~writing, Editing and Revising, Editor, Education, Publishers and Editors, Writing, Writing and Life

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

Sorry for the lame post title folks, but I’m trying to keep in step with the bad, bad titles you submitted for our BOOKS BEHAVING BADLY contest.

WE HAVE SOME WINNERS!!!

Tyler James McKiney, for this gag-worthy title: Athletes’ Foot, and Other Edible Fungi

L. Marie’s heartbreaking pitch would make any reader fear a single moment of bad timing: He was a window washer. She worked on the twelfth floor. But when their eyes met across the room, they knew their love was meant to be. Yet when she accidentally opens the window and he falls to his death, she realizes their love was doomed from the start. Thus begins 192 pages of introspection about the nature of love and how you shouldn’t open a window at the wrong time. The perfect vehicle for Matthew Matthew McConaughey and perhaps Kate Beckinsale or maybe Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. I dunno. Doesn’t matter. Anyway, the manuscript is ready to go as long as I can write the screenplay and have my choice of directors.

And Zach Hastings, this beginning is so tragically horrible, it’s actually pretty good: The moment my eyes locked with Robert Spicheki’s, the school bully here at Mary Shelley Gothic High School, I knew two things were going to happen. One, I was about to take a beating that only geriatric and elderly boxers ever have to live (or die) through. Second, I was about to fall madly and deeply in love with him.

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Winners, to select the book you’d like as your prize, please click on the header links for Emu Emeriti (all of which have available titles), and Current Emus (among these, you could choose from authors with titles at least available for pre-order: Tara Dairman, Adi Rule, and Joshua McCune). And Kevan Atteberry is special, so he fits into both categories–you could choose any of the picture books he’s illustrated. Please email me at ajfinnfiction@gmail.com with your mailing address and book selection. Congratulations!

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Many thanks to our super-spectacular judging panel:

Caroline Abbey, Senior Editor at Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Erin Murphy, of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency

and Joy Peskin, Editorial Director at Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers

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Books Behaving Badly

Remember those days when writing was just about writing for the thrill of it? And you only shared your freshly printed pages with your friends and family members who were blown away by your budding talent . . . or at least surprised by it?

I can hardly recall that time, it was so long ago.

Although my love for writing itself never fades, the pursuit of publication adds challenges which make writing start to feel a lot like work. In fact, these days, if it doesn’t feel like work, I know I’m doing it wrong.

Finding an agent. Getting a book deal. Anticipating editorial notes. Meeting a deadline. Missing a deadline. Is anyone going to buy my book?? What will the reviews say?! What if I never sell another manuscript?!?! This all causes me stress.

So once in a while, I find it healthy to unwind. Write something ridiculous! Free write for the love of wordplay and humor. And what’s better than letting loose and writing for fun? How about writing for fun and PRIZES!?

Anyone out there want to win a free book?

Our theme for today is Books Behaving Badly. We want to hear your best ideas for bad titles, bad pitches, and bad, bad beginnings.

Here are a few examples to get your juvenile juices flowing:

Judge a book by its cover, do you? I came up with a bad title for each of these talented author/illustrators to work with (and check out the awesome covers they created!):

* * *

Lice

Illustrated by Kevan J. Atteberry
http://www.kevanatteberry.com

* * *

Illustrated by Ruth McNally Barshaw
http://www.ruthexpress.com

* * *

Unicorns

Illustrated by Deborah Underwood
http://www.deborahunderwoodbooks.com

* * *

Now, imagine sitting with an editor in a private pitching session. Let’s make her day with a truly horrible, cringe-worthy pitch:

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coupon clipper
Clairvoyant eleven-year-old, Stella, can see into the future. She uses her skills to predict coupon specials and become an expert clipper, but is ostracized by her friends who just don’t get it.

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inflammation-broken-foot-leg-cast-2

Brutilda breaks her foot and uses her cast to flirtatiously stomp on the foot of the boy she likes. For reasons unknown, he doesn’t return her affection. Angst and heartache ensue.

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hippolkaJane Austen (almost) meets Charlotte Bronte . . . an exposé of those ten or so missing years between the Regency and Victorian eras that authors skip over for no apparent reason. (I’m guessing the lost-to-the-ages Hippopotamus Polka was a big thing during this mysterious era. Maybe that’s why nobody writes about it?).

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Editors often tell writers that they need to grab a reader’s interest in the first few sentences. I’m pretty sure these beginnings would be epic fails:

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big nose cold
You know that feeling you get when mashed potatoes are stuck up your nose? Yeah, that’s the kind of cold I have.

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goat sticking tongue out, blog

Rollin’ in the hay really can be fun. Billy may be a goat, but our first kiss was still an eight out of ten.

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promMy cousin is looking seriously hot today. I think I’m gonna ask her to Homecoming.

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So let’s hear it: Your worst titles, pitches, and beginnings. Leave them in the comments, along with a category for your entry.

A winning entry in each category will be selected by a prestigious judge—someone who reads good (and bad!) titles, pitches, and beginnings for a living. The winners will then get to choose a book written by any of the EMU’s Debuts members, past or present, as long as it’s at least available for pre-order. Entries are due by midnight Eastern time on Oct 15th, and winners will be announced here on Oct 17th!

You don’t have to be a “writer” to play along! Anyone at all can join in for a chance to win a book! Good luck!

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IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes Young Adult novels and is a host at BookshopTalk.com. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, will be published by Bloomsbury, Fall 2014. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, and Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author). She is represented by Erin Murphy.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Writing

WHEN ALIENS ATTACK!!

Calrec_WarOfTheWorlds_600px

Picture this: your family has just returned home from a nice dinner out and gathers around the television a few minutes after America’s Got Talent begins. You are soon all enjoying the acts and discussing which performers should advance . . . when suddenly the program is interrupted by NBC Nightly News anchor, Brian Williams.

His message: America is under attack, by aliens! Would you believe him? I would. It’s the Nightly News!

In RADIO GIRL, Carol Brendler takes her readers back to a time when families gathered around a household radio rather than a yet-to-be-invented television—a time that many of our parents and grandparents can remember (it wasn’t that long ago). Their childhood evenings were often spent listening intently to not only critical news stories from around the globe, but also dramatizations performed by actors who brought fictional stories to life with vivid descriptions, believable character voices, and eerily accurate sound effects.

It is therefore understandable how true stories and fictional productions—sharing the same, limited airspace—had the potential of causing confusion.

orson-war-of-the-worldsNever was there a more exciting time to be tuned into the radio than on the evening of October 30, 1938, when mass chaos was created by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater company. Their radio broadcast on this particular night was an adaptation of a popular novel, The War of the Worlds, and even though it was clearly introduced as such, the production was so believable that thousands of people—who had somehow missed the narrator’s brief introduction—called radio stations, newspapers, and even the police, desperate for information about the alien invasion that was being broadcast live via the radio.

Not what you would call “mass chaos” yet? But wait, there’s more . . .

People ran out of their homes and pounded on their neighbors’ doors to warn them, families loaded up cars and headed out of town in droves, makeshift gas masks were thrown over terrified faces (the aliens, you see, were using poisonous gas), and women went into early labor. Miscarriages and even stress-induced deaths were blamed on the broadcast. It was madness, people. Madness!

But what exactly made the broadcast so darn believable? What was it about this time in our country’s history that created such a jumpy, easily-shaken atmosphere? Radio Girl holds these answers and many more entertaining and insightful tidbits about this fascinating era, all while following the daily life of fourteen-year-old Cece Maloney whose dreams of becoming a radio star put her right in the center of the pandemonium that’s stirred up by The War of the Worlds broadcast—and only Cece knows what’s really going on when her neighborhood goes nuts.

17351021Want to read the book for yourself? You can now find Radio Girl in bookstores or online. You can also listen to the original radio broadcast here, and watch a dumbfounded Orson Welles try to answer the accusatory questions of angry reporters—the day following the broadcast—here. Enjoy!

And congratulations to the fabulous Carol Brendler on the launch of her first novel!

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IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes Young Adult novels and is a host at BookshopTalk.com. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, will be published by Bloomsbury, Fall 2014. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, and Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author). She is represented by Erin Murphy.

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