Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cover Reveal: Charlie Holmberg's THE PAPER MAGICIAN!!

Today, I am VERY excited to host the cover reveal for the wickedly talented Charlie Holmberg's debut novel THE PAPER MAGICIAN!

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of meeting Charlie yet, she is truly one of the most dedicated, generous and supportive authors I have ever encountered. She has been there for me so many times, so I am thrilled to get to share in her excitement as she unveils her gorgeous cover this week.

Before we get to that, here's a little more about THE PAPER MAGICIAN, coming from 47North on September 1, 2014:

Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic… forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.

From the imaginative mind of debut author Charlie N. Holmberg, The Paper Magician is an extraordinary adventure both dark and whimsical that will delight readers of all ages.

Oooooh, sounds twisty and magical and fabulous, doesn't it?

Are you ready for the cover???

Scroll away!




Beautiful, isn't it???

Want to learn more? Here's Charlie's biography, and please check out the following links to pre-order your copy of THE PAPER MAGICIAN today!

Born in Salt Lake City, Charlie was raised a Trekkie alongside three sisters who also have boy names. In addition to writing fantasy novels, she is also a freelance editor. She graduated from BYU, plays the ukulele, owns too many pairs of glasses, and hopes to one day own a dog. The Paper Magician is her debut novel and the first in a whimsical series exploring a world of magicians who animate manmade materials. She currently lives with her family in Utah.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Perfecting Your Query Letter

The Path to Publication, Part Four

Photo Courtesy of Sean MacEntee
Last week, I recounted writing my first query letter. I also recounted receiving my first rejection letter--which occurred a scant 24 hours later. (Did you miss "The Path to Publication, Part Three?" Read it HERE.)

What I didn't recount was the content of that original query letter. Looking back on it now, I can absolutely understand why I received that first rejection letter, because my first query wasn't ready. It had some good bones, but the meat was fatty, and it was difficult to sort the important bits from the unimportant ones. The essence of it got lost in the seasoning, and...

Okay, enough dinner analogies. You get what I'm trying to say here.

More than eight months of querying passed before I received my first offer of representation for my novel THE MERMAID GENE. During that time, my query letter underwent several transformations. Here's my "Before" and "After" so you can see the evolution:

Original Query Letter (January 9, 2011)

Dear Agent:

When seventeen year-old Kai Murphy joins a beluga whale identification team in Alaska, the last thing she expects to find in Cook Inlet is a mermaid. She’s an aspiring researcher, after all, the daughter of a prominent dolphin scientist and the type of girl who “alphabetizes her DVDs and orders the same thing for lunch every single day.”

Anchorage’s mermaid folklore is legendary, but Kai remains a skeptic until she spots a trailing, translucent tail after work one evening. Finally forced to ponder the possibility, she teams up with her roommate Sophie Kensington and flirtatious twin deckhands Noah and Aidan Fischer to investigate.

Turns out mermaids aren’t the research team’s only mysteries. There’s also that warehouse closet crammed with hunting rifles, the blood-filled plastic bins and those shadowy figures that seem to be haunting the Port of Anchorage.

As Kai searches for answers and begins falling for Noah, she realizes even he isn’t above suspicion. The fate of Cook Inlet’s struggling beluga whale population just may be resting in her hands.

THE MERMAID GENE is complete at 98,000 words. It is the first in a series of young adult, urban fantasy novels I am developing surrounding Kai Murphy and her experiences in the wild and unforgiving seas of Alaska. The book’s premise draws upon the expertise and first-hand knowledge I have gained working as a zookeeper and educator at facilities like the Alaska Zoo of Anchorage, Gulf World Marine Park of Florida and the Marine Mammal Center of California.

I graduated with honors from the University of Central Florida with a minor in magazine journalism, and I have received many awards for my writing. These include first place for a short story in the Tertiary Art Contest awarded by Griffith University of Queensland, Australia, and a $1,000 academic scholarship for a personal essay I submitted in UCF’s Honors College Provost Essay Contest. The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums published my article “The Dangers of Human Interactions With Marine Mammals” in its 2007 Ocean Literacy and Marine Mammals: An Easy Reference Guide, and my promotional blurbs and articles have appeared many times in my facilities’ brochures, calendars, websites and advertisements.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this query. With your interest in urban fantasies, unique paranormals and young adult novels, I hope THE MERMAID GENE will be a perfect fit for you. My full manuscript is available upon request, and I look forward to hearing from you.


Lisa Ann

I mean... WOW, THAT'S A LONG QUERY LETTER! Am I right?? I don't hate the content, but... seriously? 412 words? Did that DVD thing really deserve inclusion into the first paragraph? And how many characters could I name in one query letter? How about that bit at the end where I tried to sound like I was more qualified as a writer than I actually was? Who in the world would actually care that I won a short story contest during the semester I studied abroad in Australia?

These are all common rookie mistakes, unfortunately. We feel like we have SO MUCH GOOD STUFF TO SAY that we can't sort out what's important and what's not. We also feel like we need to compensate for our noviceness by including every relevant and not-relevant thing we have ever experienced in our lives. 

But guess what? Literary agents are pros at spotting this. And in the case of query letters, less is often (much) more. Here's my final query letter:

Final Query Letter (September 19, 2011)

Dear Agent:

When seventeen year-old aspiring marine researcher Kai Murphy is invited to join a beluga whale study in Alaska, she expects freezing salt spray, cramped Zodiac vessels and elusive white whales to be the extent of her first real research project.

According to an ancient arctic legend, a mysterious creature also inhabits Cook Inlet’s icy waters. Kai remains a skeptic—until her late-night sighting of a silvery, speckled tail. Teamed up with flirtatious twin deckhands Noah and Aidan Fischer, she decides to investigate.

My YA paranormal mystery, THE MERMAID GENE, combines the romance and fantasy of Aimee Friedman’s SEA CHANGE with the science, suspense and descriptive settings of Nevada Barr’s “Anna Pigeon” mysteries. I was inspired to write THE MERMAID GENE by the time I spent working as a zookeeper and environmental educator at facilities like Gulf World Marine Park of Florida and the Alaska Zoo of Anchorage.

Thank you for your time and consideration, and I hope you have a wonderful day.

Lisa Ann

This new version still isn't perfect, but it's much closer than my first attempt. It's also 162 words, which means I managed to shave 250 words off my original query letter. (250 words?? That's like an entire extra query letter!)

If anything, I feel like this second version is a little *too* short, but you still get my drift. Amazing how the meat of a story can be so condensed while leaving the bones pretty much untouched. You have a pretty good idea about what THE MERMAID GENE is about after reading both versions; it's just the little things that have changed.

I also keyed in on the mystery in the second query letter, and I left many of the details to the agents' imaginations. My hope was to pique their interest... and it worked! The last agent who received this letter offered me a contract three days later. (!!!)

Of course, this wouldn't be a good story if it was a simple one, so please turn in next Monday to learn exactly how my offer(s) of representation played out. Things got a little weird for awhile there--and they would only get weirder when I signed my contract!

Did you miss my earlier "The Path to Publication" posts? Check them out here:

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Are You on Pinterest or Instagram?

I am an incredibly visual person, so it's no surprise each of my writing projects comes with its own Pinterest Inspiration Board. I also keep Inspiration Boards for almost every other facet of my life; are you the same way?

I also recently started an Instagram page to keep track of some of my favorite life moments, and I'm already digging the synergy of seeing all those moments lined up against each other.

Do you have a Pinterest or Instagram account? If so, please leave your info in the comments section. I am currently looking for other folks to follow, and I'm excited to see what sorts of things inspire you!

Wanna check out my boards? Here they are; please click the captions to visit each page.


Inspiration for my debut novel ESSENCE

Inspiration for my shelved YA novel THE MERMAID GENE

"Life Less Ordinary" Fashion Inspiration

Inspirational Quotes (For Every Mood)

Tattoo Inspiration

The Path to Fitness

If I Can Ever Sit Still Long Enough...

Eye Candy

Inspiration from Everywhere

I hope you enjoyed seeing what makes me tick. Have a great day!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Putting Yourself Out There

The Path to Publication, Part Three

Photo Courtesy of Pedro Simoes
Writing a query letter is one of the hardest feats you will ever undertake as an aspiring writer. You have just spent the last several months or years of your life writing a complex, complicated and beautiful masterpiece, and now you are expected to distill it down into 250 words? And you are supposed to send it out to perfect strangers to let them JUDGE you?? What sort of sadomasochist came up with THIS idea??

Unfortunately, this is the reality of the game. If you ever want to become a published author, you must be willing to pour your soul and your guts into a query letter. And you must be willing to send this query letter out into the world. This means you must be willing to be ignored, forgotten and rejected by people who don't even know you. How scary is this??

I don't think I fully appreciated the gravity of this until I sent out my first query letter. I had been working on an urban fantasy called THE MERMAID GENE for about a year and a half, and I had been calling myself a writer for most of my life. I had built my entire identity around the fact that "someday, I was going to get a book published," and I had based so many of my personality traits on this promise that I didn't even know what would be left if you took it away from me.

So... I distilled my book into a query letter, and I sent this query letter out to an agent who happened to live in my hometown. Her name was Sara Megibow, and her agency, Nelson Literary Agency, was randomly based in Denver, not New York City. Despite its geographic abnormality, Nelson had amazing reviews, and Sara was known for being a young upstart with a penchant for moving mountains and making huge deals. She sounded awesome.

I polished up my pitch and hit send, and then I sat back and daydreamed about how fun it would be to someday meet her at coffee shops and bookstores downtown. We could talk shop and sip lattes, read the paper and discuss how well my book was selling internationally.

It sounded perfect.

Of course, things didn't work out that way. Instead of receiving a glowing offer of representation--or even a request for pages--from Sara, I received a generic "Dear Author" rejection letter. To make matters worse, Sara is a super quick responder, so I received this rejection within 24 hours.

Whoa. Talk about a mind-blow.

I expected to be disappointed by this rejection, but I wasn't. I was DEVASTATED, because I allowed myself to take it personally. I wondered if I had been pipe-dreaming my talent all these years, and I felt stupid for even thinking I was capable of something so monumental as getting a book picked up by a publisher. I cursed myself for wasting a year and a half of my life on this stupid piece of garbage I had been calling THE MERMAID GENE, and I felt so embarrassed about all the parties and gatherings and get-togethers I'd missed in favor of "working on this book" that I had to bite my tongue to keep from apologizing to everyone who had hosted them. I told my husband I was sorry for prioritizing the book over 'normal' pursuits like hiking or cooking or camping with him, and I retreated to my couch, where I'm almost positive I must have cried at least two or three times.

I also realized this is the point where most people give up.

No, scratch that. I realized most people give up before they ever get to this point, because it's a lot easier to squirrel your book away in a desk somewhere and hide it from the prying eyes of others. It's also easier to never finish your book, because you fear the reality will never live up to your expectations. Finally, it's easiest of all to never start your book, because it's a lot more fun to judge others and talk about what you WOULD do than it is to actually do something yourself.

So... I thought about these things, and I realized I had two choices. I could retreat back to my corner and admire my beautiful, untested manuscript in a closet somewhere, or I could dust myself off and try again.

I tried again.

Only this time, I spent another whole month working on my query letter, and I distilled it down even further before I sent it out to anyone. I followed all the rules I'd heard about writing a strong hook, leading into the body, and ending with an author bio, and I read that baby out loud so many times I'm surprised I didn't start reciting it in my sleep.

Most importantly, I decided I wasn't going to take my next rejection so personally. I was going to wear it like a badge of honor--the way Stephen King always did--and I was going to save every letter to remind myself I DID SOMETHING. I risked something, and I put myself out there despite the potential setbacks. I was strong and brave and courageous, and I was already lapping all those armchair writers who never actually did anything at all except judge everyone around them.

I was a writer. And I wasn't going to let a stupid rejection letter tell me otherwise.

Please tune in next Monday to learn more about the evolution of my query letter, and please share your query horror stories here. How did you feel when you got your first rejection letter? Did you take it as personally as I did? How did you overcome it?

I hope you have a great week!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

ESSENCE Sneak Peek: Read the First Three Chapters HERE!

Want a sneak peek of my debut novel ESSENCE? I am thrilled to announce the first three chapters are now available!

Please click here to read, and feel free to copy and paste this book code if you would like to post this sample elsewhere.

Like the story so far? ESSENCE will be released on June 3rd by Strange Chemistry Books, and it is available for pre-order from the following booksellers:

United States
United Kingdom
Australia / New Zealand
Thanks so much for your support!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Fun Interview w/ Jelena Bosh

Hello, everyone! I recently connected with a lovely aspiring author named Jelena Bosh on Goodreads, and we had an impromptu interview about some of my writing experiences. I have reprinted it here, and I hope you enjoy it!

Photo Courtesy of Libby Levi /OpenSource
Q. How did you know you wanted to become a writer?

A. I think I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but I took a break during my high school and college years because it didn't seem "normal." I started writing with the goal of publication during the summer of 2009, and I have been plugging away at it ever since.

Q. What made you want to write the type of novels that you write?

A. I was drawn to young adult novels because I really enjoy coming-of-age character arcs. I also remember what a big deal everything was when we were teenagers. I wanted to recapture that feeling in my books.

Q. Did you find it hard to came up with the overall story/plot and each of the characters [in ESSENCE]?

A. ESSENCE is actually the second book I have ever written. My first book was very by-the-book, with fully developed plans I designed after reading nearly every how-to book on the market. This second one is a little different, as I came up with a skeleton outline and then let the story kind of tell itself. Definitely an uncomfortable feeling (that made me doubt my sanity more than once!), but I think the result is a much more organic finished product. I also think I write my best when I'm not overthinking it.

Q. What type of books have you read & currently reading, that have helped you with your own writing? (For example, I find that reading books based on dystopian worlds and series in general to be overwhelming with what I would like to write since there are so many original developments and ideas that I wouldn't know how I can come up with...whereas with contemporary novels I find it 'quicker' or 'better' to relate to in terms of story line and characters BUT I still find it hard to know if I would be able to write such great chemistry between the characters and everything else that goes into a great story.)

A. I definitely try to read as much as I can, as this is a wonderful way to become inspired and refreshed. However, I agree that reading can sometimes be overwhelming, as there are already so many great ideas and authors out there. I have found it helpful to read different genres from time to time. That way, I'm not limiting myself to the young adult market, and I'm not accidentally stealing ideas from my peers. (While I'm writing, I specifically avoid books that have premises that sound similar to mine.)

Thanks again, Jelena, for taking the time to contact me, and best of luck to you as you pursue your writing dream!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Finding Publishing Resources

The Path to Publication, Part Two
Photo Courtesy of CollegeDegrees360
As I mentioned in Writing That First Book, I thought the hardest part about getting published would be writing a book. I mean, it's RARE to write an entire book from start to finish, right? It only makes sense there are an arsenal of literary agents just chomping at the bit in anticipation of representing you.

This logic made perfect sense to me in January 2011 when I finally finished editing what I was sure was going to be the literary world's Next Big Thing. It was an urban fantasy called THE MERMAID GENE, and it had taken me a year to write and an additional six months to edit. 

(In the meantime, I had also quit my zookeeping job in Alaska, and I had gotten into a devastating car accident in northern British Columbia while driving back to the Lower 48. I had almost lost one of my dogs in that accident, I had couch surfed at my parents-in-law's house for a few months, and I had moved to Colorado with my husband to see if we could finally put down some roots and find a permanent home base for ourselves.)

I had also done my research. I knew I should never do business with a literary agent who charged a fee for his/her services, and I knew I should pop every agent I researched into Preditors & Editors to make sure they weren't creeps or highway robbers. I knew I should visit forums like AbsoluteWrite to see what others were saying about agencies and agents, and I knew I should spend time pouring through each agency's website to make sure I selected the appropriate agent for my query letter. 

I also discovered a GOLD MINE: QueryTracker. (Have you ever heard of it? If I could be a paid spokesman for QueryTracker, I would do it in an instant!)

QueryTracker is the single most helpful resource I found during my search for a literary agent. It was started by an aspiring author named Patrick McDonald who wanted to create a resource for other writers seeking representation for their books. Here are his thoughts on it:

"As a struggling author, I knew there would be plenty of obstacles to overcome before I could achieve the dream of publication. But I quickly discovered the hardest part was not writing a book. The hardest part is to find a literary agent to represent your book.

"Sure, there are websites that try to help. There are those which offer lists of literary agents, but finding the agent's name was just the beginning. Of course I had to write the query letter, but a major problem turned out to be how to keep track of all those query letters. Who did I already query? Which literary agents looked promising, and which were just not suited for my work.

"I was faced with the same problems every time I sent out a new batch of query letters. Sure I kept a list of which agents I already queried, but, as that list grew, it became harder and harder to keep track. I found myself reading profiles for literary agents I had already determined were not suitable, or spending time on an agent just to realize that I had already queried her once before.

"I thought how nice it would be if I could just check a box beside the agent's name and forever mark her as queried. I could even go back after receiving that all-too-common rejection and, by checking another box, record that, too.

"And then the real power of this website hit me. With all this information, and with enough users on the site and contributing, we could take a lot of the guess work out of querying. Could the information gathered reveal patterns, or help identify more likely agents for different genres? I was sure of it. Now, I felt I was on to something. I hadn’t been this excited since the first time I wrote, 'The End.'

"So, I took this wishlist and I created, and now, although publication still eludes me, at least the query process has become much more organized, better targeted, and therefore faster and easier."

Are you obsessed with Patrick?? Because I know I am. As I have mentioned before, I have analytical, left-brained tendencies that sometimes border on OCD, so stumbling upon QueryTracker was a lot like finding the Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. (Yes, I just compared QueryTracker to a chocolate factory. No, I don't regret it.)

The Oompa Loompas agree with me.
(Photo Courtesy of Paddington Waterside Partnership)
As a matter of fact, I am getting so excited about the thought of QueryTracker that I think we need to take a quick break so you can go visit it yourself. (It's okay, I'll wait.) Click HERE to visit the Querying Chocolate Factory!

Did you get a good look? For those of you who were too lazy (or too interested in MY post! ;)) to actually follow that link, let me tell you a little bit about this beautiful resource. You can search for legit literary agents and publishers, and you can keep track of all your queries in a brilliant, Excel spreadsheet-like format. You can also easily click off who has rejected you, who has requested pages, etc.

This alone would make QueryTracker my favorite querying website, but PATRICK HAS TAKEN THINGS SOOO MUCH FURTHER. You see, he has also added a social element, so you can connect with other writers who are querying the same agents as you. You can chat with them to see how successful their queries were, and you can also get an idea of how quickly each agent typically responds to his or her queries. This allows you to figure out where you are in the "queue," which helps you decide whether or not you should start freaking out yet.

But wait, there's more. Patrick digs data and trends, and he has figured out this whole system of analyzing which agents are drawn to which particular types of novels. That means if one agent requests pages from you, he can look at other users' request rates and determine which other agents would probably dig your pages, too.


Best of all, Patrick has taken socializing to the next level by creating a a blog and an entire online forum where QueryTracker users can mingle, ask questions, get feedback and share good news with each other. (I have made many lifelong writer friends through this forum, and I am still a regular contributor, even though I found my agent years ago.) Here's the link, and I HIGHLY recommend joining: QueryTracker Forum.

Oh yeah, and did I mention membership to QueryTracker is FREE??? (There is an option to pay a small amount to become a Premium Member if you like. I highly recommend this, because it gives you access to lots of this awesome data sorting. However, you can totally remain a free member and still get a TON out of your membership.)

*Whew.* That felt good. I get just as worked up talking about QueryTracker now as I did when I first discovered it in January 2011. I honestly don't know what I would have done without it during my search for literary representation.

Of course, before I could find a literary agent, I had to do one of the most challenging things I had ever done: I had to write a query letter.


Ugh. In some ways, I felt like writing my book was WAY easier than writing my query letter. Did you? And what other publishing resources did you discover when you first start researching them? Did you like any more than others?

Please tune back in next Monday to learn more about my querying process. I also can't wait to hear your stories!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Writing That First Book

The Path to Publication, Part One
Photo Courtesy of Steve Dunleavy
The seeds of my debut novel were planted during the summer of 2004 while I lived in a tent and worked in Yosemite National Park. However, it would take YEARS for those seeds to sprout. I wouldn't even realize the seeds were planted until the summer of 2009, and it would take me two more years to formalize what that meant.

So what did I do in the meantime? I moved to Big Bear, CA, and I taught kids how to rock climb, how to use a telescope and how to read a compass. I worked for a wilderness society in Big Sur, CA, and I took kids kayaking, whale watching, kayaking and camping. I rescued seals and sea lions in Monterey, CA, and I ran the Education Department at a marine park in Panama City Beach, FL. I got married and moved to Anchorage, AK, and I got a job as a zookeeper and painfully learned how to snowboard on some of the steepest, scariest hills I'd ever seen.

I was almost perfectly happy with this life, but the writerly part of me--the one that had been dormant since middle school--felt a little edgy about this. After all, I'd promised her we would write a book and get it published before we turned 25, and here we were, screwing around at age 27 with no legitimate book in sight.

So, that little writerly part of me started speaking up and demanding I follow through on my promises. But how do you process that? And what do you write about when you're terrified you have nothing to say?

Well... After much thought, I decided to push back my deadline to age 30. And then I decided to do what any meticulous, analytical, and sometimes left-brained person would do. I bought every how-to writing book I could find, and I started analyzing the market for trends. I determined I was going to write the Next Big Thing, and I daydreamed about the riches that would undoubtedly roll in once the masses discovered me.

I looked at successful books like HARRY POTTER and TWILIGHT, and I realized what they had in common was the modern-day reinvention of a childhood icon. Everyone knew what wizards and vampires were, after all, but no one expected those wizards and vampires to go to school or hang out outside girls' windows in the Pacific Northwest.

So... I wracked my brain for another cultural icon I could reinvent, and... BAM! I settled on the idea of mermaids. Everyone likes mermaids, right? And they are sexy and mysterious and basically a slam dunk, so WHY WOULDN'T I WRITE A BOOK ABOUT MERMAIDS??

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
I do want to give myself a tiny bit of credit here: I came up with a pretty sweet concept for a mermaid book. I set my story in Alaska, and I tied in some super cool behind-the-scenes marine mammal research stuff I was confident most people didn't know anything about. I also poured over those how-to books, and I ended up writing a story I really did dig. It was called THE MERMAID GENE, and it combined science and research, belugas and poaching, alternate pathways of evolution and a super sweet romance that still makes me emotional.

Most importantly, it made me realize I LIKED DOING THIS. My stand-alone book suddenly became an idea for a series of books, and I started planning sequels and spin-offs and marketing and all kinds of good stuff.

I also started researching literary agents. I decided I wanted to go the traditional publishing route, and I knew the only way to do this was to find myself a literary agent who believed in the book as much as I did.

That shouldn't be too hard, right? I mean, I had WRITTEN A BOOK. And this was pretty rare. Most people don't write books, so it's only logical that the ones who have the fortitude to get to THE END should be rewarded with an enthusiastic literary agent and an arsenal of publishers fighting over who gets to give them the most money. Right??

This seemed logical, but I was wrong. Oh, so, so, so, so wrong.

Were you wrong, too? How did you feel the first time you typed THE END on one of your manuscripts? Did you daydream about your appearances on Oprah, too? About all the attractive young Hollywood stars who would be competing to get a role in your movie?

I know I did, but things ended up shaking out for me much, much differently. Stay tuned next Monday for a post that explains what happened instead. It's a DOOZY!

  • Want to learn more about THE MERMAID GENE? Click HERE to visit my Pinterest Inspiration Board.