Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Agents: Interview #4 with Mette Harrison

I'm sad to say this is my final interview with Mette. Read on to learn her tips for finding and acquiring an awesome agent. And don't forget to follow the link at the bottom for a chance to win one of her books!

4. Agents
How did you get an agent?
I have a post on questions to ask an agent here:
How many agents have you had?
My agent is Barry Goldblatt of He is awesome. He is Libba Bray's husband (and agent), Holly Black's, Robin Wasserman's, Cassie Clare's, Shannon Hale's, and on and on. He should be high on anyone's list.

What are the advantages of having an agent?
Um, no more time spent figuring out where to send something, I suppose. You save some money there. But really, an agent is there to protect you when things go wrong. You think they won't, but they will. A contract gets canceled, an editor leaves a publisher, or any number of problems. You want someone who has your back. Also, international sales are a good thing. I couldn't do those on my own. My agent also helps a lot in terms of building community with his clients. He has a retreat every year where we get together and he can tell us all what he thinks we need to know about the changing business and also where he can ask certain experts to talk on topics of his choice. Mostly we just have fun and help each other out.

What should a writer look for in an agent?
A Mensch. Someone who is passionate about books, and about your book in particular. Also someone with a vision not just of how this book will be marketed, but how your whole career will look. Someone with big dreams, as big as yours. Also, it doesn't hurt for you to have some crossover book loves.

What questions should a writer ask an agent before signing on with them?
I have a post on questions to ask an agent here: that says just about everything I have to say about agents.

What is the best way to find an agent?
A personal recommendation is nice, but it's not a necessity. I would say query just about everyone you can find who doesn't charge a reading fee. You can find agent names sometimes in acknowledgement pages of books. Surprisingly, I have found I often turn to this page first when I read a book. Though I never write such pages. I believe they are cursed!

Tips for querying an agent.
Make your query letter short. Cut out the parts comparing your book to someone else's and about your credentials. It doesn't matter. Your writing is the only thing that matters. Don't waste the agent's time.


I hope you've enjoyed and learned as much as I have from Mette's vast wisdom on agents. Now, make sure to go to and listen to my writer's group podcast interview with Mette on writing romance, and comment on her interview for a chance to win her book Tris & Izzie!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Self Promotion with Mette Harrison

Here's my third interview with Mette Harrison. This one's on self-promotion. 
3. Self-promotion
How important is self-promotion?
Oh, I am the worst person on the planet to ask about self-promotion. When I became a writer, I thought the job was for people who liked to sit in their basements for hours on end with no human contact but what was in their heads. I thought it was for people who didn't care what they looked like or smelled like.

I once was asked to speak on a panel about self-promotion and I said I didn't think authors should do any, because it was morally wrong. Readers should be promoting books and other book people, not authors.

So I've grown up a little since then, but I think no one really understands how one book seems to benefit from promotion and another doesn't at all. I guess the first thing is--do no harm. If you're doing self-promotion, make sure that you are being nice to people around you and that they will remember you fondly. Second rule, write a good book. Third rule, write another good book. Fourth rule, take a break and go to some conferences to meet people and be nice again. Fifth rule, write another good book. Eventually, the thing snowballs and you'll have too much self-promotion to do and you'll be wishing you were back at the beginning so you could write more.

How often do you do self-promotion?
I suppose I do it every day, in one sense. I'm on twitter and livejournal and facebook. I post every day. But it's also true that I think of twitter as my water cooler. The other people I talk to there are writers whose work I love. We talk shop and well, anything that interests us. On livejournal, I post musings. It's true that I am writing down things, but it also serves as a warmup for me. Once I've started writing about something easy, the panicked feeling that I can't get started is a little decreased. I hate that blank page. And facebook is actually partly responsible for the sale of two books to Egmont (one of them Tris and Izzie). I reconnected with my editor there and she asked what I was working on.

I think if you use any of those places as purely self-promotion in that you're trying to get people to buy your books, you will annoy everyone. I think it's about building a community and I don't talk about my own books much unless I'm using one as an example. I try not to hurt other writer's feelings even if I'm criticizing. I try to point out my own flaws.

If you mean book signings and conferences, I do those less often, maybe once a month. I tend to go to events where I already have a community I care about, so that during the downtime (and there will be lots of that) I am still doing something I love, talking to people who are interested in writing. So I don't do solo book signings. I've done one once in my life and it wasn't that great.  I do go to conferences, but only ones I want to go to anyway.

Does your publisher arrange it or do you or both?
My publisher arranged one book signing last year. I appreciated it, but in my local community, I actually know a lot more people in the book business than they do. So I usually send myself places. I don't ask for the publisher to pick up the tab. It's part of my business cost. But if I were doing a book tour or something, that would, of course, be different.

When you do book signings what do you do to attract buyers? (candy, balloons, readings, bookmarks? flyers? posters? etc?)
I try really hard not to annoy people who are shopping. I have started to bring bookmarks, purely so that I can show people new books coming out and give free things to people who are interested, but not ready to buy. Candy and stuff? I've done it, but all it seems to attract are little kids.

I think about how I would want to be treated if I were in the reverse situation (which I am, all the time). I ask people what books they like, if they are willing to engage me. I read a lot, so I almost always have something to say about the books they like. I just make pleasant conversation, and show how passionate I am about books and stories. If they ask, I tell them about my books, but I never NEVER push my books on people. I wouldn't want someone to buy a book just to get me to stop bugging them and then never read it. The thought of a book going unread just makes me sad. I feel sometimes like books are waiting on the shelf, pleading for me to read them like a puppy. I want to send my books to a good home.

How do you handle school visits?
I only rarely do school visits. Not because I hate them, but because my target audience is usually the older set and high schools don't sponsor as many. I have a great setup for elementary where I come in and have the kids write their own fairy tale, then give them comments and come back a second time to talk about revision. It works great as part of a publication program for kids to show their best work. I think public schools are struggling teaching creative writing because there is so much focus on grammar. I'm not saying you don't need to learn that. You do. But it's just that you have to turn off the critical editor part of your brain to get the creative part working. So I have to promise kids that when I read their stories, I will only ever write encouraging words about what I would like to see more of. I never correct grammar or spelling. It's a bargain I sort of make with my own mind when I write. That's not what creativity is about.

How do you get and keep the kids attention?
I think by just being passionate about what I do. Also, I try on purpose to find a kid who hates fairy tales to choose a fairy tale to rip apart. They think they're being distracting, but I need them to give energy. Anger and annoyance are great things to use. Fairy tales are boring the old way. That's why we're retelling them. So they're not boring anymore.

How long are your presentations at school visits?
My fairy tale writing workshop is an hour one week, and then another hour two weeks later. I also do a "How I Became A Writer" talk that last about 45 minutes.

You do a lot of conferences and workshops. Do you have any tips on presenting?
I just like talking about writing. I think about it a lot. I talk to other writers a lot. I analyze novels, stories, movies, TV. We all do it at our house. My husband is the work critic imaginable. He hates everything I write the first time around. He is a physicist, so it has to make absolute logical, mathematical, scientific sense or he can't care about it. Any way, I've developed a thick skin in some ways and can talk about writing to anyone. I don't really prepare for this because I do all those blogs and I have a monthly column with Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show where I write about all imaginable writing topics.

Best and worst experiences doing self-promotion?
Shannon Hale did a blog this year about mortifying promotion experiences. She linked to my blog about it, which is here: I am not a good salesman. Well, let me rephrase that. I am not interested in selling a product to someone who doesn't want it. For me, it is all about the second sale. When someone loves your book, they end up being willing to buy ANYTHING you ever write again. You have to actually write a long series of bad books for them to lose that feeling. At least, that's the way I feel about certain writers. They have undying loyalty. I think you can't pay enough for a book you truly love and read to pieces. I wonder if the digital age is going to mean that people end up buying paper books only for those books they love in this way, and if paper books will cost a lot because they will only be for collectors. But that is another discussion.

Best self-promotion experience? I went to ALA in 2008, when Brian Selznick won the Newbery for Hugo Cabret, which I absolutely loved. I went to the speech the night before and heard him and it was one of the most amazing talks about persistence and creativity I have ever heard. Then I was sitting at the Harper Booth signing The Princess and the Hound and I look up and see Brian Selznick is in my line. I couldn't believe it and I think I said something super articulate like "You can't be--But I'm supposed to be--You're Brain Selznick." And then I signed his book, which I think he said was for a niece, but he said he'd read my book himself and liked it. And then later I went over and asked Susan Beth Pfeffer to sign a poster for me and she looked over, saw my name tag, and said, Oh, you have that nice blog, don't you? The book world is a small place, and I felt for the first time there that I was really a part of it.

Any other tips for self-promotion?
 Don't worry about it. Think about the book. You'll figure the rest out later.

Don't forget to go to to hear my writer's group podcast interview with her and enter a contest to win her book Tris and Izzie!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Interview #2: Editing With Mette Harrison

Here's my second interview with Mette Harrison, YA fantasy author of Tris and Izzie. Learn some of her editing secrets that have helped her polish her own (and other writers' novels) and get them published and go to to listen to my writer's group podcast  interview with her and for a chance to win her book, Tris and Izzie!

2. Editing

How polished should a manuscript be before an author submits it to you for an edit?
To me? Well, I'm not a copyeditor. If you want me to look at your manuscript, I'm not going to make it all shiny and new. I'm going to rip it apart and show you the deeper flaws, so I wouldn't worry about the details.

For another editor or an agent, I would say you want to make your first 50 pages absolutely riveting. I'm surprised at how often people make the mistake of thinking that action is the most riveting. It's not to me, and I think to a lot of others. Character is what makes me care about the action. You need to establish character first. I think a smaller stakes conflict that establishes relationships is most important. That first chapter is usually what ends up getting written last for most professional writers. It was for me in every novel I've done.

What mistakes do you commonly see in manuscripts you edit?
I see a lot of people trying to tell a story that is simply too complex for a first time novel. Changing viewpoints, time frames, and so on. I'm not saying you can't do it, but it might not be the best choice.

The other mistake I see is thinking that the trappings of the novel are what readers care about. It's true in genre and it's just as true in realistic fiction. If you have great description, I don't care. Not until I see the other pieces in place. If you have a cool monster, don't care. A cool weapon? Don't care. A ten-page long explanation of the hereditary system of the kings, I don't care.

I love that more fantasy and science fiction is being done in YA, but I hate that the lessons the sff community has spent fifty years learning about how to do backstory properly have to be reinvented. If I open a book and the first chapter is all backstory, I am finished reading it.

Tips for self-editing?
Let it sit for a while. Honestly, let it sit even before you take it to a writer's group. You want to be able to have some perspective before you start making changes. This is a mistake I make myself because I am too eager to fix it.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Twisted Fairy Tales: an interview with Mette Harrison

This is the first in a series of interviews I'll be posting once a week on Mondays for the next few weeks with Mette Harrison, YA Fantasy author—and one of my idols. This first interview focuses on doing fairytale retellings—one of my favorite genres to read and write. Mette has a vast array of knowledge and some wonderful insights into the subject. So here we go! Hope you get as much out of and enjoy the interview as much as I did.

Me and mette (or I should say Mette and me) at LTUE

1. Twisted Fairytales
 What made you decide to write fairytale retellings?
I love fairy tales, always have since I was a little kid. But I also studied them while working on my PhD in German literature. I taught for a while, then decided to work on my writing and it seemed a natural transition. I get absurdly excited about almost anything German and am obsessed with WWII and the Nazis. I think sometimes I felt in grad school like everything in German literature had to answer the question: How did this lead to the Nazis? I think it might be just as interesting to ask how fairy tales work against the Nazis. There are a lot of powerful characters and lessons in fairy tales.

Do you plan on doing more? Why or why not?
I am reminded of Hugh Grant's interview with Julia Roberts in Notting Hill where he pretends to be a reporter from Horse and Hound and asks her if she plans to use horses in any of her other movies. She says no, because the next one is set on a submarine.

I have actually moved to seeing every book I write as a retelling. Perhaps not always of a fairy tale specifically, but of something else that I love. I read a great post on-line about authors stealing I've also written my own essay about writers stealing. We all steal. It's how we recreate the story that matters, not where the material came from.

Some of the projects I am currently working on include:

A retelling of The Happy Prince story by Oscar Wilde
A retelling of An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilds (An Idea Boyfriend)
A retelling of The Nibelungenlied
A retelling of Cinderella from the stepmother's point of view
A retelling of The Little Mermaid called The Sea Witch
A retelling of Pride and Prejudice called Magic and Misapprehension
A retelling of the Queen Elizabeth/Mary Queen of Scots story
A retelling of Dr. Who with a female doctor set in medieval Germany with death magic.

I never know when I begin a project if it will end up working or not, nor am I always conscious of which fairy tale/original material will end up being the most closely linked to the final draft. When I wrote The Princess and the Hound, I did not think of it as a Beauty and the Beast story at all, though of course it is. It took my editor to see that.

Your fairytales vary a lot from the originals. How do you come up with your ideas?

Ideas assault me day and night. I wish I could get rid of ideas. I've heard some writers say they keep notebooks to write ideas down in. I NEVER do that. I want the ideas to go away and leave me alone. If they keep bugging me to write them down until I can't stand it anymore, then I do it. I will say that I have not always been this way. I used to have no idea what to write. But I think that after I realized that ideas just came from stealing something I loved from someone else and twisting it to make it better, then it was easy.

I love the way that Dr. Who is able to transform the doctor into new actors. The old doctor dies, and the new doctor has his memories, but isn't him anymore. And the way the companions love him, but are also ruined by him. I also love the way that the romance arc between Rose and David Tennant works. Trying to figure out how to do that all my own way, I thought up a series (it will probably never sell, mind you) about a girl who realizes she has magic that makes her revive every time she dies. The only problem is that the price for this magic is the death of the person she loves the most at the moment of her death. How does this change her? Well, it makes her avoid attachments to other people. It also makes her reckless to begin with. But then as more and more people she loves (even a little) die, she has to become more careful about her own life to protect those around her. But she can also never tell them the truth.

I'm just using that as an example of the process I go through, wanting to copy something I love and yet tweak it and make it something I love even more, and also something that is mine.

One problem that I've had recently is with my Jane Austen with magic novel. I love Jane Austen so much that it has been really hard to write something that echoes her without echoing her too much. I think it is actually easier when you hate a fairy tale (as I hate Snow White, for instance) and want to twist it around. Anger is great fuel for writing.

What is it about fairytale retellings that appeals to readers?
Oh, I think it's the same thing that appeals to readers about all stories. The combination of the same and the new. This modern Western idea that we are somehow writing "original" material is just so silly. In medieval times, bards were acutely conscious of who they were stealing from and I think they were smarter.

It is also true that princesses seem to appeal to girls (who are big readers) right now a lot. I think that a lot of people believe fantasy in particular is an escape from modern life. I think it is more a meditation of what we have lost and what we have gained in becoming more modern. It is a story about what it means to be human, then and now and how we are connected to our past.

How do you choose which retellings to do?
See above. They make me. Probably I am most interested in retellings that allow me to subvert patriarchal culture with feminist ideas and to debunk certain myths of humanism that unerly a lot of modern political philosophy. This idea that humans are capable of changing who we are from millenia of evolution just because we want to seems rather foolish to me.

Do you think retellings are still popular or have they all been done before?
There will always be new retellings. I can't imagine Cinderella not being told again and again in ways that will always delight me. Yes, there will be retellings that don't appeal or that feel less fresh, but then a new Gail Carson Levine or Megan Whalen Turner comes along, and the world holds its collective breath.

Is there room for more in today's market?
I think the pendulum is swinging back to more traditional fantasy at the moment, away from urban. But I could be wrong.

What is your idea of a good/bad fairytale retelling?
I have been trying (not altogether successfully) to accept that my idea of good writing is not necessary the "true" or Platonic ideal of good writing. Nonetheless, I like female characters who do something. However, I am annoyed by anachronistic modern characters set in a medieval world. If you want to do modern characters acting out a fairy tale, set it in a modern world. That's what I've done with Tris and Izzie. Another annoyance of mine is overwrought language. I tend to think language should be a window, not a picture. You should see through it to the story. If you have something to say, do it with the story, not the words. My prejudice.

What are some of your favorite fairytale retellings and why?
Robin McKinley is one of my all time favorite retellers. Also Patricia Wrede. Patricia McKillip. Gail Carson Levine. Shannon Hale. Diana Peterfreund is doing interesting stuff with unicorn myths. Also Nancy Werlin. There's a new book coming out called The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal that I think is great.

How do you handle romance in your fairytales?
I spent years trying to figure out what the formula of a good romance was. When the first meeting should happen, what sorts of obstacles should come up, how things should be resolved. The proposal. The humilation.

In the end, I decided that the individual characters have to dictate what happens. In The Princess and the Hound, I had two strong characters, George and Beatrice, who had their own motivations. Once I figured out who they were, they just had to figure out their own way together. I felt like I was sort of a scribe for them, writing down what they told me they would do. But it's also true that the set up required me to choose characters who desperately needed each other. In my original version of the novel, George had no magic. But I realized that he had to have a counter balance to what is set up later in the novel. He needed to have his own sorrow and pain. And also, he needed to have something that was complementary to what Beatrice was going through. He understands her in a deep way. That's the set up and that's important. But how it plays out, well, Beatrice is not an ordinary female character. There are some very odd moments. And I used some tricks to reveal character to each other in magic dreams. I think it worked, but it still feels a bit like a trick.

Tell us about your new book coming out.

Tris and Izzie is about Izzie, a girl whose mother makes potions. Izzie's best friend Brangane is in love with some guy desperately but she won't tell Izzie who. Izzie decides to solve the problem by making a love potion (a potion her mother thinks is dangerous and has never used) and she plans to give it to Branna and whichever guy seems the best bet. But due to a series of disastrous circumstances, Izzie has to take it herself and she ends up falling in love with the guy that was supposed to be Branna's, even though she already has a boyfriend who is awesome in every way. It's based on Tristan and Isolde by Gottfried von Strassburg, which is the first German story I read in college. I gave it a happy ending and updated it, but a lot of the old magic is the same. There are a lot of tips of the hat to those who know the original. Everyone else I'm sure won't care. But of course, Tris and Izzie have to save the world. After they figure out if they can really love each other.

Any other tips for those interested in writing fairytale retellings?

Write a lot. Revise a lot. Try a lot of different ways to work the story. Don't be afraid to change things up or to start over from the beginning.

Thanks for the wonderful interview, Mette!

That's it until next week. Be sure to come back for my second interview with her on "Editing" next Monday May 14th. 

Contest: Win a copy of Tris and Izzie!!!

Also, for a chance to win a copy of Mette's fabulous book, Tris and Izzie, go to my writer's group podcast at where we'll be posting several podcast interviews with Mette starting on Monday May 14th, and comment on one of her interviews! 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Shapeshifter's Secret Review and Giveaway

Book Blurb:
She tried telling herself to stop, but it was useless. Something had fully claimed her mind and body. A sound began to erupt from inside her chest, a deep sort of growl that seized her entire being. She felt as if there was a grizzly bear inside her, trying to escape. And then a deafening roar echoed from her mouth, only inches away from Lancer’s face. It took everything inside of her not to attack him.

In Julia’s life, timing is everything. Like the time her paranoid father put bars on her window so she wouldn’t sneak out at night—even though she’s never given him a reason not to trust her. Or the time this weird new kid showed up at her school and pretty much every girl in sight instantly and inexplicably fell in love with him. What was up with that?
But as time moves on, things in Julia’s life go from strange to seriously impossible. Now it’s all she can do to keep herself and the life she’s always known from falling apart.
This fast-paced action-adventure story is packed with humor, romance, and enough twists and turns to keep you guessing to the very last page. Get lost in a world of hidden royalty, shifting alliances, and dangerous vendettas, but don’t ever forget: nothing is what it seems.
Author bio
Heather Ostler grew up near the mountains with a rambunctiously entertaining family. She majored in English at Utah Valley University, and soon began composing stories about masquerades, water nymphs, and shapeshifters. She and her husband, Kellen, reside in Highland, Utah with two remarkably pleasant pugs.

Quote from the book:

As Julia burst through the school’s front doors she began
running with quickness and agility she’d never known before.
Normally it would have taken her at least an hour to get to Covington
Park. However, only minutes had passed when she arrived
out of breath and fatigued. Her chest heaved, but she continued
onward to the deserted woodland behind the park.
Julia entered into the hidden dark forest and collapsed on the
dirt floor. She tried to shake off the anger and heat that pulsed
inside her, but it only seemed to have gotten worse. Images of Ms.
Finnary and the students swirled in her head, and she screamed
with anguish. Why couldn’t she get rid of the horrible feelings? It
seemed her whole body was reacting more extreme this time, and
she knew she was dangerous.
A branch snapped near her, and she sprang up from the
ground baring her teeth again like a wild animal.
“Who’s there?”
She spun around menacingly, and to her shock, found Caleb
standing just a few feet away from her.
“Julia, are you okay?” he asked walking toward her with his
hands out.
“How did you find me here?”
“You need to calm down. I can help you,” he said, far too
composed for the situation.
“Leave.” Julia’s voice was mean, and she hoped it would be
enough to get him to disappear. “I don’t want to be responsible
for what I do to you.”
“I’m not going to leave you,” Caleb stated. “I want to help.”
         “No,” she growled. Soon her hands began shaking harder
than ever before. Her breathing seized her, and she felt her lungs
might explode before she had enough air. She shook her head as
her vision was obscured, and suddenly she was no longer Julia.

I'm thrilled for this opportunity to review my friend Heather Ostler's debut novel, Shapeshifter's Secret, the first book in her YA fantasy series.  If you like Twilight-esk paranormal romance, Harry Potter-like magic, and Phantom of the Opera-ish ghost mysteries, then you'll love Shapeshifter's Secret. From shape shifting werecats to masquerade balls, the story is brimming with action, romance, and danger around every corner.

Julia is just an average teenage girl—or so she thinks—until she starts having odd fits and seeing strange things. Her world is flipped on it's head when she finds out the dark secrets her over-protective father has been keeping from her; such as the fact that she's not who she always thought she was, that there's a whole world she never knew existed, and that her life is on the line.

I enjoyed the premise of this book: a young woman trying to find herself and deal with the normal teenage infatuations, friendships, and school work, while also dealing with supernatural elements, betrayal, and attempts on her life.

I look forward to the next books revealing more of the world and characters and developing Julia's powers further to give her an even greater role in resolving not only her own problems, but also the problems that threaten to bring the downfall of her world. 

If you'd like to read other reviews of Shapeshifter's Secret check the blog tour calendar here:  
Here are some other links:  
Author Website: 

Also, if you'd like the chance to win a copy of Shapeshifter's Secret, please  follow or like Cedar Fort or the author on Facebook or Twitter and comment on this post to let me know.

Launch Party:
The launch party will be at the King's English at 7pm on June 14th. Hope to see you there!