The Publishing Experience

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THE PUBLISHING EXPERIENCE: GUEST POST BY CARRIE CROSS

from Stories Unfolded

My experience getting published has been a long, winding, bumpy road. I had been writing for many years when I finally submitted my first manuscript, an adult novel called The Dark File, to several agents. While many had positive things to say, or provided constructive criticism and an invitation to resubmit, none of them ever offered to represent me.

I’ve always loved to read Middle Grade and Young Adult, so while The Dark File was being shopped (it takes months for agents to reply) I started to write my first draft of a Skylar Robbins MG mystery. This early version of Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills was called Magic Summer, and while I tried patiently to land an agent, I started writing the sequel, entitled Skylar Robbins: Secret Agent. Magic Summer never got a bite, but Secret Agent landed me…an agent.

I was picked up by Writers House, and had high hopes of getting a deal with a traditional publisher. However, after months of shopping my manuscript, all I had was a pile of apologetic rejection letters. Some were complimentary but said their house had another teen detective series which was too similar, and didn’t want to bring in a competing novel. Others contained excellent constructive criticism, which I implemented in my revision. This novel ultimately became The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels.

Most agents specify that authors should not “simultaneously submit” to more than one agent. They don’t want to waste their time reading a manuscript that might get snapped up by a competitor. It was my experience that agents typically take three months to read a submission and respond. So I did the math. If I wanted to try to get another agent, and then wait for that agent to submit my manuscript to various publishers (who also take months to reply) it could take many, many years before my books were ever in print. So I decided to self-publish.

My experience with Amazon’s Createspace has been excellent. Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills and The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels are now in print, and have gotten excellent reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I would heartily recommend aspiring authors to self-publish, as long as they are willing to do their own marketing. Traditional publishing houses no longer have the budget to spend on advertising, so authors will end up doing their own publicity anyway. I offer more Advice for Aspiring Writers on my blog: http://www.skylarrobbins.com/

Thanks so much for the opportunity to talk about my experience as an author. I hope this helps fellow writers complete their journey to publication.

THE MYSTERY OF SHADOW HILLS BUY LINKS:

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THE MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN JEWELS BUY LINKS:

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ABOUT CARRIE CROSS

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Carrie Cross’s Advice to Aspiring Writers #7: Use Foreshadowing to Create Suspense

MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN JEWELS FRONT COVER
“Foreshadowing is a literary device in which a writer gives an advance hint of what is to come later in the story.” (Literarydevices.net)

What bigger goal can a writer have than to keep your readers turning those pages, desperate to find out what happens next? Foreshadowing is a technique that can help you accomplish this objective. Remember being a kid, reading a book that you absolutely couldn’t put down, and suddenly it was–bedtime? Did you hide under the covers, reading by flashlight, because you just knew something exciting was about to happen? That built-up anticipation was probably caused by the author’s superlative use of foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing can be accomplished subtly, by using a description of the setting for example, or overtly, via dialogue and first person narration. The following excerpts from Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills are used for illustration.

Using setting in foreshadowing:

Even though I was afraid, following a treasure map and investigating caves sounded so adventurous that at the stroke of midnight I found myself following Kat outside. Creaky wooden stairs led down the rocky hillside behind her house to their private beach. Sliding my hand along the rough rail, I hoped that the worst thing that would happen to me tonight would be getting a splinter in my palm.

Silver-gray clouds slid past the moon, casting huge shadows on the sand. All too soon we reached the end of the staircase and I smelled the stench of dead mussels clinging to rocks. A cold breeze kissed my cheek as if to wish me luck. Or to warn me.

Violent waves slammed ocean water against the sand. Each pounding crash sounded like a car accident. Pausing with my shoe still touching the last stair, I wondered if there was any way to talk Kat out of this. I figured that following her was better than getting lost on the beach in the dark, so I stumbled after her, scared to death.

Would the worst thing that happened to our heroine be getting a splinter in her palm? Probably not. The cold breeze seemed to be warning her of something. What? Something worse than the car accident that the crashing waves alluded to, or to getting lost on the beach in the dark?

Using dialogue in foreshadowing:

“My new friend was amazing. “What’s Wiccan?” I mouthed.

She looked around. No one was listening.

“Witchcraft.” She waited to see how I’d react, then continued. “I’ll sleep over Saturday night and introduce you.”

“OK. I’ll ask. Introduce me to what?”

Kat looked at me. “Everything Wiccan. I know all about it. And I’ll let you in.”

A nervous tingle shot down my spine. My brain was spinning. I decided to put my plan to escape from Malibu on hold for now.

An uninvited Saturday night sleep-over where Skylar gets introduced to witchcraft? Skylar was nervous and her brain was spinning. Surely something interesting would happen on Saturday night, wouldn’t it?

Using first person narration in foreshadowing:

Heading for Malibu on a sunny Saturday in June would normally have been a good thing. I could have spent the day bodysurfing with my BFF, Alexa, and playing games in the arcade on the Santa Monica pier. If I was totally lucky I might have shared a bumper car with Dustin Coles, the cutest boy going into Pacific Middle School. Alexa and I liked to lie in the sun and watch surfers ride the waves on Zuma beach. If there were pinball and corndogs ahead of me instead of what I was in for, I would have begged my dad for a ride down the coast. But today? Not so much.

If I’d gotten out of the car right then and spread out my beach towel, everything might have turned out fine. But my dad kept right on driving.

Apparently, everything didn’t turn out fine. ‘Tween readers who enjoy going to the beach, watching surfers, eating corndogs, or playing video games should already have an affinity with the protagonist. If she’d gotten out of the car right then, everything might have turned out fine. But her dad kept right on driving. What happened to her?

Foreshadowing helps to create suspense; so whatever your genre, hinting at exciting events to come will keep your readers intrigued, staying up later than intended, reading just one more chapter.

Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills is on sale now on Amazon, or message me for a personally autographed copy plus a FREE pair of kids binoculars using the contact form on my website. My second Skylar Robbins novel, The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels, will be available on Amazon on Read Tuesday, December 9th. More advice for aspiring writers can be found on my website.

Carrie Cross’s Advice for Aspiring Writers #6: Create Suspense…

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Whether you’re writing for children, middle grade, YA, or adults, you must create suspense to keep the reader turning the pages of your novel. Even if your genre isn’t mystery, thriller, or adventure, you can still use suspense to create drama. There are many techniques you can utilize. Here are two of my favorites:

Unexplained events: Leave the reader wondering and guessing

Introduce unexplained story elements. Lee Child has mastered this technique, and it is especially apparent in his fourth Jack Reacher novel, Running Blind.

“The killer’s victims have only one thing in common–all of them brought sexual harassment charges against their military superiors and all resigned from the army after winning their cases. The manner, if not the cause, of their deaths is gruesomely the same: they died in their own bathtubs, covered in gallons of camouflage paint, but they didn’t drown and they weren’t shot, strangled, poisoned, or attacked. Even the FBI forensic specialists can’t figure out why they seem to have gone willingly to their mysterious deaths.” ~ Amazon review

Child’s writing leaves the reader mystified. How could the killer drown women in green paint without spilling a single drop? Picture the struggle, and the ensuing mess. How could such immaculate killings be possible? This question keeps the reader intrigued, and eager for the next chapter.

For a Middle Grade read, consider this teaser from my second Skylar Robbins novel, The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels:

If I couldn’t go to Pacific Middle School with Dustin, Alexa, and all of my other friends, it will absolutely destroy me. Not to mention what it will do to my BFF. She’s carrying around a big, embarrassing secret. And I’m trying to help her keep it.

Oh-oh. What’s the big, embarrassing secret?

If the reader is invested in your characters, they will keep reading to find out what happens to them.

Use Cliffhangers

“A cliffhanger or cliffhanger ending is a plot device in fiction which features a main character in a precarious or difficult dilemma, or confronted with a shocking revelation at the end of an episode of serialized fiction.” (Wikipedia.net)

Try to end each chapter with a cliffhanger: Put your protagonist in a dangerous situation. Maybe her embarrassing secret is about to be exposed. Or she is about to receive some terrible news. How will she react? Introduce a new, threatening character. How will your lead character handle an upcoming confrontation? Your readers should identify with your protagonist, and will want to find out what happens to him.

Consider this cliffhanger from the last page of chapter one from Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels:

We got out of the car into the wind and rain and hurried toward the house. Crumbling stepping-stones led us through a lawn that was overgrown with knee-high weeds. Dead trees sported black branches that ended in grasping claws. As Victoria Knight fumbled with the key, I saw that the curtains were stained with something that looked like blood.

“Here we go,” she said, opening the tall front door. She let out a loud shriek and ducked.

Why did she scream? What flew out the door and made her duck?

If you end each chapter with a question that begs an answer, your readers will be eager to turn the page and find out what happens next.

Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels is available on Amazon.

If you found this post helpful, I’d really appreciate it if you’d share it with your friends and followers. Thank you!

Carrie Cross’s Advice for Aspiring Writers #5: Grab the Reader with Your First Sentence

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The most important thing to do when starting a new book is to grab the readers’ attention from sentence #1, so they cannot help but continue to read. Book buyers frequently open the book to the first chapter and read the opening page. If it doesn’t interest them within a few sentences, the book goes right back to the shelf. Can’t you picture your own hand grabbing a novel, reading a few lines, and instantly putting the book back where it came from—because the initial paragraph didn’t grab your attention? You must have an exciting opener.

Writers may ask, “But what about setting? Backstory? Character development?” All of those elements are very important, but your reader won’t read far enough to get to them if your opening lines are weak. How likely would you be to buy a book if the first paragraph you read was nothing more than a description of the weather? It’s amazing how many self-published novels begin in this uninteresting way. Your description of the setting might be creative and well-written. Yes, that thunder and lightning may foreshadow something exciting or dangerous to come, but without introducing your reader to the characters or the plot conflict first, who cares about the weather?

Your main character and the essence of the plot must make their entrances right off the bat. Please take a look at the first paragraph of my second novel, SKYLAR ROBBINS: THE MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN JEWELS (Teen Mystery Press, November 2014) with these thoughts in mind.

I didn’t know this when I climbed into the backseat of the black Cadillac, but what was about to happen in the next half hour would change my life forever. And I’m not talking about a little change, either. This one was a monster. It wasn’t just that we were moving out of the house I’d lived in since I was born, or that I was finally about to start middle school. Both of those things were huge, but they seemed like tiny details compared to what came next. The mystery I got tangled up in involved the disappearance of a famous heiress, a million dollars’ worth of hidden jewels, and a threatening gang of bikers who were determined to find them before I did.

After reading this paragraph you already know the following facts:

  • The story is written in the first person, and the protagonist is about to start middle school, so she is 12 or 13-years old.
  • She is going to experience a monstrous, life-changing event during this book.
  • It starts in the next half-hour, so you­—the reader—won’t have to wait long for the action to begin.
  • She’s about to get involved in a dangerous mystery involving a missing person, a hidden fortune, and a threatening group of adversaries.

The more conflict and tension you can introduce on the first page, the more likely potential readers will be to buy your book. Save those tasty descriptions of your setting for later. Start your first chapter off with a bang!

If you enjoyed these tips, I’d really appreciate you sharing this post with your friends. Thank you!

 

Carrie Cross’s Advice to Aspiring Writer’s #4: Plot From the End

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Carrie Cross’s Advice to Aspiring Writers #4: Plot From the End

One of the best bits of advice I’ve ever read regarding plotting was from Ayn Rand’s, The Art of Fiction. Her premise suggests that an author must plan the climax in advance, and figure out the end of their story before they ever begin to write.

Some authors like to start with an outline, diagramming their whole book scene-by-scene. This structure doesn’t work for me. I find that it inhibits my creativity if I have to force dialogue, plot twists, and suspense into a prearranged outline. However, I made the mistake of starting my first novel with some juicy, creative ideas, but with no plan for where I was going with them. Why don’t I just let my imagination see where it takes the characters? I thought gleefully, and foolishly. What I ended up with was 400 pages of what I now refer to as “a tangled ball of spaghetti” that took months to unravel. That manuscript never turned into a coherent book.

And that’s because I didn’t know where I was going from the beginning. I started exploring a path without having any idea where it would end. I had the idea for a story, but I didn’t plan the climax, the finale, the de·noue·ment:
ˌdāno͞oˈmäN/
1. the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved.

Ayn Rand’s advice on plotting was invaluable to me when I wrote my next book, which was the first volume of the Skylar Robbins detective series: The Mystery of Shadow Hills. This time I had the idea for my story, decided how it would end, and planned the climax in advance. And then I wrote toward it.

Every scene, every character, and every bit of dialogue was composed with the end in sight. If you don’t know where the end of the road lies, how can you possibly figure out the path that will lead you to it? As Ayn Rand says in The Art of Fiction, “The only absolute rule is…you must start plotting from the end.”

Carrie Cross’s Advice for Aspiring Writers #3

feather_quillIn a recent interview, I was asked what I use for inspiration when I wrote Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels (Teen Mystery Press, November 2014).

My answer was this: I use a game I call, “What if?”. What if my main character, Skylar Robbins, explored a creepy old house and found it had a hidden floor? What would she find when she got there? What if she used an ultraviolet light in the attic and found a secret message written on the wall in invisible ink? What would it say? I like to put my hero in that type of situation and let my imagination go wild.

So my advice to aspiring writers is to interview your protagonist in your mind. Throw him or her into a sticky situation and ask how they would react. What if your main character discovered a tunnel hiding under some leaves in his backyard? Where would it lead? What if someone scary was hiding at the other end of the tunnel? How would he react? What if an unusual classmate begged your hero for a huge favor that was impossible to deny? How would she reply?

Put your characters into a challenging scenario and watch the scene unfold. The outcome may surprise you.

Carrie Cross’s Advice for Aspiring Writers #2

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I found these quotes to be very inspiring. While they were probably not written in regards to creative writing and the process of getting published, they certainly apply. The first one was my mom’s credo. It’s my favorite, and words I live by. I hope these words inspire you as well.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
― Calvin Coolidge

“If you try anything, if you try to lose weight, or to improve yourself, or to love, or to make the world a better place, you have already achieved something wonderful, before you even begin. Forget failure. If things don’t work out the way you want, hold your head up high and be proud. And try again. And again. And again!”
Sarah Dessen, Keeping the Moon

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
Leonardo da Vinci

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
Winston Churchill, Never Give In!: The Best of Winston Churchill’s Speeches

 “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack in will.”
Vince Lombardi

“A year from now you may wish you had started today.”
Karen Lamb

Carrie Cross’s Advice for Aspiring Writers #1: Revise

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In a recent interview I was asked what advice I would give to aspiring writers, and this was my reply:

Enjoy the writing process and revise, revise, revise. Get as many people as possible to read your manuscript and give you constructive criticism. Don’t just rely on family and friends for feedback. They love you and will tell you your book is great, even if it isn’t.

Find beta readers in your target age group who you don’t know personally. For instance, I asked my account base at work if they had children who would be willing to read my book, Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills, before publication, and emailed the manuscript to those kids. Their feedback was invaluable.

Finally, don’t let rejections from agents deter you from getting published. Self-publish if you don’t get a contract; you’re going to do most of your own marketing anyway. Calvin Coolidge said it best: Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent!