YA Book A TOUCH OF GOLD is available for preorder!!!

I can’t believe this day is here, but my YA debut novel about the daughter of King Midas is available for preorder.

You can find it at:

Amazon link:
Barnes & Noble link:

Why should you preorder A Touch of Gold

1.) Publishers often make decisions about an author getting a second book deal based on preorder numbers.

2.) The more preorders, the more copies of the book they’ll typically print, which means they’ll then usually increase marketing budgets to sell all those books.

3.) All preorder sales hit on the same day, meaning an author could potentially make lists like the New York Times bestseller list because all those sales count for the same week.

4.) You’ll usually get a cheaper price. Preorders are usually discounted the earlier you order.

5.) You’ll make an author’s day! I can’t tell you how happy I was when a friend told me she’d preordered 10 copies of my book!

 

Also, feel free to add the book on Goodreads!

I will keep you all updated on book signings and appearances. Thank you all for your support. I couldn’t have done all this without you!

10 Tips for Writing A Query Letter and Query Letter Critique Giveaway

How do you write a query letter- those few short paragraphs that have to sum up your entire novel and seemingly hold the key to getting a literary agent? First, you have to start with a finished novel. Once you’ve got a novel that been revised and edited multiple times, then you’re ready to sit down and write your query letter. But make sure you’ve researched agents and know who would be a good fit for you.

Then:

  1. Start with either a hook or the more formal opening. The hook is my personal favorite way to start. It’s a line designed to capture attention and draw the agent in right from the start.

Example:

Cinderella: Don’t think a pair of shoes can change your life? Think again.

Peter Pan: All children grow up, except one. (This is a reworking of the opening line of Peter Pan. So if you’re looking for inspiration, see if your first line can help.)

The second way is to start a little more personally/formally by either saying that you’re seeking representation for your novel and that you think this particular agent would be a good fit. This can also be a place to include if you’ve ever met that agent at a conference or if you saw a Tweet they sent that made you think they’d like this novel. This shows that you’ve done your research on them.

  1. Include no more than 3 paragraphs summarizing your plot. You don’t have to give away every element, but try to get the overall plot communicated. Make sure you’ve got enough tension laced throughout. And it’s okay to leave the agent hanging by hinting at the decision your character will have to make or that the balance of good vs. evil hangs in their hands.
  2. Along with the plot, make sure there’s urgency in your query. Agents want to know that your novel is going to keep moving, so mentioning a timeline can go a long way.
  3. Try not to name more than 3 characters in a query. Usually, this is regulated to the main character, the love interest or sidekick, and the villain. Too many names makes it easy to get lost.
  4. Include the word count and genre of your novel in either the more formal opening paragraph or the last paragraph.
  5. Mention toward the end (usually in the final paragraph) that the novel is complete. An easy way to do this is to say “My novel XYZ is complete at 79,000 words, and I would be happy to send it to you if you’re interested,” or “I’d be happy to send you the completed manuscript if you’re interested.”
  6. Include a short biography at the end of the query letter with any relevant information. Are you a librarian? Include that. Have you had a short story published? Include that. Have an MFA degree? Include that, too. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself.
  7. Follow submission guidelines. This is so important. This goes back to researching agents. Only include what they’re looking for- whether that’s a query letter, a short bio, and the first 10 pages or if they want a query letter and the first 50 pages. Not sending what they ask for shows you didn’t do your research. And agents won’t waste time reading the submission of someone who didn’t bother to read their guidelines.
  8. Don’t send attachments when you send your query letter. If an agent comes back and asks for your manuscript, you can attach it then. But never attach anything to an original query. Paste all materials into the email.
  9. Test out sending your query letter to people with a variety of email address (Hotmail, gmail, outlook, yahoo, etc.). It’s easy for formatting to get messed up, so by testing it out, you’ll know what you need to adjust before you send your wonky formatting to an agent.

It’s also a good idea to have someone who hasn’t read the book read your query letter. That way, they can point out what doesn’t make sense to them.

Then, after it’s all ready to go, send that query letter off, sit back, and relax. Okay, who am I kidding? Sending out queries is super stressful. Throw yourself into your next project so you don’t go insane checking you Inbox for responses.

Have a finished query letter? You’re in luck! Since my birthday is this Saturday, I’ve decided to give you, my readers, a present! Enter my giveaway for a QUERY LETTER CRITIQUE from literary agent Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis. Click on the Rafflecopter link to enter!

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Why Carving a Pumpkin is Like Revising a Story

Fall, that time of year when leaves are changing and sweaters are being pulled out from closets. It’s also time for Halloween, costumes, and turning regular old pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns.

I like to think of pumpkins like a first draft of a story. They’re fine. They’re complete. They’re pretty solid. From the outside, at least.

pumpkin-1

But, if you were to cut that pumpkin open, you’d find a gooey mess inside, carefully hidden under that solid veneer.

That’s what you need to revise. You need to scoop out the messy stuff, using a spoon, a knife, even your fingernails when it comes down to those last stubborn bits of orange goo that cling so tightly to the sides you think you’ll never get them out. You toss it all into a bowl and assess the situation.

pumpkin-guts2

You separate the orange goo from the seeds, those inklings and good ideas to make use of later. You cover them in salt and bake them in the oven and turn them into something worth keeping by giving them a little attention.

Next, you need to…plot…I mean plan. This is when you need to look at the whole story. Look at the pumpkin from the outside. What face is it calling for? What shapes lend themselves to its curves? What needs to happen next to bring it to life?

Start carving away. Cut away the unnecessary bits. Refine the story. Maybe the face begins to take shape, and you realize you don’t need that extra tooth because it’ll be overwhelming or that the eyes should be triangles instead of circles because they fit the character better. You slowly learn what the story needs and how it’s going to appear to your reader.

pumpkin-2

After you’ve got the face cut out, you go back in and refine. You level out where the smile isn’t quite even. You make sure those triangle eyes are the same size. You look at the little details to make sure it all comes together evenly.

Finally, put a small candle inside and close the lid. Watch as the pumpkin takes on a face of it’s own and comes alive, polished and full of the heart you put into it.

 

 

 

Forget Pantsers and Plotters: Be Like a Traveler Instead

It’s generally accepted that there are two schools of thought in how people approach writing: Pantsers and Plotters. Each has their benefits and challenges to the writing process.

What is a pantser?

People who “fly by the seat of their pants.” These writers don’t meticulously plan out the plot before they start writing. Pantsers aren’t wed to a story idea, which means they can be open to the creative muses that arise in the middle of writing – without it threatening the rest of their plot. These are the people who can walk into an airport and book the next departing flight to an exotic locale and not look back.

Downside: When you don’t know where you’re going, it’s easy to get lost. A story you thought was taking off could get stranded along the way if writers block sets in. For example, they’re the ones who didn’t book their tickets ahead of time to Dracula’s castle and had to wait 2 hours at the ticket window, losing valuable time because they didn’t plan ahead.

 

What is a plotter?

People who have exact road maps that they follow on the path to writing the words “The End.” Plotters know their scenes and what needs to be written. These are the people who have detailed itineraries to follow. They’ve been planning for months and have booked hotels and trains weeks in advance.

Downside: If they stay too tightly to their course, they may miss out on the things off the beaten path. For example, they bought the tickets to Dracula’s castle ahead of time but rushed through the rooms in order to make it to their next scheduled activity.

 

While these two different camps work well for many writers, perhaps there’s another approach somewhere between the hopping on the next flight and scheduling down to the minute. It’s what I call a Traveler because not only do you travel between the two extremes, but you do it like someone traveling the world would do by being open to new ideas while exploring your intended path.

While there will always be travelers who stick to their carefully detailed itineraries or the ones who have no itineraries at all, I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the ones who know what country they want to go to. They’ve done enough research to know some of what they want to see. But, they’re not afraid to veer off course when they learn there’s a hidden waterfall that only the locals know about or to drop everything to go hear Desmond Tutu speak. Because it’s these special moments, the ones you didn’t expect, that create the best memories and will be the most memorable for your readers.

desmond-tutu-photo
Annie and her family meeting Desmond Tutu after hearing the day before about the opportunity.

So if you’re a pantser, try and at least look at the path so you’re not wandering around lost or trying fourteen different directions until you find the one that leads to the right path. And if you’re a plotter, don’t forget to stray from the path every once and a while. You might just discover something that will give your story the edge it was missing.

Are you a pantser or plotter? Or do you think you’re more of a hybrid Traveler? Let me know in the comments!

 

How I Landed my Literary Agent While in Antarctica

Getting a literary agent can seem like finding the Holy Grail! You’ve accomplished your goal, and all is right in the world. However, what most people forget is that it’s usually a long, strenuous quest that leads to Literary Agent Land. Of course, you could be one of those lucky few, those fairytales in the flesh, who gets an agent in the first few days (or weeks) of trying. It’s not impossible; it does happen. But the odds are that you’re going to have to face a few more feats on your own journey.

At least, that’s what my journey felt like.

But let’s start at the beginning. Fresh out of my MFA program, I was ready to query my thesis project. It was as shiny as I could make it, but I had no idea where to begin. I did all the right things. I researched how to write a query letter. I found the agents who represented the books that I loved. I submitted queries without any attachments. And…..crickets. Okay, I got a few little requests here and there, but nothing stuck.

I felt like a failure. No one wanted my amazing book? Well, maybe that’s because my novel needed a complete rewrite (but that’s another story….literally!). I regrouped. While I was waiting to hear from agents, I’d written another book, a better one. This time, I had a better plan of attack, too. I was going to query a smaller group of agents who were the ones I actually wanted to work with. I’d do it in smaller batches to see if my query letter and first few pages were garnering the right level of attention. I also added a conference to the mix.

I attended the Midwest Writers Workshop, where I met top agents and got to pitch them my book. Better yet, they loved the idea! So…is that where I met my agent? No. But I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have landed my agent without Midwest Writers Workshop because while there I talked with an agent who gave me an R&R (a revise and resubmit request). Based on her feedback, I changed the opening of my novel so that it was stronger and more attention grabbing. I also learned from Midwest Writers Workshop that I should be on Twitter because virtually every writer in the world was on Twitter.

annie-at-mww-panel
Annie at the Midwest Writers Workshop doing a panel on the Agent/Author relationship after signing with her agent.

So I joined Twitter, and I saw that an agent I was following (who liked fairytale retellings!) was having a contest on her blog. I posted the first 250 words, and I waited. Well, I lost the contest because a winner was randomly selected to win the free query critique. Yet, I won in the end because that agent requested the first 10 pages from me based on my first 250 words.

However, this request came at a very odd time for me. I was sitting in the Atlanta airport about to embark on a trip to Antarctica. (If you’ve read my About Me blog post, you’ll know I love to travel.) That’s right ANTARCTICA…a place where I would have no Internet access for a couple of weeks.

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Annie in Antarctica

 

I had materials out with a few other agents, so I did what any sensible writer would do when heading off on such an adventure- I wrote a book for my sister on how to handle any literary matters that might arise in my absence. That manual covered everything from how not to respond at all if I got a rejection to how to properly send materials if I got a request and, of course, what to do if I got an offer.

Well, while I was happily off playing with the penguins, that same agent came back and asked for the full manuscript. My sister obliged by sending it. Then came the offer. AN AGENT WANTED TO REPRESENT ME!!! Of course, I didn’t know any of this until a few weeks later, although thankfully my sister had followed the guidelines I’d set out for her and told the agent I was out of town and would respond to their offer immediately after I returned.

I found out about the offer while sitting in the southern most city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina, using a shady internet connection that I only used BECAUSE I HAD TO KNOW IF I HAD ANY OFFERS!

The first person I told that I got offer was this old guy sitting next to me in the airport because I whispered, “I got an offer,” as I stared around trying to locate my parents in the airport terminal.

The next few weeks were a whirlwind as I informed other agents that I had an offer, got another offer, and ultimately had to make a decision. But I know I made the right decision in the end.

So if you’re still looking for a literary agent, query the agents you really think would be a good fit for you, and stay with it. Sometimes it takes one or two or ten books! Don’t give up. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re frolicking with penguins in Antarctica or sitting on your sofa in Reno when the offer comes. The feeling of joy will be the exact same.

 

 

 

 

Does your villain suffer from Stupid Villain Syndrome (SVS)?

Everybody loves a good villain, right? So the reverse must also be true: everyone hates a bad villain. Worse, they’ll stop reading if your villain suffers from Stupid Villain Syndrome (SVS).

SVS is when your villain meets one or more of the following criteria:

  • They’re not scary enough for the reading level of the book. They’ll come across as comical and mustache-twirling if they’re not sinister enough.
  • They’re not strong enough to physically pose a true risk to your protagonist’s goals. Readers won’t be invested if they feel no one is truly opposing your protagonist. Nothing will feel at stake for the protagonist.
  • They choose incompetent sidekicks. Ruthless villains want sidekicks who can carry out their orders successfully. While protagonists might be able to get away once or maybe twice, they shouldn’t be continually able to outsmart sidekicks. It makes the villain appear weaker by association.
  • The villain over-explains his or her plan in the end, resulting in giving the protagonist time to escape or think of a plan. While a plot should be twisting and keep readers guessing and some explanation might be necessary to clear up certain earlier plot points, don’t use this method to give your protagonist time to come up with a brilliant plan. Your villain can gloat and revel in the moment, but just not too long.

If your hero needs time to untie the ropes that bind their hands or to get off the railroad tracks like in old cartoons, try instead to perhaps have your hero’s sidekick or another character cause the needed distraction to give the protagonist time to escape. Try to have your villain give as little explanation as possible and give your protagonist the smarts she needs to piece the rest together on her own. Or maybe, split the dialogue so that half the reason why the villain committed the murder is given while the protagonist is danger, and the other half comes when the villain lies dying or realizes they’re trapped. At the very least, have your protagonist escape while the villain is giving their speech to show how foolish they were not to kill them right away.

A good thing to keep in mind to avoid SVS is actually a quote from actor Tom Hiddleston:

“Every villain is a hero in his own mind.”

The villain is often the one that took the path the hero could’ve taken but chose not to. Yet, the villain probably had very legitimate reasons for taking that path. Something drove them to it just as something made the hero pick a different way. We spend enough time with the hero to get their reasoning, so make sure we have enough time with the villain to get their reasoning before the final few scenes when they have to over explain. (However, I will point out that SVS doesn’t apply as fully to mystery and twist endings since it’s not always obvious who the villain is. But, there better be enough breadcrumbs that readers believe the credibility of the villain after the big reveal.)

Overall, your villain deserves, nay, needs to be just as complex as your hero in order to avoid the pitfalls that come with SVS, and avoiding SVS will go a long way in strengthening your villain, which by proxy strengthens your protagonist and probably gives you a stronger, more intriguing plot!

 

 

#AnnieHasBeenThere: Free Setting Advice for Writers

Ever run into the problem in writing where you want to set the story in a location that’s perfect for the plot, but you’ve never been there? While technology has come a long way and you can use tools like Google Earth to see some things, nothing truly beats being there. You can’t tell what the air smells like or what sounds stick out louder than others. You can’t judge how the local people will react to you or what the nightlife feels like.

That’s where I come in. I’m launching a new FREE service for my fellow writers. I’ve been blessed to travel to over 50 countries in my life, and I love to take pictures everywhere I go. So I figured why not help out writers who want to set a story in a place they’ve never been?

annie-in-africa
Annie in South Africa

So if you’re struggling to describe the setting in your latest scene, contact me through my contact page (https://anniesullivanauthor.wordpress.com/contact/) asking for photos, descriptions, whatever it is you need. I’ll do my best to give you the info you need to make your setting feel authentic and alive! Or, tweet at me (@annsulliva) using the hashtag #AnnieHasBeenThere and the country or city you’re looking for help on.

Here are the countries and islands* that I’ve been to:

  • Antarctica
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Argentina
  • Aruba (Under Dutch Jurisdiction)
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Botswana
  • Bulgaria
  • Cambodia
  • Canada
  • Cayman Islands (Under UK Jurisdiction)
  • Chile
  • China
  • Costa Rica
  • Croatia
  • Curacao (Under Danish Jurisdiction)
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Ecuador (Including the Galapagos Islands)
  • Egypt
  • Estonia
  • Falkland Islands (Under UK Jurisdiction)
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Guatemala
  • Haiti
  • Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Jamaica
  • Japan
  • Malta
  • Mexico
  • Monaco
  • Namibia
  • Norway
  • Northern Ireland
  • Panama (Including Panama Canal)
  • Peru
  • Puerto Rico (Under US Jurisdiction)
  • Romania
  • Russia
  • St. Kitts and Nevis
  • St. Lucia
  • St. Maarten/St. Martin
  • Scotland
  • Serbia
  • Slovakia
  • South Africa
  • South Georgia Island (Under UK Jurisdiction)
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Turkey
  • Turks and Caicos Islands (Under UK Jurisdiction)
  • United States
  • Vatican City
  • Vietnam
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

Major US cities and locations I’ve been to:

  • Atlanta
  • Chicago
  • Indianapolis
  • Miami
  • Nashville
  • New Orleans
  • New York City
  • San Francisco
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Washington, D.C.

*Please note that I’ve spent more time in some countries over others and have not been to all parts of every country. But I’ll do my best to give you what info I can.

Keep an eye out for my #TravelTuesday posts on Twitter with pictures of the places I’ve been so you can get some more inspiration.

Happy writing!

What Dracula’s Castle Taught Me About Writing Fear

It was a dark and stormy night…..okay, it was actually a dark and stormy day at Bran Castle, aka Dracula’s Castle in Romania. As we explored the castle, the thunder pitching across the spiked peaks of the pine trees covering the mountains certainly helped set the mood, which was good because the castle isn’t nearly as scary as you might expect it to be.

white-room-bran
One of the rooms in Bran Castle

All the rooms are covered in fresh white wash that disguises any sins the castle seeks to hide. The furniture that’s displayed is carefully arranged to be easily viewed by the long lines. And people walking around listening to their guides speak kills the ambiance. No slinking through darkened, deserted hallways on this trip. You’d be lucky if you didn’t have thirty people fighting to go up the same small staircase as you.

Minus some swords plastered to the wall and the odd torture device, the castle was actually pretty bland in its serene white shell. So how does that teach you about writing fear?

bran-torture
Torture device in Bran Castle

What I remember is the storm as we left. Rain pelting us. Twisted paths. Unfamiliar roads. No one else around. Streams of water coursing down the uneven stone pathways. Family members getting separated as others ran ahead. Shoes slipping. Dark trees looming high overhead. Water dripping down your face, obscuring your vision. Unending thunder chasing us down.

It’s enough to make any heart beat fast. And it did!

I was already keyed to be scared at the castle because of its history, and the thunderstorm brought that fear to life. So apply that same idea to your story. If you’re writing about a villain, give us a rumor about them, something to set the scene. But then, it’s okay to back away. To make your reader feel safe in those white washed walls before hitting them hard the moment they’re not expecting it, the moment they think they’re free.

Even if the villain’s not there, you can let the setting do the job for you. With the right set up, all you need are key elements- rain and darkness, paranoia and desperation, shadows and sounds, leaving someone behind and being lost. Fear. It comes in many forms. You just have to find the right ones that will set your character off, to make them freeze up in the middle of the rainstorm as others run ahead. Let the storm chase them. Let it chase us, your reader. That’s when your fear will come to life.

I’m reminded of what I once heard about the movie Jaws. Supposedly, the shark kept malfunctioning, and with the film quickly running out of budget and time, the director had to find ways to shoot scenes without the shark. Of course, the scenes still had to be scary. So the director made the water murky and dark, playing on our fear of the unseen. He made music that still haunts us today. All this, in turn, made the shark scary by association. Sometimes it’s not what we see, but the other things we experience that make something scary. Think about that next time you write a scene.

What other books/movies play up fear using just setting alone? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

 

 

 

 

 

How Publishing is Like Playing Super Mario Bros.

First off, you start off small.

That’s right. You’re tiny, vulnerable. Maybe you’re even unsure of the rules. You run ahead only to run straight into a goomba. And you die.

That’s what sending your first query feels like. You’re one tiny voice in the slush pile. You send your query off only to get a rejection 6 weeks later. And in some ways, it does feel like you die. Your hope dies. Your spirit dies. Maybe even your dream dies.

But the great thing about Mario is that you have more lives left! You can start all over again. And this time, this time you’re coming back with more knowledge. You’re better prepared. Maybe you had a critique partner read over your query letter and show you where an agent may have gotten confused. Or maybe you strengthened your opening few pages. And now you’re ready to jump over that first goomba when it comes.

What happens after you sail over that goomba? You find some blocks. One even contains a mushroom! You grab it, and you feel ten feet tall, just like you do when you get your first request from an agent for 50 pages or the full manuscript!

Now you’re on a roll! But then, you encounter a series of pipes. Some you can go down, and some you can’t. Think of each of those pipes as literary agents. Some just won’t be interested in your novel. Some maybe just signed a client who writes too similarly to you. Whatever the reason, those pipes just don’t lead anywhere. They’re just not the right fit for you.

But stick with it! Work past those Koopa Troopas, those pesky individuals who say you’ll never succeed and shouldn’t be spending so much time writing or those thoughts that keep coming back saying you’re not good enough. Keep a close eye on those because just when you think you’ve squashed them, those shells shoot back out of nowhere and knock you off a cliff. And you have to start all over again.

Yet, if you don’t give up, if you don’t give in, if you dodge those shells when they come for you, you might just find a pipe that leads you to a strange new world. It might be a world filled with terms you’re not familiar with yet, like R&Rs (Revise & Resubmit), but it’s usually a world that holds secret treasure (hello signing with an agent!).

While it might feel like you’ve found the Holy Grail, you’re still a long way off from defeating Bowser. So you keep going.

But once you’ve found an agent (hey there, Luigi!), you’ve got help on the journey. Your 1 player game has now become a 2 player one! Now it’s off to the castle! You and your agent…I mean Luigi, burst through those doors, dodge fire and lava and goombas galore. Then, you meet that castle’s boss…aka The Editor at the publishing house your agent submitted to…the one who holds your fate in his or her hands!

Sometimes, in a few moves, the boss kicks you into a flaming lava pit and you die (aka you get rejected.) Sometimes, though, you might defeat the boss only to learn that your princess isn’t in that castle, meaning that even though the editor liked it, they couldn’t buy the project for whatever reason. So you move on to another castle. And another. Always looking for your elusive princess.

And then, one day, many goombas later, you find the right castle! And you realize that all those levels you beat before have been preparing you for this moment. You’re ready. You march right up to Bowser and show him what you’re made of!

And you win!!! Before you know it, Princess Peach is running into your arms, all wrapped up in a nice publishing contract!

Congratulations! You’ve done it! You’ve won the game!

They’ll be time for celebrations and congratulations. But, you can’t rest on your laurels because as the saying goes, “The only thing harder than getting your first book published is getting your second book published.” You’ve got to keep practicing because everyone knows there’s going to be a sequel to the game, and it’s going to be even harder than the first one. So put on your red hat, keep an eye out for Yoshi, and grab all the Super Stars you can because you’re going to need them on your quest to make the New York Times Best Seller list….I mean get a new high score. But from this little Toadstool, who’s always full of advice, encouragement, and helpful tips, I just want to let you know that you’ve got this! We’re all rooting for you, Player 1. Good luck!

 

 

 

 

Who am I?

Hi! My name is Annie Sullivan. I’m a Young Adult and Picture Book author. I love writing about fantasy worlds and fairytale retellings. One of the best ways I’ve found to get inspired to come up with unique fantasy worlds is by traveling. So you’ll see a lot of tips for how to incorporate inspiration from around the world in upcoming blog posts.

When I’m not traveling and writing, I love reading (Meg Cabot, Madeleine L’Engle, and Jane Austen are a few favorites!), taking my dog for walks, watching movies (anything from classics, to Disney, to today’s top blockbusters!), and hanging out with my friends and family. I’m an expert four leaf clover finder (perhaps you could guess that I’ve got Irish ancestors!). I love anything sweet and can easily be bribed with food, and I’m one of those people who can listen to the same song over and over again when I’m writing.

So that’s me in a nutshell! Leave a comment with a little about yourself and what you’d love to learn about writing, traveling, or both!