My wonderful artist Travis Miles has created another great cover for the second Gems young adult spy novel. What do you think?
My wonderful artist Travis Miles has created another great cover for the second Gems young adult spy novel. What do you think?
Before I wrote young adult novels, I was a screenwriter trying to break into one of the toughest industries out there, Hollywood. Since I live in Oklahoma and not Los Angeles, this was a huge challenge. One thing that helped me bridge that gap was attending the Austin Screenwriting Conference which is held during the annual Austin Film Festival. This is one of the few venues where actual Hollywood agents/producers/writers/directors/actors show up and give screenwriters precious information about the entertainment industry. I learned so much about my craft and made a lot of connections and friends the numerous times I went to Austin.
I recognized early in my writing career how important establishing these connections were. Not only in Hollywood, but in publishing as well as I continued to go to local writing conferences in my area. One of which is the Oklahoma SCBWI Spring Conference which begins Friday April 6th and continues on Saturday April 7th.
Many other blogs on this tour will give you plenty of great reasons why it’s beneficial and important for writers to attend these conferences. But what I would like to do today is give you some successful strategies that I’ve learned to help anyone navigate a writing conference.
Successful Strategy #1 – Be Relaxed
Why is this the first one? Because it’s one of the most important. You are at this conference to make new friends, to learn new things, and to re-invigorate your commitment to writing. Do not treat this conference as a pressure-cooker situation where you must shake the hands of every single person in the room and sell your book idea while trying not to sweat, fart, or cough up hairballs.
Nope. The best thing to do is to listen, take everything in with a deep breath, and relax. Remember this: If you look friendly and relaxed, people will want to talk to you. If you appear stressed out and desperate, people will avoid talking to you because those writers came here to do what?
Successful Strategy #2 – Treat Everyone With Respect
We all start from the bottom. That unrepresented writer you met at last year’s conference could become the next J.K. Rowling. That next junior agent you meet could be promoted to a full agent next month. That editor you met could open their own publishing imprint and now need new books.
Wouldn’t it be cool if you already had a good relationship with these people? They might even help you because you were nice to them before it was cool to be nice to them.
But they won’t help you now because you blew off that “nobody” writer last year when she wanted to ask you something. And when that junior agent asked about your manuscript? You blew her off too because she wasn’t a “real” agent. And you thought you were being clever when you slipped that editor a manuscript in the ladies room. But the editor thought that was inconsiderate and at worse, kinda weird.
Treat everyone you meet with respect. It reflects good on you and shows others that you have a professional attitude when it comes to your work.
On a related note, if you approach a conference speaker, be patient and wait for a good time to introduce yourself. Perhaps you can ask them to elaborate more on a portion of their presentation that you found interesting or if they wrote or represented a book that you particularly loved, tell them about it. Once you are done talking, let another writer have a chance. Better yet, introduce the speaker to another writer who writes the same kind of books the speaker likes reading or writing. Maybe that “nobody” writer who has this great Middle Grade Fantasy idea no one saw coming.
Successful Strategy #3 – Stay Away from Your Hotel Room
The most important thing you do at a writer’s conference is network. I repeat. You’re here to network. Don’t just write down notes from the workshops and then go upstairs to hide in your room. I did this at my very first screenwriting conference in Austin and made zero contacts. The next year I forced myself to sit at the conference hotel bar and drink sodas. Pretty soon I was talking to people I had friended on social media who recognized me. Soon those people introduced me to their friends. From there, things became much easier.
Please don’t freak out about this networking thing. You’re a writer. I get that. I’m only saying it’s not THAT bad. Wanna know an easy way to do it? Take a variation of my example and go hang out in the lobby of the conference hotel. Try to find a place to sit where you’re out in the open and bring a book to read. Chances are others will see you there with your conference badge and might invite you to go out to eat for dinner or lunch. Or they might ask you about the book you’re reading. You might see someone you know and you can ask them about the conference or if they have dinner plans. See how this works?
One of the best places to relax and mingle is in the evening at the conference hotel bar. Many times you can find the conference speakers there having a drink and just shooting the bull with people just like you! This is a golden opportunity to get to know lots of your fellow writers and conference speakers.
Now don’t get cute and try pitching your book now. Always wait until someone asks you. And then just give them an elevator pitch. Basically a couple of sentences that gives the other person a feeling about what your book is about, but not enough to give them the whole picture. You want it to be short because you want them to ask you more questions about it!
If you’re not a drinker, just order a soft drink. Nobody cares. Most of the people will be happy that you’re hanging out with them. If you love to drink, know your limits. Loosening it up with one or two drinks is perfectly fine after a long conference day. However, please don’t get drunk and argue over the use of first and third tense in young adult literature. I know you think you make sense. But trust me, you don’t.
Successful Strategy #4 – Follow Up With A Thank You
It there was a particular speaker or another writer whom you had a good discussion with or someone who helped you during the conference. Write down their name somewhere and when the conference is over with (say a week after) follow-up with that person. Find an official email or social media account and remind them who you are, where you met them, and most important, thank them for any information or help they gave you during the conference. This small act goes a long way in cementing that new contact.
Successful Strategy #5 – Always Give. Do Not Take
Last but not least, help your new contacts during the conference and beyond. Does your new contact have a new book out? Tweet it. Post it on your social media. If it’s a book you enjoyed reading, consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Does that new writer you met need a critique of the first ten pages of the manuscript? Offer to do that for them. They will either offer to reciprocate or in the future will help you out with something else. If you give things without being asked, most people will want to reciprocate. This is how contacts can grow into friends and allies.
(You should be patient with this. It might take more gives before you can make a big ask. Especially from someone in a higher position.)
What if I keep giving and they don’t reciprocate? Some people are takers. They just are. If you do a few nice things and receive silence back. Move on. Don’t complain. Don’t call them out like they “owe you.” You can make the choice to either associate yourself with positive people who embrace this concept of networking or the negative ones who only use others to get where they want to be.
Always remember that you’re in this for the long game. You’re building a house. Not an IKEA end table.
If you want to put these ideas into practice, come join me at this year’s Oklahoma SCBWI Spring Writer’s Conference in Oklahoma City which begins Friday April 6th and continues on Saturday April 7th. See you there!
I’m so excited to announce that Champions is finally out! This is the final book of the Skid series and I’m so happy its long journey has finally come to an end. I’ve enjoyed writing this series and have learned many things along the way that have made me a better writer. But I’m now going to focus on other book projects that I’ll hope you’ll like.
By the way…the eBook is now 40% off list price during launch week. After that it goes back up to its normal price so now is the perfect time to buy yours.
For all eBook versions click here.
Have a wonderful weekend,
So happy to announce on the blog that Champions, the final book in the Skid young adult racing romance series, will be coming out soon! Below is a quick synopsis of the new book and a sneak peak of the first chapter!
Is her spirit finally broken?
Nineteen-year-old Samantha Sutton has risen to become one of the top drivers in Formula One, but that was before a horrible accident burned her face and broke her spirit. Now she questions herself, questions her future, and wonders if what she did to her father has cursed her for life.
Manny’s love for Samantha is unbreakable. He promises to support her, but his attention is diverted when a new threat promises to destroy the Wolert racing team forever.
Can Samantha gain her confidence back and win the world championship?
Will she even have a team to race for next season?
Now a sneak peek of chapter one…
Drawn metal shades extinguish most of the afternoon sun reaching Samantha’s lifeless body, half her face covered with bandages, a tube down her throat, her hair singed by fire. The ventilator uses the tube to blow air into her lungs, giving the girl life as her body struggles to survive. The heart machine beeps at a rhythm that I’m already quite familiar with. Some may think it’s an annoying sound. But to me, it means Samantha is still alive. I pretend that she’s talking to me. That her beating heart is a constant plea for me to stay.
To keep her company.
To not give up on her.
Samantha appears so delicate, her small body swallowed up by the French hospital bed. I guess she’s shorter than I imagine because the girl’s personality is so much bigger than the body she inhabits. She’s like a tiger inside a lamb’s body. The type of girl that makes things happen. The type of girl who doesn’t know how to give up on what she wants. The type of girl that lifts up others around her. I’m lucky she picked me.
Now I’ll be lucky if she survives.
I can’t keep having thoughts like that. She’s tough. Tougher than I am. Yet I’m scared. I don’t know what I would do if I lost her. Would I go insane like my friend Hanna? There’s a chance I may. When you love someone with this intensity, the fire in your heart is so hard to extinguish.
“She’ll pull through. Samantha is young. Vibrant. Lovely.” My uncle Ralf pauses. His familiar salt-and-pepper beard hugs his face. Even through the man’s glasses I can tell he’s holding back tears. “She’s a lovely young woman. She’ll be fine.”
My uncle has more hope than all the world put together. I know he’s in as much pain as I am. And he’s in his seventies. I worry about him a lot. My uncle doesn’t need this strain on his conscious.
“Yes, she’ll be fine.” I’m lying of course. The doctors had to put Samantha into a medically induced coma to prevent her brain from swelling. They don’t know how this will play out. They act optimistic. But when you push them for true specifics, they give her fifty-fifty. They say the shock to her body cannot be overestimated.
The door opens and Graham, Samantha’s sports agent, slips in with some flowers. He’s always so well dressed, not even a thread out of place. But his eyes are red. He’s been crying too.
“Still the same?” he asks.
My uncle nods.
“Poor girl. Our poor, brave little girl.” Graham approaches Samantha, leans down and kisses her on the forehead. He whispers something to her before placing the flowers on a table. He wipes his eyes. It’s hard not to become emotional in this place. Hospitals seem to breed sadness.
“I have to be getting back to London,” Graham says. “You’ll contact me when she awakes?”
“Of course. Let me walk you out.” My uncle pats my shoulder. “Can I bring you anything, Manfred? A sandwich, something to drink?”
“No, thank you. I don’t feel like having anything.”
Uncle Ralf squeezes my shoulder. His kind eyes acknowledge my feelings as he escorts Graham out of the room.
We’re now alone.
I move my chair up to her bed, where I can be close to Samantha. I lean over and brush a few strands of hair out of her eyes. My fingers linger on her forehead. Her skin is soft and warm to the touch. A sign she’s alive and simmering with life. Her fantastic personality just waiting to burst out again and flood my life with her awesomeness.
I wonder if she heard Graham. I wonder if she can hear me now.
“Samantha?” I whisper. “I’m going to pretend that you can hear me so you know I’m still here. I don’t want you to wake up from this and be alone.”
Her eyelids are frozen shut. No sign of any reaction from her.
“You will wake up, alright? Do you know why? It’s because having you ripped out of my life would destroy me. You can’t do that to me, Samantha. Please don’t do that to me.”
Her chest rises as air inflates her lungs and then relaxes.
I rest my cheek on her shoulder and fight back the darkness threatening to strangle all my hope.
Champions will be available on September 9th.
Why do I love to read?
When I was young I was a history nerd. Reading about the past allowed me to experience it in a vivid way that captivated my young mind. The different people. The different cultures. The different ideas that shaped their world and ours. I loved how these mere history books could take me to past civilizations which could only be experienced through the pages of a book. It was my time traveling device in a way. Open a book. Turn the page. Explore a new ancient world. And when dinner was ready, I could close the book and come back to my own time.
Although doing all this with a DeLorean would have been much cooler, but I digress.
When I was an adult, reading young adult fiction allowed me to understand a perspective I still couldn’t get my head around, even at the age of 40. That baffling question? Women.
By reading about the young female heroines in those books, I began to understand a different viewpoint. One which gave me a new insight on concerns and worries that women had which I had no clue about until I read about them. I can also understand the anxieties and fears we both share and see the similarities between us. The similarities that make both men and woman human beings.
To me, reading is a meaningful leap forward towards empathy, something I never want to lose and I hope most human beings on this earth will try to strive for.
This is why I love to read.
I’m proud to be a part of the Kick Ass Girls of YA Blog Hop today. Even though I’m a male young adult author, I see the incredible value of these novels for not only girls but for boys as well. I can speak from experience.
When I started reading and studying YA novels, I found myself understanding the opposite sex a little bit more and being able to understand how women and young girls see the world. It’s been an amazing education. But I’m not here to say that I now understand everything about women because that would be a total lie. However, I wish I had the knowledge I have now when I was a younger man because it would have helped me understand that girls were not this strange creatures with alien-type brains…but they were more like me than I could ever imagine.
My post for this wonderful event is a fictitious media article written about one of my kick-ass girls of YA Samantha Sutton, a girl race car driver with big dreams and the talent to make them happen. I hope you enjoy it.
Excerpt from the magazine article A Girl and Her Race Car by Emma Hobbs, Berlin
fashion editor, Smashing Magazine.
The Berlin traffic snakes along the Strattenstrasse, past a small café named the Tiny Goose. The early afternoon sun casts a shadow across my wood table, courtesy of the large awning in front of the café itself. A gentle breeze plays with the leafs of the flowers that add color to my table as a place setting.
I’m here to meet Samantha Sutton, a young woman of only eighteen years who races cars in that macho-infused sport known as Formula One, a glamorous world of men and their expensive toys traveling the world to race cars in between the party-like atmosphere of the international jet-set. The sport draws royalty, the ultra-rich, and Hollywood celebrities like moths to bright light. But inside this testosterone-laced world Samantha Sutton is quite unique. No, it’s not the obvious fact that she’s the only girl racing in Formula One. It’s the surprising fact that she’s beating all the boys in Formula One. With six race wins on her record, all within her rookie year, Samantha Sutton proved that not only can woman compete equally in the sport. They can win.
Samantha arrives late to our appointment wearing a short white skirt and matching shirt which lists her racing team’s sponsors. Her short dark hair appears slightly damp, as if still drying from a quick trip to the shower.
“Jeez. I’m so sorry. My other thing ran late and I was rushing to get ready for this. Huge apologies, Emma, seriously.” Samantha glances over to her assistant, a girl who appears just as young as her. “Do you want anything?”
Samantha orders two coffees and a piece of cake in German, flavoring it with a slight Bavarian accent. We talk as we wait for their coffee. Samantha remarks about how busy her life has become since her first season in Formula One.
“Last season everyone ignored me until half-way through when I began winning races. Now it’s like, non-stop. It’s completely crazy with all the parties, fan events, sponsor events, racing the car, my love life —” The girl stops herself abruptly. What about her love life? It causes me to wonder if a teen girl who is forced to grow up so fast can find time for boys. Maybe not.
When Samantha gets her coffee, we begin the official interview.
“Why auto racing?” I ask. “What excites you about the sport, Samantha?
“It’s the rush of adrenaline I get from being on the circuit. Making the car dance around the turns and do what I want. It’s like standing on a mountain cliff and holding your foot over the drop, knowing that you could die if you took that last step. But for some reason, you know that you can hold it there on that edge and somehow not fall.”
“Is it safe to say you love taking risks?”
“Not on purpose,” she says. “Not if it means someone else might get hurt. But I can be impulsive sometimes and that’s where I get into trouble.”
“The pressure to win and be successful must be enormous,” I say. “How do you cope?”
“I eat tons of chocolate ice cream,” she grins. “Just kidding. Um—I try to push all the negative thoughts away and focus on what I can do in the race car. Everything else I don’t have control over and I have to keep telling myself that. But I’d be lying if I said there were days the pressure didn’t get to me.” Samantha hesitates and takes a sip of her coffee. Her thoughts lingering on the last portion of her answer.
“Does your family travel with you during the season?” I ask.
“Well, my sister Paige is here this season.” Samantha references her assistant. “But the rest of my family are still in Oklahoma. They have their own lives.”
I swirl what’s left of my cup of tea and drink, the strong, tangy flavor reminds of the girl sitting across the table. Even in this relaxed atmosphere there’s a burning determination in her eyes. A fire or this relentless energy percolating behind them.
“Samantha, when did you first know that this is what you wanted to do with your life?”
“My dad got me started racing karts when I was ten. He already loved racing and I think he was disappointed that he had three daughters. Not to say that my dad didn’t absolutely love us, because he always did. But growing up, none of us were particularity interested in racing.” Samantha’s face brightened, as if reliving that moment in her life again. “Then one day my dad was watching one of his favorite racing movies called, Grand Prix. That day I was so bored I jumped on the couch and watched it with him. Something about that movie attracted me to racing and from then on, I would spend more and more time with dad in his make-shift garage he had in the barn.”
Samantha hesitated again, her eyes danced a bit in her head, as if the memories of her father were flashing vividly through the girl’s head. “Dad built me a racing kart and encouraged me to try it. I was extremely shy back then and I didn’t have any confidence in myself at all. But when I drove that kart, I felt alive and free. And I picked up on racing fast. Dad taught me how to drive and eventually he entered me in races. And I started to win a lot of them. Seriously, the boys would hate it when I showed up at the track. They didn’t want to race against me. I loved it. I knew that I wanted to do this forever because I loved how racing made me feel. I didn’t feel like that shy girl no one would pay attention to. Behind the wheel of a race car, I was someone special. People couldn’t ignore me. Plus I could feel good about myself.” She glances up. “Am I rambling too much? I have a tendency to do that when I’m nervous.”
I asked Samantha a few more questions about her father. Samantha fidgeted in her chair and acted uncomfortable around the subject which I found odd since she talked about her father so fondly before. There was something about him she was hiding and I didn’t quite know what it was.
A young man walked off the street and into the Tiny Goose café. Samantha’s sister Paige greeted the boy warmly and sat with him at the table adjacent to us. He wore his blond hair long and had a handsomely meek way about him. The young man smiled at Samantha. The girl I was interviewing brightened like a fire doused with petrol. Her body language changed immediately. She gave the boy a wave and couldn’t take her eyes off of him. When I asked Samantha a question about dealing with her fans, she gave me a less than satisfactory answer. So I decided to confront the disturbance to our interview.
I held out my hand to the young man. “Emma Hobbs. Smashing Magazine. What is your name?”
The boy shakes my hand. “Manfred. Pleasure to meet you.”
A hunch entered my mind and I decided to follow it. “Please excuse my forwardness, but are you Samantha’s boyfriend by chance?”
Manny blushed like a rose and became unable to answer me with words. Samantha emulated her bashful friend. The girl flashed a smile reserved for close friends sharing an inside joke or thought. “Well? Are you my boyfriend?”
Manfred smiled. “I don’t know. Are you my girlfriend?”
The girl and the boy stared at each other. Obviously having a conversation in their own silent language that no one else was invited to join.
Paige, the third wheel in this relationship, rolled her eyes. “Oh my God. Stop being such dorks. This reporter isn’t stupid. Yes, of course they’re together. Can’t you see my sister panting like a dog when he’s around?”
Samantha leaned over and whacked her sister across the arm. No doubt a leftover response from when they were children. “I don’t pant like a dog.” Samantha sat up in her chair and went back into professional mode. “I’m sorry, Emma. Let’s get back to the interview. Manfred—let’s say that he’s an important part of my racing life.” She flicks her eyes toward the young man. “I wouldn’t still be here if it wasn’t for him.” I tried digging deeper into that statement. But Samantha refused to reveal anything more.
As I concluded our interview with a few questions about how she saw her future, Samantha relaxed as she sensed the end of our interview was soon at hand. She’s a pleasant young lady, but giving interviews to reporters wasn’t on her list of favorite activities to do on a warm Saturday afternoon in Berlin. I couldn’t blame her. I was eighteen once. Even though the race car driver facing me treated our interview like a professional, the girl underneath the helmet and racing suit still wanted to be with her boy. Still wanted a taste of being young and in love on the warm streets of Berlin. She still longed to be a normal teenager.
But the one question I didn’t get answered was…after all she’s been through, could the racing star Samantha Sutton ever be a normal girl again?
YA Author Libby Heily is hosting a Rafflecopter giveaway of three kick ass YA ebook titles of your choosing! But hurry, the giveaway expires on Thursday.
So I have a story for you.
Yesterday I was doing some writing at Starbucks. Then my dad came by for coffee and we enjoyed it outside because it was a nice day. Afterwards, we went to McNellies for dinner. It was only after that I realized I had left my backpack outside at Starbucks.
Yeah…holy…you know what.
We went back and hoped it was somehow still there and tucked away in the corner. But it was of course gone and no one had turned the bag into Starbucks. My bag had my laptop and my backup drive in it. (I know I’m stupid)
Well, I was screwed. My outline and my first draft progress on the new Skid novel was gone. Lots of hard work now all of a sudden vanished. I went home and was convinced I would never see my stuff again.
Today I spent four hours rewriting my missing outline the best I could do from memory before taking a break and looking on Facebook. There, I had a new friend request. When I looked at the lady’s Facebook page, right there on the front was a post asking if anyone knows Doug Solter because she found some items he might want back.
Talk about being blown away!
I posted my number and she called. My luck continued as I found out my laptop was still there. (Cue hopeful-sounding movie soundtrack now) We then met at a public location to exchange the backpack. She was kind and didn’t take any money when I offered. She told me it was in a ditch by the side of the road. She had passed it three times before thinking that some student might have a computer in the bag so she picked it up. Lucky for me she did and my name was on the startup menu on the computer.
The weirdest thing was that nothing was missing! Laptop, power supply, backup drive…I even had my kindle and some nice headphones in there as well. Very strange.
So one huge thank you to Nina from Bixby, OK for being a kind and decent human being.
And all the SKID series fans can thank her for saving the book…literally.