Free YA Fantasy Ebook: The Society of Imaginary Friends (The Conjurors Series)

The-Society-of-Imaginary-Friends-2500x1563-Amazon-Smashwords-Kobo-AppleIf you’re a lover of teen/young adult fantasy, check out the first book in The Conjurors Series for free on Amazon March 14-16. The Society of Imaginary Friends is available on Amazon if you’re interested in checking it out.

I welcome all feedback and reviews, so if you decide to read it let me know what you think!

Click here to check out an excerpt from the novel. Below is the blurb:

Belief is a powerful magic.

Valerie Diaz has a power that she can’t contain, and it’s killing her.

Bounced between foster homes and the streets, she only has time to concentrate on staying alive. But a visit from the imaginary friend of her childhood opens a world of possibilities, including a new life half a universe away on a planet that is bursting with magic.

The Society of Imaginary Friends follows Valerie on a journey that straddles two worlds. In order to survive, she must travel many light years away to a realm where anything is possible.

On the Globe, imaginary friends come to life, the last of the unicorns rules the realm, and magic seeps from the pores of all the Conjurors who live there. But choosing to embrace her potential will set Valerie on a treacherous course – one filled with true love, adventure and perilous danger.

Knights-of-Light-2500x1563-Amazon-Smashwords-Kobo-AppleYou can also check out the second book in The Conjurors Series, Knights of Light, for $3.99 on Amazon.

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Announcing My New YA Fantasy Novel: Knights of Light (The Conjurors Series)

Knights-of-Light-2500x1563-Amazon-Smashwords-Kobo-AppleI’m not going to try to play it cool – I’m excited to announce that the second book in my young adult fantasy series, The Conjurors, is published. Knights of Light is now available on Amazon.

If you want to take Knights of Light for a test drive, check out the free excerpt here. Below is the blurb:

Leading means taking mortal risks. Hiding is not an option.

With a tumultuous year behind her, Valerie is ready to start a life that doesn’t include running from enemies and risking her life. Too bad someone wants her dead.

No matter how much she resists, Valerie is thrust into a position where it is up to her to lead the Conjurors against the power-hungry Fractus or suffer the consequences of two worlds ruled by those who wield magic as a weapon. But the clashes don’t stop on the battlefield. As Valerie finds herself torn between her new love and her best friend, it will be up to her to figure out who she can’t live without.

In the fast-paced second novel of The Conjurors Series, Valerie searches for the father she thought was long dead and begins to come to grips with the immensity of her new power.

The battle has begun.

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The Ticking Clock

shutterstock_100477396In expert hands, the device of a ticking clock can add urgency and keep readers turning pages. A personal favorite – will Harry Potter destroy all of the horcruxes before Voldemort attacks Hogwarts? On the other hand, in the wrong hands the ticking clock can feel forced. Every author wants to make their readers feel something when they read their work, but we’d rather it not be annoyance. At least, not annoyance at the writer.

I recently encountered an example of the ticking clock that I found original in the young adult sci-fi novel Unwind by Neal Shusterman. The premise is that parents have the option of having their children “unmade” part by part between the ages of 13 and 18. The first book in the series centers around three kids slated to be unwound, who all escape before the procedure can be performed on them. The very effective ticking clock that runs through the entire series is that if they can survive until they turn 18, then they’re safe. One thing I loved was that the ticking clock keeps ticking, even at the end of the story. It made me instantly download the next book in the series. I was invested, and had to know that the characters I’d come to care for would survive to adulthood.

I’m currently writing the first draft of the third book of The Conjurors Series and decided to add a ticking clock. As the book draws to a close, I find myself uncertain as to whether it’s functioning the way I want it to. It’s possible to start the ticking clock too early, and it adds pressure to every scene. It feels like my protagonist can’t take moments to relax when she knows something big is about to happen.

And readers need those breaks from the action as much as protagonists do. I relish the pauses in my favorite novels, where characters have a chance to feel and aren’t running to the next action scene. Imagine if Edward and Bella never had their moment in the clearing in the woods where they finally admit how they feel? I think Twilight is a great example of a ticking clock gone wrong. The moment that the book becomes a race to save Bella’s life, it loses the heart-rending romance that makes the series compelling.

What books do you think do the best (or worst) job of employing a ticking clock?

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How to Create a Series Bible

shutterstock_166195055I remember hearing a story that J. K. Rowling would use reliable Internet sites when she was writing the Harry Potter series to recall specific details from prior books in the series. At the time, I was a little shocked. Shouldn’t an author be able to keep all of the characters and locations they’ve created in their heads? It’s like forgetting that your mother’s eyes are blue or that you’ve been married for five years. There are somethings you should just know.

Now that I’m writing a series of my own, my perspective has completely changed. I can see the value in having a logical way of tracking the details of the characters and world that you create. Searching through prior books in your series, especially if the series is lengthy, is incredibly tedious. By the same token, if readers find little inconsistencies in your story, it can break their suspension of disbelief. Just because you didn’t remember that your protagonist had crooked front teeth doesn’t mean that an adoring fan won’t be horrified when you contradict yourself later.

That’s where a series bible comes in. I first heard about TV writers using it to track various episodes and seasons of a show. But it has been fully appropriated by authors to track their book series as well. Every author has a different technique, but the basics are the same. You have a binder, Excel file, sticky notes on a wall, or handwritten or typed notes, that track the characters, settings, and key plot points of each of the books in your series. The more organized and thorough you are, the more useful a tool your series bible can be.

I began my series bible as a list of all of the characters in each book, in no particular order. I listed their backstory, appearance, magical powers (since I write YA fantasy), and key information about what had happened to them so far. Sometimes I also included notes about what would happen in future books as well.

However, as the series has progressed (I’m now in the process of writing the third book in the series) it has helped to be more organized. I personally think Excel is the most logical way to keep track of a wide range of details. In addition to tracking characters, I also keep a map so I remember the geography of the world I’ve created, and details about the culture, landscape, and history of various countries that exist in that world.

Even with these details, I occasionally find myself returning to the first two books in the series for little details, so in the future I plan to be more rigorous about what I record. At its best, a series bible can be a roadmap that allows you to look backward and forward in your series and make adjustments as your story progresses.

Have you created a series bible for your novels? If so, which format did you find to be the most useful?

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How to Release (or Re-Release) Your First Self-Published Novel

Cover2When I originally published the first novel in The Conjurors Series in 2011, I had no concept of self publishing. It never occurred to me to promote my book. I simply used Amazon as an easy way for friends and relatives to download my book so I didn’t have to buy them a hard copy and mail it.

Two years later, self publishing had become a phenomenon, and my brother suggested that I market my novel and see what happened. But with a cover cobbled together using Microsoft clip art and no outside editing expertise, I wondered if my book was ready for public consumption. I’m very glad that I did some research and realized that for a self published author to be successful, she needs to have a polished product. A great story is at the core of any good book, but it’s hard to see through typos, horrific formatting, and a generic title that doesn’t provide any clues as to the content inside.

Below are some tips I would recommend any writer take before releasing a first novel or re-releasing an existing story.

  1. Invest in professional cover art. Unless you’re a graphic designer (or are close friends with one) this is a monetary investment that will pay off. It’s the first glimpse readers have of the quality of your work, and it needs to shine. I used Streetlight Graphics, and was thrilled with the quality of their work.
  2. Hire a professional editor to review your writing. I thought I had all of the expertise required to edit my own book – I was a double major in journalism and English in college, and part of my day job involves editing others’ writing. But I was astonished at how many nits my editor found in my writing. She also provided a much-needed sanity check to ensure that there weren’t any inconsistencies in the story. I worked with Shelley Holloway, and found her eye for detail was exactly what I needed.
  3. Evaluate the title of your book. I recommend searching Amazon books and using a search engine to see what pops up when you enter your title. I found that there were at least a dozen books with the title I had chosen, which would make it difficult for someone to search for.
  4. Write a blurb that’s as interesting as your novel. I was glad that I spent some time writing and having my editor review my book’s blurb as well. After your cover and title, it will make the biggest impact on whether or not readers choose to buy your book. For tips from successful authors who have done this well, check out this post.
  5. Create a web presence for yourself as an author. At the very least, have a Twitter and Facebook account that can keep fans, friends and family updated on everything you publish. This is also a valuable place to direct fans as your book attracts attention so they can hear about future works that you publish. I also recommend having a website with information about yourself and your books. A blog is great as well if you have the time. It’s an excellent way to network with other writers and communicate with your fan base.
  6. Consider releasing both an e-book and a physical copy of your book. Despite a slight learning curve when it comes to formatting for an e-book, there is no downside to making your book available in digital form. It’s free and is a great way for you to have giveaways without breaking the bank. At the same time, there is something powerful about a copy of your book that you can hold in your hands and bring to local libraries and stores to see if they are willing to display it.

So I’m proud to announce that I am re-releasing the first book in The Conjurors Series. It has a new title, The Society of Imaginary Friends (formerly Into the Dark), has been properly edited by an outside professional, and is rewritten with some of the knowledge I’ve gained in the years since I originally wrote it.

Below is a blurb about The Society of Imaginary Friends (available on Amazon):

The-Society-of-Imaginary-Friends-2500x1563-Amazon-Smashwords-Kobo-AppleBelief is a powerful magic.

Valerie Diaz has a power that she can’t contain, and it’s killing her.

Bounced between foster homes and the streets, she only has time to concentrate on staying alive. But a visit from the imaginary friend of her childhood opens a world of possibilities, including a new life half a universe away on a planet that is bursting with magic.

The Society of Imaginary Friends follows Valerie on a journey that straddles two worlds. In order to survive, she must travel many light years away to a realm where anything is possible.

On the Globe, imaginary friends come to life, the last of the unicorns rules the realm, and magic seeps from the pores of all the Conjurors who live there.

But choosing to embrace her potential will set Valerie on a treacherous course–one filled with true love, adventure and perilous danger.

The second novel in the series, Knights of Light, will be released in early March. I’d love to hear what you think about my story, and I welcome any reviews!

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Tips on Writing Series Backstory

shutterstock_103729193I’ve begun writing the third book in The Conjurors Series, and in the opening chapters I’m running into an issue that I remember from writing the second book. How much backstory should I include from the prior books? I flipped through some of my favorite YA fantasy novels, like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, and found that the authors made subtle references to the prior books, but it was done in such a way as to not interrupt the flow of the story.

Since I don’t have J.K. Rowling’s phone number, I tried to work backwards to see what was working. I researched what other writers recommend on this topic and was surprised to find that there weren’t a lot of tips out there. Below is the list I’ve compiled on what has worked for me when writing series backstory.

Include brief reminders of who characters are and any defining characteristics when they are introduced for the first time.
Whether it’s a defining physical characteristic, personality trait, or supernatural power, a phrase or sentence about the basic essence of who characters are can help readers flash back to the earlier story. This is especially critical for minor characters.

Only recall plot points from prior books when absolutely necessary.
If readers will be confused about what’s happening, it’s okay to include a brief sentence or two referencing key events from past books. But don’t feel you have to rehash the entire plot – new readers may be intrigued enough to go back and read prior books in the series. I know when I read books by my favorite authors that I love little Easter eggs that reference earlier stories. It’s okay if continuing readers don’t catch all of your references during their first read, as long as they can follow the plot.

Let critical backstory emerge through dialogue and action where possible.
Rather than telling readers what they should know about your series backstory, let your characters ask the questions, or subtly weave in critical information into dialogue. Even better, let it emerge during the action. For example, if your character was seriously wounded in a prior book, reveal the persisting weakness or pain during a current battle. The old scar will make sense for new and continuing readers alike.

Even if you don’t mention information from past books outright, make sure prior events still inform how your character behaves.
One thing that I noticed worked incredibly well in successful YA fantasy series was that even when events from prior books in the series weren’t explicitly rehashed, the ways the characters had evolved stayed true to the story. Any way the character has matured, grown, or perhaps fallen apart, like Katniss in The Hunger Games, is carried through. I try to think about how my protagonist changes over the course of the novel, and how that ties into the larger change in her character arc for the entire series.

Ask your beta readers to flag places where they were confused about who characters were or past plot that was being referenced.
The most important source of advice for how much backstory from prior books to include was from my beta readers. Even my own father, one of my most trusted and valuable beta readers, struggled to remember the nuances of the plot and the details about minor characters from the first book when he beta read book two. Knowing where he was scratching his head let me know the places that needed me to invest some time referencing past plot points.

Do you have any additional suggestions for how much backstory to include when writing subsequent novels in a series?

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How to Write a Great YA Fantasy or Sci-Fi Book Blurb

shutterstock_94921276It’s ironic, after writing thousands of words to create your novel, that a 100-200 word blurb pitching your baby to potential readers could completely stump you. But that’s exactly how I felt after writing the first two books of The Conjurors Series. I had a ridiculous number of blurb drafts that all seemed cheesy and didn’t do my story justice. So now, as I’m planning to re-release the first book in my series and the second book shortly after, I decided to examine the blurbs of some of my favorite YA fantasy and sci-fi novels.

I was surprised at just how many blurbs for great books didn’t hook me. In a way it was a relief to know that even the pros struggle with describing their masterpieces succinctly. But I did find a number of blurbs that were incredibly compelling, and I analyzed what was working in these cases. Below are the tips that I’ve gleaned from awesome YA fantasy and sci-fi book blurbs.

Tip #1: Echo the tone of your book in your blurb so readers get a sense of how you write.
Example: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor (Blurb: 170 words)
Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages–not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangers–beautiful, haunted Akiva–fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Tip #2: Give readers an accurate sense of the plot of your story, especially if you have compelling but complicated setting or premise.
Example: Divergent, Veronica Roth (Blurb: 213 words)
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Debut author Veronica Roth bursts onto the literary scene with the first book in the Divergent series—dystopian thrillers filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayals, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance.

Tip #3: Consider writing your blurb in first person (if your story is in first person) so readers can relate to your protagonist.
Example: Delirium, Lauren Oliver (Blurb: 125 words)
Ninety-five days, and then I’ll be safe.

I wonder whether the procedure will hurt.

I want to get it over with.

It’s hard to be patient.

It’s hard not to be afraid while I’m still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn’t touched me yet.

Still, I worry.

They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness.

The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don’t.

Lauren Oliver astonished readers with her stunning debut, Before I Fall. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called it “raw, emotional, and, at times, beautiful. An end as brave as it is heartbreaking.” Her much-awaited second novel fulfills her promise as an exceptionally talented and versatile writer.

Tip #4: Arouse readers’ curiosity with a compelling mystery.
Example: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs (Blurb: 155 words)
A mysterious island.

An abandoned orphanage.

A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive. 

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

Tip #5: Draw readers into the romance in your story.
Example: Beautiful Creatures, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (Blurb: 113 words)
Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. WhenLena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

Some race to win. Others race to survive.

Tip #6: Expose how high the stakes are for the protagonist.
Example: The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater (Blurb: 166 words)
It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line.
Some riders live.
Others die.
At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.
Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a choice. So she enters the competition – the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.
As she did in her bestselling Shiver trilogy, author Maggie Stiefvater takes us to the breaking point, where both love and life meet their greatest obstacles, and only the strong of heart can survive. The Scorpio Races is an unforgettable reading experience.

Before I embark on the final draft of my blurbs, are there any other great tips that helped you pitch your story to readers?

Posted in Insights from Popular YA Fantasy, Self Publishing | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments