On Publishing: Tips from bestselling author Ellen Hopkins

traffick-9781442482876_hrBestselling author Ellen Hopkins joins me today, as she  travels through the webosphere on a blog tour, to offer helpful tips to writers while they navigate the road to publication.

Here’s Ellen…

  • First, please remember that the road to publication is rarely short. Often it takes years to start publishing well. Submission and rejection are both part of the process. Accept rejection and learn from it. Perseverance is crucial, and belief in yourself and your writing.
  • Start with smaller publications. Literary magazines are a great place to send poetry and short stories. Don’t expect payment here. You are building a writer’s bio, and that is priceless. Try writing articles. Even if you want to write fiction, you’ll learn to research and to finish projects under deadlines.
  • Join writers groups, especially critique groups, where you’ll have other eyes on your work. Often as writers we’re too close to our words to see when a story takes a wrong turn or that a character is flat.
  • Take classes at a local college or adult learning program. Spelling, grammar, etc. most definitely do count. An editor at a big publishing house will not look twice at a manuscript with glaring errors.
  • If you’re truly interested in writing for a living, DO NOT self-publish. While there are a few renowned exceptions to this rule, the fact is most big publishers will not pick up a self-published book and go on to publish it. Not only that, but self-publishing signals impatience on the writer’s part, something a big publisher won’t deal with. An exception to this is if your book has a definite niche within the marketplace, one you can fill on your own. For instance, a textbook for your own classroom. Marketing is the biggest issue with self-published books. And most bookstores won’t carry them.
  • Once a book length manuscript is ready to go, go to writers’ conferences where you can meet editors and agents face to face to discuss your work. Often, they will critique manuscripts at conferences, and this is the best possible feedback, not to mention a great connection. Much better than submitting to the “slushpile” (just mailing it off and waiting to see what happens, along with those thousands of other manuscripts in the slushpile). And today many publishers don’t accept over-the-transom submissions.

Check out Ellen’s most recent work

The sequel to Tricks, her latest book follows five teenage victims of sex trafficking — from all walks of life and gender orientations — as they try to extricate themselves from their current situations and find a new way of life.

In her bestselling novel, Tricks, Ellen Hopkins introduced us to five memorable characters tackling these enormous questions: Eden, the preacher’s daughter who turns tricks in Vegas and is helped into a child prostitution rescue; Seth, the gay farm boy disowned by his father who finds himself without money or resources other than his own body; Whitney, the privileged kid coaxed into the life by a pimp and whose dreams are ruined in a heroin haze; Ginger, who runs away from home with her girlfriend and is arrested for soliciting an undercover cop; and Cody, whose gambling habit forces him into the life, but who is shot and left for dead.

And now, in Traffick, these five are faced with the toughest question of all: Is there a way out? How these five teenagers face the aftermath of their decisions and experiences is the soul of this story that exposes the dark, ferocious underbelly of the child trafficking trade. Heart wrenching and hopeful, Traffick takes us on five separate but intertwined journeys through the painful challenges of recovery, rehabilitation, and renewal to forgiveness and love. All the way home.

Goodreads | IndieBound | B&N | Amazon | Powell’s |BAM |S&S

About the author

authorPhoto-e1315801199400Ellen Hopkins is a poet, freelance writer, and the award-winning author of twenty nonfiction titles and five NY Times Bestselling novels-in-verse. She has published hundreds of articles on subjects ranging from aviation to child abuse to winegrowing.

Ellen mentors other writers through her position as a regional adviser for the Nevada chapter of the Society of ChildrenÕs Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

She is a regular speaker at schools; book festivals and writers conferences across the US, and now throughout the world.

Find her on the Web

Goodreads | Website | Twitter |Facebook | Pinterest | Tumblr

IMG_1297 (2) tour bannerContinue on Ellen’s tour

November 13thHeather Harlen – Top 5 or 10 List

November 13thAlec John Belle – Review

November 13thConfessions of a Kid-lit Lover – Review

November 13thMelissa Martin’s Reading List – Review / Interview

November 13thThe Phantom Paragrapher – Review

November 13thTeen Librarian Toolbox – Review / Interview

November 13thMiranda’s Book Blog – Guest Post


Writing the teen years: From frenemies to crushes to self-esteem

BestFriendsForever453x680Writing is never easy but trying to capture the teen years on paper is especially challenging, so I’m excited to have author Krysten Lindsay Hager on my blog today with a guest-post about just that.


The Landry’s True Colors Series is all about self-esteem, friendships, crushes, fitting in, middle school and high school, frenemies, values, and self-image. It’s not always easy for me to go back in time and revisit those memories, but it’s part of the process. I knew I wanted to be a writer at a very young age, but I got serious about it right when I graduated from high school. The hardest part for me was finishing a story, but I did that for the first time in college with a novella while doing a one-on-one study. It was then that I decided to write young adult fiction and I started re-reading my old journals and going through old memories. When I got married I thought that even though I had started getting published under my maiden name, it would be easier to write about those teen years if I wrote under my married name. Then, one day after the wedding, I got an invitation to join Facebook and I was all, “What’s this? This looks fun!” Two months later and people I shared crayons with in pre-school were friending me and all possibilities of me using my own actual real-life experiences in my stories were out the window. Sigh. Stupid Facebook. So now I must write Landry’s experiences as her own. That’s not to say my own memories don’t infiltrate and inspire certain plotlines though. My mom saw a lot of things I had been through in a new character in the series.

Krysten Lindsay Hager
Krysten Lindsay Hager

I may not use my actual experiences word for word, but I channel those feelings into the books. Writing about the teen years means going back and sharing the awkward and insecure feelings I had like wondering why someone who was supposed to be my friend was saying passive aggressive things to me—the whole, “Just kidding!” statement made after a mean spirited comment was thrown my way. Or how I felt while modeling and then feeling expectations to always look a certain way. And, of course, all the boy drama. Nothing like hearing rumors about another girl going after the guy you’re with, right? There’s a part in the first book in the series, True Colors, where Landry has been left out by her two best friends. Landry has to get up and walk across the room and ask another group of girls if she can join them. I remember an editor told me, “My heart was in my throat as I wondered, would these new girls accept her? Would they let her sit with them?” As this woman told me how she felt emotionally connected with Landry, it hit me—that moment I had written about was based on my own feelings. I had done that incredibly long walk back in middle school to another table to see if someone would let me in their group after my own had stopped talking to me for a day (who knows why, but at the time it seemed catastrophic). That awkward, uncomfortable memory that I wasn’t even sure I should write about had brought up something in this woman who was reading it for the first time. It was then that I realized that Landry’s (and my) vulnerabilities were the only way to bring truth and honesty to the story.

However, I never could have written this story back then because you need time to process all of those things and realize why they happened and what you can learn from them. While writing the story, it hit me that Landry’s parents could share with her what they had gone through themselves when dealing with self-doubt and insecurity when Landry talks about her fear of failure. As a teen, I never really picked up on what my own parents went through even though I witnessed my mom have “frenemy” moments of her own. It began to hit me how all these things never really stop, they just change a little as you get older. Recently, I’ve had friends share emails that hurt them from other adults and honestly, they could have been written by 14 year old mean girls. I realize now how important it is to learn how to handle these things early on and to know you’re not alone in having to go through these situations. I wrote the books I wished I could have had at that age to let me know I wasn’t alone in what I was feeling and going through and I hope now it helps someone else.

About the author

Krysten Lindsay Hager is the author of the Landry’s True Colors Series, a clean reads young adult series. Krysten writes about  friendship, self-esteem, fitting in, middle school and high school, frenemies, modeling, crushes, values, and self-image in both True Colors and Best Friends…Forever?

Krysten is an Amazon international bestselling author and book addict who has never met a bookstore she didn’t like. She’s worked as a journalist and writes middle grade, YA, humor essays, and adult fiction. She is originally from Michigan and has lived in Portugal, South Dakota, and currently resides in Southern Ohio where you can find her reading and writing when she’s not catching up on her favorite shows. She received her master’s degree from the University of Michigan-Flint.

Find Krysten online: Website ~Instagram Facebook ~ Twitter

Buy her books: Amazon ~   Barnes & Noble ~ Kobo ~ itunes

Divergent Writing: Tips from author Veronica Roth

Am I the last person in the world to read Divergent by Veronica Roth? Okay, so perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration.

Still, even though Divergent sat in my to-read pile for more than a year, I remained fuzzy on the plot. A conversation with my niece, then 13-years-old, didn’t clear up the intricacies: an overview of the story  wandered off into a discussion of what faction we would belong to and how no one’s personality can be defined by a single trait. She was clearly a combination of dauntless and abnegation, and I was left with a vague impression of the houses from Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. After consuming Divergent over the weekend, I now realize how wrong I was.

Ms. Roth’s tale of a dystopian society unfolds in a clean, elegant prose–not a stray adverb or adjective to be found–and the factions reflect the protagonist’s unflinching observations. So it came as no surprise when I read Ms. Roth’s writing advice, among the bonus materials in the back of the book, that her tips contained a straightforward simplicity; although, I’m sure, not particularly easy to implement:

Divergent’s Bonus Materials ~ Writing Tips from Veronica Roth:

Stage One: Word Vomit. (Sorry for the graphic image there.) Just write. Do not reread what you’ve just written, even if you don’t remember it and you want to check it for the sake of consistency. Don’t do it! You will be tempted to edit, and editing before you finish the draft is the enemy of writing progress.

Stage Two: Let it sit for a while. This is a good time for you to reconnect with friends and family you may have neglected while writing, and to recharge your writer batteries, so to speak. Not writing is as important as writing— go out into the world and remember how interesting it, and the people in it, are.

Stage Three: Reread, and make notes. I prefer the Microsoft word in-text comments, but I have also used notebooks. I try to write down big, plot-or-character- shifting things the first time I reread. Like “remove this character” or “the end has to happen differently” or “set up this huge plot element earlier in the story.”

Stage Four (view spoiler): Rip draft to shreds. The phrase “murder your darlings” (meaning: the stuff in your manuscript that you love best is probably the stuff that needs to go- and you have to be willing to get rid of it) has been important to me in developing as a writer. I try to make it a big, dramatic event wherein I save my old draft, copy past the text into a new document, and start deleting huge sections of text. It hurts, but it’s oddly-liberating. The story can become something new now- something better than it was before, something it couldn’t become if you clung to everything.

Stage Five: Start writing again.


What do you think? Good advice?

How to give your writing shine, volume and manageability

This insightful posting from author Vicky Lorencen finds a connection between hair products and the writing process… And a solution for getting the latter under control.

Welcome to Frog on a Dime

Photo by Vicky Lorencen Photo by Vicky Lorencen

You’ve seen the commercials. There’s a woman with limpity blahsville hair. Her shoulders, schlumpy. Her eyes, rolled. She blows a puff of air upward from her lower lip and ruffles her scruffy bangs–the universal breath of disgust. Then, some product whooshes onto the screen. It’s a bottle of glamorous, sexy-smelling hope for hair. Ms. Lackluster snatches the wunderproduct, suds it through her sorry locks and voila! Cue the fans to blow a mane so magnificent as to make Fabio throw in the towel.

What if there was a “product” that could do the same–give shine, volume and manageability–to your writing? Good news! There is. It’s called Critique Group.

Here’s how this amazing product works:

Shine. Nothing will give your writing that dazzling sheen you desire like a robust critique. Your group can help you snip those dry, split ends created by worn or useless verbiage, identify stronger verbs and methodically polish your work.

Volume. Receiving regular…

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Show, Don’t Tell

Excellent posting and cheat sheet with tips on how to “show not tell” from Lynette Noni.

Lynette Noni

This seriously awesome “cheat sheet” popped up in my Facebook and Twitter feed the other day and it’s simply too good not to share. It originated from a website called Writers Write:


As writers, we’re often told how important it is to “show, don’t tell” with our words. The funny thing is, it can be easier to write “tell” rather than “show”, but it’s waaaay better to READ “show” than it is to read “tell”. And really, as someone who spends a lot of time reading, I kinda hate it when I read writing that does more telling than showing, because it almost makes me feel dumb, you know? It sends the message that the writer thinks that to get their story across then they have to describe everything to the point that there’s no room left for my imagination to enjoy the creativity of filling in any gaps…

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Where Are My Strawberries? Realism in Fiction

HellishHaven_200x300I’m thrilled to have a guest post from L.K. Below , author of Hellish Haven–a dystopian multicultural romance (how’s that for a genre buster?)–from Kensington/Lyrical Press. In the following,  she discusses how even seemingly small decisions when creating a character’s world can take on a larger meaning and come to symbolize an aspect of the character’s desires.


During the early drafts of Hellish Haven, I based some of the heroine’s likes and dislikes on my own preferences. When I needed a food which would be considered a decadent treat, a food which her husband could hand-feed to her and increase the tension between them, I settled on strawberries. Sweet, juicy, and small enough for Grant to tease over her lips. Not to mention they are among my favorite fruits.

Unfortunately, there are no strawberries in war time. Certainly not in the middle of winter. Think to yourself how hard it is to find good strawberries in December. I constantly sigh and wait for summer, for plump local berries. Eva and Grant wouldn’t be able to scour their local grocery store for produce. When they have made themselves the enemy of the government, they can’t venture into places kept firmly beneath government surveillance. So they have to make do with what they can get.

I had to go back to the drawing board. I thought of produce the rebel forces would be able to grow in their own homes. I erased the strawberries from Eva’s story, no matter that it was her (and my) favorite fruit. I replaced it with greenhouse-grown cherry tomatoes. An infinitely more practical solution.

In a way, that fruit symbolises Eva’s life. Set against a vigilant and ever-present threat, she can’t afford to let down her guard. She can’t afford to indulge in toeing the line, not even to visit an abandoned church set too near the enemy border. She has to be practical, when she wants to live free and unfettered. When I changed even that one small fact from desire to necessity, I thought to myself…

Where are my strawberries?

As an author, I am tied to my characters more closely than to my deepest friends. My characters are a part of me. They are born of my fears, my doubts, my hopes, and my dreams. I have to put my characters through the most heinous struggles in order to give them the happily ever after they deserve. That means taking away the comforts I sometimes take for granted. It means stripping my heroine of everything she knows and loves, even something as simple as her favorite fruit, in order to expose her true strength of character.

Because Eva is strong. She faces death, torture, brainwashing, and the ever-present threat of leaving her son an orphan. She does it to protect her family, her friends, and her freedom. I cringe with every punch doled her way. I cheer every obstacle she crushes beneath her heel.

And I make a promise that once it is all done, once her war has been fought and the book is over, there will always be strawberries.

About the author

L.K. Below grew up in a small town in Ontario, Canada, where her only peek into the wide world was through books. She’s been a bookworm ever since she learned to read, and loves any book with characters and worlds she can lose herself in. She wrote Hellish Haven to take one of her favorite classic books, George Orwell’s 1984, into the modern day…or, in this case, near future. She writes as obsessively as she reads and likes to Tweet about both at @LBelowtheauthor.

Writer Blog Tag: I’m It

While playing tag this past Saturday with my nieces, I never expected to hear, “You’re it,” well into the following week.  Yet, it’s Thursday morning and  I’m still playing tag. This time, though, I’ve replaced my nieces with fellow writers.

Author Kristi Rose tagged me for the Writer Blog Hop–a series of questions about the writing process. You can find my answers below and be sure to check out Kristi’s, as well as the responses from the writers listed at the bottom of this posting (their websites are also great places to find reading suggestions!)

What I am working on/writing

I’m immersed, to the point of drowning, with the three E’s: editing, editing, and then some more editing. Yarn Weavers–an urban-fantasy-romance based on Mayan mythology (how’s that for a genre-buster?)–is due out from Lyrical Press next year and it’s getting a major polish.  A mystery about snake-wrangling brothers sits on the back burner.

How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

I take ordinary events or objects and give them a twist–a knitted scarf capable of finding missing children or a wig made from gold. Then I sprinkle in a few eccentric characters–a man who dresses like a candy corn or a girl who can read messages in the clouds–and send them on  an adventure.

Why do I write what I do? and How does my writing process work?

Current events and everyday encounters often get stuck in my imagination. Turkey vultures perched along the road look like a coven of witches or an ordinary tapestry resembles an opening to another world

These story ideas churn around in my brain for days, months, sometimes years, until they practically force their way out through my fingertips. Next I jot down several paragraphs or pages, whatever I can. Then I take a breath and make a rough outline of the plot and characters, filling in the blanks and reworking it as I go.


Thanks for stopping by but you’re not finished yet–this game of tag never ends… Hop over to these author’s pages for writing insights and book suggestions: Anya Monroe, Kim Smith, and Desiree Holt 

Detroit Workshop: The “humiliating miserable thing” called writing

For those of you near Detroit, hop over to 826michigan’s “How to Write Like I Do” workshop on June 20. Jason Porter will present “Necessary Contradictions: Hating the Thing We Love to Do While Loving the Thing We Hate to Do.”

“Being successful as a writer demands the necessary contradiction that we are our harshest critic while simultaneously being our biggest fan. In this workshop we will honor above all else any and all tactics that return us to the writing process. Harmless tricks. Arbitrary goals. Writing with a pen. Closing our eyes. Unplugging routers. We will do whatever it takes to get us back to doing that excruciating humiliating miserable thing we can’t seem to get enough of: writing.”

Get all the details here. Proceeds benefit 826michigan’s creative writing programs for students in Detroit’s schools, libraries, and community centers.

Synopsis: Torture device invented by editors/agents or useful tool?

Drafting a synopsis for my novella almost convinced me to quit writing altogether. I mean, why torture myself? But I pushed through the pain and strung together five double-spaced pages (way too wordy!), along with a query letter, and sent the bundle to my always-patient friend Lori Sawicki.

Apparently, she too had been struggling with a synopsis and had come across the following  advice from author Beth Anderson: “So–what does go into a synopsis? 1. What happens at the beginning. 2. What your lead characters want. What problem they’re each trying to solve. 3. What escalating roadblocks, both external and internal, you’ve set up to prevent them from getting what they want. 4. What happens at the end. How they solve their problems.” Read the entire posting here.

Then I stumbled upon Susan Dennard‘s excellent synopsis worksheet, and between Lori (did I mention her patience?), Beth, and Susan, I whittled my synopsis down to one page.

It helped… In fact, the novella now has a book contract but more on that in a later posting…

Not to say the synopsis got me there but it did force me to recognize an important plot hole, which I patched before sending the book off to publishers. Writing a synopsis is still a torturous process, yet I can see myself drafting one–probably making me a bit of a masochist–as a planning tool for my next novel.

Exploring the Woods for Undiscovered Creatures: How Nature Influences the Imagination

Lake EmmaThe following essay first appeared in Whisper in the Woods Kimberli Bindschatel’s gorgeous nature magazine that ran from 2004-2008.

I began to notice the figure from about 100 feet away. It rose out of a snowdrift like an ancient statue—northern Michigan’s answer to Easter Island. I clomped forward, my snowshoes sinking into the snow, and saw that it was a crudely carved lumberjack, standing about 7 feet tall. He held a hatchet between his fingers, and his carved hair was gathered at the nape of his neck.

Snow fell in fluffy flakes and the sun hid behind a bank of gray clouds. Shadows hovered beneath towering pines. The day took on an eerie feeling, as if someone watched me from the woods, and I hesitated.

“I’m being silly,” I said. The sound of my voice gave me a burst of confidence, and I took another step. Why was I letting this strange carving scare me? Had I somehow regressed about 30 years, back to my fanciful youth?

Still, the carved giant was unnerving. His uneven eyes seemed to glare, warning me off the two-tracks I was exploring. And I hurried away, thinking about the times where my thoughts have gotten the best of me.

Over the years, my imagination has converted a cluster of turkey vultures leaning over a carcass into a coven of witches. Or once, while on a trail run, a crow seemed to follow me, flying ahead and then landing on nearby branches. I imagined that the bird was not what it seemed. Was something else trapped inside the crow’s body? Would it transform?

I’ve often been amazed at where nature takes my mind. It allows us to think beyond ourselves, to feel how small we are compared to a vast forest or lake. For some, like myself, our thoughts turn to the fantastical, probing the woods for undiscovered creatures. As a writer, I turn these mental ramblings into stories, like in my short-story collection, The Curse of Blackhawk Bay (Sam’s Dot Publishing, December 2008).

Yet, at times, I also find my imagination shifting to a more spiritual path. Although my father has been gone now for almost 20 years, my mind brings him back. I can almost see him at my side, hiking or mountain biking and remarking on the blue sky or a loon’s call. I close my eyes and hear his voice.

And this, I think, among all the gifts that nature gives us is perhaps the greatest. It grants us the space and quiet to allow our minds to wander, whether it be inventing an alternate world existing within the forest or remembering loved ones. I believe these mental gymnastics keep us young, pushing at our minds, allowing them to explore and invent

So on the day I encountered the hatchet man, I quickly left him behind, wondering how he might appear in my next short story. Soon, though, the spooky feeling subsided. A ray of sunshine split through the mass of gray clouds and I struggled to the top of a steep hill. My snowshoes slid backward with each step, and I thought about my father, how much he would have enjoyed the day—the sense of adventure and exploration. I felt his presence and allowed it to fill my mind.

The wind whispered through the pines as I trudged back down the hill toward home. A deer blind, hidden by a log, lurched on the left and animal tracks scampered across the snow. Somewhere a bird called, almost a wail, and immediately my imagination was off again, pushing at its boundaries, wondering what waited in the woods, what stories I could create.