Archive for the ‘Writing Tips’ Category

I had an experience recently with a very frustrated author that prompted this article. She was a debut author trying to get bloggers to review her upcoming release. She had contacted me through twitter asking if I would review her book. Two days after her initial request, she started to send messages to me that sounded borderline frantic. The messages ranged from, “Why won’t you respond to my request?” to “Is this because I went with a small publishing house?” Feeling the desperation and inexperience in her words, I did respond because I wanted to offer her a little advice. Knowing how many of you are out there in the same situation made me think that what I said may also benefit you.

Things to keep in mind when you’re requesting a book review.

You are not the only person out there with an upcoming book release. When you contact a blogger (especially one with a popular website) you should know that most get daily requests from authors, publicists, and publishers asking that they review their novels. In most cases, it has nothing to do with your method of publishing and everything to do with timing. The YA Fantasy Guide has six reviewers on staff. When I get a request, I email my reviewers and ask if anyone wants it. We read and review as much as we can, but it’s impossible to take on every request we get.

Attitude will get you everywhere or nowhere. You will find very little success asking for reviews through twitter. It’s 140 characters which leaves very little room for you to talk about yourself or your book. And, quite simply, it’s unprofessional. You’re asking someone to take time out of their day/week/month to do something that ultimately benefits you. Keeping that in mind, don’t ever freak out if it takes a while for a response. Most reviewers do what they do for fun so many have jobs and it could take some time to get back to you.

Personalize your request. Ask yourself these questions: What have you done to make your request stand out? Did you generically ask for a review or did you tell them why you wanted them specifically to review it? Did you read their review guidelines and follow the instructions? Have you done any research on that blogger? Have you followed that blogger and made comments on other areas within their blog? Have you contacted them on twitter to discuss books that don’t include yours? Have you offered to write an article or do a giveaway along with your review request? I can tell you that I personally have taken on additional books when I know that the author did their homework. The extra effort does make a difference.    

I hope you take this advice because it will help you score more reviews. Good Luck and Happy Writing!

Stacey O’Neale is a full-time writer and co-owner of the Young Adult Fantasy Guide. She’s had several articles and book reviews published, but spends most of her writing time on the revisions to her debut young adult fantasy novel. You can read her advice for aspiring writers on her blog The YA Fantasy Freak or you can follow her on Twitter.


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I read this fantastic article in Writer’s Digest magazine so I had to share since it’s not available online. The article is written by Scott Francis, an associate editor at WD Books and magazine and the author of Monster Spotter’s Guide to North America.

Grab a kitchen timer and kick-start your creativity with these 10-minute freewriting prompts.

  1. Turn on the TV or radio – the station doesn’t matter – and listen for just a few seconds. Write down the first phrase you hear, and let that serve as your prompt. How you use it is up to you: It can be the first line of your story, a bit of dialogue for a character, or whatever you wish.
  2. You discover a loose floorboard in the corner of your attic or the back of your closet. Without too much effort you’re able to pry the board loose. What do you find underneath? Something frightening? Something nostalgic? Let you imagination delve into the details – what it looks or smells like, reasons you think it might be there, emotions it stirs in you, etc.
  3. Imagine the best (or worst) possible thing you could receive as a gift from someone. Write about opening the package and discovering what’s inside.
  4. Think of a favorite accessory or piece of clothing from your past – a hat, scarf, glove, belt buckle, or anything else that evokes vivid memories. Freewrite based on images that come to mind.
  5.  Recall a place from your childhood that intrigued or frightened you. Describe the details you remember about that location – were there things about it that you always wondered about? An unopened door, an untaken path or darkened patch of woods? Write about what might have awaited you there.
  6. Your phone rings in the middle of the night. Reveal what happens in the next ten minutes.
  7. Pick a minor character from a favorite movie or TV show, and explore the main plot from that character’s point of view. Write about the aspects of the story that only he/she would’ve known.
  8. Plan the perfect crime. You have ten minutes.
  9. Describe the first time you drove a car (or the first time you remember riding in one). What kind of car was it? Who was with you? Include sights, smells and sensations.
  10. You find a bomb in an unlikely place. The timer says – you guessed it – ten minutes. Now what?

Stacey O’Neale is a full-time writer and co-owner of the Young Adult Fantasy Guide. She’s had several articles and book reviews published, but spends most of her writing time on the revisions to her debut young adult fantasy novel. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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Many writers struggle with dialogue. Done correctly, dialogue keeps a novel advancing and develops our characters. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come easy to everyone so I’ve created a list that outlines bad dialogue issues.    

Mechanical Dialogue

This is when the characters sound like robots instead of humans. Most people use some form of slang when they talk in conversation so your characters are no different. It’s also important to remember where your book is set. For example, if your book is set in New York, then you have to use their unique regional dialect.


“The information you have provided is very helpful. Thank you once again for assisting me with my urgent problem.”

Don’t Data Dump in Dialogue

Let the story unfold naturally. Assume that your characters will remember certain facts and don’t put everything out there all at once. This, to me, is a pacing issue. I always create a detailed outline of my book before I write a word. That way, I make sure the pace stays even and I’m not tempted to give too much away all at once.


“Carter, don’t you remember that when I was eight years old, my parents were killed in a car accident and I feel personally responsible because I had asked them to drive me to a movie? Now, whenever I get in a car I am filled with anxiety. This has made it impossible for me to go on dates because I can’t pick up girls on my bicycle.”  

Don’t Overdo Dialogue Tags

You don’t need a he said/she said after every sentence. Overuse takes the emotion out of the conversation and it’s just annoying to read. You want your reader enchanted by your dialogue, not your ability to create synonyms for “said”.


“Yes,” she said.

“No,” he said.

“Yes, I can,” she said.

“No, you can’t,” he said.

Break up Dialogue with Action

When’s the last time you had a conversation and you stood there without doing anything else? Maybe you were driving or folding clothes or drinking coffee. When writing, all those actions become part of your dialogue. The action adds excitement to what you’re saying.


“I refuse,” she said, slamming her hand into the table.

“I refuse,” she said.

The easiest way to learn realistic dialogue is to listen to the conversations going on all around you. Go to a crowded place like the mall or a park and people watch. Listen to the dialect, pay attention to their facial expressions and other body movements as they converse. It also doesn’t hurt to read a ton of books and see how the experts are doing it. Good luck!

Stacey O’Neale is a full-time writer and co-owner of the Young Adult Fantasy Guide. She’s had several articles and book reviews published, but spends most of her writing time on the revisions to her debut young adult fantasy novel. You can also follow her on Twitter.

Thanks for the picture: In the Middle of Nowhere

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You’ve poured your soul into a novel, revised till your brains are mushy, and now you’re ready to submit your work. But, where do you go from here? The next step is landing a literary agent to represent your novel.

In the simplest terms, a literary agent is someone who submits your novel to publishers. They do everything behind the scenes that helps you toward your career goals. They are essential and very hard to come by. Having said that, please know that if you have a well written, original, creative manuscript with commercial appeal then you will find success and an agent – period. They are looking for you as much as you are looking for them.

Now you need to identify which agents are right for your novel and that depends on your genre. A website like Agent Query can help you create a list of agents that might be interested in your work. Make your list of agencies, then go to their websites to make sure that they accept unsolicited submissions. If they do, you can write down what they accept (examples: query, sample pages, chapters, etc.) and all their other submission guidelines. I suggest creating an excel spreadsheet to keep track.

99.9% of the time, literary agents want to read the query letter before they request to read anything else. A query is a one page cover letter that tells the agent about you, your experience, and your book. If you’re stuck here then check out my article: How To Write Query Letters

If you’re a celebrity or a successful published author then the pitch process is a lock. But, what about if you’re not? Unfortunately, due to the current economy, the number of books getting published by new authors are rapidly dwindling. So what can you do to stand out in the ever growing slush pile? Create a strong writing platform. If you’re clueless on platforms then this article might help: Creating a Writing Platform      

This may sound exhausting, but no one ever claimed that it would be easy. The most important thing to remember is that this is your dream. Put everything you have into making it happen. Good Luck and Happy Writing!

Stacey O’Neale is a full-time writer and co-owner of the Young Adult Fantasy Guide. She’s had several articles and book reviews published, but spends most of her writing time on the revisions to her debut young adult fantasy novel. You can also follow her on Twitter.

Thanks for the comic, Write Strong!

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No matter where you turn, someone has advice for you. They know just what you need to do to find the success you’re looking for. I tend to believe that the best advice comes from those who’ve made it in your field so I asked the bestsellers. Here’s some of the best writing advice we’ve received from our interviews with some of the biggest names in YA fantasy. You can find all their individual interviews here.

NYT Bestselling Author of Fallen & Torment, Lauren Kate:

“Finish your book. Even if you don’t think it’s ever going to become anything. Then, the next time, when you write your real book, you’ll know that you can finish.”

NYT Bestselling Author of Tithe, Curse Worker’s series & Spiderwick Chronicles, Holly Black:

“I have three pieces of writing advice, cobbled together from things people said to me over the years and from my own journey: (1) Read a lot and in a lot of different genres – read nonfiction, read mystery and fantasy and realism and romance, read thrillers and historicals and especially read in the genres you write. The more you read, the better you’ll write. (2) Write a lot and revise a lot too. It takes a ton of flawed drafts and a lot of practice before you get good. If you read my early writing, you would howl with laughter. Seriously – I read some aloud at a panel on juvenilia. It was so terrible that I could barely read it because I was laughing so hard. (3) Find a critique partner. Having someone who liked the same books that I liked and was there to tell me when my scene made no sense and pointed out when I missed deadlines got me to get serious and stay that way.”

NYT Bestselling Author of the Mortal Instruments & Internal Devices series, Cassandra Clare:

“I was once advised that once you’re done with a book, read the whole thing aloud to yourself. It takes a long time but it really lets you hear things like overused words, awkward sentence construction, and the like.”

NYT Bestselling Author of Nightshade, Andrea Cremer:

“To write what you love and what you want to know more about – writing is about passion and commitment, so you need to have a story, characters, and subject that you’re willing to devote yourself to completely.”

NYT Bestselling Author of the Demon Lexicon Trilogy, Sarah Rees Brennan:

“Oh, gosh. I’ve been very lucky – I’ve been given some amazing advice over the years. (Notably from Holly Black. I think she has magic powers: she can advise you on your book, your career, your writing habits, anything, and make everything a zillion times better. Holly Black for president!)

Some advice I’ve received or that I just think might be good advice for those trying to break into YA: To always write what you want to read, and not pay attention to trends. Real enthusiasm sets other people on fire too – and that creates trends. To think about what your characters want, and what they’re going to get. To read, a huge amount, and everything you can lay your hands on, in your genre and out. To find writers who write what you write, with what you feel is a similar sensibility – find out who their agents are (it’ll be in the back of their books) and submit to them!

And of course to always bear in mind the fact that Sarah Rees Brennan may be totally wrong. ;)”

International Bestseller, Robin Hobb:

“Write here, Right now.  Or Right here, Write now!  Whichever you prefer.  Don’t wait to be a writer.  Stop aspiring and just write.  There are stories in your heart that want to be written right now, your very own stories.  If you wait too long, they will either get stale to you, or they will change as you change and grow, and they will never be what they would have been if you had written them right away. If you mind boils with story ideas, start a file on your computer or in a spiral notebook (They still work just fine for me!) and jot those ideas down.  Leave plenty of space on the page so you can come back and add more to the skeleton as it comes to you.  But trap the idea on paper before it fades away.  Only you can write those stories; if you don’t write them, they die unborn.”

NYT Bestselling Author of the Blue Bloods series, Melissa de la Cruz:

“I think the best writing advice is to never give up–so many people told me never to stop trying–and to take your rejections well and don’t let them get you down. Keep knocking on that door until it opens. My advice to someone trying to break in to YA Fantasy is to truly think if the book you are writing is one that you are meant to write, that you LOVE. Right now YA fantasy is very popular, and it’s a crowded market. It will take a lot to catch a reader’s attention. I always advise not to chase the market. Be aware of the market, of course, but when you’re writing, you want to write something that you bring a lot of passion into–bring everything into that project, that’s what makes the difference I think.”

NYT Bestselling author of Paranormalcy, Kiersten White:

“My advice is simple and two part. One: Get critique partners. You cannot get your writing to the level it needs to be on your own. And two: EDIT. Seriously. Just, edit. No first draft is publishable. Probably no second or third draft is, either. Don’t ever, ever skimp on the editing because you’re too excited to get out there. You’ll never regret an extra month or two taken to really hone and polish your manuscript!”

Stacey O’Neale is a full-time writer and co-owner of the Young Adult Fantasy Guide. She’s had several articles and book reviews published, but spends most of her writing time on the revisions to her debut young adult fantasy novel. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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I’m not a big fan of high fantasy; I never have been. I will admit to liking the old fantasy favorites like J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Terry Brooks, Phillip Pullman, etc. Those guys are some of the ones who put high fantasy on the map, but where have we gone since then? Imitators at best. I can’t tell you the last time I read a high fantasy that truly blew me away. So what’s the problem with high fantasy? Why isn’t it selling as well as it once did? High fantasy isn’t selling because the stories are all the same. To prove it, I will write one for you right now.

In the beginning of my story, my main (male) character will be threatened by an unknown danger. His parents are dead so he has no knowledge of his family history. He is bored with his current life and ready for an adventure. Suddenly, he is attacked by scary creatures. He’s saved by a mysterious, magical, male, older character who will become his mentor. This mentor will teach him about a prophecy/legend where he alone can save the world. There’s also a beautiful damsel in distress ready to be saved. She will be part of the prize because our main character will fall in love with her usually within one or two conversations. Of course, he must first find a hidden magical object that an evil one-dimensional dictator will also be looking for. Predictably, our main character goes on a journey where he will grow into our hero. During this quest, he will be trained to use magic and to fight with swords. He will join a small group of rebels just before his inevitable confrontation with the bad guy. The story will end in an epic battle where our hero will get hurt, but survive, so that we can have room for books two and three of our trilogy. The end.  

So you hate me now, right? You think I just flushed an entire fantasy subgenre into one long cliché? Let’s test my theory. I need only look to the NYT Bestsellers list and see that I am not alone in my opinion. Teens are flocking to urban, dark, and paranormal romance. They have been for some time now. Not to mention that most literary agents that I’ve spoken with won’t consider YA high fantasy. Why? Because most middle grade and especially teen readers aren’t interested in world’s they can’t recognize. Sure, there are always exceptions, but not many. Two highly successful exceptions are J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson’s series, but I don’t consider them high fantasy. They both exist in world’s that are part of ours, but not seen by everyone. The characters have mostly human lives and experiences except that magical element that makes them special.  

Okay, so how do we save high fantasy? Easy, come up with an original idea just like all the greats I listed in the top paragraph. They set the standards high so I want more of what they gave us and I want it on a teen level. Show me that and I will be happy to eat my own words.

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Before you can submit a query letter to an agent, you need to know what kind of fantasy you’ve written. Most literary agents are very specific with what they will consider and go as far as to break them down into subgenres. To make this process less confusing, I’ve broken down most of them so that you can save yourself from a hundred or so unnecessary, gut-retching rejection letters.

High Fantasy:

If your novel takes place on any other planet other than Earth then it is ALWAYS high fantasy. There is no wiggle room here. You could have elements of other subgenres, but the location of the novel always overrules everything else. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis is a great example because most of the story takes place in a different or parallel world.

Epic Fantasy:

Typically a series of books that revolve around a quest. Think sword fights, medieval weapons, and damsels in distress. Some people have coined Epic fantasy as Sword and Sorcery. The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini is a very well known epic fantasy series.  

Dark Fantasy:

This is usually when monstrous creatures play the heroes and the romantic element is small. Think vampires, werewolves, dragons, etc. Tithe by Holly Black is considered a dark fantasy because her faeries play good and evil roles.

Urban Fantasy:

The setting is an urban city and the story is taking place right now. The city is usually well known like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington DC, London, etc. The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare is considered an urban fantasy because it takes place in New York.


The story takes place in the future and the society is usually controlled and/or repressed in some way. Great examples of this subgenre include The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld.


A popular setting for this subgenre has been Victorian London in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. The technology is steam or spring powered and made mostly of brass and copper. Think science and futuristic inventions. A great example for this subgenre is Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.

Paranormal Romance:

This is simply a romance with fantasy elements. They mostly take place in our modern day world and usually involve humans encountering other fantasy species. Think romance with vampires, werewolves, faeries, angels, etc. They also tend to feature human characters with some sort of psychic special ability. Paranormalcy by Kiersten White and the Immortal series by Alyson Noel are two great examples of this subgenre.

I hope this list has helped. Happy Writing.

Stacey O’Neale is a full-time writer and co-owner of the Young Adult Fantasy Guide. She’s had several articles and book reviews published, but spends most of her writing time on the revisions to her debut young adult fantasy novel. You can read her advice for aspiring writers on her blog The YA Fantasy Freak or you can follow her on Twitter.

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