Category Archives: Favorites


A Query Dissected

A number of people have been asking me how I got my literary agent, and it occurred to me that I have amassed quite a bit of knowledge about how to find the right representation. In upcoming posts, I’ll tell you about how I went about my agent search, but for today I thought I’d start by posting about that all-important query.

A query is a single-page letter introducing you and your book.  If you have finished a novel and plan to search for either an agent or a publisher, you are probably going to have to write one.  I won’t lie: It’s a daunting task.  Agents and editors see many, many queries in a day, and you’ve only got about 400 words to catch their attentions.

There are many good “How to Write a Query” posts out there on other blogs (like this one and this series), so I thought I’d do something a little different.  I’m going to reveal the ACTUAL QUERY I used for Witchlanders (below, in black) and use it to illustrate a few things that I think a good query ought to have (in red).

Please note!  This is not a perfect query by any means, but it is one that worked.  I found that well over half the agents I approached asked to read the manuscript (or at least a part of it), which I think is a pretty good percentage.  Keep in mind, though, I had done my research and was only querying agents who were interested in YA fantasy.

I sent most of my queries by email (after checking to be sure that the agent accepted email queries, of course!) and I usually pasted one page of the manuscript afterwards, in the body of the email, unless specifically asked not to on the agent’s website.  Eventually, my little query caught the eye of Steven Malk of Writers House, and the rest is history!

Dear Mr. Malk:

Be professional.  Even if you are querying by email, don’t think that you can be chummy and informal.  This is still a business letter.  I attended an SCBWI lecture with agent Stephen Barbara where he railed against email queries that didn’t have a colon in the greeting. I was amazed! Not having worked very much in the business world, I had assumed colons had gone out with the dodo.  Not so.  Everything Mrs. Gonya taught you about business letters in eighth grade still applies.  And no typos, please!

I have recently completed a YA novel, currently titled WITCHLANDERS, and am now seeking representation.  It is a 70,000-word fantasy, which I hope will appeal to readers of the books I love myself, such as Airborn, Sabriel and Across the Nightingale Floor.

Being as succinct as possible, you want to tell the agent:
-that the novel is complete.  (If it isn’t, you have no business querying.)
-how long it is
-what genre it is

I’ve read some blogs that discourage authors from comparing their manuscript to other books.  I thought that mentioning the titles above was a quick way to get across more information about my book and how it might fit into the market.  (Like Witchlanders, all the titles I listed are richly layered fantasies, heavy on worldbuilding.)  I also knew that Steven represented Kenneth Oppel, the author of Airborn, so there was a little flattery going on there.  (Honest flattery, though—Airborn really is a favorite of mine.)

In WITCHLANDERS, seventeen-year-old Ryder is struggling with his father’s recent death and with his mother’s addiction to maiden’s woe, a river flower that she believes can help her predict the future.  When hideous creatures made of earth and debris swell up out of the ground and attack Ryder’s village, it appears that his mother’s terrible visions of the future have come true.  Spurred by guilt that he didn’t heed her warnings, Ryder sets out to discover who created such a powerful magic, but to do so he must delve into secrets many people would like him to leave alone: secrets about a war that was fought before he was born, secrets about the witches’ coven where his mother grew up, and secrets about his own linked history with a mysterious enemy called the Baen.

Oh, this is the hard part: The pitch.  Less than a synopsis, more than a book-jacket teaser, the pitch is what will take you the most time when writing your query.  It should tell the reader three things: who the main character is, what he wants (or what his quest is), and what the conflict is.

But your pitch needs to do one more ineffable thing: It needs to hook the agent.  It needs to sound fresh and exciting to a person who reads queries for a living.  If you’ve gone the same route I did and compared your manuscript to other books, now is the time to get across how your book ISN’T like those others.  How is it unique?  What will make people buy it instead of a thousand other books in this overcrowded market?

It’s a good idea to write a pitch that mirrors the tone of your book: if your book is light and funny, try to write a light and funny pitch.

Does getting all this across in so few words sound impossible?  The great news is that you can get pitches critiqued online by other writers.  If you haven’t joined the Verla Kay community yet, think about doing it now.  Verla has a section for registered members called “Queries and Critique Requests,” where you can get feedback.

WITCHLANDERS has already received some very positive feedback.  The Toronto Arts Council awarded me a $7,500 grant to complete this novel based on the first 40 pages.  When two chapters were critiqued at a recent SCBWI conference in LA, the manuscript was deemed worthy of consideration for the Sue Alexander Award.

I am a duel US and Canadian citizen living in Toronto. I have previously published two well-reviewed picture books with Canadian publisher, Orca Book Publishers, as well as a few YA short stories in educational anthologies.  Two of my short stories for adults have won second prize in the Toronto Star’s very popular Sunday Star Short Story Contest.

Don’t worry too much about your credentials.  If you don’t have any, you don’t have any, and you may simply omit these paragraphs. Don’t pad your query by including irrelevant information about yourself.  (If you are wondering why I included the information about being a duel citizen, I thought it might be relevant to my being eligible for awards on both sides of the border.)

I am looking for an agent who shares my love of YA fantasy and was drawn to you because of your stellar reputation among YA and children’s authors.  I have pasted the first page of my novel below.

Here’s where I think I could have done a little better. Agents would like to know why you are querying them in particular and “your stellar reputation…” is a little generic.  Why I didn’t mention that Kenneth Oppel was one of my favourite authors when I knew Steven represented him I can no longer remember.  As I said, this was not a perfect query.

Thank you so much for your time.

Don’t forget to say thank you!

Yours truly,

Lena Coakley

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My favorite book in grade three.

Why Fantasy?

When I was a child, people told me so often that I read fantasy for escape that I started to believe them.  I did like to be transported to other worlds.  And people did seem to think my life was something I should want to escape from.

My favorite book in grade three.

I don’t talk much about my childhood.  This is because, in my mind, it was a good one, but when I start to give people the details—my mother’s s schizophrenia, my father’s death, living with a number of different families—they tend to want to sit me down and make me a cup of tea.

Maybe I read fantasy because the problems in contemporary novels of that time seemed so minor.  The character dealing with her father’s death surrounded by a mother, sister, brother and two sets of grandparents just seemed like a big whiner to me.  I wanted to tell her to buck up and do her homework.  But the character who walked through a door and found herself in a completely alien land with strange customs and beliefs and assumptions—her I could identify with.  I’d walked through that door every time I lived with a different family.  And the girl in the dystopian novel who’d lost her whole world in a fiery apocalypse?  Well, I got her, too.

My favorite book in grade seven.

I wonder if I’d have the same experience if I was growing up today.  There have been a few articles of late criticizing the grittiness of contemporary YA fiction.  But it’s worthwhile to note that when a novel backs away from the truth, savvy children (by which I mean all of them) will back away from the novel.  Sometimes they’ll back away from the whole genre, as I did.

Now that I’m an adult, I don’t think I was escaping at all when I read fantasy as a child.  I think I was looking for answers about how to stay alive, the same way someone lost in the woods would pour over a survival manual.  The amazing thing is that I got those answers.  Books saved my life, I’m sure of that.

I asked my friend Karen Krossing why she read fantasy as a child and she said: to explore things beyond the world I knew.  When I was a child, I needed to learn to imagine that there was a world beyond the one I knew.  And fantasy taught me to do that.

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Were the Brontës Science Fiction Authors?

Out of This World: Science Fiction But Not As You Know It
An Exhibition at the British Library (20 May – 25 September 2011)

Were the Brontës science fiction authors?  The British Library includes some of their juvenilia, along with Branwell Brontë’s map of the Glasstown Confederacy, an imaginary land he and his famous sisters invented when they were children, in its current exhibition, Out of This World: Science Fiction But Not As You Know It.

To be honest, when I first heard about it, I thought it was a bit of a stretch.  I’m interested in the Brontë juvenilia and have probably read more of it than many Brontë fans.  It is certainly fantasy writing.  In numerous stories and novellas, the Bronte children chronicled the exploits of the inhabitants of Glasstown, inhabitants that include their hero, the Duke of Wellington, his children and literally hundreds of other characters, real and invented.  Charlotte’s juvenilia in particular also contains some of the wonderful paranormal elements we see again in her later works—ghost sightings, preternatural warnings and the like.  But the Brontës as science fiction authors?  I didn’t think so.

Still, it was the inclusion of the Brontës that drew me in to this exhibit on my one precious day in London last Friday, and I’m so glad I went. Seen in a historical context, I did begin to see the Brontë juvenilia, with its use of both real and made-up characters, as part of a tradition of parallel worlds, a tradition that embraces works like Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, an alternate history in which Germany wins WWII.

But the Brontës are really just a miniscule part of this exhibit.  The curator, Andy Sawyer, has created a wonderfully interactive space using film, sound and multimedia to enhance the more static displays.  You can give a computer a Turing test (It fails pretty miserably.) or watch excerpts from the 1924 silent  film Aelita Queen of Mars.  (Best line: “Let’s meet tonight at the tower of radiant energy.”)

I was amazed by what I learned about the science fiction genre, amazed by how old it is.  Did you know that in 160 AD, Lucian of Samosta wrote his True History, in which he is transported to the moon by a whirlwind?  He describes horse-ants, dog-faced men and moon people with removable ears and eyes.

And did you know that, in addition to writing Frankenstein, Mary Shelley also wrote a dystopian plague novel called The Last Man (1826) considered to be the first science-fiction disaster novel?  It spawned a great trend in dystopian novels at the time, a trend we are seeing resurrected today.

If you have any interest in fantastical fiction of any kind, I highly recommend this exhibit.  The best part is, even if you don’t live in London, you can explore the history of sci-fi with the British Library’s highly detailed and beautifully illustrated catalogue for sale on their website or on  You can also view some wonderful video interviews of current science fiction authors on the British Library’s website.

And if you’re in Torontothis November, author Megan Crewe and I will be giving a related talk at the November 16th CANSCAIP Meeting called Writing the Unreal.  Details should be going up on the CANSCAIP website later this month.

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Snow and frost covered birch trees on riverbank.

Making My Witchlanders Book Trailer–Part 2

Last week I posted some of my favourite book trailers in hopes that they would inspire me to make my own.  This week I’ve been madly writing a script and gathering photos, music and video clips.  Here are the steps I’ve taken so far, along with some of the great sites and programs I’ve found to help me make my very own Witchlanders book trailer.

Step One: Draft a Script

Keep it short: As a general rule, I find book trailers too cheesy and too long.  I’ve tried to think of my trailer as an elevator pitch with images.

Be Flexible: Remember that you might not find the exact photos you want.  If you keep your script flexible at first, you’ll have a guideline for your image search, but you’ll be open to discovering that perfect picture you didn’t even know was out there.

Step Two: Gather Photos and Video

Search your own photos: I’m surprised by how many of my own photos I’ll be able to use.  Living in Canada, I’ve got a number of winter pictures that will be perfect for snowy backgrounds.  And because I visited the Paris catacombs a few years back, I’ve got more pictures of sculls than is generally considered normal.  Hey!—my main character visits some catacombs… Things are coming together.

Respect Copyright: Just because you find a photo on Google Images doesn’t mean it’s in the public domain. If you can’t find the right image in your own collection, it’s better to use a stock image site where the terms of use are clearly spelled out.

Free Photos: The best site I found for free stock photos was Stock.XCHNG.  Make sure you look at the terms of use for each photo, though.  Most photographers wish to be credited for their work, and some wish to be credited on the screen where the photo appears, which wouldn’t be appropriate for a trailer.  Some photographers also wish to be notified when you use their images.

Low-Price Stock Photos:  I really enjoyed perusing the beautiful pictures at iStock.  You can download a complimentary watermarked photo to see if you really want to use it before you buy.  And they’ve got video clips too!

Don’t forget where you found that perfect image! iStock allows you to create what’s called a Lightbox to store your possible pics.

Step Three: Tweak Your Photos

Photo Manipulation: Maybe my best discovery of the week was GIMP.  It’s a FREE image manipulation program similar to Photoshop.  You don’t have to be a designer to use this program, but if you’ve never used image manipulation software before, it can take some practice.  Because my book is a fantasy, I really need it to do things like transforming the stock picture I found for my main character from this:










To this:







Step Four: Find the Right Music

So many trailers lose me by having cheesy music.  This is something I’m willing to pay for, but many authors have found great free audio as well.

Free Music (donation appreciated) at Incompetech: This is where Maggie L. Wood found the eerie music she used in her trailer (featured last week).

Low-Price Stock Audio: Don’t miss that you can get stock audio on the iStock website as well as images.  You can also get stock sounds like barking dogs, swords clashing and wind blowing.

Sound Editing:  I already knew about Audacity, the FREE cross-platform sound editor.  I’ve purchased some music I want to use from iStock, but it’s a little long.  Audacity will come in handy when I want to cut it.

Step Five: Putting it all together

Now all I have to do is put it all together with the Windows Movie Maker program that’s already on my computer—and probably on yours too.  Have I ever done this before? NO!  Am I worried…A LITTLE!

Come back next week to see the finished product!

And by the way, my good friend Ian Krykorka helped me to put a “Follow Me on Google Friend Connect” button on my site this week.  I hope you’ll click it and follow me!


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Making My Witchlanders Book Trailer–Part 1

I adore book trailers. I was speaking to a writer yesterday who audibly moaned when I told him I was making one.  “We have to do that, TOO?”  No, writer friends, we don’t HAVE to make trailers to promote our books.  In fact, of all the many online promotion tools—blogging, social networking, etc.—a book trailer is one that I’m not entirely convinced has a big effect.  Many of the big readers I know, teen and adult, tell me they’ve never seen one.  But I think that’s changing.  Teachers are using them more and more in the classroom, and savvy authors and publishers are learning to use them as another tool to create that elusive buzz.

For me, though, I decided to make a trailer because I thought it would be fun.  I discovered that the computer I’ve had for four years has a program on it called Windows Movie Maker.  Who knew?  It seemed like a sign from the almighty Bill Gates himself that I should give this a try.

So, for the next few weeks, I’ll be taking you through my book-trailer-making journey, culminating (one hopes) with a finished project at the end.  I’m new at this, so feel free to write a comment about how off-base I am.

I should tell you right off that I am one of those people who 1) is not afraid of computers and 2) likes to fiddle with picky details. (Case in point: Witchlanders took me ten years to write.)  If you are not such a person, there are many companies that will make a book trailer for you.  (Two that have been used by many authors I know are Air Book Videos here in Canada and M2 Productions, but since I’ve used neither, this is not an endorsement.)

My first task was to check out other book trailers to see what I could steal learn from what other authors have done.  Here are three of my favorites and what I learned from them:

The trailer for Room by Emma Donoghue is a big budget (by my standards) short film made by her publisher.  The production values are out of my league, but what is really arresting about her trailer is the emotional content of the script.  The question is: Can I write a script for my own little trailer that has the same impact?

Maggie L. Wood’s trailer for her The Divided Realms series is more steal-able imitate-able.  I LOVE the eerily beautiful mood, which Maggie’s designer daughter, Chelsea Wood of Besotted Designs, seems to have achieved mostly through lush images and some great music.  I can do that! (I think.)

And finally, I was really encouraged to see that one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth C. Bunce, made her own trailer for StarCrossed.  I know from looking at stock photography websites (more about these next week) that stock video is more expensive than stills, but Elizabeth uses a video clip that really adds drama to the trailer.  Watch: it’s just one clip, but she really makes the most of it.  After viewing this trailer, I’ve decided to budget for at least one stock video clip.

Want to drool over some more beautiful trailers? Check out the finalists for the Moby Awards: Best and Worst Book Trailers.  Many of these are little works of art.

And check back next week for Part II of my book-trailer-making saga!


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Photo by Tom Page (tompagenet)

Mind the Gap: great writing advice from the London tube system

Photo by Tom Page (tompagenet)

In London, every time a train door opens, an automated female voice tells you to “Mind the gap,” so that you don’t fall into that nether space between the train and the platform.  When I was in England last year I smiled every time I heard it.  I was about to start a new novel, and Robert McKee’s book Story was on my mind.  McKee is another of my screenwriting gurus (if you read this blog, you know I have a few of them—I think screenwriters are often better at talking about plot than novelists) and “the gap” is a concept he talks about a lot.

I should say right off, though, that his definition of “the gap” is narrower than mine.  For me, “the gap” is just the difference between what the reader expects is going to happen and what happens; and the polite but firm voice on the London underground was a reminder to follow Aristotle’s advice and make my characters’ actions surprising yet inevitable.

McKee gets a little more specific, though.  In Story, he talks about the importance of opening up gaps between what the character expects to happen as a result of his actions and what really happens. It’s a subtle difference, but a very important one for McKee.

Many writers will tell you that plot happens when a character wants something, he takes action to get it, and the world puts an obstacle in his way.  McKee stresses the importance that the obstacle, the force that appears to keep the main character away from his goal, be different from the one the character was expecting before he took that first action.  The gap, then, is “the truth he discovers in action.”

For instance…


Jane can foresee many obstacles to her love for Mr. Rochester: the class difference, her plainness, that horrid Miss Ingram. Imagine what a dull book Jane Eyre would be if it only concerned itself with overcoming these known obstacles.  No, when Jane takes action and accepts Rochester’s hand in marriage, the world pushes back harder and with an obstacle she never anticipated: Rochester is already married to a mad woman he is keeping in his attic.

Wo!  I think Aristotle would have to agree: That is surprising!  And yet, when you think about it, inevitable too. Only this answer explains Rochester’s mysterious behavior…not to mention the eerie laughter emanating from his attic.  The truth about Rochester’s wife is the truth Jane discovers in action, something she never would have known had she done nothing.


A wonderful thing about reading McKee is that there is an interesting philosophy of life hidden in all that story-structure talk: He believes that the world is known by acting upon it, not by observing it, and not by letting it act upon us.  Whether or not that’s true in life, I think it works very well for story.

So…mind the gap!

Here’s a youtube video of the curmudgeon himself, talking about “the gap.”

And even better is this interview of McKee by George Stroumboulopoulos:




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Developing Desire: Why Knowing What Your Character Wants May Not Be Enough

I started such a brilliant novel a few years ago.  Oh it would have been groundbreaking, won awards, made me famous. At least that’s what I thought after I wrote the first chapter.  It was about a girl who was searching through time for her long-lost boyfriend and soul mate, but he’d been born into another body and she didn’t know what he looked like.  Brilliant!  Okay, that’s debatable, but it really had desire. I had taken to heart what I’d learned from so many writing teachers and books: know what your character wants.  She wanted this man.  Bad.

My favourite writing book at the time was Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream, which I still recommend.  Butler says that when he reads student work, the one thing missing from almost every manuscript is a sense, early on, of what the character yearns for.

But not my manuscript, I thought smugly.  For a while I exasperated my writing group by asking, after every reading, “but…what does your character yearn for?”  I had mastered something, and so I spread the word like a new convert.

So why did my story start to bore me?  Why did my main character feel shrill and one-note after only a few more chapters?  She had something she wanted; there were obstacles in her way; those obstacles escalated and became more difficult to overcome.  And yet: zzzzzz.

I came to realize that I had started my main character’s desire at too high a level, and the story had nothing to build toward.  Yes, I had an escalation of obstacles in my character’s way, but I also needed to have an escalation of her desire.

Writers of cheesy Westerns know this already.  Sure The Sheriff wants to catch The Outlaws.  But when they kidnap His Girl?  Then it’s personal.  Escalation of desire.

Now that I’m working on a new novel, I’m looking for points where my main character’s desire can shift and come into focus, escalating as we move toward the climax.  As you know if you read this blog, my new favourite writing book is The Anatomy of Story by the screen-writing guru John Truby.  He says:

“If you start the desire at too high a level, it can’t build, and the plot will feel flat and repetitious.”

Oh John.  Now you tell me.


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Cheryl Rainfield

My Interview with Author Cheryl Rainfield on Book Promotion

My first novel is coming out in three months and I’ve gone tharn.  I’m a Watership Down bunny, wide-eyed and paralyzed, unable to move as the oncoming truck of my release date barrels toward me.

On the one hand, I love that I’m publishing at a time when a book’s promotion isn’t completely out of an author’s hands.  I have Twitter, Facebook, blogs, websites, give-aways, book trailers, Goodreads, tumblr, StumbleUpon, message boards, and a thousand other tools to help me get the word out.  But does joining Twitter and Facebook actually translate into book sales?  Do I really want to start annoying my friends with commercials for my book?  And how can a shy author who covets invisibility above all other superpowers develop herself into a brand?

Luckily, I already have to best superpower of all: great author friends.  And so I asked the best promoter I know, my friend Cheryl Rainfield, author of SCARS, if she had any advice on book promotion for a first-time author.  Here’s what she said:

Cheryl Rainfield, Photo Credit: Emma-Lee Photography

Hi Cheryl Rainfield!  Thanks for answering a few questions from an overwhelmed author!

I’m glad you asked me; thank you!

Cheryl, the publisher for SCARS was fairly small and fairly new.  You were a first-time author.  And yet, you had sold out a large portion of your first print run before you even had your book launch!  What do you think was the most important thing you did to make that happen?

I think having a strong online presence has helped promote SCARS immensely and made sure it didn’t get buried by all the other books coming out.  And by a strong presence I mean I have a blog and website that I update regularly. I am on Twitter most every day-*interacting* with other people and re-tweeting things I care about, and I am also on FaceBook, GoodReads, and JacketFlap (I set my blog to automatically post there, as well as on my author page at Amazon). I have author pages on the websites where I’m a member, such as SCBWI and CANSCAIP. I am also very active on email, answering all reader letters and being part of various e-lists. I just joined the Red Room and will see how that goes.

I also think it helps to have written the best book that you can, and to care deeply about the book.

A Canadian publisher once told me that a Governor General’s Award nomination made little difference to a book’s sales, but you managed to make that nomination work for you.  How did you do that?

Hm. I’m not sure that being a GG finalist helped me with sales in Canada. SCARS is selling really well and keeps selling really well in the US, where my publisher is based. I mention the awards and lists that SCARS got where I can—I try to list them on my site and on GoodReads. I just keep (gently) promoting my book when and where I can.

Everyone is making a book trailer these days, but I’ve seen a lot of bad ones.  Do teens really watch them and how important do you think they are?

I think teens who are avid readers watch book trailers. I’ve had teens commenting on my book trailer on YouTube. But I’m not sure they seek them out.  As of today, about a year after SCARS and the book trailer were released, I’ve had 4170 plus views of the trailer, which I think is pretty neat.

I don’t think book trailers alone are key, but I do think that they’re one more way to help get the word out about your book, and I think they can be a good tool in book promotion. And I think they’re starting to catch on more. I did a book trailer for SCARS, and I’m going to do another for HUNTED (coming out this Oct). I know when a book trailer is good, I enjoy watching it, and if it interests me, I go out and buy the book or at least check it out.

There is such a fine line on Twitter and Facebook between successfully using those media to promote books and just annoying people with a lot of commercials for yourself.  How do you navigate that?

I try to make sure that I’m part of the community—that I offer helpful things to people, that I respond as a person, who I am, as well as an author. I make sure to help other authors, readers, and people. I re-tweet or post things that interest me that other authors, readers, people have posted or tweeted. I don’t just talk about my books, because I know that’s annoying when I’m on the receiving end of it, and also it can feel pretty empty if that’s all you’re doing. I like connecting with people.

I also try to take part in Twitterchats when I remember to and have the energy, though I can’t always. Debbie Ohi has a fantastic list of Twitterchats for writers, and also some great instructions on how to be a part of Twitter. I especially recommend YAlitchat for YA authors, and kidlitchat for all children’s and YA authors. It also really helps if you use Tweetchat to follow and take part in Twitterchats. (Type in the twitterchat hashtag (ie. #Yalitchat) at the time of the chat and you’ll see all the tweets.)

Is there any other advice you’d give to an author about to launch her first novel?

Know that while your publisher will do some book promotion, it helps so much more if you do as much as you can. Reach out to the communities you’re a part of about your book. Keep an online presence in the social media that you’re comfortable in, and really participate. Host a contest for your book. Offer valuable content on your blog or site. Have bookmarks that you can give out at book signings, conferences, or to readers who request them.

If you can afford it, it can really help to hire a good book publicist. They can really help you with getting TV or radio interviews, book reviews, and more. If you can’t, it just means doing as much book promotion as you can. I buy copies of my own book and then send them out to online reviewers who’ve agreed to do reviews; I think it helps. Guest posts and interviews may also help to get your book out there.

And, at least in my opinion, book promotion doesn’t stop once the book is out. I think some people think you only promote your book for the first month or so. I think of it as an ongoing process that never stops—to keep yourself as an author, and your book, in the awareness of people. I think of it as part of my job as a writer, though I’m still struggling to find a balance between necessary book promotion, and writing.

Good luck with promoting your book!

Cheryl Rainfield is the author of SCARS (an ALA Top 10 Quick Picks, GG  nominated & Rainbow List book) about Kendra, a girl who must face her past and stop hurting herself before it’s too late, the upcoming HUNTED about Cassie, a telepath on the run from government troopers who must choose between saving herself or saving the world, and two hi-lo (high interest, low vocabulary) fantasies: SKINWALKERS: WALKING BOTH SIDES, and DRAGON SPEAKER: THE LAST DRAGON.

Check out Cheryl’s site at, her book blog at, or follow her on Twitter at

Thanks so much, Cheryl!  Any comments on Cheryl’s interview or on book promotion would be greatly appreciated!

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My friends Rob and Ruth and I can often be found at the Toronto Reference Library on Thursdays, keeping the momentum going.

Writer’s Block, Writing Partners, and “the Dread”

Back before I started my first novel, I asked my full-time writer friends how they did it, how they sat down at their desks every day without that feeling of dread, that feeling that their desk was repelling them like a magnet.  None were very helpful, I must say.  I got some blank stares, maybe a few, “Y…es, I remember that it was like that once…” but no definite answers as to how to combat that particular form of writer’s block that sometimes affects new writers: the inability to get started and keep the momentum going.

When I was a young student just beginning to tell people (in a reticent murmur without looking them in the eye) that I might want to be a novelist someday, someone gave me a classic book on writing that said something like: “A writer writes every day.  If you’re not the kind of person who can do that, quit now.”  Ouch!  I can’t tell you what book it was—I have wisely thrown it away—but it was perhaps the most unhelpful present I have ever received.  Sure there are good arguments for writing regularly, but writers aren’t always born with this ability.  Sometimes it takes years to develop good writing habits.

My friends Rob and Ruth and I can often be found at the Toronto Reference Library on Thursdays, keeping the momentum going.

The thing that finally got me over the hump and on the right road was having a writing partner.  Mine was called Aino.  I would trek to Aino’s house every Thursday to write for three or four hours.  Sometimes we’d read what we’d written.  Aino’s rough drafts were far better than mine, and her output was about double, but her good company and the commitment we had made together kept me coming back.

Once I had it in my mind that, whatever else happened during the week, I was going to be writing on Thursday, I somehow found that I could do a little more.  Someone suggested writing just 15 minutes every day before work, and I found I could do it now.  Momentum in writing is a miraculous thing.  Once I finally started to gain some, I was amazed by how many story problems my subconscious would unravel for me between writing sessions.  I learned that writing regularly is simply more productive for me than writing in agonized bursts, and once I really knew that, it was hard to go back.

This year, when my friends Rob and Ruth asked if I wanted to write with them (every Thursday, as it happened) I knew it wasn’t something I really needed anymore, but I said yes anyway.  I’m glad I did.  For me it serves another purpose now; it breaks up the monotony of my writing week.  Plus, it’s great to see that Rob isn’t quite so repelled by his desk anymore.

Occasionally, “the dread” will rear its head again (usually about the time when I start bragging to myself that I’m over it) but it has never been quite so bad as when I started out.  If you’re feeling it, a writing partner might be for you.

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