What You Would Have Learned at BEA

photo-62The publishing world was a curious mix of hyperactivity and near-total silence last week, which can mean only one thing: Book Expo America, known as BEA. It’s an absolutely immense industry-only tradeshow and the largest publishing event in the U.S. by far, with roughly 20,000 publishing industry professionals in attendance.

If you didn’t go, you might feel left out. But never fear! Here’s everything you would have learned if you’d gone.

If you’re an aspiring author, there’s pretty much no reason to go. Here I can’t say it any better than power agent and tell-it-like-it-is internet presence Janet Reid in a recent post on her blog:

BEA is NOT a place for writers to meet agents or try to get info on getting published.  Yes, I’ll be there. So will everyone from my office. I’m not there to meet you. I’m there to see what publishers are doing. I’m there to meet with my co-agents from far flung lands.  I’m there to get a sense of the sea changes in the industry… You want to go to WRITER’S CONFERENCES, not trade shows.  Go where agents ARE actively looking to talk to you.

Boom! Aren’t you glad you didn’t go? Cross it off your list. [Read more…]

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About Jael McHenry

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at jaelmchenry.com or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.

Checking In With a Dual Social Media Identity

15599944629_12d1e0c02c_zFive months ago, I set out my rules for Social Media the Second Time Around — what I did, and planned to do, differently as I built a social media identity from scratch for my pseudonym. Five months in, how’s it going?

Both better and worse than expected.

If I count it up, I’ve done pretty much what I set out to do. Here were my guidelines for setting up the second identity:

  1. Don’t just replicate exactly what you did the first time around.
  2. Do make deliberate decisions.
  3. Do watch yourself (or selves).
  4. Don’t blast the world.
  5. Do tell the truth at the right time.

I’ve followed those guidelines, and they’ve served me well. P.M. (Pseudonym Me) is definitely not a clone of Jael McHenry; she follows different people and posts different things. She’s less flippant and more political. She talks less about writing and more about reading. Overall, she has a lot to say and isn’t afraid to say it.

Here’s the problem: I kind of don’t have energy for both. And the busier P.M. is, the less we see of Jael McHenry. All it takes is a peek at my Twitter account to see that my activity has dropped off dramatically; the same is true of Facebook.

If I had unlimited time, of course, things would be different. [Read more…]

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About Jael McHenry

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at jaelmchenry.com or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.

The Dangers of a Good Book

image by photosteve101
image by photosteve101

Last week, I read a fantastic book. Good news, right? As writers we are all readers first, and there’s an unmatched joy in disappearing into a well-written book, or we wouldn’t be reading in the first place.

However, sometimes, reading a fantastic book pushes me into a downward spiral. I’ll never write that well, I tell myself. I’m not good enough. Whatever I’m working on now is a mess.

(Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t, but when that kind of dark mood descends, there’s no reasoning with me. It isn’t about the truth, anyway.)

To keep that sort of thing from happening, there are writers who forbid themselves from reading at all while they’re writing. Or they have rules around it: nothing in my genre, nothing during the first draft, nothing that has anything in common with what I’m working on. There are others, like me, who focus their reading habits in the other direction: I like to read other books whose topics or time periods overlap with what I’m working on, just to know what else is out there and see how others have tackled some of the same challenges I’m facing in my draft.

It’s up to you, of course. Only you can write your book, and only you can decide what sort of reading helps or hinders you along the way. [Read more…]

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About Jael McHenry

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at jaelmchenry.com or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.

The Dangers of Storytelling

image by Surian Soosay
image by Surian Soosay

As writers, storytelling is our business and our art. It’s our core skill. Writing is about putting words together to create a coherent tale, taking our readers on an unexpected journey, and delivering a satisfactory conclusion at the end of that delightful ride.

You know what doesn’t cohere as cleanly? Life.

I’m not one of those writers who believes that you absolutely must struggle to be a “real” writer, but the truth is, many of us do struggle. Fiction rarely pays the bills. The real world is a world of day jobs and freelance work, deadlines and utilities, and a host of needs always tugging, tugging, tugging us in different directions. If you’re looking for an agent, it’s extremely rare to get offered representation on the very first try. If you’re self-publishing, you might put your heart and soul out there only to hear a resounding silence in return.

In that environment, it’s tempting to begin storytelling about ourselves.

How many publishers rejected the first book in the Harry Potter series? The exact number varies, depending on your corner of the internet, but that story is such a common one. Faced with rejections ourselves, we want to hear that amazing success can come following repeated rejection.

Can it? Yes. Does it? Only sometimes. [Read more…]

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About Jael McHenry

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at jaelmchenry.com or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.

Learning to Love the Synopsis

Image by Kamile
Image by Kamile

There are those who say writing the query and/or the synopsis of the novel is harder than writing the entire novel. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but I’ve always hated writing synopses. I stopped minding queries when I realized I didn’t need to pack the whole novel into a paragraph, just supply enough of a teaser to make someone want to read more. But synopses? Well, the point of the synopsis is in fact to summarize the entire novel, and no mistake. That’s why synopses exist. Plus, I hate giving away the ending, and there’s no way around it in a synopsis.

So, along with many, many other writers of my acquaintance, I was a synopsis-hater.

But this latest synopsis I’ve been working on, I love. So what changed? And how can you set yourself up for synopsis-writing success?

Don’t rush it. I’ve spent the last six months pulling together research, and plotting, and developing characters. So now that I’m actually putting that together in an organized format, the words come easily. If I’d tried to write this same synopsis for this same book three months ago, there would have been fits and starts. Mostly fits. This way it comes spilling out, and I know how A becomes B becomes C, and it’s just a matter of how much detail to go into about each letter.

Don’t limit yourself. A one-page or three-page synopsis is a maddening thing, nearly impossible to achieve on a first draft. So don’t try to do it in one draft. Write it until it’s done, however much space that takes on the first go-around. You can always edit later. You can take it from 10 pages down to three, but in order to figure out what goes in that three, it’s better to put it all in and then figure out what needs trimming away.

Balance plot and character. [Read more…]

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About Jael McHenry

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at jaelmchenry.com or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.