Books Alive! 2015 – Washington Writers Conference


This past weekend I attended Books Alive! 2015, the Washington Writers Conference in Bethesda, MD, and I had a blast! Full disclosure: Since I am working on my own novel, the most important thing for me was the fact that I could pitch my manuscript to four agents in person. However, attending the panel discussions, interacting with speakers and -even more importantly- other authors added so much more to this experience than just getting a shot at selling my writing. It was incredible to hear all the great stories that attendees are working on, fiction and non-fiction alike, and I can only encourage every aspiring writer to try and attend next year’s conference.

During the first session of the morning, How to Pitch to an Agent, the panelists offered advice on how to make your pitch successful. I was happy to hear that their advice pretty much was the same I had received during a 2-week workshop I took last November (Get a Literary Agent, Mediabistro): 

  1. Create a hook – Something that captures the agent’s attention.
  2. About your book: How long is the manuscript? Where on the shelf would you place it? (I.e. My novel [title] is a commercial science fiction novel with some dystopian and gone-girl elements, and is complete at 108,000 words). 
  3. Your elevator pitch: Give a high-level overview of what your novel is about. Don’t try to summarize the entire plot in a synopsis-like style. You want to be as brief as possible. Think of it as your elevator pitch. Mine sounded something like this (and takes me about 30 seconds): Kyra Taylor is known as a Y, one of the very small percentage of telepaths who are considered the most powerful of them all. Her world is turned upside down when she discovers her own fate: to become a Mind Hunter, an elite professional with just one job—finding rogue telepaths and bringing them in…or bringing them down. She is assigned to Nathaniel Cadwell, the most powerful hunter in service. Their relationship is torn between contempt and secret affection, and it is about to become a lot more complicated when powers unknown to both Kyra and Nathaniel attempt to use them for their own agenda: to create a new and even more powerful generation of telepaths. With Kyra on the run and Nathaniel being misled by those above him, both must find and overcome the secrets hidden in the Rivers of the Mind. 
  4. Give comparative titles. It shows the agent that you know your market and your target audience. Avoid comparing yourself to bestsellers. You want to be confident, not cocky. However, if specifically asked, be prepared to humbly mention some books or writers whose target audience you share. In my case, I compared my novel to The Office of Mercy (Ariel Djanikian) and The Mind Readers (Lori Brighton), but I mentioned that I believe my novel would probably appeal to readers who enjoy stories like Divergent  and The Hunger Games. 
  5. Your bio: Give a brief overview of who you are, your credentials (i.e. previous publications) and anything that shows the agent you are basically qualified and have worked on your craft. In my case I mentioned that I have published various professional articles, and that I have taken several writing workshops including one lead by Orson Scott Card.
  6. Be your biggest fan! Publishers are looking for people who can market themselves. Probably not what introverted writers want to hear; in fact, a good but very introverted friend of mine who hates the entire putting yourself out there-thing said that “this makes you long for the days when it was acceptable to be a writer just so you didn’t have to interact with anybody” (I am paraphrasing here). My response to this was that being outgoing and selling myself and my work to people did not come naturally to me. I had to learn and work really hard, but by now I can talk to strangers and in front of crowds with ease, and I have no problem conveying my passion for something to others. And if I can learn how to do that, so can you!
  7. Say what’s next! Are you working on other projects? Maybe even a sequel (which is what I am working on).

Throughout the day, people dashed in and out of the rooms to take advantage of the five minutes of face-to-face time with four agents. Think of it as verbal Twitter … five minutes really feel like 140 characters, much to the dismay of my above mentioned introverted friend, who hates Twitter and the concept with a passion. I was really nervous when I pitched to the first agent, but it got better each time I did it. I kind of wish that, at the end of the day, I could have pitched to the very first agent again, simply because I felt so much more confident. All four of my agents invited me to submit the beginning of my story, which made me very happy (cross your fingers!).

Whereas I enjoyed each panel and presentation I attended, I particularly want to highlight the last session of the day, From Magazines and Blogs to Books, moderated by Holly Smith and featuring Caitlin Kelly, Monica Bhide, and Adele Levine. Their stories of how they got published were fun to listen to; even more interesting was their advice on how to deal with rejection. As we writers are all well aware of, rejection is part of our craft. In fact, one panelist said that she had once been told by a mentor that “if you haven’t been rejected at least 72 times, you have no right to complain”. Adele Levine revealed that she allows herself to get angry with an agent or editor that rejects her work (“Screw you, [name]!”)

Biggest and most important take-away: Listening to their experiences and talking to the agents made me realize that just because somebody does not want to take on your project does not mean that it sucks, or -worse- that YOU as a person suck. This is something that I struggle with (and I am pretty sure I am not the only one): If my work gets rejected, I feel like a failure. We really should not feel that way though. It just means that the project was not the right one for a particular agent. The most important thing is to keep believing in you and your work! And then you can get angry all you want at the person that rejected you :)

Keep writing, be your biggest fan, and remember: You can live your dreams, it’s just a matter of will (and perseverance)!

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[Off-Topic] ASCAP Licensing Fees

Not related to writing, but very dear to my heart. Please share! I totally support paying artists for their work, but we are talking very small venues here (local bookstores) and events that draw crowds of like less than fifty people.

: Don’t kill local music by demanding fees from small venues for hiring local musicians!  

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Forever Young, my Unborn Soul

Some blog posts make me happy. The ones that achieve this most often are those rare ones that offer a glimpse into the writer’s mind. What she was thinking when writing a particular scene, how she came to invent a certain character, or what gave her the idea for a particular plot development. When I read posts like that, it makes the person who wrote it even more human to me, and it just makes me plain happy to get close to a person I don’t even know for a very short time (i.e. the time it takes me to read and think about the post). So, since I’ve just had such a particular moment, I would like to return the favor and share it with those of you who feel the same when it comes to diving into another person’s mind.

It all started by discovering the song Forever Young by The Tenors this morning, which I have been listening to all day. I can get quite OCD with songs I like, so it’s not uncommon for me to listen to one song for days on end. At some point today during my drive home, I was thinking about my own novel and thought it would be a great scene, at some point, to have Nathaniel do something for Kyra that is totally out of character. Just for your information, Kyra and Nathaniel are my two main characters, and Sandra, Jack, Sebastian and Cameron are some of the important supporting characters; this post isn’t really about my story, the plot or the characters though, so it really does not matter if you haven’t read the story and/or know about the characters. At some point, either now or after reading this post, you may want to  listen to the song/read the lyrics (YouTube link here, and the lyrics can be found here).

Back to Nathaniel and my thinking that it would be cool if he sang something for Kyra since he knows how much she loves music. That thought alone made me smile (if you will ever read the story, you will most likely understand why). Here’s how my next string of thoughts went (almost literally):”Well, he would need a pretty good reason to sing something for her … besides, the song is performed by four guys, so maybe I can throw Jack, Sebastian and Cameron into the mix. But for what occasion …”. At that point my thoughts trailed off from that question and I imagined the four guys on some sort of stage, singing for Kyra and the others, and after a few more repetitions of the song, it hit me: The unborn baby.

Prior to writing this, I debated whether to reveal this tiny piece of information, but I think by keeping it vague I am not spoiling anything. I then decided that the very first and last verse of the song could be sung by Sandra, who is somewhat of an artsy type anyway, and I figured that the whole “sing a song for the baby” thing could have been her idea in the first place. Why? Because it’s something beautiful to do (among other reasons the group has), plus she gets to convince four very different men with different backgrounds, motives, and relationships to each other to work together for one person they all love in different ways.

Having all these little details about a scene (or a character for that matter) form in my head always has a very relaxing and calming effect on me. Oftentimes, depending on the scene and music, it helps me understand myself and certain situations a little better, but above all, visualizing ideas and having bits and pieces come together to a coherent scene just makes me plain happy, whether the scene actually makes it into the story in the end or not. And it’s the same when I read about other writer’s thought processes. So please keep sharing, you definitely light up my world every time you do!

For those of you who have read my manuscript as beta readers and therefore know the characters, and for those who just want a little more detail, here’s how I imagined the distribution of lyrics among the five people. What they sing also reflects their personalities. It differs a little from the way The Tenors do it, but hey, my story is fictional, so I figured I can get away with it … plus, at this point it’s all in my head, and I don’t even know if it will ever make into the story. Certainly not in the first book, but maybe the sequel I already have in my head.

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others, let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the sky, climb on every rung
And may you stay, forever young

May you grow up to be righteous, may grown up to be true
May you always know the truth and see the light surrounding you

May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong
May you stay, forever young

Forever young, (echo -always by the other 3)
Forever young, (echo)

May you stay, (echo)

May your hands always be busy, may your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation, with no winds of changes shift

May your heart always be joyful, your song always be sung
And may you stay, forever young

Forever young, (echo)
Forever young, (echo)

May you stay, (echo)
Forever young, (echo)
And may you stay, (echo)

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes always come true
And may you stay, forever young

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My First Time

First off: Happy New Year to all fellow writers out there! May 2015 be a good, productive, creative and successful year for all of us!PhotoGrid_1421179193829

I spent Christmas and New Year’s with my family in Germany, and despite my best intentions I didn’t do anything but eat and sleep. I didn’t do any revising or writing, or anything else that involved my laptop for that matter. I swear that sometimes I could hear it whimper from my room …

What I did do was read comments regarding the first three chapters of my novel from a very close and good friend of mine … and man did he bash my writing! At least that’s what I thought when I read his email for the first time. I didn’t read it again for a few days because I was really discouraged and was basically pouting and doubting my ability to even get a single sentence right, so I just wanted to throw away my proverbial quill and give up. But then I started reading his comments (and amendments) to my writing, and I realized that he wasn’t trying to be mean at all … it’s just that he is SO far away from my target audience that he just plain did not enjoy my writing style.

Whereas my novel caters to young adults/adults like me who still feel young/mostly women, my friend is a gentleman in his early sixties who enjoys reading books by Clive Cussler … and that is definitely not the type of book I am writing (or could write), nor is it my writing style. My friend made a bunch of changes to my text and writing, and the more I read it, the more I realized that he was trying to turn it into something that could have come from Cussler and similar authors. Which is not to say that I don’t like Clive’s writing … I do, and it’s clearly a successful style. It’s just not mine.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame my friend at all for his rather harsh words, and it was probably a stupid idea of me to give the draft to a person who is clearly not one of the readers I am trying to reach. It was a great learning experience for me though. In general, I don’t deal well with criticism, so that’s definitely something I need to work on. And, to be fair, he did have some good points that I will consider. But it also taught me not to lose faith in myself just because one person does not like my writing. I am sure there will be plenty more, and I should really be able to deal with that.

I would love to hear from you how you deal with criticism and inevitable self-doubt!

Here’s to a happy, healthy, and overall great 2015!

Xo, Aileen

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‘Cause in This World of Trouble, my Music Pulls me Through

Just got to your desk, got your coffee but still need an extra boost? Here’s my “Feel Good and Get Rocking at Your Desk” playlist for today. You may take the rocking literally 😀

For those of you who want to try something new, sign up for the 60-day Google Music trial. It’s totally worth it; I’ve tried most of the paid music services (still loving Pandora, never been a big fan of Spotify), but Google Music is definitely my favorite.

Happy Friday!

Feel Good and Get Rocking at Your Deskmusic

  • The Heat is On, Glenn Frey
  • Beat It, Michael Jackson
  • Jump, Van Halen
  • Come on Eileen, Dexys Midnight Runners (of course this has to be included!)
  • In The Heat of The Night, Sandra
  • We Built This City, Starship
  • Music, John Miles
  • Flashdance (What a Feeling), Irene Cara
  • Rebirth (Original Short Mix), Mark ‘oh Vs. John Davies
  • Brave, Sara Bareilles
  • Young Girls, Bruno Mars
  • Dancing in the Dark, Bruce Springsteen
  • Vacation, The Go-Go’s
  • We Belong, Pat Benatar
  • Waiting for a Star to Fall, Boy Meets Girl
  • Take on me, a-ha
  • China in Your Hand, T’Pau
  • Livin’ on a Prayer, Bon Jovi
  • Cruel Summer, Bananarama
  • Walking on Sunshine, Katrina and the Waves
  • Heaven is a Place on Earth, Belinda Carlisle

2 thoughts on “‘Cause in This World of Trouble, my Music Pulls me Through

  1. You forgot I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers!

  2. cyndera says:

    I’m pretty sure I forgot a lot of songs 😛 I’ll make sure to add that to the next playlist.

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So … You Want to be Funny?

So do I. Really. I’m just … not. Not when I want to be, anyway. Every now and then I end up in situations where my friends almost choke because they thought I was so hilarious. Those situations usually involve some joke I didn’t understand and thus provoked a ridiculous reaction. I could tell you the tea bag story (I really just wanted some hot tea), but … never mind. The point is that it’s American humor, and I’ve only lived in this country for close to eight years now, so sometimes I still don’t get it. Give me a break!

But seriously, I wish I could  be funny and come up with stuff  that you find in books by Bill Bryson or John Scalzi. I can’t remember how often I’ve read I’m a Stranger Here Myself (“Why Everyone is Worried” is my absolute favorite) or Old Man’s War (I would marry John Perry if I could … really) and couldn’t stop laughing, even in public places. No, it does not count as being funny when other people laugh at you just because you act like an idiot in public :P.

Of course, it does not always have to be so elaborate. I would be perfectly happy if I were able to come up with stuff you see in the catalogs that appear in your mailbox every year around Christmas time (What on Earth and being two of my favorites). I mean, how hard can it be to come up with lines such as these:







Who came up with that? Certainly not the catalog people? I have no idea, and that’s not really the point. The point is that they made me laugh regardless, and that’s always a good thing on a cold Sunday morning. But it got me thinking: How hard can it really  be to be funny? Because, when you think of it, I doubt that even masters like Bill Bryson, Dave Barry and others walk over to their desks, sit down, merrily scribble something on paper and toss the pen into a corner after maybe twenty minutes, get up to do something else? I really doubt it works that way (and if it does, please don’t tell me and destroy my hope that even these writers actually have to work on their stories to perfect them). So I think at the end of the day it’s really damn hard to be funny.

Despite my admiration for the above mentioned writers, I would never try to copy their style, or even attempt to. Mainly because I could not, even if I quit my job and locked myself up for the rest of my life and read nothing but their books. It just would not happen. More importantly though I think I am okay with my own style (or what it is shaping up to be). I just would like to make people giggle every now and then. After all, humor is one of the three things that provoke reactions in people, at least according to Eve Mayer, and that’s what writers strive for (okay, the reactions should be positive, too, but that’s beside the point).

So, the next time you read something that I’ve written, and it elicits a smile or maybe even a giggle, let me know. It will make my day, I promise!

2 thoughts on “So … You Want to be Funny?

  1. I’m going to have to hear this teabag story…I need new material myself :)

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A Writer’s Thanks

With everything that is going on in this world and in our lives, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there are plenty of things we can and should be thankful for. Like First-World problems. Yes, we consider those problems, but think about it: Would you rather deal with famine or the fact that you have run out of chocolate at eleven at night? Would you rather deal with Ebola or with a semi-annoying cold? Would you rather live in a war zone or suffer through that three-hour meeting with your boss and his new annoying right-hand man? Would you rather scramble to put food on your table and feed your family or go through the annoying “We want ham vs turkey” argument with your loved ones? Would you rather deal with writing a national speech on how we plan to fight the IS or with writer’s block?

I am not saying that these problems are not relevant to us, or even seem like the proverbial mountain that you’ll never be able to climb. What I am saying -or trying to, anyway- is that most of our problems are small compared to what millions of other people have to suffer through every single day. We are very privileged, and it’s easy to forget that sometime, but I think it’s something we always need to keep in mind. It puts our struggles into perspective.

With that being said, here are a few things that I am really thankful for this year: thanksgiving-229287_640

  • My family and friends: Without them, my brief period of unemployment would have been much harder. I could say a lot more about these guys, but we’ve all had our hours of doubts,
    so we all know what it feels like when somebody has your back, no matter what
  • Being unemployed in the summer: Yes, sounds odd, but it could have happened in the winter … but instead, I was able to start running, go to the pool, get out of the house to apply for jobs and get the first draft of Rivers of The Mind (working title) on paper.
  • My health: I was fortunate to be able to make lifestyle changes that got me on a path to a much better health (and lots of weight loss, too)
  • My new job: I am thankful that I found a new job relatively quickly (after being unemployed for three months). I am thankful that I had a lot of interviews, and I am thankful that I persevered and, in the end, not only found a new job but also a place that makes me feel welcome and useful
  • And lastly, to tie this somehow back into writing, I am thankful for friends that are willing to read over my drafts and take the time to give feedback. Special thanks for draft #4 go to (in no particular order): Monica, Charles, Carolyn, Anna, and Cindy. Above all though, I am thankful for their encouragement and believing in me. Means so much, guys!

What are you thankful for this year?

Wishing you all a safe, tasty, and healthy Thanksgiving!

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Holy Sh**, That’s [Insert Name of Character Here]!

That exact thought flashed through my mind the other day when I was waiting for the metro in D.C. to go home after a night out with some of my girlfriends. I look to the left, and there’s this guy, and he looked EXACTLY like I picture Nathaniel, one of the main characters in my novel. It was uncanny, but very cool at the same time. Of course, it does not happen very often that you see a personification of a character that you have been writing next to you on the subway platform. I could still kick myself for not saying hello to the guy … but what was I gonna say? “Hey, I am writing a book, and you look EXACTLY like one of my main characters?” Even through it’s true, it sounds like THE worst pick-up line EVER! So of course I didn’t say anything … I really hope I will run into him again, but I am not sure I would be better prepared next time.

After this admittance of having no courage to approach people I think are cute, I am getting to my actual topic: Although you don’t usually see your characters walking/standing around in flesh and blood, you can use bits and pieces of the people around you to shape your characters, to give them personality, background, and authenticity. You can draw a lot of inspiration from strangers and friends/acquaintances alike. Maybe there’s this really tall guy walking by, and just the way he carries his briefcase reminds you of your villain (my apologies to all tall men with briefcases out there … I am sure you are not all that bad :P). Maybe one of your friends has a character trait that works perfectly for one of your characters. For example, a good friend of mine is one of the sweetest, kindest and most honest people you will ever meet, and those particular attributes perfectly describe Cameron, one of the good guys in my novel. Cameron tries hard to be a friend to Kyra, whom he loves -which -of course- is good for the story as it creates tension, and not just between him and Kyra.

It also works the other way ’round: Say you have a character (or need a character) but are not quite sure yet how you can give him/her more personality and depth; next time that happens, focus on what’s going on around you, whether you are on the subway, in the grocery store or just walking around. There’s so much inspiration out there that’s just waiting to be found, and suddenly you come up with all kinds of great ideas on how to develop your character and also plot.

So the next time you walk around, or ride the metro, or are just sipping your cup of coffee, have a look around and just observe. You’d be surprised how many little things will stand out.

Happy Writing, and Happy Weekend!

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Nobody is Perfect … Or: Everybody Creates Disaster Zones

Happy After-Halloween! I hope you all handed out lots of chocolate and ate a fair amount yourself. With my current doctor-prescribed month of “avoid EVERYTHING that has soy in any way, shape, or form”, I did not participate in the snacking … yes, a very sad thing indeed *sigh*.

To distract myself from all the yumminess, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time working on the fourth draft of my novel (yes, I am going to call it that from now on … call it self-motivation). I am working chapter by chapter, and it’s a lot of fun to go over the text with a fine-to-medium tooth comb (“Comb the desert!”).

Here’s what struck me: How much of a far cry this draft is from the very first draft I put on paper. Forgive my language, but holy crap, the first draft now looks like a disaster zone, buried by an avalanche and blown to pieces by what I think may have been Pompeii’s demise. Well, as long as it does not rise as a First-Draft-Zombie and haunts me, I think I will be okay … right?

As much as it pains me to look at previous drafts, I have to say though that it reiterates a lesson that is a hard to learn and to remember (maybe the hardest one for a lot of writers, but certainly for me): No first draft is ever perfect, no matter how much you think it may be, and no matter how hard you work on making it perfect from the start. It won’t be. Trust me.

I was just talking to a friend of mine (also an aspiring author … and detective in real life, so that should be interesting) about this:
“How did you actually manage to get the whole story on paper?”
“I just wrote it all down.”
“Duh, I know THAT,” she said, “I meant how did you actually manage to not get stuck? Every time I sit down and write, I write a few sentences, maybe paragraphs, maybe even a scene or chapter, but then I go back and start to revise it, and never get any further.”

I know exactly what she meant. Each time I write something new (even this post), I have to force myself to just write down everything I want to convey first before going back and edit. Of course I go back to correct typos, replace a word here and there, but in general, I try to keep going until all the content that I want to include (or think I want to include anyway) is right there in front of me.

“For shorter things that may work,” she said, “but for a manuscript of over 100,000 words, that’s not easy!”
She’s right, it’s not. In fact, it’s hell.

So here’s what worked for me and my manuscript:

During each writing session, I wrote down as much as I wanted/could that day, and then I let it rest for a day.
Before starting a new chapter or scene (the next day or whenever I had time), I would briefly revisit what I had written during the previous session, just to make sure there were no major mess-ups in there (I would correct those if necessary), and then move on.

I used to be the type of person (well, still am I guess) that wanted her first draft to be perfect: college paper, blog post, article, editorial, does not matter … but I know it just won’t happen. The excuse “but I am a perfectionist” really does not fly here. You just have to re-train yourself and keep going, no matter how hard it may be. Take solace in the knowledge that with every draft, every revision, your story grows stronger and better, more intriguing and exciting. No matter how shocking it may be to look at the disaster zone you call your first draft, it’s a beautiful thing to see how your story has developed over time … and you -and your skills- with it!

And now please excuse me, I have to revise this blog post :)

P.S.: I actually considered posting the blog post with the revision mark-ups, but I wanted to spare you from getting a headache :)

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Thief of Hope to be Republished

Thief of Hope, Cindy Young Turner

I am very excited to share an update from my co-worker and fellow author Cindy Young Tuner!

Her book Thief of Hope is about to be republished. If you like fantasy, you should definitely check it out. It will be available as an e-Book for various readers as well!

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