Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Guest Post- Jessica Thompson - What to Have Ready BEFORE that Book Deal

Today we have a guest post from author Jessica Thompson. Her new mystery book,  A Caterer's Guide to Holidays & Homicide, was just released. Though an adult book, her advice is for every writer. If you'd like to check out her new book click HERE.

What to Have Ready BEFORE that Book Deal

We all know (hopefully) that you need to write a book and have it fairly polished before you can hope to sign a book deal, but what else? What do you need to have ready before signing with an agent, getting to crunch-time with indie publishing, or signing with a small publisher, like I did? I was surprised by how fast everything moved the second I signed those papers.

Following is a list that I hope you find helpful if you are just starting out. If you have some experience, comment below to add to the list!

Some items here you may know, or have guessed like I was lucky enough to do, but give the list a scan. Too many new authors are surprised, rushed, or caught looking unprofessional when the time comes because they don’t have these things ready.

Alternate Title Ideas - Even if you love your title, your publisher may not. You will need to work together to find a title that fits into your branding and theirs. Have your top choice as the manuscript’s title, but have a few other ideas in your back pocket. What I Learned - My original title for “A Caterer’s Guide to Love and Murder” had been murder to choose, and even then, I didn’t like it. Before my book deal, I had settled for “Batters of the Heart” because it was punny and cute, indicated love, food, and violence/murder, and fit into the cozy mystery genre. No matter how much it fit, on several levels, I still hated it. I thought, “Well, that’s why I’m trying to find an agent or publisher. They can tell me what to do!” How wrong I was. The creativity is your job. The publisher will work with you, but they are not going to do things like that for you. Instead, I had to hurry, ask everyone I knew, and grope around in the dark as fast as I could for a better title. I wish I had thought of some more ideas before the rush began.

Professional Head Shot - You will need to get, if you haven’t already, a great picture of yourself. These need to be completely and immediately ready for things like the publisher’s website and social media when they announce that they have signed with you, and guest posts or other marketing efforts on blogs, in magazines, and any kind of social media for yourself or editors and reviewers. It should not be a snapshot or a cropped down snippet of your head from a family picture. Get a photographer, get a location, and get at least one, but probably more like five, great pictures of yourself. They should make you look competent, professional, smart, and they should be very high resolution. If possible, get a variety. Some specific to your genre, but some not. Some with books, some close-up, some smiling, some serious . . . you get the idea. What I learned - I am lucky enough to have a sister that is a professional photographer and a friend that renovates and stages beautiful homes, and I learned that people are very willing to help someone who is trying to launch a career. My mistake was to make all my pictures smiling and bright. After I signed with “Darkstroke Books” (whose reputation is like it sounds) I regretted not having some variety in my headshots, like serious faces and dramatic lighting, too.

A Longer Bio - By long, I mean a couple paragraphs. No more than a page. People want to hear about you in order to connect with something about you, but they don’t actually want a play-by-play of your entire life. Make it interesting, concise, include some accolades and awards, but don’t make it long enough to get boring. This bio you need ready immediately for things like the publisher’s website, 

About the Author page of your book, and at the end of guest posts while you are marketing your book. What I learned - Do include some personal facts, because it helps if readers can find something interesting about you that they can connect to. I have been surprised how many people have connected to my tidbit that I help on my parents’ longhorn ranch. I’ve received pictures of them, pictures of their kids or relatives in Austin or on ranches, and personal messages sharing their love of farms, longhorns, cows, Texas, or helping their parents.

A Shorter Bio - I mean super short. Two to three sentences. This is your same tasty bio but boiled down as far as you can until it is a thick syrup. Instead of listing awards, you’ve won, package it down into “award-winning.” Instead of listing your family members, condense it into “family.” You get the idea. What I learned - For either bio, but especially for this one, don’t give your reader a chance to get bored. My longer bio starts to drag its feet a bit towards the end. List one fun fact about yourself, one accolade, and the most basic info. Then end it!

Even Vague Ideas for a Cover - Before all the hubbub begins, do some research. Look around at other cover art in your genre, figure out what you like, think about how your manuscript feels, and have a couple ideas of what you want your cover art to look like. It’s okay if they are vague, but have something to use as a jumping-off point while talking to your publisher. Want a landscape, a person, or a cartoon? What colors do you think match the tone of your manuscript? Even better, collect some pictures to use as examples or sketch an idea yourself. What I learned - Again, your publisher will not do all the work here. I didn’t know what I wanted, so I planned to rely on my publisher to know what sells, what works, what fits with their branding, etc. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Instead, I had to spend time pouring over examples, Adobe Stock photos, random Google searches, and finally found some inspiration from some caterer’s website. Save some grief, gather ideas now.

List of Possible Marketers - Once you sign those papers, you will need to immediately start marketing. Whether traditionally publishing or independently publishing, or somewhere in between, you will be doing a lot of your own marketing. What is your plan? Are you paying someone a lot to do it all for you? Are you going to pay for mini-marketing packages from certain websites or organizations? Or are you going to keep it to the plethora of free resources? That’s what I did. I made a list of bloggers, YouTubers, bookstagrammers, review journals, fellow authors to trade reviews with, Facebook book clubs, and local bookstores that I contacted, worked out mutually beneficial deals with, and relied on to help market and spread the word. Keep a list! No matter how much you think you will remember, keep a list of people you mean to contact, have contacted, made deals with, need to check in with later, etc. Even the people that have agreed to give you a review might need to be prodded and kept track of after the initial agreement. What I learned - I wish I had made this list before getting my book deal, hence its presence in this article. I crammed for days to put together a list, but I could have saved myself a lot of time and headache if I had already had this list ready!

Prepped Guest Posts - As you start to reach out to bloggers, bookstagrammers, etc, many will ask you to guest post on their blog, in their magazine, etc. Most of those guest posts will be an article, like this one, about some topic on the craft or business of writing. Some will be specific about what they want, but in my experience, many will not. If you write two or three articles ahead of time, I guarantee you will find a place to use them. What I Learned - I didn’t want to write guest posts. I still felt like the new kid that had nothing useful to contribute to a world already crowded with experienced writers. But as I started writing about the things that people asked me, like how I found my genre or how I get over imposter syndrome, more inspiration for future articles came and I gained more experience than I could then contribute to subsequent work. Guest posts became fun!

I listed these items in the order in which I needed them, but your experience may be different. 

These items are not in order of importance! If I had to pick one thing that has been the most important and the thing I was most glad that I had before my book deal, I would say a great headshot. Remember how a picture is worth a thousand words? I would argue that it’s worth even more. It’s the first impression that everyone will have of you, from the querying process to the readers. People at every level of publishing and marketing, even though it may not be fair, will judge you based on this picture. Speak to their subconscious mind by having a professional-looking headshot. If you want a website to help you choose which picture to use, try photofeeler.com

Not only is it important, but this is most likely the first thing you will need after signing that deal. Or even before. To announce that you have signed with a publisher or agent, they will probably ask for a bio and a picture. A bio can be adapted from what you have or banged out on the spot, but a professional picture needs to be scheduled, taken, edited, and delivered to you. That takes days at least! Taking and having that photo before the deal also means you can start using it before. Lay the groundwork before that book deal by having a lovely social media following that knows your face, or the best version of your face you can muster.

While all of the items from this list will be helpful to have ready ahead of time, the professional headshot is also the most common mistake I see from other writers. I’ve seen dozens of authors, way more qualified than myself, that look like hobbyists or amateurs based on their fuzzy snapshots. 

Don’t fall into that trap! Be prepared!

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Interview with Carole Estby Dagg- Author of The Year we Were Famous

Hi Everyone! Today I have an interview with Carole Estby Dagg, the author of The Year We Were Famous. 

The Book-

THE YEAR WE WERE FAMOUS is based on the true story of Clara and her suffragist mother, Helga Estby, who walked 4,000 miles from their farm in Mica Creek Washington, to New York City in 1896 in a heroic attempt to win $10,000 that would save the family's farm and prove women could do it.

Equipped only with satchels containing compass and maps, first-aid supplies, journals, pistol, and a curling iron, they headed east along the railroad tracks. In two hundred thirty-two days, they wore out thirty-two pairs of shoes, crossed mountains, deserts, and plains, and survived a highwayman attack, flash flood, blizzards, and days without food and water. For a year, they were famous as they met governors and mayors, camped with Indians, and visited the new president-elect, William McKinley.

They intended to write a book about their adventures, but because of the way their trip ended, their journals were burned. Fortunately, newspapers across the country reported on their travels, and THE YEAR WE WERE FAMOUS is based on those articles, with imagination filling the gaps between known facts.

The Interview-

What unusual research methods did you use when writing the first edition?

 Once I decided to write historical fiction and not nonfiction, I needed to write in the voice of a late Victorian young woman. To do that, I gave up reading contemporary books and for a year read-only books Clara might have read, from classics for school to the dime novels that were passed from hand to hand among young people of the day. 

Besides reading books, I pored over old maps to reconstruct a plausible day-by-day route for the walk. I went on eBay to bid on period postcards of places they passed through, which inspired details for several chapters. I tried baking in a wood stove, drove part of the route with my daughter, and stopped at a little museum in Rawlins, Wyoming, where I bought a pamphlet about a Victorian-era local woman doctor who became Clara’s ‘someone to talk to.’ Approaching the Internet like a treasure hunt, I hopped from clue to clue to research relevant trivia like the history of Underwood typewriters, or the elevation of the pass in the Blue Mountains.

How far did the research take you?

 Getting into character, I bought replicas of high-topped shoes and Victorian satchel and combed antique stores for a curling iron, wood, and boar-bristle toothbrush, match safe, and other things Clara and Helga carried with them. I sewed a Gibson Girl blouse and authentically styled under-drawers. I’ll wear the shoes and blouse for presentations but don’t ask me to model the drawers!

Ninety-nine percent of my research never makes it to the book in a way that is obvious to the reader, but it helps draw me into that other world. Besides, it’s fun!

Do you have favorite photos that are now included in this revised edition?

Carole: One of my favorites is the sketch of Clara and Helga that appeared in the New York World upon their arrival in New York City, depicting them both with drawn guns and daggers. I know they would have hated it, because, although it helped sell newspapers, they only used their pistol once, and the ‘dagger’ they carried was probably a pen knife used mostly for sharpening pencils or slicing an apple. The newspaper article completely ignored the fact that one of the goals of the walk was to support the suffrage movement. I like the sketch though because it does show how brave and determined they were to walk across the country by themselves.

Why did you decide to write the book as fiction instead of nonfiction?

Carole: By writing to librarians across the country and scrolling through microfilmed newspaper collections at the University of Washington, I collected a dozen newspaper articles about the walk. Their articles weren’t as helpful as I’d hoped, though they often contradicted each other in details, and descriptions of their adventures were tantalizingly brief. Being lost for three days in the Snake River Lava fields, showing a band of Ute Indians how to use a curling iron, or shooting an assailant just rated one sentence in newspaper accounts.

If I wanted to tell readers what it would have been like to walk those 232 days, I’d have to expand those one-liners into fully developed scenes, and the nonfiction book I had intended to write would have to be historical fiction. I expanded research beyond newspaper articles to circumstances related to the walk, biographies of William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan, who were running for president that year, rattlesnakes and early days of railroading, eating habits of cougars, and frontier treatments for blisters. I must have read about six million words of background material, including reading only what Clara might have read for a whole year, from classics to dime novels. 

Connect with the author on Facebook :) Click HERE. 

The Book Trailer! 

Find it here- YouTube

Important Details-


Helga and Clara Estby's Walk Across a Changing America

by Carole Estby Dagg

Release Date: 10.19.2021 // Ages 12+

$15.49 - Paperback / ISBN: 978-1-7376263-0-5

Buy it Now-

Friday, July 16, 2021

YA Book Review- Crank by Ellen Hopkins

 I read a YA book that blew my mind! Crank by Ellen Hopkins. It is a story written in verse and it is amazing. Not just because she was able to write an entire story in poetic verses, but because the ride she takes you on is intense. This book is about a teenager's dark descent into the world of drugs. At the end, I found out it was based on real-life instances involving Ellen's daughter. Wow. When you finish this book you will be in shock.

The Book-

Kristina Georgia Snow is the perfect daughter: gifted high-school junior, quiet, never any trouble. But on a trip to visit her absentee father, she meets a boy who introduces her to crank. At first, she finds it freeing, but soon Kristina's personality disappears inside the drug. What began as a wild, ecstatic ride turns into a struggle through hell for her mind, her soul, and her life. (From Amazon)

My Thoughts-

I mentioned most of them above, but I can not get over how this book affected me. The journey of darkness that the main character travels is so disturbing. Not like a horror novel, but because this once great girl spirals down and down until there is little hope of escape. In fact, I thought the ending would be different. I won't tell you. However, once I read that it was inspired by real life, I understood why it ended as it did.

I've read a lot of YA books and very few of them do I give 5 stars. Five stars is for a book that left me breathless. 4 stars for me is a perfect, well-written, cool book, but 5 just has that extra something. Crank gets a 5!

Fair warning- as you can tell from the description there is drug usage, but there is also sex, attempted suicide, and teen pregnancy.

Buy it Now-


Monday, July 12, 2021

Literati Box #3

My final Literati box arrived last week. The books that have been selected so far have been spot-on for middle graders. This box is particularly interesting to me because it contains a book by one of my favorite authors, Angie Sage. I told my son I have first dibs :)

So, this box's theme was investigation and mystery. It came with the stickers and bookplates for Matthew and 5 selections. This time he wanted all 5 picks and would not have returned any.

The books included:

Premeditated Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Brunce

Twilight Hauntings by Angie Sage

The House that Wasn't There by Elana K. Arnold

Super Puzzletastic Mysteries by Chris Grabenstein (short sleuth stories)

One Dead Spy- A Revolutionary War Tale from Amulet Books (a graphic novel. See picture.) 

I have been very pleased over the last three months and I have decided to continue my subscription. At first, I wondered if I wanted to pay a base fee every month, but I then realized how much time and effort it saves me to have new releases delivered to my door, and with free returns, I think it is worth the fee. Whenever I head to the library or even Amazon, it is hard to figure out what the new releases are and these deliveries make it so easy. Plus, there is no bias over publishers or authors. I will be moving up to the Club Titan level so that I can get a sampling of their YA lists. Two things I wish

1. A combo club of Phoenix and Titan. Older readers read many books that are considered in the middle-grade category and I would love a mix.

2. An easy-to-find help or consumer service link on every page of the website. There is one, but I had to go through several pages to find it. 


Club Neo: newborn - 3 years

Club Sprout: ages 3 thru 5

Club Nova: ages 5 thru 7

Club Sage: ages 7 thru 9

Club Phoenix: ages 9 thru 12

Club Titan: ages 13+

The boxes I have received were part of Club Phoenix. Things to know in advance:  Club membership is $9.95 per month plus the cost of any books you choose to keep. Explore the books for one week, select your favorites, and return the rest. Returns are free. Something I did not previously know was that if you keep all five books they take 5% off the prices. Skip months or cancel any time. If you are interested in joining click HERE.

I hope you have enjoyed these sample boxes as much as I have. I'd like to thank Literati for allowing my blog to participate in fair reviews.

Monday, June 21, 2021

MG Book Review- Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame

 Today I am looking at Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame by Supriya Kelkar. If you are looking for a book that gets your child away from the standard western perspectives, this is the book for you.

The Book-

In 1857 India, 12-year-old Meera escapes a life she has no say in--and certain death on her husband's funeral pyre--only to end up a servant to a British general in the East India Company. When a rebellion against British colonizers spreads, she must choose between relative safety in a British household or standing up for herself and her people.

Meera's future has been planned for her for as long as she can remember. As a child, her parents married her to a boy from a neighboring village whom she barely knows. Later, on the eve of her thirteenth birthday, she prepares to leave her family to live with her husband's--just as her strict religion dictates. But that night, Indian soldiers mutiny against their British commanders and destroy the British ammunition depot, burning down parts of Delhi. Riots follow, and Meera's husband is killed. Upon hearing the news, Meera's father insists that she follow the dictates of their fringe religious sect: She must end her life by throwing herself on her husband's funeral pyre.

Risking everything, Meera runs away, escaping into the chaos of the rebellion. But her newfound freedom is short-lived, as she is forced to become a servant in the house of a high-ranking British East India Company captain. Slowly through her work, she gains confidence, new friends, new skills--and sometimes her life even feels peaceful. But one day, Meera stumbles upon the captain's secret stock of ammunition, destined to be used by the British to continue colonizing India and control its citizens.

Will Meera do her part to take down the British colonists and alert the rebellion of the stockpile? Or will she stay safe and let others make decisions for her? It really comes down to this: how much fire must a girl face to finally write her own destiny?

My Thoughts-

Holy Smokes! This is a great book that tackles colonization and culture. If you are looking for diverse children's lit this is one of the books you should pick. Historical fiction that is exciting and adventurous. I'd say it's appropriate for ages 10+ and 3-5th graders. 5 stars!

Buy it Now-


Monday, June 14, 2021

Picture Book Review- NerdyCorn by Andrew Root

 Today I am looking at an adorable picture book, NerdyCorn, written by Andrew Root and illustrated by Erin Kraan. I fell in love just from the cover. The inside did not disappoint! This book is fabulous. It illustrates that girls can be into science and math too. Fern, our precious Nerdy Corn, refuses to change and takes a stand against bullies.

The Book-

Meet Fern! She’s a smart, creative unicorn who prefers building robots and coding software to jumping through shimmering rainbows and splashing in majestic waterfalls. Even though Fern is a good friend and always willing to help others, the other unicorns tease her and call her a nerdycorn.

One day, Fern has had enough and decides to stop fixing her friends’ broken things. But then the confetti machine, the rainbow synthesizer, and the starlight bedazzler all go haywire during the biggest Sparkle Dance Party of the year! Fern can certainly fix them…but will she?

My Thoughts-

Loved the illustrations, they are so bold and colorful. The details are amazing. The story really has a great theme and plot. I loved this book! My only advice, make sure you catch up on your science, math, or mechanical terms because big ones like quadratic equations and hydrothermal capacitor pop up.

Buy it Now-


Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Picture Book Review- Is Was by Deborah Freedman


Is Was is a picture book by author/illustrator Deborah Freedman. The book explores the concepts of present and past, or is and was, to children. The writing is very simple. It is the illustrations that make it shine. 

Book Blurb- 

Over the course of one day, a small child experiences the way the natural world changes from sun to rain and from day to night as things transform from is to was.

Published by Antheneum Books for Young Readers, Is Was hit shelves on May 4, 2021

My Thoughts-

Like I mentioned in the intro, this is a book of few words. It focuses on before and after elements, which children can comprehend by looking at the illustrations. The words is and was are found drifting about the illustrations too, which I found peculiar but cute. Definitely a PB for very young ones trying to connect with the world and understand their environment.

Buy it now-