Thursday, December 27, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

How do you choose what to read? (& my new novel)

The name of my new novel is Mystic Grounds, and here are a few words about it:

Have you ever wondered if your fate has already been written?  MYSTIC GROUNDS is a 39,831-word YA novel in which three friends, Esra, Anjali, and Sage, try to figure out who they are, who they’re not, and whether it’s even up to them. Esra is just your average geeky hypochondriac haiku-writing high school junior until she and her friends discover that she can decipher the future in mysterious patters formed by coffee grounds.  When good and bad predictions start coming true, everyone starts to wonder whether Esra is simply predicting the future or if she’s actually manipulating it.  Are Esra and her friends in control of their own destinies, or has the future already been determined?

I'm querying it at the moment, hoping that an agent will like it enough to sign me, and then sell it to a traditional publisher.  I know, I know, there are lots of arguments against traditional publishing, but I'm going to try anyway.  Why?  Well, there are some arguments for traditional publishers, too:

  1. They can get my book into bookstores.  It's something I can sort-of do, maybe, but not really.  Especially because I live abroad.
  2. They can organize translation rights.  I cannot do this.
  3. Agents have a relatively good idea of what sells. If one believes in my book well enough to take on the project, they can help me make improvements to the manuscript.  
  4. Traditionally published books can get reviewed by all, not just some, review organizations.
  5. One must admit that it would feel really good to hear that an agent, who reads thousands of manuscripts a year, liked mine.  So I hope that happens.
I've now queried 15 agents.  One has already sent me a rejection letter.  I'm past the point of the rejection hurting too much.  Most authors have to be rejected many times before finding representation. It's part of the process.  Oh, and in case you're wondering, a query letter is a one-page letter that you send to agents.  In that letter, you have to introduce your book and yourself.  You get one page to spark their interest.  It's incredibly hard to do.  I've done my batch of 15 and now I'm going to stop and wait.  Because if there's no positive response at all, I'll have to go back to the drawing board with the letter.  You don't get a second chance with agents - once you've sent them a query letter for a project, you don't get to send them a revised query letter for that project unless it's years later and you've massively revised the manuscript.  So you don't want to write to a hundred agents only to realize that your letter is rubbish and that you should have written something else.  

It's been said that it's unfair for agents to make judgements this way, but I do think it's perfectly fair.  It's no different than how we judge books we're going to buy at a bookstore (or on Amazon).  We see the title, we look at the cover artwork.  That's step one.  They say not to judge a book by its cover, but covers do tell us a lot.  I definitely judge books by their covers (though I don't think I judge people that way.  Well, maybe a little).  Manuscripts don't have covers, though.  The next step in knowing whether you'd like to read a book is to read the back of the cover.  In a query, you're essentially coming up with hypothetical back-cover text.  

Some agents let you attach some of your manuscript.  Sometimes it's the first page, sometimes the first 50 pages, sometimes the first chapter or the first three chapters.  Of course they'll get a better sense of the book by reading three chapters than by reading one page, but how many times have you picked up a book and read the first page and thought no, this is not for me?  I have.  So I can't fault agents. 

This month, I was supposed to read a book for book club, for example, and I liked page one.  But by page two, I already didn't like it.  I read 30 pages, at which point I hated it.  I will not torture myself and read on.  I'm not taking some literature class that I will get a grade on.  The author had written other highly-acclaimed novels.  After deciding I hated the book, I read some reviews of it.  Some were glowing, but many (perhaps most) were along the lines of "I loved _______s other books, but this one is awful."  One reviewer even went on to say that if this had been the author's first book, rather than the 3rd after 2 highly successful books, he would never have gotten published.  That made me feel really good.  I'm not entirely sure why.  

All I can do is cross my fingers and hope that someone likes my book.  One agent has the entire manuscript.  She had read my entire other manuscript and loved my writing but not the characters.  I'm hoping that this time, she'll love both.

How do you choose what you're going to read?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

I'm a featured author!

The following photos were taken at the Boulder Bookstore by a friend who stopped by to see my book there.  How I wish I could see that in person!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Time, time, time

Who has enough time?  Nobody.  The truth is that often, there really is enough time every day, but one does need to sleep.  And to be honest, I spend most evenings responding to e-mails, looking at Facebook, and watching movies.  But I also feel that winding down is an important part of my day - it's downtime, and without it, I don't function well and I certainly don't sleep well.

What I need more of is morning time.  I am so productive first thing in the morning, when the air is cool and the birds are singing.  I feel refreshed after a night's sleep, the phone doesn't ring, and my creative juices flow.  Sure, sometimes I do write at night, but when I do that, I often find that the quality of my writing is poor, so most of the time, it's not worth it.

Recently, I accepted an invitation to write three articles for a book that is being put together for (new) expats in Germany.  The articles were on raising multilingual children, raising multicultural children, and trailing spouses.  In order to do the topics justice rather than simply writing up articles based solely on my personal experience and knowledge, I did a lot of research for the articles, and also conducted two surveys.  I read as much as I could, made sure I included references from the most well-known and important books and websites on the subject, and tried to write great articles.  It had been a long time since I'd written anything non-fiction (other than a blog), and I had to use a part of my brain that, unfortunately, had some cobwebs on it.

Great exercise, glad I took it on, but also glad it's over!  I only had a couple of weeks to turn in the articles, and having a deadline imposed by someone other than myself was rather difficult.  In those two weeks, I also had to organize my son's first day of school (quite a lot of preparation here in Germany), attend two parent-teacher conferences, two women's group meetings (they always take the entire day), book club (needless to say, I didn't finish reading the book!), and to top it all off, I had three days of debilitating migraine right smack in the middle.  How I got those articles written, I do not know.

I had been toying with the idea of exploring more freelance writing as a side-job, but I think this latest experience has extinguished that possibility.  I really loved the experience, but between regular commitments, such as laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc... and other commitments that one makes, it is very unlikely that I'd find enough morning time to do good writing.  And my second book?  That collected dust while I was working on the articles.  I also lost the momentum I had, and am struggling to find it again.

Now, I'm back to writing my book on my own schedule, as slow as that has to be sometimes.  I've got a self-imposed deadline of a completed first draft by the end of October, but it doesn't make me feel stressed, because if it's not finished by my deadline, nobody will be disappointed but myself.  If a great freelancing project falls into my lap again, I may take it, but I won't be seeking out any projects, at least not for now.

Friday, September 14, 2012

I was interviewed!

I was recently interviewed on a writer's blog.  It was sooo fun to be interviewed, I must say!  Find the full interview here:

Since the actual interview took place in May, some of the information is old, such as the subject of my next book... 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Writing space

I've never really had a good writing space before.  I just sort-of picked up my laptop and brought it wherever I wanted to write.  A desk, I had.  It was otherwise known as my dumping spot.  I complained that it was not a real desk, just a table.  I am not the least-organized person in the world.  After all, I manage to keep up with the personal appointments, laundry, nourishment, and paperwork of four people.  It has been mentioned that I could do a better job, yet I haven't been fired yet because nobody else is willing to do the job.  My desk really made me look bad, though.  Things would come in the mail, I'd collect our company's paperwork, the kids would bring home pictures, I would start writing holiday cards, and it would all end up in a pile on my desk until I sorted through it.  I was only somewhat aware of what was even on the desk.  My husband's desk, on the other hand, always looked very neat.  He also occasionally put papers on my desk. For me to sort through and take care of.  I was not very happy with the system.  One morning, our 6-year-old son got up at seven, and "neatened" my desk.  The organized piles of papers were now one disorganized pile of papers, but at least the desk could be seen.  "Don't mess it up again!" he warned me. 

As you can probably guess, writing at my desk was not an option. 

Well, now it is.  Presenting: the. coolest. desk. ever.

Now, my stuff is organized,  as there is a place to organize it.  I cannot dump stuff on her because she doesn't have much dumping space.  I plain old have to file things when I get them.  And for the other stuff, it has a place.  My cards, my colored pencils, my paint, my pens, my office supplies - they each have their own drawers.  Whether or not I will actually sit at my desk and type there as opposed to bringing my laptop to the most comfortable spot is yet to be seen.  But one thing for sure is that I will feel and be more organized, which will hopefully save me time.  And I will surely hand write cards there, because she's begging me to. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

It's ok to not have strife!

On this rainy Friday, full of laundry, ironing, and paperwork, this review improved my day!

4.0 out of 5 stars Secrets of a Summer Village, August 31, 2012
This review is from: Secrets of a Summer Village (Paperback)
*This book was received as a free advanced reader's copy*

This was a charming book. Highly appropriate for middle school aged children and even high school children it tells a very relateable story of a young girl and her exchange student trip.

Rachel is all set to go to Mexico for an exchange program. The only problem, there is no room for her. But then at the last minute a spot opens up for a trip to Turkey. At first she's not sure if she should go, she knows nothing about the country and their customs. But the more she thinks about it the more appealing it is, especially compared to working at a coffee shop all summer. So off she flies to meet her new host family, who has a daughter her age and one a little older. Turkey is nothing like she expects, the women are stylish, the food different but good, and the language hard to learn but worth striving for. She enjoys her new sister Aylin and her family and even develops a crush on Aylin's cousin. The summer is flying by with Rachel enjoying all of her experiences, so much so that she isn't sure she wants to go home.

Rachel is a very nice character. She has a few flaws and seems very shy, but in a way she is also open too. My only complaint about her would be that she is written a little younger seeming than seventeen. I actually pictured her more around thirteen or fourteen years old instead of almost being a legal adult. Perhaps she was just a little too naive. Aylin on the other hand was more believable with her naivete. Perhaps it was just because of her culture, but it seemed that she reacted more in an age appropriate manner to different things. The rest of the characters really fleshed out the story and I enjoyed being "introduced" to each one. Especially the adults as they represented a different side of a culture compared to just the exchange story.

There was no real strife in this book, and that was fine. It was more just a growing up, exploring kind of tale rather than something that had to have an antagonist. It was almost like sitting down with a friend, or reading someones journal on their trip to Turkey and you felt as if you could almost know Rachel in real life. I do think that the language in this book and the writing style is highly appropriate for the younger age ranges. There was nothing inappropriate and there were even some very helpful lessons on Turkish culture thrown in. And the "voices" the characters used were authentic enough to replicate a new learner of English. An adult could read it and enjoy it as well (I did and I consider myself an adult some of the time) but I really do think this book is a prime target for the 12-18 range. Or anyone who is considering a school trip abroad. I do think the ending was a little abrupt though, I wanted to know what was going to happen in the future. Perhaps that means another book coming?

A very nice book, one I enjoyed reading. I can only hope that Akyil continues writing.

Secrets of a Summer Village
Copyright 2011
293 pages

Review by M. Reynard 2012

More Reviews! A lifeline.

One of the best things about writing is reviews.  Obviously, good reviews are preferred, but just the fact that someone is reading the story I wrote and getting feedback - any feedback - is a lifeline.  I am a SAHM.  Stay-at-home-mom for those of you who don't know the acronym.  It makes it sound like I'm always at home, and I'm not, but I do have contact with fewer people than I would if I worked outside the home.  But my novel helps me reach out to the world, and sometimes people reach right back out.  In the past few weeks, I've gotten a few new reviews on Amazon, both from people I don't know.

And the good reviews don't make me think yeah, I'm an awesome writer.  I rock.  They make me think wow, someone took the time to sit down and read the story I wrote.  And it brought them pleasure. And maybe they learned something new.  That rocks.  So, reviewers, thank you!

Here are the two reviews that appeared on Amazon:

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Lovely Gem! August 21, 2012
By alisonw
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
A lovely gem! Secrets of A Summer Village is an innocent and lovely coming of age story revolving around two fast friends, Rachel Guo and her host-sister Aylin, and Aylin's host-family and friends in a summer beach village called Didum, Turkey. Secrets surrounding relationships are the theme of the story as are the customs and language of Turkey and commonalities between Rachel's American-Chinese culture and Turkish culture. This is a well-written, delightful story that brought back some nostalgia about my teenage years. Rachel's involvement with Aylin's cousin, Cem is short and sweet. I would recommend this book to my nieces and for any one interested in a page-turning nostalgic tale of falling in love for the first time in their youth, and to anyone interested in another culture.
Comment | 

Was this review helpful to you?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sweet story with an informative twist! July 20, 2012
Format:Paperback|Amazon Verified Purchase
This book was very nicely written and you start to get into the characters' lives and their growing relationships. It is about an American exchange student who travels to Turkey for the summer and the evolvement of her relationships in Turkey as well as back home.

It is very clean but still interesting so safe for a younger teen to read without worrying about language and overt sexual descriptions. I enjoyed that, without knowing it, you learned a lot about the Turkish culture and way of life as well.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

on hiatus

I'm in the US right now, speaking English, writing in my head (but not on paper!) and enjoying visiting with family.  I'll try to do a better update for you all next Wednesday, after my reading at Barnes and Noble.  (!!!)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Book Reading in Colorado Springs

For those of you who are in Colorado Springs, or who have friends or family in Colorado Springs: I'll be doing a reading/book signing there on Saturday, August 4th from 5-7pm.  I'll have books available for purchase, too.  Please help me spread the word!

 Click on the image to see it larger.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A new review :)

5.0 out of 5 stars Sweet story with an informative twist!, July 20, 2012
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Secrets of a Summer Village (Paperback)
This book was very nicely written and you start to get into the characters' lives and their growing relationships. It is about an American exchange student who travels to Turkey for the summer and the evolvement of her relationships in Turkey as well as back home.

It is very clean but still interesting so safe for a younger teen to read without worrying about language and overt sexual descriptions. I enjoyed that, without knowing it, you learned a lot about the Turkish culture and way of life as well.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Promotional Poster Part Deux

I can create book covers, but I am not too talented in the computer graphics department.  Thus, my lovely husband created a much nicer promotional poster for me:

I like the way it keeps the theme of the cover art without everything being in all the same places.  Like.

How I created the cover of Secrets of a Summer Village

Creating the lettering is the hardest part

The good thing about quilling is that you can move the pieces around on the page until they look right.

Front cover, finished but not glued
back cover quilled image
The cover of Secrets of a Summer Village was made using colorful strips of paper and glue in a technique called quilling.  The technique is very old, we could even say ancient, but as of late has been rising in popularity.  If you're interested in doing some quillwork yourself, there are lots of sites that talk about it, but I found this blog entry about quilling letters very useful:  Another blog that has paper art techniques in general, and includes both quilling and other techniques, is:  Enjoy!

I made a promotional poster for my book.  It's not fancy schmanzy because I am not a graphic designer.  But it'll have to do, and I think it's attractive enough because the book cover apparently attracts attention.  At least that's what I've been told.  But it matters less what I think than what you think... what do you all think?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Indy Bookstores, a guest blog, and book 2

The other day, I decided to start calling independent bookstores to see if they'd carry my book.  I started in Olympia, Washington, the hometown of the protagonist of Secrets of a Summer Village.  There are three indy bookstores there.  The first one, Last Word Books, said they'd love to take some copies on commission.  It was totally easy and they were incredibly friendly.  I love Olympia, and thank you Last Word Books.  The second one, which I often frequented while in Olympia, Fireside Books, said they would have loved to, but they're closing in a month :(  Sad.  The third one, Orca Books, shocked me when I introduced myself.

"We already have a copy of your book - Secrets of a Summer Village, right?" 

I was floored.  Long story short, I found out that a friend and former colleague of mine asked them about my book, and I guess suggested that they carry it.  So they did.  As easy as that.  So if any of you have local independent bookstores you frequent, please ask them if they'd be interested in carrying my book! It works, apparently.  Have they sold my book?  No.  But they needed a little promotional data - some quotes from reviews recommending it.  I sent those along, and hope that they are able to sell the book. 

In further news, a guest blog I wrote was featured today.  Please check it out:

Finally, book 2 is coming along.  I have about 2,000 words written.  Next to nothing, I know, but it's flowing easily, and I'm very happy with it.  If you need some perspective, I'm aiming for around 60,000 words for this one.  Secrets of a Summer Village is around 90,000 words.  So, 2000 down, 58,000 to go.  It sounds daunting, but it's not that bad at this rate - it's taken me two days to get the 2,000 words, and I haven't been working that diligently on it.  Now, let's see how much I can write in the next half hour..... MY personal key to writing is writing in very short spurts... because sometimes that's all I have :)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Flamingnet Reviews

There is a fabulous book review website out there in Cyberspace, called Flamingnet.  I think its name is unfortunate, both because it's hard to pronounce and because the name doesn't give anyone a clue what kind of a site it is.  Even so, it has been found.  New books are offered for review on Flamingnet to reviewers - who are adolescents!  I honestly care what adolescents think of my book because I wrote it for them.  Yes, adults seem to really like it, too, but they are my secondary intended audience.  My primary intended audience is aged 12-18.

Here's how it works: a book is offered to Flamingnet for review (they prefer electronic copies, but paper will do).  Then, if a reviewer picks it, reads it, and writes a review, the review is posted.  But it's not as simple as that.  It's also a learning experience for the teen readers, because they are given guidance by adult volunteers as to how to write a review.  It's a wonderful program, something I would have loved to have been a part of as a young reader.

I submitted my book for review by Flamingnet at least nine months ago, and I was a little bit saddened to think that it hadn't been picked.  Actually, I was more than a little bit sad.  Because I want young adults to pick my book.  I wondered what they didn't like about it.  I wondered if the cover wasn't "sexy" enough to compete with attractive vampires and dystopian universes.  And then, when I had all but given up, I got an e-mail from Flamingnet that my book had gotten reviewed!  Not only that, but it got seven out of ten stars, and a smiley face.  Here's their content rating criteria:

 This smiley face stands for general readers, for any age. Our reviewers feel that these books are appropriate for the age level for which they have been written. Books with this designation were judged to contain nothing that would be considered offensive. These books are generally absent of violence, sex, drugs, swearing, and crude comments. The vast majority of books listed on Flamingnet are of this type. Assume that a book on our site has this designation if it does not have one of the next three content ratings.

 A smiley angel rating means that this book is faith-based and the story or content is written from a religious perspective. These books often stress morals and integrity, along with their message about the importance of faith and worship.

 A surprised smiley face rating means that we recommend adult guidance when considering this book. These books may contain some profanity, sexual comments, and can also deal with the issue of drugs and alcohol. Parents, teachers, and librarians may want to read these books before recommending them to a student.

 Books with this smiley face rating are suggested for mature readers only, and contain material that is deemed unsuitable for children to young teens. These books can contain sexual situations, extreme profanity, and extreme violence. 

I was thrilled to receive a smiley face. That's the kinda book I want to be writing.

And now, the review:


Flamingnet Student Book Reviewer  AScho
When 17-year-old Rachel Guo learns of an opportunity to spend the summer abroad in Turkey, the opportunity seems almost too good to pass up. She anxiously wonders if she will like her host family and whether she can assimilate to a completely different religion and culture. When Rachel meets her host family, especially her host sister Aylin, her fears are put to rest and she begins to experience a life very different to her own in Washington. As Rachel grows closer to Aylin, she discovers that despite a few differences in culture, the two teenagers are very much the same. As the summer progresses, Rachel finds new experiences, especially in her blossoming romance and Turkey s exciting culture.
Secrets of a Summer Village, a novel by Saskia Akyil, is a culturally rich tale that weaves American and Turkish traditions with love and friendship. I found the book to be engaging as well as enlightening, and I learned about Turkish customs, from reading coffee grounds to the many sayings for good luck. The plot held my attention at first, but could have been more engaging and tended to be slightly repetitive as the action progressed. I enjoyed learning about Turkey, and I could also easily relate to the two main characters. Overall, I would recommend this book to teenage girls interested in becoming more culturally aware, as well as anyone looking for a unique summer read.
Reviewer Age:16
Reviewer City, State and Country: Bayside, WI USA

Here's a direct link to the review on Flamingnet:

Thanks, Flamingnet reviewer!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Good things happen when you're out of town

I went away for a week, and lots of nice things happened while I was away!  For one thing, I didn't spend much energy thinking or worrying about Secrets of a Summer Village, its sequel, or my other book.  And while I was busy not worrying, there was some minor action:

1. I was a guest poster at a very beautiful expat website:  

2. My book was reviewed by a very nice reader who won my book through the Goodreads giveaway.  I believe she's a librarian.  

Secrets of a Summer Village is a perfect summer read for middle school age youth and older. It tells the coming-of-age story of 17-year-old Rachel who ventures abroad to Turkey from her home in Washington state. Rachel lives for one month with her Turkish host family. There she has a 17-year-old "sister" named Aylen and an older "sister," Leyla. The family has moved to their summer home on the sea for their vacation. Most of the action during the story takes place in this summer village. 

The characters bond almost immediatelty and Rachel finds herself feeling like she has been in Turkey much longer than a few days. While there Rachel meets a boy, falls in love, and experiences jealousy in her interactions with other girls. She goes through the brief courtship of the older sister, Leyla, and stays in Turkey longer than the original month in order to take part in Leyla's wedding. 

Both Rachel and the reader learn much about modern family life in Turkey and many of it's customs. The author is able to insert all these facts into the book in a way that is natural and that doesn't detract from the story line.The story itself is told in a more simplistic style, using language that reflects the unsophisticated characters of both Rachel and Aylen. The fact that there is no profanity used and that there is only the mention of physical attraction rather than overt sexual references, makes the book more approachable by readers in the middle school age range. However, older readers might just find the book a refreshing change from other young adult novels being written today.

I enjoyed this book and felt that I learned a lot about Turkey and its way of life. I recommend the story to readers age 11 and up.

(In compliance with FTC guidelines, I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.)

She posted the review on Amazon, too, and gave the book 4 stars :) (note: she spelled the charatcter Aylin's name wrong. But I forgive her fully.)

I've got some more guest posts coming up soon, and will keep you all posted.  

In other news, I've had more rejections of my children's books.  But I have not given up.   I just read our children the stupidest bedtime story last night.  And it was published. It's about underwear.  Sadly, they liked it.  But my books are better. I think. 

I've made zero progress on my audiobook, but will work on that furiously for the next few weeks.  My goal is to have the audiobook 100% done in two weeks, and the editing done before July 25th.  Better get working.....

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

If you ever doubt self-published books...

At times, I doubt myself.  Particularly because no agents would take on my book.  I feel as though a traditional publisher would help me get the publicity I need to sell books and get my name out there.  I just wrote about it the other day, in fact ( 

And then I read this blog post (thanks, Krisiny!!!) and realized that, as an unknown first-time author, having a traditional publisher and agent might not have helped me at all.  I just need to keep plugging away at guest blogging and other forms of publicity, because someone might read my book because of it.  And if they do, they might like it.  And if they like it, they might tell a person or two about it.  And if they do... that's how it really works for unknown writers.  A lot of hard work and word of mouth.

Amazon was so thrilled with the post, which is by a previously traditionally published author who disses traditional publishers and praises Amazon/Createspace/KDP, that they made it  a front-page story.  Which will totally help Jessica Park sell books, further convincing her that self publishing is better than traditional publishing for her.  One of her best points as far as I'm concerned is that certain character ages fall into a black hole of literature - there is no "category" for 13-year-olds (too old for middle grade, too young for YA), no category for 18-25's ludicrous.  And it is absolutely the fault of the large publishing houses who market books as they do.  I actually wanted to write a book about a 13-year-old, but was reminded that there's no category for that.

I'm still not 100% convinced that self-publishing is actually better... Ms. Park did have publisher backing for years, which surely gave her a feeling of legitimacy and she surely benefited from that publisher's connections - it is incredibly hard to get self-published books reviewed.  I will still try to get an agent for my next book.  I will still enter it into contests.  But if, in the end, I decide to self publish again, I won't feel too bad about it.

Thank you, Jessica Park, for helping self-published authors gain some legitimacy!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

who are you???

This blogger read my book, at least she says so on her blog...

Who is she?
How did she hear about my book?
What did she think about it?

Mysteries I hope I will one day solve......

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Give Up? No... not yet

I finally have the idea for my next novel quite solidly outlined.  As I start to write, the rejection letters for other things I've queried have come in.  I hear a lot of "you are an excellent writer, but I didn't fall in love with the characters," or "your writing is solid, but the story is not for me".  Either this stuff is generic rejection stuff (in some cases, it doesn't seem to be based on other stuff in the letters), or I'm JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH.  And I think to myself, will this next novel be "good enough" for an agent to bite?  And then for a publisher to bite?  Or will it also be close but not quite there.  One agent has asked to see my next novel, which is encouraging.  But it's a lot of work to write a book, and I wonder if I should be spending my time this way or if there are more constructive things I could be doing.

The answer?  OF COURSE there are more constructive things I could be doing, but my problem is that I write because I can't help myself.  And if I give up, I'll never, ever know if I could do this, write a book good enough and sale-able enough that someone would want to publish it.

And this stream-of-consciousness blog post answers the question of what success means to a writer:  getting published by a publisher.  Not because they are the final word, but because they have a gazillion contacts that I do not have.  Newspapers and radio stations and magazines aren't interested in my book because I published it myself, which unofficially means that it is not good enough for them.

But there are rays of light in these dark thoughts.  A lot of people have read my book, loved it, and written positive reviews.  A lot of people have recommended it to their friends.  And at the end of the day, I feel confident that I did, in fact, write a really good book.  A book I would have wanted to read when I was 16.  I'm recording the audio book now (SLOW process, as slow as writing!), and I am truly enjoying it because - surprise - it's a fun story, with some very funny, sweet, poignant moments.

So it's not really true that I define my talent through the eyes of agents and publishers.  The truth is that I just want to get my story out there, and it's a frustratingly difficult thing to do all on my own.

So I guess I'll just keep on writing, at least for now.  My deadline is the end of December because I want to enter my new book in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest.  So here goes...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Review: Midwest Book Reviews

I kinda get now why there has been some criticism of Midwest Book Reviews.  If you look at the reviews, they're almost all positive, and some of them are so short that the "reviewer" might have just read the press release.

They've now reviewed my book twice.  The first review was so flawed (reviewer had not even read the press release correctly) that I complained and requested a new one.  Many months later, here it is:

In "Secrets of a Summer Village", 17 year old Rachel Guo finds herself spending part of a once-in-a-lifetime summer with a Turkish family in a village situated on the western coast of Turkey. This will also be the village where she will begin by not knowing her own mind, and conclude with an unexpected romance and her own coming of age as a young woman. Author Saska Akyil has a natural talent for bringing her characters to life and providing the reader with a true 'mind's eye' experience in a pleasant read which will prove a perfect summer pastime! "Secrets of a Summer Village" is highly recommended for personal reading lists and community library contemporary fiction and young adult fiction collections.

Was it worth all that hassle?  Not really.  I mean, it appears that the reviewer did read at least part of the book this time, and the review is positive and says I have a natural talent... which of course I agree with (hahaha), but I think... I hope they wouldn't have said this without actually reading it.  If you read through their reviews, I think I notice a trend that they don't comment on the writing style at all sometimes - and those might be reviews that were written without any book-reading going on.

I'm going to have those last two sentences put onto Amazon, though.  Maybe someone will read it and like it. Hmmm.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Never. Give. Up.

Two things that I have read today have motivated me to keep trying at this writing thing.

The first was a rejection letter.   Sounds wrong somehow, but there are three types of rejection in the world of query letter and manuscript submission.

  1.  The first type is very anti-climactic: no response.  It's annoying, but doesn't hurt that badly unless it's from an agent or publisher that you were really sure was going to LOVE what you have written. 
  2.  The second type is the form rejection letter.  It's more respectful than the no-response rejection because you get closure and can move on, but it hurts a bit more.  Form rejections basically thank you for your submission and tell you it was not right for that particular agent/publisher and encourages you to keep trying.  It's not actually very encouraging.  
  3. But when an agent or publisher takes the time to write you a personal e-mail rejection, it can be encouraging.  It tells you that somebody actually read what you sent them and cares enough to respond.  Here's the one I received this morning.  It's from a publisher, in response to the query and MS I sent them of The Solstice Dance, a children's picture book I wrote quite a long time ago:
Thanks very much. Very charming material. But I'm afriad we're not in a position to do this kind of book currently, particularly if an illustrator is not involved with the submission. Particularly with this book, getting the geography, customs, garments, and other details correct requires specific knowledge in order to avoid cultural gaffes.

Perhaps a publisher with more extensive connections with illustrators would be a better choice? Thank you in any case for you interest and for sharing your submission.

I really feel like writing back to him, begging him to reconsider, offering to find an appropriate illustrator... but I won't.  I'll write back to thank him for taking the time to write me a personal e-mail.

The second thing that motivated me today is something I read on the website of a publisher's editorial guidelines.  They likened getting a book published to becoming a famous actor, and I thought about all the stories of actors going to auditions with hundreds of others, and getting rejected for years before getting a break.  Sure, some actors get lucky the first time, but those are in the extreme minority.  Some of them may go on to write scripts and produce their own movies, which is similar to self-publishing.  Instead of being discouraged by this comparison, I'm encouraged by it.  At least I don't have to live in Hollywood and try out in front of impatient directors.  

It is pretty exciting to hear back from agents and publishers, even when it's a rejection.  If you want to be a writer: Never. Give. Up.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Recording an Audiobook & Waking a resting project

As I've mentioned before, it takes a really long time to record an audiobook.  My book has 28 chapters, and each takes about half an hour to record.  So 14 hours, which doesn't sound long except that I really have other exciting stuff to do, like laundry, taxes, and tidying up.  So if I manage to record one chapter a day, I am happy.  Some days, I've recorded two, but that won't happen today because I promised myself I would work on the taxes, and I've also promised myself that I will write at least one blog entry a week, and it's already been a week...  And if you think that recording takes a long time, consider this: I am not capable of reading from my book for half an hour without making mistakes.  I mispronounce words, skip words, read in the wrong "voice"... the audio has to be edited.  The way I've been doing it is to just repeat the messed-up sentence and remove them later.  My lovely husband has offered to do the editing for me, but it takes a really long time for him, too, even though he's much better with the equipment than I am.  So I've asked OpenBookAudio if they do that sort of editing, and at what cost.  Worth asking, but I'm guessing it's probably more than I'm willing to spend.

There's also a question on my mind, of whether I should offer the audio as free podcasts until the audiobook is complete and for sale.  This could build interest and an audience, but I don't want to simultaneously offer my book for sale and for free.  So I could only do this if it's possible to delete the podcast once the audiobook is on Audible.  Something to look into.

Meanwhile, I've decided to continue querying a project that has been resting for about a year - it's a children's picture book I wrote about Nardugan, a celebration of the winter solstice, and the book is called The Solstice Dance.  I had some interest when I queried it to agents, but no bites.  I'm not even considering self-publishing this one, because the cost of self-publishing a picture book is prohibitive.  In addition, I'm not a great artist, so I'd prefer to have a real artist do the work.

I had a friend, who is an artist, do the artwork of three pages, and offered it when I queried, but I later learned that in fact it doesn't work that way.  You are either a writer who is paired with an illustrator by an agent or an editor, or you are an author-illustrator.  They don't seem to want you to find your own artist.  Unless you're famous, probably, but I'm not famous.  Rather than querying agents this time, I'm going to directly query small publishers.  I don't know how that works, either, but a few of them do accept unsolicited queries, so I'll try that once I've written myself a list of the publishers that might be interested.

So much to do, and so much fun!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Going International

An awesome blogger and prolific reader and reviewer in India has posted about my book on her blog:  As cool as that is, even cooler is that we have become "pen pals" for lack of a better word, with my book as the catalyst. 

My husband has his regular day job, and also has a side business selling fine wine over the internet.  I don't think we've made back the initial investment yet, but it's enriched our lives because it has helped us meet interesting people we wouldn't have otherwise met, and learn something new that we likely wouldn't have learned. 

The book seems to be life-enhancing in the same way.  Good reason to publish a book, and I'm not joking!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Blog Tour?

A blog tour is like a book tour or concert/album tour, except that the author doesn't actually have to leave her/his living room.  There are sites that organize blog tours for authors, but I haven't had the luck to "go" on one yet.  Instead, I'm slowly organizing guest posts for myself, finding blogs that are looking for guest bloggers via LinkedIn,, Twitter, and internet searches.  Reviews of my book are also trickling in. 

Today, I received links to my new blog guest post for an Australian writing website:

as well as fabulous reviews on Goodreads:

and on Flipkart (think: Indian
by a reviewer in India whom I have never met in person. 

It is exceptionally hard for authors to get publicity for their self-published books, no matter how great those books are.  The effort does not end when the book is finished - that's when the hard part actually begins.  Every single day, you've got to do something to get and keep your name out there.  I don't know if my random guest blogging can really be considered a "blog tour," but at the moment it's the closest I can get to one!

I am so grateful to all you out there are supporting me, by reading my book, by writing reviews, and by sharing my book with others!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Audiobook and book trailers

That's write, I'm recording one.  I could have paid thousands of dollars to have someone else do all the work.  Time is money and it does take a lot of time to make a DIY audiobook, but I am not willing to spend thousands of dollars when I can probably do a decent job myself.  There is a great company called Open Book Audio that can make the audiobook for you, OR take a book you recorded yourself and take care of the distribution on Audible, for a small cut.  They require that the recording be of a high quality and that the book be broken down into 30-minute segments.  That's what I'm up to right now.  It may seem like a piece of cake, but I am completely unfamiliar with the technical aspects of recorded sound.  As if that's not enough, it's really hard to read out loud without making mistakes, especially for 30 minutes!  My book has 28 chapters, and each one will take me approximately half an hour to read, half an hour to edit.  That will add up to 14 hours of reading and 14 hours of editing.  28 hours of work... And let's not forget that everything takes longer than we expect. 

So far, I've recorded one chapter.  After dealing with some major technical difficulties (take one: recorded chapter one, forgot to save it, program crashed, lost it. take two: program crashed when I tried to export the file to .wav format, figured out that Firefox and Pro Tools are not friends.  take three: tried to send the file to the nice, helpful Open Book Audio people, but it's way too huge to attach to e-mail, finally uploaded it to Dropbox), I've sent Open Book Audio the Dropbox link, and hope they'll be so kind as to let me know if the sound quality meets their quality standards.

In the meantime, I'm also working on creating a book trailer for YouTube.  Apparently, this is what all the cool authors are doing.  I am so cool.

Sailing new waters, friends!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Live to write

I don't live to write, nor do I write to live.  That is not what this post is about.  When giving advice about writing, many authors (including myself) say that it's important to read and to write.  What they so often forget is to remind us to live.  Without traveling, talking to friends and family, eating, loving, laughing, crying, fighting, getting sick and getting well again, agreeing and disagreeing, being too hot and too cold, we aren't living.  And without living, how will we have anything interesting to write about? 

So, what have I been doing for the past 10 days?  I've been living.  I haven't done any writing (though I cannot stop my writer brain from recording visions, smells, and sounds for future books...).  I feel refreshed and ready to start typing again.  Got writer's block?  Live a little in order to write.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Kirkus Review

I'm still waiting on the Midwest Book Review corrected review, but the Kirkus review is here. Am I thrilled with it? No, unfortunately. It's not all good, not all bad. There are some quotes I can use from it for promotion, however. To read it, click here:

Well, what do you think? Does it make you want to read the book? I'm not sure if it even makes me want to read the book.  What this whole experience of reviews makes me think is that so much of it is the luck of the draw. There are books I hate that others think are masterpieces (examples? Dostoyevski's Crime and Punishment, Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code, the former is well-written and miserable, the latter is terribly written, but a good story).  It's not different with reviews.  The people writing those reviews are individuals with their own tastes and preferences, their own life experiences that create filters through which they interpret the story. 

Is this reviewer an anti-feminist?  He or she seems to have really taken issue with an imagined dichotomy of girls being interesting and strong, boys being either good or bad.  Which is funny, because that was neither intended nor true in the story... the reviewer calls the boys in the story one-dimensional and either "good" (and traditional) or "bad" (and westernized).  WHAT???  Cem, Rachel's love interest, is neither one-dimensional nor traditional nor very westernized.  He is absolutely a mix between "traditional" and influenced by the US.  Aylin and Leyla's father is, to be fair, fairly one-dimensional and he doesn't play a big role in the story.  Rachel's father, however, is very important to the story, and I'd argue that he's not one-dimensional at all.  But that is what the reviewer felt when he or she read the book, and he or she really seems to have felt very strongly about this point to have written so much about the supposed dichotomy. 

But a review is a review.  Kirkus reviews gave me the option of posting the review or not, and I chose to have them post it.  So please go over to their site and rate the book.  Now let's see what the Midwest Book Review says........

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Going mad

I don't remember any other thing I've done that required so much waiting.  When I was a teacher, I created lesson plans and taught, I sometimes gave seminars and lectures to other teachers at conferences.  When I worked for the state government, I created and filed forms, drank my tea, and brainstormed better ways to run our program.  Sure, I submitted articles and chapter proposals for academic publications and had to wait for responses about their acceptance, but it just didn't feel like such a big deal.  But now... it's different.  Maybe because I don't have anything else intellectual going on, but this waiting to hear from contest entries, from blog hosts on which I've applied to guest blog, from reviewers is making me lose my mind.  There's so much other stuff that I want - and need - to do in order to promote my book, but I need these professional reviews from Kirkus Indie and the Midwest Book review before I can do the other things on my list.  Here's my list:

  1. Contact online bookstores in Turkey because they haven't listed my book yet (it is, however, listed in Finland, India, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, the UK, and Poland).
  2. Contact bricks-and-mortar English bookstores in Turkey to see if they will carry my book.
  3. Write to study abroad organizations that organize trips to Turkey to encourage them to publicize my book to their clients/students.
  4. Send application to Pearson, an academic publisher, to see if they'd be interested in publishing an ESL version of my book (modified).
  5. Contact independent bookstores in Colorado to see if they'd be willing to host a book reading or book signing when I visit.
  6. Write to more book review websites to see if they'll review my book.
  7. Send the reviews to the agent who has my book - I haven't heard from her, but I want to remind her that I exist.
  8. Write to/call newspapers that might print an article about me - local newspaper in Washington, where I most recently lived, local newspaper in Colorado where I went to high school, my college and graduate school....
ALL of this is assuming that the reviews say something nice about my book.  And if they don't?  Well, let's just hope they're kind....

Monday, April 16, 2012

Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award

Have you ever heard of it?  The Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award is "an annual award in the United States for a book that exemplifies literary excellence, widespread appeal, and a positive approach to life in young adult literature."  (Source: Wikipedia).  I had never heard of it myself, but I stumbled upon it, looked it up, and thought wow, THAT is the kind of award I would be proud to win.  So I looked it up and actually had to go to a lot of work to find contact information.  The hosting website wasn't working too well, but I was dying to know how to find out more about it.  Thanks to Google, I was able to find a contact from the award, who got back to me the next day.  She was so kind, and let me know that if I could get copies of my book to the committee members within five days, my book could be entered into the running.

Here are the submission guidelines:

Context and Criteria

Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be presented annually to the author of a book selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award (AEWA) Review Committee as “the title of the year most relevant to adolescents and having enjoyed a wide and appreciative teenage audience.” 

Per Walden’s request, the selected title must:
1)    be a work of fiction, ideally a novel (novels that are part of a series must be able to stand alone);
2)    be published within one year prior to the call for titles (in this case, 2011);
3)    be published in the United States but may have been published elsewhere prior; and
4)    possess a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit (please see below for additional guidance):

A Positive Approach to Life

Submitted titles should:
§  treat teen readers as capable and thoughtful young people
§  offer hope and optimism, even when describing difficult circumstances
§  have a credible and appropriate resolution
§  portray characters involved in shaping their lives in a positive way, even as they struggle with the harsh realities of life

Widespread Teen Appeal

Submitted titles should:
§  be intended expressly for readers aged 12-18
§  have universal themes that transcend time and place
§  have themes that resonate with a wide variety of readers, regardless of race, culture, class, gender, and sexual orientation
§  provide readers a window to the world and/or reflect their own experiences

Literary Merit
Submitted titles should:
§  contain well-developed characters
§  employ well-constructed forms suitable to function 
§  include language and literary devices that enhance the narrative
§  suggest cogent and richly-realized themes
§  present an authentic voice

Do I have any chance at winning?  Or even at runner-up?  That depends on so much.   Primarily, it depends on whether or not the committee agrees that my book fulfills the "positive approach to life" requirement.  In my opinion, it does, but it's subtle.  Especially the part about difficult circumstances. Nothing terrible or unusual or terribly unusually bad happens to my protagonist, but she does face the sort of challenges that normal, everyday teenagers face.  

Even if I won "runner up" of this prize, I would be incredibly honored.  The criteria of the award is essentially an outline of what I want to write.  So, what kind of writer do I want to be?  I want to write books that would be eligible for this award.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

What kind of writer do I want to be?

As I'm working on Book 2, I'm faced with a question - what kind of writer do I want to be?  Book 1 (Secrets of a Summer Village) is a coming of age mainstream fiction/YA crossover.  It's fairly light-hearted, upbeat, and positive.  The feedback I've gotten is that it makes readers feel good and learn something at the same time.  It also makes you feel good when you're writing happy, positive stuff.  That said, I don't want to write fluff.

In book 2, something bad is actually going to happen to the main character.  I am pretty sure I know what this bad thing is, and it's really bad.  But I don't want to write a depressing book.  The first voice I gave this as-of-yet unnamed character was too depressing.  I didn't want to make myself depressed having to write her.  So then I found a much more upbeat, cheerful voice for her.  It was so fun to write, and it just flowed out of me.  But then this really bad thing is going to happen to her, so she won't be able to keep that up, and I don't even know how this voice would have to change after a tragedy.  So I have to find another voice.  Something between depressed and polyanna.

I also have to choose an age.  Is this going to be mainstream fiction? YA?  Crossover?  I'm leaning towards crossover.  What I hope I'm writing is intelligent YA that adults can enjoy, since in this modern world in which lines are incredibly blurred, young adults often read mainstream "adult" literature (I sure did when I was a teenager), and plenty of adults unabashedly enjoy YA.  I was thinking of making the main character 13, but then I was told that 13 is a black hole because it's considered too old for Middle Grade novels and too young for YA.  So my main character needs to be either 12 or younger... or 15 or older.  Which is a shame because I think that 13 is a fascinating age.

I think my main character will have just turned 15.  I'm not ready to write Middle Grade books yet, though I hope to one day.  What I mean by that is that I still remember being a teenager, but my memories of being 12 are much murkier.  I'm planning on waiting until my children are "middle grade" readers themselves before I can imagine that world again.

So, what kind of writer do I want to be?  Second book will help steer me in a direction.  First book was a wild card of sorts, but second book will make me lean towards a genre... or not.  Something that has to happen for me no matter what, is that I have to like the main character and enjoy writing the book.  Bad things may happen, but the characters cannot and must not be destroyed by them.  I want to be a writer who people enjoy reading.