Ask An Expert: Interview with Book Cover Designer Eric Labacz

Ask An Expert: Interview with Book Cover Designer Eric Labacz on Great Book Cover Design Trends in 2021 and Beyond

What design elements contribute to a great book cover design? And what book cover design trends are popular in 2021 and beyond? Today on our Ask an Expert series, we’re sitting down with book cover designer Eric Labacz, who has created some of our most eye-catching and popular cover designs for our sister publishing company Books Fluent. Eric shares what key elements make for timeless, great book cover design, how genre should influence cover design, and some of the biggest cover trends we’re seeing right now.

What do you enjoy most about designing book covers?

Hands down the creative process that is involved in communicating certain details about a book in a unique way that urges readers to explore it further.

How long have you been a book cover designer? How did you get involved in this industry?

I have been designing covers for four years now. Prior to that, I worked for an agency and worked as a Senior Designer and Art Director in the toy, video and food packaging industries. In 2016, I decided to create a home-based studio and I was fortunate to connect with a local publisher a year into it. She started giving me cover projects and I instantly fell in love with cover design. I decided to put all my efforts into connecting with other publisher and author clients and, four years later, here we are.

In your opinion, what are the key elements of great book cover design?

Well, of course, you need the title, the subtitle if it pertains, and the author’s name, but the difference between a so-so cover and a great cover are how those elements are creatively arranged along with imagery and color. An interesting and engaging composition, a focal point that intrigues the reader and eye-catching colors are some elements of great covers.

Should a book’s genre influence a book’s cover design? If so, how does genre influence design?

Absolutely. Readers who are looking for a new book expect to see certain design criteria which communicate the genre to them. If you were in the business of selling toasters, would you sell them in boxes that have a picture of a blender on them? Absolutely not. At the end of the day, you would have a lot of confused, angry customers. Similarly, you don’t want your non-fiction book on furniture making to have a romance-styled photo of embracing lovers on the cover and vice-versa.

Genre definitely affects the choices I make regarding the types of images, fonts and colors to use on a cover and how to arrange them. I need to get a reader to look at a cover and think, “Ok, this is scary, or this is funny or this is very suspenseful” and educate their decision-making. Going back to my favorite part of cover design, it is such a fun challenge to figure out how to communicate a genre using collectively understood images and meanings, but do it in a way that is different, clever and makes a statement.

What are some of the biggest trends you’ve noticed in book cover design in 2021?

One of the big ones I’ve noticed is what I call modern retro. There seems to be this love affair with combining all things 70s and 80’s with modern elements and I really dig it.

Another one of my favorites from the past few years is the trend of partially obscuring and affecting individual title letters as they interact with a cover image. I see that continue this year as cover designers continue to push the boundaries of how we read letter forms and I really enjoy it.

I have been noticing a lot of really bold, bright colors and patterns this year as well as the continuing trend of titles taking up the entire cover. SVG fonts have become really popular over the past few years and their use continues too. The SVG format allows for fonts to appear in different transparencies and I see them a lot on covers now. They have a hand painted or drawn feel.

The use of minimalism on covers will always be with us and I see designers play with it to keep it current.

I also see the continued trend of combining imagery with silhouetted forms. Designers are pushing how they interact with one another and some of the results are really interesting. Lastly, I have been really enjoying looking at new illustrations on covers and watching how digital illustration techniques continue to change. I see a lot of unique, gritty-brushed and textural illustration styles right now and I see it continuing as digital drawing software and apps continue to evolve. It’s some pretty exciting stuff.

Learn more about Eric Labacz, and see more of his awesome cover designs, at http://www.labaczdesign.com. Learn more about publishing your book with Books Fluent at https://booksfluent.com.

Boozy Books 2021: Easy DIY Summer Cocktails Paired with 12 New Books

Boozy Books List 2021 

Summer is here, and we’ve created the perfect pairings of this season’s hottest summer reads with cool, delicious summer cocktails! Relax and enjoy with our Boozy Books List for Summer 2021, and share pics of your favorite pairings with us via Instagram and Twitter!

The Suffragette + The Accidental Suffragist by Galia Gichon

There’s nothing accidental about how much you’ll enjoy this gorgeous novel or this classic cocktail that, according to the 1909 San Francisco Call, “makes a man willing to listen to the suffragettes’ proposition.” In fact, “two convince him that it has some merit. Three make him a missionary, willing to spread the gospel abroad, and four make him go home and wash the dishes.”

What you’ll need: Sloe gin, vermouth, orange bitters, lemon peelGet the recipe, or try this version with elderflower 

About the book: It’s 1912, and protagonist Helen Fox is a factory worker living in New York’s tenements. When tragedy strikes in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, Helen is seduced by the Suffragist cause and is soon immersed, working alongside famous activists. 

As Helen’s involvement with the cause deepens, she encounters myriad sources of tension that test her perseverance: estrangement from her husband, who is blindsided by his wife’s sudden activism; ostracization by neighbors; unease at working side by side with wealthier suffragettes; and worry about her children as she leaves them to picket the White House in Washington. 

The narrative spans World War One and concludes with the triumph of 1919. In a time when the obstacles for women, from any background, were insurmountable, Helen discovers her voice as an independent woman and dreams of equality in a male-dominated society.

Release date: June 1, 2021, Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing

Chocolate Martini + Read My Lips by Kelle Z. Riley

Indulge in this glass of chocolatey goodness as you enjoy this delicious Cinderella romance about a billionaire chocolatier who takes a chance on love when least expected. 

What you’ll need: Heavy cream, semi sweet chocolate, vodka, Baileys irish cream, grated chocolate – Get the recipe

About the Book: Temptation always leads to trouble…

Claire Lennox thought she could have it all—until trusting the wrong man destroyed her career, her reputation, and her heart. Now, as director of a literacy foundation, she has new ambitions. But when a sexy client tempts her to love again, does she dare? Billionaire chocolatier Clayton McClaine risks everything—even his heart—when he goes incognito, hoping to overcome the dyslexia that haunts him and threatens to destroy his carefully crafted image. They’re perfect for each other, except for one little thing—the billion-dollar deception that lies between them.

Release Date: September 7, 2021, Entangled

Magic Martini + Dutybound by Mark A. Alvarez

This epic fantasy novel is absolutely magical–and so is this vivid color-changing cocktail that will make you feel as if you have powers of your own. 

What you’ll need: Gin, ginger liqueur, b’Lure butterfly pea extract, fresh-squeezed lemon juice  – Get the recipe

About the Book: When young Lucia Sannon, High Maiden of Moz, receives a gift from her long lost father, her whole world changes. Lucia and the other heirs of nobility are forced to face the Sins of their forefathers and bring their world from the brink of Darkness. With the help of the Light Wings and its power, Lucia must heed the call to assemble the Light’s Virtues and lead them into battle against the very Sins that seek to destroy their world. But finding the four Virtues will not be easy, for much of the knowledge is lost and the understanding of one’s own morality is the only key to unlocking the power each of them holds within.

A story of faith and morality, Dutybound: Light Wings Volume 1 will lead you through a journey of self-discovery as our heroes face conflict from outside and within themselves. Duty, desire, envy, hope, hate, love, pride, and temperance all are challenged within this series in an epic tale that is sure to have you pondering your own true nature.

Release Date: June 22, 2021, Light Wings Promotions LLC

Cocktail Glitter + Mercury Boys by Chandra Prasad

Turn any drink as silvery and magical looking as liquid mercury, and enjoy your beverage while you become enthralled by this gripping YA thriller about a group of high school girls who form a secret society after discovering they can communicate with boys from the past, but the situation devolves into a crucible of female desire, jealousy, and the shifting lines between friendship and rivalry. 

What you’ll need: Your favorite cocktail + this silver cocktail glitter

About the Book: After her life is upended by divorce and a cross-country move, 16-year-old Saskia Brown feels like an outsider at her new school—not only is she a transplant, but she’s also biracial in a population of mostly white students. One day while visiting her only friend at her part-time library job, Saskia encounters a vial of liquid mercury, then touches an old daguerreotype—the precursor of the modern-day photograph—and makes a startling discovery. She is somehow able to visit the man in the portrait: Robert Cornelius, a brilliant young inventor from the nineteenth century. The hitch: she can see him only in her dreams. Saskia shares her revelation with some classmates, hoping to find connection and friendship among strangers. Under her guidance, the other girls steal portraits of young men from a local college’s daguerreotype collection and try the dangerous experiment for themselves. Soon, they each form a bond with their own “Mercury Boy,” from an injured Union soldier to a charming pickpocket in New York City. At night, the girls visit the boys in their dreams. During the day, they hold clandestine meetings of their new secret society. At first, the Mercury Boys Club is a thrilling diversion from their troubled everyday lives, but it’s not long before jealousy, violence and secrets threaten everything the girls hold dear.

Release Date: August 3, 2021, Soho Teen

Bay Breeze Cocktail + A Lot Like Love by Jennifer Snow

Feel the ocean breeze with this sweet cocktail and this seaside romance that will warm your heart like the summer sun. 

What you’ll need: Vodka, pineapple juice, cranberry juice – Get the recipe

About the Book: They have different ideas about the fate of an old inn…until it brings them together. When Sarah Lewis inherits a run-down B&B from her late grandmother in coastal Blue Moon Bay, the logical thing to do is sell it and focus on her life in L.A. But when she learns that interested buyers will only tear it down in its current state, she feels a sense of obligation to her grandmother to get it back to the landmark tourist destination it once was…even if that means hiring the best contractor for the job, who happens to be her old high school crush. 

Wes Sharrun’s life has continued to unravel since the death of his wife three years before. Now with a struggling construction company and a nine-year-old daughter, he sees the B&B as an opportunity to get back on his feet. Unfortunately, despite trying to keep his distance, his daughter has taken a liking to Sarah, and his own feelings are tough to deny. As they spend more time together painting, exploring a forgotten treasure trove of wine in a basement cellar, and arguing over balcony placement, the more the spark between them ignites. But will saving the B&B be enough to convince them both to take a second chance at love?

Release Date: June 29, 2021, Entangled

The Passport + Em’s Awful Good Fortune by Marcie Maxfield

Grab your passport — aka, this cocktail — and settle in for an armchair adventure around the world with this compelling, sardonic, and unusual memoir of (reluctant) expat life. 

What you’ll need: Ginger liqueur, vodka, ice – Get the recipe

About the Book: Part dysfunctional marriage, part global romp, this is not your typical expat story. Em’s Awful Good Fortune is a deeply personal, marriage coming-apart-at-the-seams look at the struggle between a woman’s desire for partnership and her need for identity. Fueled by twin demons, love and rage, Em stomps her way around the world coming to terms with the fantasy of having it all: husband, kids, and a career. Em is not just married; it’s more like being handcuffed to her husband’s international career. Her life reads like a fantasy, bouncing between Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Seoul. But–the good fortune is all her husband’s: Em is just the tagalong wife. Maxfield’s compelling, non-linear story explores the expatriate lifestyle through the lens of a crumbling marriage, while at the same time tracing the lasting impact of sexual assault and PTSD. Em’s journey exposes the dark corners of this seemingly privileged world: loneliness, depression, infidelity, and loss of career. An empowering, uncomfortably funny narrative about compromise that every woman should read. As Em begins to value her needs before those of her husband’s career, she stops letting herself be dragged along for the ride–and ultimately emerges triumphant.

Release Date: August 3, 2021, She Writes Press

Boilermaker + The Sightless City by Noah Lemelson

This classic, smoky drink is the kind of hardboiled beverage we need for a steampunk-esque mystery about a veteran PI who gets embroiled in a plot that puts him in the crosshairs of a mysterious force. 

What you’ll need: Whiskey, beer – Get the recipe

About the Book: Kidnapping. Enslavement. Murder. Those are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to actions some will take to protect their interests in æther-oil, the coveted substance that fuels the city of Huile. As both veteran and private investigator, Marcel Talwar knows this firsthand, and he likes to think he’d never participate in such things. However, that naïve idea comes to a crashing end when he takes on a new case that quickly shatters his worldview. A trail of evidence points to someone in Marcel’s inner circle who’s using him as a pawn to conduct grisly experiments-experiments that could lead to genocide.

Now, Marcel is more determined than ever to discover who’s pulling the strings to this sinister plot. But the further he gets, the larger the target on his back becomes, and it’s not long before Marcel has to ask himself how much and how many he’s willing to sacrifice to get to the truth.

Release Date: July 20, 2021, Tiny Fox Press LLC

Justice Served + Leading for Justice by Rita Sever

Justice never tasted so good. Sit back, sip, and relax while perusing this essential guide–and while you’re at it, check out this list of cocktail bars that donate to good causes to see if there’s a location near you!

What you’ll need: Ginger beer, Fernet, orange wedge, orange rind – Get the recipe

About the Book: Leading in organizations working for justice is not the same as leading anywhere else. Staff expect to be treated as partners and demand internal practices that center equity. Justice leaders must meet these expectations, as well as recognize and address the ways that individuals and organizations inadvertently replicate oppression. Created specifically for social justice leaders, Leading for Justice addresses specific concerns and issues that beset organizations working for social justice and offers practices and models that center justice and equity. Topics include: the role of a supervisor in a social justice organization, the importance of self-awareness, issues of power and privilege, human resources as a justice partner, misses and messes, and clear guidelines for holding people accountable in a manner that is respectful and effective. Written in a friendly, accessible, and supportive tone, and offering discussion questions at the end of each short section to make the book user-friendly for both individuals and teams, Leading for Justice is a book for leaders who want to walk the talk of supporting social justice, in their organizations and in the world.

Release Date: August 3, 2021, She Writes Press

Icy Blue Curacao + Cold Consequences by David Rohlfing

Revenge is best served cold (and so is this cocktail) as we’re caught in the chilling grip of a new Sasha Frank detective mystery and prequel to his hit debut, Deliberate Duplicity. 

What you’ll need: Ice cubes, Blue Curacao, Smirnoff Ice, peppermint sticks  – Get the recipe

About the book: Ashley Cummins, the granddaughter of a powerful judge, is unexpectedly shot while buying drugs from her dealer late one night on a city street. As detective Sasha Frank investigates her murder, all of his possible suspects start showing up dead or missing. Who is behind the killings? As pressure builds on Sasha to solve the case, he uncovers new information that begins to unravel a complicated web of evidence–will Sasha be able to prove who the killer is and take down the person responsible for the murders? Cold Consequences is the exciting second book in David Rohlfing’s Detective Sasha Frank Mystery Series.

It serves as a prequel to Rohlfing’s Deliberate Duplicity. Fans of the mystery-thriller genre will love this gripping new tale. Full of exciting twists and turns, readers won’t be able to put the book down as Sasha pursues every lead to find the killer.

Release date: July 27, 2021, River Grove Books

Fancy Whisky Cocktail + Hitched to the Gunslinger by Michelle McLean

Both the drink and this steamy Western romance are rugged, sweet, and totally sexy.

What you’ll need: Blended whiskey, triple sec, superfine sugar, bitters – Get the recipe

About the Book: Gray “Quick Shot” Woodson is the fastest gun west of the Mississippi. Unfortunately, he’s ready to hang up his hat. Sure, being notorious has its perks. But the nomadic lifestyle–and people always tryin’ to kill you–gets old real fast. 

Now he just wants to find a place to retire so he can spend his days the way the good Lord intended. Staring at the sunset. And napping. 

When his stubborn horse drags him into a hole-in-the-wall town called Desolation, something about the place calls to Gray, and he figures he might actually have a shot at a sleepy retirement. 

His optimism lasts about a minute and a half. 

Soon he finds himself embroiled in a town vendetta and married to a woman named Mercy. Who, judging by her aggravating personality, doesn’t know the meaning of her own name. In fact, she’s downright impossible. 

But dang it if his wife isn’t irresistible. If only she’d stop trying to steal his guns to go after the bad guys herself. 

There goes his peace and quiet…

Release Date: August 24, 2021, Entangled

Seven Deadly Sins Sangria + Siege of the Seven Sins by Emily Colin 

This dark and sinfully delicious sangria is sure to be a conversation starter, just like this gripping YA fantasy series about a dystopian government that punishes people based on the seven deadly sins–but love is the most forbidden of all.  

What you’ll need: Apples, oranges, pears, red wine, cinnamon sticks, brandy, Sparkling Ice Orange MangoGet the recipe

About the Book: What do you do when the victory you’ve been fighting for is doomed to break your heart? Rogue bellators Eva Marteinn and Ari Westergaard have escaped the restrictive world of the Commonwealth, and they would like nothing more than to leave it behind forever. But Eva is the formidable weapon the Commonwealth wants-and they’ll stop at nothing to get her back. For years, Ari has seen Eva as his temptation and his secret, his virtue and his sin.

Now that they’re finally free, he wants what he’s been craving-to start a new life…with her. But Eva is keeping a devastating secret of her own: the very victory against the Commonwealth the two of them have been fighting for is doomed to break their hearts. She faces an impossible decision-to be the face of the revolution she’s dedicated her life to and abandon the boy she loves…or to sacrifice everything she’s fought for to stand by his side.

Release Date: August 3, 2021, Blue Crow Publishing

The Phoenix Cocktail + Creatrix Rising by Stephanie Raffelock

This glorious cocktail undergoes a colorful transformation and (literally) burns with a vibrant flame, making it the perfect pairing for this wonderful book on “unlocking the power of midlife women.”

What you’ll need: Gin, rum, b’Lure butterfly pea extract, lemon and elderflower syrup, cinnamon, ice – Get the recipe

About the Book: Ever since Eve was banned from the garden, women have endured the oftentimes painful and inaccurate definitions foisted upon them by the patriarchy. Maiden, mother, and crone, representing the three stages assigned to a woman’s life cycle, have been the limiting categories of both ancient and modern (neo-pagan) mythology. And one label in particular rankles: crone. The word conjures a wizened hag–useless for the most part, marginalized by appearance and ability. None of us has ever truly fit the old-crone image, and for today’s midlife women, a new archetype is being birthed: the creatrix. In Creatrix Rising, Stephanie Raffelock lays out–through personal stories and essays–the highlights of the past fifty years, in which women have gone from a quiet strength to a resounding voice. She invites us along on her own transformational journey by providing probing questions for reflection so that we can flesh out and bring to life this new archetype within ourselves. If what the Dalai Lama has predicted–that women will save the world–proves true, then the creatrix will for certain be out front, leading the pack.

Release Date: August 24, 2021, She Writes Press

Ask An Expert: Interview with Editor and NYT-Bestselling Author Emily Colin on Why Editing Transforms Writing

As we continue our Ask an Expert series, today on the blog we’re sitting down with New York Times-bestselling author and editor Emily Colin, author of The Seven Sins Series, The Memory Thief, and The Dream Keeper’s Daughter. Emily shares how she brings a story to life through the various stages of editing, and brings a writer’s perspective to why editing is essential.

1). Can you tell us a bit about your editorial work?

I do a wide range of editorial work—from developmental editing to copyediting to proofreading. When I work as a developmental editor, I take a deep dive into all of the elements that bring a novel to life: setting, pacing, point of view, dialogue, plot, description, characterization, tone…you get the idea. I may suggest that the author revisit the catalyst for the story, beginning the book in a different place; tighten a saggy middle; deepen the theme; give us a more nuanced sense of characters’ emotions; step up the pace; make some changes to resonate with the market…it all depends on the project. If the manuscript is based on historical events, I’ll do a bit of research to make sure those are reflected accurately. Of course, if I notice inconsistencies or errors in spelling or grammar, I’ll mark those—but that’s not my primary objective. My role is never to change the author’s voice, but rather to make sure that the manuscript is dynamic throughout, the characters are vivid, the dialogue resonates, the plot moves along at a nice clip, and the prose shines.

When I take on a copyediting job, my role is very different. By the time a manuscript comes to me to copyedit, it’s ideally already gone through the developmental editing process. As a copyeditor, I do my work based on a style guide—typically, the Chicago Manual of Style—and a dictionary, usually Merriam-Webster. As I copyedit a manuscript, I’ll make sure that it adheres to both of these points of reference when it comes to spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, and all manner of other minutiae. I’ll also suggest that the author rephrase certain sentences if I feel they’re awkward and could be more concise. If the manuscript is non-fiction or based on historical events, I’ll fact-check to make sure there are no glaring errors, and doublecheck any links included in the book. I’ll also peruse Works Cited pages to ensure the formatting is correct, and doublecheck any quotes for accuracy.

By the time a job comes to me for proofreading, it’s already gone through a developmental edit and a copyedit. In fact, it’s generally been formatted by the designer, and is coming to me as a final step before going to print. At this point, no major changes should be needed. As a proofreader—again, relying on the Chicago Manual and Merriam-Webster—I’ll doublecheck for spelling errors, typos, and missing words; make sure that the page numbers in the table of contents match those at the beginning of each chapter; ensure that the line breaks occur appropriately and that there are no extra or missing spaces between paragraphs; and, if the manuscript is non-fiction, doublecheck references, facts, historical figures’ names, links, and anything else that might possibly contain an error.

2). What is your favorite type of editing?

Of all three of these, my favorite is probably developmental editing, since it gives me the opportunity to work closely with the author to help them hone their creative vision and make their manuscript the best it can be.

3). What would you say to authors who are still in the beginning stages of polishing their manuscripts, and who are on the fence about whether or not copyediting or proofreading are necessary?

I would say that copyediting and proofreading are always necessary. If you’re working with a traditional publisher, this is part of the package—and the same person doesn’t usually copyedit and proofread a given manuscript. It’s ideal to employ two different individuals for each stage of the process, since one will invariably catch something the other’s missed. No matter how hard a copyeditor or proofreader tries to be eagle-eyed, something always slips through (much to the chagrin of every editor out there).

If you’re independently publishing your book, then the responsibility falls to you to make sure your manuscript looks professional—and the last thing you want is for a reader to be humming along, loving your story, only to be jolted out of the world you’ve created by a glaring typo on page fifty-two.

The thing is—no matter how many times you’ve read your manuscript, as the author, you’re not ever going to be able to catch everything. You’re too close to the project. On top of that, unless you’re familiar with guides like the Chicago Manual, there are some details that will fall outside your wheelhouse. This is why it’s great to employ folks who do this for a living, so you can get back to what you really love—writing your next book.

4). You are a New York Times-bestselling author, and you’re releasing the latest book in your celebrated Seven Sins series on August 3. As an author, how do you find the editing process? What part do you enjoy the most? What part do you find the most challenging?

I’m an odd author, in that I love editing even more than writing. To me, it’s like arranging a room to achieve perfect feng shui, once you’ve already invested in all the furniture and decorations. I adore revisions and tend to tear through them rather quickly—far more quickly than the writing itself. One of my favorite parts of the process is to get feedback from my editor and see what I can do to incorporate it into the story. Writing is so solitary, the moment I actually have someone else giving me suggestions on how to make my books better, I get ridiculously excited!

I’m also a fan of searching for words in my manuscripts that serve no true purpose, such as “just,” “really,” or “seemed.” I have a list of about ten words that I tend to overuse every time I write, and I use MS Word’s Find and Replace function to search for and eliminate them. This results in a far cleaner—and leaner!—manuscript than I had to begin with. Depending on what genre I’m writing in, I’m always aware of my target word count based on what the market will bear, and so this part of the process is a relatively painless way of hitting my goal.

As a final step, before sending a manuscript to my agent or editor, I’ll upload it to an app called Voice Dream Reader and listen to it. When I hear my manuscript read aloud, I often catch repetition, small typos, and other things I miss during physical read-throughs.

In terms of what I find the most challenging, it’s likely killing off my darlings—those scenes I adore, but that don’t necessarily move the manuscript forward. If left unchecked, I have a dreadful tendency to let my characters wander around bantering and kissing for far too long. Trimming those sections always hurts my heart—but it makes the manuscript stronger in the end!

5). Do you hire someone else to copyedit and proofread your own books?

Since all of my books have been traditionally published, the publisher has handled the copyediting and proofreading—though of course, I’ve proofed my galleys! Though I make every effort to deliver as clean a manuscript as possible (see above exhaustive efforts), the final responsibility doesn’t rest on my shoulders (thank goodness).

The one exception to this rule is UNBOUND: STORIES OF TRANSFORMATION, LOVE, AND MONSTERS, the young adult anthology I co-edited (and contributed to), which came out this past February. Since that was published as part of an authors’ cooperative, I did copyedit and proof it—and my co-contributors can attest to the fact that I read through that bad boy no fewer than thirty times!

6). How do you balance your editorial work and your writing life?

This can sometimes be challenging. If I’m on deadline for a book, I have to be careful about what editorial projects I take on. I need to be realistic about what I can accomplish and not over-commit. This was harder when my career first began, but now I generally have a good sense of how long something will take me to accomplish—unless the editing project turns out to be far more complex than I anticipated.

7). What new projects (either writing or editing) are you looking forward to?

Oooh, great question! I’m excited to finish writing the third book in my Seven Sins trilogy, as well as to complete the revisions on a women’s fiction manuscript that’s been in the works for some time. The two projects are incredibly different, so vacillating between them gives me a bit of whiplash—but it’s never boring, that’s for sure!

As for editing, I’m always excited when a book comes across my transom that’s something I would’ve loved to read anyhow. For me, that’s often a manuscript that incorporates some element of romance, fantasy, mystery, science fiction, or an unexpected glimpse into history.

8). In your opinion, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

I don’t think there’s a single definition for this. It truly depends on the person. Finishing a book is a massive accomplishment and should be celebrated! Beyond that, every writer has different goals. For some, it’s simply about seeing their book in print, holding the physical volume in their hands. Others feel like they’ve arrived when they’ve walked into a bookstore and can find their novel or memoir on the shelf. For still others, it’s about hitting a particular financial goal, winning an award, or making a bestseller list.

For me personally, I feel like I’ve succeeded when I hear from readers who’ve been moved in some way by the stories I’ve told. When they say my books have helped them through difficult times, made them laugh or cry, or even kept them up all night turning the pages, I feel a tremendous sense of happiness—and awe, that I get to do this for a living. Without my readers, I wouldn’t have a career. I’m grateful for them every single day.

Emily Colin’s debut novel, THE MEMORY THIEF, was a New York Times bestseller and a Target Emerging Authors Pick. She is also the author of THE DREAM KEEPER’S DAUGHTER (Ballantine Books). Her young adult titles include the anthology WICKED SOUTH: SECRETS AND LIES and the Seven Sins series, both from Blue Crow Publishing, as well as the anthology UNBOUND: STORIES OF TRANSFORMATION, LOVE, AND MONSTERS (Five Points Press). SWORD OF THE SEVEN SINS, the first book in her Seven Sins series, was a Foreword INDIES Award finalist, a #1 Amazon bestseller, and was shortlisted for the 2021 Manly Wade Wellman Award for North Carolina Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Emily’s diverse life experience includes organizing a Coney Island tattoo and piercing show, hauling fish at a dolphin research center, roaming New York City as an itinerant teenage violinist, helping launch two small publishing companies, and working to facilitate community engagement in the arts. Currently, she finds joy in teaching classes for the Writers Workshop at Authors Publish and working as a freelance editor. Originally from Brooklyn, Emily lives in coastal North Carolina with her family. She loves chocolate, is addicted to tiramisu, and dislikes anything containing beans. You can find her trying to do yoga, with her nose buried in a book, or getting dragged down the block by her over-enthusiastic dog, Moo. Visit her at www.emilycolin.com, on IG at @emily_colin, or get a free short story at emilycolinnews.com.

 

How to Create the “Perfect” Writing Schedule

As an author (or an aspiring author), you’ve probably felt the pressure to be “more disciplined” in your writing life at some point. Maybe someone told you you should get up every morning and write for two hours before work. Maybe you heard that you should carry a small notebook at all times, and scribble inspiration daily. Or maybe you’ve simply heard other writers wax poetic about their incredibly regular and productive writing schedules, and thought “I should be more like that.”

If you are one of those writers who already has an incredibly disciplined and productive writing schedule, we would warmly invite you to continue doing whatever it is that you’re doing, because this post isn’t going to help you very much. But if you’re one of those writers who feels like you should have a writing schedule that resembles a well-oiled machine, then stick around, because we’re going to let you in on a little secret.

Are you ready?

Here it is:

The perfect writing schedule doesn’t exist.

But what about all of those incredibly disciplined and productive writers who we just cordially invited to exit this post–don’t they have the perfect writing schedules?

Simply put: no. What they have is a writing schedule that works for them (or so they say). And there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for that.

Writing is highly personal and individual. Your writing schedule should be too.

In a Reddit post (before he published his blockbuster novel The Fault in Our Stars), mega-bestselling author John Green said,

“I think a lot of writers lie about their schedules and discipline. (I know I do.) We do this so that people will think that we are, like, extremely disciplined and hard-working and whatever. I try to write every day (except for when I’m traveling, which is quite a lot of the time) for five hours in the morning, but you may notice that it is morning right now, and I am not technically working on my new story.”

Let’s put this bold: If you try to shove your writing time into a schedule that doesn’t work for you, you will damage your writing time–or worse, you will stop writing.

Here are some questions that will help you design a writing schedule that actually fits you:

  1. Realistically, how much time can you devote to writing each week, after your other obligations, social activities, and (yes this is important) rest time are adequately fulfilled? Maybe you’ll find you can write for five hours per day, like John Green is pretending to. Maybe you’ll find you only have an hour per week, or a couple hours per month. That’s ok. Choose a time slot that fits your lifestyle, because the more realistic you are with the time you have available, the more accessible (and productive!) your writing time will become.
  2. Do you work best when you complete tasks at the same time every day, or when you diversify and adapt your schedule daily? Some people enjoy–and even require–a routine. But others work best when they adapt their daily activities around the demands of each individual day. Variation is a part of life, and that’s ok! The important thing is to be honest about what approach works for you.
  3. Are there little things you can do to reward yourself for a productive writing time–and also forgive yourself for an unproductive writing time? Writing is not always its own reward–it’s hard work! Find little ways to reward yourself for every period of time that you take to write. Conversely, don’t beat yourself up if a writing sesh (or two, or three) was not as productive as you hoped.

The important thing is that you are actively seeking to create workable writing opportunities for yourself–and with time, practice, and a hefty dose of realism and self-acceptance, you will get there!

Interview: Serenity Gerbman–The Southern Festival of Books

The Southern Festival of Books is a large annual book festival that is celebrating its 33rd year in Nashville, Tennessee this year. Today on the blog, we’re sitting down with Festival Director Serenity Gerbman to learn more about how virtual events have transformed the literary event circuit, the secrets of running a successful book festival, and how authors can make the most of festivals and events.

Serenity Gerbman

1). What is The Southern Festival of Books?

The Festival is a celebration of reading and the written word, bringing together readers and writers both in person and online. Our mission is to engage readers of all ages and interests in the joy of reading and in lifelong education. It is entirely free to the public.

2). What is your role with the festival, and how did you get involved?

I am the Festival Director as part of my job as Director of Literature and Language Programs at Humanities Tennessee. My first career was in journalism, where I spent 10 years working for local newspapers. A good friend recommended me for a position at Humanities Tennessee, and my role there has evolved over time.

3). What challenges and new opportunities did the pandemic create for the festival, and how did you adapt?

Everything changed! Rather than our usual three-day Festival in person, we held a 10-day online Festival in 2020, and will hold a hybrid Festival of both online and in person events in 2021. The big challenge for us, like many, was in getting educated as a staff quickly in how to hold online events. We have an incredibly talented program officer, Patrick Shaffner, who guided us through that process and made the online Festival work seamlessly. The opportunity for us has been in seeing how successful online events can be. We are now partnering with a different library in the state every month for an online author event that they present. Many people can now attend these events who were limited before by time, distance, and finances.

4). What kind of planning and work goes into creating a book festival?

It’s a year-round process. Beginning in the winter months, we’re reviewing catalogs, meeting with publishers, reading forthcoming books, and thinking about programming that will be exciting and engaging for readers. Beginning in early spring, we meet regularly with our full events team on site logistics and preparation. As is probably true with all events, we do our best to attend to every tiny detail in advance, as preparation makes an event run smoothly. When the Festival begins, we go into event mode and handle and adjust to issues and changes as they happen.

5). What advice would you give to authors and aspiring writers to get “the most” out of a book festival, signing, and/or speaking events?

If you’re new and haven’t yet built an audience that knows you, be realistic in your expectations and remember that you are there because you’ve already accomplished something tremendous. Be courteous with your co-panelists and moderator. Watch your speaking time. And then, relax and let the audience see the passion that drove you to write your book. Readers are generous and curious souls.

6). Will you do the festival online again this year? Was attendance still pretty good at the online event?

We had really strong attendance for the online event last year, and we will be doing a hybrid event this year, with both online and in person programming. Although attendance at online events is dipping this spring as people experience screen fatigue and are able to go back out into the world, we think that online events have a lot of potential and will continue to be with us in some form or another. The in person dates for us are Oct. 9-10.

7). In your opinion, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

To me, a successful writer is anyone who has created the circumstances for themselves that allow them to keep writing. It is a difficult, solitary creative process. If you’re doing the work and are determined to keep getting better, you’re successful. Most people don’t get that far. Everything after that, from finding an agent to pitching to sales to bestseller lists to awards, is business.

Learn more about The Southern Festival of Books here: https://www.humanitiestennessee.org/programs-grants/core-program-overview/southern-festival-of-books

Follow The Porch on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

7 Geeky Reads for Geek Pride Day

Calling all geeks! In honor of May 25th’s Geek Pride Day, we have some notably nerdy, deliciously dorky, and gloriously geeky reads that are perfect to get your geek on! Whether you’re into Lovecraftian horror, quirky romance, or speculative space fiction, we’ve got something for every geek on this list. Check it out!

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER. Perfect for fans of Marie Lu and E. Lockhart, The Ones We’re Meant to Find is a twisty YA sci-fi that follows the story of two sisters, separated by an ocean, desperately trying to find each other in a climate-ravaged future.

Cee has been trapped on an abandoned island for three years without any recollection of how she arrived, or memories from her life prior. All she knows is that somewhere out there, beyond the horizon, she has a sister named Kay, and it’s up to Cee to cross the ocean and find her.

In a world apart, 16-year-old STEM prodigy Kasey Mizuhara lives in an eco-city built for people who protected the planet―and now need protecting from it. With natural disasters on the rise due to climate change, eco-cities provide clean air, water, and shelter. Their residents, in exchange, must spend at least a third of their time in stasis pods, conducting business virtually whenever possible to reduce their environmental footprint. While Kasey, an introvert and loner, doesn’t mind the lifestyle, her sister Celia hated it. Popular and lovable, Celia much preferred the outside world. But no one could have predicted that Celia would take a boat out to sea, never to return.

Now it’s been three months since Celia’s disappearance, and Kasey has given up hope. Logic says that her sister must be dead. But nevertheless, she decides to retrace Celia’s last steps. Where they’ll lead her, she does not know. Her sister was full of secrets. But Kasey has a secret of her own.

Rebel Sisters by Tochi Onyebuchi

In the epic, action-packed sequel to the “brilliant” (Booklist, starred review) novel War Girls, the battles are over, but the fight for justice has just begun.

It’s been five years since the Biafran War ended. Ify is now nineteen and living where she’s always dreamed–the Space Colonies. She is a respected, high-ranking medical officer and has dedicated her life to helping refugees like herself rebuild in the Colonies.

Back in the still devastated Nigeria, Uzo, a young synth, is helping an aid worker, Xifeng, recover images and details of the war held in the technology of destroyed androids. Uzo, Xifeng, and the rest of their team are working to preserve memories of the many lives lost, despite the government’s best efforts to eradicate any signs that the war ever happened.

Though they are working toward common goals of helping those who suffered, Ify and Uzo are worlds apart. But when a mysterious virus breaks out among the children in the Space Colonies, their paths collide. Ify makes it her mission to figure out what’s causing the deadly disease. And doing so means going back to the homeland she thought she’d left behind forever.

The City We Became by N.K. Jemison

Three-time Hugo Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author N.K. Jemisin crafts her most incredible novel yet, a “glorious” story of culture, identity, magic, and myths in contemporary New York City.

In Manhattan, a young grad student gets off the train and realizes he doesn’t remember who he is, where he’s from, or even his own name. But he can sense the beating heart of the city, see its history, and feel its power.

In the Bronx, a Lenape gallery director discovers strange graffiti scattered throughout the city, so beautiful and powerful it’s as if the paint is literally calling to her.
In Brooklyn, a politician and mother finds she can hear the songs of her city, pulsing to the beat of her Louboutin heels.

And they’re not the only ones.

Every great city has a soul. Some are ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York? She’s got six.

Wings of Ebony by J. Elle

In this riveting, keenly emotional debut fantasy, a Black teen from Houston has her world upended when she learns about her godly ancestry and must save both the human and god worlds. Perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Tomi Adeyemi, and The Hunger Games.

“Make a way out of no way” is just the way of life for Rue. But when her mother is shot dead on her doorstep, life for her and her younger sister changes forever. Rue’s taken from her neighborhood by the father she never knew, forced to leave her little sister behind, and whisked away to Ghizon—a hidden island of magic wielders.

Rue is the only half-god, half-human there, where leaders protect their magical powers at all costs and thrive on human suffering. Miserable and desperate to see her sister on the anniversary of their mother’s death, Rue breaks Ghizon’s sacred Do Not Leave Law and returns to Houston, only to discover that Black kids are being forced into crime and violence. And her sister, Tasha, is in danger of falling sway to the very forces that claimed their mother’s life.

Worse still, evidence mounts that the evil plaguing East Row is the same one that lurks in Ghizon—an evil that will stop at nothing until it has stolen everything from her and everyone she loves. Rue must embrace her true identity and wield the full magnitude of her ancestors’ power to save her neighborhood before the gods burn it to the ground.

Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis

THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER. The alternate history first contact adventure Axiom’s End is an extraordinary debut from Hugo finalist and video essayist Lindsay Ellis.

Truth is a human right.

It’s fall 2007. A well-timed leak has revealed that the US government might have engaged in first contact. Cora Sabino is doing everything she can to avoid the whole mess, since the force driving the controversy is her whistleblower father. Even though Cora hasn’t spoken to him in years, his celebrity has caught the attention of the press, the Internet, the paparazzi, and the government—and with him in hiding, that attention is on her. She neither knows nor cares whether her father’s leaks are a hoax, and wants nothing to do with him—until she learns just how deeply entrenched her family is in the cover-up, and that an extraterrestrial presence has been on Earth for decades.

Realizing the extent to which both she and the public have been lied to, she sets out to gather as much information as she can, and finds that the best way for her to uncover the truth is not as a whistleblower, but as an intermediary. The alien presence has been completely uncommunicative until she convinces one of them that she can act as their interpreter, becoming the first and only human vessel of communication. Their otherworldly connection will change everything she thought she knew about being human—and could unleash a force more sinister than she ever imagined.

Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

This gorgeously imagined YA debut blends shades of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and a breathtaking landscape of Hindu mythology into a radiant contemporary fantasy.

The daughter of a star and a mortal, Sheetal is used to keeping secrets. Pretending to be “normal.” But when an accidental flare of her starfire puts her human father in the hospital, Sheetal needs a full star’s help to heal him. A star like her mother, who returned to the sky long ago.

Sheetal’s quest to save her father will take her to a celestial court of shining wonders and dark shadows, where she must take the stage as her family’s champion in a competition to decide the next ruling house of the heavens–and win, or risk never returning to Earth at all.

Brimming with celestial intrigue, this sparkling YA debut is perfect for fans of Roshani Chokshi and Laini Taylor.

Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta

Two girls on opposite sides of a war discover they’re fighting for a common purpose–and falling for each other–in Zoe Hana Mikuta’s high-octane debut Gearbreakers, perfect for fans of Pacific Rim, Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Saga, and Marie Lu’s Legend series.

We went past praying to deities and started to build them instead…

The shadow of Godolia’s tyrannical rule is spreading, aided by their giant mechanized weapons known as Windups. War and oppression are everyday constants for the people of the Badlands, who live under the thumb of their cruel Godolia overlords.

Eris Shindanai is a Gearbreaker, a brash young rebel who specializes in taking down Windups from the inside. When one of her missions goes awry and she finds herself in a Godolia prison, Eris meets Sona Steelcrest, a cybernetically enhanced Windup pilot. At first Eris sees Sona as her mortal enemy, but Sona has a secret: She has intentionally infiltrated the Windup program to destroy Godolia from within.

As the clock ticks down to their deadliest mission yet, a direct attack to end Godolia’s reign once and for all, Eris and Sona grow closer–as comrades, friends, and perhaps something more…

Interview: Joining Susannah Felts on The Porch

Have you ever wanted to improve your writing through amazing writing classes, participate in absorbing literary events, and meet other fascinating authors, poets, journalists, essayists and wordsmiths? Look no further than The Porch in Nashville, Tennessee. The Porch is a nonprofit writing center, offering workshops, youth outreach, and events to enrich and celebrate the local literary community.

Today on the blog, we’re sitting down with Susannah Felts, co-founder and co-director of The Porch to learn more about what it takes to run a successful writers collective, and how this organization improves not only the individual writing craft of its participants, but elevates the literary community as a whole.

1). What is The Porch? What do you do?

The Porch is a nonprofit literary arts organization, founded in 2014, and our mission is to inspire, educate, and connect readers and writers of all ages and stages through classes and literary events. We offer classes in creative writing year-round, a youth program, public community events, initiatives to expand literary access, local arts partnerships, and the Porch Prize, a writing contest. There’s always something going on!

2). How did The Porch originate, and how did you get involved?

The Porch was founded by myself and Katie McDougall in 2014. We met in a writing group at a moment when both of us were ready for a new challenge, and we shared enthusiasm about the idea of a local literary center for Nashvillle. Prior to founding the Porch, Katie was teaching high-school English and I worked as freelance writer/editor and adjunct college professor. For several years before The Porch came to be, I was also teaching writing workshops in the community on my own, held at a coffee shop near my house (shout-out to Portland Brew East!) or around my dining room table. That small-scale effort was going really well, and I kept thinking, This could be something more, something bigger. But how? Katie had dabbled in offering writing retreats, too. So, together, we made this new thing happen, taking a lot of inspiration and advice from helpful mentors: local arts organizations and established literary centers in other cities.

3). What are the benefits of being involved in a writers community like The Porch? How have you seen writers evolve and grow?

Writers, like all artists/creators, need community. You may do the bulk of the work alone at your desk, but the sharing of ideas and feedback and resources that happens in a writing community is what really shapes a writing life. So many sparks fly this way. Writers connect in ways that can both move their work forward and help them navigate the waters of the publishing world, if they choose to wade in. Work evolves, lasting friendships are forged, audiences are found. Art is never really forged in isolation. We’ve seen many writers form lasting writing groups and relationships after taking our classes, and we’ve seen them publish and enter MFA programs. This spring we have someone teaching for us whom we first met when they took a class with us. They went on to earn an MFA out of state, and now they’re back! I love seeing the work come full circle. Seven years in, we’ve seen so many writing lives evolve and intersect in wonderful ways.

4). The Porch organizes a diverse array of literary events and initiatives. What kind of planning and work goes into creating your events? What advice would you give to fellow writers who want to successfully organize and/or participate in an event?

I love this question, because a lot more planning and work goes into running events and programs that some may believe! There are several stages and moving parts to even a small event, and all along you’re hoping to build relationships that will continue to grow long after a single event is complete. It takes a lot of love and effort and stamina to program and to keep programs going. Advice? Start small, and give yourself as much time to plan an event as you can. Collaboration is a beautiful thing, but maybe be mindful not to bring too many cooks into the kitchen. But above all, just learn as you go, and know that you’re going to make mistakes and that is absolutely a healthy part of the process.

If you’re eager to participate in an event — for example, to read in a regular reading series — try to be an enthusiastic audience member first. Show up for others, listen to and read their work. Be a genuine part of the world you want to see your work highlighted in, and the rest will probably come naturally.

5). In your opinion, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

Being a successful writer means figuring out what feeds your creative spirit and then consistently doing and thinking about those things, then acting on that “source material” to create work that matters to you. I could go on at length about this, but there are all kinds of ways, small and large, that you can shape your life to make it more conducive to writing, and doing that in itself is a kind of success. You don’t have to write every day, but some level of consistency will make a huge difference; as with other practices of all kinds, it pays to use those muscles regularly. Being a successful writer means reading, reading, reading, and learning to see books as your mentors, as Katie always says. Don’t confuse a successful writing life with a successful publishing life; these often intertwine, but they are two separate things. And try not to get too hung up on the idea of success at all. “Success” is such an emotionally loaded concept, and not always a useful one for a creative life. Much of a writing life feels or looks or smells like failure — is failure — and honestly, you have to be OK with that.

Learn more about The Porch here: https://www.porchtn.org
Follow The Porch on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

10 Great Reads for Earth Day

We’re commemorating Earth Day 2021 with a mix of unforgettable old and new “climate change” books that make us think, make us feel, and most importantly, make us ready to take a stand. Here are 10 of the best Earth Day reads!

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

The world is in the spasms of climate disaster, but from within the peaceful confines of an eco-city built for the world’s elite, Kasey Mizuhara has only two things on her mind: how she can use her prodigious intellect to preserve the remainder of humanity, and how she can locate the only person she’s ever felt a true connection with: her recently-vanished sister, Cecilia. Meanwhile, Cecilia has awoken marooned on an island with no knowledge of how she got there, and one memory: She has a beloved sister, Kasey, and she must find her. Kasey’s search for Cee leads her into the underbelly of her stratified city, where she meets a mysterious fellow prodigy named Actinium who joins Kasey’s mission—but who knows more than he’s telling and has an agenda of his own. Told from the sisters’ dual perspectives, the mystery of Cee’s whereabouts–and Kasey’s plans–twists into an exhilarating and terrifying exploration of how far people will go to achieve their objectives. A perfect balance of the melancholic beauty of Never Let Me Go and the most intriguing parts of Lost, The Ones We’re Meant to Find is a surprising, compelling, and even profound dive into the nature of memory, the meaning of humanity, and the bonds that we form with those we love, crafted from gorgeous prose that crawls under your skin and sticks with you long after the last page.

The Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta 

An amazing, award-winning speculative fiction debut novel by a major new talent, in the vein of Ursula K. Le Guin. 

Global warming has changed the world’s geography and its politics. Wars are waged over water, and China rules Europe, including the Scandinavian Union, which is occupied by the power state of New Qian. In this far north place, seventeen-year-old Noria Kaitio is learning to become a tea master like her father, a position that holds great responsibility and great secrets. Tea masters alone know the location of hidden water sources, including the natural spring that Noria’s father tends, which once provided water for her whole village.

But secrets do not stay hidden forever, and after her father’s death the army starts watching their town–and Noria. And as water becomes even scarcer, Noria must choose between safety and striking out, between knowledge and kinship.

Imaginative and engaging, lyrical and poignant, Memory of Water is an indelible novel that portrays a future that is all too possible.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Flight Behaviour has featured on the NY Times bestseller list and is Barbara Kingsolver’s most accessible novel yet. On the Appalachian Mountains above her home, a young mother discovers a beautiful and terrible marvel of nature: the monarch butterflies have not migrated south for the winter this year. Is this a miraculous message from God, or a spectacular sign of climate change. Entomology expert, Ovid Byron, certainly believes it is the latter. He ropes in Dellarobia to help him decode the mystery of the monarch butterflies.  

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Handmaid’s Tale

Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey-with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake-through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining.

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi

Two sisters are torn apart by war and must fight their way back to each other in a futuristic, Black Panther-inspired Nigeria.

The year is 2172. Climate change and nuclear disasters have rendered much of earth unlivable. Only the lucky ones have escaped to space colonies in the sky. 

In a war-torn Nigeria, battles are fought using flying, deadly mechs and soldiers are outfitted with bionic limbs and artificial organs meant to protect them from the harsh, radiation-heavy climate. Across the nation, as the years-long civil war wages on, survival becomes the only way of life. 

Two sisters, Onyii and Ify, dream of more. Their lives have been marked by violence and political unrest. Still, they dream of peace, of hope, of a future together.

And they’re willing to fight an entire war to get there.

Acclaimed author, Tochi Onyebuchi, has written an immersive, action-packed, deeply personal novel perfect for fans of Nnedi Okorafor, Marie Lu, and Paolo Bacigalupi

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Sower is the Butlerian odyssey of one woman who is twice as feeling in a world that has become doubly dehumanized. The time is 2025. The place is California, where small walled communities must protect themselves from hordes of desperate scavengers and roaming bands of people addicted to a drug that activates an orgasmic desire to burn, rape, and murder. When one small community is overrun, Lauren Olamina, an 18 year old black woman with the hereditary train of “hyperempathy”—which causes her to feel others’ pain as her own—sets off on foot along the dangerous coastal highways, moving north into the unknown.

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

Named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post, NPR,  Vanity Fair, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Huffington Post, The Atlantic, Refinery 29, Men’s Journal, Ploughshares, Lit Hub, Book Riot, Los Angeles Magazine, Powells, BookPage and Kirkus Reviews 

The much-anticipated first novel from a Story Prize-winning “5 Under 35” fiction writer.

In 2012, Claire Vaye Watkins’s story collection, Battleborn, swept nearly every award for short fiction. Now this young writer, widely heralded as a once-in-a-generation talent, returns with a first novel that harnesses the sweeping vision and deep heart that made her debut so arresting to a love story set in a devastatingly imagined near future:

Unrelenting drought has transfigured Southern California into a surreal, phantasmagoric landscape. With the Central Valley barren, underground aquifer drained, and Sierra snowpack entirely depleted, most “Mojavs,” prevented by both armed vigilantes and an indifferent bureaucracy from freely crossing borders to lusher regions, have allowed themselves to be evacuated to internment camps. In Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon, two young Mojavs—Luz, once a poster child for the Bureau of Conservation and its enemies, and Ray, a veteran of the “forever war” turned surfer—squat in a starlet’s abandoned mansion. Holdouts, they subsist on rationed cola and whatever they can loot, scavenge, and improvise.

The couple’s fragile love somehow blooms in this arid place, and for the moment, it seems enough. But when they cross paths with a mysterious child, the thirst for a better future begins. They head east, a route strewn with danger: sinkholes and patrolling authorities, bandits and the brutal, omnipresent sun. Ghosting after them are rumors of a visionary dowser—a diviner for water—and his followers, who whispers say have formed a colony at the edge of a mysterious sea of dunes.

Immensely moving, profoundly disquieting, and mind-blowingly original, Watkins’s novel explores the myths we believe about others and tell about ourselves, the double-edged power of our most cherished relationships, and the shape of hope in a precarious future that may be our own.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

In the near future, the Colorado River has dwindled to a trickle. Detective, assassin, and spy, Angel Velasquez “cuts” water for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, ensuring that its lush arcology developments can bloom in Las Vegas. When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in Phoenix, Angel is sent south, hunting for answers that seem to evaporate as the heat index soars and the landscape becomes more and more oppressive. There, he encounters Lucy Monroe, a hardened journalist with her own agenda, and Maria Villarosa, a young Texas migrant, who dreams of escaping north. As bodies begin to pile up, the three find themselves pawns in a game far bigger and more corrupt than they could have imagined, and when water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand, and the only truth in the desert is that someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink.

Orleans by Sherri L. Smith

First came the storms.

Then came the Fever.

And the Wall.

After a string of devastating hurricanes and a severe outbreak of Delta Fever, the Gulf Coast has been quarantined. Years later, residents of the Outer States are under the assumption that life in the Delta is all but extinct…but in reality, a new primitive society has been born. 

Fen de la Guerre is living with the O-Positive blood tribe in the Delta when they are ambushed. Left with her tribe leader’s newborn, Fen is determined to get the baby to a better life over the wall before her blood becomes tainted. Fen meets Daniel, a scientist from the Outer States who has snuck into the Delta illegally. Brought together by chance, kept together by danger, Fen and Daniel navigate the wasteland of Orleans.  In the end, they are each other’s last hope for survival.

Sherri L. Smith delivers an expertly crafted story about a fierce heroine whose powerful voice and firm determination will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page. 

Friend of the Earth by T. C. Boyle

One of LitHub’s “365 Books to Start Your Climate Change Library”

It is the year 2025. Global warming is a reality. The biosphere has collapsed and most mammals—not to mention fish, birds, and frogs—are extinct. Tyrone Tierwater is eking out a bleak living in southern California, managing a pop star’s private menagerie that “only a mother could love”—scruffy hyenas, jackals, warthogs, and three down-at-the-mouth lions.

It wasn’t always like this for Ty. Once he was a passionate environmentalist, so committed to saving the earth that he became an eco-terrorist and, ultimately, a convicted felon. as a member of the radical group Earth Forever!, he unwittingly endangered both his daughter Sierra and his wife Andrea. Now, just when he’s trying to survive in a world torn by obdurate storms and winnowing drought, Andrea comes back into his life.

C. Boyle’s eighth novel blends idealism and satire in a story that addresses the ultimate questions of human love and the survival of the species.

Interview: Brynn Markham on Finding Writing Community and Support Through James River Writers

“Writing is hard and it can be isolating. Community provides the vital support to keep going. James River Writers provides that community.” This was the ethos that inspired James River Writers, and it has kept this dynamic, active, and connected collective of wordsmiths thriving ever since.

Today on our blog, we’re sitting down with Brynn Markham, Director of Programs and Communications for JRW, to discuss how this multifaceted group helped revitalize Richmond’s literary scene, and why writing communities can help improve and support each member’s individual craft.

1). What is and who are James River Writers? What does your writing community do?

James River Writers (JRW) is a nonprofit that builds community by connecting, supporting, and inspiring writers. We provide programming year-round to help writers at all skill levels develop their craft, as well as the business side of their work. In addition to our signature event, the Annual James River Writers Conference, we offer Master Classes, a Writing Show series, on-demand Encore! classes, and opportunities to socialize and connect through our monthly Writers Wednesday events.

2). How did JRW originate, and how did you get involved?

JRW was founded 20 years ago (next year!) when local writers in Richmond, Virginia, saw a need for supporting the growth of its budding literary community. This small group of writers hosted its first conference the following year, and James River Writers has continued to grow its membership and program offerings exponentially since then.

As a nonprofit communications professional in the Greater Richmond area, my work with public media (VPM PBS/NPR) connected me to James River Writers through my community engagement efforts. As a lover of writing, especially poetry, I always admired JRWs work from afar, and wanted to get involved with their efforts, both professionally and personally. In the fall of 2019, I made the decision to leave my work at VPM, in order to provide space for the perfect opportunity to come along. I wanted a flexible workplace that fueled my passions and allowed me to continue to work in Richmond’s nonprofit sector. James River Writers was the perfect fit. I now have the opportunity to add value to the community I live in, while also (selfishly?) benefiting from being inspired by talented writers every day!

3). What are the benefits of being involved in a writers community like JRW? How have you seen writers evolve and grow?

I joined JRW in February of 2020, right before COVID hit. As a result, I was only able to host two in-person events before we made the pivot to online programming, including hosting our signature event, the Annual James River Writers Conference, virtually.

I definitely had reservations about whether I would be able to effectively connect to our community in a meaningful way when there were no “live” options to do so. But this community of writers is nothing short of amazing, and my reservations were completely unfounded. Our membership is highly engaged and extremely supportive of one another. I’ve mentioned several times to everyone that you can plan all the details of an event or program, but if the participants and presenters are not authentic and personable, your planning is for naught. It’s the people that make an organization. The relationships within James River Writers are what make it such a success. Our seasoned presenters and instructors, like Newbery Medalist Meg Medina and Emmy Award-Winner Hank Phillippi Ryan, genuinely want to see our budding writers succeed. Our new members want to learn and be in community with one another. As one of our long-time members, accomplished author Karen A. Chase has said, “JRW…is so wonderful at championing all writing genres, encouraging diversity, and giving rise to varied viewpoints. If you’re a JRW member, as you grow and gain successes, you’re always welcomed back in to share that knowledge with writers coming up. JRW is the ladder of success, and it’s always there for everyone whether they’re on their first book, or their fourteenth.”

Writing is hard and it can be isolating. Community provides the vital support to keep going. James River Writers provides that community.

4). The James River Writers Conference appears to be your flagship event. What goes into creating a successful writers conference? What advice would you give to writers who want to make the most of their participation in a writers conference (whether they’re part of a panel or event, or just going as an attendee)?

Yes, our Annual James River Writers Conference, held in October every year, is our flagship event.

Because my first JRW Conference was hosted online, one of our main concerns was whether or not we would be able to recreate that sense of connection and community that keeps everyone coming back to us. Luckily, our attendees and speakers overwhelmingly told us that they were amazed at how connected they felt during our conference, in this online space. To do so, we not only incorporated the important professional development opportunities to teach the business and craft of writing, we also included ample opportunities to network and connect with other writers, as well as time to benefit from one anothers’ perspectives in more relaxed settings. As a writer, to make the most out of your time, force yourself to come out of your shell (so many of us tend to fight this), establish some new contacts, and then continue to connect after the conference. Writing is most definitely a marathon. You need someone to cheer you on, and to offer you refreshment along the path when you need it.

5). What suggestions would you make to writers who want to join–or get “more” out of–a dedicated writing group or workshop?

I would suggest that, in order to get the most out of writing groups, you do actively have to participate. Don’t just pop in to ask a specific question, or to make a specific contact, and then never be seen again. Some of the best moments that result in next steps for writers come from conversations with others before and after our programs. And, whatever time and energy you put into your community of writers, you’ll get back tenfold. Our community celebrates the successes of one another, both privately and publicly. Many times, they collaborate on events when their works present natural opportunities to do so. Writers are some of the most supportive people because they know how hard it can be. You’ll never see a successful writer only singing their own praises.

I also highly recommend building up your contacts on social media, and following those writers, agents, and publishers that align with your work. This will help you stay informed of submissions opportunities and industry trends, and feel inspired and seen on the days you just can’t seem to get any words on paper.

6). In your opinion, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

This is a tricky question, because the answer is most definitely different for everyone. And, depending on where you are on your writing journey it also changes for the individual. Success for a writer can be as simple as setting a goal and keeping to the measures you set to get there. Showing up each day and putting “pen to paper.” If you start measuring your success by industry standards, then that’s likely to keep you from getting you where you want to be. As a recent presenter on one of our panels put it – Are you still having fun? Enjoying yourself? If not, then stop and think about why that is. Are you constantly stopping the flow of ideas because you’re obsessed with the editing or word choices, at every turn? If so, change course. You’re probably not focusing on the writing, but on that goalpost.

If you’re interested in checking out James River Writers, a great entry point is our free monthly Writers Wednesdays events. Now offered online, and open to writers at all levels of expertise, Writers Wednesdays offer a chance to network and socialize in a relaxed environment. We’d love for you to join our community of writers.

Learn more about James River Writers here: https://jamesriverwriters.org
Follow James River Writers on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Moving Forward After Rejection as an Author

Every author we’ve ever met has experienced a rejection of some kind: from an agent, a publisher, a writing program, you name it! While it can be frustrating or disheartening, it’s totally normal and part of a writer’s life.

This week on our blog, we’re asking our authors to share about a time they’ve experienced a rejection during their writing career — and also how they moved past it, and where they’re at now in their publishing journey. These relatable, thoughtful stories remind us that we’ve all “been there,” and hopefully encourage and inspire us to keep writing!

20+ Rejections, 19 Drafts — and an Instant NYT Bestseller
“I received 20+ rejections by literary agents on WINGS OF EBONY while querying and several from editors. And yet, WINGS OF EBONY debuted as an instant NYT bestseller. Back when I was querying, when all I had were those rejections in my hands and not a glimpse of what could be possible if I’d persisted, hope is what held me together. A sense of stubborn tenacity that wouldn’t accept I couldn’t get this book on shelves.

I wish I had some kitschy practical six steps with funky cool alliteration you could do to handle rejections to your writing, fix the problem, or write a book that’ll never see a rejection! But I don’t. Because that’s impossible for many reasons, one of which is the very nature of writing is incredibly subjective so what’s good to one agent or editor may not resonate with another. The same is true for readers. Rejection can also be instructive, motivating, depending on how you frame it. Just try to not let it frame YOU. Remember, the greatest tool in your toolkit when facing rejection — because it’s inevitable and recurring — is persistence.

I rewrote WINGS OF EBONY multiple times. The copy on shelves is draft nineteen. NINETEEN. As cliche as it sounds, keep trying. Belief in yourself is what’s ultimately going to get you there.”

— J. Elle, author of the New York Times bestseller Wings of Ebony

All About the But
“It’s always about the but.

‘Hi Sid, thanks so much for sending! I did receive and I dove in this past weekend but I’m afraid it’s not quite right for my list. I’m so sorry to disappoint. Thank you again for sharing your work with me. It was a pleasure to connect and best of luck with the book!’

This ‘but’ came from a prominent agent, and I received a few more before finding an agent and a publisher for the first installment in my Seventh Flag trilogy. It was a new experience for me. As a Pulitzer-nominated war correspondent for a major news agency, I would write several stories a day knowing that they would be accepted, edited and published. I found inspiration knowing that Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, one of the best-selling books of all time, was rejected by more than 100 publishers, and that Vincent Van Gogh never sold a painting while he was alive. Thankfully, I lived to see my art published, and you will too if you stay positive and resolute.”

— Sid Balman, author of the Seventh Flag Trilogy (second installment due out Aug. 3, 2021)

The Art of Not Giving Up

“It was November 2017. I had finally finished writing, editing, and polishing the manuscript for my debut novel, a manuscript that took me ten years to complete. I had done my research and had my list of agents to go. Fingers crossed, I plunged into the querying trenches.

At first, it was great. Most of my queries turned into full or partial manuscript requests. My hopes started to build even as the dreaded waiting process began. By mid-December, one by one the rejections started to come in. Everyone knows that querying is brutal, and one usually gets more rejections than requests for representation. Still, I was heartbroken.

One of the criticisms I kept hearing was that my book was too long for middle grade. Typically, the word count for middle grade novels is between 50,000-70,000 words while mine was 91,000. Yikes!

As hard as it seemed, I knew it was the right thing to do. During the last two months of my pregnancy in mid 2018, I cut down 23,000 words and rewrote large sections of the book. Once my baby arrived, I sent the manuscript back to my beta readers to see if the new revisions maintained the plot, pace, and character growth. I began querying again. Long story short, I signed with my publisher in September 2019 and my debut novel, Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, releases June 2021!

Perseverance is key when it comes to writing a novel, and sadly, rejections are a big part of being a writer and becoming an author. But in my experience, it is through these rejections, setbacks, and challenges that we find what it takes to make our manuscripts better, our writing skills stronger, and determination greater. So, hang in there and don’t give up!”

— Payal Doshi, author of Rea and the Blood of the Nectar (releasing June 1, 2021)

An Unexpected Save

As our family struggled with my mom’s Alzheimer’s, I wrote a children’s picture book about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, Granny Can’t Remember Me. I heard from agents and editors that they liked the story but already had a book on the topic published or one in the works. After hearing this form of rejection time and again, I decided to publish it myself, and I floundered through three separate illustrators, dealt with many minute questions I’d never conceived of before (font type, size, bleeds), and waded into promotion and marketing. I was extremely happy with the end result and happy also that this lovely story has a voice.

I also write cozy murder mysteries, and wrote my first Fog Ladies book a long, long time ago. When I pitched this one to agents and editors, I was told, ‘We love cozies, but there’s no market for them right now. We want noir and edgy, vampires and zombies and goth and unreliable narrators.’ Then the world turned edgy, and cozies were back in. After years of trying to get my cozy published, I had two small publishers vie for my manuscript.

However, I did not waste all those years. The mystery was a much better version of itself when it was published, after I listened to critiques from conferences, agents, and a developmental editor. I reworked the story and made some crucial changes that I would have regretted not having if the book had been published in its original form. One feisty character, eighty-year-old Enid Carmichael, the apartment building’s unfiltered busybody, steals her neighbors’ grande latte coupons, unknowingly discovers whodunnit, and winds up in the ICU. Originally, she died at the hands of the killer, but several agents advised against killing off a great character, so she lives on now to bother tenants in the future books. Without the years of rejection allowing me time to reshape and rethink, she would be dead.”

— Susan McCormick, author of The Antidote (releasing May 5, 2021) 

An Evolutionary Solution

“I knew I had a story to tell, but figuring out how to tell it took years. I tried it as a novel, but kept hitting walls. I wrote it as a play. Then as a memoir. Sixteen years later, on the third rewrite, each with a different point of view, I finally nailed it. There is something to say for having an obsessive gene.”
— Margo Krasne, author of What Would I Do Without You?: A Collection of Short Stories About Friendships

Keep On Playing

“As a young professional singer, I encountered the ups and downs of trying to get my foot in the door. I managed, despite the challenges, to make my way in this world and am now spreading my writers’ wings. I wrote a poem about my former life as a singer trying to make it in New York City. The following is a portion of that poem:

‘Persistence’

Audition after audition after audition circles round and round and round
like an old phonograph turntable playing the same song over again and again.
Will someone not lift the needle and get me off this merry go around and around?
Singing careers teeter totter up and down, up and down on the great seesaw of auditions.
One letter of rejection follows another letter of rejection following yet another until
one day a miracle appears in the form of black typeset words on a white sheet of paper.
“We are happy to inform you….”

The above segment from my poem is analogous to writing. With persistence and determination, we craft our works in hopes that we/they will receive validation. For me, life as an artist has been my journey. Any successful artist has had to deal with disappointment and rejection at some point. The following quote from Sister Mary Lauretta (1905-1995), a Wisconsin science teacher, sums up my belief as an artist: ‘To be successful, the first thing to do is fall in love with your work.’”

— Christine Isley-Farmer, author of Finding My Yip