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Author Archives: K.A. Barson

The Next J.K. Rowling

When I first started writing seriously, one comment I got repeatedly was, “So, are you going to be the next J.K. Rowling?” Uh, no. First of all, I don’t want to be the next anybody. I want to be me. Second of all, J.K. Rowling’s success isn’t the only model of success. Just like not all doctors become Dr. Oz and not all people who work with computers become Steve Jobs, not all writers will be household names. But that does not diminish the success. Just getting a book published is worth celebrating.

In recent news, it seems that even J.K. Rowling isn’t the next J.K. Rowling. Ms. Rowling published a new novel under a male pseudonym. There’s a lot of speculation as to why, but I suspect that famous authors have some of the same insecurities that newbie authors do: Am I good enough? Do I have what it takes? Ms. Rowling may have wondered if she’s riding on Harry Potter’s super-magical trench coattails or if her writing can stand on its own merit.

The thing is, while the latest Rowling novel wasn’t a runaway smash like Harry Potter, it was doing quite well for a debut novel. The reviews were good. The sales were respectable. It’s a book worth checking out.

And so are a lot of actual debut books. Just to get published in this ultra-competitive market, a book has to have merit. Not only does one person—the acquiring editor—need to like it, but the whole publishing team at the house need to be on board. They all need to think it’s worth putting their logo on the cover. They all need to think it stands a chance of snagging readers’ attention, even without a superstar author name to carry it.

There was another article about how some editor turned down Rowling’s The Cuckoo’s Calling and how embarrassing that was. I don’t believe it’s embarrassing at all. There really is different criteria for well-known authors. Readers are already familiar with their work. They already trust them. A famous name is guaranteed to sell.

All the more reason that a novel by a debut author has to stand out. The premise has to hook readers. The prose (or poetry) has to sing or ring true or both. The story must be strong enough to carry the reader all the through. The story needs to resonate and entertain. It needs to make readers laugh or cry or think. The story needs to be strong enough to stick with them and make them talk about it later.  After all, if the by-line isn’t selling the book, the story has to.

While I haven’t read every one of the Class of 2k13 books yet, I have read quite a few. And, honestly, I’ve been impressed. Even those that are outside of the genre I usually read have drawn me in and held my attention. They are worthy stories. I invite you to check them out, to give them a chance.

You never know, you might discover the next mega-famous author. Not the next J.K. Rowling though. She’s already famous. The next big name might be Alex Lidell, Liz Fichera, Caela Carter, Debra Driza, Tamera Wissinger, Nicole McInnes, Liesl Shurtliff, Justina Ireland, Polly Holyoke, Jennifer McGowan, Stephanie Kuehn, Kate Karyus Quinn, Tara Sullivan, Demitria Lunetta, K.A. Barson, Corey Ann Haydu, Geoffrey Girard, Mindy McGinnis, Cristin Terrill, or Lydia Kang.

Better yet, you might just find yourself immersed in your next favorite book.

 

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Reading 45 POUNDS of Reviews

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The number one piece of advice that published authors have given me as I prepare for the release of 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS): Do not read your reviews. It’ll only make you crazy. It’s not that I didn’t believe them. It’s just so hard not to. Imagine someone is talking about you and you know it. How can you not eavesdrop, especially if you have anonymous access? And Google, Goodreads, and Amazon give us instant access.

OK, I admit it. The temptation has been too much for me. Just like a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia yodeling from the freezer, Goodreads and Google Alerts call my name, too. I read them. And I eat the ice cream, too! I have no self-control. Here’s the thing: Just like ice cream, the first few reviews can be so sweet and soothing and wonderful. Five-star, glowing reviews feel good. They’re addictive. I keep telling myself I’ll stop. Tomorrow. Or after release. Or after one makes me cry. Or after I read just one more. Just one more.

Even though I haven’t listened, I have figured out why authors warn not to read them:

1. I cannot reply. Reviews are not conversations that include the author. They’re dialogue between readers. (Unless, of course, the author is invited.) My part of the conversation is writing the book. Now I need to shut up and let others read and react. (If you know me, you know shutting up is not my forte.) It’s hard not to chime in. In other words, at some point, authors need to exercise restraint—either by not reading the reviews or by not responding to them. Restraint is hard.

2. Not everyone is going to like the book. On a logical level, I’m fine with that. I don’t like all books either, sometimes even those that everyone loves. I know that I am not my book. I know that if someone doesn’t like my book, that doesn’t mean s/he doesn’t like me. S/he doesn’t know me. That is the logical level. The emotional reality is that if someone doesn’t like my book, it can feel like they told the world my newborn baby is butt-ugly. It’s as if s/he is proclaiming that I’m a hack who wasted years of my life writing a hack book and that I should not have quit my day job. Or learned to type.

3. Some people are going to love the book. How is this a problem, you ask? Well, overall, it’s not. But have you ever overindulged in Cherry Garcia and rode a roller coaster? (Oh, c’mon, hasn’t everyone?) Binging on good, bad, and mixed reviews is just a bumpy, nauseating emotional roller coaster. They love me! I rock! They hate me! I suck! They love me! I think I’m going to puke.

4. When I’m focused on reviews, I’m not focused where I need to be—on my next book. Look for it summer 2015, as long as I can pull myself together long enough to write it. (Just kidding, sort of.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I seriously appreciate every single person who takes the time to read my book and write a thoughtful review, even if it’s critical. Actually, while I’m here, I need to talk about the plus side to reading reviews. I’ve learned a lot from them about what readers like and dislike. Reviewers read A LOT and really understand what works and what doesn’t. Since the review “conversation” is between readers, they’re honest about it. On a logical day, that is very helpful. I’ve learned about phrases and words and ideas that are overdone and even offensive. I don’t want to repeat those things in my next book(s), so I’m grateful for that insight—info I’d miss if I hadn’t read the reviews.

I’ve also met a lot of wonderful reviewers. They’re smart and articulate, and they also really love books, just like I do. I want to be accessible to all readers—when invited, of course. For that reason, I will reply if someone Tweets directly to me or if a reader contacts me through my website. However, just so that I can keep the boundaries straight in my own head, I will not “like” a review, even a glowing one, or comment on them. Some authors do—and that’s great—but I’m afraid that if I allowed myself to, I’d be too tempted to comment where I shouldn’t. Or I’d “like” everything to be “fair” and end up looking like a creepy stalker.

Sometimes it’s important to know your limits—with reviews and with Cherry Garcia. Both are tempting and deliciously wonderful, but both are also best in moderation.

My book 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS) releases today!!! I’m beyond thrilled and thankful to everyone who’s created buzz about it. Even though I haven’t commented, I’ve noticed. You are awesome! If I could, I’d take you all out for ice cream.

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The Class of 2k13 Takes Chicago!

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Watch out, Windy City, because the Class of 2k13 is headed your way! Mark your calendars and join us!

Friday, June 28, 2k13

First stop, 11:00 am: ALA–the American Library Association’s annual conference and exhibition. (Click the link for the full panel description and location deets.) The New York Times Bestselling Author of the DIVERGENT series, Veronica Roth will lead a panel discussion on all of our upcoming books. There will be Q&A, a trivia contest, and prizes!

At 5:30–7:00 in the Exhibit Hall at the Macmillan Library Booth (#2103), Stephanie Kuehn will be signing CHARM & STRANGE.

Next stop: The Book Cellar. This is our first group event. Our books range from timeless fantasy to up-to-the-moment contemporary to futuristic sci-fi, harrowing thrillers to thrilling romance. You won’t want to miss it.

At 4:00 pm, middle grade authors will read excerpts from their books.

Liesl Shurtliff – RUMP: THE TRUE STORY OF RUMPELSTILTSKIN – MG Fantasy
Tamera Wissinger – GONE FISHING – MG Contemporary Adventure
Polly Holyoke – THE NEPTUNE PROJECT – MG Sci-fi
Tara Sullivan – GOLDEN BOY – MG Contemporary

At 5:00 pm, young adult authors will read excepts.

Debra Driza – MILA 2.0 – YA Sci-fi
Caela Carter – ME, HIM, THEM, AND IT – YA Contemporary
Kate Karyus Quinn – ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE – YA Literary Horror
Jennifer McGowan – MAID OF SECRETS – YA Historical Fiction
Nicole McInnes – BRIANNA ON THE BRINK – YA Contemporary
Demitria Lunetta – IN THE AFTER – YA Post-apocalyptic

Each of these authors will signing books as well.

At 6:00 pm, young adult authors will give sneak-peak readings of their upcoming releases. Some may also be signing swag.

Lydia Kang – CONTROL – YA Sci-fi
Mindy McGinnis – NOT A DROP TO DRINK – YA Post-apocalyptic
Geoffrey Girard – PROJECT CAIN – YA Sci-fi
K. A. Barson – 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS) – YA Contemporary
Cristin Terrill – ALL OUR YESTERDAYS – YA Sci-fi

Then, the Class will round out the day with the raucous celebration of Demitria Lunetta’s release of IN THE AFTER!

Some of us will be meeting up with bloggers from 7:30–9:30 at the M  Lounge.

Join us, won’t you? If you just can’t make it to Chicago, join us on Twitter. @TheClassof2k13

Some of us will stick around the Windy City for a few more days. Here’s where to find us:

On Saturday, June 29 (At ALA)

Liesl Shurtiff will be signing RUMP: THE TRUE STORY OF RUMPELSTILTSKIN at 10:00–10:30 am at the Random House Booth
Tara Sullivan will be signing GOLDEN BOY in the Penguin Booth from 1:00–2:00.
Polly Holyoke will be signing THE NEPTUNE PROJECT at 1:30 in the Exhibit Hall, Disney Hyperion Booth (#2620)
Mindy McGinnis will be signing NOT A DROP TO DRINK at the Harper Children’s Booth
Signed copies of BRIANNA ON THE BRINK by Nicole McInnes will be available at the Holiday House Booth.

On Sunday, June 30

Tara Sullivan will be doing an event at Anderson’s bookstore in Naperville, IL (just outside of Chicago) at 3:00.

On Monday, July 1

Cristin Terrill will be signing ALL OUR YESTERDAYS at the Disney Booth (#2620) at 9:30–10.
Tamera Wissinger will be signing GONE FISHING at 9:00-10:00 in the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Booth (#2501) at the McCormick Place Convention Center. Then she’ll be participating with a number of other poets for Poetry Blast! and read from GONE FISHING on the Pop Top Stage at the McCormick Place Convention Center from 10:00-11:30.
Jennifer McGowan will be at the Simon & Schuster YA Debut Fiction Author Reception, moderated/hosted by Ellen Hopkins, at 5:30–7:30.

On Tuesday, July 2, the Class will be home with sore feet.

We hope to meet you in Chicago! (Or at least on Twitter. @TheClassof2k13 #2k13Books)

One Smart Thing I Did to Sell 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS): Focus on Craft

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This month we’re talking about what smart things we did to sell our manuscripts. For me, the best thing I ever did for my writing career was to focus on the writing more than the career. I started out going to SCBWI conferences. While there is a wealth of information there, I found myself submitting to editors and agents way before I should have, and that caused a lot of stress. The advice is to send your very best work. I did that! At the time, it was my best work.

However, my best wasn’t good enough.

After I accumulated a pile of rejections, I gave up. Not on writing, though—I couldn’t do that—but on submitting. Instead I focused on becoming a better writer. While there are lots of ways to do that, I started attending Highlights Foundation workshops, about two per year for about four years. They were low-commitment—between two days to a week—and very affordable for the quality. The faculty is accomplished and smart and extremely supportive. The setting is idyllic and inspirational. I learned so much and met lots of wonderful people.

Some of those wonderful people were affiliated with another great place to immerse in craft: Vermont College of Fine Arts, which offers several low-residency master’s programs. This was a much higher commitment, of both time and money, and even though I was in my late thirties, I decided to go for it. I have not regretted it for a minute. For two years, I fully immersed myself in writing, reading, and critically analyzing works for children and teens, and I did it among top industry professionals. I didn’t pay attention to trends or who was accepting queries or who wasn’t. I loved the freedom to let go of the submission stress. As a result, the quality of my work significantly improved, as did my confidence.

I still get rejected sometimes—it’s an unavoidable part of the publishing process—but now if I get stumped and need to regroup, I have a vast toolbox at my disposal. I love knowing that I can always go to a Highlights or a VCFA workshop, or even an SCBWI conference, and brush up on some skills, get some valuable feedback, or simply jumpstart the creative juices. Learning to write isn’t something I did; it’s something I will always do.

 

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What Some Readers Might Find Objectionable in 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS)

Even though 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS) is sometimes classified as a romance, there is no sex in the book. There is also no violence, but readers might find themselves wanting to punch a character or two in the face now and then.

So what’s in it then?

Swearing. The book is from the point of view of a sixteen-year-old girl, and there is some language that might cost her a dollar in the “swears jar” in some people’s houses. Okay, maybe more than a dollar. And her grandmother calls people fat ass all the time. But good luck getting her to contribute to “the swears” jar. She’d just laugh, take a drag on her cigarette, and call you a fat ass, too. However, while there is a bit of language, it really isn’t superfluous. The target age range for this book is age 12 and up.

Smoking. Gram and a few minor characters smoke, but main character Ann doesn’t approve.

Non-traditional values. This may or may not be a problem for you, depending on your worldview and political beliefs. While this author is a devout Christian, my characters are not. In fact, Ann calls her step-mother Godzilla because of her fiery, Bible-breathing judgment and hypocrisy.

Most people who’ve heard of the book know that Ann wants to lose 45 pounds before her aunt’s wedding. However, Aunt Jackie is marrying Chris, as in Christine. While some people applaud the presence of a gay wedding without it being the central “issue” of the book, others may disagree.

Why would a Christian writer choose to write something that some readers might find objectionable or even offensive?

Simple. It’s not a Christian book. It feels didactic and trite and forced whenever I try to make my characters into something they aren’t. Yes, it would be easier to not have to defend myself to my conservative friends and readers. But it wouldn’t have been authentic. I, too, have struggled with hypocrisy in the Church. Some of my dearest friends are fighting for equal civil rights, and I support them. People swear. I swear—sometimes too much. These things are real to me, real in my world, and real in readers’ worlds. That’s the kind of book I want to write.

I hope the things listed above aren’t deal-breakers when it comes to reading 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS) because when weighing the possible objections against the overall positive themes of self-worth and health and familial acceptance, the positives win—by far.

45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS) releases from Viking (Penguin) on July 11, 2013, but is available now for pre-order wherever books are sold.

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What I’ve Learned from Teens

While there are exceptions to every rule, my experience with teens has taught me about:

  • Honesty
    Teens tell it like it is. My kids and students have no problem pointing out my fashion faux pas and rolling their eyes if they think my vocabulary is out of date. On the other hand, some of the most amazing insights about human behavior have come from a teen’s off-handed observation. So when I’m writing, I don’t try to be a wannabe teen. And I don’t try to channel my 1980s teen self. That’s not honest. I try to create a real person dealing with big issues that everyone experiences because the feelings that young people have aren’t immature feelings that will grow up and gain understanding someday. Kids of all ages understand unfairness and justice and acceptance and rejection and love and rudeness and everything else. They deserve honest stories that don’t talk down to them.
  • Advice
    Unless they ask, don’t give it. One way to annoy my kids the fastest is to start giving advice when they start ranting about their bad days. They don’t want to hear about how I had bad days way back when I was a teen—before cell phones and the Internet. And they certainly don’t want to hear about my experience with those bitchy girls from high school and how everything works out okay in the future. They’re not looking for solutions. They just want to vent. They don’t need me to fix anything; my fixes feel trite anyway because I’m not in the throes of it all. So, when I’m writing I try to let the characters simply exist, not create false situations to teach kids anything. I want my characters to make real and honest choices and experience the triumphs or consequences that come with them.
  • Assumptions

Nobody fits perfectly into jock or nerd or any other stereotypes. High school is much more nuanced than the characters from the movie The Breakfast Club. When I write I try to envision people beyond labels. In my novel 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS), my main character Ann is overweight, but she’s into fashion and has friends. How she sees herself is not necessarily how others see her. In fact, she’s cute—so cute that a hot guy notices.

No matter how old I get, I can still learn new stuff—even if it does accompany an eye roll or two.

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Playlist for 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS)

This playlist was originally posted on Stacked on December 26, 2012.

A novel set in the summertime with parties and dance lessons and a wedding, 45 Pounds (more or less) has a playlist. These songs either play a part in the novel itself or might play in the background.

Listen along here: 45 Pounds (more or less) 

Ann’s aunt Jackie wants all the women she loves to dance together at her wedding, so she forces everyone to take dance lessons. The main dance they want to learn is:

“Thriller” by Michael Jackson

Ann is less than thrilled.

The Knees’ annual Fourth of July bash is a major event, and anyone who’s anyone is there. Ann’s never been invited before, but this year is different. These two songs kick off the festivities:

“Get the Party Started” by Pink

“Let’s Get It Started” by The Black Eyed Peas

Aunt Jackie and Chris have their first dance at the wedding to:

“Marry Me” by Train

 These songs bring everyone to the dance floor, dancing like nobody’s watching, or taking pictures:

 “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge

“Cupid Shuffle” by Cupid

45 Pounds is not just about Ann’s weight loss and fitting into the perfect dress. It’s also about family, and understanding that people aren’t always as they seem. One of the moments that Ann realizes this is when she’s dancing with her step-father to this song:

“Daughters” by John Mayer

 Ann is really insecure, but a certain cute guy sees beyond that. Whenever he hears these songs on the radio, he thinks of her:

 “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars

“What Makes You Beautiful” by One Direction

Yes, 45 Pounds has an element of romance.  However, for Ann, falling for a guy involves more embarrassing moments that would fit better on YouTube than in a cheesy, falling-in-love movie montage.

Everyone dreams of being beautiful, but few feel like they really are. This last song is for readers. May you always feel as beautiful as I think you are, regardless of size.

“Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera

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