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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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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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Comparable Titles for K.A. Barson’s 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS).

I’ll be honest. I feel a bit audacious even suggesting that my book is like anyone else’s. But, hey, everyone in the Class of 2k13 is doing it, so I guess I will, too. Yeah, I’m a sucker for peer pressure sometimes.

In my first conversation with my editor, she mentioned that she thinks 45 Pounds is a Cinderella story. Really? I hadn’t thought about it like that. But then I realized she’s right. (Truth be told, she’s always right, but that’s another post for another time.) The main character, Ann, does her best to transform herself from the overweight, ugly stepsister into a thin, princess-like bridesmaid before her aunt’s wedding. In the meantime, she falls for the most adorable, charming guy. There’s even a scene (or two) that involves shoes. Not glass, but still.

So, if it’s a Cinderella story, does that mean it’s a romance? Yeah, I guess it is, in a humorous, self-deprecating way. Much like (I hope) Susane Colasanti’s books, Ann’s voice is realistic and relatable. She makes you laugh and feel sad at the same time. You feel like you know her, or you might even be her.

It’s also a book about weight issues. Ann is overweight and wants to lose forty-five pounds (more or less). However, it’s not just about a diet. It’s more about fitting—in her family, in a social group, in a dress, and most importantly, in her own skin. Because of this, I hope it appeals to Carolyn Mackler fans, especially those who love The Earth, My Butt, and Other Round Things.

In short, 45 Pounds (More or Less) is a contemporary, humorous love story. The characters are not picture-perfect. Far from it. While some seem to have it together, others seem messy and misunderstood and awkward. But, like Ann finds out, you can’t judge people by how they seem.

More about 45 Pounds (More or Less):

Here are the numbers of Ann Galardi’s life:

She is 16.
And a size 17.
Her perfect mother is a size 6.
Her Aunt Jackie is getting married in 8 weeks, and wants Ann to be her bridesmaid.
So Ann makes up her mind: Time to lose 45 pounds (more or less) in two months.

Welcome to the world of informercial diet plans, wedding dance lessons, embarrassing run-ins with the cutest guy Ann’s ever seen—-and some surprises about her NOT-so-perfect mother.

And there’s one more thing. It’s all about feeling comfortable in your own skin-—no matter how you add it up!

Cover reveal coming soon! Please watch Twitter and Facebook or check back here for details. 

Also, click the Giveaway tab to enter to win The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, my mentor from the Class of 2k12. My classmate, Demetria Lunetta, is also giving away her mentor’s book.

K.A. Barson & the Inspiration for 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS)

Nearly every woman I’ve ever met has somehow contributed to 45 Pounds (More or Less). That sounds dramatic, I know, but it’s true. 45 Pounds is not just about a fat girl who wants to lose weight. It’s about a girl who feels fat and thinks that losing weight will make her insecurities go away.

It’s about a girl who desperately wants to fit—in her family, in a group of friends, in a killer dress. It’s about a girl who struggles with emotions hijacking her reason. She knows what she should eat and that she should exercise, but that isn’t enough. When she compares herself to those around her, she comes up short, and she imagines that everyone else sees her the same way.

She is the girl whose flaws are more evident than her assets when she looks in a mirror.

She is the girl in the dressing room at the mall struggling to pull a too-tight dress over her head.

She is the girl who shops for shoes because the size is always consistent.

She is comforted by chicken parmesan and mindless TV.

She keeps clothes that are too small in the back of her closet, as incentive.

She is always looking for the next diet or exercise that will change everything.

She plans to start tomorrow.

She is my friend. She is my mother. She is my daughter. She is me.

 

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