Write Talk

Author anxiety: aka When Brains Attack

Obviously anxiety attacks at will, not just authors. But as an author with anxiety, who’s been at this for a while, it seems like many of us are experiencing a renewed spike right now as the pandemic stretches on…and on… (Get vaccinated ASAP, so we can have nice things!)

I’m not surprised that it’s happening to me, to everyone right now, because anxiety love loveloves unpredictability. At its best, the thing you can most predict about publishing is that it’s unpredictable (ugh!) and slow (fertile territory for storytelling writer brains to infest with stories based on the thinnest of evidence). This post was inspired by my agent Kate McKean’s latest Agents & Books newsletter, on how slow(ish) response times, particularly at the moment, do not mean you aren’t a priority or that your agent or editor secretly hates you, it’s just that they also are at wit’s end with a never-ending stack of work and their own anxieties. And that whatever it is probably isn’t an emergency, even if it feels like one to us. A gentle nudge can go a long way.

So, sure, we nod along, that makes sense. But when we’re sitting our desks feeling paralyzed by the many variables that will affect the success of our books — few of which are in our direct control at the best of times — anxiety brain will keep whispering except for meeeee. I am doomed. X or Y hates me or hates my project or both. I wasn’t even given the secret key to this clubhouse and now I’m already locked out.

Or, if you’re an aspiring author, it must just feel even more like tossing your hopes and dreams into the query abyss, or even waiting, hoping someone, anyone, you think will be a good fit for your work will reopen to queries. This talk of how busy everyone is probably makes your anxiety brain spiral in a similar I am doomed. X or Y hates me or hates my project or both. I wasn’t even given the secret key to this clubhouse and now I’m already locked out.

Then there’s the deep craft anxiety… the my book isn’t good actually and everyone is about to find out. The people just pretend to like it/me. The what if I’m not writing fast enough, what if I write too fast? What if this doesn’t sell? What if this is the flop that kills my career? I’m trying a new genre or what-have-you and they are going to think I’m a fraud, but I went there because I’m obsessed with it… (Quick spoiler alert: I know some people will argue with this, but the ONLY thing that can kill your career entirely dead or even mostly dead is YOU. And I mean it: Not even the pandemic. I might be wrong, but I hope I’m not.)

So after Kate’s post I thought I might talk a little about this from the author side, in the hope of helping someone going through author anxiety for the first or four hundredth time. Sometimes it just helps to know you are not the only one who feels this way.

How I learned to LovehateLive With My Professional Anxiety

Notice the similarities in the thought patterns I mentioned? Now there are a thousand specific iterations of this. Everyone’s anxiety works differently. Like I said, I’ve been at this awhile. I’ve talked about my anxiety journey before, but it always bears repeating, because the entire reason I got medicated for anxiety was another author talking about it openly online. (The medication was a game-changer for me, but it does NOT mean I don’t deal with anxiety anymore, alas.)

I was that clueless anxious person my entire life without knowing that’s what it was. I thought anxiety was just panic attacks. I self-diagnosed after years of doing things like mailing a ton of food to my dorm room my first low residency session at Vermont MFA in case I couldn’t make myself go out to eat in the cafeteria (note: my class was seen as somewhat snobby because we were all RIDDLED with anxiety and hung out with each other and then stayed at the B&B nearby so we could have more alone-time — I regret now that I have more perspective and better coping skills how poorly I was able to explain it when a well-meaning graduate advisor pulled me aside at the time to tell me we should gather with the others more…although that said, the fact I will be paying off that degree until I’m dead honestly entitled me to do nothing but class and my room if I chose harumph, and I like to think I was a generous classmate in workshop, etc…. end digression).

I hated talking on the phone, so much that I developed the “Pretend to be a spy” method when I started work at my first job which involved taking calls from and talking to reporters. Eventually I got over my phone phobia. And to an extent my public speaking phobia, because I did it for work, where I was not there for me, but representing an organization.

But what tipped me off that I had anxiety, capital A? I saw a freaking Tumblr post about the symptoms of anxiety two years after my first book was published. And I went… OHHHHH. That is me.

Detective at work, captain obvious

For so many reasons. And I’d started doing author events, which made it more apparent to me. Before any kind of travel I’d get super bitchy and cranky (one way anxiety manifests!). I’d get sweaty palms and feel dizzy and have a giant thing of OTC stomach remedies in my bag (I still travel with a mobile pharmacy, as I now am like an Author Mom at this for others). I was extremely lucky to know and be friends with a lot of people I’d met at that great misfit island, the science fiction convention world, or online through my blog or social media, and so I had people I could trail along behind. Once an event started, I’d be fine. Usually.

Until that fateful DragonCon/Decatur Book Festival overlapping weekend when the first Lois Lane book was just out. DragonCon is enormous, a huge crush of people, and can be overwhelming — it also has an absolutely fabulous programming track for books and put together some of the best panels I’ve been on. It’s always the same weekend as the equally fantastic Decatur Book Festival, which is smaller in theory, but in reality your events there will have much bigger audiences as an author unless you are BIG FAMOUS. And even then, Decatur’s will probably be just as big or bigger.

I had a reading at DragonCon, had to fight through its parade traffic to the subway, and was going to do my first two-author conversation moderated by a friend (thank god) at Decatur. It was hot out. Atlanta in summer hot. The event was in a tent and there were a lot of people there. I took a cold water bottle and started to roll it on my face and the back of my neck because I could feel the panic hitting. The other person involved in the conversation was late (but when she did show up thankfully turned out to be a talker, so I got myself pulled together while she gabbed away, then started to pitch in). I doubt anyone knew this was happening at the time. I went to my GP when I got home under the pretenses of a check-up and asked about anxiety medicine. Lucky for me, the first thing I tried at a low dose works well. (Meds aren’t for everyone and the process of finding them isn’t always that easy.)

Therapy? I’ve always been a believer, but I didn’t actually go for the first time until the pandemic. I started doing teletherapy with a local therapist last year because my routines were off, I wasn’t working well, and I was doing all the things you know you aren’t supposed to do to cope — eating pasta every day, drinking too much wine, skipping yoga, not writing consistently. Therapy was LIFE-CHANGING. As much as going on medication or more.

forced perspective

Why am I telling you these things? I’m fine at events now, enjoy them even, and try to introduce people who are new around. But, even having gone through all this, I’m still susceptible to anxiety patterns.

Yesterday, I sit down, I’m supposed to be doing page proofs and writing my next book which are concrete actions and those always make you feel better. And yet, instead, I start staring at my calendar and fretting about events and COVID and emailing with my (FUCKING FANTASTIC) publicist (who honestly is the best and gave me a pep talk). Even while I was in the spiral, I knew I just needed someone to tell me to calm the eff down. I think the trigger for this was actually the comedown from that amazing felt-normal getaway with writer friends I mentioned in my last post/newsletter.

Absolutely no event is going to make or break my next book or yours, unless it’s some viral thing that can’t be predicted. And that’s in the hands of readers. I also realized that if I’m this frazzled, certainly everyone working on my book and a bunch of others at my publisher feels it times 1,000 million percent (I am not great at math!). In fact, all I can do is support the great work they are doing to get the book to readers and also do my page proofs for the next book and write the one after that. Anxiety brain was not having it yesterday, despite this awareness. It’s not easy. Why?

Why are our brains like this???

… We are storytellers. Our brains naturally tell stories, and they are also over-the-top gifted at worst-case scenarios. They are not good at naturally taking a step back and looking at things calmly. They are good at empathy though (hopefully) and so putting yourself in others’ shoes, thinking outside your own jerky anxiety brain, is always worth it. Particularly in terms of remembering — particularly if you’re a white, able-bodied author like me — the privileges you have and what people who don’t have them might be going through.

Early on my other agent (yes, I have two now, one adults, one kids/YA), Jennifer Laughran, who also gives amazing peeks behind the curtain and advice, said something important to me that goes hand-in-hand with Kate’s there are no publishing emergencies:

It doesn’t matter and nobody cares.

This does not mean your work doesn’t matter and no one cares about it. Stop that, anxiety brain. It simply means whatever you’re fretting about at that particular moment, it’s probably not as big as it feels. (Unless you’ve become publishing’s protagonist of the day or season, in which case, shut up, listen, decide if you did something wrong, and if you did, figure out what you can do to own up to it, make it right if possible, and do better in the future.)

What else is the BFF of anxiety brain? Comparison. And when you’re in that spiral, social media can make it seem impossible to NOT feel like a failure. This is literally NOT a competition; it’s a competitive industry — those are two very different things. I’ve managed to publish a number of books and some were successful and some flopped and I lived to write another day. But I’m genuinely invested in other authors’ careers and successes, and here for their anxieties and failures as well (all a big part of why the Lexington Writer’s Room exists). I am also invested and care about the other people in publishing I work with, who are fantastic, super-stressed out, and often undervalued for incredibly tough jobs.

acceptance is always the last stage, right?

And I still have career anxiety. Nothing is guaranteed except that and that I still have to work my ass off to put dog and cat food in the bowls, but perspective is perspective. Things are going pretty well. I know what I want and I should do my work and trust my people.

If you’re not in that place, maybe your anxiety is telling you a true story. It does occasionally. Although it tends to overplay the negatives. The honest truth is you’ll write your way out of it, one way or another. Figure out what you want and then figure out the steps that start to get you there. Or fuck off and do something that makes you happy for a bit. Write whatever you want. But do not buy into anxiety’s telling you any of that b.s. I started off with about the doom and gloom inevitability of your future.

Getting out of our heads is essential. The pandemic has made that harder, for sure.

Also, just, if you have launched or are launching (*waves*) a book during the pandemic, it sucks. That’s not anxiety talking, that’s reality talking. It’s an unpredictable time and what did we learn about unpredictability and anxiety? Yeahhhhh. It’s okay to feel like some of this is unfair, because it is. But I guess what I’m saying is, we should try to lift ourselves and each other out of the mud as much as we can (I would put an Atreyu gif here except what am I, a monster?). This too shall pass, it’ll be another publishing war story. I really do believe what I said above about careers being a lot more resilient than we give them credit for.

I don’t know how to wrap this up other than to say sometimes your brain will be a jerk. Publishing doesn’t make it better, by its very nature. But you? Take a step back and look at what you have gotten right, what you’ve accomplished. Because the other thing that anxiety does? It erases that. That’s why the stories in our heads are so similar, no matter the stage we’re at as authors.

Don’t just own your fears, own your successes. Or do your best to. Or hit me up for a pep talk. I hope this helps. And have some ice cream. You’ve earned it.

I’m going to go do my pass pages and write the next book. Right after lunch.

WAIT: Did I do a whole blog post? Did you read it? Usually, these are newsletters, which you can sign up for below.

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Lexington Writer’s Room! Fund! Raising!

Some of you may know that at the beginning of the pandemic — literally the week before The Great Shutdown — Christopher and I were part of launching a new local nonprofit aimed at providing a killer work- and community-space to writers in Lexington and the region, also known as the Lexington Writer’s Room. To say this was the worst timing in the world isn’t exaggerating. Our tiny board and organization were all on the same page public health-wise so we basically shut our doors as soon as we opened. And we learned to deal with a LOT of uncertainty over the past year.

We learned a lot of things, honestly, including that the original space we occupied was too expensive for us to not become full-time fundraisers (more on that to come), perhaps had a more corporate vibe than everyone wanted (because most of the other occupants were tech company folks), and that we needed to subsidize as much of the membership cost as possible (what the nonprofit *does* besides providing space; we’re employee-free). We were, alas, not eligible for any of the funding to help nonprofits weather the pandemic, because we were — sad trombone — too new.

The good news is: we survived! And we’re now in a 200-year-old building, with a space that fits our aesthetics better, is roomier, and is affordable enough to make our long-term survival far more certain. What we’re about:

  • Creating an affordable, optimal space where writers can do their best work;
  • And do it as part of a community of different kinds of writers for cross-pollination and support;
  • Give people a space to meet (the salon) and hold literary events as part of their subsidized membership cost.

We also want to quite simply make Lexington’s literary community more awesome for working writers at all levels. We’re a small city and so creating infrastructure to support creatives staying here is meaningful work. We’re already working on a partnership to specifically support emerging Black writers too. I’m excited, and I hope you’re excited by proxy.

I’ve always had a cranky attitude about The Arts seeming to exclude literary arts. This goes back to my grumble-grumble at the “Arts Preview” in the print newspaper for Lexington every fall during high school. And it’s true that we writers can work in isolation, and often do. But, after experiencing this pandemic, I’m more convinced than ever that the Lexington Writer’s Room is going to be the birthplace of many wonderful projects, some that might never exist without it. In fact, I am in the process of selling a book I wrote the entire proposal for at one of the standing desks a few weeks ago. We also had members sell books during our first ill-fated opening week. It’s going to be a special place. But we need help to sustain us and our mission.

You knew a sales pitch was coming, right? We’re having our first fundraising effort as part of Kentucky Gives Day on May 11. While that day is a big focus, oour Ky Gives fundraising page is already up and running. Any amount helps — we are tiny, our overhead is low. Your funding will directly support all of the above. We even have a matching donor for the first $4,000 we raise, of what we’re hoping will be $10,000. And we’re hoping we can limit our hard-sell fundraising to a couple of times a year, so help us with that? *smiles hopefully from the salon*

Here’s that link one more time. AND if you’re a local writer in Lexington or the region (or know someone who is), tell them to get in touch and come see us at the space. We’re signing up new folks now. Vaccinated people can work without masks; unvaccinated folks will still need to mask. End ask portion of this! (It always sucks to ask people for money or support, but hey, you can’t get yeses without risking nos.)

I lost a handful of newsletter subscribers last time around, presumably for talking about lady parts and health, and I wish I wasn’t too lazy to figure out who so I could side-eye them. 😉 Hopefully, the rest of you will hang around despite the fundraising ask. My recovery is going very well, well enough that I’m frustrated I can’t walk the dogs solo and get tired easily.

And since I had you indulge my passion project soap box for most of this newsletter, I just wanted to say that this all came about because people in our literary community here were in contact and we were shooting the shit about wanting a good place to work outside the house. Your passion project may start from a similarly tiny place and grow to benefit others. Creating something is always a struggle — whether it’s a book or a nonprofit. But what a worthwhile struggle to put new things into the world.

In the meantime, if you have requests for future newsletter topics — craft, questions, etc — please feel free to send them. I want to get back to doing these weekly and making them far more rambling and about figuring things out, like they were when I first started them. And Stranger Things fans? Have you seen the new Season Four trailer? EEEEEE.

I hope your week is golden, and many thanks if you kick us a donation, but also thanks for reading, even if you don’t,


Preorder NOT YOUR AVERAGE HOT GUY, my apocalyptic rom-com, coming October 5 to a bookstore or e-reader or audiobook app near you.

Lexington Writer’s Room! Fund! Raising! Read More »

Living in a Fantasy World #KidLitWomen

So for #KidLitWomen month, I thought I’d talk about something near and dear to the part of my heart filled with the ever-burning rage-fire stoked by oh so many things, namely: how fantasy and romance (and also fantasy that includes romance) written by women for the young adult audience is often looked down the nose at by many snooty humans, some consciously doing it and some not and also why the snoot-noses are big wrongheads and why it matters.

If you can’t tell by how overwritten that paragraph is, I really miss blogging regularly. On with the show.

Recently, I was sitting at a conference talking with some writers about this particular huge hill I will die on of mine. How I was one of those teens that internalized romance as “not serious” or “embarrassing” for way too long, only to decide to actually read some so I’d know what I was talking about as an adult and then falling in love with the genre as a reader. (I had the same experience with urban fantasy, during the great smacktalking-about-it era in SFF.) Anyway, one of the authors in this conversation writes wonderful books for teens, hugely popular, which also happen to be romances and she told us how once at an event a man who was there to take care of her as an author said in passing, “Oh, I’d never allow your books in my house. I have a teenage daughter.” Who the books are for, by the way. This is never an isolated anecdote. Ask any woman you know who writes fantasy if she’s ever been treated dismissively on a panel or if a man has ever gotten up from the audience to tell her about the books by men he wishes there were more of and why aren’t people writing those now, or if they’ve followed her out into the hallway to tell her about the ways in which they thought her books sucked. (Ladies, feel free to come share in the comments. I know you’ve got some doozies.) Every romance or fantasy writer I know who is a woman has a story or twenty or a hundred like this, where it’s implied you write garbage right to your face — especially if it happens to also be popular.

Think about the offhand dismissal that’s STILL used to characterize the YA field in most mainstream articles about YA even though it was outdated ten years ago and is still outdated now. This is a bingo game you can always win. I go into every article looking for it; usually it’s in the first or second paragraph. Sometimes, if they’re being subtle, it’s phrased slightly differently two-thirds through. Sometimes it’s the subject of the entire article. Although, spoiler alert: A lot of the articles in question are highlighting male authors of YA. Good for the guys, and yet I hope they cringe when they see the inevitable phrase about standing out in “a sea of Twilight and The Hunger Games.” As if Twilight and The Hunger Games share anything in common except female authors and main characters (well, and vast success and audience overlap, more on that to come). Or the related but slightly different dismissal of the totally ridiculous plethora of teen girls saving the day in those utterly ridiculous fantasies or dystopians (meanwhile we cheer watching teens get closer on gun control than anyone else has so far; teen girls have always changed the world, oh self-self-deceived chumps who sell them short). Also, extra bingo spot if the books by women in this glancing mention are referenced only by title and any men’s books that do get included as a part of the “sea of YA” are also mentioned with their authors’ names.

The more successful a book by a man is, the more he’s treated as worthy of serious attention or at least serious treatment. The more successful a book by a woman is, the more likely it is to become the reference for a snarky aside in an article about how great X book by X dude is. Fact. But that’s not all that goes along with this behavior, not by a long shot. It affects invitations and review coverage in general and also time. If a man reaches a certain level, he’s pretty much guaranteed he can get some coverage and publisher support. If a woman reaches a certain level, she might get some coverage and publisher support but she will also be expected to do a ton of outreach to her fanbase and provide a jillion pieces of free content, et cetera.

There are so many issues surrounding all this, but for now I’m going to focus on one: how markers of traditional femininity are used to judge innate quality and why it is nonsense. The judgments discussed above have pretty well zero correlation to the works in question. The work — women’s work, specifically — is often not judged on the work itself at all, but on perceptions of it. See also: YA as an entire category, where those who supposedly “transcend” the genre are mostly men. Newsflash: The genre is transcendent all on its own; it contains multitudes.

Now, this is not news to anyone, and certainly not to women. No matter what kind of work women do, we get judged by perceptions — based on our appearance or how loud or quiet we are or or or or. And I know that there are plenty of women who write quote-unquote serious books who are frustrated that their work isn’t treated with the same seriousness of men’s serious books. I hear you.

We all judge by the cover, by appearance, by our own preconceptions, to an extent. That’s just part of how humans work. But if we want to be responsible members of the literary community (and, you know, combat these problems not add to them) we must know what our preconceptions are, where they come from, and, yes, when they are — pardon my not-French — bullshit.

An entire essay could and should be written about how race plays into all this, as well. Whatever white women like me experience, I have zero doubt it’s 10 times (or a hundred times) worse for women of color or other marginalized writers. Witness the recent round-up of several new books by women of color in the New York Times — the grouping itself is unfortunate unless it was going to treated in a much more prominent, important way, as in a lengthy cover review (which would be absolutely apropos, these are important books and it is an important time). But, as other people, particularly Ebony Elizabeth Thomas (@ebonyteach) and Malinda Lo (@malindalo) on twitter (follow them if you aren’t), pointed out, shoving them together in a round-up is a choice that innately marginalizes the books, which include some of the most significant titles of the season. The choice of a white reviewer is also unfortunate, and there are other issues with how the books are discussed as a result. Why I bring this up here, however, is the way in which Dhonielle Clayton’s stunning fantasy The Belles is discussed, because I think it has to do with this exact subject, albeit coupled with an extra layer of racism. In this book, Dhonielle Clayton has chosen to write about oppression and slavery, but it’s done in a way that immediately gets misperceived as somehow slighter. You can’t tell me this gorgeous cover isn’t also interpreted through the preconceptions of many people to read feminine, and thus, obviously, not deep, not expertly crafted, not important.

Except this book is all of those things.

What do we code as traditionally feminine? Love, romance, beauty, fashion, care-taking, the color pink. The list goes on. And on. This cover is great because it tells you there’s traditional femininity involved here but not just that, this is a larger femininity we’re seeing, a healthier, more complicated one. The tagline: “The Revolution Is Here” and that gaze directly at the reader is as important as the flowers and the dress in setting expectations.

But we see a review in one of our most important media outlets where instead this book is pitted against another brilliant book simply because both authors are women of color writing fantasy, and a conclusion is drawn that feels related to these larger issues. We treat fantasy seen as somehow “girly” (ugh, that should mean literally ANYTHING) as the less accomplished. This is a perfect example of something far too many of us bring with our preconceptions, even professional critics, when we open a book. Awareness of this is key. But there’s an even more sinister assumption at work here. When we continually imply that only tragedy and pain are roots for telling an important, honest story — particularly when we’re placing that limitation on writers of color — what we’re doing is deciding to create a world in which we force people to relive pain on our terms, not theirs, to tell the stories we expect, not the stories they need or want to tell. I mention this here because racism is a part of every single discussion we’re having this month (and always), in one way or another. We’ll only be successful at toppling the hierarchies we want to break down if those hierarchies topple for all writers, especially traditionally marginalized ones.

Likewise, in fantasy, women who present with traditionally masculine traits are often considered “strong.” Women who present as feminine — or gasp! on a spectrum that includes both! or none of the above! — are often considered “weak.” (Or worse.) This enlarges to treatment of books themselves. Fantasy worth taking seriously and considering not garbage is obviously dark, right? And romance, scrunch-face, well that’s just fluff (is there smoke coming out of my ears as I type this knowing people think this way? reader, there is). I believe grimdark makes the world less complicated than it is, not more. But I still see it as a valid aesthetic choice! What isn’t valid is acting is if it’s a more inherently noble or true or accomplished choice.

There’s the old saying a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, but that’s not apt here either — the problem is wanting to pretend the world doesn’t have any sugar in it, and that any writer who acts as if it does isn’t worthy of your time.

A world with love is a world with hope. When we see stories about love and hope and change coded as traditionally feminine and immediately dismiss them internally or in a review or wherever as corny or as not quite serious, as not worthy of appreciating for craft, we are failing. Take the work as the work. Read it and see past your preconceptions. Frankly, I can’t think of anything more serious or more challenging than using the themes I just mentioned both honestly and with light. And I would never and am not saying that stories that tackle these themes in heartbreaking, raw ways can’t be effective. What I will never understand is why we so often act like that’s the only effective way to tackle these themes. And it should certainly not be the only way in which we expect writers of color to tell stories.

And so, sure, people who do this are disrespecting the authors. But, more troublingly, they are disrespecting the audience — which is what this is all about, really. Every single thing I talk about here goes back to the fact that we’re discussing the work of women, writing for what is at least perceived as a largely female audience. No one in the world is more dismissed than teen girls (except those rare moments when we remember they change the world). What everyone is really doing when they engage in this behavior, pooh-poohing and dismissing work by women for girls and loved by girls is telling girls that the world will never take them seriously. Unless perhaps they agree to be miserable. And even then it’s a toss up…

I know I should have some rousing way to end here, but what I have to say is as short and sweet as that spoonful of sugar:

Just stop it. Read outside your comfort zones (and recommend the best of what you read! especially if! you’re! a! man! on! a! panel!). Examine your preconceptions, and don’t generalize based on them about books you know nothing about. Respect women and their work. Respect girls and what they love.*

*And don’t you ever let me hear you comparing our president to a teenage girl. Ever.

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Ten Reasons To Keep Your Eyes On Your Own Paper (or, Go Team Writers)

This post wasn't brought on by anything in particular, but I'm about to leave on vacation (Portugal!) and it's something that's been rattling around in my head for a while and also I didn't want to leave the heat death of an imprint post* at the top of the blog in the event I don't post anything from the road.

1. It's hard, I know it's hard, no matter what stage of the writing game you're at, not to feel like everyone is getting more money or attention or acclaim or invites to fancy events than you are. To not feel that you're stuck in neutral or first or something like that (I can't drive a stick). Writers three books in side-eye announcements about projects that sold for a bazillion dollars and sound terrible to them or maybe writers who haven't sold yet feel a sting of ire when someone further along tweets about how hard they're finding it to write that day or maybe a bestselling author longs for the ability to write something just because they want to, with no outside pressure again. Here's the key thing to remember. The main questions worrying most writers, by career stage:

  • Beginning writer, not yet agented/sold/published: Is this any good? Will anyone buy this? Am I terrible hack with no future?
  • Most published writers: Is this any good? Will anyone buy this? Am I terrible hack with no future?
  • Writer who has a legion of fans and great success: Is this any good? Will anyone buy this? Am I terrible hack with no future?

The who is at the end of 'will anyone buy this?' might change depending — a publisher or readers, or both, ultimately it's always about the readers — upon certain variables and some (lucky) people may have a touch less imposter syndrome, but the core concerns are more or less the same. No one ever really feels comfortable or assured of their place and always always confident in their work and whether it will succeed in the market. The more failure, the more pressure. The more success, the more pressure.

2. The only answer to all these questions is to keep writing and see. Keep trying to get better. Keep your eyes on your own paper. All writing careers are icebergs–there's more happening than what you see above the surface–but I can guarantee you that any news that would make you envious or sad or disappointed is probably the result of the person doing one key thing: Writing. It's much easier to focus on what you're putting on the page when you're not letting yourself be distracted by things that do not matter to your career and have no direct relation to it. And you will also have to learn to focus when you're being distracted by things that do matter to your career and directly relate to it. Learning to focus and work no matter what our circumstances (unless you're trapped in a cage with a tiger or similar, obvs) stands us all well.

3. All of this is also why it's important to remember that writers are not competing against each other in some sort of book sales Hunger Games, especially not in districts of self-published/indie authors vs. traditionally published authors, with hybrids as jabberjays or something. We're just not. If there are sides, writers are on the same one. But I don't think that there are sides. Last I checked, we aren't in a war (in my opinion, though some heated rhetoric wants it that way). I think there are just a whole lot of people trying to tell the stories they have to tell and find an audience, and as a backdrop to that you have a business that is in flux. I was at a festival several months ago, and a reader stopped by to chat and buy a book — she held up her tote bag and told me and my neighbor author that she was an author too, but "not really, just self-pubbed." She then went on to tell us that she was feeling very low because one of her all-time heroes who was at the festival and who she'd come to see had said really negative things about self-publishers during a panel, and how no one who was serious would ever do it. And, friends, that is just wrong. I make to you a solemn vow — the same I made to this author after telling her that her idol came up during different times in the business and that she should never give anyone the power to make her feel like less than an author — and that is that I will never disparage another writer because of how they are publishing. I know this sometimes goes the other way too, and that's also wrong. There are plenty of reasons to trad pub, plenty of reasons to go indie and plenty of reasons to do both. Telling people they made bad career choices because you firmly believe you made the right ones is not the way to go about things because…

4. Your experience is your experience. Generalizing from it is dangerous, and so is not understanding what it is that makes you and your work and the place where you stand on the road — beginning, midlist, bestseller list, or end and how you got there — uniquely yours. All advice, all decisions, should take this into account. This is why there is no blanket "this way is better" or "that way is better"; it's going to vary based on the writer, based on the project, based on all sorts of other things. Every writing career is a fingerprint, the author's mark on the world. And they are all, by necessity, different.

5. None of this is meant to advocate not being part of the community or conversation or being inspired by other people. I suppose if I had to boil it down, what I'm saying is: Boost each other, celebrate each other's successes because this is a tough business and we need that. Celebrate. Cheer people on. Mean it, instead of being mean. It makes for a lot more fun than being Merriam-Webster's definition 3 of petty: "marked by or reflective of narrow interests and sympathies." Be broad and enthusiastic. Be a supporter, not a detractor. For things you believe in supporting. Don't be afraid to speak up with things you disagree with, but it still may wear you down. I know it sometimes does me. But giving a boost to someone else always raises my spirits. Seeing good things happen to other people is, well, a good thing in and of itself. A reminder that yes, this is hard, but there are good things about it too. Really good ones.

6. You're a writer, not anyone's battle troop or talking point or shrub to groom. The only person you're in a business relationship with who is always and forever looking out for you is your agent. (Assuming you have one. And, if so, I sure hope they are.) Don't jump to conclusions, positive or negative, without all the facts. Beware experts or, worse, visionaries and gurus. Put what they say in a heap and mix it together and what's left in the middle is probably closer to the truth of any given situation you find yourself in, or article about The Industry or trends, or startling developments, et cetera, than the outliers would like you to believe. Never forget the first rule of the internet: Drama means clicks. Well, the second rule. The first rule is: Cute animals will one day rule us and we will not care because OMG SO CUTE. (Also, publishing people tend to be slightly panicked and doomsaying. It's just our way. And it has to be adjusted for. I call it the standard "the sky is not actually falling" adjustment. YMMV.)

SealbabyKNEEL BEFORE SEAL PUP (from zooborns)

7. Again, to be clear, this does not mean to tune out all industry news or not learn from your peers and observe and discuss their experiences and careers. This is how we stay sane. It just means, put it in a context that isn't comparative. That isn't diminishing. That doesn't require obsessing over. Knowing about the business is good, as long as it helps you see more clearly. Or understand the bigger picture (please explain it to the rest of us, if you do). If you can't follow it without obsessing about how X doesn't deserve Y, or thinking there's some angle you should be working and then everything would be perfect, then you'll always be better off keeping your eyes on your own paper instead and writing the next thing in oblivious bliss.

8. If there is something you really want to happen for your career, and you feel like it just isn't, and you're having a why-oh-why case of the green envies, well, I would suggest stopping for a second and asking if you actually have been working toward that thing. An example: it doesn't make sense to obsess about not ever winning or almost winning a certain award, if the books you write are not the kind of books that ever do. (Also: never do anything just to win an award. Or hit a list or etc. It will almost always be a waste of your time. Writing books is too hard.) But if you find what you want to do is write that kind of book, the kind of book that would get you that dream, then you can adjust what you're doing. Always ask: Is what I think I want what I really want? Is it something in the realm of possibility? Then what can I do to get closer to that? This is hard, because I think most of us writers are very organized about writing and willing to have any conversation and make any decision about the story we're telling, but often find it harder to buckle down and do it where the career path is concerned. At least, it is for me. And being busy and in the middle of other things makes it even harder. But our careers are stories too, and we should give them the same attention.

9. Sometimes terrible things will happen. Or it will feel like they might happen. Medium-terrible things will happen (not involving an Arquette). Or you may just be in a period of uncertainty. This can happen at any stage of anyone's career or seemingly every Wednesday, and it may manifest in different ways. So be kind to other writers. Be kind to yourself. Remember that all this started with you sitting in front of a blank page and filling it up, and if the worst happens, that's all you need since…

10. If something good happens, you write your way through it. If something bad happens, you write your way out of it. Rules to writer's life by.

Just as you celebrate other people's achievements, celebrate your own. The ones you can control are no less meaningful than the ones you don't. Maybe they're more.

The TL/DR:

Keep your eyes on your own paper and tell your story, don't judge other people's career choices but do cheer them on when you can, rinse, repeat. Go Team Writers.

And now I am going to look at this beautiful view (well, I arrive Friday and tomorrow is all travel and I still have to put out the stuff for the house and Hem sitter, but):


*Thanks again to everyone for all the supportive messages and emails about Strange Chemistry. I'll share any additional news when I have it.

Ten Reasons To Keep Your Eyes On Your Own Paper (or, Go Team Writers) Read More »

This Crazy Biz We Call Pub

So, the news broke this morning that Angry Robot is shuttering the Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A imprints, effective immediately.

Questions I'm getting:

What does this mean for Blackwood and The Woken Gods?

I suspect little in the short term, although if you've been procrastinating on buying them, now would be a good time. It also means I can finally answer all the people who ask if there will be a sequel to The Woken Gods. In some ways, this might make it more likely at some distant point down the road (Angry Robot/SC had an option). But I hope it will make plain why I didn't rush to try and do that project just now. Not that I knew this was coming, but I have been around the business a long time and I can’t say it came as a surprise either (the abruptness, yes). Ultimately, what I want is to write many, many books for you guys, and so I make career decisions based on that. Which brings me to the other question…

Are you okay?

GoaWI really and truly am. I hope that Blackwood and The Woken Gods either stay in print and easily available, whether from Angry Robot or some eventual buyer of their list or parent company, or that the rights revert to me so that I can make sure they are.

But the book I'm most proud of that I've written to date is Girl on a Wire, and it'll be out this October. If you want to show me your support, put it on your radar, talk about it if you like it, preorder. And I have another project (Secret Project) that is close to being announced, I think. And there are several other things in the works I'm very excited about.

I will be fine. I'm among the least screwed in this situation.


I will be forever grateful to Strange Chemistry and Angry Robot for giving my career its start, and for the wonderful friends I met because I published there. I hope everyone lands on their feet — staff at the publisher, but most especially the amazing writers who were notified yesterday that their books are canceled, debut authors and people writing sequels or who had already written them, and those who were mid-series. Please support them, now and in the future. We can't afford to lose their voices.



Thanks to everyone for your good thoughts and concern today. All the love for that.

Edited to add: As expected, The Woken Gods and Blackwood will continue to be available for now from Angry Robot–there are apparently some potential buyers of the list in the mix, so we'll see how it all plays out and this is also when we read reversion clauses just in case. Thanks again for all the kind words and well wishes. Sign up for my quarterly or irregular for *big* newsletter, and you won't miss anything. <3

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Writing Process Tag

I'm doing something I hardly ever do here, a blog tour post–but it's an interesting twist on the concept. It's not a blog tour, per se, it's a tour of the same questions to the blogs of various writers.

So, when my former VCFA classmate Anindita Basu Sempere ("We Survived Tim Wynne-Jones"–our T-shirts would read, since we shared him as an advisor the same semester; Tim is an amazing teacher and mentor, and a tough one!) asked if I was game to be tagged, I said yes. Anindita is a wonderful writer–I think back to her graduate reading and have chills. I can't wait until we can all read her books. You can read her process post and see what delicious things she's working on here.

And now I will answer the questions, with apologies for caginess, because I can't say toooo much about the projects I'm actively working on at the moment (I don't want to spook them). But I do so love process talk, so here goes.

1.     What am I working on?

Usually I'm only working on one thing actively, with some other things either in stages that are further along and which I might be waiting to get edits or copyedits or notes on, because I've always found it difficult to shift focus from one book to another on a daily basis. When I'm working on a book, I tend to be working on it pretty much whenever my brain has downtime, even if I'm not sitting at my keyboard. I try as best I can to hold the entire book in my mind, turning it this way and that, until new things come into view–usually for the next scene(s) or chapters, but sometimes further ahead. The ability to be IN whatever project I need to be in has always been relatively easy for me, but it has also tended to be one at a time.

But at the moment I'm attempting to work on two things at once, which is going okay so far, probably because they're at different stages. One is a collaborative middle grade fantasy novel I'm writing with my husband, which features all sorts of intricate setting details and unique characters and a chef's kid with a secret even he doesn't know. We wrote the first draft last year and are now revising and rethinking and generally embiggening and embettering it, and so that's taking the most time and attention. It's also different because this is our first collaboration, and learning how to revise together is the same kind of new endeavor that learning to write together was. But we're figuring it out and it's fun even when it's hard and we're stuck on something. We surprise each other, live the "two heads are better than one" principle for thorny plot or character or worldbuilding issues, and are constantly brainstorming and talking things out. We change our larger outline as we go, shifting as it needs to be, and discuss in depth each coming chapter, then alternate who writes, with both of us adding to the revision each day. (For the real nerds: while we wrote the first draft in Google Drive, now we're using Scrivener, with Dropbox syncing–the only hassle is just one of us can have the file open at a time; my kingdom for the functionality of Scrivener with the collab-syncing capacity of Drive).

The other project I'm working on is a YA twisted take on a fairy tale (of sorts), about which I can't say much, because it's just being born and I haven't even told my agent anything much except that yet (*waves to agent*), but also because it's a big twisty dark mystery too. I'm waiting until I have enough pages to show her. Of things I can say about it–hmm, there will be a strange city, and teens who live beneath it, rumors of magic, a glimpse of the contemporary art scene, and some thievery. Best to keep its secrets for now. Process-wise, I'm refining my outline and adding words to first few chapters when I have time. Drafting is always the hardest stage for me. I much prefer revising. But you can't do one without the other.

(I am so sorry that is SO long with so little description of the what. Annoying fact of writing life is that sometimes you can't say much.)

2.     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

 This one's even tougher to answer, I think. But, if pressed, I'd say the revision of the middle grade is pushing it even more into our own personal tandem weird zone, while also trying to keep it inviting. And likewise for the new solo book of mine; it's maybe a little different because while I love *some* fairy tale retellings, I'm super-picky about them. And this one is as much an inversion or subversion as a retelling. So. And it's as much realistic as fantasy. Like my book that comes out this fall, I find myself more inclined lately to treat magic in my YA stuff in a slightly less traditional fantasy way, more as a question that may or may not exist until the characters know if it does or not.

I hope it doesn't sound like I know what I'm doing. 😉 I just try to follow what feels right for the story. And then revise, rinse, repeat.

3.     Why do I write what I do?

 I hope because these are stories that only I can tell, that come from the idiosyncratic nature of everything I  live and read and watch and listen to and am interested in and am. But also that other people can step into them too. (And for the collab, the same, but for both of us. Part of the fun of that project is trying to delight each other; the revision is mostly about doing the best we can to make sure it delights others too.) (Okay, so that probably applies to my solo stuff as well.)

4.     How does your writing process work?

Routine! If I'm not getting enough done, I fall right back on my routine. Which, for me, most days, means my best hours are right after I get up. The absolute best is if I can forgo looking at the Internet–no email, no twitter–until after I have done a couple of hours of morning writing or revising. Walks during the day are spent trying to solve story in my brain, and then dog walks at night are for talking out problems with Christopher (whether it's on our collaboration or our solo stuff). I also try to write at lunch, and more in the evening if necessary. I could revise round the clock, if it wasn't a) not workable at the moment with my schedule and b) probably unhealthy. I always try to take evenings off, but when it's my writing time, I'm writing, nothing else. So long as I'm meeting my daily goals, whatever they happen to be, I cut myself some slack.

This is probably the most important thing I've learned as a writer, and I know that endless or deadline crunch round-the-clock style works for some people (just not me). But I used to spend way too much time thinking I could and should be working even more, that there was always something else I could be doing to further a project, every second. Now, I do what I intend for that day, and then I feel no guilt for anything else. If I'm getting behind on email, I don't feel guilty, so long as I'm answering urgent things and getting my writing done. Etc. I have to have hours off to watch TV or read or just be lazy or I am not going to do good work or have a life that works. I need the time away, the outside stimulus–and I have a lot of other work I have to do too. So, I try to catch up on the other stuff in between projects, or once a week (or two) for email. But my operative philosophy is: following routine = check, then guilt = no. It's made all the difference.

I could talk about outlining and things, but I've already written, ahem, a book here, so I will instead tag the next victims! Who will post next Monday on their own sites. These just happen to be two authors I think you should be paying attention to. (Theirs are the only two books I've blurbed so far, actually. I did not do blurbs while I was still reviewing for Locus–it just didn't feel right.)

Jackie Dolamore (well, Jaclyn, to be precise and fancy). Jackie's next book is Dark Metropolis, which I thought was a wonderfully executed dark fantasy where society itself is hiding a terrible secret. Months later, I still think about the characters and the world.

Whitney Miller. Whitney's first novel The Violet Hour is a gripping supernatural thriller with some of my favorite things: a cult, a global conspiracy, creepiness galore, and a smart heroine. I am very much looking forward to the sequel.

I can't wait to see their answers.

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Let’s Get Mythical

I'm over at the SF Signal Mind Meld today talking about the appeal of mythology, gods, and goddesses in fiction, along with fancy types like Tessa Gratton and Jennifer Estep, and my Angry Robot compatriots Chuck Wendig, Adam Christopher, and Mike Underwood, to name a few. Go check it out. Thrilled to be included, as always.

*Also, please to excuse my typo. That "definitely literally" was supposed to be "definitely literarily." I was fresh off an edit pass, and thus experiencing deadline brain fritz.

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Talking It Out

So, yesterday morning, I asked for twitter's help deciding what to blog about, because that's turned out well in the past, and Libba pitched in:

Well, why not?

I learned many things about uvulas yesterday (fun word to say, and it sounds a little…dirty, doesn't it?)–that some people pierce them, that it's possible to get a bee sting there, that a friend knew someone when she was a kid who had two and could make them dance, that someone had a college instructor who mixed up uvula with an entirely different word to unfortunate results. WHO KNEW that the uvula's power to fuel anecdotes was so mighty? Not me. In fact, if Straight Dope is right, we don't even know what uvulas are for. But we do know they help us make some sounds and so that's awfully close to talking and talking is a suitable blog post topic.

All writers get stuck. There are the little stucks, the flummoxed by a scene for a day, or an hour, or a week. There are the bigger stucks, where nothing feels right, and we stall out or stutter-step forward, only to end up deleting a few steps back. Everyone. Gets. Stuck. And so everyone has to get unstuck.

There are various methods to this, as with all things. Some people walk away. Some clean the house. Some bang their head against their desk repeatedly. Some despair. Some move to a new city and assume a different identity. I have done all of these things myself at one time or another. Well, except the last one. That one I've just fantasized about when truly stuck.

But my most usual method for getting unstuck–and even, at times, just for moving forward, pushing ahead, figuring out a story–is talking it through.

Now, I'm lucky in this regard, because I'm married to another writer. He may not always be a captivated audience for these burblings, but he is a captive one. (Mwahaha.) I'm also lucky to have a number of writer friends who are happy to indulge in long talks to clear the fog or overgrowth that's hiding the path forward. Call on your writer friends, if you don't have a captive loved one, or call upon any friend or loved one to indulge your talking it out.

Often, it's just the very act of articulating the problem out loud that provides the solution. I think this is for a couple of different reasons:

1) Forcing yourself to explain a story knot or roadblock to someone else makes you have to explain it to someone else. And often that entails stepping back just enough to be able to see it more clearly. It also engages a different part of the brain, a different kind of thinking. Talking through possible solutions, your reaction to them will often reveal what's important to you about the story, and that is always a good thing to know.

2) You have to set your ego aside. Look, everyone gets stuck. But admitting you're stuck, not caring who knows, not letting that make you feel like a failure (see this fabulous post by Marie Lu on imposter syndrome), and asking for help, even if it's just an ear–that's a useful thing. It reminds you that this is about the story, about making it work, and not about you. It's hard to move forward with the full weight of the ego pressing down on your shoulders.

Another bonus: It's often fun, which being stuck isn't. Kicking around various solutions, talking over story issues, you can sometimes cover a lot more ground than you could cover in six weeks or six months at the desk making words and deleting them. The act of admitting you're stuck can also lead to commisseration, which in turns leads to less misery and feeling of awful aloneness. Ultimately, the solution comes from your fingertips, and yours alone, but there's no reason you have to suffer everything by your lonesome. Make others suffer with you. And suffer with them. This is the beautiful symbiosis of writer friendships.

The uvula wants you to talk it out. And remember:

As you were.

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Fast Vs. Slow

I've noticed a few posts here and there about writing speed lately, mostly from people who feel like they go slowly, but sometimes from quote-unquote fast writers too. And these kind of questions have come up at a few events I've done: How long does it take you to write a book? How can I write faster?

I don't know any writers who don't wish they could write faster, though I'm sure there must be some (but they're so zen, they can't be bothered to tell us). In general, everything ends up taking longer to finish than you believe it will. Or wish it would. And this is even after you have some experience and a general idea of how long it takes you to write and revise a book.

But here's what I'm also going to tell you: It doesn't matter.

From an interview with Junot Diaz:

"God, I know, the torment of it. You know, it's weird to be an artist who works really slow. I mean, we have a country that does not like people to take the time. We have a country that even its artists are on the punch-clock. So someone like me really stands out, you know. But you've got to do what you've got to do. And hopefully I can just finish it, forget how long it takes. As long as I can finish the darn thing, I'll be grateful.

"But, you know, that process gets lost. No one remembers it. No one – and that's what's the best part about being artist. There's all the sweat you break, all the dust you raise, all the sort of things, all the internal emotional timbre that goes in the work. No one will remember. That's the best part. All that's left is the actual work.

"And, you know, my books, I try to keep the sweat off the books. So people read it, and they're like wow, this feels like this was effortless. That's a great – for me, more than anything, that's the best part of this. My work, that what I put into it doesn't show on the page. That's, like, great."

This isn't news, but it feels like there is a lot of angst on all sides of this issue. No one feels like their process is just right. We are all Goldilocks, ready to experiment with some new method we've read about here or there, with outlining in legos or jumping up and down fifty times in the morning before we start, or using special highlighters. And any of those things might be useful. And, in fact, the amount of time writing any given book takes may well matter for other reasons, especially depending on how big a source of income writing is for the writer and other career-related concerns.

But it doesn't matter to the reader. And it doesn't really matter to anyone except you, the writer (or if you have a deadline and a publisher, you and the publisher).

Maud Newton writing at Tin House recently:

"Other than the slow pace, I’m not drawing comparisons between my writing and Tartt’s or Chee’s — certainly not in ultimate outcome. Nor do I believe that writers who work more quickly are necessarily any less brilliant or less deep than those two are. (Try listing, just for example, the works of Muriel Spark or Graham Greene on a single page.) But writing a novel is an inherently strange exercise. It’s surreal to work for years and years on a project very few people have seen. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the grips of an incredibly intricate and time-consuming delusion. So it’s comforting to know that some of the novelists who inspire me also, of necessity, take their time."

I actually know a fair number of writers who prefer to write manuscripts on spec for this reason, so they can take the time they need. Some of them are "fast" and some are "slow."

I've never been one to shy from a deadline, and I suppose I am what would be considered a relatively fast writer. This does not mean deadlines make me any less nutso than anyone else. Not even a little. There is always that stress, that feeling that this time will be the time you can't manage to pull it off. And the adrenaline when you do. Like many (if not all) of the relatively fast writers I know, I'm something of a workaholic and also usually feel I could/should be working even more. This is something I'm trying my best to get over, because it seems like a terrible burden to never feel like the work you're doing is enough.

So while I may write relatively quickly, I've also gotten much more deliberate–even just in the last year–and that feels like progress. I don't push push push to get to the end and rush a manuscript out the door the way I used to. I wait until it feels ready (enough, anyway; it never feels fully ready). I may be wrong, but at least it's not because of rushing when rushing doesn't matter. (In deadline world, this is not always possible. Alas. Sometimes meeting a timeframe does matter, and so you just have to do it. By hook, crook, or lack of sleep.)

I guess the point of this post is to answer those questions with: Write at your own pace and try not to stress about what pace that is. Fast, slow, whatever works. You're not racing anyone. Unless someone has locked you in a room where it's just you, two typewriters, and a monkey. Then you're racing that monkey to come up with Shakespeare.

(Now, if you're not writing at all…that's a problem. That's not slow, that's stopped. But, even so, there's a time for that too. We all need rests. Burnout is real. So is RSI. But so are deadlines. Don't miss those unless you have a really, really good reason.)

From an interview with Joyce Carol Oates:

"Young writers need to know that writing is work. It’s not something that can be done in a few hours. It takes much longer than that. You have to stay with it. When I look at something I wrote, I remember the trouble I had writing it.

"I don’t write in any kind of fever. Not at all. A story that is 15 pages long is written paragraph by paragraph, scene by scene. I might start with the ending and work my way back to the beginning. It’s more like a mosaic, pieced together. When it’s working right, a story has a certain fluidity. That’s my ideal, to move it along like a stream.

"I always get questions about my schedule and how productive I am. People think I’m productive, but I work so hard and so slowly. Anybody who worked 10 to 12 hours could be as productive, any normal, sane person. I can concentrate for that long because I have to, because I want to get it done."

The important part is not losing sight of the end goal, which is producing the best book you can. It will always take time. It will always take effort. It will probably take all of both you have to give…until you can finally send it on its way for good, and it's time to work on the next one.

Fast Vs. Slow Read More »

Gone Writing

Three days off to concentrate, and one last act to revise (aka mostly write) of the new novel. Can it be done?

Techniques to be employed:




Now–armed with my golden coffee mug of truth and invisible typewriter–off to work I go.

(But as I said elsewhere: So much I'm thankful for this year and so, so many people I'm thankful to. That includes all of you who stop by here. Love to you guys.)

p.s. So far so good. Also, thing too cool not to share: 

  • Part one of Erin Keane's Gift Guide for Salon suggests Blackwood for the Suzy Bishops (from Moonrise Kingdom) in your life, featuring perhaps my favorite description of the book ever as "a weird book for weird girls." I adored Moonrise Kingdom and all Suzy's fake YA novels, so this is an especially happy-making thing. Lots of great suggestions, and I think the concept of theming the guide around some of the year's most iconic characters is what sets it apart from the usual and makes it so much fun.

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