Giveaway - 5 Signed Copies of "How to Say I Love You Out Loud"

April 2, 2016 is World Autism Awareness Day. Every year, autism organizations around the world celebrate the day with unique fundraising and awareness-raising event.

 

In honor of Autism Awareness Day and Autism Awareness Month, I'll be sponsoring a giveaway that kicks off on March 28th and runs through April 18th.  Thanks to a generous donation from my publishing company, Swoon Reads/Macmillan, I'll be raffling off 5 signed copies of "How to Say I Love You Out Loud." 

I'm very excited about this opportunity to support Autism Awareness! Please find the details below and spread the word:
 

Excerpt:

"'As Phillip's older sister, I've had plenty of opportunities to share the things I've shared tonight with the rest of the world. With anyone who can't even begin to understand what life is like for Phillip, that it's a miracle of strength that he gets out of bed and faces the outside world each and every day. Before today, I've barely said a word.'

I lift my chin. 'I stand here tonight and tell you it is a shameful regret, because just recently I've realized something. Phillip can't speak up, and I have chosen not to. It is disrespectful to him that I squander my power of speech, that I have wasted opportunities to advocate for, protect, defend, and help my brother."

I HAVE been blogging...no really, I have.

During the month of August 2015, How to Say I Love You Out Loud's release month, I was guest blogging over at Swoon Reads weekly. As my fellow Swoon Sisters have also done, I commented on the following:

Week 1: The Writing Life - A Different Kind of Hunger

Week 2: The Editing Process - But They Don't Know You Like I Know You...

Week 3: Release & Promotion - The Difference A Year Makes-It's Time to Party!

Week 4: Publishing Confidential - The Rest is Still Unwritten

Alternate Routes to Publication

I consider Theresa Hernandez and Jennifer DiGiovanni among my nearest and dearest writing pallies. We met as unknowns, aspiring authors who were part of one small sector within the vast online writing community. At one point, the main thing we had in common (umm…separate and apart from a passion for writing, obviously) was rejection. We all knew it well.

We supported one another through all the varied forms of rejection that exist to break the spirit of aspiring authors. The “no” letters. The complete lack of responses. The email that one’s entry would not be moving forward in a contest. Every rejection took us back to square one. And as such, as we continued to exchange emails, a common thread that emerged was uncertainty in terms of which path to pursue. Go back to the drawing board with the query process and finding an agent? Stick with the current manuscript and edit the crap out of it, or consider abandonment and starting an original project? Self-publish and maintain all rights and freedoms? Trying to navigate the nebulous and frustrating road to publication as newbie authors, often times it was easy to consider giving up the path altogether. But I believe the writing passion burns too brightly within each of us, and I’m thrilled and excited to say that by the end of 2016, all of us will have seen our first novels (not necessarily those first manuscripts) come to fruition.

 How’d we make it happen? Our stories are all really different. But to provide aspiring authors with some inspiration, recommendations, and knowledge, Theresa and Jennifer have agreed to join me in sharing their stories of how they got from point AA (Aspiring Author) to point B (Book!). Hopefully, our stories will allow you to consider some paths you might not have before, or address some hesitancy about these courses to publication.

 About my road to publication…

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I’ve been a “storyteller” as long as I can remember. When I was about ten, I set out to pen a historical fiction romance set in the South during the Civil War. I sat down with my dad’s old typewriter and an actual letter C encyclopedia, pretty much my only source of information about the Civil War. When I was about sixteen, I set out to pen a young adult crime/mystery/romance story set at the Jersey Shore, starring me and my two best friends. I had a pretty Lisa Frank notebook and a purple pen. Shockingly, neither of these stories saw their way to completion. I had a lot of natural ability to come up with a story, but no real idea how to be a writer.

As the years passed, not much happened to change that. I was first a biochem major, then a psychology major in college. I never took a single writing course. I kept writing, because I always had the stories that needed to be told but the idea of being a “writer” was nothing more than a daydream.

But when I was in my mid-twenties, when the internet became such a central component of the writing community and more and more websites, contests, and fandoms came to exist that allowed storytellers to post their creations online, I started having more focused determination regarding that daydream. I wrote more, posted more, and got more of a response. Hearing that strangers enjoyed my stories started to convince me that maybe I could, in fact, eventually transition to bonafide writer. But the question remained…with no formal writing training, with no leads in the area of agents or publishing houses, with no previous publications to boost my credibility…how on Earth would I ever actually become a published author?

Title: How to Say I Love You Out Loud

When it will be available: 8.04.2015

Publication source: Swoon Reads/Macmillan

What made you ultimately decide to go in this direction (i.e., crowd-sourced publishing)?

By the time I was in my early thirties, I had a non-writing related full-time job and a family. I simply couldn’t find the time to write and query the possibly hundreds plus agents it might take to be given a chance. And that was just the first step of many! By posting my work on the Swoon Reads site, I had the opportunity to have direct access to readers and a publishing company, which was a lot more efficient and realistic for me.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about crowd-sourced publishing that you discovered?

It’s not just a contest. The idea of crowd-sourcing, certainly, is to help publishers get a better idea of what the target audience likes and wants to read. But the opinions of the audience are not the end-all be-all. Publishers still need to have faith that popular manuscripts work from a more traditional perspective.  The crowds can point them in the right direction, but ultimately, they have to believe what they find there is strong and sound.

What makes you glad you chose the route you did?

I love the direct access to the company and my high level of involvement in everything, from cover concepts to blog posts. The team at Swoon is efficient, positive, and incredibly supportive. Also, they recognize that I’m new to all this and don’t have a background in writing, and staff is always very patient with my questions and/or concerns.

Are there any hurdles or roadblocks you’ve encountered along the way?

I’m proud that I’ve gotten this far without an agent navigating the waters for me.  However, there are times when I have “process” questions that I would like to bounce off someone who has more experience in the industry.  Swoon Reads continues to grow and take on new authors, and I don’t want to feel like a pest!  In those moments, sometimes I wish I had an agent to help plan my personal course with or bounce ideas off of.

Any final thoughts or pieces of advice for aspiring authors?  

Don’t get caught up comparing yourself to others or wishing your writing could be more like theirs. Your voice, your tone, your ideas are what make you original and makes your story yours. You can certainly strive to emulate those who inspire you, but don’t sacrifice your originality in doing so, even if you’re finding you don’t fit neatly within any mold!

Karole Cozzo

www.kacozzo.com

Check out How to Say I Love You Out Loud, coming out next month!

Words are strong. Love is stronger.

When Jordyn Michaelson’s autistic brother joins her at her elite school, she’s determined not to let anyone know they're related. Even if that means closing herself off to all her closest friends, including charming football stud Alex Colby. But despite her best intentions, she just can't shake the memory of kissing Alex last summer, and the desire to do it again.

Can Jordyn find the courage to tell Alex how she really feels—and the truth about her family—before he slips away forever?


 About Theresa’s road to publication…

 Having been a writer and editor for most of my adult life, I thought transitioning from technical and sales writing to a novel would be a piece of cake. I mean, I’m a writer. Writing is writing, right? One chapter into THE UNION and I knew I was as prepared for writing a novel as I was for performing brain surgery. At least no one dies if my writing sucks…oh wait…sometimes they die even when my writing doesn’t suck quite so much, but at least they’re fictional. 

Like anything I’ve ever done in life, when I realized I was in over my head (hello, raising kids?) I devoured everything I could on the subject, reading dozens of books on craft by everyone from Stephen King to Janet Evanovich to Oakley Hall. I had this story I needed to tell, the one that kept me up at night, I just needed to learn HOW to tell it. 

Learning how to write was about as easy as learning how to parent – meaning I made more mistakes than not and hoped I didn’t damage my story (or my children) too much along the way. After completing the first draft and revising countless times, I finally sought input from beta readers who gave me feedback from a reader’s point of view. 

Flash forward another year and I stumbled upon an announcement by MacMillan about a new site they were launching for young adult romance. It was an opportunity to not only submit my manuscript for consideration, but early submitters would get an editorial letter. I knew I needed to be one of those early submitters. The opportunity for feedback from an editor was too good to pass up.

 With the clock ticking, I rushed through another round of edits and posted what I thought was a pretty polished manuscript. Yeah, not so much, but I did get that letter containing some valuable feedback. More than anything, though, what I got, what I value most to this day about my writing journey, is the relationships I’ve made with other young adult authors on that site. No matter what beta readers or publishers tell you, no one really gets it the way another hopeful writer does. The self-doubt, the process, the hair-pulling, the sleepless nights, the rejection…all of it. 

After submitting THE UNION, I began reading some of the other submissions. The first book I finished was THE HURRICANE by Jennifer DiGiovanni. I immediately left her feedback, telling her how much I loved the story and asking if she’d written anything else because I fell in love with her quirky characters, her witty voice, and the sweet angsty teen drama. That single comment kicked off what has become an 18-month friendship that involves nearly daily emails, and sometimes dozens a day. She makes me laugh, supports me when I’m low, and sends me wine on occasion (okay once, but I drank it slowly. Okay I didn’t, I drank the whole bottle in one night).

 The next few books I read on the site didn’t really connect with me until I hit Karole Cozzo’s BROKEN trilogy. Many sleepless nights followed as I devoured all three books not once, but twice. And when I was finished, I not only left her feedback, but like a tween-aged girl stalking One Direction, I found her blog and reached out to her there as well. Pretty soon, Karole, Jen, and I were communicating on a regular basis about not only writing, the ups and downs of publishing, but our lives and families. 

I’m not sure I would have gotten through this long process without Karole and Jen. The three of us are now each published, or soon will be, through three different paths. Karole ended up getting a contract through the MacMillan site, Jen, through another publisher, and I ended up going the indie route. But the friendships that were forged a year and a half ago are stronger now than ever. If I never go on to publish another thing, I’m already a success.

 Your Title(s): The Union (The Union Series #1) and The Ruins (The Ruins Series #2)

 Where it’s available/will be available: The Union is available in eBook on Amazon and paperback at all major online retailers (Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Powell’s BAM!) and through subscription at Oyster and Scribd. The Ruins eBook is available on Amazon, and soon everywhere in paperback. 

Publication source: Indie 

What made you ultimately decide to go in this direction: I submitted to a few publishers direct and received either lukewarm feedback or no feedback at all. At that point, I decided to seek an agent. I received a request for my full manuscript from the top agent on my list of dream agents. But after reading it, she said it was too dystopian for the current market. That she wasn’t able to place any dystopian at that time, but maybe in a year or two. I didn’t want to wait a year or two, and I figured if she couldn’t place dystopian no one could! 

What’s do you think is the biggest misconception about traditional publishing/self-publishing/smaller presses/etc. that you discovered? That self-published titles are terrible and need a publisher to act as a gate-keeper to the good stuff, and that all traditionally published books are good. There are definitely good and bad stories both traditionally and self-published. However, many self-published titles are not as polished as they could be, or in some cases, not at all, and unfortunately those give the entire industry a bad name. 

Why you’re glad you chose the route you did? If for no other reason than I now understand how this business works inside and out. I am responsible for choosing my cover artist, approving the artwork, hiring my editor, formatting, proofing, approving galleys, and doing all of my own marketing. It’s a lot of work, but I’m not sorry I know what it takes. It makes me appreciate the work publishers do. That’s not the only upside though. I own my schedule. I can release my titles when I want rather than waiting for my publisher to set the date. That gives me more freedom.

Hurdles/roadblocks along this course? The biggest hurdle or roadblock is getting people willing to try a new indie author. I can find them, but it takes time and perseverance. Time waiting, but also time pursuing those readers. Time that isn’t spent writing the next book. 

Final thoughts/advice? There are no shortcuts. No matter which path you choose, the work is hard. You absolutely need to put out the best product you can. Whether you’re looking for an agent, a publisher, or considering going the indie route, your book must be complete, polished, and worthy of publication. Putting out a sub-par product won’t get you representation, a contract, or good reviews, which in turn can lead to more sales.

Theresa Hernandez

http://thhernandez.com/

 Check out THE UNION series!

After global warming and a second civil war devastated the former United States, two different societies rose from the ashes – the Union, a towering high-tech utopia, hugging the perimeter of the continent, and the devastated, untamed midsection known as the Ruins.

 Seventeen-year-old Evan Taylor has an easy, privileged life in the Union. What she doesn’t have is any idea what to do with the rest of her life. She only knows she wants to do something meaningful, to make a difference in the lives of others.

 When she’s kidnapped and taken into the Ruins as a pawn in a dispute involving her boyfriend, Bryce, her ideal world is turned upside down. What she learns while in the Ruins shakes her faith in everything she’s ever known, from Bryce, to her family, and even the Union itself.

Now Evan must choose whether to stay with Cyrus, the sexy, resourceful survivor who believes she’s in the Ruins for a reason, or return to the only life she’s ever known. But when she stumbles upon a dangerous plot that threatens both worlds, her decision could tear her apart.

 

About Jen’s road to publication…

 I returned to writing after finding a trunk of my old, half-written manuscripts in my basement. My youngest child was starting kindergarten and I knew it was finally time to try to put something together and seek publication. So, I sat down at the computer and wrote. A lot. Words just came spilling out and I wrote for an entire year without telling anyone. Finally, I asked my sister to look at what I was working on, and she said, “This reads like a real novel.”

 I knew that I needed to show my work to other writers, the only people who truly understand what it takes to write a book. I put my manuscript online and was shocked that someone I didn’t know actually read it and liked it, especially given its many weaknesses (lack of a real plot being a big one). When I reached out to Theresa to thank her for her feedback, we immediately clicked. She recommended Karole to me and I soon became fans of both of their writing. The support of the online writing community has been so wonderful for me. I’ve met so many talented writers and have been so humbled by their willingness to take an interest in my work and offer advice. Yes, writing can be a solitary adventure. But it’s so much better when you reach out to others who share your passion and love of story-telling.

 Title: MY SENIOR YEAR OF AWESOME

When it will be available: SPRING 2016

Publication source: GEORGIA MCBRIDE MEDIA GROUP’S SWOON ROMANCE – YA

What made you ultimately decide to go in this direction (i.e., small press publishing)?

 Actually, I owe Theresa for referring me to my publisher. She’d read a few YA books from Swoon Romance and thought my latest manuscript would be a good fit.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about small press publishers that you discovered?

The biggest surprise for me was how many titles my publisher offers each year. I was under the impression that small publishers only put out a few new titles, but Swoon Romance has a relatively large number of releases.

What makes you glad you chose the route you did?

I’m glad I chose to query small publishers because I think it was the easiest and fastest way to publication for me. I’d queried a small number of agents (less than 10) but after hearing other writers talk about sending 100+ individualized query letters, I wasn’t sure if that was the best approach for me. Plus, after you land an agent, you’ll need to wait for them to shop your book to publishers, with no guarantee of a sale, which takes more time.

Are there any hurdles or roadblocks you’ve encountered along the way?

This isn’t necessarily a roadblock, but my book is a “digital-first” release. Given the fact that I’m moving this summer and need to pack up my guest room, (which is basically a room filled with stacks of books) I now have a much greater appreciation for my e-reader.

Any final thoughts or pieces of advice for aspiring authors?  

I read both in and out of my genre, which I think helps my overall story structure. Ultimately, you may never write a cozy mystery, but it’s nice to be familiar with the genre in case you’d like to work in a subplot or two. Also, I would strongly advise you to force yourself to show your work to other writers. I remember going to my first in-person critique group and literally shaking with fear, but the feedback I received in that setting was invaluable. 

Jen DiGiovanni

http://www.jenniferdigiovanni.com/

 Keep an eye out for MY SENIOR YEAR OF AWESOME and add it to your Good Reads TBR list!

As the final semester of senior year begins, the much anticipated Senior Superlative votes are revealed to the students at Harmony High. When Sadie discovers she’s been voted “Most Likely to Get Married” to Andy – a boy she’s never dated or ever thought of as a potential boyfriend – she’s convinced that she’s the victim of a cruel joke. To prove high school life means something more than a Senior Superlative award, Sadie and her best friend Jana decide to fill in their own list of awesome non-academic achievements before graduation.  

Yet, the harder Sadie works to show everyone she’s not the least bit attracted to Andy, the more appealing he becomes. When senioritis kicks in and the school year dwindles down to mere weeks, Sadie must decide if she wants to risk ruining her good girl reputation and a chance at the prom date of her dreams just to prove that the Senior Superlative vote was a huge mistake. 

Why Cinderella is a Must-See for Little Girls and Big Girls Alike

As a girl who grew up watching Disney movies, and now as the mother of a little girl who incessantly watches Disney movies, Cinderella was never a favorite. I related more easily to headstrong, defiant Ariel, better understood Belle’s feminist underpinnings. Cinderella herself was just a bit too vapid for me – all her hopes tied to wishes, dreams, and magic – and no one looks that happy about scrubbing the floor, except wives in vintage Miltown ads. 

And Prince Charming? More like Prince One-Dimensional. He offers nothing to the plot besides showing up and having his head turned by the loveliest girl at the ball, without even exchanging two sentences with her. He’s little more than a judge in a beauty pageant, and can’t even be bothered to go out on his own with the damn glass slipper – he sends his minions instead to do the dirty work. 

No, Prince Phillip was my boy. At least he had two brain cells to rub together, the guts to challenge his father’s antiquated notions, and the courage to slay a fire-breathing dragon on Aurora’s behalf. Now that’s a real man for you.

After watching previews for the 2015 live action version of Cinderella (aforementioned little girl; youtube; ad nauseam), I essentially expected more of the same.  They prominently featured a really, really creepy stepmother and her equally creepy cat, a young Cinderella who appeared to be comprised of goodness and light, Prince Charming with a winsome but still cheesy grin, and the dress. Adorned with glittery butterflies, for crying out loud.

Well. I can’t even begin to tell you how pleasantly surprised I was with this movie. I loved it. I loooved it. It had so much heart, and depth, and yet somehow retained just enough of that good ol’ Disney magic to remind you who was behind this little gem. And more than once, I was actually moved to tears. Moreover, I was just really, really grateful to sit beside my daughter with my arm wrapped around her shoulders and view this film together. Because unlike the original version, which (albeit in a completely charming Disney way) has always sent her the message “you just keep wishing and dreaming and a Prince Charming will come to find you beautiful and rescue you from your life,” this movie was rich with other messages I couldn’t wait to reiterate and discuss with her. Some are rooted in the original, and some are brand new. I believe all are valuable.

1)      People can be really nasty. And there’s usually a reason why. A lot of people, after experiencing people being nasty to them, turn nasty themselves. It’s easier this way. It’s easier to shut down, and not care. Take that nasty else on someone else.

Don’t ever do this.

In the original movie, we see Cinderella straighten her shoulders and say “yes Stepmother” and go about her business with silent grace. She almost makes it look easy. Guess what, it’s not. 2015 Cinderella is broken. She collapses to her knees, she falls apart in tears. She shows us exactly how hard it is to remain gracious and kind when others are not. It is not easy to be the bigger person, but she shows little girls it’s possible. Living amidst a “mean girl” culture, we’re all trying to teach our daughters to be kind, even when others are not. Thank you, Ella, for being a role model of this ideal, whilst not downplaying how completely difficult it is to do so. You make kindness cool. But also a little gritty and completely real. Your battle to take the high road over the easy road was so much more relatable than that of your predecessor’s.

2)      Your Prince Charming doesn’t just save you. You save him, too.

As I said, the previews only provide a quick glimpse of “Prince Kit.” Bright blue eyes, shit-eating grin. I didn’t expect to swoon. But oh, swoon I did. I simply adored Prince Kit and the direction they took his character in the 2015 live action version. I’m not a G.O.T. girl, and I have no idea what type of character Richard Madden portrays in the series, but I gained a ton of admiration for the genuine fragility he brought to this role.

In this version of Cinderella, we see that true men sometimes show their strength in allowing themselves to be weak. By acknowledging that it’s the women in their life who make them brave, who help them be strong. (SPOILER ALERT) We see Kit curled up in the fetal position in tears beside his dying father, we see him stumbling over his words when asking Ella for the first dance. Sometimes Prince Charming isn’t smooth, and sometimes that makes him all the more charming, right? He’s real. He’s so far from one-dimensional.

He allows himself to be challenged by Ella. Challenged to stand up for ideals, even if they’re uncommon, challenged to fight for his heart. Salvation isn’t a one-way street, and princesses are just as capable of it as princes.

3)      Your true prince? Will love you at your worst, not just your most beautiful.

In the original Cinderella, the only time the prince lays eyes on her is at the ball. He’s not even present when the “peasant girl” with her hair tied back in rags is revealed to be the one who the slipper fits. Next time he sees her? She’s in a wedding dress, once more turned into the beautiful princess.

In the 2015 remake, the Prince is first enchanted by Ella when her face is smeared with ashes and her hair is more or less a mess of tangled dreadlocks. That’s how she looks at the end of the movie when they’re reunited, as well. The movie does a fine job of clarifying this point, with the narrator saying something akin to: “And this is the greatest risk of all. Showing someone who we truly are, and asking them to love us for whom we truly are.”

You don’t always have to look good for your man. He should indeed love you when you first roll out of bed, without make-up, with your hair a mess. You don’t have to look like a princess for the man who loves you to see your beauty, inside and out. 

(Obviously she is still undeniably beautiful, but...ya know)

4)      Forgive. There is inherent value in doing so.

Cartoon Cinderella never gets to have the last word with Lady Tremaine. Ella does. And in that last second, when she is on her way out the door with the prince and her stepmother is left cowering on the stairwell, she only says three little words. “I forgive you.”

It doesn’t matter that she will likely never have to see her again, or deal with her again, or even if the woman is looking for forgiveness, which likely she is not. But there is still value in pardoning her. And not just because Ella might feel better by doing so.

Everyone has a back story. Most people who are driven to cruelty have suffered cruelty themselves, or in the case of this story, some type of devastating loss. It does not justify their behavior, but it’s important that we remember they suffer too.  Forgiveness is compassion, forgiveness is remembering. Forgiveness is its own act of kindness.

5)      You are your parents’ legacy. You honor them with your behavior.

Ha, perhaps my favorite as far as messages for my daughter are concerned! But seriously, this was such a subtle yet powerful theme of this movie. Perhaps because we were given the opportunity to really meet Ella’s parents and see the beauty of their familial relationship, perhaps because we suffered the loss of them alongside her, her parents were a much stronger force in this version than the original.

Ella is kind, and good, and happy, because her parents instilled these qualities in her. When the world did everything in its power to destroy these traits, she fought to hold onto them in the name of her parents. She maintained ties to her childhood home with them when circumstance would urge her to do anything but. Even after they’re gone, her parents are her guiding force. Her choices are a reflection of them, and she takes this responsibility seriously.

One of my favorite aspects of the 2015 version is when the fairy godmother is standing before Ella with her wand. In the original movie, Cinderella is pleased as punch to lose her rags and don that ball gown. (SPOILER ALERT) But in this version? Ella protests. She wants to wear her mother’s dress, she makes a point in saying it will be like having a piece of her mother with her and that will be a source of comfort. Yep, cue the waterworks one more time. 

Yes, little girls become their own persons. But that person they choose to become is rooted in what their parents have instilled. So I guess this message was for the both of us, wasn’t it?

Those are the big ones for me. Yes, there’s lots of other Disney goodness in there too, like “see the world not as it is, but as it could be” and how sometimes you do have to believe in a little bit of magic here and again. But I can’t speak highly enough of the more thoughtful, intelligent points this movie managed to touch upon, all whilst keeping my four-year-old completely entranced with the imagery and action and beauty on screen. The movie was a bit mature for her, and some of the dialogue may have been over her head, but I cherished the opportunity to talk with her about some of these ideas in the car ride home. Which was totally unexpected, a special type of magic I hadn’t anticipated this movie delivering.

Well done, Disney. Well done.