Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Featured Sweethearts: Brittney and Caleb Breakey

We are positively delighted to feature Brittney and Caleb Breakey! They do so much to showcase authors and to spread the writing love. After reading this interview, you'll see why we adore them so much!

About Caleb Breakey
A former award-winning journalist, Caleb Jennings Breakey loves all things writing and is represented by David Van Diest of D.C. Jacobson and Associates. He was one of seven writers fortunate enough to sit at the feet of Left Behind author Jerry B. Jenkins, and he's also studied under wordsmiths Brock and Bodie Thoene. Caleb is always busy operating CalebBreakey.com—a site designed to encourage and equip the often ignored, yet immensely talented field of young writers. He teaches at popular writing conferences such as the Blue Ridge, Oregon, Colorado, and CLASS Christian writers conferences.




About Brittney Breakey
Brittney is a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature and the Christian Writers Guild. She’s currently working on a humorous middle grade mystery novel—and loving it. She also operates Author Turf, a blog exclusively created to showcase authors.


TxS&S: Can you tell us what motivated you to start your blog, Author Turf?

Brittney:
The aim of Author Turf is to usher authors into the spotlight. The spillover, of course, is we readers benefit from their wisdom and encouragement.

TxS&S: What pleasant surprises have you had since starting the blog?

Brittney: When you start anything—a new book, a garden, a relationship—you don’t know what to expect. I wasn’t sure if Author Turf would flop or grow. I remember sending my first letter to Amanda Thrasher in January, asking her if she’d like to participate in something that barely existed. Five months later, I had over 180 interviews sitting in my inbox. That surprised me.

I was at a writers conference recently and a stranger walked up to me and said, “I just love Author Turf. I didn’t know about some of those authors and I’m always looking for a good book to read.”

Mission accomplished.

But really, the whip cream on the cake for me is, I get to interact with beloved and respected authors. Sometimes the interactions can be so surreal. For instance, today I was emailing Marissa Moss, author of the Amelia’s Notebook series. As a young girl, I adored her books, but thought she was dead. So, to be conversing with her a decade later is like, spooky cool.

TxS&S: Can you tell us the many different hats you wear and how you stay organized?

Caleb:
Hats I wear: Teen writer mentor, inspirational speaker, thriller/urban fantasy fiction writer, Jesus lovin’ non-fiction writer, online media sidekick, and all-around visionary and out-of-the-box thinker.

Creative machine McNair Wilson talked about a four-quadrant piece of paper on which one of our presidents would write: 1) Urgent and Important; 2) Important but not Urgent; 3) Urgent but not Important; and 4) Not important and Not Urgent. He’d then rip off the side of the "not importants." This is a skill I'm trying to teach myself. Desperately.

Brittney: I own four big hats: Willow’s Night Manager, Church Secretary, English Tutor, and Writer. For this reason, I heartily embrace organizational doohickeys. Like excel spreadsheets, email labels, sticky notes, Desktop files, online bookmarks, To Do lists, car organizers, etc.

I’m also an active member of the Clean Desk Club. Can’t stand clutter. And the more hats I wear, the more organized I become. I’m sure it has something to do with keeping my brain intact. I think I’d forget to go to the bathroom if I didn’t have cell phone reminder.

TxS&S: What or who keeps you both motivated?

Caleb:
The thought of doing something I’m meant to do. Contributing to this world. Writing the exact words I believe God wants me to write. I can get up in the morning and fight Resistance not only with my own will but with what I believe is the will of my heavenly father.

One of the key things I’ve learned is that motivation doesn’t produce words. Words produce motivation (thank you Tom Connellan, author of the 1 Percent Solution). It’s the doing--the writing of words--that kick-starts the part of our mind that says, “Yes, this is what I was meant to do.”

Brittney: I’m the type of person who loves surprises. So the more my story grows, the more motivated I am to keep momentum. I love searching in my email archive and realizing, “Whoa, a month ago I was on chapter four? Now I’m on chapter twelve!”

From spark to bonfire, I love the entire experience. The way it begins as a tiny thought in your head. You race home and create a word document with one line in it. Maybe it’s a question. And soon that question ignites into thousands upon thousands of words. Quirky characters pop up and say crazy things. Interesting settings construct themselves out of dust. The plot takes unexpected turns…maybe even off-road adventures. All because you pursued a tiny thought.


TxS&S What are some ways you support each other?

Brittney: Morning coffee dates. This is where we bounce off ideas, talk through plot problems, play the trombone, recite excerpts from Shakespeare, sing ballads, knit dish rags, polish our shoes, play tic-tac-toe….okay, so the last six were complete lies.

But really, just the simple act of sitting in the same room, day after day, quietly chipping away on our books is the most powerful boost. Writing means journeying into your own head, which can get lonely (and at times, dark and weird and blank) but when you have someone a desk a way who supports your mission one million percent, it’s so rejuvenating.



TxS&S: Would your friends and family members consider you Sweethearts or Scoundrels?

Brittney:
Definitely both. On the sweetheart side, we sit in the same booth when we got out to dinner, we hold hands a lot, and strangers assume we’ve been married three days instead of three years.

The scoundrel side is more like the fun side. Our parents call us ding-a-lings. We have brutal tickle wars. We prank call people. We imitate voices. We spray water on each other. We enjoy little boy humor. We make dorky videos. We lock each other out of the house. We make up words, (like tote bag perf, delonchuss, apple chonk, perfonculated, and so forth.) The answer key is not provided.

When Caleb says, “I love you, honey,” I respond in my infamous man-voice: “I love you too, sugar butt.” And Caleb has five fictional characters in his head, including a dude named Jody who lives with his grandma, loves the color red, and works at Jody’s Bowling Alley.

We even robbed a bank once. Actually, while the real bank robber fled town with the loot, seven cop cars from three different counties nabbed our yellow Mustang on a freeway overpass during rush hour traffic. Three pistols and a shotgun, lying flat on the pavement, handcuffs, reading of rights, the offering of therapy afterwards, the whole burrito). P.S. We were on our honeymoon.

True story.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

IT GETS BETTER -- The Video

The Texas Sweethearts and Scoundrels are honored to be part of this amazing project put together by Phil Bildner. There are no words to describe what a great message it sends. Just watch the video. And pass it on.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

FEATURED SWEETHEART: Lara Perkins, Publishing Manager for Laura Rennert




Today I'm thrilled to feature someone I've worked closely with the last few months bringing my debut YA novel SOLSTICE into the world.

Lara Perkins works with my agent Laura Rennert at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency as her publishing manager. Prior to that, Lara was Laura's assistant. (I know...the Lara/Laura thing can be confusing). Anyway...Lara's help editing SOLSTICE was priceless and really helped shape it into so much more that I could have ever imagined.

So anyway, I asked Lara Perkins some questions, and she was kind enough to take time out of her (very busy) day to answer them.

*****

PJH: So your title is "Publishing Manager for Laura Rennert." What does this mean and what does this involve?

LP: I'm delighted that this is your first question, Tricia, because I'm very excited about my new role with Laura. As Laura's Publishing Manager, I work closely with Laura as a part of her business, and my work combines some of the duties of an editor/agent with those of a business manager. On the editorial side, I work directly with Laura's very talented authors (like the brilliant author of SOLSTICE, for example!) to develop their manuscripts and story ideas. I also evaluate potential clients' work, make recommendations for representation, and draft pitch letters to editors. On the business side, I manage many of the financial and administrative aspects of Laura's business.

But one of the most exciting parts of this job, and something that's very relevant to SOLSTICE, is that I also help authors publish their works digitally and independently. In this capacity, I work with the author on the final line edit of the manuscript and then coordinate copyediting, cover art, and formatting. I put together the front and back matter and the jacket copy, and then I upload the book for the author, make it available for sale across all platforms, and troubleshoot any issues that arise. Once the book is on sale, I help the author track sales and marketing efforts. I've always been passionate about editorial work, but helping authors publish their works digitally has been an amazing experience--and tremendous fun!


PJH: What are the plans for more titles coming out the same way as SOLSTICE?

LP: There will be more titles forthcoming, as some other ABLA authors have also made the choice to independently publish projects with ABLA's help. ABLA's goal is to help its authors independently publish very high quality works that are indistinguishable from traditionally published books in terms of the content and the whole package (cover, formatting, copyediting, etc.). The process is both labor and cost-intensive, so ABLA is beginning with just a few authors and projects, and it will grow from there. But you are the trailblazer! The first ABLA author to independently publish a frontlist title with the agency's help.


PJH: What changes do you foresee in publishing in the next year?


LP: What's happening in publishing now is very exciting, and authors, agents, and publishers all have some fantastic new opportunities. Authors in particular have been empowered by these new changes, and all authors, published or unpublished, should pay close attention to the changes happening in the industry because these changes have a direct bearing on what will happen to to their work in both the short and the long term. That's been one of the great things about working with an ABLA agent; ABLA is doing more than almost any other agency to adapt to the new realities of publishing and to focus on the long-term upside for their authors.

As the publication of SOLSTICE indicates, there's been a shift in just the last few months towards embracing these new opportunities. We've seen bestselling authors turning down big traditional deals to explore new publishing models, traditional publishers launching promising new online platforms, and new agency models that embrace independent/digital publishing as well as traditional publishing. I think that we'll see even more of this in the next year. Given the speed at which these changes are taking place, I think that in the next year or two, the dust will settle, and everyone will have a clearer sense of the industry's new landscape.



PJH: Having edited manuscripts, what advice would you give authors looking for representation?

LP: Most writers already know how important the first few pages of a manuscript are, and I'll reiterate that. Your query letter is very important, of course; an agent needs to know that your idea is unique and commercial enough to sell, and how you communicate your book's premise tells an agent a lot about your skill with pacing and your sense of story. But, in many ways, your writing sample is the most important part of your query--the make it or break it part. A killer query letter with a weak writing sample is a much bigger problem than a weak query letter with a killer writing sample. So let's say you've already made sure that your first chapter showcases your writerly skill and your individual voice. You've made sure that your pages are clean and that they've been vetted by at least 3 trusted readers. Is there anything else to look for before sending out your writing sample?

I think there is. In my experience, great first chapters--the ones that make an agent or editor sit up and take notice--are those that strike a balance between the unfamiliar and the familiar. I know that sounds a bit vague, so I'll explain. A writer needs to hook his or her reader in the first few pages by giving the reader a compelling reason to keep turning the pages--some kind of mystery or puzzle or unresolved tension that points forward to the rest of the book. This is true across the board, regardless of genre and age group. (Even self-help books follow this pattern, destabilizing your expectations in the first chapter--"I ate cookies all day and still lost 100 pounds!"--so that you'll want to read on and solve the mystery of how that's possible.) So in your first few pages, you want to (productively) destabilize your reader and engage his or her curiosity. In short, you want to give your reader something unfamiliar.

But your reader also needs a way into the story, a foothold in your world. This means that your reader needs someone to identify with, or a familiar emotion or situation, so that he or she has a reason to invest emotionally in your story and to believe in the world you're creating. So your reader also needs to recognize something familiar in your world and/or in your characters.

If the whole first chapter is unfamiliar, your reader has no way in to the story. If it's all familiar, your reader has no reason to keep reading. So you need to strike that balance right off the bat, and it can be a real challenge. I've seen many first chapters that have one but not the other, and it's almost always a problem.

Now, getting all of that into the first chapter can be a real challenge, but it's worth it. Because the truth is that when your book hits the shelves, a potential reader may not give you much more than the first chapter before he or she decides whether or not to buy your book anyway. Even with ebooks, a potential buyer can sample the beginning of the book before purchasing it. In short, those first pages will be your first impression to your reader at every stage.

The rest of the ms has to hold up too, of course, so before you query, make sure that your whole manuscript is as strong as you can get it. If you think that there may still be problems in your manuscript, there probably are, and you don't want to miss a chance at your dream agent because of flaws you could have fixed. Even agents who enjoy working editorially have limited bandwidths, and if it seems like a work needs a great deal of editorial work, they will be more hesitant to take it on, even if it is very strong in other ways.

A final note: make sure that you query agents whose literary interests and prior sales match up with your work's category. For example, querying an agent who specializes in commercial thrillers, and who has never sold an autobiography, in the hopes that he or she will represent your quiet, literary autobiography probably won't result in a request, even if your work is strong. The agent won't hold it against you, but why query that agent when there are agents out there who have actually sold similar titles? Who would be excited to read "literary autobiography" in a query letter? Unless you have a definite reason to believe that your work will be an exception, focus on querying agents who have successfully sold similar titles or who have said that they're looking to take on works in that genre.


PJH: Thank you so much, Lara! I'm so happy I am able to work with you!