sallyhanan’s blog

A writer’s blog

Maria Snyder’s Marketing Story and win her book May 30, 2009

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This is the second part of my interview with Maria Snyder, author of the Study Book trilogy. I split the interview in two so that I could dedicate the second half to the excellent marketing information Maria gave me.

Tell me about your marketing methods for Poison Study.

I was blessed to have a good publisher. The first thing she did was send me to the West Coast on a book tour. I went to Seattle, L.A., and San Diego. Unfortunately, it was Columbus Day weekend, and no one was in the bookstores! The experience didn’t kill any future desires to do book fairs—I still love to meet people and talk.

When I do book fairs, I like to personalize my table: I always have bookmarks and chocolate for visitors. The chocolate enables me to open up a conversation about how food tasters detect poison. I then offer my first book, Poison Study, as the antidote. I love doing promotional work and marketing, which is the opposite of most authors’ personality types. I almost love it too much, and I accept invitations to events when I should be scheduling writing time instead.

I did some radio interviews and sold a few books that way.

Some of the most effective sales figures were gained through online promotions. I had one hundred advance copies of the book and I gave away five hundred of them through contests. The contestants became my referral marketing group. We would give one entry to each person who linked to my blog or sent out five referrals or posted about the contest.

Sometimes I will ask bookstore owners if they’d like to offer a bookstore package. I send them signed book labels that they can put into the books, postcards, pencils, and bookmarks. This helps us both to promote more sales of my books.

Who do you use to create your marketing materials?

While my publisher takes care of the design elements of the marketing items, I use to print them. I especially love the quality of my bookmarks: I have a book jacket photo of one of the first two books in my current trilogy on each side, along with my website and e-mail information. Storm Glass came out in April, and Sea Glass is coming out on September first.

Your book, Fire Study, was on the NY Times Bestseller List for two weeks. Poison Study is on its second print, Magic Study on its first, and Fire Study is on its third already. What is it, besides your incredible talent, which has caused this trilogy to do so well?

Once my third book in the trilogy made it to the NY Times list, it made marketing a whole lot easier. Even with books I have written since then, having my name on that list gets me invited to conferences, book fairs, workshops, and many other events. I always bring my books with me and sell a substantial number of them. To be honest, it was my fans that created the momentum to buy Magic Study and Fire Study. The buzz that they created, both on- and offline, helped considerably.

Do you have any other book ideas thought up in your head?

Always! I am working on one more fantasy book but I have ideas for a science-fiction book, a mystery, and I am seeking a publisher for my mainstream MG book.

Finally, what words of encouragement might you give to struggling authors?

PERSISTENCE! Keep going!

In the early days of writing, I had had so many rejection slips that I decided to switch from writing fiction to writing non-fiction. I sent out some queries and was offered a lot of work by local magazines. I was even asked to write up the history of a chocolate factory. Then I got the acceptance letter from my publisher and I had one month to do all the edits she asked for and fulfill all of my non-fiction obligations.

Just stay determined, and don’t let rejection hamper your goals.

If you would like to win a signed copy of Poison Study, the first book in the Poison, Fire, Magic Study trilogy, there are a few ways to get an entry in. You will get one entry for each of the following, as long as you send me a link to the proof here or via e-mail (inkmeister at inksnatcher dot com):

1. Link to this interview (part one or two) from your blog
2. Link to Maria’s site ( from your blog
3. Blog about this contest
4. Send referrals, for any one of Maria’s books, to five friends (and have them e-mail me to say they got one)
4. Twitter/Facebook etc. about this contest
5. Comment here

Published in October 2005, Poison Study won the 2006 Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel, won the Salt Lake Co. Library’s Reader’s Choice award, was a 2005 Booksense pick, was nominated for four other awards, and received a Starred Review from Publisher’s Weekly. You can find Poison Study at these online retailers:,, Barnes & Noble, and Borders. Poison Study can be downloaded as an audio book from, and an eBook is available from eHarlequin’s eBook Store.



Every piece of writing needs to be clear and precise. With microscope in hand, Inksnatcher’s writing and editing service will hone any work until it glitters in the light of a 1,000 watt bulb.

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Interviewed about Joy in a Box May 27, 2009

Filed under: Writing — sallyhanan @ 1:53 pm
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Fran Lewis, author of the Bertha series, has interviewed me about my upcoming short story collection:
Fran Lewis’ blog


Writing an Opening With Home in Mind May 26, 2009

Filed under: Writing — sallyhanan @ 9:52 pm
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Home could really be anywhere—it could be the home you grew up in, the home you have created that you live in now, or the makeshift home of someone in transition. Again, I’m going to let my mind fling thoughts in and out of different homes I’ve lived in to see if I land anywhere.

I remember the huge dining room table we all sat around. We had to slide the salt and pepper across the table with an extravagant push to get it to the other side. There was a window into the kitchen, sort of like the place where the servants could serve up the food in the old days. It was such a huge table. I could have some guy bring home his girlfriend and his parents know that she’s “the one.”

I think this could work, so now I have to try and get a good opening line. What would make me want to read more? If I see this through the girl’s eyes, then readers can get in touch with her fear and want to figure out what it is she’s afraid of.

Samantha’s fingers played nervously with her shirt button. Now that she was sitting at the dining room table, with John frowning at her from above the rim of his wine glass, she wasn’t all that sure that discussing the art of grave-digging had been the best choice of conversation.

Ah! Perfect. This story could take off in so many ways, it’s unreal. I could make it humor, paranormal, science-fiction—literally, anything I like. It’s one of those classic openers that lights the muse within.

Have at it, you guys. 🙂


Interview with Maria Snyder, NY Times List Author, part one May 21, 2009

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I had the amazing fortune of meeting New York Times Bestsellers List author, Maria Snyder, last week. We were both waiting patiently for more visitors at a school bookfair, and I took full advantage of the lull in activity by interviewing Maria. I have split the interview into two parts, as Maria gave me so much information that it would be an injustice to her (and you) to try and cram it all into one post.

What made you take up writing?
I didn’t always write, so boredom as a young adult was the main reason. I finished college in the early ’90s with a degree in environmental meteorology and then got a job as an air quality scientist. I did some field work and dealt with lawyers who wanted air permits, and it was all quite boring.

I decided to go to a writers’ conference on a whim. One of the offers of the conference was a critique of a short story, so I submitted one. When the lady handed it back to me, she told me that it needed some work, but it was “pretty good.” I wanted to know what “pretty good” really meant—did that mean a 5/10 or something else? She said that it was a 7/10. That encouraged me. If it hadn’t been for her, I don’t know if I ever would have started to write in earnest.

So what did you do after the conference?
I wrote short stories for three or four years. One of the short stories seemed to have more to it and, as I worked on it, it turned into the beginning of Poison Study.

I joined a writers’ group, which we later fondly called the “Muse and Schmooze” group. The ladies there told me that the story wasn’t too bad and promptly ripped it to shreds, but all nine of them were constructive in their critique. Every month I wrote and submitted a new chapter, and they helped me to polish and revise it. They acknowledged my abilities and gave me advice on how to make it even better. I didn’t use all of their advice, but most of it did enhance the book considerably. When you open the book to the page of acknowledgements, you’ll notice that I have named each one of the writers in the group. My appreciation of their input is huge.

How did you go about trying to get Poison Study published?
I submitted queries to forty agents, and all but one of them rejected it. The one agent who liked it asked me to make some changes, but when I sent it back to her with the changes in place, she was no longer interested in representing me. I then decided to send it directly to seventeen publishers. One of them said yes.

The editor assigned to me at that publishing house was very good at her job: she encouraged me to add in more description, to develop the characters more, and to build up the detail of the fantasy world. Her changes were perfect, because I tended to write in a very direct, action-focused way at the time, and she made my writing richer for it.

Are you still with that publishing house?
Yes. Originally, Poison Study was published by Harlequin’s Luna Books, but later they wanted Luna to represent an urban line of books, and they created Mira to be a fantasy “catch all” line. My recent books are with Mira.

I have written another book, though, called Storm Watcher: a middle grade book of mainstream fiction about a thirteen-year-old boy who is both fascinated with and scared of weather. It’s like a cross between City of Ember and Logan’s Run. I won’t publish it with Mira because of the genre, but it is tentatively scheduled to be released in the fall of 2009.

Part two of my interview with Maria Snyder coming soon.

If you would like to win a signed copy of Poison Study, the first book in the Poison, Fire, Magic Study trilogy, there are a few ways to get an entry in. You will get one entry for each of the following, as long as you send me a link to the proof here or via e-mail (inkmeister at

1. Link to this interview (part one or two) from your blog
2. Link to Maria’s site ( from your blog
3. Blog about this contest
4. Send referrals, for any one of Maria’s books, to five friends (and have them e-mail me to say they got one)
4. Twitter/Facebook etc. about this contest
5. Comment here

Published in October 2005, Poison Study won the 2006 Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel, won the Salt Lake Co. Library’s Reader’s Choice award, was a 2005 Booksense pick, was nominated for four other awards, and received a Starred Review from Publisher’s Weekly.


The Rest of the Story May 14, 2009

Filed under: Writing — sallyhanan @ 11:04 am
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The other day, I talked about how to write good opening lines—the kind that hook the reader and draw him in—that make him want to find out what happens. Using the opening lines from a previous post, I simply continued to write what I saw and watched it unfold.

This story ended up being more of a character study, which can really help a writer. It got me into the character’s head and I could figure her out a little.

I wanted to dig deeper into the mind of a crotchety old lady and find some gold; and I wanted to show that, despite Mrs. Hobbs’ outer caustic mouth and body language, underneath all that was a heart that needed a friend. Showing the vulnerable side of a character can then help readers to like and identify with her more, rather than dislike her.

With flash fiction, a writer can really only introduce two characters and have one incident; otherwise, the story will go over the acceptable word limit (1,000 words; sometimes even fewer). This one ended up being under 5oo words.

Angelika was masticating. Even though she was looking in from the outside, and the book store window was a bit grimy, Mrs. Hobbs was certain she could see the girl’s jawbone moving up, down, in, out . . . such a nasty habit: gum chewing. So uncouth.

She clicked the wheelchair into forward to get closer to the glass and rapped it with her cane. Angelika must have seen her out of the corner of her eye, because Mrs. Hobbs could have sworn she saw the girl’s left eyeball twist into the back of her cranium before it turned her way; if she were a swearing woman, that is.

Angelika’s svelte body wisped its way toward the door and pushed into it from the inside with a slow swish. Mrs. Hobbs felt her breath quicken along with her motorized chair, as she rose up the ramp at full throttle before almost doing a wheelie into the establishment.

Angelika’s chomping was audible now. Mrs. Hobbs made sure that she was seen turning the volume down in her hearing aid—a sophisticated device that had enabled her to turn off her husband during football season, God rest his soul.

“So? Did you get it in then?”

Angelika moved to stand in front of the visitor, arms folded across her barely-discernible chest, fingers draped like silk ribbons on the black turtleneck dress. One eyebrow lifted slightly with the shake of her head.

“Mrs. Hobbs. I have told you that I will call you when the book comes in.”

Mrs. Hobbs slumped her head into her neck. “Alright then.” Her cane ascended into the air. “Help me get back to the bus stop.”

“Mrs. Hobbs! I have told you before that I cannot leave the premises.” Angelika’s legs took a few steps to the wall. “Now, please; I have a lot to do.”

Feeling like a deflated balloon, Mrs. Hobbs removed herself from the store. Bubble gum popped behind her right before the door shut her out.

Her chair remained at the bottom of the wheelchair ramp for quite some time. Occasionally, a surreptitious set of fingers would reach up and wipe at her eyes. Once her breathing settled into a less labored pattern, Mrs. Hobbs buzzed her way mechanically until the wheels came to a halt at the bus stop.

Maybe tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow, How to Win Friends and Influence People will get here.


But God Wrote This Book!! May 12, 2009

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A group of freelance editors got together last week to discuss the phenomenon of receiving submissions from authors who were sure their manuscripts came directly from God. Some statements made by writers:

God wrote my book.
I want to put God as the author on my front cover.
I’m just letting the Holy Spirit write it all.
I’m not sure how many words it will end up being. God is writing the book, and when he says it’s done, then it’s done.
God dictated this book to me; it has to be published.
On his title page, “By —–, as revealed by the Holy Spirit.”
I’m rewriting the Bible–God has told me that all the other translations are wrong and heresy, so I’m going to do it the right way.
You shouldn’t charge me for editing because it will be a service to God.
I know my book is going to be a best seller because the Holy Spirit is writing it.
God gave me this message.

The problem with this?
As with any piece of writing, a first draft will always be a first draft. Even if the words are moonbeamed from heaven, the writer will translate them into his or her own level of understanding, culture, and word choice; in other words, they won’t end up sounding exactly like God. Think of it in relation to playing telephone, only with one person in the chain whispering from the other side of a chasm.

Granted, there any many wonderful Christians who can hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and be led by him. Nevertheless, God requires excellence in his temples, and it takes the Ephesians’ “brick upon brick” (see Eph. 2:20-22) method to build something beautiful and complete. We are expected to be good stewards of any gift we have, so fair dues should be given to those writers who listened, wrote, and then dared to take the next step and submit their writing to an editor, agent, or publishing house. Being a good steward, though, also includes making the presentation of that gift as outstanding as possible.

Every master craftsman has gone through years of dedicated work to earn that title. In the same way, a writer is not naturally brilliant the moment he/she starts to write. Most established writers have worked with other writers, taken classes, and written a lot before their work was published. They honed the discipline of writing on a regular basis, of learning from critique, and of figuring out how to write clearly and in an orderly way that makes sense to the reader. Successful writers take their emotions out of the editing process and let the editor do his/her job to make the manuscript worthy of publication.

God can certainly guide an author along the way, using his/her talent and his voice to create something unique and beautiful. Nevertheless, when writers use some of the phrases mentioned in the opening of this article, the statements tend to creep out editors so much that they run the other way rather than sign up for the job.

“There’s an inside joke among editors that God is the worst literary agent ever.”

It happens, quite often, that when writers talk about being instantly successful because God gave them their Magnus Opus, it translates into meaning, “God gave me the words; therefore, I will make millions, and I don’t have to do any other work to make it excellent (because it already is).” With this mind-set and lack of effort on the writer’s part, an editor usually has to do a line-by-line edit because the quality of writing, grammar and punctuation is so bad.

Any agent would be hard pressed to think of a submission that did not need editing, despite the author’s fame to date. There will always be wordiness, misspelled words, and lack of clarity on some pages of a manuscript. Writing has never been a free fall into fame and fortune. Rewrites are the norm.

“If God wrote your book, why didn’t he edit it too?”

The cost of editing
A freelance editor owns her time, and she wants to use it well. She works to pay her bills and provide for her family. She cannot give accurate quotes based on unfinished work on the client’s behalf, nor can she rely on random word counts pulled out of the air.

Editing is a business.

Editors quote estimated charges based on the market prices and their years of experience, so if an editor has given you a quote, don’t ask for a reduced fee.

The Israelites were not a bunch of freeloaders asking for favors based on who they knew (God). They appreciated beauty and experience, and they were willing to pay good money for those things.

Consider this
Yes, God may be closer to you than your cochlea, but don’t assume that this means you have talent. Be humble, get input from practiced writers, and never submit anything to the bigwigs that is not 100% professional in appearance and quality. If an editor says your writing needs a lot of polishing, don’t take that comment as a criticism of your ability to hear God; just understand that you have not yet reached the level of master craftsman. Consider yourself an apprentice, learn from the best, and listen well. It was this approach that resulted in Joseph, Daniel, and David’s promotion in Old Testament times. Perhaps, by imitating the attitude of these tried and true heroes of the faith, your name will become famous, too.

Many thanks to the members of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network for their input on this topic.


Writers Need Chocolate May 11, 2009

Filed under: Writing — sallyhanan @ 12:05 am
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Writers need chocolate. Lots of chocolate. That’s why I have pigged out today. It has iron and calcium; all’s good. If I’m ever a judge in a writing competition, you can bribe me, easily, with chocolate.

Speaking of chocolate, here’s how to write a story if chocolate is on your desk. Move a few solid objects into view, with the chocolate positioned slightly to the left, and start to write. Here’s my opening:

The dead cell phone lay, belly up, on her desk. Nancy didn’t want to recharge it—Eric might call. She gave it a dry stare and then turned her head forty-five degrees to the left, where Ferraro Rocher # 8-18 sat enthroned in plastic luxury. Now there was something worth lusting after, although, if she waited ten more minutes, she could add # 8 to her calories for the following day.

While I usually never plot out my stories, I think, in this case, Nancy is going to have to eat #8 before midnight, and the whole story needs to climax then. I think what is going to happen (and this is based on a [half true] young girl’s account of an ex.) is that Eric is going to show up outside her house (stalker) thinking he is unnoticed, but Nancy sees his car, calls the cops, and he’s finally put in jail because it’s offence #3. She has to celebrate . . . with chocolate.

According to the experts, a writer should always write what she knows. I know chocolate.

So there’s another story all but written, but first, some chocolate . . .


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