Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Teen Author's Journey To Publication - Guest Post by Kara Swanson

If you've read my blog for any amount of time now, then you probably know that I love to encourage young writers to pursue their publication dreams. Why is this? Because I, too, launched my career as a teenager -- and it's the steps I took at a young age that lead me to my dream career today. I'm passionate about encouraging young writers to use their time wisely by perfecting their craft. This is why I was thrilled to meet young author, Kara Swanson, at a writing conference recently. She is the perfect example of a teen writer who has found success through investing hours into studying, researching, reading, and writing. 

Kara is the author of THE GIRL WHO COULD SEE, an amazing novella published a little over a month ago and has received an incredible response from readers. I am proud to say that I have recently signed Kara on as a client at Hartline and am honored to accompany her on this writing journey. It's because of her hard work and perseverance that she attained publication, and she's stopping by today to share about what all this involved.


As the daughter of missionaries, Kara Swanson spent sixteen years of her young life in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Able to relate with characters dropped suddenly into a unique new world, she quickly fell in love with the speculative genre and was soon penning stories herself. At seventeen, she independently published a fantasy novel, Pearl of Merlydia. Her short story “Distant as the Horizon” is included in Kathy Ide’s 21 Days of Joy: Stories that Celebrate Mom. She has published many articles, including one in the Encounter magazine. Kara received the Mount Hermon Most Promising Teen Writer Award in 2015.

My father would read to us every night before we fell asleep.

His literature selection spanned from Anne of Green Gables and To Kill A Mocking Bird, to Percy Jackson: The Lightening Thief. Then one day, he came into the room my brother and I shared, knelt below our bunkbed, and pulled a smooth volume out from behind his back. “This is going to be one of the best books you’ve ever read.”

He was right.

That book was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. My introduction to Narnia—and the novel that convinced me I wanted to be a storyteller.

This scene will probably ring familiar to a lot of you out there who fell in love with Lewis’ whimsical world and intriguing sense of storytelling. Who found pieces of themselves reflected in the deeper themes. But for me, that night was unusual not only because it began a journey of telling stories that would touch imaginations and hearts—but because that story transported me out of the small tribe in the middle of the jungle where we lived.

My family were missionaries in a third world country called Papua New Guinea. I spent my childhood in a dense tropical rainforest—our house positioned on the edge of an airstrip that was the only way in or out of our tribe. When my father entered my room in that thatch house, ducking beneath the mosquito net that tunneled our bunkbed, the words he read whisked me away. Truly showed me how powerful writing could make such a small tribe seem infinitely bigger. And how a girl growing up in an exotic world that she didn’t completely belong in, could relate with four Pevensie siblings dropped into a whimsical and unusual land full of forces of light and darkness.

Those were the themes that found themselves woven into the stories I was soon penning. I’d always written—it was how I translated the world around me. But my love of the fantasy and science-fiction genres were really honed after Narnia. Years passed, and I continued to write more as a pastime than anything.

Then I met another missionary kid named Charis. She too loved to write, and together we co-authored a fantasy novel about Mermaids and pirates. At seventeen, we finished that novel, and it suddenly struck me:

I could do this.

I could finish a novel, create a complete story—and have it impact people.

That same year our novel was picked up by a small press called Entrust Source Publishers. They were able to distribute the novel on Amazon and other places…

Suddenly, at seventeen, I was a published author. And I loved it. Every bit of it—seeing my words strike people’s hearts, the editing process, marketing, cover design. All of it. The blood, sweat and tears.

I realized writing had become more than an escape or hobby—it had become a passion. A ministry. My God had given me something to say, and had equipped me to say it.

So I started honing my craft any way I could. I attended writers groups, found several critique partners, was mentored by a published author, went to every nearby writers’ conference, did book signings for my first book—and wrote, wrote, wrote. In the span of four years, I’d written six novels—and that’s not including rewrites and articles/short stories. It was hard, painstaking work. But I continued to push myself to get better and better, gaining as much input from other authors as I could.

I attended another writers’ conference, pitched some of those novels, and found interest from both agents and editors. I began the process to possibly being traditionally published—but everything in the industry takes time. A lot of time. About a year ago I wrote a small science-fiction/urban fantasy short story for a magazine. It ended up being too long for the magazine, and I decided instead to turn that short story into a novella. So that’s what I did! When that novella was finished, I decided to independently publish it.

I knew that the novella was too short for most publishers to consider, so it left me with the free reign to do it all myself. I wanted to push myself again, and learn as much as I could about the industry. I wanted this novella to be the best I could offer, so I had it edited and critiqued by over ten professional editors/published authors. I hired a professional cover designer. I had a team of beta-readers. I taught myself to format the novella for print (through CreateSpace) and for eBook (through Kindle Direct Publishing). I put together a launch team, scheduled a blog tour and ran several ads. I set up both print and eBook for pre-order.

I published that novella myself, to the best of my ability…

And it sold over 100 copies in the first week, has a 4.5 star rating on Amazon, and won a cover award.

By God’s grace, He has allowed this little story to make a difference. Because I’m an amazing author? No. Because the idea is something totally unique? No. Because I have a huge following? Also—no.

The novella is doing as well as it is for two reasons: because I gave it my everything. I poured my soul and my sweat into it. And because I serve a gracious God who works in spite of my limitations. A gracious God who saw a little girl in a remote tribe with the passion to tell stories—and allowed her to do so.

Just as He has put your passions in your heart. Just as He has equipped you to chase them. It takes hard work and determination. It takes long nights and hard choices and hearing someone give you the harsh feedback you don’t want to hear—but it is doable. You can use your words—and your gifts—to touch people’s lives.

Because the One who created you gave you those gifts for that exact reason. To change lives, in whatever way you are courageous enough to chase after.

Thanks for stopping by today, Kara!

Readers: Where do you stand along your writing journey? Do you have any questions for Kara?

{Psst ... I'm stopping by Kara's blog today as well! Click here for the post.}

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What Are Critique Groups, & Why Should I Join One? - Guest Post by Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett is a passionate young writer with her sights set on publication. Since she started writing seriously in middle school, she’s had her fair share of rejections, as well as many successes. Now, she is in the process of preparing her YA novel for publication. She also works as an editor for the Magnum Opus Magazine. When she isn’t writing or editing, she enjoys taking pictures, playing the violin, and experimenting in the kitchen with her best friend/mom.


Growing up in Oregon, I am blessed to be surrounded by mountains, valleys, rivers, and, best of all, the ocean. My rural community is filled with opportunities for outdoor adventures and I’ve spent many a summer picking fresh fruit, hiking, picnicking, and hanging out in my treehouse.

Unfortunately one thing my town doesn’t have is an abundance of bookworms. Much to my dismay, even the local library shut down this spring, leaving me in a literary wasteland.

As an aspiring author working on a three-book series and pursuing publication, I was often frustrated by this glaring lack of fellow bookworms and writers. After months of searching for a writing buddy, I was about to give up. Admit defeat. Resort to being a writerly hermit.

Then, I joined ACFW.

Through the American Christian Fiction Writers program, I’ve participated in online courses, gotten my name out in the blogging world (thanks, Tessa!) and, most importantly, joined a critique group.

A critique group is a writers dream: a unit of like-minded authors who get together (either online or in person) to read each other’s work, offer encouragement and analysis, and chat about all things writing.

My group has been through a lot lately—two members recently got awarded publishing contracts, others have received discouraging rejections—and that makes our group that much stronger. We celebrate together, laugh together, and offer encouragement when somebody’s feeling down.

Through critiquing the work of my friends, I have been able to read amazing stories and grow in my own craft. Although critiquing takes time and effort, it is extremely rewarding—especially when you know your friend’s book will soon be on store shelves. Every writer—young or old—should seriously consider joining one of these groups.

The yearly membership fee to be a part of ACFW is extremely reasonable considering the benefits, but there are other ways to find a critique group as well. The Go Teen Writers website has a Facebook group where young writers can create, connect, and critique. The best part? It’s free!

Some larger communities even offer in-person opportunities for writers to sit down with their peers and talk about their writing. ACFW has regional chapters that meet regularly and there are other local and national associations which offer critique group opportunities.

No matter which critique group one participates in, the process is usually the same—writers submit one chapter of their work each week. Throughout the rest of the week, everyone reads through the work of their colleagues, leaving comments, suggestions, and compliments in the margins. Although the process is relatively simple, there are a few common pointers that make the process run smoothly and ensure no one’s feelings get hurt:

  • When in doubt, don’t point it out. It doesn’t matter if you’re 99% sure that someone’s sentence is grammatically incorrect. If you aren’t certain or you can’t find evidence online to back yourself up, ignore it. If it’s wrong, chances are someone else will call attention to it and, if it’s not…well, you just saved yourself a lot of embarrassment.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew. It’s all too easy to get lost in a flurry of submitting and critiquing—so much that your own writing time can suffer. If you need to sit out for a few weeks and catch up on writing (or the rest of your life) your partners will understand.
  • Begin and end with a compliment. When I critique someone’s work, I make sure to write a few sentences at the end of the submission to say how much I enjoyed reading their submission. I also make sure to include an encouraging line or two in the the email.
  • Don’t freak out if you get an intense critique. I got a critique one time that sent me into an all-fired panic. After mulling over my partner’s comments for a few days, though, I recognized the wisdom in her words. She’s now one of my favorite partners BECAUSE of her tendency to give a thorough critique.
  • Say thank you. My group learned this lesson the hard way when half of us realized that, by not sending a thank-you, the other members were afraid that they offended us or that we never received the critique. So, play it safe and say thanks. After all, it’s the polite thing to do.
  • Have fun! Remember this tip most of all—you’re part of this group to have fun, grow in your abilities as a writer, connect with other authors, and read great stories. Enjoy the process. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Enjoy making friends with writers all around the world—even if you live in a town that has more cows than it does books.

Are you apart of a critique group? If so, what do you enjoy most about it? If not, would you consider joining one?

Friday, July 7, 2017

Book Spotlight, STEALING LIBERTY by Jennifer Froelich

Today's guest is my client and fellow YA author, Jennifer Froelich! She's stopping by to share an excerpt from her recent release, STEALING LIBERTY. 

Jennifer Froelich published her debut novel, Dream of Me, in late 2011, which reviewers praised as "well-orchestrated with outstand-ing imagery." Her second novel, A Place Between Breaths, published in 2014, was called "a roller-coaster ride with enough twists and turns to keep everyone interest-ed" and won an Honorable Mention in Writ-er's Digest's 23rd Annual Self Published Book competition. Jennifer is a frequent contrib-uting author to Chicken Soup for the Soul. A graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, Jennifer worked for many years as a free-lance editor and writer before publishing her own work. She lives in beautiful Idaho with her husband, two teenage kids, and a rescue cat named Katniss.


When Reed Paine is sent to a secret detention school for teens whose parents are branded enemies of the state, he doesn’t expect to find friendship – especially after coming face to face with Riley Paca, a girl who has every reason to hate him. 

But when Reed, Riley and a few others start reading the old books they find in tunnels under the school, they begin to question what they are taught about the last days of America and the gov-ernment that has risen in its place.

Then the government decides to sell the Liberty Bell and Reed and his friends risk everything to steal it – to take back their history and the liberty that has been stolen from them.


My escort pushes me. “Pick up the pace, kid.”
I stumble on a sharp rock and cut my toe. It hurts more than it should and I pull up to face him, fists curled at my side. I’ve grown about a foot since my sixteenth birthday, which means I can stare him down, eye to eye. He just smirks.
How about I smash your nose?
For a minute the urge is so powerful, my pulse pounds against my throat and red spots blur my vision.
Don’t do anything stupid, Reed. Pick your battles.
The voice in my head is my dad’s, so I listen.
We climb aboard a rusty hybrid bus parked in front of the bombed-out terminal. “Welcome,” says the autopilot. It’s one of the retro models, formed like a human, with LED eyes and every-thing. When magnetic tracks were first installed, citizens didn’t trust computers to maneuver ve-hicles safely along roadways. At least that’s what my grandmother told me. Humanoid pilots were designed to make them feel safer.
Pretty soon, people had more important things to worry about.
My escort takes a seat behind the pilot, but I keep going. Only one other passenger is on the bus — a girl with long blond hair who sits in the fifth row, pressed against the window. Bruises swell on her left cheekbone and along her jaw. Her lip is crusted with blood and her right eyelid is swollen shut. Nausea washes over me, along with fresh anger.
“Sit!” our escort barks.
The girl flinches. I take a seat across from her and shift toward the window. The door squeaks closed and the bus lurches forward.
We travel on an old freeway so desolate, we don’t encounter a single other transport. I wish I was calm enough to sleep — so numb to the government’s strong-arm tactics, they no longer get to me. Instead I stare past the landscape and try not to shake. Try not to relive my nightmare or think about how it felt to wake up with a gun to my head. I imagine a different outcome. Fighting back — or breaking out of the state home before they showed up.
If only.

Book Links:

Thanks for stopping by, Jennifer!