The After Girls

THE AFTER GIRLS featured in Amazon's Teen Gift Guide!

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 6.30.48 AMHappy Monday! I've got some exciting news for the holiday season and couldn't wait to share! While I was messing around on Amazon and procrastinating finishing my current draft, I discovered that THE AFTER GIRLS is featured in Amazon's Teen Gift Guide! It's at the top under "Totally Teen Gifts" and just a few clicks through. Of course, I think it's a great gift for the holidays ;) but it's great to see that Amazon does, too! You can see the Gift Guide here. And go straight to THE AFTER GIRLS here.

Wahoo!!!

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And Merry Christmas!

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And special shoutout to Steven Parlato and Elisa Nader, fellow Merit Press authors who are also hanging out in the "Totally Teen Gifts" section!

Friday Writing Inspiration: Sylvia Plath and Overcoming Self-Doubt

Sylvia Plath writing quoteLike all writers (and all humans), I have a tendency to get down on myself sometimes. And with a published book, sometimes it can be pretty easy. Is it selling as much as X, X or X? Why did so-and-so get a positive review from such-and-such and I didn't? Why is review #23 on Goodreads so mean? What did I ever do to them? Do they know that I still read every single review? Do they know how much their words can sting? Why is a 24-year-old a bestseller? By that logic, at 28, I should be a bestseller a few times over! During times like this, it's easy to forget about the good things. That Booklist loved The After Girls, that, for awhile, at least, the book was rocking the Top 50 on Amazon, that a reviewer, who, for all intents and purposes, appears not to be delusional or crazy, compared my writing to that of John Green

And beyond all that commercial stuff, the fact that I receive emails like this:

Hi! I just finished reading your book After Girls and wanted to tell you it was really good! I felt like I was in the book and experiencing what Sydney and Ella were. It felt like Astrid was my friend. 

Or that this adorable teen thought it fit to record a hilarious review for her YouTube channel.

There's also this: The After Girls is not the only story I have in me. That I have a new idea that I love and my agent loves, and I feel like readers will love, too.

There are so many things to be thankful for as a writer, and more than anything else, the fact that you get the joy of writing and sharing your work with the world, whether that world is your partner, a friend, your doting mom or a million loyal readers.

For those of you struggling (like me) with the inevitable writer self-doubt, for those looking for an agent, an editor, a second publishing lottery ticket, or simply for the strength and dedication to complete your story, I encourage you to meditate on the fact that we all feel this way sometimes. And to remember that, if you've suffered any of the setbacks that come with writing and publishing and you still want to write, you must have something to say, because there are a lot of easier ways to make money (and a ton of easier ways to have fun).

Happy Friday.

Leah

New Interviews: On Writing Inspiration, Struggles and my Current Creepy Reading Preferences

Writing GIF Happy Monday! I enjoyed an amazing weekend of awesome San Francisco activities and productive writing (finished exactly 1/3 of the news project ...).  I also had the pleasure of doing two interviews with some awesome bloggers, and I wanted to share here. Below is my interview for What is This Book About. I spoke with blogger Michelle on my inspiration, struggles, advice for writers and what I'm currently reading. Check it out!

Have you always wanted to be a writer?  In a way, I think so, though maybe I didn’t always know it! I never really thought of it as a profession, per se, but as a kid (I was a definite “inside kid”), I spent hours crafting stories on our old PC. There were fairies. A lot of fairies. And magical lands. And unassuming girls who got to explore said lands.

What inspired you to write your first book? THE AFTER GIRLS came first as a title. I can’t say where it came from--it just did. From there, I began thinking about what would take a group of friends from before to “after” more than anything else. The answer was suicide, and all the guilt, confusion and heartbreak that come with it. More than anything, that is what I was exploring in THE AFTER GIRLS.

Now that you have published your first novel, did you have any expectations on the process? If you did, were they met? If not, what have you learned that could help other writers? It still feels very surreal. When I see my book in a library or bookstore or anything like that, or when I hear from a fan whom I’ve never met and loves it, I almost feel like it’s not really happening. Like I’m somehow fooling everyone around me! I try to take a step back and remind myself that, indeed, it is happening, but it’s difficult.For aspiring authors, I’d suggest that they enjoy the writing process--in many ways, it’s a lot more fun (and less stressful) than the publishing process. You’ve got to be in it for the joy that comes from the writing itself.

What was the hardest part writing your book? Finishing! Letting your baby out into the world for it to be judged and noticed and hopefully loved.

Your book has gotten some favorable reviews, was there something or someone that inspired the theme of your story?  At first, no. But about halfway through writing, a friend of mine passed away at a young age from cancer. Friendship and grief became incredibly real to me, and it definitely affected how I wrote THE AFTER GIRLS.

What message do you hope people who read your book take away from your book? That friendship is everything and that life is beautiful and worth living, no matter what you’re going through.

What book would you say you were most inspired by? Though it doesn’t have much to do with the themes of THE AFTER GIRLS, I learned pretty much everything I know about writing from obsessively reading Jane Austen.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you are working on? Yes--and a really exciting one at that--I can’t reveal too much, but it’s also set in the South, and it focuses much more on romance than on friendship.

What are you currently reading? “The Stranger Beside Me,” a true crime story about the Ted Bundy murders. Don’t ask.

Do you have any advice on aspiring writers? A great quote by W. Somerset Maugham is this: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” I’d say my only real advice is just to keep on writing.

My other interview appeared on Ope's Opinions. Check it out here.

New York Trip Part Three: My First Book Party. My first Reading. With VIDEO!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3ZlkixlAx0&w=560&h=315] Well I meant to post this ages ago, but I guess life got in the way. I've already blogged about all the fun I had in New York at Book Expo America and my first author school visit, but the most fun had to be the book party!

I have to admit I was very intimidated by the planning/throwing a party for myself. I love planning things for others, but when it comes to celebrating me, I usually stick to casual meet-ups or low-key dinner parties. So planning a book bash in Manhattan was a BIG DEAL.

All planning worries aside, the party was a huge hit! It was amazing to be surrounded by so many friends, family and supporters. Thomas acted as my official bookseller, and I even ran into the problem of running out of books (a good problem to have).

The whole thing felt like what everyone says about weddings--that it goes by in a flash and you talk to so many people but can hardly remember it. For me, it was a flash, but a wonderful one. Old writing teachers, the authors who blurbed my book, former coworkers, even Thomas's extended family attended. I felt so blessed to have so many loving and supportive people in my life--and I can officially say that I couldn't have done it without any of them.

For those who missed it (or those who will enjoy a video of me stumbling over my own work), I've made a quick video of the main event--the reading. Enjoy!

New York Trip Part Two: Book Expo America (with lots of pics!)

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Since my return from New York, I have of course been way behind on everything, but I am belatedly getting to one of my favorite events there--Book Expo America (BEA).

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Let's be clear--I have never been to a book event of this magnitude before. It's thousands of square feet at Javits of ... BOOKS. Yes, it is truly, amazingly booktastic, and now they open it to the public one day, so you should def check it out next year.

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But anyway, my publisher had set up a half-hour signing for me in the autographing area. It felt super official (and super nerve-wracking). You had to go sign in at this special booth and then make your way through this behind-the-scenes curtain (where they stored boxes of everyone's books) to pop out just as the author before you left and make everything look super seamless. Then a bunch of people get in line and you just sign your book to your heart's content. Since I'm such a new, unknown, I was a little worried I'd have the sad empty line, but I didn't. It was full the whole time. I met a lot of cool people, and got some great practice on my autographing skills :) It was awesome to meet people who'd seen the book in the show catalog and had marked it down as one to pick up!

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After that, the publicist swept me back to the F&W booth, where we did another impromptu signing with my tower of books. See above. (It's not really allowed, so shhh, but it was really fun.)

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All in all, it was truly an amazing and humbling experience. I felt like a real author for maybe the first time. One of the women walking by even said, "You're the author? You look to young to be an author!" I'm going to take that as a compliment.

Other highlights included cool LEGO structures and getting a glimpse of the Ron Hubbard scientology booth. See below.

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I want these.

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Really bad.

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That's right, a book really is sold every 2 seconds... If that's not terrifying, I'm not sure what is.

Happy Monday! It's the perfect time to share a new interview!

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Hi friends and readers. It's Monday, and I'm up early to get in some writing on my new novel before work, so while I think about actually getting up to make the coffee and get going, I thought I'd share an interview I did with Dayla of Confessions of a Book Addict on Friday, as part of her series, Interview Fridays. Dayla, who reviewed The After Girls awhile ago, is as thoughtful an interviewer as she is a reviewer. I pasted a few of her questions below (including one that addresses my next project), but click through to see the full post. Also, regarding the GIF above. That's just Monday fun.

1. Grief is a major theme in The After Girls. What do you think is the hardest stage of grief that your characters have to overcome? 

“Acceptance is the hardest, especially when someone dies so young and unexpectedly, like inThe After Girls.

Going back to your old life without someone you love is tough—for Ella, it was returning to work, especially since she surrounded herself with Astrid’s family, and trying to maintain her relationship with her boyfriend, Ben, when she knew he didn’t understand what she was going through.

For Sydney, it was trying to be her usual self, to party and play music and flirt with boys, when she was really consumed with guilt and grief.”

2. Have you encountered loss? If so, how do you think your experience with grief affected your writing?

“I actually lost a friend to cancer about halfway through writing The After Girls. She was only 26. It certainly made everything I was writing more real and important to me. It wasn’t just a story I was making up anymore. It was something I was working through myself. I knew that the book had to be true to the grieving process, and at least for me, I think it is.”

3. How important, in your opinion, is it for writers to let their characters overcome their problems through trial and error, rather than simple solutions?

“So important!

I detest convenient solutions, and while I’m sure I’ve been guilty of them, I try to avoid them. Ella and Sydney are far from perfect. They argue with each other and their boy interests, they distance themselves from their parents, they’re irresponsible, insensitive, and so consumed in their grief that they often don’t make the right choices. Most of the time, when I’m upset, I don’t make the right choice, either. It takes all of us a few tries to get it right.

Who wants to read about perfect characters?”

4. I love that you explore the many different sides of grief. Which kind of grieving process was the most difficult to write?

“Ella’s process was definitely the most difficult. Sydney was easy—I sent her off to parties and band practices and let her be her amazingly self-destructive self. Ella delved more deeply into her own mind, and at times, her grief pushed her so far that she almost lost touch with reality. Her conflicts were much more internal than external. Crawling into her head was tough, but it was so rewarding.”

5. Teen suicide is a huge and unfortunate theme in contemporary society, so I think it was very important that you touched on it and how it affects the people left over. What other themes that are popular in society would you consider for future novels?

“Racism, sexism, classism and homophobia.

It sounds heavy (and I hate novels that are overly moralistic), but from a teen perspective, I think those issues can be explored really well, and they don’t have to feel like cliched PSAs.

Teens understand feeling like you have to change yourself to fit in—they understand being labeled.

My next project is going to look very closely at a girl who wants desperately to be a star both in her school and town. But as she gets closer and closer to the most popular guy in high school (one from the most well-to-do family in her Southern town), she’s going to realize that labels, status, and the groups we divide ourselves into are not as important as she once thought.”

Read the full interview here. See the review here.

New York Trip Part One: My First School Visit!

Creative writing workshop for teens, author high school visit Oh man, oh man. It has been exactly a week since I returned from New York, and I feel like I'm still recovering! All in all, it was an AMAZING trip, and I seriously don't even know where to begin. So I'll start with my first school visit (and first book event) ever ... my visit to Hudson High School of Learning Technologies. And what a great first event it was!

Creative writing workshop for teens, author high school visit

I met with two groups of students who LOVE creative writing to talk about The After Girls, share tips and do a couple exercises, and it was so much fun. I can't explain how exciting it is to talk to teens about writing. Speak to adults, and you get a whole slew of questions about getting an agent, getting published, royalties, advances, sales, business business business. Not to say that isn't all terribly important, but speak to teens, and you get questions about ... wait for it ... WRITING. How do you keep writing when you feel stuck? How long does it take to write a novel? How do you think up your characters? How much do you base your stories on real life? What music do you listen to while you write?

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Needless to say, it was refreshing. It reminded me why I do this all in the first place. Because writing is a joy and a blessing--and I am so lucky to be able to share that blessing with others.

Creative writing workshop for teens, author high school visit

The best part? These bright-eyed teens were great writers! They were uninhibited, creative, observant. They were eager to learn more and to make their stories better. They weren't worried about how to get published. They were only worried about how to get down all the wonderful things they had to say.

After the workshop, I signed all the kids' books, probably the most fun of all! Above are a few photos. See them all on the school's Facebook page.

P.S. If you're interested in having me visit your school, just email me at leahkonen@gmail.com, and we'll try to work something out. I'm available in-person in many locations and also via Skype.

This Week's Events in New York City!

New World Trade Center from BrooklynAs you can see from the photo above, I'm back in the big apple. Above is a view from my friends' lovely balcony in Brooklyn, overlooking the new World Trade Center. My feelings toward the five boroughs and all their amazingness can hardly be expressed now. I'm deep in a mix of excitement to be back and nostalgia for the life I lived during the five years I was here. Thankfully, I had an afternoon of gross weather and crowded subway rides today to remind me that everything here isn't perfect all the time.

But anyway, today I did my first event for The After Girls, a school visit at Hudson High School in Manhattan (more to come on that later, but it was amazing), and I've got two more awesome events planned this week. Stop by if you can!

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Tomorrow night (Wednesday), I'll be celebrating the publication of The After Girls at Revival near Union Square from 7-10 pm. There will be books. There will be treats. I will sign your book between beers. Above is the info.

And finally, I'll be attending my first Book Expo America this year. Bloggers, book-lovers, booksellers and librarians--I'd love for you to stop by Table 18 in the autographing area at 1:30 on Friday. I'll be signing ARCs of The After Girls.

Other than that, I'll just be enjoying this wonderful city, and will post so many more pics next week.

How to Make a Book Trailer (On a Budget)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCScxvk4V8I?rel=0] One day, I will be a fabulous, wildly successful author and not only will my publisher fly me all around the country (and world) to do a book tour, but I will have lots of publisher dollars to pour into a book trailer, but that day is not today.

Today, I am a debut author with a new imprint, and like many things in the publishing process (ahem, author photo), I have gone the DIY route. And that's okay. In fact, it's fun.

Full disclosure, I have never made a movie before. I am not a pro photographer, nor am I a director, nor have I done anything video-related besides a really nerdy Renaissance art project in high school, where my friend and I literally pressed play and record on two VCRs hooked up to each other and called it editing. I realize I just dated myself there.

But I digress.

The point is, you don't have to be a pro to make a book trailer. Or have endless resources. You just have to be a little scrappy and willing to learn. Here's how I did it:

I thought about trying to actually record footage, but I realized that by the time I got actors involved, it would already be way bigger than I was ready for, so I decided to go the stills route. If you are an author or a fan looking to make a book trailer, I highly recommend stills. There are plenty of fun things to do with them in iMovie, and if you get the right ones, they look a lot more professional than most amateur footage. How did I find them?

I have a Pinterest board that I have used for inspiration since I began writing my young adult novel, The After Girls. The very first (and most inspiring) photo on the board is from Lauren Maccabee, a young woman in the UK who has a cool blog and Flickr stream, Look Left and Look Right. Check her out. Her photos were eerie, wistful, ethereal and moody. They expressed the feeling of The After Girls perfectly. After a little Internet hunting, I tracked Lauren down. And when I saw the rest of her photography, I just knew she was perfect.

While it took me awhile to hear back from her, I decided not to reach out to anyone else--and I'm glad I didn't--when I did hear back, she had researched my book and said she understood why I'd be interested in her photography. It was a truly great fit. We worked out a modest price (please, PAY any artists you work with, it's good karma) for me to use 10 of her photos (non-exclusively, which makes it a lot more affordable), and she sent me the scans.

Seriously, I cannot recommend working with an independent photographer enough. There are tons of brilliant photogs out there who would love the exposure and the paycheck, even if it is small. And it's way more fun that just going with traditional stock.

Next I wrote a quick script. I toyed with the idea of using a quote, but I found there wasn't one quick quote that said all I wanted to say in the book trailer. So I hit on the high points, the mystery. I looked at the photos I had from Lauren and riffed off them. I got back into my character space (the one I hadn't been to since revisions) and imagined Ella, one of my main characters speaking again. By this point, I knew her well enough to do this rather quickly. I didn't mess with it. I didn't edit it. I just let her walk us through this quick glimpse into the world of The After Girls.

Then I headed into iMovie. I won't go into a detailed how-to here, as I'm sure there are loads of articles around the Internet, but I will say this--have fun. The program was designed for people like you and me who don't know what they're doing. Just drag your photos in and start playing around. Add transitions. Add text. See what fonts you like. Don't doubt yourself. You are the author, for goodness sake. You should know how to create the tone and mood of your book better than anyone else.

Once you have the main body of the video, you'll need a final slide. I recommend putting a blurb, your contact info, and of course, where you can buy the book. I also highly recommend designing this in something other than iMovie. You simply can't get the fonts small enough to fit in all the information you need on one slide. InDesign and Photoshop are great, if you have access to them (just set your canvas to 1600x900px), but Picasa is a great free editing service that can do many of the same things. And one more note about last slides--keep it at least 10 seconds to give readers a chance to pick up all the info.

Oh, and speaking of time, maybe it's just me but I think 1 minute is the sweet spot, but definitely don't go shorter than 30 seconds or longer than 2 minutes.

And finally, the music. I don't have much in the way of advice here, because my boyfriend is a brilliant composer, and I literally gave him a cut of my trailer and he composed the score, which is so perfect. It gave me chills the first time I heard it. So I guess my advice would be to date a composer?

Seriously though, there are talented people everywhere. There are indie bands looking for exposure. Go to shows, ask your friends, troll MySpace--you'll find someone whose track you can use.

Your book trailer may not be directed by Scorcese, but in the end, you can still have something amazing, even on a major budget. Which is good because the jury's still out on whether book trailers actually do anything for sales :)

P.S. My book trailer was featured today on I Love Book Trailers and YA author, Melissa Walker's awesome blog. Check em out!

The After Girls Playlist!

headphones I recently did an interview for my friend's great new YA blog, Teenage Writeland. I answered a bunch of questions about avoiding YA cliches, finding inspiration in my own experience and whether YA needs any kind of lesson just because it's for kids (I am a firm believer that it doesn't, in case you were wondering). But my favorite question was about then ten songs I was listening to while I was writing.

So, without further ado... The After Girls playlist!

Some of these songs really encouraged me and spoke to me while I was writing something set in the mountains in the South (Fleet Foxes, Joan Baez, Edward Sharpe), while others were simply on repeat while I was writing (J.Dilla is surprisingly good writing music). Check it out!

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You can see the full interview here.

How my writing process completely changed, a new piece for Distraction 99

awesome GIF, frustrated GIF, best GIFs, writing GIFs Yesterday, I did a post on Nova Ren Suma's blog, Distraction 99. Nova is an inspiring YA author who I met several years ago in New York, and I was excited to have a chance to guest post for her. As part of her regular series, she asked me to talk about my "turning point" as a writer. It's a tall order, because as a writer, we have so many "turning points". The day your 3rd grade teacher tells you your a great writer, the day you finish you first "book" (mine was in elementary school and about an enchanted rose garden, illustrated by yours truly), the day you get your first rejection letter, the day you get an agent, the day you get a book deal, the day you realize that getting a book deal is nothing like you thought it would be.

But a lot of that is business, not the important stuff. And I chose to write about process. I've touched on it here, but let me just say, at least for me, it never gets easier. While I cranked out my first complete manuscript with an outline in only four months (revisions were necessary, of course), I didn't have a similar experience at all for The After Girls. And that was not exactly easy (see the GIF above). But it was worth it.

Here's a little bit from my piece for Distraction 99:

My turning point didn’t come in my first foray into novel writing. It came when I began The After Girls. The idea for the book came first as a title and a question: What would take a group of friends from before to after instantly? The concept came quick enough as I filled in the gaps—two high school friends shaken by their best friend’s suicide right after graduation, set against the eerie backdrop of a rural Appalachian mountain town—but the details were another thing. I was writing from the point of view of two girls instead of one. I added characters and removed them. I was walking a fine line between magical realism and contemporary. And I had no outline.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. I wrote outline after outline, hoping to find one that would work like the first one, with no success. I wrote 50 pages, rewrote those pages, and didn’t look at the manuscript for weeks or even a month at a time. I felt like a failure. I was the girl who could crank out a novel in mere months. Now I’d been months and months at a single idea and had very little to show for it. I wasn’t writing on a schedule. I wasn’t even writing regularly, for that matter, but I was writing—a page here and a chapter there.

At a certain point, The After Girls began to write itself. It was like that great E.L. Doctorow quote: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Page by page, I made the trip. The characters took over—they surprised me. The plot took twists—the ending changed multiple times. I even added a character in a few hours before I sent a final version to my agent, one that came to me in the shower when I thought I was almost done. At page 50, 100, 150, 200 … I still wasn’t sure of what would happen beyond the next ten pages. But in the end, the flexibility was what I needed to uncover the mystery of why a beautiful, smart young girl with great friends and a whole future ahead of her would take her own life.

See the full piece here.

And one last thing, thank you everyone for your support on my "book birthday" yesterday. It was a great one, and I can't thank you all enough!

The After Girls is officially out! A little on how it all began

the-after-girls So The After Girls is out today. I could talk about how nervous I am, but I already did that to excess yesterday. So I thought I'd share a little on how I got from an idea to a book that's out in the world and that I really hope you all love.

Around three years ago, I had an idea for a title--The After Girls--it came to me out of the blue, and I loved it. I immediately saw it as about friends, and I started to think about what would take a group of friends from before to after in an instant. The answer was suicide. And the story began to unfold from there.

I didn't start working on it in earnest then. I was finishing up another project, and I still wasn't sure how it would all pan out. Instead, I tried (rather unsuccessfully) to write an outline and started talking about the idea with any friends who would listen (a big thanks to my NY friends for listening to my ever-changing plotlines). I took a writing class in New York and shared my idea with my classmates and soon-to-be friends. I still wasn't sure where exactly the story was going.

I wanted to set it in the mountains of North Carolina, because, honestly, what setting is more fun or creepy than that? I had only been to the mountains a few times there, but I had it all laid out in my head. And the summer after I got the idea, I visited my sister in Boone, NC (in the picture above), and everything was exactly as I had imagined--only better. It was the perfect setting, the one that would become the fictional Falling Rock, NC.

I began to write, following Ella and Sydney, two best friends as they mourned and  tried to understand their friend, Astrid's, suicide. I probably knocked out about a hundred pages. Slowly but surely I was making progress.

It was around this time that I got a call at 4 a.m., learning that a friend from college had passed away. She'd had cancer for two years, and it was very progressed, but none of that matters. When someone dies at 26, someone who is strong and beautiful and full of life, it's a shock. It's horrible.

My roommate at the time and I flew down to North Carolina to attend the funeral with the rest of our college friends. We spent the weekend crying and laughing and getting sunburned or tipsy on the beach. Our friend would have wanted it that way. She was one of the most happy and fun-loving people I've ever met in life.

It was also that Spring that I met and fell in love with my boyfriend. And it was only about a month before I would leave my job and travel to California and decide that I wanted to make the move to the West Coast.

There were a lot of changes in my life, but more than anything, highs and lows, grief and joy were more real to me than they'd ever been before. The story I had thought up a year before became more than just a story. I'd seen how much friends mean to each other, especially during times of loss. I'd seen how sometimes the most wonderful and inspiring person in the world dies way before they should. I'd seen the hole that they leave when they go, all the people they affect, all the people that miss them and remember them and still think of them all the time.

These are the things I was thinking about while I was writing it. And that's what I want to share with all of you.

As always, thanks for the support.

Leah

My advice for up-and-coming writers in Sadie magazine

Happy Saturday! I'm excited to share a little piece I did for Sadie magazine, a very cool online pub for young women. Sadie asked me to share tips and tricks for breaking into writing/publishing, culled from my experiences getting my first book published. Here are a few:

1. Stop stressing about how to get published and just write. Before you bother yourself about the whole business angle, remember that the only people who get published are the ones who have a finished product to sell. Whether it’s a novel or a screenplay or a magazine article, put in the dirty work (the creative expression that inspired you to write in the first place) before you make your business plan.

2. Start calling yourself a writer. Assuming you’re ready to commit to the first tip, start backing it up by the way you speak about yourself. Long before I wrote The After Girls—long before I completed a full novel, I began to start to call myself what I was—a writer. I wasn’t yet published, but by telling people I met at parties and events about my ambitions, it not only helped in building contacts, but it gave me a reason to be accountable—and it reminded me to shut off the Hoarders marathon and write.

3. Chill out about your “contacts.” It’s time to ignore the guidance counselor again. When it comes to publishing, it’snot all about who you know. I signed with my agent by humbly sending my manuscript over to her slush pile. Then she did the rest. Even if you do have a connection, unless you’re famous enough to entice a publisher on your name alone (ahem, YA novelists Lauren Conrad and Hilary Duff), all your connection will do is move you to the top of the pile. Publishing is a business (and a tough one at that), and no agent or editor is going to take a chance on you out of the goodness of their heart—or because you went to college with their half sister.

4. Make friends with other writers. Now that you’ve stopped stalking agents and editors on their Twitter pages, think about making the contacts you will need—writer friends. They’re good for critiquing, discussing plot ideas, guzzling wine post-rejection, etc. Simply knowing them will inspire you to write—and very likely write better. (And when you do sell your book, they’ll all attend your launch party.) To find writer friends if you don't have them already, join a Meetup, start a critique group, email that girl from your college English course whom you haven’t spoken to in years, or take a class yourself. I made some of my closest and most dependable friends from a Mediabistro course I took in New York.

5. Use the tools the Internet provides. Once you’re ready for the business stage of the game, get thyself to AgentQuery.com. It’s basically the Facebook of literary agents. You can sort by fiction, nonfiction, children’s, sci-fi, chick lit—the list goes on. Each agent lists whether they’re seeking new clients and how best to query them. Plus, they’ve got helpful articles on how to write pesky things like query letters and synopses.

See the rest at Sadie.com.

Author copies of The After Girls are here!

author-copies-the-after-girlsThey're here! Delivered in two big boxes! With my name all over! It's definitely all very surreal. And when I open one up, it looks and feels like a real book. And it is. I don't really have much to say except for, wahoo! Oh, and I have a lot. So expect a giveaway in the very near future.

In the meantime, you can get yours here.

xo Leah

Getting that first bit of press for your novel

publishers-weekly-writeupSo about a week ago, I got two mentions in Publisher's Weekly (a clip from one of which is above). One was just an announcement of upcoming titles from different publishers and the other more of an in-depth feature about Merit Press, the new imprint of Adams Media that is publishing THE AFTER GIRLS (headed by the fabulous Jacquelyn Mitchard).  Both were small, but I wanted to share them anyway. When you're writing it's so easy to get into your head and imagine yourself, as Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird does, meeting ruin and having your "shitty first draft" discovered and mocked for the rest of time.

That said, there are bright points. And one is realizing that no matter what happens and how many copies your first, soon-to-come-out novel sells, and no matter how many good or bad reviews you receive, Publisher's freaking Weekly thought you were not such a horrible hack that they saw fit to include your book (and your name) in a story or two.

I know it's not that big of a deal, and most books get mentioned in one way or another there. But at the same time, it is. It's a good moment. And so I wanted to share.

You can see them, and hopefully more to follow, on my press page.

Seeing Your Book for the First Time

the-after-girls-galleys

So ... these arrived. My official ARCs. I have never seen my name on/in a book before. Magazine, yes. Newspaper, yes. Book, no. It's weird.

The box came yesterday, and Thomas and I were trying to figure out what it was. "It must be one of your textbooks," I said.

"I already got all mine," he said.

"Are you sure?"

He cut the box open, looked at me, and smiled. "It's not my book."

It's crazy seeing them on actual paper--with an actual cover--and it they looked so great in ARC paperback, I can't wait to see the real deal.

I opened a read over the first page, flipped a few pages in. I read for a bit, and it's strange--it started to feel like an actual book, not like something I wrote or dreamed up. Not like an overly long Word document that I 've looked at and tweaked a million times. The words were closer together, more bookish. The background was the kind of matte white you only get on real paper. I kept on going, and I thought, wow, I would really read this. Which is the point, right? To write something you'd love to read yourself.

I can't wait to go through the whole thing, but for now, it's the best early xmas present I could get.

Cover Debut, Catalog, and Amazon Link (This is Really Happening)

The After Girls Young Adult Novel Friday was a good day. A day when it really finally hit me. I have a book coming out and it is really, truly going to be published ... on paper ... with a cover and everything ... with my name!

A lot of things happened at once. A good friend of mine requested a catalog from my publisher to see if my book was featured. We were both surprised to see that it not only was in it, but it was on the front page! You can see it here.

About an hour later, I got a text from another good friend saying he saw my book on Amazon--another pleasant surprise! I knew it was all coming up soon, but I had no idea it would be available for pre-sale already. That's the cool (and at the same time trying) thing about  publishing your first book--you really have no idea how it works and are just along for the ride. Needless to say I was thrilled to see it actually for sale somewhere. It really made it feel real.

All that led me to the conclusion that my cover, which had been through some back and forth, was finally ready to be shown to the world. There is it up top (and on the side, and in the header, as well--don't judge me). I really love it and hope you guys do, too. When I first saw it, it wasn't what I expected, but I instantly knew that it conveyed the mood and the heart of the story perfectly.

I think one of the coolest things about all of yesterday's revelations is that I got the news not from my agent, not from my publisher (they're busy doing about a million things to get it ready), but from my friends. It's so encouraging to have people in my life who are so invested and supportive, they're discovering developments about the book before I even have a chance to look for them.

Anyway, thanks to everyone for all the support along the way. Much love from the West Coast!

Inside the Publishing Process: How to Take an Author Photo

Leah-Konen-author-photoSo The After Girls is going to press soon, and I'm discovering that there are a LOT of steps to the publishing process. It's not just as simple as how to get a literary agent and how to get your book published. There is a ton more and, these days, more and more that falls on the author. So I thought I'd tackle some of the issues I've come across, in no particular order and from my limited experience only. So without further ado, a few tips on how to take an author photo for your book jacket cover. First off, you have a few options. You could plan ahead and and use whatever money as an author you can scrounge up to hire a professional. I'm sure that's what all the real big-wigs do, but if it's your first book, like me, that might not be a viable option. Second, you could find a friend who is a semi-professional photographer and offer them a small sum or beer or whatever you can find that's barter-worthy and have them do it. This would probably be ideal. Your third option. You could have a short deadline and have just moved across the country to a city where you know no one and do it yourself. That's what I did. You can see the result on the right.

1. Use a good camera. A DSLR is best (the one with changeable lenses), but in a pinch, I think you could even get by with an iPhone if you use the focus feature and take a lot of shots. I set mine to the lowest possible aperture and auto white balance (a professional photographer friend of mine suggested that this is the one thing that's okay to set to auto) and then had my boyfriend adjust the shutterspeed accordingly as the light changed. And don't forget to shoot on the highest resolution that you have.

2. Pick an awesome location. My advice here would be to choose something that expresses you, but just know that very little bit of your background is even going to show, and make sure you don't choose something too busy and distracting. Inside against a fairly blank wall with good light would work. Against a building with nice exposed brick. In the woods, in a park, at the beach. I chose the beach. I'd also consider the mood of your book and your writing. The After Girls is for teenagers and very moody, so a cloudy day at the beach was perfect.

3. Find good light. Contrary to popular belief, full sunlight is no good--it will make the shadows on your face appear really stark and harsh.  Morning and afternoon are better. Or overcast almost anytime.

4. Choose a friend/boyfriend/sister/etc. who has patience. Unless they're a professional, you're going to end up directing them. Show more of this. Take more photos. Not so close, etc. You'll probably have to take a lot, so just make sure they know, beforehand, that it's not going to be a matter of clicking the camera a few times and heading back. And be sure to thank them profusely once you're done.

5. Leave any self-consciousness or embarrassment behind. Or at least choose a semi-deserted location. You are going to feel awfully silly standing on a beach and watching people walk by while you do try to summon your most genuine and best faces. You just will, and you just have to decide not to care if anyone gives you weird looks.

6. Be yourself. I think this is the most important part. When you think of author photos, they tend to be ultra-pensive, serious, looking to the side, etc. I personally don't like the way I look when I try to be serious, and I'm not all that serious of a person, so I chose to smile and look at the camera. I tried doing it several other ways, but it just wasn't me. And that's okay. Plus, there are far too many book jacket photos out there already that are variations on Socrates's The Thinker. Basically, don't be afraid to let your personality shine through a little.

7. Look at the shots as you go, and keep going until you find something you like. You may feel stupid going through so many, but the perfect photo may be the next one you take. Don't feel like you have to stop just because you've been out there awhile. I suggest taking a break every few minutes to  look at what you've got. You can even bring a laptop with you so you can see them on a bigger screen. Don't stop until you've got something you're proud of.

8. Edit. Once you've got a few that you like, throw them on a laptop and go through until you find your favorite. There are lots of free photo editing programs if you don't have Photoshop. I use Picasa. Adjust the light and color if necessary, and clear up any blemishes using the clone function. Just make sure that you've got the originals saved in case you make a mistake. And don't go crazy.  It's a professional photo--not Instagram.

9. Share it with your friends. Get some honest feedback, because you're not always the best judge of yourself. I put mine up on Facebook and instantly had a ton of people saying that they liked it, and I also asked one of my more discerning friends what she honestly thought. She said that she loved it but it made me look a little young, which I was fine with because my target audiences is teens. It's always good to get a truly frank opinion.

10. Relax! Seriously, even if it doesn't come out perfect, it's going to take up about 2" of space on your book jacket. And very few people will even ever look at it, so don't kill yourself worrying about it. You can always hire a professional for the next one.