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Pay It Forward Day


Rachel Seigel

Today we are breaking our usual no Thursday post rule to mark a special event. Today is the 5th annual “Pay It Forward Day”, with the aim of inspiring 3 million acts of kindness around the world.

The concept of Pay it Forward is simple. Instead of paying back a good deed to the original benefactor, you do a good deed for someone else. If everybody in the world followed this principle, imagine what could happen!

bWhile the concept is actually quite old, in 1999 author Catherine Ryan Hyde published a novel called Pay It Forward (later adapted to film) that started an international movement of giving.

In the book, it’s a challenge to do three good deeds for others in response to a good deed done for you, and it should be something the beneficiary cannot accomplish on their own. This way, the practice spreads at a ratio of three to one, making the world a better place. While the original version was published as an adult book, a young reader’s edition will be available this August.

The Pay it Forward Movement and Foundation was founded in the USA, helping start a ripple effect of kindness acts around the world. Charley Johnson, the newly appointed president of the foundation, had an idea for encouraging kindness acts by having a Pay it Forward Bracelet that could be worn as a reminder. Since then, over a million Pay it Forward bracelets have been distributed in over 100 countries sparking acts of kindness. If you are interested in getting more information about these bracelets, visit this website:

b (2)Adults are not the only people who can get involved, and Canadian author Nancy Runstedler recently published Pay it Forward Kids which introduces readers to ordinary kids from across North America who have done and are doing extraordinary things. A percentage of all royalties from the project will be donated to the official Pay It Forward Foundation, so if you have kids of your own, know somebody with kids, or work in education, this is a must-have book!

For more information on Pay It Forward Day and how to get involved, you can visit the official website:

If you haven’t read the novel that inspired the movement, visit your local bookstore or library and get your copy. And in the meantime, challenge yourself today to perform one act of kindness for somebody else. You never know when that kind act will come full circle and make its way back to you!

Rachel Seigel is the Sales and Selection Strategist for EduReference Publisher’s Direct Inc. in Ontario. She also maintains a personal blog at and can be found on Twitter as @rachelnseigel.

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Guest Post: Choosing the Right Pen

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Corinne Duyvis

Corinne Duyvis, author of Otherbound, Amulet Books, June 2014

Corinne Duyvis, author of Otherbound, Amulet Books, June 2014

When I saw the interior design for my upcoming debut novel, I was thrilled. The title page is all black, starry skies, with stylish white text—it’s gorgeous.

It meant I’d have a lot more trouble finding a proper signing pen, though, and I thought I’d share my findings here for anyone in the same boat.

My demands were this:

  • The pen should show up well on dark paper.
  • If possible, it should work on smooth/glossy paper, as well, for people signing bookmarks or picture books.
  • Ideally, the pen should be archival. (Archival means a pen will last basically forever: fadeproof, UV-resistant, water-resistant, acid-free, et cetera.)
  • If that’s not doable, just acid-free is fine. Most of us aren’t planning to dunk our signed books in a bathtub, anyway. (If a pen is not acid-free, it’ll damage the paper over time. Truthfully, I don’t know if that means “within a few years” or “within a few decades,” or the extent of that damage, but I wanted to be on the safe side.)
  • It should be fast-drying/smudge-proof. Books are usually closed quickly after signing, and I’m a lefty, to boot. Authors signing books for younger kids might also have to deal with tiny fingers immediately “testing” the signature.

I did a lot of research online and came up with a few options—mostly gel pens. was kind enough to provide me with several samples in return for writing this comparison post. (While you can purchase the pens from wherever you like, I linked to JetPens where possible, and have only good things to say about their website. Check ‘em out.)

Most of the pens I used were silver:
Sharpie Permanent Marker (not acid-free/archival; I included it for comparison purposes since it’s so widely used)
Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen (archival)
Zebra Sarasa Retractable (archival)
Uni-Ball Signo Noble (acid-free)
Uni-Ball Signo Broad (acid-free)
Pentel Slicci (acid-free)

And I threw in a white pen from my own collection:
Pentel Hybrid Gel Grip (acid-free)

I also tried a number of blue pens, to provide options for those wanting a little more color:
Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen (archival)
Uni-Ball Signo Angelic (acid-free)
Uni-Ball Signo Noble (acid-free)
Pentel Slicci (acid-free)


The first and most obvious test I put the pens through was–how clearly do they show up?


In the silver-white department, the clear winners are the Sharpie and the Signo Broad. The unfortunate loser is the Zebra Sarasa, which has the thinnest, scratchiest line of them all. The FC Pitt acted unusually: it shows up beautifully when you first write, but within a second, the ink seems to get soaked up by the paper and becomes darker as a result.


This close-up of the gel pen options shows that the Hybrid Gel Grip and the Signo Noble are a little unequal with their ink distribution, and also shows the difference between the Broad and the Slicci and Noble better–in the first photo they appear to be equally bright, which isn’t the case in actuality.


Although I’m not thrilled about the ink distribution of any of the gel pens–and the Signo Noble in particular looks kind of scratchy–the Signo Angelic unquestionably shows up best. It’s also the least metallic of the three.

The blue FC Pitt got soaked into grayish translucency almost instantly, with bright spots of blue remaining where the ink was applied thicker. This puzzled me–I’d tried the Pitt before, and remember it showing up better–so I grabbed a different Pitt pen I had lying around and tested it. Lo and behold: it looks much better. I might have simply gotten a dud.

(After this, I went back to the silver FC Pitt. Here, too, a different pen garnered much better results.)

I also tested all the pens on white paper, for those curious how they show up on a different background. (Yes, I included the white pen. I… don’t know what I expected.)


This test was straightforward: scribble, then smudge. I held off two, four, and six seconds on different smudges.


In the silver/white department, the FC Pitt and Zebra Sarasa came out ahead, with the Sharpie and Hybrid Gel Grip close behind–as long as you wait a few seconds. While the Signo Broad won the previous test, in this one, it rates disastrously.

With regards to the blues, the FC Pitt again won. The Signo Noble did all right after several seconds, as well.

Most of us won’t need to worry about this level of smudging–the worst problem is whether the ink is visible on the opposite page after you close the book. To test this, I folded a black sheet of paper, wrote on one side, waited a few seconds, then folded it and pressed down. I repeated this with every pen. Here’s the results:


I have to be honest: I’d expected much worse. The Sharpie showed a little bit, as did as flecks of the Signo Broad. I tested them out a couple more times, and results varied. Definitely don’t close the book too soon on the Broad, or you’ll get a near-mirror image on the opposite page. The Sharpie held up better in repeat tests and didn’t show at all.

Most of the other gel pens showed slightly as well, but nothing disastrous. The FC Pitt pens held up particularly well.

I used my signature for the above test since that’s a quick scribble, which created an extra opportunity to test out the ease of writing. The non-gel pens wrote wonderfully, while the gel pens reacted pretty much as gel pens do–the faster you write, the more you see that telltale line through the middle of your strokes. The Signo Broad skipped in the middle, which you can see better in this close-up.


Next, I tried the pens out on smoother paper to see how they held up in those circumstances. I scribbled a bit on some bookmarks I had, waited a few seconds, ran my finger over, and… well…


The results were not great, to say the least. Almost all of the ink was smudged into illegibility. (I’d show you the results of the blue pens, but they’re equally useless.) The only one that held up in any way was the Sharpie–although even then you have to wait several seconds to let it dry.

I decided to keep testing the Sharpie and tried it on the glossiest bookmark I had. It smudged a little, but was as permanent as its name implies after a few seconds. I also tried it out on a few different backgrounds to see how well it shows up, and the results are pretty much what you’d expect–great on dark and medium colors, not-so-great on light colors.


I did a quick bleeding test on the thinnest paper I had in the house–a groceries receipt. The pens passed with flying colors. The only pen that showed on the other side was the Sharpie, and even that didn’t bleed through onto the next sheet of paper.


Finally, I wanted to take another look at those FC Pitt pens. I showed both versions of each color side-by-side here, as well as the Sharpie for comparison. While the duds were still markedly darker, the silver one is salvagable. I tested it out in one of my ARCs, and while not as lovely as the brighter version, it still holds up well:



My personal choice is the silver Faber-Castell Pitt artist pen. Even the dud still works well. It writes smoothly, barely smudges, doesn’t bleed, and is archival, to boot. (I’ll also keep the blue version; it fits my cover, and that’s impossible for me to resist. Unlike the silver dud, however, the blue dud’s ink has such a tendency to disappear that I’ll probably discard it.)

I gave serious thought to the Signo Broad, as a thinner line like that is easier to write with and it shows up wonderfully, but the incredible smudginess is hard to overcome.

Although I initially only included the Sharpie for comparison purposes, I’m keeping it around to sign my bookmarks with. It’s the best and only choice. If it were acid-free, I’d also use it for my books, both because it shows up better than any of the other pens and so that I wouldn’t have to lug two pens around; as it is, I feel safer sticking with archival pens for the actual books. I’ll just have to deal with carrying multiple pens.

Of course, your priorities may vary, which is why I wanted to share these tests with other authors facing the simultaneous joy and difficulty of black title pages–that way people can decide for themselves.

If you have suggestions of your own for pens that work well on black paper, please share in the comments–I’d love to see what else is out there. I’m also happy to run additional tests with any of the above pens, if anyone has any questions.

A lifelong Amsterdammer, Corinne Duyvis spends her days writing speculative MG and YA novels. She enjoys brutal martial arts and gets her geek on whenever possible. Her debut novel OTHERBOUND, a YA fantasy, is out from Amulet Books on June 17, 2014.

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Thoughts from the Submission Pile


Jordan Hamessley London

Jordan Hamessley LondonBack in my life as an actress, I spent every day going on multiple auditions, waking at dawn to ride the subway in my pajamas to arrive at the audition studio around 8AM. I’d write my name on a list of girls auditioning already 25 girls long, took a nap until 9:30, then put on my make up and waited my turn to be seen by the casting director for maybe one minute worth of an audition. Then I would walk out of the room, hop on the subway to the next audition and do it all over again.

It was hard. I spent my days surrounded by the same 50 girls who all looked exactly like me and who all wanted exactly what I wanted. The job.

Every time I walked in the audition room, I was nervous. But then I reminded myself of something one of my teachers told me.

“Every director hopes that the next person to walk into the room is the perfect person for the role.”

Sound familiar? Let’s take a look at some tweets that have been getting lots of buss the past few weeks:

Writers, know this – when we (editors) get a new manuscript in our inbox, we want to say yes. We want to love it. That’s why we do this!

— Kat Brzozowski (@KatBrzozowski) April 14, 2014

It’s easy to get jaded by how hard it is to get published, but editors read every manuscript with the hope that they will fall in love.

— Kat Brzozowski (@KatBrzozowski) April 14, 2014

Yup. All of you authors out there who are treading the publishing boards every day, waking up every morning to get make your word counts before you trek to your day jobs, are like 20-year-old Jordan auditioning for the next big show. And all of us editors and agents? We’re those excited casting directors who hope that every time we open a manuscript, it will make us fall in love.

Since my move to Egmont, I have received a slew of submissions from agents and every time I turn on my e-reader and open a submission, I’m excited to find out if that manuscript will be the one. I recently bought a book that I absolutely adore. It was such a great feeling to walk into my publisher’s office and say “I HAVE to buy this book. I am the right person for this book. I get it.”

There are times when an agent will call me and let me know that one of the submissions I have has received an offer from another editor. At that point, that submission jumps to the top of my to-read list. Sometimes I love it, other times I enjoy it and see why other people love it, but I’m just not the right person to edit that book. I didn’t fall in love. It’s very similar to me not getting the part because the director really wanted a leggy, redheaded ballerina and I was a short, brunette tap dancer. It didn’t diminish the work I did. It just wasn’t the right fit. I always love seeing books I liked, but didn’t love enough, sell to an editor who I know will do the book justice.

Editors have to love the books we acquire because we spent a lot of time with them. Not only do we have to read the book multiple times, we have to keep our love and enthusiasm showing from the acquisition meeting all the way to the publication date. Our love pushes the book through the entire publishing process.

Just a quick note. I know a lot of authors on submission want the dream story of selling their book in a week. I’ve fallen in love with manuscripts that sat in my to-read pile for several weeks because things just kept coming up. I was going to love that book, I just hadn’t read it yet.

My hope for you is that the reason you are in this industry is because you love writing. You don’t know what to do if you aren’t telling stories. Editors love discovering new stories to bring into the world. It’s what keeps us motivated.

So keep treading the boards and remember that every time we open a manuscript, we are full of hope that we will fall in love.

In A Chorus Line, the director asks “If today were the day you had to stop dancing, how would you feel?”

So I ask you, if today were the day you had to stop writing, how would you feel?

Jordan Hamessley London is an Editor at Egmont USA, where she edits middle grade and YA. Her current titles include Isla J. Bick’s new series, The Dark Passages (#1 White Space), Bree DeSpain’s new series Into the Dark (#1 The Shadow Prince), and more. Prior to Egmont, Jordan worked at  Grosset and Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers where she edited Adam-Troy Castro’s middle grade horror series Gustav Gloom, Ben H. Winters and Adam F. Watkin’s book of horror poetry Literally Disturbed, Michelle Schusterman’s I Heart Band series, Adam F. Watkins’s alphabet picture book R is for Robot and more. When not editing, Jordan can be found on twitter talking about books, scary movies, and musical theater.

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Planning a Series

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Susan Dennard

SusanDennardA few weeks ago, I got this question in my inbox:

How would you go about outlining [a trilogy]? Would you outline it as a whole or each book individually?

Awesome question! And obviously, everyone outlines/plans series differently, so I can only tell you how I plan a series. Hopefully that information is still helpful, though.

Step 1: Plan the first book.

If you want to see how I do that, you can read my series on it here. As your planning this book, decide if you can tell the whole story in a single book or if the story will need multiple books.

If you’re starting to realize that you’re definitely going to need multiple books, then it’s time for…

Step 2: How many books will you need?

To answer this question, we first need to figure out why  you even think you’ll need multiple books. What is it about the story that makes you think you can’t contain it in a single volume? Write these reasons down.

So for example, I knew as soon as my WIP Screechers morphed into an epic fantasy series that I would need >1 book to tell the story. These were my reasons why:

  • Lots of POVs (like 8 in the first book alone), each with their own goals/motivations/growth.
  • Lots of places to visit. 2 continents + tons of cities/landscapes in each.
  • At least 3 romances, and romance always takes time to develop (I like slow burns!).
  • Lots of plots/subplots. There’s a missing sister, the screechers threat + origin mystery, an occupying army, a rebellion, a corrupt church, an ancient evil villain, and more. It all intertwines and will clearly take a lot of page space to wrap up…

Clearly I was going to need a ton of pages to cover all that! Now I just needed to decide how many books it might all add up to. To estimate HOW MANY books you’ll need, write down any sort of big events you have in mind. Where do those events naturally feel like happening? Or, where do certain character arcs or romances naturally feel like wrapping up?

While you’re doing that, take a look at other series in your genre. Do they tend to be trilogies? Do they tend to be long, interconnected series (e.g. Game of Thrones) or maybe long, standalone series (e.g. Hercule Poirot)? You can use the comparison titles as a guide for your own story.

Another important reason for looking at comp titles is because you want to make sure your series has structure. Consider how a trilogy follows a 3-act structure on a series-scale (e.g. Star Wars) while longer series tend to have less strict structure (though each book would have a strict structure, of course!). The key, of course, is to follow the well-known rising action scale, but to do it over the course of the whole series as well as in each book.

I ended up estimating 5 books for Screechers, and even though I only have a VERY hazy idea of what happens in those last 2 books (erm, war?), I’ve also read enough fantasy series to naturally know that 5 books feels like the right number to cover the scale of the story.

Step 3: Start a special/file notebook for ideas.

I personally plan my series in the same way I plan an individual book: I write down ideas and snowball from there.

For a series, though, I tend to snowball WHILE I’m drafting the first book. Ideas will thunderbolt in the middle of a sentence, so I’ll scrolls down to my special Scrivener page and write down the idea while I have it. Those ideas might then grow into something more or just get cut as new ideas unfurl, but the point is that I take note of EVERYTHING.

So here’s an example of the ideas that I’ve been snowballing for book 2 in the Screecher series. This is a screencap of my Scrivener file:

Planning a series, 1

Question marks denote I’m not feeling SUPER good about an idea…

This is just the beginning of the ideas for book 2–this list continues on for 6 pages. :) I have a TON of pretty specific ideas and snippets of dialogue since book 2 is in the nearby future in terms of plot, and it’s often on my mind while drafting.

Book 3, on the other hand…

Planning a series, 2

Notice: shorter ideas that are also more vague.

My ideas for book 3 only continue for 2 pages, and they’re definitely skimpier than my book 2 ideas. BUT, they’re still more flushed-out than my books 4 & 5 ideas:

Planning a Series, 3

Notice these are SUPER vague and mostly questions.

As you can see, I don’t really know how everything will connect in book 4, but I DO have a general idea of some big plot points. As I write books 2 and 3, then my  list for books  4 and 5 will get meatier.

And, by the time I finish book 1, I’ll have a very detailed/solid idea of what needs to happen in book 2. In fact, I’ll likely have a full outline all ready to go that will allow me to dive write in to drafting.

So there you have it: that’s how I plan a series! It’s very much like how I plan a book, just on a much larger, more general scale. :)

You tell me: how do YOU plan series?

If you like what you read here, consider signing up for my newsletter, the Misfits & Daydreamers.

Susan Dennard is a reader, writer, lover of animals, and eater of (now gluten-free) cookies. You can learn more about her crazy thoughts and crippling cookie-addiction on her blogtwitter, or pinterest. Her Something Strange and Deadly series is now available from HarperTeen, and the Truthwitch series will launch from Tor in fall 2015.


Posted in Beginner Resources, Writing Life | Tagged | 9 Comments

What’s your major?


Alex Bracken

Alexandra Bracken

During my brief stint as an editorial assistant, I received a ton of really random calls. My theory is that the company’s operators just went to the first editorial assistant listed alphabetically in the staff directory with general editorial queries. My absolute favorite call I ever received came from a girl, maybe twelve or thirteen at the most, who flat-out asked, “Do you need to know French to work at your job?”

“No. Why do you ask?” was the obvious response.

“My parents said that if I want to be an editor I have to learn French.” And then she asked me to repeat the answer, this time on speaker so her parents could hear me.

First of all, I love that she called an actual publishing house to prove her folks wrong. That is a girl after my own heart! It’s a nice way to launch into something that seems to be a lot of soon-to-be grads’s minds: What do you need to major in to work in publishing? 

I double majored in English and History in college, but the truth is… I could have majored in just about anything and still found a job in publishing. English is the most popular major/minor for publishing employees, but short survey of coworkers and friends turned up majors in marketing, communications, biology, psychology, history, education, and, yes, even French!

The one thing I can’t stress enough is that there’s no one route into publishing–no major is the key to finding a job. I’ve mentioned this here before, but the industry is what you’d call an apprenticeship industry. While having a degree in communications might help in trying to snag a publicity gig, the hiring manager is likely to be far more focused on what work experience you’re bringing with you–that is, what skill set you have to offer your potential team and the company as a whole. This can be anything from general office/administrative experience (let’s be honest, this comprises 75% of most assistant jobs in the industry) to working in your college’s public relations department to spending a summer interning at a major corporation. While it certainly helps to have some background knowledge of the industry, no one will expect that you, fresh out of school, will know what “point of sales” means or what GLB stands for–these things will, in time, be taught to you as part of your training.

More than anything, hiring managers want to see that you can read critically and write well (hence why you often have to submit a sample press release or editorial letter after interviewing), that you have some experience working in a corporate environment or as part of a team, and that you’re enthusiastic about publishing and the books the company publishes. And who knows? An “oddball” major like Folklore and Mythology, or even Neuroscience could make you stand out and provide fodder for an interesting interview conversation!

Alex lives in New York City, where she works in children’s publishing, writes like a fiend, and lives in a charming apartment overflowing with books. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Darkest Minds and Never Fade. You can visit her online at her website or Twitter.

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