Category Archives: Sweethearts Posts

The Road to Happily Ever After

by Melanie Hooyenga

When I was a kid, I gobbled up books like the Sweet Valley High series and anything by Judy Blume. I’d lose myself in the characters’ lives, imagining what it’d be like to kiss my one true love or figure out my life before going to college. But somewhere along the way, it became uncouth to seek out these books.

Sure, it was okay to read Jane Green or Helen Fielding, as long as the books that surrounded them on your shelves were deeper literary fiction. You know, REAL literature. If you were going to read a book on public transportation, Khaled Hosseini trumped Sophie Kinsella any day.

But I never stopped loving the happily ever after. I’ve read most of Nicholas Sparks’ books (and seen the movies) but those aren’t the novels I’d discuss with fellow book lovers. If books came up in conversation I’d name-drop the bestsellers of the day, but in the privacy of my home I’d devour Jennifer Weiner and Emily Giffin.

All that changed when I started reading young adult novels. While the plots are as varied as anything you’ll find in adult literature (and they certainly don’t all end happily), YA novels don’t shy away from the idea that things might work out in the end. Even in the darkest YA, there’s usually a glimmer of hope that while things may not end perfectly, they will get better. And I don’t know about you, but I could usually use a little hope at the end of the day.

Soon I discovered Stephanie Perkins, Lisa McMann, and shelves full of authors who don’t shy away from happiness, and I slowly stopped caring what other people thought of my reading choices. There have been countless articles arguing that YA lit somehow isn’t as good as adult lit, and while I won’t get into that debate here (although I think it should be clear where I stand), I think what really matters is that you read what you enjoy. If you love horror or thrillers or non-fiction adventures, read those! And own it. Don’t hide your true joy in a dark kindle. Life’s too short for that.

I still read the occasional adult novel — even ones without happy endings — but YA happily ever afters hold my heart and I’m no longer afraid to admit it.

Everything Old is … Just Old

by Robin Constantine

One of the challenges of writing contemporary young adult is the ability to keep things fresh, current. Use a word or an action that’s out of date, and you’ll be sent down a shame spiral, or worse, called…old. And yet, if you use tech or slang that is too current, too new — you risk the chance of it being considered antiquated by the time your book comes out. What’s a YA writer to do if you don’t want your story to be as outdated as MySpace?

Before you order that crystal ball from the Internet, here’s a handy guide to things that teens of today might not know existed (or are on their way to extinction.)*

Phone Booths/Pay Phones. Remember these? Claustrophobic, right? Also, oddly mysterious and sometimes romantic. Granted, they were old when I was a teen, but the boys’ high school on the opposite side of town** was equipped with a wooden phone booth like the one pictured here. Once you closed the glass door behind you and the light came on, all you needed was a quarter and the number of your crush to escape for a few moments of flirty talk. (And okay, I’m partial since this did in fact happen to me during a basketball game — except he called me, no quarter necessary, so unlimited time!! 🙂 )

There’s actually more than just the advent of cell phones that lead to the demise of the phone booth/pay phone! Apparently, they were very conducive to criminal activity.

Also … I’ll try not to think of all the germs I was probably exposed to … blech, not to mention the broken heart when said crush fizzled out.

Passing Notes in Class. You think sending a clandestine text is hard? That’s nothing compared to the slight of hand required to pass a note. First, one must write said note … then fold it silently … then …the actual passing. What if your friend was across the room?

Was there a chain of people you could actually trust to pass it? Could you risk tossing it while the teacher had their back turned to write something on the chalkboard?***

Bonus points if your note contained some boxes that needed to be checked — then there would have to be a return. Oh the anxiety!

And if it ever got into the wrong hands … plot twist.

Mixtapes. Someone actually taking the time to record songs, in a specific order on a blank tape and dedicate it to you? Ah, be still my heart. This took effort. Mixtapes could be
friendly, or I’d like to be more than friendly, in a very non-threatening way. Is there a
better way to get to know someone than sharing music? What made it even more
intimate was the personal touches – hand writing the song titles in bubbly blue
inked letters on the little blank insert in the cassette and throwing in a song like
Personal Jesus to keep the recipient guessing your intentions.

Is there even a modern day equivalent? Somehow, a Spotify list doesn’t seem as

Lockers. I know … how can this be? Watch any teen movie or show and I guarantee there’s a scene by a locker. It’s the perfect place to have a reflective moment, to find an anonymous note, to have a romantic convo with the one-hand-against-the-locker-lean move, to find out you’re not invited to THE party…

…and yet, with the advent of classroom Chromebooks and online text books, these too are becoming obsolete. Some schools are even getting rid of them so there’s more space. But what do kids do with all their stuff? And what about all that cute paraphernalia to decorate it? Will the locker chandelier be obsolete soon too?

Has anyone ever used one of those?

Bonus Lightning round:

Waiting for an arcade game — Remember walking up to Ms. Pacman and placing your quarter down to show that you were next? Um, yeah, me neither. Who needs to do that when you have an arcade in the palm of your hand?

Photo booths in the wild — No, not the ones with props that you can rent for a Sweet Sixteen. The old, old kind that made all sorts of noise as your pictures developed and how you would have to handle the photo strip very carefully since it could still be wet. There was no retake, unless you wanted to fork over the cash. No Facetune app if you had a zit or a crooked smile. This was a one and done. (And fun since if you were taking it with another person you had to get super, super close to fit into the frame of the picture!)

While this list makes me slightly nostalgic, I think there are great new ways to incorporate modern tech into your plot and setting. Out with the old and in with the texting, Skyping, and selfies!

*unless of course you are writing historical fiction, then ignore…

**I went to an all girl high school, our brother school was on the opposite side of town … talk about antiquated.

***which is also disappearing in favor of dry erase and smart boards!

Have I forgotten anything? What would you add to this list?

Do You Really Need a Literary Agent?

by Karole Cozzo

Back in 2005, I completed my first manuscript. I was jazzed to learn that I could, in fact, accomplish such a thing, that I could take a story from start to finish without getting bored and starting something new or bowing out because I felt overwhelmed or lost along the way. I started Googling “how you get a book published” and quickly realized (especially back then), that querying and finding a literary agent was a necessary first step in the process, especially if an author had any hope of being considered by well-known publishing companies.

Fast forward to 2018. I’ve sold four books to a Macmillan imprint since 2014, and I still don’t have a literary agent. Through the Swoon Reads website and community, I sold my first novel, and I’ve sold my subsequent novels to Swoon Reads through direct contact with the directors and editors at the imprint.

Beyond Swoon Read’s crowdsourcing approach to book selection and publication, there are several other options for selling books without the assistance of an agent, including self-publishing and smaller publishing companies that are willing to consider manuscripts without the divine intervention of a literary agent. It’s definitely possible to see your work published — in electronic format or on the shelves of brick and mortar stores — without agent representation, but what are the advantages of having a person working on your behalf? I questioned some of my author pals, those with representation and those without, about the positives and negatives associated with the agent search in launching and sustaining publishing careers. Here’s some of what I heard:

The Benefits of Going it Alone . . .

  • Complete control, creative or otherwise. Sometimes, agents request one or more rounds of edits before they’re comfortable submitting your work to a publishing company. It’s likely that if a story is acquired, editors will request additional edits before publication. By this time, your novel may bear little resemblance to the story you initially imagined. These changes may be based on expertise and market knowledge, but some authors are uncomfortable or unhappy with the number of changes that may come along with having an additional person weigh in on his or her work.
  • Increased industry knowledge and opportunities for self-advocacy. When you represent yourself, you have to do the research in order to feel comfortable and confident that you’re doing it right. Instead of relying on someone else to manage your career, the responsibility is in your hands. This provides increased motivation for an author to learn all he or she can about how the industry works, contract nuances, etc. When you’re the sole person working on your behalf, there’s the impetus to become as knowledgeable and informed as possible, and there is complete transparency about contract negotiations, conversations with publishers, and career planning that might not come along with having someone speaking for you.
  • If and when you sell a book, you get to keep all the money! When you’re your own agent, that 10-15% cut goes right to you.

. . . and the Downside

  • You don’t necessarily know what you don’t know. This is probably my greatest concern in going it alone. I don’t necessarily know what’s typical or fair in the industry, and I can review contracts and royalty statements until my eyes cross and still not feel 110% confident that I understand everything I’m reading. There are definitely times I’d love to have someone else to bounce my questions and concerns off of. There is always a lingering fear that I’m missing something really important that an agent would alert me to immediately.
  • Most big-name publishing companies aren’t willing to review your manuscript without it being presented by a literary agent. This is a big one if you’re hoping to reach as broad an audience as possible and one day hold an actual bound copy of your book in your hands.
  • Who do you turn to for career guidance? Maybe you’re looking at branching out to another genre, maybe you want to know if the idea for your new novel is “so yesterday” based on market trends. Maybe you want someone to help you develop realistic and attainable career goals. Without an agent, a lot of this feels like guesswork (trust me), and even if you’ve developed a relationship with a publisher, as you attempt to grow your career, it can be difficult to know what steps are best to take to actually do so.

The Benefits of Having an Agent . . .

  • Advocacy. Several of my writing pals quickly noted that their agents are worth every cent they get, simply because it’s worth it, 10 times over, to feel like there’s someone in their corner and someone looking out for their best interests. One author friend mentioned truly believing “he wants to sell my book as much as I do.” It was also noted that an agent may be working on your behalf even when you don’t hear from him or her, coming up with new plans or ideas to be shared. They may be your biggest cheerleader and your most loyal teammate; as one author friend put it, “they’re not succeeding unless you are.”
  • Contract review and negotiations. I’ll be blunt — attempting to read a publishing contract is like attempting to read Latin. Maybe Chinese, because I often feel like I don’t even recognize the characters! Several of the authors I spoke to mentioned how valuable an agent can be when it comes to contracts. They noted that agents caught things and asked for concessions on points they never would’ve thought of on their own. While agents don’t usually get everything they ask for, they often can get publishers to budge on a few points that you wouldn’t have known or thought to ask for.
  • Contacts. They have connections with those working at the big-name companies. Beyond getting a publishing company to review your work, previously established relationships can make that much easier.

. . . and the Downside

  • That whole sharing your profits thing. Ah yeah … you have to do it. It’s typical for new authors to not earn out on their first books, which means a portion of your advance — maybe the only money you’ll ever see that is often taxed heavily — goes to someone else.
  • Like any other profession, there are good agents and there are bad agents. I’ve heard horror stories about unresponsive agents, agents who disappeared off the face of the earth entirely after signing an author, agents who rarely updated the author on submissions or if submissions were being made at all. It can feel like the process is out of your hands, and if you’re not entirely gelling with your agent, a relationship that seemed like a dream come true can end up leaving you unfulfilled, feeling like your career is being handled by someone you might not have total trust or confidence in.
  • It’s really hard to get one, and the query process can be (okay, let’s just say always is) nerve-wracking, frustrating, and disheartening. Rejection from agent upon agent upon agent can really shake an author’s confidence. An agent I follow on twitter recently shared the following: “I just organized my inbox, so some #querystats! I was open to queries for 9.5 months last year. Here is what that looked like: 3, 615 queries received; 89 fulls requested from queries; 124 fulls (or partials read); 4 clients signed.” I’ll do the math for you — in this case, .01% of her queries resulted in an author being signed. These odds can feel downright debilitating, right? While it’s true that most big-name authors can tell tales of the hundreds of rejection emails they received, it’s extremely hard to take these emails in stride and keep going. If rejection emails shatter a writer, he or she may give up entirely on their dream.

Here’s the bottom line: It is indeed possible to become a published author and advance your writing career without a literary agent. It’s up to you as a writer, upon considering the pluses and minutes of having one, to decide how much time, energy, and angst you want to invest in the query game, to decide if the benefits outweigh the negatives of having an agent working on your behalf.

Boy Band Nostalgia

by Erin Fletcher

If there’s one thing that reminds me of my teenage years, it’s boy bands. I’m going to seriously age myself here, but back in the day I was in love with Hanson, Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, and 98º. I listened to their CDs on repeat. I bought magazines that came with posters, which I would hang on my closet door with scotch tape. I went to their concerts. I dreamed of someday running into them on the street, falling in love with one of them (the cutest one, obviously), and marrying him.

As the boy-band scene faded, I grew up and forgot about those crushes. That is, until a few months ago. I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when I saw an advertisement that 98º was doing a Christmas tour and coming to my town. Cue insta-nostalgia and every 98º song stuck in my head. Immediately, I texted my Nick-Lachey-obsessed friend. We decided to not only get tickets, but also meet and greet passes. Carpe diem, right?

1999 vs. 2017. They’ve aged well, haven’t they?!

On the day of the concert, we showed up with the rest of the 30-something-year-old crowd, but it was just like being a teenager again. There was the excitement as we drove by the tour buses on the way in. There was a brand new poster (which I may or may not tape on my closet door). Even after all these years, there were still the obsessed fans. One woman was wearing a sweater with snowmen on it, but on each snowman’s face she had attached a printed picture of one of the guys from 98º. Seriously.

Meeting Nick, Drew, Jeff, and Justin (yes, we’re on a first-name basis now, y’all) was a blast. I was a little nervous that they would disappoint, mostly because I put them on a pretty high pedestal decades ago, but they were even nicer and more down-to-earth than I’d hoped. The concert itself was fantastic, too. The guys put on a great show with their old classics, new Christmas songs, and even a silly rendition of “Let it Go” from Frozen. My teenage crush was 100 percent renewed, and I loved every second of it.

Basically, as corny as it is, I’m glad boy bands were around when I was a young adult. I’m out of touch with the current music scene, but I hope there’s a new crop of boy bands for teens today to listen to (and maybe meet on a reunion tour 10 or 20 years from now).

What boy bands did/do you love? If you could go to a boy band reunion tour, which one would you choose?

P.S. Love boy bands and YA books? (Of course you do!) Check out the Backstage Pass series from Entangled Teen! Each book focuses on a different member of a fictional boy band. Such fun reads!

Roundup: Counting Our Blessings

In this season of thanksgiving and good cheer, we Sweethearts find ourselves counting our many blessings. Before we share the things we are most thankful for, a note of congratulations to Megan, the randomly selected winner of our November prize, a winter comfort pack including THE PROMISE OF AMAZING by Robin Constantine!

Karole Cozzo: On a daily basis I feel truly blessed and am thankful for too many things to even begin to count! So for purposes of today’s post I’m narrowing my list to the bookish domain. I’m thankful to be part of a community of hard-working and passionate writers who celebrate each other’s successes and excitements without hesitation, who are just as quick with hand-holding and reassurance when the need arises. I’m thankful I get to wake up and do the thing I truly love and be part of an industry that’s always fascinated me, even if I have to somedays fit it in around my day job and mom responsibilities. I’m thankful for book bloggers who get excited about books before they can open them and take the time to review them after they’re closed. I’m thankful there is always more to aspire for, because goals energize me. I’m thankful for new couples to ship (currently Bronwyn and Nate — allllll the heart eyes) and book hangovers, some of the best stuff in life. And I’m thankful every day that people pick up my books and spend time with my words, because above all, you’re the “why.”

Linda Budzinski: I start off every day, during my morning walk, thanking God for my blessings, and it is a long, long. long list. For this post, I’ll stick to one particular blessing: my church. I am thankful for our pastor, who never fails to help me see a Bible passage in a new light; for our many missions projects, which serve so many in need in our community; for our prayer chain, which has kept my family in their prayers during some difficult times; for the kids our youth group, whose energy and humor keep me young; and most of all for my many friends within the congregation, who constantly teach me what it means to show God’s love in a world that truly needs it.

Stephanie Scott: This year, my husband and I said goodbye to our kitty of 11 years. Knowing our cat was sick gave us a timeline and a chance to prepare. There’s nothing quite like losing a pet. It’s not the same as losing a person, but in a lot of ways, the loss is similar. I’m thankful we were able to provide a home to our rescue cat for over 10 years, giving him good care. Now, we have two farm kittens tearing our house apart. They are spastic and constantly in need of snuggles. I’m thankful for our fuzzy pals, who bring needed joy and laughter into our lives.

Darcy Woods: I’m not sure how to narrow a list that feels infinite, but here goes! My heart bursts with gratitude and love for my husband — a consummate believer in every zany idea I’ve ever conjured, not to mention an extraordinary barista (with an unofficial PhD in pumpkin spiceology). I can’t fathom having a better co-pilot in this life adventure. I’m thankful for my family — both two- and four-legged — and my friends, who are truly my emotional Spanx. They have also been known to make me laugh to the brink of peeing my pants. And under the category of “things” I’m grateful for: fuzzy socks, Glazed and Confused doughnuts, books (glorious books and all those who love them!!!) sparkly things, ModCloth, music and art in all forms, unicorns, the cosmos, blanket forts, and everything in this world that steals my breath and gives it back…to name just a few.

Robin Constantine: I’m so thankful for my readers! Whether it’s an email, a tweet or an Insta post, I’m so grateful that someone would take the time and effort to mention that they enjoyed my work. It never fails to bring a smile to my face and has gotten me through some creative rough patches! YA readers are THE BEST!


Erin Fletcher: The thing I’m most thankful for is my family. I am blessed to have amazing parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and an amazing brother. I also have three godchildren who are the cutest kids on the planet (not that I’m biased or anything). My family can be loud and crazy, but they never fail to make me laugh. For example, my 80-something-year-old grandma recently informed me that she learned how to use Siri, and the first question she asked was, “How many of the Kardashians are pregnant?” Yep. In addition to making me laugh, my family is always there for each other, like the time my parents drove 12 hours through the night to get to North Carolina when I was in the hospital. There’s no way I would be who I am without my family, and I am incredibly grateful for them.