2015 in Books: What I’ve been reading

It’s that time of year again when I get to go through and review my year in books. With charts!

This year I read 101 books. That’s 31,993 pages and an average of 330 pages per book. Which is more than I read last year, so that’s great!

My age range breakdowns were pretty similar to last year.

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I did get a little more spread on genres, though!

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And now for my favorite. Book awards! With lots of honorable mentions because choosing is hard.

Favorite book boyfriend: Arin from The Winner’s Kiss

Honorable mentions: Hector from Bitter Kingdom, David from Rebel Belle, Hank from The Shadow Hero, Rafe from Kiss of Deception, and Paul from A Thousand Pieces of You

Character I want to be friends with: Ballister Blackheart from Nimona

Honorable mentions: Super Hero Girl from The Adventures of Super Hero Girl, Vicky from A Mad, Wicked Folly, Eleanor from Eleanor and Park, Clay Jensen from 13 Reasons Why, and Leah from Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

Awesome Antagonist: d’Albert from Dark Triumph

Honorable mentions: Angra from Snow Like Ashes and Zeus from Polaris Awakening

Creepy in an awesome way: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

It should be duly noted that I wanted to include Draxen from Tricia Levenseller’s Daughter of the Pirate King in book boyfriend. But I didn’t because I already had too many and mostly because I thought it would be mean since the book doesn’t even come out until 2017.

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A linguistic look at YA

As some of you know, I’m currently studying to get my MA in linguistics. In my field, you can study basically anything pertaining to language. I’ve focused mostly on fiction. Specifically YA. I thought I’d share some of my early results with you guys.

What I do:

Within the broader field of linguistics, my area of expertise is in corpus linguistics. This means I use computer programs to run language analysis on large bodies of text. For my thesis, I built a corpus, or text database of YA. I’ve been comparing my database against a database of adult books and a database of younger children’s (5-14) books to see what the differences are.

Some results:

I based a lot of my research on a study out of Oxford comparing children’s literature to adult literature. One of the key findings in their study was that children’s books used a lot more words that focused on the physical world, while adult books used a lot more words that focused on time relationships.

My hypothesis, which I’m still testing, is that YA falls in between. They’re more physical than adult books, but more focused on time than children’s books. One finding of mine that supports the idea of YA being more physical is the relative frequency of words for different body parts in YA.

bodyparts

All counts are normalized per 1 million words

We can also see that there’s a difference in pronoun use in YA books. The word I is used much more in YA, which likely suggests that first person narration is more common in YA than adult. Also, for all groups, masculine pronouns were more common than feminine pronouns.

pronouns

Finally, and this may only be interesting to hardcore linguists, the Oxford study found that modals (the words can, could, shall, should, will, would, may, might, and must) appeared more commonly in children’s books than adult books, with YA falling in the middle. However, while overall modal usage was highest in children’s, individual modals varied quite a bit.

total modals

modal breakdown

This is actually kind of strange from a linguistic standpoint. Modals are are pretty high frequency, so they should appear fairly evenly. Honestly, I’m still working on this part of my analysis, so if any of you lovely readers have any ideas why the charts look like this, I’d love to hear them!

Hopefully this wasn’t super boring. If you have questions or things you’d like me to include in future research, let me know in the comments. I’m more than happy to geek out and talk to you about this stuff.

Query Critique 84

Baronet Brandon Shrike is in serious trouble. Too vague! Give me something specific in the hook. King Justin Capet has been poisoned and is near death. Tasked with finding the perpetrator, Brandon, the king’s trusted bodyguard, has instead gotten himself exiled. The information in this sentence is what should be worked into a hook. He knows he’s been set up by ambitious General Kalt, but Justin is too ill to listen, and Brandon needs proof.
In the north, Lady Bria Perregal’s mother has been murdered, and if her suspicions are correct, it was her father who committed the crime. This is an abrupt point of view shift. Even adding the word “meanwhile” to the beginning could help smooth it out. Earl Rostis Perregal seems poised to seize power if the king dies, but Bria has no proof, only fear and doubt. With her twin brother hundreds of miles away in the royal city, Bria realizes she must act alone in order to avoid becoming a pawn in their father’s power games. I’d like to see how this ties in to the conflict from the first part.
Major Michael LeVay has been ordered to arrest Bria on sight–to his great consternation, as he has been secretly in love with her for five years. If he is loyal to the cavalry, he must obey his orders. If he is loyal to his heart, he must defy them. On top of that, he must make his choice while facing down his old mentor–and his old nemesis–General Kalt. There have been enough people mentioned in this query that I had trouble making the connection between Kalt in this paragraph and the first paragraph. So again, I’d like to see at least a hint of how the different narratives will weave together.
Pursued by both human soldiers and monsters that look like men but aren’t, Bria flees south. Brandon, risking capture and torture, defies exile to stop General Kalt from destroying both king and kingdom. Michael struggles to stay true to himself while serving the king. Renegade baronet, rebellious noblewoman, and conflicted soldier are on a collision course as they attempt to thwart not only Kalt’s plans, but those of someone even more sinister…the supernatural Dark King. As I’ve mentioned, I’d like a little bit more indication of how these paths collide. Also, the Dark King kinda comes out of left field. We’re not given a chance to see why he’s scary, so there isn’t any real reason to fear him. Which means the ending lacks the punch it should have.
The Loyalty Factor is an adult epic fantasy complete at 145,000 words. I have a rough outline for a sequel and plan to write several books set in this world.
Thank you for your time.

Kyra’s Rules of Publishing

  1. Be nice.
  2. Read as much as you can.
  3. Keep an open mind.
  4. Network with as many people as possible. Make friends.
  5. Be prepared to work your butt off.
  6. Learn what you can from whatever experiences you have, no matter how small.
  7. Pay attention to the world around you.
  8. Be supportive of others, not jealous.
  9. Try new things. Expand your horizons.
  10. Be patient.
  11. Pay good deeds forward.
  12. Recognize when you’re procrastinating and try to avoid it.
  13. Don’t be afraid to let a project sit. But don’t let it sit for too long.
  14. Be confident.
  15. Be humble.
  16. Take it one day at a time.
  17. Listen to those around you.
  18. Make sure you love what you’re doing.
  19. Be your own best. The rest will fall into place.

Query Critique 83

I am seeking representation for THE PERFECT WIFE, a 70,000-word novel.  I noticed that you are looking for upmarket women’s fiction, and I think this book fits that genre very well. This would probably sound stronger if you just said “and I think this would be a good fit.” Be confident about your genre.

Shanta believed in love; she saw it from her parents, from her sister, and she knew that her husband would be her constant, caring companion.  She had a vision of walks through Bangalore, India with her new husband, sharing cardamom infused milk sweets and cups of chai on their porch.

Gandhi’s declaration of India’s independence and the onset of World War II shatters these dreams.  Her husband becomes dedicated to the freedom cause, quits his job, and leaves her, with two children and little life experience, to work with Gandhi. I’d almost like to see this worked into a hook. The last paragraph does a good job setting the scene, but this sentence has conflict. And it’s the conflict that’s going to make people want to keep reading. World War II sparks protests all over India, and Shanta finds herself caught up in it, faced with racism and violence that her parents shielded her from all her life.  In this increasingly unstable world, Shanta is forced to find in herself a protector and provider to survive in a way she never thought she would: on her own.  This is an okay ending, but it would be stronger with some stakes. A deliberate statement that tells the reader what happens to her if she doesn’t find a protector.

I am part of a mother-daughter team.  Dipti Ranganathan has written short stories and was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers.  This story is particularly important to us because it is heavily based on the life of my great-grandmother.  THE PERFECT WIFE tells a well-known story, that of the freedom movement in India, from a new perspective of the wives of the men who fought for their country.  I believe that this novel will help bring the perspectives of women to light in a way similar to Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.  THE PERFECT WIFE is also similar in themes to the novel that you represent After the War is Over.

Get to the Point

I’d like to pretend that I read every query letter I get thoroughly. That would be a lie, though. I sift through queries pretty quickly, and that means that if my attention isn’t captured fast, I quit reading.

The point of this is that you need to get to the conflict as fast as possible. Don’t spend a paragraph setting up your world or your character. Because if there’s not a sense of conflict within the first two sentences, I’m probably going skim the rest of the letter and pass.

This sounds like easy advice to keep, but it’s one of the biggest problems I’ve been seeing lately in my inbox. So many author’s meander through their query letters. A query is not a leisurely stroll. It’s more of a sprint.

Here’s how you test yourself. Give somebody the first two sentences of your query to somebody and ask if they’re interested yet. If they’re not, you aren’t getting to the conflict fast enough.