Monday, December 21, 2015

Book review: COUNTING THYME by Melanie Conklin

Title: Counting Thyme
Author: Melanie Conklin
Genre: MG Contemporary
Pages: 320 pages
Publication date: April 12, 2016
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers

My Rating: 5 / 5

You know, no one ever said reading books was easy. Some are, sure. But some grind you up into an emotion-filled pulp and leave you puddling on the floor at every turn of the page. You being wondering what in the actual expletive was running through the author's head when she wrote it. Was she trying to transform people into wads of blubbering messes? Was she sitting there at her laptop grinning evilly, fueled by pictures of her readers all collapsing into a nervous heap--just a pile of arms, legs, tears, and snot bubbles?


I don't know.

But maybe.

I can't weasel my way into Melanie Conklin's brain (even though I'd love to), but Counting Thyme did just that to me. From the very beginning of the story, we learn about Thyme's little brother, Val, and his struggle with cancer. And it was from that moment on that I fell in love with this book. Not because it dealt with a child fighting a life-threatening disease, but because of the reaction the entire family had to it. Every action, line, phrase, and word is smothered in sincerity. Melanie never once plays the pity card. We absolutely feel sorry for these people, especially Val, but there's never a moment when she dwells on that for even a microsecond too long. This family maintains a positive attitude in such a believable way that you find yourself nodding your head to what the parents say, to the words of encouragement from Thyme, even to the occasional fed-up reactions of her sister.

You keep the smile on your face.

You tell yourself it'll be okay.

You begin to believe everything's going to be all right.

But the entire time you do that, you still know. There's that whisper telling you that it could all go wrong at any moment. That the next day could bring the news no one dares speak of. So you wait. And you melt. And your body is so tense that it's hard to turn the page. Because somehow Melanie has put you so deeply into the story of Thyme and her brother, that you're not just feeling what they're feeling, you're living it, too.

And that's why this book gets five stars. Because of its ability to capture those experiences and extend them out to the reader in such a subtle way that, before long, we're completely unaware that we're not in our world any longer. We're with Thyme. With Val. With the family. And even though their lives are constantly operating under this umbrella of potential devastation, they operate together. They operate with hope and trust and love. And we feel that, too. Because Melanie knows no one can escape bad news when it shows up. What we can do, though, is surround ourselves with the people we love and make every single moment a memorable one.

Just like this book. Because once you read Counting Thyme, you won't soon forget it. You've found new friends on those pages. You've found people you can trust.

You've found hope, too.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Considering All Your Options

We all have this dream about what being a published author will look like. What will happen with each step, what inspirational phrases we’ll use and what it will feel like.

What we don’t dream about is the disappointment, and we all will have some at one point or another. For some it’s minor stuff like getting a few rejections in a row, your dream editor passing on your work, getting a little publishing deal instead of the big one you’d always dreamed of, or one bad trade review. Those are easily swept under the rug. Easy to move on from.

But some of us, and honestly this pile is more like most of us, the disappointments are bigger. Like monumentally bigger.

Like when you’ve queried five books, all of which you’ve loved, and can’t seem to find an agent interested. Or you have (or had) an agent and went on sub with three different books and no editors are interested (or maybe even worse, they all seem to love it but don’t think it sell well) Or maybe you had that big book deal but it didn't sell well.

When things don’t work out as planned—what now? 

With each book that “fails” to achieve that dream, you have a choice.

1) Keep slugging it through the muck to obtain that dream exactly as you imagined it.
You can put your beloved book away and start the process all over with another one. This is healthy process that nearly all writers go through. It’s normal, and likely the correct choice for most writers. This should be your first go-to option. Consider what else you have to offer as an author. You next book will likely be even better. The one after that even better! And, as many a writer has dreamed, once you get that big deal you’ve been hoping for, you can come back to your original lovelies and give them new life! Keep dreaming the dream!

But, if you’re not ready to give up on this book, consider these next options:

2) Small Press

Like a big 5 publisher, you also have to be accepted by a small press for this to be a feasible option, but it is a choice whether you even submit to a small press. And if they show interest whether you are willing to give up the opportunity for a bigger sale. I spoke with an agented author recently who was in this predicament. She’d been on sub for some months and was offered an R&R from a small press and she wasn’t sure if she wanted to go through with it, thinking maybe she should hold out for a big deal with another book. I am pro small press (if it’s the right small press!) but I also know that this choice doesn’t come down to whether small presses are good options are not- it’s down to if they are the right choice FOR YOU. And your book. If having a big debut deal and having the prestige of a big publisher behind you is extremely important to you, than don’t feel like you need to settle. I personally wouldn’t turn down an opportunity with a good press just for the possibility of a bigger deal another day-- because we all know that there are NO guarantees. But I’d never suggest an author take that opportunity and end up disappointed because it’s not what they wanted. There are also other considerations: like if you click with the editor and you think their revision ideas will make a better book (definitely don’t settle in this area) or if the publisher is excited and willing to put you at the top of their priorities (all publishers have “big” titles coming out each year that they will put their full weight behind and some smaller ones that won’t get as much attention unless they start to sell well). Also consider if print is a priority for you. For many it is, and there are only a few small presses who will do print runs or can get your book into book stores.

3) Self-publishing!

In the current publishing world, self-publishing is a real option for writers. You can put out a quality work that finds legitimate success all on your own. But should you try it? This choice has a lot of things to take under consideration. Like if you’re able and willing to put in the work that it will take to do it right and fighting to find that elusive audience. Or if you’re willing to deal with the stigma. You won’t be in book stores, you won’t have a publishers name behind you to get you into things like book festivals etc (some will let self-published authors in, but it’s not easy. There are so many now that it’s hard for them to judge quality). Another big thing to consider is whether or not your book is really ready to be published. This is a hard topic, but an important one. If you couldn’t find an agent, or a small press—maybe this book just isn’t ready to be published. Or maybe you would simply be better off publishing something else.

Also consider the market for your book. Romance books do great (possibly even better) as a small press or self-published work. Middle Grade doesn’t do as well with self-publishing, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Just realize the full scope what you’re getting into before you choose your path.


When deciding which route to take, you need to realize that you are beginning a career. If you are convinced that THIS is your book, your debut, what you want to use as your foundation for the rest of your writing career, then do what you need to do. Take the route that works best for you.

There are ways to reach that elusive dream of a being a bestselling author without taking the traditional route. Don’t be afraid of the twists and turns, but most of all be brave enough to choose the right path for you. Even if that means waiting years for all the pieces to fall into place, or taking a path no one expected of you.

It’s your career. Your writing. And in the end it’s your choice.