Jill Santopolo on Lessons Learned from Other Genres

No literary genre is an island. Even if there is one genre you usually read, odds are, it has more in common with other kinds of stories than you might think. No one knows this better than Jill Santopolo, whose latest novel The Light We Lost draws on her experiences writing and editing across a number of genres. Here, she tells readers about the lessons she’s learned from her genre-spanning career.

Before I started writing The Light We Lost, I spent ten years editing children’s and young adult novels across many different genres. I’m still doing that, and I love it. I love being able to work on mysteries and paranormal romance and fantasy and historical fiction and contemporary novels because I can look at what one author has done really well in one genre, and see how it might apply to what another author is writing in another genre. I can give tips to a mystery writer about narrative tension from editing a romance novel, I can give tips to a historical fiction writer about world building from editing a fantasy novel. I love being able to do that, finding pieces of the writing craft that crossover from genre to genre.

So when, a few years ago, my boss, the publisher of a children’s book imprint, asked me to read E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey to see if there was anything that she did that we might learn from and share with the young adult novelists we were working with, it made perfect sense to me. And I did come up with some things that I thought might be useful—some that I also ended up applying to my own writing of The Light We Lost. And when I did so, it got me thinking: What have I learned as a children’s book editor that could make my adult writing stronger? While young adult novels aren’t a genre, they do have some similarities as far as craft is concerned—and they’re elements of craft that I thought might my make my own novel stronger.

One of the things I keep in mind when I’m editing children’s books is that books are competing for kids’ attention with sports, video games, apps, homework, play dates… basically everything. The goal with any children’s book is to keep the pace of the story moving so quickly that there isn’t any place that feels natural to pause, nowhere to put the book down and go do something else instead. We want those kids to fall asleep with their books on top of their blankets. And one of the ways to make that happen is to pay special attention to pacing. When I started writing The Light We Lost, I kept that in mind. I wanted my readers to get so wrapped up in the momentum of the story that they fell asleep with it on their blankets as well.

Love Triangles
I’ve edited more than one teen romance with a love triangle at its center, and, as an adjunct professor at The New School, have worked with students who are writing books with love triangles in them, too. The “who will s/he choose” and “who would I choose” is something that seems to connect readers deeply to the characters whose stories they’re reading—think about Bella, Edward, and Jacob from Twilight. Katniss, Peeta, and Gale from The Hunger Games. Calla, Ren and Shay from Nightshade. The trick, I think, is creating two characters who are potentially a good match for the main character because they fulfill different needs that the character has. Then the reader—and the character—get to choose which of those needs is more important. Making that decision along with the main character is a way to connect the reader to the story, and that’s always my goal—to make that connection.

Short Chapters
The Light We Lost is written in vignette form, none of which is more than a handful of pages long. This is something else I look for when I edit books for children and teens. It’s easy to read “just one more,” when the next chapter is only a couple of pages long. This ties in with pacing, but is slightly different because it’s not just the idea of keeping the action moving, but it’s the idea of making each scene as tight and taut as possible.

No Extra Words
When I’m line-editing novels for kids and teens, I often circle words or sentences or whole paragraphs and write “needed?” next to them in the margin. I tried to do the same thing with The Light We Lost. The book’s not all that long, and every word that’s in there feels, to me, like it’s absolutely necessary. I hope readers feel the same way.

There’s that old writing mantra: Write what you know. And then there’s the addendum: Write it slant. For the past 15 years I’ve known children’s books. But with The Light We Lost, I took what I learned and I wrote it slant.

Jill Santopolo received a BA in English literature from Columbia University and an MFA in writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She’s the author of three successful children’s and young-adult series and works as the editorial director of Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers group. An adjunct professor in The New School’s MFA program, Jill travels the world to speak about writing and storytelling. She lives in New York City.


Reader Spotlight

Blog name: Life Has a Funny Way
Blog URL: https://lifehasafunnywayofsneakinguponyou.wordpress.com/
Your name: Leonie Byrne

Let’s start with the beginning: why did you first get involved with blogging?

It all started a couple of years ago, when I started a blog mainly to get things off my chest. I’ve always loved writing and reading but I’m useless with keeping a journal, so I decided to start a blog to talk about what was going on in my life and the random thoughts I had. The blog worked for my initial idea but I was constantly looking for what my niche could be. Despite being a big reader it never occurred to me that people would want to read my book reviews. I had no idea that there was this whole community of other book lovers out there. I’d often thought about applying for a job as a reviewer in a magazine or newspaper but had no idea where to start! Then an author friend of mine told me about NetGalley. When I started reviewing for NetGalley it made sense to put those reviews on my blog as well as on social media, and so Life has a Funny Way was reborn as a book reviewing blog. I still post other bits and pieces on there but my main passion is the book reviewing!

How has reviewing books changed your experience as a reader?

I’ve tried not to let it change my experience too much if I’m honest. At first I was reading all these amazing reviews from other bloggers or reviewers and they were making them really cool by adding quotes. So, I started writing quotes down as I was reading. But then I realised that this was having a negative impact on my reading. I was hunting down quotes and dragging myself out of the story to write them down. So now I just choose one or two quotes usually from the beginning of the book to use as an introduction. Of course, if I’m reading on kindle it’s easier as I can highlight whole passages if I want to! On the other hand, though it’s enriched my reading experiences in a big way, when you’ve read a ton of books (1733 at last count) it can be hard to remember specifics about what you’ve read. Reviewing allows me to go back at the end of the month, the year, even 10 years later and refresh my memory, not on whether the book was one I enjoyed but why I enjoyed it so much. It also allows me to share my love of books with other people in the book community which in turn can lead to recommendations which will enrich other readers’ lives.

You just started a BookTube channel – how do you like vlogging so far?

Vlogging is so different to blogging! I don’t know what I really expected from vlogging, or how successful I thought I would be, but what I have found is that it’s a lot of fun. Writing is my thing, speaking not so much, so it took a while to get into the swing of things. But once I saw that people enjoyed what I was saying it’s just gotten better and better. It’s introduced me to a community of fellow book lovers which I never knew existed. When I try to talk about books to anyone in real life I see their eyes glazing over and that’s fine, if that’s not their thing. But talking to my subscribers on YouTube, I’m talking to people who love books as much as I do, who understand my crazy book loving ways. It’s also been great to get recommendations on books from other people’s channels and share our weird book habits, loves, hates and passions. I’ve also made some great friends who I now speak to over email and I’m going to be starting a book related newsletter with one of them soon. Vlogging has really expanded my horizons.

Are there particular subgenres that you prefer or find more interesting at the moment? Are there any trends that you are excited to see come or go?

I love high and epic fantasy like The Lord of the Rings & A Game of Thrones because you can really get lost in a book which creates a whole world which is alternative to your own. As a writer as well as a reader I admire the incredible talent of writers like Tolkien, Martin and Laini Taylor because they can actually create these books with such beautiful writing, I mean, what would it be like to be inside their minds? Minds where a whole new universe can be created?

Urban Fantasy novels have also long been a favorite, books like Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter series, books which create an alternative world but it’s a different kind, it’s the world which is your own world but better, more adventurous. I always come away with the niggling feeling that maybe there is something else right in the corner of my eye and one day I could just be there at the right place and time to slip into it. It’s pure escapism and I love it!

There’s a huge trend at the moment for “Royalty based” fantasy novels. I loved The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen but I’ve found myself avoiding other “Queen” books. I was in Waterstones over the weekend and that seemed to be all that was on the shelves. I’d like to pick up some books which have original and new ideas. Fantasy is such an amazing genre because a lot of it comes straight from the imagination and can’t really be based on life experience or researched in the way other genres can. That’s why I think it’s so important to come up with new and exciting ideas. I would really like to see more Mermaid books orientated towards adults and YA.

You’re working on a debut novel. Can you talk a little bit about your writing process and how you make time while in university and with an active blog?

Oh well, what can I say about my writing process? It’s very haphazard to say the least. It’s a fantasy novel I’m writing but I keep losing myself in other people’s fantasy writing instead of doing my own! I started my novel about 3 years ago, and just wrote in notebooks whenever I had a spare minute and whenever the muse struck so to speak. Now, I tend to only write when the muse strikes. I need to get a new laptop as mine is really slow which puts me off writing because I can’t be bothered to wait for it to boot up! My blogging, writing short stories, creative writing for university and of course now my Booktube and my full-time job all take up a huge amount of time as well. But when I do sit down to write, I write a lot. Rather than setting myself a goal such as 500 words per day, I find that writing when I feel inspired works better for me because I can sit down and write 5k+ words at a time, but then I might not write again for 5+ months. It’s a slow process but I want to get it right, I’m in no rush!

Which upcoming Fantasy book(s) on NetGalley are you the most excited about recommending?

Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles by JM Sullivan is a title I’ve just requested and I’m hoping to be approved for. I love Alice in Wonderland retellings and I’ve even written a short story version of one myself!

I’ve recently been approved Prophecy Awakened by Tamar Sloan, a novel about two teenagers who get together and set off a chain of events relating to a prophecy, it sounds magical and has a cool cover so I’m looking forward to starting that.

Darien, Empire of Salt by CF Iggulden is another one I’ve just been approved for and it looks like a super cool Game of Thrones style novel so I’m really intrigued by it. There’s a lot to live up to with George RR Martin’s series and I’m hoping this will satisfy my cravings for fantasy-cum-historical fiction!

Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott has been one of my favorite reads of the year so far. Not just as a Netgalley read but overall it was amazing! It’s all about a town which has been cut off from the rest of England and nobody knows why. There’s a mystery at the centre and it revolves around this really cool fantasy element, but I won’t say anymore because it’s better as a surprise!

Lightning Round!

Your blog in two sentences:

Life has a Funny Way is a quirky blog inhabited by lots of gifs. It’s very welcoming and frequently updated as I do read a lot!

Your favorite 2 publishers for Fantasy titles?

Penguin Random House Group and Harper Fiction have both published some amazing fantasy books in the last 12 months, either under their own name or their imprints.

Your favorite snack(s) to eat while reading:

Vegetarian Pizza & Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Brownie Ice Cream (not together of course!).

And to finish off our interview, if you could go on a road trip with any author, dead or alive, who would it be, and where would you go?

I had to think long and hard on this one because there are so many authors I love, particularly in the fantasy genre. I think, though, that my choice would have to be Laini Taylor, author of Strange the Dreamer. I’ve been a huge fan since first reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone and my fangirling has only grown as time has gone on. On our trip, we would go to Prague which is the setting for Daughter of Smoke and Bone and explore it through the eyes of Karou, the main character in the series.


Thanks so much, Leonie, for spending time with us and answering our questions! 

Please make sure to check out the Life Has A Funny Way blog, and Leonie’s latest BookTube video, “NetGalley The Reader’s PoV”:

Would you like to nominate someone to be featured in our Reader Spotlight series? Fill out this form!

News from NetGalley

We hope to see you at BookExpo America & BookCon!5-4-2016 4-29-28 PM

BookExpo America: June 1st & 2nd
BookCon: June 3rd & 4th
Javits Center, New York City

Fun reasons to visit our booth, #2015:

Declare yourself a true #BookAdvocate by taking a selfie in front of our banner. Share it to show that you help books succeed!

Snag one of our buttons & postcards (for yourself and a friend!).

Exciting news this year:

We’re sharing a booth with Bookish, our sister company!
Get a Bookish tote bag and your badge scanned, to be one of the first readers notified about a special giveaway that will be happening on the Bookish site after BEA/BookCon.

Psst: Giveaway will include signed swag
from Leigh Bardugo and Christina Lauren,
plus more Bookish goodies!

Won’t be attending? No worries! You can still share in the excitement by
downloading the Buzz Books to discover the most highly-touted books being
published this fall-winter.


Library Reads

LibraryReads List

June 2017

LibraryReads has announced the top ten books available in June that librarians across the country love. You can request or wish for the featured titles below on NetGalley right now, and view more information on the LibraryReads site.

If you are a librarian, you can nominate titles for the LibraryReads list via NetGalley – learn more here!


Additional LibraryReads titles:

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
(Harper, 9780062645227)

The Alice Network: A Novel by Kate Quinn
(William Morrow Paperbacks, 9780062654199)


Cover Love

We’ve rounded up covers we love, and we hope you will too. We’ve also gathered all of your cover votes from this month, and your most loved cover is…The Party by Robyn Harding!

Click on each cover to read the full description, request (or wish for) the title, and “Like” the cover if you haven’t already. If you’ve read these titles, don’t forget to share feedback with the publisher and with your friends & followers.

Tell us in the comments below which covers you’re loving right now &
they could be included in next month’s edition!


Indie Next List

June edition

The American Booksellers Association has announced the selections for the June Indie Next list, drawn from the recommendations of indie booksellers throughout the US. You can request many of these titles on NetGalley right now, and view more information on the ABA site

If you are a bookseller, you can nominate titles for the Indie Next list via NetGalley, and receive special access to new galleys via the Digital White Box program. Sign up today!

Additional Indie Next titles:

Magpie Murders: A Novel, by Anthony Horowitz
(Harper, 9780062645227)

Sycamore: A Novel, by Bryn Chancellor
(Harper, 9780062661098)

The Essex Serpent: A Novel, by Sarah Perry
(Custom House, 9780062666376)

Dragon Teeth: A Novel, by Michael Crichton
(Harper, 9780062473356)

So Much Blue: A Novel, by Percival Everett
(Graywolf Press, 9781555977825)

Stephen Florida: A Novel, by Gabe Habash
(Coffee House Press, 9781566894647)

Standard Deviation: A Novel, by Katherine Heiny
(Knopf, 9780385353816)


From Goth Girl to Gone Girl: Unreliable Narrators in Literature

Where do you turn when you can’t trust your own mind? In The Widow’s House, a couple moves into a deteriorating estate in the Hudson Valley, hoping to revitalize their marriage and careers. However, shortly after moving in, the wife, Clare, begins having visions of strangers walking their property and she starts to hear wailing. Could the house be haunted, or is it all in Clare’s mind? Author Carol Goodman took inspiration from gothic novels when crafting this thrilling tale, and here she shares how unreliable gothic narrators are still influencing characters and novels today.

Reader, beware: spoilers ahead.

Unreliable narrators are all the rage, from the prevaricating Amy in Gone Girl to the inebriated Rachel in The Girl on the Train to the semi-amnesiac Leonora in Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood. When these women aren’t flat-out lying, their versions of the truth are compromised by alcohol, trauma, or just a very vivid imagination. Why are we so drawn to these alt-truthers? Is it something about our particular times? Or has the unreliable woman always been with us?

It’s tempting to look to gothic literature for answers. Our modern imperiled (or seemingly imperiled) female protagonists calls to mind the gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe and her heirs. From Emily St. Aubert, the heroine of Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, who is kept prisoner in an Italian castle, to the narrator of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper who is confined to a room with bad interior decorating, these women have to sort out the mysteries of their situations to find the truth. Jane Eyre has to find out who’s in the attic. The second Mrs. de Winter has to figure out what happened to her predecessor, Rebecca.

Trapped in a duplicitous world, is it any wonder that they retreat into their own versions of reality? Jane Eyre admits to opening “my inward ear to a tale that never ended—a tale my imagination created, and narrated continuously.” The narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper begins to see figures in the walls. The second Mrs. de Winter is so insecure (maybe because she doesn’t get a name!) she believes Mrs. Danvers’ version of the truth and misreads her husband’s feelings about his dead wife.

The modern psychological thriller is filled with such perversions of reality. Rachel in The Girl on the Train gives into her husband’s version of her drunken behavior because “After a while … you don’t ask what happened, you just say you’re sorry.” The narrator of Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10, doubts her own perceptions after hearing someone thrown overboard in the night: “Maybe he’s right, the nasty little voice in my head whispered.” Only Amy in Gone Girl is impervious to doubt, and that makes her (spoiler alert) the most unreliable narrator of the unreliables—a woman who has turned the tables on the gaslighting male to create her own truth.

So why are we drawn to the unreliable narrator? Because the world is harder and harder to parse these days and we need to see how it’s done? Because we need a reminder to see past dissimulation and seek the truth? Whatever the reason, the gothic tradition with its unreliable narrator is likely here to stay. “A truism of critical commentary,” writes critical commentator Patricia Murphy, “holds that the gothic emerges in literature during times of cultural anxiety.” Welcome to the new goth.

Carol Goodman is the critically acclaimed author of fourteen novels, including The Lake of Dead Languages and The Seduction of Water, which won the 2003 Hammett Prize. Her books have been translated into sixteen languages. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family, and teaches writing and literature at the New School and SUNY New Paltz.

News from NetGalley

Webinar: The Author’s Path

On May 10, two authors – one from the UK and one from the US – hosted a webinar for an insightful, behind-the-scenes look at the process of writing, publishing, and promoting their work.

If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be a published author, what the options are when you’ve finished your book, or how to go about finally finishing your book, this webinar offered some real-life experiences that enlightened and inspired.

  Stuart Evers – former commissioning editor and now author of two collections of stories and a novel.
Myfanwy Collins – author of a novel for adults, a collection of stories, and a novel for young adults.

These two authors took writers like you through the possibilities and the pitfalls, the joys and lows of pursuing the author’s path. Listen to the recording here to hear more about their journey!

Librarian's Choice

Librarians' Choice: top 10

Librarians’ Choice has announced the Top 10 titles for May 2017 that librarians across Australia love. You can request or wish for the featured titles below on NetGalley right now, and view more information on the Librarians’ Choice site.

If you are a librarian in Australia, you can nominate titles for the Librarians’ Choice list via NetGalley!


Top Ten UK Books for June

As the promising summery weather is replaced by icy blasts and grey skies, it’s fitting we’re looking forward to the sunny rays of June – and ten superbly different books to lighten your life. We’re really proud of this month’s edition, and we’re very excited to be able to give you the chance to be amongst the first readers of what is one of the literary stories of the year – the second novel from Arundhati Roy. If you are approved, please do remember not to publish your review before 28th May though!


Other highlights include a mind-bendingly imaginative novel from Jeff VanderMeer; the return of Laura Barnett, author of The Versions of Us; and the new YA book from Laura Dockrill. Enjoy!

Book of the Month

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Arundhati Roy
Hamish Hamilton
UK Edition

In 1997, The God of Small Things won the Booker Prize and went on to become both a modern classic. Twenty years later, we can finally read her second novel. 

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness contains multitudes, spanning the entire Indian subcontinent, taking in the famous and infamous, the poor and the destitute, the loved and the lost. Its cast of unforgettable characters is brought to life with tenderness, understanding, humour and a deep knowledge of the pressures of the modern world. Few novels have been as awaited with such fervour, and few novels are as rich, replete and intensely rewarding as The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

Please note that if you are approved for this title you must not discuss or publish reviews until after 28th May.

Greatest Hits
Laura Barnett
UK Edition
AU Edition

The Versions of Us was an instant bestseller when it was first published in 2015, and Greatest Hits is sure to please fans of that novel, while also reaching an even wider audience. The premise is simple, yet intriguing. A reclusive singer-songwriter – who bears something of a resemblance to Kate Bush – is sitting in her home studio, trying to come up with a track-listing for her Greatest Hits album. As she considers each song, we hear her life story: her loves and losses, her hits and misses. It is a clever, warm, wise and consistently engaging novel of the choices – both big and small – that we make in our lives.

Dark Chapter
Winnie M Li
Legend Press
Worldwide Edition

Already being touted as one of the most promising crime debuts of 2017, Dark Chapter is a compelling, unsettling and partly autobiographical tale of the chance encounters that can change, shape and define the trajectory of our lives. On one of her periodic escapes from the pressures of life in London, Taiwanese-American Vivian is enjoying the sights and sounds of Belfast. Her cosmopolitan life could not be further from the day-to-day struggles of Johnny, a 15-year-old Irish youth, enduring a neglected life on the margins of society. But on a bright spring afternoon in West Belfast, their paths collide as a horrifying act of violence is committed…

One of Us is Lying
Karen M. McManus
UK Edition
US Edition

A huge word-of-mouth sensation on NetGalley since it was first uploaded a month or so ago, One of Us is Lying is shaping up to be the YA/Crime crossover of the year. It’s like a very modern – and very dark – re-imagining of movie classic, The Breakfast Club, but while in that film the characters come to appreciate each other’s differences, in One of Us is Lying,  one of them ends up dead. Simon is the geek who runs the notorious high school gossip app. He is in detention with brainiac Bronwyn, sportsman Cooper, bad-boy Nate and beauty-queen Addy. At the end, Simon is dead. Did one of his classmates really kill him?

Fierce Kingdom
Gin Phillips
UK Edition
US Edition
CA Edition

From the team that brought you The Girl on the Train, The Widow and The Couple Next Door comes another huge bestseller. Lincoln is a good boy. He does what his mother says. He’s four years old, clever and well behaved. He and his mother are having a lovely day at the zoo. But it all changes in the blink of an eye. A gunman is on the loose and the only thing on Joan’s mind is getting her beloved son to safety. She will stop at nothing, nothing at all to save him, no matter the consequences. Unbearably tense. 

No Good Deed
John Niven
William Heinemann
UK Edition

A scabrous, riotously funny cautionary tale from one of the UK’s most unflinching and hilarious writers, No Good Deed is a compelling satire on what it means to be good. When Alan drops a coin in a homeless man’s paper cup, he’s surprised that the man knows his name. It’s his old friend, Craig, who he hasn’t seen for twenty years. Alan doesn’t hesitate to take him home and help him get back on his feet. And Craig doesn’t hesitate to try to and claim Alan’s life as his own – wife, family, job and all…


Jeff VanderMeer
4th Estate
UK Edition

Jeff VanderMeer is without question one of the finest writers of imaginative fiction at work today – and Borne is another stellar example of his unique vision. In a ruined, nameless city of the future, Rachel survives as a scavenger – but dangers lurk in every corner of her world. On one of her hunts, she discovers Borne, a green lump who might be a discard from the Company, which is rumoured to be creating new genetic mutations. Her discovery will change everything and everyone.


Laura Dockrill
Hot Key Books
Worldwide Edition

The much-loved Laura Dockrill returns to the setting of her incandescent and shimmering mermaid novel Lorali, for a spellbinding tale of power and revenge. Aurabel is a lowly Mer from the wrong side of the trench. After an attack by sea beasts, she is left tail-less and close to death. But her rage and determination means she comes back stronger than ever. Reinvented as a fearless, mechanical-tailed Mer, she seeks vengeance on everyone who has slighted her. Full of passion, imagination, adventure and turmoil, this is a mesmeric fantasy that’s as captivating as a mermaid’s smile.

Party Girls Die in Pearls
Plum Sykes
UK/AU Edition

This knowing, clever and perfectly rendered novel is part mystery, part retro blowout. So 80s you can smell the hairspray, Party Girls Die in Pearls unfolds at Oxford University, where high society still reigns, and Ursula Flowerbutton is not exactly high society material. However, soon after the beginning of lectures, Ursula finds a body, and is determined to bag her first scoop for the famous student newspaper. Ursula enlists the help of glamorous American student Nancy Feingold to unravel the case – and the mystery only deepens. Witty and utterly addictive.

All the Good Things
Clare Fisher
UK/AU Edition

In this bravura performance, Clare Fisher takes us into the dark and the light of a young mother’s mind. Twenty-one year old Beth is in prison, convicted of a crime so bad she can’t forgive herself. In an attempt to reach her, her counsellor, Erika, asks her to make a list of all the good things in her life. Her first foster father. Flirting at the cinema. The first time she smelled her baby’s head. As we discover more of Beth’s life, we move closer to what she did. What is the truth behind her crime? And can she ever be forgiven?