Monday, August 4, 2014

Book Four Announcement!!!

Hi Everyone!!

I am SO SO SO SOOOOO EXCITED right now!! Because I get to announce something incredibly new and different and very very dear to me—my fourth book, which is currently UNTITLED (but I am working hard on changing that!!) It's with Razorbill/Penguin, like the last three books (hurray!! Penguin!! <3 <3 <3) and AHHHH let me tell you MOOOOORE!!


If you’ve read any of my previous books—Origin, Vitro, or Kalahari—the first thing you’ll need to know is: this book is nothing like those ones. It’s a complete departure from my earlier Sci-Fi, as I take a turn, well nose-dive really, into fantasy.

I ADORE high fantasy. It’s my favorite genre. I’ve been DYING to share my fantasy with you for years, guys, YEARS. And it’s finally happening and I CAN’T EVEN.



HANG ON A SEC. *Catches breath*

Where were we?

Right. So Book 4 is a retelling of the story of Aladdin told from the perspective of the genie--a girl named Zahra--who falls in love with Aladdin even as she is bound to grant his wishes to win the heart of a princess.

(I love love love this gif since it almost perfectly captures Zahra (except for the eye color), but can't find what it's from!! If you know, please tell me!)

It’s set in a Middle Eastern-esque world based on ancient Persian and Arabic culture, which is UBER EXCITING for me, because I got to delve into some of my heritage for research. For years my Syrian grandfather has been urging me to write something inspired by his homeland, and it's such a honor to finally get to do just that! Ancient Near Eastern culture is incredibly rich, fascinating, and complex, and I'm totally obsessed. And at the same time I'm thrilled to revisit one of my favorite stories from a completely new and exciting perspective.

 I've been working on this story as a pet project for a few years now, and Zahra has become very dear and real to me. I've never felt a character's voice so strongly, and to get to finally share her with you is A WISH COME TRUE. 

You’ll meet some familiar faces: the princess, the vizier, of course Aladdin. But they’ll be a little darker, a little grittier, and totally re-imagined, so you can live this beautiful story all over again in a new way. I’ve tried hard to maintain a balance between the familiar and the totally new in this story, so whether you’re looking for a faithful retelling or a reinvented fairytale, hopefully this will satisfy either!



But when will the book be out,? Well, no idea yet. I’m still very early in the writing process, but as SOON as I have an idea of a release time and title, you will be the first to know! =) Until then, all I can really leave you with is my Pinterest board of inspiration, a link to add the book to your Goodreads list, and a promise of more to come soon!

Monday, July 14, 2014

KALAHARI--Cover Reveal!

Hi guys! I'm so thrilled to share with you the cover for my upcoming book, KALAHARI! The book is scheduled to hit shelves next February, but one lucky winner will receive an early copy in the giveaway below!



Why this cover?

We threw around a LOT of ideas for this book, but kept coming back to the idea of this incredible place--the Kalahari region of southern Africa--where the book is set. While I was in Botswana doing research last summer for the book, I spent every evening marveling at the incredible colors and silhouettes created by the sunsets over the grasslands, and felt that this image was a truthful, evocative representation of the scenery that so inspired me (and which made pictures super fun!)


What I love...

... about this cover is that it immediately conjures the beauty and the drama of the Kalahari setting, and the models representing the characters of Sam and Sarah are spot on! Adventure, survival, and romance are all important aspects of this story, and this image captures that so well. I was so thrilled when I first saw it--I instantly saw my story! The vibrant colors, the weathered texture, and the cool fonts were just icing on the cake.


About the Book

KALAHARI tells the story of Sarah Carmichael, a girl who has lived in one remote location after the next with her zoologist parents. Sarah is an expert on animals, speaks multiple languages, and is well versed in survival skills--but when it comes to talking to teens her own age, she's awkward and shy. Now, just six months after her mother was killed in an auto accident, Sarah and her dad are hosting a two-week safari for five city kids. Sarah dreads the trip, but when one of their guests turns out to be handsome, friendly Sam Quartermain, she wonders if it might be so bad after all.

But things quickly take a turn toward disastrous after Sarah's father disappears and the kids are left on their own. After fleeing from an attack by murderous poachers, they discover a ruined Corpus laboratory deep in the Kalahari--where a lethal engineered virus has escaped and turned the local animals into crazed, bloodthirsty monsters. Desperate to cover up the terrible pathogen they created, Corpus is determined to eliminate all witnesses to their catastrophic experiment--and Sarah, Sam, and the other kids are first on their list. Hunted by mercenaries, hit men, and an infected lion, Sarah must summon the strength and wits to stay alive in one of the world's most deadly deserts...but in the ruthless wilderness of the Kalahari, there is no water, no safety, and no place to hide.

Pre-Order the Book

KALAHARI is available for pre-order in e-book or hardcover from these sellers!


Giveaway

I've got signed copies of my previous books ORIGIN and VITRO up for grabs, along with an advance copy of KALAHARI (to come as soon I have it!) All these go to one lucky winner, so complete as many entries as you can below for the best chances of claiming these prizes!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, March 7, 2014

New Book Deal!

At last! I can FINALLY tell you!! I signed my second book contract with Razorbill/Penguin Random House, starting with KALAHARI, coming winter 2015. Guys, I LOVE LOVE LOVE this book so much! It's very close to my heart and I've been on absolute pins and needles these past six months as I've kept it secret.

It feels SO GOOD to finally just--




But anyway, enough dramatics, here's the announcement from PW:



Woohoo!!!

Here's a bit of a longer synopsis:


Sarah Carmichael has lived all over the world, from dense jungles to scalding deserts, with her zoologist parents. Six months after her mother is killed in a automobile accident in Africa, Sarah and her dad find themselves in need of research funds--and in return for them, agree to host a group of high school students from the States at their remote camp in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. But things go quickly wrong when reports of poachers in the area call Sarah's dad away to investigate. When he doesn't return, Sarah finds herself alone in charge of a group of city kids she doesn't understand or relate to, in one of the world's most deadly wildernesses. She sets out to find her dad and instead runs across a secret research facility that has been left mysteriously in ruins. There, she and the students become witnesses to a horror that a certain biotech company will do anything to hide--a deadly virus created out of living metal that consumes everything it touches.

Curious to know more? Follow my KALAHARI Pinterest board to explore some of the inspiration behind the story!


A lot of people have asked me if this is another story from the same world as ORIGIN and VITRO--and yes, it is! But it's a lot different from my first two books in many ways, and one of my favorite things about it is that it's set in the Kalahari Desert in Bostwana, Africa! I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks there last summer doing research for KALAHARI, and can't wait to share more about that and the book in the months to come!

The speedy folks over at Goodreads have already got KALAHARI up for you to check out--and add to your to-read shelf! =)

hurray, Africa!!! 

believe it or not, playing with lion cubs was TOTALLY research for this book...



Sunday, February 23, 2014

Review: The Warrior's Apprentice


The Warrior's Apprentice
The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Second time through TWA--first time on audio, this time reading. Even better the second time around, and still one of my all-time favorites!

I stumbled on this series entirely by accident while I was writing a book with an MC named Miles and decided to see if there were any Mileses in other SFF. Turns out, there was one, and while the sound of this story didn't impress me much at first, I decided to check it out, and downloaded the audio version. Best. Decision. EVER.

Imagine a character that's part Tyrion Lannister, part Ferris Bueller--in space, and you've got a pretty good idea of what to expect from Lois McMaster Bujold's addictive Miles Vorkosigan. It doesn't hurt that Bujold is one of the most highly decorated SFF writers there is with multiple Hugos, Nebulas, and other awards under her belt. While reading the Vorkosigan books, I went from peals of laughter to bated breath to tears as this quirky, brilliant character leaped from one escapade to the next alongside a host of terrifying, hilarious, and fully dimensional side characters.

These books are literary Pringles. You can't read just one. And with 16 novels and 6 novellas, this is one series to keep you busy for a while.



View all my reviews

Friday, February 21, 2014

Four Addictive Series to Binge Read



It's the literary equivalent of a weekend Netflix session--book bingeing. With so many current publications leaving us cliffhanging for a year before the second or third book comes out, it's nice every now and then to pick up a complete, addictive series to consume our lives for a few weeks.

As a habitual literary binge reader, I am always searching for my next fix, whether its YA, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy. The top things I look for in a literary binge are:


  • compelling, three-dimensional characters
  • unpredictable plots
  • strong emotional twists
  • original, believable world building
  • the more books, the better!

Here are my top four go-to binge series. Most of these I've read over and over again, and they get better every time. If you're looking for something not only to read, but to be completely, wholly absorbed in, here's where you start:


1. The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold


I stumbled on this series entirely by accident while I was writing a book with an MC named Miles and decided to see if there were any Mileses in other SFF. Turns out, there was one, and while the sound of this story didn't impress me much at first, I decided to check it out, and downloaded the audio version. Best. Decision. EVER.

Imagine Tyrion Lannister in space, and you've got a pretty good idea of what to expect from Lois McMaster Bujold's addictive character Miles Vorkosigan. It doesn't hurt that Bujold is one of the most highly decorated SFF writers there is with multiple Hugos, Nebulas, and other awards under her belt. While reading the Vorkosigan books, I went from peals of laughter to bated breath to tears as this quirky, brilliant character leaped from one escapade to the next alongside a host of terrifying, hilarious, and fully dimensional side characters.

These books are literary Pringles. You can't read just one. And with 16 novels and 6 novellas, this is one series to keep you busy for a while.


2. Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden


This Australian series remains one of my favorite YA stories out there. It's a huge hit Down Under, even spawning a pretty good movie starring Caitlin Stasey (CW's Reign) and Pheobe Tonkin (CW's The Originals). The movie is available on Netflix under the same name, but I HIGHLY recommend reading the book before you watch. There are six books in the series and each installment is short enough to finish in a day or two--perfect binge material!

The story is convincingly narrated by Ellie, a teen in rural Australia. She and her friends set out on a camping expedition, and while they're gone, Australia is invaded by a foreign army. Ellie and her friends transform from normal teens into guerrilla fighters with heart-wrenching believability and emotion.

It's like Red Dawn: Outback Edition, but so much better. Oh, and bring a box of tissues. Um. Make that two boxes.



3. The Farseer/Tawny Man sextet by Robin Hobb


For the high fantasy lovers out there, if you haven't discovered Robin Hobb yet, then you're doing it wrong. She's right up there with Lois McMaster Bujold as Writers I Most Admire And Want To Be When I Grow Up. I had the immense pleasure of meeting her at the Decatur Book Festival (she is all kinds of classy) in 2012, and when she came to my signing and got a copy of Origin, I couldn't even handle it--I cried.


I picked up the first Farseer book, Assassin's Apprentice, off the shelf of the antique store I worked at part time after college, and sneaked chapters in between my boss coming in and out of the shop (hey, I never said I was a model employee). The series is broken into two trilogies: the Farseer Trilogy and the Tawny Man Trilogy. The two flow seamlessly together, and contain my all-time favorite literary bromance. Expect no fantasy cliches here! The originality and unpredictability of these books is stunning. But the tears, man. I've read the series through twice now, and I think I wept even more then second time around. The worldbuilding is superb, but it's the characters in these books that rip your heart out and put your emotions through the wash.

And the best part? The last book came out a decade ago, but Hobb just announced that a new trilogy featuring the same characters is in the works--so that's three more books to look forward to! And if you, like me, get to the end of these six and still need more--don't worry. Hobb has 11 other books, most of which are set in the same world as these ones, and 11 more books under pen name Megan Lindholm. Talk about a binge.




4. Dark Tower series by Stephen King

Though I'm not a big fan of his horror, I adore Stephen King's weird, grotesque, unpredictable fantasy epic about The Dark Tower. King has called it his magnum opus and his homage to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. It's dark, odd, and completely King, and if you're a fan of his larger body of works, you're in for a special treat--Easter eggs are hidden all throughout the books. You'll meet characters, objects, and hints from many of his other books dropped all over Midworld.

With his usual skill, King creates fully real characters inhabiting a world both familiar and bizarre. He combines medieval quest lines with Wild Western settings and sci-fi time-space bending in a strange goulash that shouldn't work, but somehow does.

There's no predicting what will happen in this epic that spans worlds, times, and genres--so the best thing to do is sit back, open your mind, and let the story take over.



Giveaway

I love these book so much, am so confident you will love them too, that I'm going to put my money where my mouth is by giving away the first book in each of these series to one lucky winner! Use the form below to enter. Warning: prizes may be addictive and prone to CONSUMING YOUR LIFE. Contest open to USA/Canada only!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, February 17, 2014

Is It Worth Writing? How to Critique Your Story Ideas



The first step in writing a novel is also the most crucial--conceiving a good idea. You may be a master of prose and a genius at character development, but without a strong, compelling idea, you don't have a story. And when it comes to seeking publication, what agents/editors are primarily seeking are ideas. Be sure yours is iron clad before you shop it around.

It's easy to move from the idea stage to the writing stage without ever really evaluating the concept of your story, and as a result, wasting time on an idea that was never worth it to begin with. Before you devote yourself to a story, it's a good idea to first take time to judge whether the idea is a sound one.

Here are five ways to determine whether your idea is a good one:


1. Has it already been done?


This might be the first thing you want to address. I've had several strong ideas go to waste after I learned they'd already been done. For example, last year I began outlining an idea for a story about a boy who finds a female AI trapped inside an old iPod--and he begins to fall in love with her. Less than a month later, I discovered the upcoming movie Her, which is basically the same plot. I was devastated! But so glad that I hadn't gone further with the story, wasting my time on something that, no matter how it truly originated, would be called derivative.

Do your research on what's already on the market, in books, films, and TV. Be constantly paying attention to new releases in all these categories, and do thorough searches on websites like Amazon, Goodreads, and other book sites to be certain your idea is unique enough to write (be sure to keep an eye out for not-yet-released books/movies--you have to think ahead!) 

If you do find similar stories already out there--and usually you will--then be sure you clearly define how your story is different than those others. Why is your Cinderella retelling different from Cinder? Why is your spaceship-set Sci-Fi different from Across the Universe? Why is your dystopia different from The Hunger Games? Even if you know your idea is not derivative, nothing will stop readers from calling it that if you don't do your research and differentiate it from any similar works.


Darn you, Joaquin.
PS. Hope you win that Oscar.

2. Is it high concept?

"High concept" is a buzz word in publishing that you need to be familiar with. In short, a high concept idea is one that can be immediately and succinctly communicated. Here are some examples of high concepts:

  • In a dystopian future, teens fight to the death on national TV. (The Hunger Games)
  • Recreated dinosaurs escape their enclosures on a tropical island. (Jurassic Park)
  • A habitual liar's life unravels after receiving a hex that renders him unable to tell anything but the truth. (Liar, Liar)
  • A boy goes to a magical boarding school while fighting the evil wizard who killed his family. (Harry Potter)
  • Girl detective chases boy criminal in futuristic Los Angeles. (Legend)
  • Man sails on ship captained by a madman hunting the white whale that took his leg. (Moby Dick)
High concepts immediately communicate a strong visual on characters, plot, and tone. Even if all you know about the story is the one-sentence log line, you can easily picture what the story will be about. If your concept requires lengthy description to "get the idea across," then it's either not high-concept or you don't have a good enough grasp on the story in order to pitch it. 

Now, a story doesn't have to be high concept in order to sell, but it definitely helps. In a world where entertainment is quick and attention spans are short, you have to be able to cut quickly to the crux of the story in order to snag interest. Try to hone your idea down to a simple, evocative, compelling sentence.



3. Are the stakes clear?

This goes hand-in-hand with point 2. What are the stakes in your story? What's at risk? What is the core conflict? Conflict makes story--so put your conflict front and center when evaluating your story idea. It's not enough to have a compelling character or setting. You absolutely must have a clear idea of the danger your characters faces: is it life-threatening? career-threatening? What does he/she stand to lose? Who is the villain? Is there conflict inherent in the concept?

Ask yourself: what's the main conflict of my story? Then, without deliberating, write it down. If you have trouble defining the main conflict, maybe you have too many vying plot lines. Maybe you don't have a plot line at all. You cannot pitch a story without clear conflict. 




4. Does it have internal plot?

Internal plot refers to the emotional struggle taking place within a character's mind. This struggle parallels the external conflict the character faces and often provides the solution or motivation the character will eventually need to solve or overcome his/her external battle. 

A good, short book I'd recommend is Hooked by Les Edgerton. Edgerton shows how your internal and external plot lines interact to create a solid, resonant piece of writing. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder is another great book that explores inner conflict (he refers to it as the "B-Story") and outlines a way to use the inner conflict to heighten the external.

The internal plot must be as clearly defined as the external one. Is your protagonist dealing with the loss of a loved one? Is she falling in love? Is he working up the courage to confront someone? Is she searching for answers to a question that has haunted her life? Does he need to grow up and take responsibility for his actions? 

Internal plot adds depth to your character and emotion to your story. It's crucial to an effective idea, and before you begin writing, you need to know what your story's internal plot is going to be. 



5. Are you in love with it?

This is crucial! If your idea meets all the criteria above and you are ready to commit to writing it, then you have to be head-over-heels in love with it. Don't write a story just because it's high concept, original, and has strong internal and external conflict. The final ingredient to a strong idea is passion, and that comes solely from you. If you're lukewarm about the idea now, chances are you'll hate it by the time you reach the fifth chapter. It's hard enough to stick with a story you are enchanted by--it's impossible to do it with a story you only like. How do you tell if you're in love with the story? Well, does it tug at you constantly? Do you think about it when you're falling asleep or showering or driving? Do you want to tell everyone you meet about it? Do you have Pinterest boards, computer files, and notebooks devoted to it? Are you your own story's biggest fan?

Passion translates onto the page, but so does a lack of it. Don't expect agents/publishers/readers to love your story if you don't love it first.





photo credit: pasukaru76 via photopin cc
photo credit: Sara Björk via photopin cc
photo credit: Sharon Drummond via photopin cc

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Thing About Money: How Much Should You Invest In Your Own Writing?


There's a great discussion happening on the YA Writers subReddit right now on the topic of Monetarily Investing in Your Own Writing. This is great info for all writers, whether unpublished, indie, or traditional. How much should you spend? What kinds of swag/promo are worth it--and what isn't? Lots of writers weighing in with their experiences--check it out!
Here's my two cents, based on what I've experimented with (read the full conversation on the forum):

GOOD THINGS TO SPEND MONEY ON
  • Research Trips: Okay, within reason. But honestly, if you can afford it, GO YE THEREFORE! Because the best BEST thing I ever spent money on in writing was research trips. I did one for VITRO and I did one for my current WIP, and it changes everything about the way I write--for the better. And especially if your book is set in a location you've never been to!! I can't say much on this yet (not until a certain ANNOUNCEMENT coming up in March) but I can tell you that my current WIP is 100X better because I invested in going to the location and getting all of my facts straight, and also in just drawing on the inspiration of being where the story is set. It's totally worth it. And traveling in any case is always rewarding.
  • Personal Domain: As someone already suggested, go with your author name and not your book/series title. You have to think long-term here. A book/series ends, but you might keep writing. And it's pretty much impossible, after several years under one domain name, to switch everything over to a new URL. This isn't expensive! I use Wix.com to design my sites (you don't have to know coding or web design to use it; you just need a good eye for what looks professional, and you can learn a lot about that just by looking at other well-designed author websites). I pay $14.95 a month for my website/domain name. You can cut that cost by using a free host site like Blogger or Wordpress. Keep in mind that many website hosts require you to upgrade to a paid account if you want to use your custom URL. You can always just stick with the free URL (so-and-so.blogspot.com and so forth) but it's less professional and harder to find.
  • Business cards: These come in handy all the time! I carry them on me ALWAYS, because you never know when you're going to meet a teacher, librarian, bookseller, or reader. They're super cheap and a great investment. I go through maybe 500 in a year. All they need to include is your name, website, and an image of your book cover. Maybe your e-mail, if you're particularly giving it to librarians/teachers. It's a networking essential, and you can't go wrong in ordering a box of them. I do use VistaPrint, because they run fantastic sales and offers, and if you sign up for their email offers, you can score big discounts.
  • Bookmarks or other small swag: Tip: Get something you can mail in a flat envelope!! I made the mistake my first year by ordering a bunch of buttons. They were super cool and a huge hit at school/conferences, but they're too big to mail with just a stamp. Go with FLAT: bookmarks, thin magnets, bookplates. Also carry these to school events. I use them during Q&A sessions as prizes for kids who ask questions. It's amazingly motivating and always ensures Q&A time is lively and interactive.
  • Facebook Ads: Use these wisely. They can be a huge money drain otherwise. When I have an important announcements (book release day, something like that) and I post it on my Facebook author page, I boost it at the lowest amount ($5 a day). This increases the post's visibility exponentially, earns me a buttload of new Page likes, and wins the post a ton of great interaction in likes, shares, and comments. But you HAVE to monitor the ads to see what people most respond to, and be sure to set a time and account limit on your ad--otherwise it's easy to forget about it and it will run continuously, while it drains your bank account. I usually boost a post for a week, then let it go. You can also create page ads that will run in the side column or news feed, and you can target these pretty specifically to your target demo (ex: women who like Hunger Games, Divergent, and who are between 15-25). When I run a Facebook ad, I gain between 30-50 new followers each day. Again, these are helpful, but you have to set limits!
  • Media Mail: USPS's Media mail is your best friend when you ship a lot of books! It's the cheapest shipping rate there is. Don't let the postal worker talk you out of it (they always say, 'Are you sure? It'll take a week longer to arrive.') Unless you NEED that book to arrive the next day, go with media rate! (Only applies for books/movies)
  • Stock images/footage: If you're going to design material to supplement your book (images, posters, book trailers, etc.) then it's worth it to by credits through iStockPhoto or a similar site. I say this simply because you need to protect yourself against any chance of lawsuits over copyright. If you're going to design something, at least do it right and be confident that you won't get sued for it. And these images are top-quality and professional. Also, check DeviantArt for resources like pngs, backgrounds, etc. There's a TON of free stuff the artists there offer in the Resources & Stock Images category (but BE SURE to check their rules on usage!! Some require you to cite the work, others don't care, some prohibit alterations, some don't want you to use it at all. ALWAYS READ THE FINE PRINT!)
BAD THINGS TO SPEND MONEY ON
  • Bulky swag: If you can't mail it in an envelope with just a stamp, then it's going to cost you a lot more to send out, and it's probably inconvenient to carry on tours/events because it takes up so much space. The only bulky swag I order is mugs with my covers on them--and those only as gifts for people who were super influential in the book's publication (agent, editor, mom...)
  • Website designer Don't get me wrong--I love designers and if you are financially able to pay one to manage your site, then please do hire one--they have to pay bills too! But if you're on a budget, don't worry. There are alternatives! I've already mentioned Wix, but other great website platforms are Blogger, Wordpress, and Weebly. They're easy to use and there are loads of authors sites you can use to get ideas (feel free to use mine--www.jessicakhoury.com)
  • Book Trailers: Several people have touched on this one, so I won't go too far into it. One idea, though, is that you might run a contest that calls for readers to submit their own original trailers (Anna Banks is running a great contest like this right now). This invites readers to creatively engage with the material and they'll likely be enthusiastic in sharing their trailers with their friends--maybe more so than if it were a trailer you or someone else designed.
  • Facebook Ads: Yes, I am trying to totally confuse you. But really--I listed this under both bad and good because it's important that you don't go overboard with it. It's so easy to spend several hundred dollars here without realizing it (am I speaking from experience? YES, YES I AM.) A small injection of $$ every now and then is okay, but long-term campaigns, though they might win you bookoos of page likes, aren't going to be worth it. Use in moderation, and keep a close eye on the stats and the budget to see if it's working for you or simply draining you.
  • School Visits with no terms: I waive travel costs for local schools, but if I have to drive an hour or more, I charge travel costs. It's fair, it's expected, and schools do usually have a budget for it. Don't feel bad about asking for travel costs to be covered--it's the biz! Beyond that, it's up to you. Some writers have speaking fees, some don't. I go in-between: my one request for schools is that the students I meet with read my book before I come. This ensures two things: 1) sales and 2) an enthusiastic, engaged audience. Visits where the kids have read the book are always phenomenal and rewarding for everyone, myself and the students. Visits where the kids have never heard of me or my book... less so. It's harder to get their interest and discussion time can be a bit awkward. This is also helps gauge the teacher or librarian's investment in your visit: if they're willing to pay travel costs and have their kids read the book, then you know they're invested in your visit. Don't let yourself be used a free class babysitter. (this is rare; in my experience, teachers and school librarians are among the best and brightest in our society, but it can happen).
All of these items I've listed I am aiming at post-publication! Pre-pub is an entirely different matter, and honestly, the only thing I spent money on before I was published was paper and ink to print my MS on. I think anything else is unnecessary and even distracting. Your #1 goal pre-pub is to WRITE THE DAMN THING and get it sold. It's easy to get caught up in glittery novel-writing kits and software and stuff you don't actually need in order to write a novel--all of that's extraneous. You don't need to spend anything for that except time. So I guess, if there's one thing you might do, it's buy yourself time. If you can pull off a few less hours at work to write, do it. After all, this is what makes you happy, right? Then you cannot go wrong.