Archive for the ‘writing industry’ Category

So you want to be an author. You read avidly. You love shifter or vampire or historical or…whatever genre it is, there’s always a book open on your lap under your desk when you’re supposed to be working on those spreadsheets your boss asked for. It’s ok, it’ll be our little secret. But the point is, you’ve been reading for years, absorbing all the nuances of the stories you love; words are beginning to stream through your mind; characters are talking, moving, demanding their stories be told…

It’s time to sit down and write your book, right?

Slow down just a sec, because I’ve got a bit of advice you’re completely free to ignore…but if I were you, I wouldn’t – because I’m one of those people on the receiving end of aspiring authors’ hopes and dreams.

My advice is simple. Corporate spying. Well, not really, but what every aspiring writer should do is start researching the publishers of their favorite books, in fact all publishers of the type of book you want to write. See who’s writing them. How they’re writing them. What elements have they included? Get a true feel for what is already being published. And then write your book, right?

Wrong. What you need to do next is realize that those publishers already have those books, and some of them are selling really well. So why would they need yours? Hmm…good question, right? Now you need to figure out, within the genre you love and wish to write, what’s missing. What haven’t your favorite authors done? What fresh angle can you bring to the genre? How can you bend or change the rules in a way that will make an editor suddenly sit up straight, blink twice, and experience that surge of adrenaline that only comes from discovering something exciting. And new. And special.

As I said at a writing conference last week, don’t build your book around something that’s already being done. Begin your world-building from the ground up. Make new rules. Surprise us. Thrill us. It’s what we live for.

Oh, and please remember to give the manuscript a good proof before you send it. ūüôā

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As an acquisitions editor,  I see a wide range of submissions both in subject matter and writing style, but one thing in particular really perplexes me sometimes.

It’s getting a manuscript I absolutely love, but can’t offer a contract on because there are just too many issues, often minor, but that would add up to quite a headache for our copyediting department. I’m talking about things like word/phrase repetition, grammatical errors, and, more importantly, plot holes that¬†would bring readers to a screeching¬†halt partway through the story.

You might be wondering¬†how I could love a manuscript¬†that had issues like that. Well, because there are other areas where the author did a fantastic job: premise, characterizations, emotions, dialog, pacing.¬†Those can all be wonderful and make me long to accept the work, but if there are too many issues that¬† need to be addressed before the book¬†can “go to press” as it were,¬†the bottom line is I¬†have to say no, at least for¬†the time being. And that¬†actually¬†breaks my heart a little.¬†

So yes, grammar matters –¬†in each and every sentence you write. Active phrasing and concrete nouns matter – in every case.¬†Knowing how to tag dialog matters.¬†And please, PLEASE, learn the difference between a comma and a semi-colon, and when to use them. And when not to use them.¬†You definitely don’t want technical stuff to be why an editor rejects your work…but trust me, it happens. If you don’t know¬†grammatical rules, learn them.¬†I personally have a subscription to the Chicago Manual of¬†Style, but there are free sites as well, such as¬†http://grammarbook.com.

Finally, when a manuscript is finished, rather than race to¬†submit,¬†the author needs to take¬†take four steps back, breathe,¬†and then view the work with¬†her most critical eye, because that’s how an editor will view it. If the conflict¬†doesn’t quite feel believable, dig deeper into your characters’ backgrounds to strengthen it.¬†Motivate their actions, or their actions just won’t feel believable. Give them goals. Make them proactive rather than reactive.¬†¬†And keep them talking and interacting with each other. I’ve found the best way to develop a plot with good forward momentum is for the characters to be constantly playing off one another.¬† Every scene should propel your story forward, never backward (yes, I’ve seen scenes that do this). And never let the story resolution come too easily – make the characters work for it.¬†You always want to¬†sustain the romantic conflict till the end, or readers might stop¬†turning pages.

¬†These are all things that can stop me in the middle of an otherwise engaging story, and regretfully decide that, despite¬†a world of potential, it has to be¬†a no, at least for now.¬†Sending those emails is¬†the hardest part of my job – it’s proabably as hard for me to hit send as it for the author to receive it.

So don’t¬†sabotage your own career – don’t let the little, easily-fixable¬†things keep you from realizing your dream!

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Never thought of myself as a butterfly before, but beyond a doubt for the last few months I’ve been inside my own special cocoon, reshaping and reinventing myself. Does that mean I¬†was formally a caterpillar? Hmm…not one of my favorite creatures. Maybe I didn’t think this metaphor through properly. However….

Beyond a doubt, for the past several months, since the release of RECKLESSLY YOURS, I’ve undergone something of a transformation, or maybe an evolution. First I got word that my publisher had decided not to continue with my series, Her Majesty’s Secret Servants, meaning Willow would not be having her own story – which is why Recklessly Yours ended the way it did, rather than with Victoria asking her to¬†embark on¬†a mission. Now, before you feel sorry for me – and Willow – there are two things to remember: 1) this is a common theme in the publishing industry. It’s not the first time this has happened, and it certainly won’t be the last. And 2) there are so many publishing options nowadays that when the mood strikes me, I will write Willow’s story and get it out to readers.

In the meantime, as part of my reinvent¬†I’m trying my hand at writing an American-set historical mystery. Despite always¬†calling myself a “closet mystery writer” (anyone who has read my books will get this), writing a pure mystery has not been¬†easy! I had to learn so many new plotting techniques – in fact I’m still learning. The book isn’t finished yet, but I’ve been enjoying every step of the journey. We’ll see what happens….

But even more profound a change for me has been taking on the position of acquisitions editor for Silver Publishing. Silver is going on two years old now and I joined them after they’d been up and running only a few months. They’ve grown, and continue to grow by leaps and bounds, and I feel fortunate to be part of that. I have to say, I love¬†my job – I love reading submissions, helping authors strengthen their work, and the fact that even when I have to say no (which¬†is always so difficult!), I can still offer insight into what worked and what didn’t,¬†and why.

And if all that weren’t enough, I’ve also taken on the board position of Member-At-Large for my writing chapter, the Florida Romance Writers.

So the temporary¬†end of Her Majesty’s¬†Secret Servants (oh, I doubt those ladies can be held down for long) has meant new¬†beginnings and exciting challenges for me.¬†I’m still very much a¬†part of the publishing industry, still learning, still growing as an author and an editor, still looking forward to¬†whatever surprises the future will bring.

Have you ever had to reinvent? Was it difficult, or did you spread those wings and let the wind carry you where it will? And did you reemerge better than before?

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Last week I attended my first ever Novelists Inc. conference. For those of you who aren’t familiar with “Ninc,” it’s an organization for published authors dedicated to furthering members’ careers and sharing information.

This year’s conference was held in St. Pete, FL, and featured authors, editors, agents, and industry professionals such as Mark Coker of Smashwords. My head was swimming from all the amazing information these people shared and I’m only now going through my notes and typing them up, but here are a few of the impressions I came home with.

The first is this: “Don’t write the book of your heart, write the book of your readers’ hearts.” And being able to do that entails “Listening to your readers, rather than always talking to them.” Writers often become so focused on promoting their newest releases to readers that they forget to join in book discussions as¬†readers. We have singular opportunities nowadays to do just that through Facebook, Goodreads, etc., and authors need to take advantage of that kind of two-way communication.

Speaking of which…

Communication is key in selling books and furthering an author’s career, and readers can help! We understand that readers can’t run out and buy every book they might like to – especially these days – but there are other ways they can help support their favorite authors.

Simply hitting those “like” buttons on Amazon helps an author’s sales rank.¬†Mentioning your favorite authors on Facebook and sharing links to their websites and books pages on Twitter helps spread the word, too. If you see a blog post by an author you like, consider leaving a comment because, as I always say, activity generates more activity and makes an author feel loved! Seriously, nothing makes us happier than when a fan comments on a blog post. ūüôā

Thanks to the digital age and independent author publishing, the connection between readers and writers is closer than at any other time in history – and it’s getting even¬†closer all the time. This means readers now have the power to influence in a much¬†bigger way¬†what’s being written, according to their interests and tastes.¬†And that opens a new world of possibilities and opportunities – for readers and authors.

To paraphrase something Mark Coker said, “The majority of people in the world today¬†have a bookstore in their pocket.” To my mind, that’s a lot like having the world¬†at your fingertips!

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It’s long been established that laughter has physiological benefits. The other day I was reading through my Discover Magazine (Oct. 2010 edition) and found an article (with the title I used above) that states that not only does laughter boost the immune system, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and reduce stress, it also causes “shifts in appetite hormones…that resemble the effects of a moderate session at the gym.”

Pretty sweet, huh?

Where am I going with this, you wonder? Knowing all we know, why aren’t there many more humorous romances available on the shelves, especially now, when it seems like we could all use a good laugh? I know writers who excel in this genre – and who in recent years have had to alter their writing style to reflect more serious themes. Dark paranormals continue to flourish – not that I’m knocking them! Dark paranormals are sexy and¬†complex, and they present an opportunity for good to triumph over the worst kinds of evil. I get that in today’s world, that can be enormously satisfying!

There’s a lot to be said for living vicariously through shapeshifters and vampire slayers¬†and fulfilling our need for vengeance by watching the bad guys get their comeuppance¬†(which in real life they don’t always get).¬† And admittedly I do enjoy a good romp through the shadowy abyss. But what about occasionally stepping out of the darkness altogether and enjoying a good belly-shaking laugh?

I love to watch sitcoms for this very reason. At the end of my day, I’d rather laugh with the Big Bang nerds and sing with the Gleeks than sit through the angst of young vampires in love or the pressure of a crime solving drama.¬†Maybe it’s¬†just me, but I feel happier after spending a half¬†hour to an hour chuckling. And every now and then – no, more often than that – I’d¬†really like to pick up a book and experience the same lightening of my burdens. In fact I remember a couple of years ago going through a little dark spell of my own, and picking up a funny book by a friend and feeling SOOOOO much better!

So I guess my question is, how much longer are we going to be in this collective¬†black mood?¬†Because what would really be ideal is if, from now on, we could decide what we wanted to read,¬†and one day pick up¬†something scary and sexy and dark, and the next day something that makes us double over laughing.¬† Not only would we all be more emotionally¬†well-balanced, but according to recent scientific studies, we’d have healthier, slimmer bodies to show for it.

Sounds like a happy ending to me!

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Writers, have you written a “book of your heart” that you’re thinking probably won’t ever see the light of day? It’s pretty fair to assume that most of us have at least one of those moldering under the bed, written in a fervor of enthusiasm but without the benefit of really knowing what the heck we were doing. Mine is a medieval story set on the Welsh marches during the reign of Edward III. It took me two years to write and polish it (when I started I didn’t even understand point of view, much less internal and external conflict), not to mention cutting it down from about 150,000 words (did I mention that fervor of enthusiasm?) to a much more reasonable 95,000. For all it’s flaws, the book embodied all the passion I felt for the history¬†of the¬†period, and for characters¬†that dominated my imagination and refused to back off¬†until I told their story. That book got me several contest wins, an agent, and some positively glowing rejection letters. But alas….

When I wrote that story, called Falcons In Flight, medievals were actually selling pretty well. Then, suddenly, the medieval market dried up and while I can’t for the life of me understand why, it’s never really cycled back, not like it was. Oh, there are always a few medievals on the shelves – my friend and fellow FRW member, Traci E. Hall, writes¬†a wonderful medieval series¬†– but for the most part they seem to make up a small percentage of releases. I once heard a young¬†editor say she found the middle ages too gritty to be romantic. I don’t happen to agree – the grittiness is one of the things I love – and I know I’m not alone in that.

Anyway, yesterday the mega talented and, by the way, very funny Karen Hawkins spoke at my FL Romance Writers meeting. One of the things she touched on was the book of your heart. Karen advised that if something is important to you and calling to you, you should write it, but you should also understand the market and be realistic about your chances of selling – at least at the current time. She wrote a book of her heart years ago, set in Elizabethan England. This book was published, but under Karen’s earlier pseudonym, Kim Bennet,¬†with the title¬†ONE LUCKY LORD. After that,¬†the Karen Hawkins we all know and love¬†went on to pen the wonderful, funny, heartwarming Regency historicals that made her a bestselling author.

But she never forgot that book of her heart, and how it¬†really never¬†received the care and attention it deserved. Nor did she stop watching the markets. When the Showtime series THE TUDORS caught on in such a big way (I am a HUGE fan), Karen thought…hmm.¬†¬†She dug that book out from under the bed or wherever she had stashed it after its initial publication, and revised and reworked it,¬†giving the story the benefit of everything she had learned through the years. And guess what?

MUCH ADO ABOUT MARRIAGE releases Aug. 31st

Karen went about the rebirth of this story in a very savvy manner. First she reminded her editor about the incredible popularity of THE TUDORS, and convinced her publisher that the time was ripe to take advantage of the opportunity of attracting that audience. Secondly, she rewrote the story to be a prequel to her current MacLean Curse series and her upcoming  Hurst Amulet series which debuts this November. In doing so, Karen pretty much guaranteed herself an avid audience for this book. TUDOR fans like me will be excited to find more of this genre available to satisfy our craving for Elizabethan intrigue and fierce men in doublets and trunkhose. Likewise, MacLean series fans, like me, will snatch up this book to learn more about the origins of those sexy MacLean heroes. Karen seized an opportunity from the market and worked it to her advantage by tying it in with her existing author brand.

So the point is: write what you love, while being well aware of market trends and ready to seize opportunities when they arise, and when they do, work them to your best advantage by recognizing & utilizing your strengths as an author. And never, EVER give up on the book of your heart, because you just never know.  

 

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When was the last time you were sitting and eating your lunch, and experienced the urge to toss down your fork and whip out a pen and paper? Maybe it’s no surprise that I did exactly that at one of the RWA luncheons, especially considering the speaker was the fabulous Jayne Ann Krentz. It reminds me of that old commercial, “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.”

Like Nora Roberts the day before, Jayne inspired us and filled us with renewed energy to forget whatever problems plague the publishing industry and go home to tackle those manuscripts. But she also gave us some very practical advice conveyed with the power of three (all writers understand the importance of the power of three when driving home a point). She said:

1.¬†Identify your core story.¬†¬†Huh! I have a core story? It’s said that there are only seven stories in the world and that authors retell them over and over again, but with fresh perspectives and unique twists each time. Ms. Krentz implied that most of us gravitate to a particular story type depending on which themes most resonate with us,¬†and that that’s the basic story each of us pursues, often subconsciously, over and over again. I sat back and thought about this a moment and realized the truth of it. My core story always seems to involve a call to action (spurred by some crime or imminent¬†danger)¬†and a reluctant but fiercely committed response to that call,¬†usually on the¬†part of both the hero and the heroine. The relationship grows through the necessity of their having to overcome issues of trust and learn to work together. My plots always twist and turn and contain a heavy dose of mystery and suspense. That’s my story, the one I seem to stick to book after book, and according to Jayne I should embrace it.¬†

2. Know the market. Basic – is your core story something that’s selling in the current market? Which subgenres are most suited to your core story?

3. Understand the importance of the fictional landscape. This is about reader expectations and preferences when it comes to the genres they read.¬†We all want to push the envelope and doing so is a good thing –¬†it can even¬†help propel an author¬†onto a bestseller list. BUT…while we want to be different and stand out with our unique voices, we also want to satisfy,¬†on some levels at least, the reasons readers will pick up your book in the first place. Think about it. No one knows about your quirky plot points until they actually read the book (assuming they haven’t read you before, of course). But they will be drawn to the book because the cover and back cover blurb identity its subgenre and¬†make certain promises. I my case, the promise is that they will be transported to the Victorian age, when morality dictated that men and women maintained proper distance and decorum. Much of the fun of a historical is in the gradual¬†breakdown of that decorum as passion comes to rule the characters.¬†Without that element, readers would come away disappointed.

Have you identified your core story? If not,¬†consider the books/manuscripts you’ve completed so far. What themes keep popping up? How do your hero and heroine relate to each other, and¬†how do they ultimately come to terms with their feelings?¬†Once you’ve figured that out, consider the comments you’ve gotten from readers, editors/agents or contest judges. Do those comments indicate that you’ve either mastered or missed some element of the fictional landscape?

Answering those questions could send you another step closer to success!

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