Thursday, August 30, 2007


Maven Lacey KayeOh, publicity. If you get five authors in a room and ask their thoughts on publicity you’ll get six opinions. At least. Everyone’s trying to find the magic formula that will turn their publicity efforts into guaranteed sales of books. The problem is, there’s simply no concrete way to tell if publicity works. At all. Rarely does a reader come up to an author and say, “Great glo-in-the-dark pen! It’s the reason I bought your book!” And yet most authors feel they need to do some kind of publicity for their books.

So here are my rules for publicity. It’s extremely personal, it reflects my own narrow experience, and it may not be of any help to you at all. Take it with a grain—or pound—of salt.

Rule 1: Sell Your Book to a Good Publisher

Not only do you usually get a better advance and sales distribution from a major publisher, you also get in-house publicists. They’ll be doing a whole lot of behind the scenes stuff that you’ll never see and won’t properly appreciate until much, much later. Some examples:

  • Ads in Romantic Times Book Reviews Magazine. Most major NY houses do this even for newbie authors.
  • Sending out advance reading copies of your book to reviewers. Lots of reviewers.
  • Angling for article and interview opportunities for the author.

Rule 2: Get a Professional Website

This means a professional website designer. Really. The type of readers who will be visiting your website will also be visiting other author websites. You don’t want to look bad in comparison.

You could stop right here with your publicity efforts and I’m not sure it would make a speck of difference in your book sales. But most authors are much more paranoid than that, including me. Which brings me to . . .

Rule 3: It’s About the Book, Dummy

Whatever you do, whatever fun, strange, expensive, or it’s-so-cheap-you’d-be-a-fool-to-miss-it publicity ideas come your way, remember this: the book is the product. Everything you do, think: will this get someone to read my book? If you’re going to spend money on give-aways, why not give away your book? That’s what you’re selling, right? Not T-shirts, not mugs, not even glo-in-the-dark pens. You’re selling your writing.

Recently I was reading the comment trail on a popular blog that had asked for publicity ideas (*cough* Smart Bitches, Trashy Books *cough*). Somebody wrote in saying they’d got the niftiest reading light from an author. The commenter loved it! She still used it! She just couldn’t remember the author’s name . . .

Rule 4: Do What You Like to Do

A writer’s job is stressful enough. If you don’t like doing a certain kind of publicity, then don’t. If you don’t like public speaking, then for God’s sake, don’t give workshops. It’s just not worth it. The inverse of this is, of course, do what you like to do. If you love signings even if you only sell one book, then you go, girl! Forget the people who say signings aren’t worth it. To you they are. Personally, I have a thing about sending letters. I have a form on my website so readers can order bookmarks for free. Every time my critique partner sees it, she thinks I’m insane. Answering that much mail would just be another stress for her. For me, though, it’s kind of relaxing and I enjoy it. Do what you like to do.

Rule 5: Spend Your Money Up Front

Now, I don’t mean break the bank or go into debt, but think about it. When is your publicity money going to be worth the most? Answer: when nobody knows you. Which, unfortunately, is at the beginning when you have the smallest advance of your career (we hope, anyway!) Suck it up and if you can afford it, spend now. Writing is a business and all small business owners turn their profits back into their business for the first couple of years. Invest in yourself.

Elizabeth Hoyt

Note: Elizabeth will be bopping in to comment when available, so if you have a pressing EH question, please ask it!

Note II: Elizabeth's fabulous new book is out Tuesday! For those of you living under a rock, The Serpent Prince is the third eagerly awaited book in her Prince series. Order it now! (Then come back and leave a comment.)

Note III: Maven Lacey's reviews of The Raven Prince and The Leopard Prince can be found on Romantic Sadly, she has not yet read The Serpent Prince, but her fingers and toes are crossed in the hopes it will materialize soon...

Be All the Pimp You Can Be

Maven Lacey KayeYou guys are not going to believe how much information I have to share today. Or rather, you already knew there was a ton to know about promoting your blog, and you will cry because you already barely have time to post. I know I was sure surprised! See, when I drew the Promoting Your Blog straw a few weeks ago, I think I must've thought between then and now, I'd become some sort of guru with fabulous advice. But now it's midnight on Wednesday and I'm realizing... Probably not going to happen.

The truth is, I muddle along in this blog business just like everyone else. When I realized I really only had two pieces of advice to share, and that they must be exactly the same stuff you'd tell your friend who was starting up a new blog (make love to the link-love and spread your blog seed early and often), I realized I'd better do some research. And, well... Guess what? There's a ton of blogs out there written on the very subject of promoting your blog. Lucky me! I do so love it when other people do my work for me.

So what I'm going to do is link back to a few of the top hitters I found and highlight some of the tips from each that I think are particularly helpful for our industry. If you decide to read all the articles, which I highly suggest you do, you will see that these blogs seem to be aimed more at driving traffic and therefore ad revenue, opposed to driving traffic aimed at physical book sales (etc). But they still have way more professional advice then what I was going to share, so listen up!

Links are Fabulous, but They Aren't Blogs

In this article on ProBlogger.Net, the author writes:

In my early days of blogging I stumbled across the idea of incoming links...and so I began a campaign of gathering links to my blogs. [...] I managed to increase the number of links to my blogs over time. In the process here’s what else happened:

  • My posting frequency dropped
  • Readers became frustrated with my content (which was obviously linkbait)
  • I lost some of my passion for blogging and my topic
  • I sold out content wise (started picking topics to write about that didn’t really add value to my blog)
  • I started watching my metrics more than the news in my industry
  • Frustration crept into my blogging when the links didn’t come
  • My Page Rank increased - but my actual SERPs (the position of my blog in search engines) dropped

It wasn’t until I took a step back from blogging for a week at one point that I realized how distracted I’d become and how the very thing that I thought would ‘make’ my blog was in danger of killing it.

I decided to focus again on my readers and on producing content that would be useful to them and in doing so saw a reversal in all of the above points.

Love Thy Enemy

In this article on, the author writes:

Blogging is about co-opetition. Competition certainly exists in the blogosphere. Yet there is more cooperation happening than competition. Bloggers want to help each other. They want to inform their readers about other bloggers, blog posts, products and services. They know doing so adds value to their blogs and often builds loyalty in their readers.

I know, I know. You're thinking, who doesn't know this? But seriously. Next time you're feeling envious of a particularly good blog, why not link to it? Chances are, linking to her post will drag your name up in the search engines...

You Can Pay Someone to Do Your Work For You (okay, well you still have to write the blog)

In this article on Daily Blog Tips (who knew there was a site called daily blog tips?), the author discusses 7 ways to promote your blog by spending a few cents per hit. Now, as authors in a tight blogosphere we usually rely on our readers and writer friends to find us. But if you have a low promotion budget and a website with great content, perhaps getting yourself some Adsense makes sense.

Don't Be Shy

In this article on, the author lists 55 social networking sites you can use to get your blog content launched into the big, bad world. I've never done this before, but according to the author, "Many of these sites will show your site on their home page as soon as you submit it. It’s up to everyone else that uses each of these sites whether your site stays there or gets buried."

Sounds win-win to me. You already wrote the post, right? And it's brilliant and inspiring and people can't wait to read it--so long as they know it exists. Why not get noticed? The worst thing that can happen, apparently, is that you get buried alive. You're an author! You're used to rejection!

bwa ha ha ha ha...

Get Down and Dirty with Your Numbers

In this article on, the author shares thirty tips for marketing your blog. Don't tell me there isn't SOMETHING on this list you could be doing better. Me? I could improve my skillz with #15, Submit blog url to paid directories with categories for blogs - Yahoo, BOTW, bCentral, WOW, JoeAnt. (Surprisingly, we Mavens do pretty well with most of the others. What about you?)

Likewise, in this article on ProBlogger.Net (hey, they made the list twice! Way to go, content!), the author provides "41 ways to kickstart your marketing efforts." Personally, this was my favorite article of all of them, so if you're going to read just one I recommend this one.

So what did you learn today? Anything to add to this subject? And don't forget to come back tomorrow. Elizabeth Hoyt will be talking publicity, and you won't want to miss it! (I'm pretty sure having industry professionals guest blog on your site is always good for promoting your blog. Thanks, Elizabeth!)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

How RWA and Its Chapters Help You

Maven Darcy BurkeDoesn’t that title bring to mind the educational movies you watched in elementary school? You know, the ones filmed in the late 50s or 60s and explained everything from how to winter plants to how to do calisthenics. Perhaps you settled into your rock-hard chair at your desk, excited about seeing a movie (or maybe it was even a “filmstrip”) instead of doing long division. But then you realize it’s something you’d seen last year. And the year before that. And the year before that.

Hopefully your RWA (Romance Writers of America) chapter meetings are not like that! But I get ahead of myself. First, do you belong to RWA? Or, if you’re not a romance writer, do you belong to whatever national/international writing group that might apply to you? Do you also belong to your local chapter? If you don’t have a local chapter, do you belong to any online chapters? (Isn’t the Internet grand?) Note to reader: Joining RWA and a chapter can be a great way to promote yourself!

If you answered no to all of those questions and are dead-serious about getting published, you might want to rethink. The first thing I did when I decided I was “serious” about writing romance was join RWA. Took me another six or so months to join my local chapter, Rose City Romance Writers, but I kind of eased into the writing thing over the first year. Then, a year after joining RCRW, I, uh, raised my hand at the wrong moment and found myself the new vice president of programs. Whoops. Er, yay! Note to reader: Becoming an active member of your chapter can be a great way to promote yourself!

I’m not in charge of promotion, but I am responsible for ensuring we have a program at each meeting. This is typically a speaker who talks for an hour or so on a writing-related topic. We love to have big names and exciting topics that will draw loads of members and often we do. I also really appreciate our chapter members who present a handful of workshops each year. I always learn something and I enjoy getting to know my fellow chapter members in this way. Note to reader: Giving workshops can be a great way to promote yourself!

RCRW also offers published authors all sorts of cool things – links on the chapter website, plugs in the printed monthly newsletter, opportunities to come talk (hint, hint), and we always, always invite our authors to sign their books. We have our business meeting and then we break before the program. Our awesome local bookseller brings and sells the books for the author to sign during the break and we happily rack up her sales numbers. Note to reader: Attending chapter meetings and signing books can be a great way to promote yourself!

We also have a PAN (Published Author Network within RWA) liaison and a PRO liaison for those of us on our way up to publishing. Anyone will tell you in any field that who you know can play a huge part in success. Your chapter members will be more than writing supporters, they will be networking contacts. They’re likely to read your book because, hey, they know you. And once they read your book, they’re likely to recommend it. Note to reader: Networking with chapter members can be a great way to promote yourself!

You no doubt have figured out (or will by the end of next week when we conclude our promotion series) that promotion is one of those things that will give results based on what you put into it – whether it’s money, or time, or passion. Here’s a new Mavenism: If you work it, it will come. (Hmmm, definitely a romance writer, I guess.) How about, If you pimp it, it will come. (Not any better, huh?) Ah well, what I’m trying to say, is work your chapter meetings and events, work the RWA National Conference – make this membership work for you! That’s absolutely what it’s for.

How has RWA (or appropriate organization) helped you? What kinds of promotion opportunities does your local or online chapter offer?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ebook Promotion 100

Maven Jacqueline BarbourI decided I had to make this Ebook Promotion 100 and not 101 because I'm still learning myself how to promote an ebook! And since my ebook hasn't even been out for two weeks, I know I've got a long way to go before I really figure out how to do the promotion gig right. So this is definitely the zero level in the series :)!

That said, the fact that ebooks are sold entirely via the Internet gives an author a leg up in the promotion game because she (and her publisher) can focus on promotion via a single channel: the Internet itself.

This isn't to say that the Internet is the only place one should consider promoting an ebook. In fact, I swore to myself that I was going to get together a media kit by now and send out media releases about my ebook in the hopes of getting some publicity in other media. And not just in the hopes of bolstering sales of my book, but in the hopes of getting more people interested in and aware of the ebook phenomenon. Remembering that I wasn't even plugged into the concept of ebooks until quite recently myself, I am willing to bet that there are loads of potential readers out there who would be interested in purchasing ebooks if they knew they existed and where to find them.

Unfortunately, life intervened, and I haven't gotten around to that media kit yet. Maybe next book (I'm currently working on the sequel to Carnally Ever After and, given that Deanna at Cobblestone tells me she has been poking around on my Jackie Barbosa website and can't wait to see that story, I have pretty high hopes of Carnally Yours being picked up by Cobblestone).

So, what have I been doing to promote my book?

Well, first off, I've been posting about it like crazy here and on my Jacqueline Barbour blog. Maybe you noticed ;)?

I've also been lucky enough to have great publisher support. Cobblestone Press publishes a newsletter and in the last issue, Deanna excerpted the first chapter of my book. That led to some nice buzz on the Romance Divas forum leading up to the release. Emma Petersen, a fellow Cobblestone author, really loved the excerpt and without any prodding from me or from Cobblestone, she has waxed enthusiastic about my story several times. My friend Ericka Scott, another fellow Cobblestone author and former FanLitter, also made Carnally Ever After a recommended read on her blog (and no, I didn't ask her to!).

Cobblestone also has an author blog, where we are encouraged to post announcements about our releases and excerpts, especially on the day of a release.

Finally, Cobblestone hosts a chat room every Friday night from 7-9pm central time. During the chat, authors who have releases that week usually give away a copy of their books to one lucky winner. This chat also gives authors a chance to talk about their books with other Cobblestone authors and readers.

The other promotional effort I made was to score a guest author slot over at Romantic Inks from yesterday through tomorrow. If you're not familiar with this blog, you should be. Not only are Mavens Lacey and Erica regular RI posters, but it's a fabulous spot to read craft advice and industry insider dish from the many high-profile published authors they line up as guest posters.

YOUR TURN: Do you/have you read ebooks? If you have, how did you learn about those books? Through blogs/websites or word of mouth recommendation from people you know? If you don't read ebooks, why not? Is there any promotional effort that could get your attention and make you take a chance on one?

Winners Announced!

Kimberly LLewellyn: The Quest For The Holy VeilCongratulations go to MS HELLION, the lucky winner of a free copy of THE QUEST FOR THE HOLY VEIL, randomly drawn from the commenters on Kimberly Llewellyn's guest blog: Secrets of Romantic Comedy.

Ms Hellion, please email mavens [at] with your address so you can get your prize!

Thanks go to Kimberly for her guest post, and all the Mavenland readers for their great comments!

Also, CRYSTALG is the lucky winner from the What gets you hot? blog post. Yay, Crystal G! Email us to claim your prize!

P.S. It's Maven Lacey's birthday! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Biiiiirthday Maven Laaaaceeeey! Happy Birthday to you!!!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Web Site 101 with Maven Erica

Maven Erica RidleyIt's Promo Week here in Mavenland! And no, we're not promoting ourselves--we're promoting YOU.

Or, rather, sharing our tips and tricks on how you can promo you.

Today we're going to have a little chat about web sites. What makes me qualified to chat about web sites? Well, I've been designing, programming, and developing them professionally for a decade now. I've seen 'em impact sales, I've seen 'em fade into visitor-less obscurity, and I've seen 'em bomb with enough destructive power to re-explode the Death Star.

Let's aim for success, not planet detonation, okay?

Here are our steps:
* Do I even want a web site?
* What kind of web site do I want?
* Who should make it?
* How should it look/feel/act?

Get out your pen and paper--this is a workblog!

Do I even want a web site?

As someone who pays her mortgage by making web sites for other people, you might imagine me persuading everyone I meet to get a web site. The truth is, however, that if there's no reason for you to have one, there's... well, no point in having one.

The purpose of a web site is some combination of the following:
1) Share information
2) Collect information
3) Promote something or someone
4) Sell a product

If you don't have need of any of those, you do not need a web site. Don't waste your time or money.

I'll walk you through the four points.

1) Share information
This can range from contact info (Think store websites that pretty much consist of phone number and directions) to dissemination of information (Wikipedia, anyone?)

If you do have a web site, you must include some way for your web visitors to contact you, for reasons of legitimacy as much as interaction and visitor convenience.

Some authors also include information like tips for writers, or agent/editor interviews, etc. This is value-added content. It is a good idea, assuming the text contains quality information.

You do not have to do this, but if you do, know exactly what information you want to share.

2) Collect information
Maybe you want to get visitor emails for your newsletter. Maybe you want to collect addresses for a mailing list. Maybe you simply want to collect statistical information to see how many people are interested in you, and what search engine keywords they're using to find you.

You do not have to do this, but if you do, know exactly what information you want to collect.

3) Promote something or someone
Perhaps you want to promote your newest release. Perhaps you want to promote your entire book backlist, grouped by continuity series. Perhaps you want to promote your blog, or your writing-oriented community forums/bulletin boards, or your chapter contest, or your writing conference, or your book signing, or your workshop presentation, or your for-hire critiquing and editing service, or simply yourself and your contest wins.

You do not have to do this, but if you do, know exactly what you want to promote.

4) Sell a product
Remember, a product can be a book, and a product can be YOU. Either way, if sales is your goal, you will have to provide the web visitor with persuasive marketing copy as well as a method of purchase, whether that be a web site shopping cart, a hyperlink to, or simply a contact form requesting your book/services/etc.

You do not have to do this, but if you do, know exactly what you want to sell and provide the visitor with an easy method of purchase.

What kind of web site do I want?

I'm covering this topic in a six-part series (starting today!) over on my "Erica Writes" blog because it's just too complex to do justice in one post.

However, here are the primary points to consider:
1) Message and Image
2) Marketing and Promotion
3) User Interaction and Content
4) Aesthetics and Competition
5) Technology and Hosting
6) Content Administration

As mentioned, I'll go into explicit detail on each of these on my blog, but I want to make sure we're on the same page.

1) Message and Image
In other words, what is the point of your web site and how do you wish to portray it? If the point of your web site is to sell your dark urban fantasies and you wish to portray this goal by having the tone of the web site emulate the tone of your books, then you might want to theme your site accordingly. (Sherrilyn Kenyon comes to mind.)

2) Marketing and Promotion
Once you know what your web site's goal is, you must determine how to achieve this goal and how to measure success.

3) User Interaction and Content
What do you want visitors to do when they come to your web site? You need to know, and they need to know. If you want them to read your three dozen articles on First Person vs Third Person, then links to those articles better be on the first page. If you want them to sign up for your newsletter or call you for a critiquing quote or buy your new release, again, make it obvious and easy!

4) Aesthetics and Competition
I don't care who you are or what you write, (well, I do care, *g) every single author has competitors. Determine yours. Which of them do their job well? Which do not? (We're talking web site promo here, not prose. *g) What about the successful web sites make them work? What about the unsuccessful web sites make them fail?

5) Technology and Hosting
This means you and your visitors. Who is coming to your site? Know their technology demographics and expectations and provide accordingly. And make sure your web host can support the files, traffic, and technology your web site will require.

6) Content Administration
Do not forget this step! Somebody must update your web site content. It cannot just stay the same, week after week, month after month, or people will stop coming. Whether you will update your own content or have someone do it for you is entirely your preference, but make this decision up front so the site can be designed with this step in mind.

Who will make my web site?

There are basically two choices here: You, or Someone Else.

The first thing I'll say--and I can't stress this enough, so listen up--it is far better to have no web site than a bad web site.

Got me? I'll say it again:
It is far better to have no web site than a bad web site.

It doesn't matter if you're just starting out or if you have fifty New York Times best sellers. If your web site looks like you let your eight-year-old nephew make it with fingerpaints, you are not helping yourself. Stop. Step away from the web site.

Word of warning: this can happen whether you do it yourself or not. Before you pay someone to do it, check their references. Meaning, ask for examples of other web sites they've designed. Then visit them. Do they suck? If yes, run away. What is the point of the web site? If you can't tell, run away. If the web site's goal is to sell a book, how easy is it to buy? If it's not easy, run away. Do all the links work and the pages load quickly? If not, run away.

In other words, if the samples provided are not web sites you as a consumer would enjoy/frequent, then why pay money to have an equally bad web site of your own?

The flipside of this coin is that a talented professional can ALWAYS turn out a better product than an amateur do-it-yourselfer.

Know this, and decide accordingly.

If you have zero budget, zero programming talent, and zero time to learn--consider not having a web site at all. Seriously.

If you have no budget or necessary skill set, but you do have the time to learn how it's done, you may consider doing it yourself. It won't cost you anything, and if it sucks, you don't have to publish it, and at least you'll have learned a valuable skill for when the day comes for you to be in charge of updating web content.

If you have the skills already, feel free to give it a try. Can't hurt, so long as you view the final product objectively and only put it out there for the world to see if it truly will accomplish your goals.

If you have a small budget and little time/talent, you may want to consider purchasing a professionally designed ready-made web site template and/or utilizing free, open-source content management software such as Wordpress.

If you have a middle-sized budget, you may wish to hire a semi-professional, such as a university student majoring in web site design and/or programming.

If you have a larger budget, you will probably be best served contracting a talented professional.

How should my web site act?

Once you know what the purpose of your web site is, what it should look like, how you will promote it, and who will develop it, you need to know what it needs to do.

If the purpose is to share information, then your web site better be chock full of useful, en pointe information.

If the purpose is to collect information, then collection opportunities better be on every page. This may mean a newsletter signup form on every page or this may mean a link on every page to the registration form or request for quote form, etc.

If the purpose is to promote something, then your web site better be promoting whatever it is on every single page. Do not miss an opportunity.

If the purpose is to sell something, then buying a product from your web site better be the easiest thing in the world for your visitors to do.

Above all, the web site must be:
1) legible
2) intuitive
3) easy to navigate
4) easy on the eyes

I'll break it down:

1) Legible
No black text on gray backgrounds. No white text on tan backgrounds. Do not make the visitor click "Select All" and highlight the text just to be able to read it. Do not make the text super tiny or overlarge. Do not make the text scroll left-to-right further than the common denominator screen size. Do not design the site/text in such a way as to make it impossible to print, or to read once printed. They will not come back.

2) Intuitive
The visitor should not have to waste time figuring out what to do when they come to your web site. They will not waste time figuring out what to do. If their first reaction to the home page is "What now?" instead of "Oh, wow!" then they will leave and never return. Make the choices obvious.

3) Easy to navigate
Let's say a visitor wants to send you fan mail. They come to your web site. They can't find contact information anywhere. They go away. Forever. Don't do this! If links to important stuff isn't on every page (and, really, it should be) then at the very least, make an obvious link to a Site Map or similar at the top of every page. Somewhere they will see it without scrolling. Ideally, links to the Home Page, the Contact Page, and at the very least the primary pages for each of the major sub categories (if you have subcategories) will be on every page, in the same spot. Easy to find, easy to read, easy to click on.

4) Easy on the eyes
Do not make your web site an eyesore! No loud, clashing colors that give readers headaches. No spontaneous music they can't shut off. (And I would even say, no spontaneous music at all--many web visitors browse at work and do not want to advertise their surfing.) No ads that pop up over the content or blinking text that's hard to read or flashy animated graphics/banners/etc that distract the reader's ability to read the content or buy your product. I'm not saying you can't have music or ads or flash animations, I'm saying do not annoy your visitor with it. If your web site is obnoxious and/or a hassle, they will go away and not come back.

On that happy note...

Last but not least: Measurability

Once your web site is out there, it is often a good idea to use tracking software (such as StatCounter) to find out where your visitors are coming from, how long they're staying, and what they're doing once they get to your web site. This will help you tweak accordingly.

YOUR TURN: Any questions? Comments? Derogatory remarks? (*g) I am able to check the comments frequently today, so please take advantage if there's something you want to know/say/ask!

The web site series on my blog:

* Website Series, Day 1: Message & Image
* Website Series, Day 1: Follow-Up Q & A
* Website Series, Day 2: Marketing
* Website Series, Day 3: User Interaction & Content
* Website Series, Day 4: Aesthetics & Usability
* Website Series, Day 5: Hosting & Technology
* Website Series, Day 6: Administration

Friday, August 24, 2007

Kimberly Llewellyn: Secrets of Romantic Comedy

Guest MavenThe Manuscript Mavens are thrilled to announce Kimberly Llewellyn as today's Guest Maven! With her bride-themed books and fabulous sense of humor, Kimberly is a grande finale for Romance Week. Today, Kimberly will be sharing her tips on writing such fabulous, laugh-out-loud romantic comedies.

Known as "the wedding writer," Kimberly Llewellyn. is the author of five contemporary novels. Currently, she writes for Berkley Books. Her recent releases include two humorous comedic women's fiction novels in trade paperback. The Quest for the Holy Veil was released March 2007. Tulle Little, Tulle Late, released August 2006, was a Book Sense Notable Pick, an RCA Cataromance Award Nominee, and an Oklahoma More than Magic Finalist. Prior to that, she wrote three short contemporary romances for Avalon and Kensington.

She has written articles for various publications and fiction stories for the confession magazine market. She enjoys promoting "fiction for women" to the media, as well as to various organizations, such as the arts council, Miss Florida State Pageant for Miss America, and bridal expos. She's made guest appearances on television, including the shows Daytime, Mornings Around the Bay, and Your Turn.

Kimberly Llewellyn is a member of CLW, PASIC, RWA, and TARA. She lives in the Greater Tampa Bay Area. She has one husband, one child, and one dog.

Her web site is:

Here's Kimberly!

One lucky commenter will receive a free copy of the Quest for the Holy Veil. Winner of the free book is chosen randomly, so please comment!

Make 'Em Laugh Is the Name of the Game in Romantic Comedy

Let's face it, comedy is subjective. Sometimes, the reader laughs with you, sometimes at you. Because of this, the good news is you don't have to worry about pleasing everyone. When writing comedy, just have fun and make yourself laugh. If you laugh at your story, chances are someone else with the same bent sense of humor as you will laugh too. (Hopefully that someone will be an editor!) To encourage getting that crazy humor of yours on the page, here are some basic comedy writing tips:

Understand the Reversal Principal

The element of surprise creates the humor. ("I had to shoot my dog the other day." "Why? Was he mad?" "Wasn't too pleased.") Reversal is when characters act or say the complete opposite of what's expected or anticipated. It's when urban goes jungle ( Night at the Museum). Or when adults behave like children (Bringing Up Baby). Or when men dress/act like women (Tootsie) or vice versa. Reversal is especially funny when done in a public place (Sally fakes orgasm in a crowded diner…loudly.)

Take Comedy Seriously

I remember telling my friends about a bad time in my life. The more I ranted, the more they roared! Let's face it, tragedy is funny when it happens to other people. And yes, while the painful stuff happening isn't funny at the time, after a while, we can usually look back on it and laugh. As the old saying goes, "comedy is tragedy plus time." So remember, while your character is going through the terrible trouble in your romantic comedy, make sure they are very serious about it. Even when it isn't an awful situation, your character can still be very sincere. For example, Jack from Will and Grace takes his musical review, Just Jack, very seriously! His seriousness is what makes it so funny.

Kimberly LLewellyn: The Quest For The Holy VeilMake the Characters Suffer

In a romantic comedy, make your characters suffer, especially the protagonist. This is usually the heroine. Make her really miserable. In The Quest for the Holy Veil, Lucy Ladelle has PMS, locks herself out of her apartment, misses an audition, gets nearly hit by a car, is late for a date, gets "caught on tape" by a TV sting operation, is harassed by her overbearing mother, then gets fired...well you get the idea. Lucy's misery doesn't end---ever. Don't be afraid to put your heroine in too much trouble. We will be laughing at her plight because we will be sympathizing and identifying with her. Why? Because we've been there.

It's also okay to make your heroine suffer because at the end of the book, she will come out the other side a stronger person. She will eventually see the humor in all that she's gone through. And after all her suffering, remember, as the writer, you will reward her with everything she's dreamed of achieving (the promotion, the account, the prize), plus she gets the guy in the end.

Other comedy writing tips:

Look to your characters. Does a character have a unique view of the world that you can play up and make funnier in your book? Remember Harry in When Harry Met Sally? He always had to read the ending of a book first in case he died before he finished.

Look at your sentences. Can you make word choices funnier? How about making dialogue and retorts wittier? (A note about dialogue: Some banter can be fun, but unwarranted, undeserved nasty remarks aren't necessarily funny.) Pare down any extra text bogging down a funny line; let that funny line stand on its own. Remove any sentences like the following, "He chuckled at her joke." Can you add a fresh twist to an old cliché? ("If you love something, set it free. If it doesn't come back to you, hunt it down and kill it.") Or add onto an old expression. ("Life's too short---and so are my skirts!")

Double entendres and innuendo. These are great in dialogue between the hero and heroine in a romantic comedy. So? How far do you want to take the innuendo? How far are you willing to go? Hey, come on, you know what I mean! Let's keep this G-rated!

Hyperbole. In my books, I exaggerate everything. Nothing is sacred. Through the perspective of my characters, emotions are put under the microscope and become extreme. When using exaggeration, avoid words like, "feels like," "almost," "practically," etc. After all, if you are going to use exaggeration, you might as well go all out.

Running gag or joke. This is like sharing an inside joke with the reader throughout the entire book. Rum is a running joke in all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies that has even spilled into newspaper reviews.

The rule of three. Jokes tend to run in threes. Keep that in mind when writing. Your heroine might complain that bad boys come in three flavors: hot, extra-hot, and three-alarm!

Kimberly LLewellyn: Tulle Little, Tulle LateSo, let's talk about you for a moment and where comedy fits into your writing.

Decide the type of comedy you're writing. There are lots out there, such as dark comedy, farce, parody, and satire. What kind are you writing? This is good to know. It'll keep your writing focused and will come in handy when describing your book to an editor.

Know your voice. Where does comedy fit? Even if you don't write humor per se, a little levity amid gravity is sometimes warranted.

Pay attention to the market. Is there a good place in the market where your humor fits? Do you see a gap in the market that you could fill? Whether it be secret babies, cowboys, werewolves, or vampires, why not add your own funny spin to it? For me, the wonderful wacky world of weddings can be so funny. I love to write about them. It's a great niche I enjoy filling. What niche can you fill? Or better yet, what niche can you create for yourself? (Just don't make it too narrow!)

Two ways to improve your comedy writing are to read your favorite funny authors and keep writing humor til it hurts.

If you are interested in learning more about writing comedy, purchase the book, The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus. By keeping these tips in mind, you'll be on your way to writing so funny that an editor will laugh so hard and be filled with such mirth that she'll just have to buy your next romantic comedy.

For more writing tips, visit the "For Writers" section of the author's web site at

YOUR TURN: Do you write funny? If so, please share your experience using these (and any other!) humor writing tips. Do you have any hilarious friends or favorite authors/books/movies? What makes them so funny?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Stoning the Romance

Maven Lacey KayeSo yesterday was really quiet in the blogosphere. I hope you're all done doing whatever it is you were doing, because tomorrow's post is going to be FAB-U-TASTIC!

I mean, this post is awesome. You definitely want to comment on it. You know you do.

This week in MavenLand, we're talking about romance. Seeing as how I've already read tomorrow's post, AND I've read the three organized, on-topic, thoughtful, amazing posts that lead into this one, it may not surprise you to know I'm a little stumped for insightful...uh... insight.

But we've talked about first blush, we've talked about the practical, and we've talked about the Forever Guy. What's missing? Oh, right. The one who doesn't stick around.

I think I had a whirlwind relationship with my last manuscript. Flying high on the wings of love, I skipped through the all-important getting to know you phase and went straight for the uber-crush. You know, the heart-pounding, midnight-obsessing, follow it around like a stalker straight-up hardcore crush. My manuscript and I didn't part for months on end. Then, like sexual tension after the first sex scene, we crashed. Fell from the sky and landed, quite inelegantly, somewhere on Fifth Avenue, only to be run over by the wheels of a hot dog cart and crushed by the broken leather heel of a very old woman.

Except, by that time, we were already married.

"It's not you, it's... you." Maven Erica gave me this line the other day and I swore to use it in a blog post. But it's true. There's nothing wrong with my manuscript. It didn't change between that first glimpse and today. There was no false advertising. His jokes are still funny and he's still got the same sparkle in his eye. He's just not directing it at me, or if he is, my Spidey senses aren't picking up on it.

So what to do? Well, divorce is always an option. In this industry, we can file manuscripts under the bed indefinitely, we can burn them, we can mail them off and forget about them, we can send them to our closest friends and let them laugh at our folly, and if you trust the Gmail sidebar, there's only a million small print shops who would be happy to bind it into your own precious photobook of broken dreams.


You can do nothing and hope it will just disappear on its own.


You can find a new toy and play with it instead. Pretty soon, you won't even notice your old one has gone missing. Did the snotty little girl next door steal it? Who cares! You have a shiny new one to break!

Yes, I've officially announced my foray into Humorous Women's Fiction. It's a new love for me, still rosy with the first blush, and perfect for all its hidden faults. Right now. It's not perfect; hey, it's not even publishable. It's the ultimate Unpublishable Novel, in fact. But it's fun, and it's mine, and it's private. I try to avoid the crushing, soul-destroying existence of the Unfinished Novel by pretending it doesn't exist.

Ever had to shelve a project? Ever wondered what to do with a project that no longer felt "fun?" Ever realize how cyclical romance can be? Haha. That last one was for me!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Is it Love?

Maven Darcy BurkeThat I'm feeling? Come on, sing it with me! (I know you want to.) I'm going to pose the age old question today: Can real life rival or even, gasp, exceed a romance novel?

I would argue yes.

Now, before you go and roll your eyes or snort coffee out your nose, let me explain. You know the saying, "the truth is stranger than fiction." I think romance can be the same way. Our real life heroes and heroines may not be picture perfect, but I'm willing to bet they share many characteristics.

As Erica is wont to do, I'll use myself as an example. Mr. Burke is absolutely my romance hero. Did I always think that? Perhaps not in those terms, but since I've been in love with him for the better part of 17 years I must have found him heroic on some level. Now, I know without question he is my hero because as a romance writer I recognize the traits in him that make a romantic hero. I use them to build the men in my novels, and honestly didn't realize I was doing so. Does that mean you need a fabulous husband to write great romance? No, it doesn't. It means you may be able to use the romance in your life to craft the Great Romance Novel. (Which isn't to say I've written THE GRN. Yet.)

Our real life romantic experiences build the romance novels we read and write. And even if it's not real life, it's perhaps our fantasies that come out of our real life. I honestly wouldn't want Mr. Burke to do half the things the heroes do in romance novels (probably because I read historicals - he doesn't need to duel the villain to save me, thank God), but in theory he's pretty close. (He worships me, really. Here's where I mention that he surprised me with my first ever Tiffany gift last week - a silver business card holder engraved with my name. He said every professional writer needs a nice business card holder. All together: awwwwww. Given, Jacq's post yesterday, I should say that while I don't need gifts to feel the love, they sure are nice when they show up on your desk in turquoise gift-wrapped splendor.)

Now that I've gushed about how real life can be as romantic as a novel, let's talk about how it's not. Romance novels are an escape. Escape from everything UNromantic about our everyday lives. Kids. Bills. Errands. The pushy neighbor with an excess of tomatoes and zucchini. We need them to be bigger than life in order to eclipse our life. (That said, I still think the elements are based in reality, which is what makes them so accessible to us for such a short time, but I already talked about that so I'll move on. I promise.) Romance novels are exciting, passionate, hilarious - our experiences times ten. Which is what we expect. If it were anything less, we probably wouldn't believe it. We want perfection for our escape, not the strange truth.

So what real life romance or romantic ideals do you use in your writing? If you don't write, what about romance draws you in, takes you away from the daily grind?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Squee (and Ack!)

Maven Jacqueline BarbourAnd both over the same thing!

I received a call yesterday from the contest coordinator of the New Jersey Romance Writers chapter and A Scandalous Liaison (aka Unbridled) is a finalist in Put Your Heart in a Book. The finalists get three reads: editor, agent, and multi-published author.

So I'm pretty stoked about that!

On the "ack" side, the version of the first chapter that I entered is one that did very poorly in another contest a few months ago, and as a result of the feedback from that contest, I decided to revamp large portions of the opening (for the zillionth time, LOL) and change some of the backstory and plot to ramp up the conflict.

Obviously, I'm now confused as all get out!

But still...squeeeeeeeee!

What Is Romantic, Anyway?

Maven Jacqueline BarbourI have a confession to make: I'm a terribly unromantic person. I do not melt over the gestures that I'm given to understand "normal" women (whatever normal is, LOL) swoon over or consider de rigeur from their beaux. Flowers, jewelry, even chocolate fail to touch my hardened heart. I don't crave long walks on the beach (too much sand!), or regular candlelit dinners at fancy restaurants (too expensive!), or pina coladas (too sweet!) and getting caught in the rain (too cold!).

Just to provide additional, amusing anecdotal evidence of my lack of a romantic gene on my X chromosomes, when I discovered about a week ago that two small diamonds had fallen out of my engagement ring, my first thought was not to feel sad that the symbol of my husband's promise to me had been damaged, but, "Damn, the empty settings are going to catch on everything and it's going to cost hundreds of dollars to fix it!" (I've still not had it into the jewelers, though, as I expected, the empty setting slots are a pain the butt.)

So, what's a romantically-challenged person like me doing writing romance novels?

Well, here's the thing: I actually don't think I'm romantically-challenged. I think the rest of the world is brainwashed :)! The things I find romantic are a lot more practical than flowers and expensive dinners and jewelry. A man who puts the kids to bed or washes and vacuums your kidmobile without being asked (and without complaining about it later!)--now there's romantic! A man who, after almost 18 years of marriage, comes up behind you when you haven't even had a chance to shower, puts his arms around your waist, and kisses your neck while whispering, "Just wait until I have you alone"--now there's romantic!

I love the ways I can show in a story that the hero loves the heroine--maybe even before he knows it himself. The seemingly simple gestures and selfless actions that speak of love more clearly than any token that can be bought or sold. True love isn't about the things we can give one another, but the ways we support and help each other through life. And I believe, in romance novels, writers can explore this in a way popular culture is, in its wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am way, incapable of doing. Maybe we're all just a little too eager for the quick fix--the roses or the diamonds--and a little too quick to dismiss the smaller, but more meaningful actions that tells us we are loved.

YOUR TURN: What's romantic to you?

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Goal Not Sought, But Stumbled Upon

Maven Jacqueline BarbourI didn't set out to be epubbed. To be truthful, when I started writing seriously (as opposed to dabbling in it like I'd done for decades) in February of 2005, I didn't even know that ebooks and epublishers existed. I'd never heard of Ellora's Cave, let alone Samhain or LooseId or any of the other epublishers out there (and there are a lot of them). And Cobblestone, which is releasing Carnally Ever After today, hadn't even been founded (they started up in June of 2006).

So, writing a story with the goal of submitting it to epublishers was definitely not on my radar. And when I did first start hearing about ebooks, I admit to thinking, "Ah, that's not really a book. A book is paper and ink and binding, not words on a computer screen." Which, I'm sure, is how a lot of people still feel about ebooks, though in point of fact, the epublishing revolution is in such full swing that most (if not all) of the New York houses now sell all of their titles in both print and ebook formats.

What got me started on the road to being epublished was actually a challenge from Ann Aguirre/Annie Dean, who mentioned on her blog back in January of this year that she was writing a story for an Ellora's Cave call for submissions and asked if anyone wanted to join her in the endeavor. I was at a kind of a lull at that point in my writing, having finished the first draft of what was then called Living in Sin and not really ready to dive into the next book, Lady Libertine. So, I thought, what the heck? It might be fun. And you never know--maybe it'll get picked up.

I wrote Carnally Ever After, which clocks in at just under 15,000 words, in about two weeks. The Mavens and Lady Leigh provided me with invaluable crit support and I feverishly finished up the edits and submitted the story to Ellora's Cave just before the February 1 deadline. And then waited anxiously to find out whether my story would make the cut or not.

The answer was not. I received a very polite emailed rejection letter a few days after I knew the final decisions had been made. Now, I knew there were plenty of reasons they might have rejected the story other than that they thought it wasn't any good, but I was pretty down in the mouth about it because, hey, I thought it was a darned good story. If they didn't like it, maybe nobody would.

And their rejection left me with a dilemma: Here I was with a story all my CPs vowed to adore that I'd written specifically for one epublisher, and that publisher had turned it down. What was I going to do with it now? I toyed with stretching the story to perhaps double its original length to make it appealing to print anthology publishers like Red Sage, but ultimately decided that I'd only be padding and not improving the book in the process.

I hemmed and hawed for a month or so before reaching a conclusion you'll probably think is totally obvious: I had a story I wanted people to read, and no one was going to be reading it while it was taking up space on my hard drive. I wrote a book for epublication and now that I had it, I'd be a fool not to pursue the goal of getting it published.

The rest, as they say, is history. There aren't a lot of epublishers who accept novellas quite as short as Carnally Ever After, which is more of a long short story than a novella, which narrowed the list of options considerably. I started with Harlequin Spice Briefs because, hey, they're Harlequin, but after waiting for several months with no response, I sent it off to Cobblestone Press. I chose Cobblestone not only because their Tryst line is exactly the right length, but because I know several authors who have published with them from FanLit (Sara Dennis and Ericka Scott) and so I had good feelings about the quality of their product.

I clicked send on my email submission and sat back to wait 4-6 weeks to hear back. I got my response in a little under eight hours. To say I was floored would be an understatement. From the time I dotted the i's and crossed the t's on my contract to today, the entire process took a little over two months.

So, how does this post fit into the theme of goals? It probably doesn't, actually. (It was just an excuse to post something on the Mavens blog with a link to buy my book :->.) But maybe it does fit in thematically in one sense. Whatever your attainable, measurable, and achievable writing goals may be, the reason you have them in the first place is because you want what you write to be read.

Maven Jacqueline BarbourNone of us writes to get rich and famous. It's more that getting rich and famous as a writer is a byproduct of getting read. By lots and lots of people who pay your publisher, and by extension you, for the privilege. But in the end, it's all about the being read, isn't it?

And so, it is with great pleasure that I offer you the opportunity to fulfill my dream and read my first published work, Carnally Ever After.

Update: The link, she is live!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

What Obstacles?

Maven Lacey Kaye
So I volunteered to blog on overcoming other people's unsupportiveness when working toward achieving your goals. Which, in retrospect, may not be the right subject for me. What has and does work for me won't be for everyone--I'm a hardcore loner. So think of this post as an extreme set of guidelines, and realize only you can know what fits into your life. That said, I do have a lot of experience in preventing other people from preventing my success. Take what you can use and go from there.

Why start out so ominously? Well, there aren't too many demands on my time, or too many people out there who can prevent me from doing what I set out to do. That's the extreme part of it, and the part I realize many of you can't or wouldn't change about your life. See, I'm single. I'm childless. I'm self-sufficient. I have no roommates or in-town family. I quit my management job at a high-energy company (long hours) for a union position as a chart monkey (short hours). I chose these paths so I could pursue my dream of being an author (and being childless childfree). Are we talking big decisions? Yes. Lonely ones? Sometimes. Worth it? Totally.

What you can take away is that my free time and lack of interruptions are not accidental. I planned it that way.

It starts, as Erica said, with deciding what you want. From there, you need a plan to get it. This is a lot trickier. If you want to write 10,000 words a week, you have a lot of options. You can write 1430 words every day. You can throw out Saturday and Sunday and write 2000 words Monday through Friday. You can write 5000 words on Saturdays and Sundays. But let's say you decide to write Monday through Friday, because that's my schedule.

Now I will teach you a little industrial engineering stuff. (Obviously, IE is nothing but management engineering, ergo, it will be very familiar to many of you.)

The first rule of scheduling is never to plan for "errors." (Of course, you have to recognize an error to know not to plan for it, but hold off on that for a minute.) So let's say you know it will take you 2 hours to write 2000 words. Don't schedule yourself to write 2000 words in 2.5 hours, thinking "Boy Child is going to want a microwave burrito, plus I have to answer the phone, and if it's my mother..." It either takes you 2 hours to write 2000 words or it takes you 2.5 hours to write 2000 words. Pick one. If you tack on slack time, you'll use it up and then need more slack time. That's just the way people are. The trick here is deciding what's valid slack time and what's required to get the job done.

IEs call all the fuzzy stuff "delays." (Fancy-schmancy terms, dearies.) You can have allowable delays and unallowable delays. Maybe for you, answering the phone is allowable (personally, I would vote against this being allowable, but that's for you to decide). Or turning on the computer is allowable. (Mine takes forever to boot up. Since I can't work without it on, it's a requirement--unless I decide to leave it always on. But that's for later.) Or checking your email is allowable. In other words, if you sit down to write for 2 hours and use up half that time on other stuff, then you're cheating yourself out of the ability to accomplish your goal, which is to write 2000 words. So you have to plan that extra time in, or you will just end up frustrated and bashing your head against the keyboard (or nearest countertop).

Right. So you've got a schedule. You've got a list of the things you'll allow yourself to do within your writing time. Now you sit down and... Your husband shows up. Maybe he doesn't give you the support you need in your writing career. (Maybe he does, and you're extremely lucky.)

Let's say you've decided to devote 2.5 hours of your evening to writing. The second rule of IE is to get buy-in from everyone affected. You can take your plan with your allowable interruptions and present it to your family. Maybe your kid will point out he needs to go to soccer practice starting in September. Did you remember to factor that in? Or was your plan specifically for what will work this week? Maybe your husband points out that he married you, not the back of your head. Did you consider his feelings when you made your plan?

It may well turn out that your plan for 2000 words in 2.5 hours is only good through the end of August. Let your family know you're willing to revise when soccer practice starts. Encourage your husband to appreciate his time away from you. Perhaps he can take up a hobby. Most important, though, is that YOU deliver what you say you're going to deliver.

That means 2 things. One, that you STOP WRITING after 2.5 hours. That was the deal. If you renege, everyone else feels cheated. They're sacrificing and you're not. The second is that you GET YOUR STUFF DONE. Nothing builds resentment like the DH looking over your shoulder as he passes through the room and you're reading blogs. Trust me, I know. If you cut a deal with your family, you MUST keep up your end of the bargain. If you don't treat your writing time and your goals professionally, they won't, either.

Ok, so let's say you have a completely unsupportive family. Nothing you can do will keep them from resenting the time you spend at your computer. You've already limited your blog-hopping and emailing and loop-reading. You're not doing endless amounts of research where they can see you (but honey, I HAD to know what they put in shortbread!). You're writing, you're producing, and they still don't get it.

If you can't hold a family pow-wow, then you have to decide to do what's best for you. It's a pretty universal truth that when writers don't write, they feel like terrible slackers. It's a deathblow to morale when you feel like you can't find time to get the voices out of your head. This may result in all sorts of creative solutions, or it might end in you giving up.

Personally, and again, we're remembering that I don't have these problems because I decided NOT to have these problems, I have a hard time believing there's NO solution. A lot of the resentment with your husband probably stems from the fact that you're writing when he can see you, i.e. at night. If you can manage to get your chores done early enough that you can write before he gets home, for example, then you'll have a lot less to overcome with him. Or maybe you'll get up early before work.

I can't fix your marriage, but I can try to help you find ways to reduce the detrimental impact your writing can have on your family's quality of life.

A group of mothers can trade kids every day of the week. Groceries can be ordered online and delivered to the house. If your kids are over the age of 14, they can do the shopping while you sit in the car with your alphasmart. (This totally works AND teaches responsibility; my father had me doing the family shopping from a very young age.) Carpets can be left fallow until company is imminent. Paper plates and cups can be used at dinner.

The third rule of IE, then, is to think of the solution that works BEST. Simple is better. Prioritizing is key. Don't think: I can't. Think: What do I want? Then: How do I get it?

Example: I can't have 2.5 hours of free time because I have too much to do.
Example: I want 2.5 hours of free time in the evening.
Obstacles: laundry, cooking dinner, cleaning kitchen, must-see tv, shuttling children, bathing, hubby wants to get some.

Take them one at a time. Again, think of all the ways you can solve each issue.

Ways to reduce laundry:
Eliminate kanban (laundry basket). As someone who despises laundry, I offer up this solution. When you take off your pants, check the pockets. (Actually, it's more efficient to check the pockets while you're still wearing them.) Gather up your dirty clothes and put them directly into the washing machine. Toss out your laundry basket! This will help prevent batching, which will reduce the terror you feel whenever you look at the massive pile of laundry you have to do.

When you go to put that last sock into the tub and see the machine is full, start the cycle. Before you go to bed, chuck the wet clothes into the dryer. Buy colorsafe bleach, if that's your next argument. Have to iron if you leave it in the dryer overnight? Stop buying clothes that need to be ironed!

(Same goes for dishwashers--if the item isn't dishwasher safe, I don't care how many tons of angel hair it can cook in five minutes or less. It's not allowed in the house.)

Or make your kids do their own laundry. I can't tell you how shocked I was when I got to college and found out there actually ARE moms in the world who do all their kids' laundry. WHAT?!!?

For cooking dinner and cleaning the kitchen, think of alternatives. Like I said above, paper plates. You're not a bad mom if you use paper plates. You may be a bad environmentalist, but that's another blogosphere. Make meals in advance. Casseroles, crock pot stuff, etc. Split the chores with someone else (you cook, I'll clean). Eat leftovers. Buy prepared stuff. I remember my mom used to go to Wendy's and get the $.99 side salads. Cheaper than making salad for dinner AND it comes in its own disposable tray!

The point is, when you have a SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely), you can think of many, many solutions to get there. When you're determined, you're invincible. Nothing can stop you because you have momentum! Just TRY to get in my way, and see what happens. I dare you.

Which reminds me. In IE, we do something called trystorming. Instead of brainstorming, which is thinking up pie-in-the-sky ideas from the comfort of your desk or conference room, we get down on the shop floor, make glue & paper mockups, and elimate everything that doesn't actually work in production. See, there's a trap up there in your conference room. What sounds fabulous when you're lazing back in your office chair may suck donkey balls in reality. So when you trystorm, you don't think "Hey, wouldn't it be great if?" You get out there, mock up your idea, and see if it works. If it doesn't, you can see exactly why. It gives you a new perspective. If it does work, leave it down there, give it a few weeks and it will be refined even further as people actually use it.

So if you tell your family, "We're eating on paper plates from now on," and they say that will never work, it sucks, my friends will think we're crazy, then just go to Costco, buy 5,000 paper plates, and see what happens. Vow to use all 5,000 before you give up on the idea. Change takes time. There's a fine line between buy-in and bully-in. Just remember, if you don't stick to your guns, no one else will.

What are some of the creative solutions you've come up with? Do you have a negative nancy in your life? Have you ever snuck out to Starbucks to get some alone time? Am I a green little optimist who's all washed up? Hit me!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Careful What You Wish For (Er, Set Goals For)

Maven Darcy Burke...Or, what to do when you, gasp, reach your goal(s).

You've used Erica's methods for setting up your goals. You're going to diligently monitor your progress and work harder than ever before. You've written a masterpiece and it's been vetted by CPs, contests, beta readers, etc. and you know you have a winner. Now what?

Mr. Burke told me an excellent story that perfectly illustrates the pitfalls of achieving your goals. Yes, there can be pitfalls...such as never doing anything on that project again. Mr. Burke plays guitar and has since we were in college. Over the years he has played in a few bands. They'd get together, plan a gig, and then practice a lot for that specific gig. Had lots of fun, put a lot of time into it, played a really fun show. Band over. They never saw past what they would do after the show.

Another good example is the movie The Full Monty. I love that movie (garden gnomes!), but I always wanted to know what happened after the show. Did they do another strip show? How'd the main character continue to make money to avoid being a deadbeat, albeit loving, dad? I'd like to think they became this famous UK male nude revue, but somehow I doubt those blokes planned past that big show.

So what do you do after you write the first draft? After you get an agent? After you, gasp, sell a book? After you celebrate (and you must celebrate), you get back on the goal wagon and set more. Maven Lacey wrote an excellent post on her blog that talked a bit about setting new goals when you achieve the ones you're working toward. She said:

"I recently heard someone theorize that a lot of people set the wrong long-term goals or forget to change their goals once they reach them. They do make goals, which is great, but between poor planning or stagnant execution, they forget to go for the follow-through.

Here’s how it works. He said our brains think up ways to get to our goals and then our brains stop thinking. So, for example, if my goal were: Write a Book, then when I’m done writing the book my brain would stop finding ways/time/excuses for me to write the book."

That is so, so true. This is why revisiting goals is so important. Make sure you are always on top of where you are, where you're going, and where you want to be. And remember that those things are bound to change as life happens, and that's okay. One of the goals I set in January was to revise and submit my first ms to agents and/or editors. I revised the hell out of the poor thing and, because I loved it so much, ultimately decided to set it free. I obviously didn't plan for it to be the start of a Magical Underbed Mulch Pile, but there it is. And you know, I even celebrated that achievement.

What goals have you achieved? How did you celebrate? What new goals did you set? How do you keep your goals current so that your brain is always working forward?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Don't Let Your Goals Grow Up to Be Obstacles

Maven Jacqueline BarbourMy original blog topic for this week's theme was going to be Goal-Setting for the Organizationally Challenged, a post I am eminently qualified to write since I am pretty much the classic absent-minded professor type. (I even, at one time in my life, expected to be a professor--of Classics, in case you're wondering--so the role has always seemed natural.)

Why did I change my mind about what to write about? Well, because this problem (goals becoming obstacles) came and hit me smack in the face this week.

Now, the first thing I have to say is that I agree 100% with all of Erica's goal-setting advice. But even if you follow that advice to the letter when you set your goals, what do you do when it becomes apparent that you can't achieve one or more of them? Do you adjust the goals to fit changing life circumstances (like a really nasty cold that threatens to turn into pneumonia :>) or do you let your inability to achieve the goal make you feel like a failure?

I'm afraid during the past week, I fell into the trap of the second. Possibly worse, I let my stubborn determination to achieve my goal suck all the joy out of writing (and, truthfully, pretty much everything else!). The goal had become an end itself and, well, that's just dumb! I mean, the goal is supposed to serve me, not the other way around.

And that's what I mean when I say you can't let your goals grow into obstacles. Always remember why the goal exists--to help you. Don't be afraid to adjust your goals in the face of evidence that the ones you have aren't doing their job.

In the spirit of following my own advice, I set myself a new goal yesterday: For the next month, I'm on a holiday. During my holiday, the only things I will do because I have to do them are work-related things and family-related things. Everything else, including writing, I must only do if I want to. I will write only if the words are burning a hole in my head, only if I must write to maintain my sanity. No more forcing myself to sit at the keyboard and write something I'm not feeling. It never comes out right that way, anyway!

YOUR TURN: Have you ever failed to meet a self-imposed goal? What did you do? If you modify your goals, do you feel like you're cheating? What was the most challenging goal you ever set for yourself that you did achieve?

P.S. Sorry I'm late this morning. My ISP had an outage that started around 4:30 yesterday afternoon and didn't get repaired until some time during the night!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Goals, and how to achieve them

Maven Erica Ridley

This week's Mavenland theme is GOALS. (Er, you have some, right?)

Goals can be either short-term or long-term. IMHO, it's extremely important to have both varieties.

Here's why goals are good:

* Goals give you something concrete to work toward
* Goals give you something concrete to measure progress against
* Goals give you a sense of accomplishment once you've reached them

Take for example that guy we all know who lives in his parent's basement (far past the age when such things are typical), either has no girlfriend or has a slacker/sleazy girlfriend, and who can't keep a "real" job for any length of time.

Why does he still live with mommy and daddy? Because they wash his socks and supply him with free groceries? Yeah, maybe. But more than that, because he has no clear goal to do otherwise.

It's not that it's his lifelong dream to move his girlfriend into his parents' basement and mooch off of them for eternity. It's that he doesn't really know what he wants, and so he does nothing.

Don't be that guy in the basement.

His short term goal might be beer and a cigarette. Good for him. But he needs a long-term goal. Something to work towards.

Go to college. Apply for jobs. (Where college=practicing your craft and job applications=query letters.)

In order to get somewhere meaningful, it's best to know where you're going. And a great starting off point is to select good goals.

How do you pick the goals you set? IMHO:

* Goals should be specific
* Goals should be quantifiable
* Goals should be realistic
* Goals should be attainable
* You should be accountable

Let's take these one by one. This is a workblog, so I want to see your answers in the comments!


"I want to be rich" is not specific. "I want to make a six figure annual salary (plus benefits) as a Chicago personal injury lawyer" is specific. We're defining what "rich" means, and in what manner we mean it.

Set specific goals.

What do you want? What end goal do you specifically, objectively desire? Get out a piece of paper and make a list. At a bare minimum, jot down a dozen goals, whether short term and/or long term.


How will you know when you reach your goal? By setting quantifiable parameters.

"I want to be successful" is not quantifiable. "I want to be a New York Times bestselling inspirational romance author" is quantifiable. Either you are a NYT bestseller or you're not. It's inarguable.

Set quantifiable goals.

Think back to your specific goals you brainstormed above. How will you know when you reach them? What will be that yard stick of success?


At the most basic level, realistic=possible. Stephanie Plum's goal of wanting to be an intergalactic princess, while entertaining, is hardly realistic. There's no point in setting a goal that literally cannot happen.

"I want to be more famous than God" is not a realistic goal. "I want to be the next J.K. Rowling" is also not a realistic goal. Only J.K. Rowling can be J.K. Rowling. "I want to be the top selling author of SciFi westerns" is closer. It's specific, and quantifiable. (Er, if you could get reliable publishing house sales data for all authors in your genre, that is. Which you can't. But that's another topic.) And it's possible--somebody is the top selling SciFi western author.

Set realistic goals.

Take another look at your specific, quantifiable goals. Cross off anything that isn't realistically possible. Don't set yourself up for disappointment!


As obvious as this category seems, you wouldn't believe the number of goals people have that simply are not within their power to bring about! If a goal is not attainable based wholly on your skills, talent, ability and willpower, then it must be stricken from the goal list and moved to the wish list.

I'd like to win the lottery. Who wouldn't? I can't win if I don't enter, but even if I spend 100% of my disposable income on lottery tickets from now until the day that I die, there's no guarantee I'll ever hit that magic number. Therefore, even if "Win the 25 million dollar Florida lottery jackpot" is specific (FL Lottery), quantifiable (either they send me a $25M check or they don't), and realistic (somebody wins that crap), it's not an attainable goal in the sense of "if I try hard enough, it's possible for me to achieve".

Being a consistent NYT bestselling author? Totally not within your control. SO many factors come into play for something like that. Advertising, publisher support, initial store purchases, sales at certain locations within a specific time frame, etc, etc, etc. There are plenty of great books that never make a list and there are plenty of mediocre books that do, much like there are plenty of great movies that don't even make it into the majority of public theaters and there are plenty of filmatic train wrecks that break box office records for opening weekend crowds.

Set attainable goals.

Look at your list. Is everything on there truly attainable with elbow grease and perseverance? If not, strike it off. Do not give yourself impossible tasks. That's hugely counter-productive.


Now that you have a list of specific, quantifiable, realistic, attainable goals ("I will send out 10 queries per month", not "I will get an agent by Christmas") think about what a realistic time frame is to achieve them, and stick to it.

"I will final in a writing contest" is not a good goal. Neither is "I will enter every writing contest known to man until I final" or "I will enter a writing contest I don't really have time to prepare for because I will make time by imbibing mass quantities of chocolate and caffeine, and discontinue sleeping or interacting with my family".

"I will enter my WIP into one reputable writing contest judged by targeted agents or editors every three months" is a specific, quantifiable, realistic, attainable goal. (Whether contests are right for you or not is a different thing--see Diana's recent post and Anne-Marie's recent post for more on that.)

In order to achieve a goal, you must work toward it! Goals do not achieve themselves.

Obvious, right? But then why do so many people put "Lose 20 pounds" on their list of New Year's resolutions, and then wonder why they stay pleasantly plump even though they're not dieting or exercising or otherwise working to attain that goal?

The same is true for writing.

Let's say your goal is "Finish WIP". Well, what does that mean? Maybe it means "Write 100,000 first draft words for current paranormal robot project." Or maybe it means "Do a complete rewrite of the 90k Victorian mystery moldering under the bed." And so on. Specific, quantifiable, realistic, attainable.

And in order to be accountable, it must happen within some period of time. Otherwise, you may spend the next decade finishing your WIP!

The danger, of course, is to set an unrealistic--although theoretically possible--time frame.

"I will write 100k words in three months" is of course possible, but is it plausible for you?

"I will send off my requested full/partial within three weeks" may be possible, but is it plausible--or even advisable--for you?

"I will query five agents per week" is certainly possible, but if there aren't (52x5=) 260 strong, reputable agents that match your personality and your project, then isn't it a ridiculous goal for you?

If you're curious about my goals, how they've changed over time, and how they stack up to these criteria, you might be interested in today's Goal post (ha! goal post!) over on my blog where I give myself a reality check, hold myself accountable to my writerly New Year's resolutions, and publicly announce my updated goals.

So. Hopefully at this point you're looking at a much altered, scribbled and caroted list that now contains specific, quantifiable, realistic, attainable goals for which you've given yourself an ideal-world deadline but also a reasonable, cushioned time frame within which to achieve them.

YOUR TURN: I'd love your thoughts on goal setting, and whether you agree/disagree with the position I put forth here. Do you have any additional tips to share? If you feel comfortable doing so, please share at least one of your specific, quantifiable, realistic, attainable goals, and the reasonable time frame you've decided on to hold yourself accountable.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Contests: Giving & Receiving Criticism

Guest Maven In keeping with this week's theme on criticism, the Manuscript Mavens are pleased to announce Guest Maven Anne-Marie Carroll who will be blogging about criticism as it pertains to all aspects of writing contests.

Hello, contest divas, and all of you who want to be or will soon become one. A dazzling tiara is your reward, with publication hopefully soon to follow.

Today I'm going to talk to you about the contest world, so I hope I don't wear you out with my rambling.

To fill you in on my contest history, I've worn all contest hats. Contest chair, judge, and contestant with numerous finals, which include The Maggie, The Laurie, and The Molly.

The first thing I'd like to talk to you about is entering a contest, and what to expect from it. A detailed rulebook isn't included, but I've highlighted what I believe to be some definite do's and don'ts in entering a chapter contest.

First, ask yourself why you're entering. Is it solely to final or for feedback as well? Or is it to hear the little canary sing only praise for your talents as a storyteller. If it's the latter, your first couple of contests may come as a shock to you. Especially if you've only let family and friends read your story, or you didn't at least consider sound advice from reputable critters on characterization, plot and conflict, stilted dialogue, style and pacing.

Well, here goes the rambling on some do's and don'ts of entering a contest.


* Read and follow all contest rules and instructions.

* Make sure you formatted your entry correctly and the font you used is what the contest specified.

* Check for spelling and grammatical errors. Don't laugh at this one. I've seen some entries...I won't say any more.

* Make sure the goal, motivation, and conflict is evident in your entry. If you can, try to bring your conflict out in the first couple of paragraphs---if you can.

* Limit backstory. Only use what is absolutely necessary, because backstory can slow the pace.

* Check out a sample contest score sheet and judge yourself to see whether you've covered everything that will be judged in your entry.

* Show action instead of telling it.

* A search and find on overused words, and passive and telling words. The words I check for are that, was, be, feel, felt, wonder, smell, hear, and see, to name a few.

* End your entry on a hook. This is the one time it's okay to piss off your judges because they don't have any more pages to turn.

* Send thank you notes to your judges, whether you agree with their comments or not. Your judges have taken valuable time away from their own writing to judge your entry.


* Throw the rules away before you've read them - word for word.

* Leave your goal, motivation, and conflict for the judges to guess.

* Have pages and pages of backstory. You want your judges to drool over your entry, not sleep on it.

* Ignore some aspects of the score sheets and think it won't be noticed. Chances are, your judge has judged several contests in the past and knows the ground rules.

* End your entry in the middle of a sentence or scene.

* Try clever ways to get more of your entry judged by fiddling with the font, margins or by formatting part of another chapter into your entry that doesn't end on a satisfying hook.

As a contest chair, I noticed that many authors who have a great voice didn't final because they failed other criteria (for lack of a better word) in their contest entry.


It is the judges' job to comment on any aspects of your entry where they marked down, not to give a detailed crit unless they want to. It's not, or shouldn't be, expected.

A judge should never be too harsh or include personal comments, i.e., market information, how they hate the polka dots your heroine is wearing, etc. Don't even ask me about comments on religion or politics. I'm cringing, and believe me I don't need help in getting wrinkles. At my age, I have that one covered all by myself, my kids, my grandkids, and let's not forget my darlin' supporter, my husband.

If two judges offer you similar feedback, you may want to consider revisiting and potentially revising. Although, please don't revise word for word what a judge recommends. This is your baby. You burp it the way you feel best doing it.

Okay, I'm off my soap box now. I hope that at least one of my tips help you into becoming a contest diva, like our own little Erica who was a triple finalist in the TARA contest recently. Way to go, Erica. Fingers crossed for a win.

YOUR TURN: Please share your contest experiences with us! Have you been an entrant? A judge? A category coordinator? In charge of the whole shebang? We'd love to hear the ups and downs, and any tips to get the most out of giving and receiving contest feedback.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Who's to Blame? Surviving Rejection When it Really Matters

Maven Lacey Kaye I'm done with my book. I love it and fully believe there is someone out there who will love it, too. The rest of it should be easy, right?

  1. Pore through my RWRs, websites, friends' experiences, favorite author acknowledgements, etc and find agents to submit to
  2. Collect them into a spreadsheet for tracking purposes
  3. Type up personalized, targeted query letters to my top agents
  4. Assemble the query letters into envelopes or emails
  5. Send them out
  6. Wait for worldwide fame to find me

Ok, maybe not precisely easy.

Certainly, sending my little manuscript into the big, bad world is a huge deal, especially to me. (As opposed to you, who may not care if I actually get off my couch this weekend and do some work.) But what happens after that?

I know, I know. I work on something else. *But, guys...* What if the agents hate my stuff? What if I start getting rejection letters that say things like, "Dear Author, You will never be published this side of the Apocalypse. Please burn all your existing manuscripts and throw yourself on the knife Erica was talking about Monday."

Won't it ruin my mojo?

The short answer is yes, of course it will sting. I don't wake up every morning hoping today's the day I'll be rejected. There's that cute little salesman saying that "Every rejection is one step closer to a sale," but... psh! Whatever!

The long answer is that I shouldn't let it get me down. A rejection, whether it's for a query or a partial or, God forbid, the full manuscript, is just one person's opinion. Each of us has to find the one or three people who 'get' what we're doing, and that's not usually going to happen right out of the gate. B.E. Sanderson once compared finding an agent to dating. Well, I will compare the entire writing process to dating.

It's a wonderful, magical world of Suck.

You meet a guy. He seems into you. You're feeling into him. He starts rambling on about all the cool things going on this weekend. You smile and say, "Wow, that sounds fun." He seems to take that as encouragement to talk about more fun things. (We're to the part where the agent requests the full manuscript, if you can't keep up ;-) You go, "Definitely invite me to things like that. Sounds like a good time." He smiles a heart-stopping, hazel-eyed smile and talks about more fun things. (This is the part where the agent starts writing you glowing emails at every chapter break but has yet to offer representation.)

So then you walk away, feeling pretty sure that even if he's busy this weekend, next weekend he'll invite you out for a rousing good time. But when you see him again on Wednesday, he just starts talking about the fun stuff going on this weekend. You begin to wonder if he thinks you're too stupid to find fun things to do yourself, or if he reads the Entertainment section of the paper in lieu of Sports. Maybe the only small talk he has is about Things I'm Not Going to Invite You To Do, But Boy, Don't They Sure Sound Fun?

(I have no idea where this part fits into my analogy.)

SO THEN you finally hand him your number and say "Call me if you actually want to do one of those things." (This is when the agent finishes your manuscript, sighs contentedly, and writes you an email that says, "Hey, Lacey, now THAT'S a story!")

Only, he never calls. (She never emails you again.) Either way, you feel unwanted, unloved, and like you were this close but now you have to begin all over again, starting with finding another agent just as hot.

You know what I mean.

And even if you do make that connection, sell your manuscript and become a NYT Bestselling Author, there's nothing to say you and your agent won't get divorced 15 years down the road. Nothing--nothing--in this world is guaranteed. We have to accept things won't always go our way. And we have to move on.

So what's your mode of getting up and on with it? Chocolate? 20-minute pity party/rant fest? Call up your girlfriends and talk about what an indecisive dork he is? Wonder if it's something you did, something you could do better, and have a very, very hard time NOT running off to fix "yourself" before you start shopping again?

Do you accept the "It's not me; it's him!" thing or do you start rationalizing? Maybe the agent has too many clients (the guy has a girlfriend). Maybe the agent is checking around with her peers to find someone who isn't as busy or loves your genre more than she does (maybe he's indecisive). Maybe the agent hasn't had time to write you back (he's busy). Maybe the agent is afraid to find out you already have 5 other agents vying for your attention (he's shy). Maybe the agent is afraid they can't shop what you have (maybe he's gay). Maybe the agent totally doesn't get you at all (translation: nothing short of throwing yourself naked into his arms is going to clue this guy into the fact that you're into him).

Me, bitter? Nah :-)

Manuscript Mavens

Manuscript Mavens