Friday, May 30, 2008

Sometimes the Writer's Life is Like an Episode of Lost…

Guest Maven Amie StuartPlease welcome today's Guest Maven, Amie Stuart.

Complete with the flash-forwards!

Thanks so much to the Mavens for inviting me! I’m celebrating the release of NAILED this week. NAILED is the single-title erotic romance I turned in January of 2007 to fulfill my first book contract. Eighteen months later, I’m hard at work on SCREWED (the follow-up) on the cusp of finishing up my second contract. Hard as it is to believe, NAILED was two books ago and SCREWED is slated for a Spring 2009 release--there’s no telling what pies I’ll have my little fingers in come nine months from now, which goes to the point of my post.

In this business, when so much of what we do may not see the light of day for months or even years, it is difficult to live in the moment. You find yourself distracted and pulled fifty different ways by contracts and negotiations and trying to write new projects to sell.

I distinctly remember coming back from RWA last year. I’d finished up that first contract, and parted ways with my second agent. Despite the fact I was HORRIBLY sick, I was TERRIFIED I wouldn’t get another contract offer, let alone find another agent! At the encouragement of a friend, I found myself querying new agents and gently nudging my editor weekly about my option book between naps and doctor visits. Lo and Behold, Audrey came through, and I did get another contract. I was so relieved. Except now, I was sick AND under deadline.

I learned a very important lesson, though and as I sit here, near the end of the second book of my contract…I’m getting ready to say something that might get me hit or burned at the stake or stoned. I’m getting ready to say something that just nine short months ago, I would have never believed I’d say.

I’m looking forward to NOT being under contract.


Now, I know there are probably some unpublished authors out there wondering what I’m smoking. I can assure you that I’m perfectly sane. You know all those folks who say that selling to New York is simply trading off one set of worries/issues/problems for another? They’re right. And believe me, I’m not complaining. I know just how lucky I am, and there are writers who would do some mad voodoo to trade places with me, but I’m ready to get off the merry-go-round for a while and catch my breath—-it’s been a whirlwind two years filled with writing, struggles, growth and a search for some balance in my life.

One thing I have learned: Variety really is the spice of life. In the interest of my writer’s sanity, I can’t keep writing the same type of books over and over. To that end, I have a southern fiction proposal I want to polish for my agent. I have a futuristic I want to finish writing because my agent is currently shopping it. I have a contemporary western series I want to go back and rework and see if I can sell to New York, and I want to write some more shorts for Cobblestone’s Wicked line. All things I can’t do when I’m under contract (and, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m not a fast writer: I have a full-time dayjob and I’m a single mom with two kids, three cats, a puppy, and a house).

But before I take that much-anticipated break, I have a book to finish.

The first three chapters of NAILED are here. And just for fun, I’ll share a snippet from my current work in progress, since it’s the follow-up to NAILED.

“You ran off my bodyguard.” Tish propped her hands on her hips, his wig dangling from her fingers.

“Sorry?” he offered up lamely. He wanted the wig and wanted away from her.

“ ass! You’re going to take his place.”


She gave him a deadpan look that made his insides shrivel. “Or I call my dad.”

“I have to—“

She snatched her cell phone off the bed and wiggled it at him, a sly grin on her face.

“You’re shitting me.” His shoulders slumped. She had him. She knew it and so did he.

“Never would I shit you,” she drawled. And she looked serious too.

He had to give it one last try. “I really need—“

“I’ll do it. I bet Daddy will be thrilled to know you’re still after Mark.”

Not near as thrilled as John’s dad. The only reason Mark was still alive was because Tish’s brother, Jim, had stepped in and saved his sorry ass before John could finish the job.

“Aren’t you a little old for a bodyguard?”

“No!” Her brows drew together slightly as she morphed from indignant to concerned in seconds. “How old do I look?”

“Old...enough.” Please drop it, please God, let her drop it.

“How old?”

“Old...e-enough.” He nodded for good measure. Drop it, Tish. Drop it now.

“Specifically...” One of her pretty little eyebrows arched.

Shit. “Twenty...” six, seven, and eight clicked off in his head but, “--Thirty,” came out of his mouth.

She gasped, her upper lip curling in horror.

“-ish,” he added hopefully. “Thirty-ish.”

“I’m twenty-seven, and in case you didn’t get the memo, my father’s a powerful man.”

“I know who your father is.” John nodded wondering what the point was.

“He has enemies.”

“I can imagine.”

“Which is why you are going to take Mark’s place. Uh uh--” She waggled a finger at him before he could tell her no. “I don’t go anywhere without a bodyguard. And my best friend is getting married, so for the next four days you will be my bodyguard. Comprende?”

“Com—“ he nodded glumly, “-yeah. Just—“


“Nothing.” Don’t ask me if your ass looks fat because I can’t lie. Not that Tish’s ass looked fat. She actually had a really nice heart-shaped ass that made him think things that could get him killed, but the last girl he’d shared his little “No Lying” problem with had tortured him with questions about her ass, her clothes, her friends, her job, anything she could think of...then dumped him when the fun had worn off.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” She held his wig out to him, letting it dangle from her fingertips. “Go get your stuff.”

He snatched the wig from her hands, turning and using the mirror to, once again, get it on straight. “There’s no reason—“

“There’s every reason. And since you ran my escort off, you just became my boyfriend.”

“What?” he shouted.

“You heard me.” She settled her hands on her hips again. “By the way, what’s your name?”

Fucked? “John...John Collier.”

YOUR TURN:Now, I’m going to open up the floor to questions. Ask me anything. But I’m also going to ask you a few…if you’ve sold, how has your life changed? If you haven’t sold to New York, what do you think will change, what do you look forward to?

Contest Winner and Guest Maven

Maven Jackie BarbosaGood morning, Mavenland. We're running a little late here, but never fear, the party with MaveFave and Kensington author Amie Stuart will get started presently.

In the meantime, the winner of a free copy of Wickedly Ever After is Shelli Stevens (who in addition to being preseident of GSRWA and an all-around great gal just sold to Kensington herself--so double congrats to Shelli!).

Several of you noticed that the cart went down at Cobblestone Press on the day of my release, preventing you from buying. Apparently, the vendor from whom Cobblestone contracts the service had a problem with one of their servers, but it's fixed now. So if you didn't win and you're still hungry, now's the time go buy!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gender Bending

Maven Lacey KayeThis week, I got a rejection letter that was very nearly a perfect summation of every rejection I've ever received. Bummer, yes. HUGE bummer. But never one to focus on the roiling disappointment of a bruised sky when the weatherman predicted sunny all week, I dug out my telescope and located my silver lining through the rain. A thin lining, perhaps, but definitely something to celebrate.

Nowhere in the 1-page (typed, single spaced) Rejection Letter to Eat All Other Rejections did she mention my hero was too weak to take on my heroine. WOOO HOOOO! Party time! What a nice hurdle to have finally overcome. I know exactly who to thank for that, too, and I'm sure the long-time MaveFave I'm referring to knows who she is, too.

What I loved about her advice and what made it so easy to take is that she "got" my concept and worked with it, instead of telling me (as so many others have done) that I needed to can my beta hero and go with something a little more saleable. Double bonus: not only did she come up with a solution, but she came up with a mindset that I, as the writer, could easily slip into while working on said revision. She said, "Whenever X happens, he needs to think Y. And then he needs to act on it."

Action. Right.

So thanks, Steathly Ninja MaveFave, and thanks to the Mavens for holding my hand through the Revision Letter to End Every Writer's Dreams.

Now, are you all ready for a little Amie Stuart? MaveFave Amie will be guest blogging tomorrow, so wear your Super Friendly hat and come prepared to comment!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wanted: Book Title

Maven Darcy BurkeI’ve mentioned a few times over the last several weeks that my next book is in need of a title. I’ve currently dubbed it The Tale of Gideon. I clearly need help. Let me tell you about the book and then you can post your suggestions (please, please have suggestions!) in the comments. The person who submits my favorite title (not necessarily the one I’ll pick, mind you) will receive the fabulous Sex and the Immortal Bad Boy, signed by my pal Stephanie Rowe.

Here’s the most current draft of the story blurb:

Cate Bowen would rather dirty her hands, literally, than consider marriage or any other feminine trade. Defining herself as an archaeological scholar is more than her life’s dream, it’s her absolute purpose. When Lord Gideon Bradshaw controls the means with which she can achieve what she desires, she’s forced to accept him as her partner. He doesn’t know the first thing about science or following the rules, and his arrogance may prove to be her downfall, both professionally and personally.

Lord Gideon Bradshaw ought to be the most envied man in England. With wealth, social standing, and a reputation any buck would kill for, why is his life an empty pit? A rundown Welsh estate and an independent termagant who would rather dig for lost treasure than shop on Bond Street shouldn’t entice him. But the temptation of something—and someone—to call his own is more than he can resist.

I’m still working on it, but hopefully this gives you the flavor of the book. This is book two (the Spare) in a trilogy about three siblings raised with silver spoons in their mouths who court scandal. In the first book, Her Wicked Ways, the youngest sibling (the Deb), Lady Miranda, flaunted Society’s dictates and found herself exiled to the country where she became entangled with a highwayman and an impoverished altruist. Book three is about the eldest sibling (the Heir), the Earl of Morley whose icy fa├žade masks a violent interior that threatens to ruin their family forever. Fun stuff, right?

The Tale of Gideon is essentially Moonlighting meets Secrets of the Dead (yeah, that’s my high concept, so hands off! *g). If you aren’t familiar with Moonlighting, you should maybe not be reading this blog (kidding). In all seriousness, it’s one of the great romantic comedies (TV show) of all time. Now lest you think TTOG is a comedy, look at part two: Secrets of the Dead, a great documentary program on PBS about, well, the dead. Okay, this is what their website says:

Part detective story, part true-life drama, SECRETS OF THE DEAD unearths evidence from around the world, challenging prevailing ideas and throwing fresh light on unexplained events. Using the most up-to-date science in the laboratory and in the field, scientists and researchers examine the missing pieces of each puzzle, completing the picture of what had been merely an assemblage of suppositions.

Keep in mind that in TTOG, “up-to-date” is 1817!

Your turn! Hit me with some great titles!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Refilling the well, redux

Maven Carrie Ryan I feel like I'm Erica's biggest fan these days, but her posts get me thinking :) Yesterday she posted about Refilling the Well and specifically about having taken time off from writing (and vowing to get back to it). It made me think about my own writing life.

I agree with what Erica says, that sometimes you have to take time off to refill the well. I've done that many times and I know that it's worked. I also think that sometimes it's really easy for us writers to be hard on ourselves. Many of us have other full time jobs, plenty of other commitments, and, you know, a life to live. I find time to write the words I need to because it's a priority of mine (and because I have a deadline) but I have also learned to forgive myself when I don't make it.

For example, I had a business retreat in Charleston, SC last week the result of which is that I had a spa appointment midday Thursday and the rest of the day off. My plan for weeks had been to pull out my computer and spend the afternoon relaxed and writing. I was practically salivating at the opportunity -- I could write Thursday-Monday -- think of the progress I could make!!

But after I walked back to my room after the spa, I wasn't sure I was ready to write. So I wandered down to the bookstore (in the hotel - bliss!) and picked up Valiant by Holly Black, a book that so many friends have recommended to me. And then I wandered down the street and came across one of my favorite restaurants that I'd forgotten about. It was middle of the afternoon and they were slow so I snagged a little table outside in the garden. I had a beer, read and people-watched, had amazing She Crab Soup and Shrimp & Grits. Yum!

And when I got back to the hotel, I still didn't write! I threw open the doors to the balcony and read and napped until it was time to go to dinner. All that time I'd set aside for writing, gone. But it was an amazing day, so relaxing and fulfilling. I think, in the end, it was just what I needed. To just be in the world and not pushing. It was a time to refill the well.

So yeah, I think it's important to make writing a priority. But I also think there are times when other things have to be a priority -- the day job, the family, the pets, plain old life: yourself. I think the problem is when you know you're using other things as an excuse not to write. When you have time to write but you just don't, over and over again. That's when it's time to re-examine, maybe re-prioritize and re-commit.

But sometimes, you have to let the writing go. And it's important to really enjoy those times, to recognize them and live in them, rather than always feeling guilty.

So what do y'all think? When was the last time you put writing first and felt really good about it? When was the last time you didn't put writing first and felt really good about it? How do you juggle it all?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Release Day!

That's right! Wickedly Ever After hits the shelves (figuratively, at least) at Cobblestone Press today. Exciting, yes?

If you click on over and it's not there yet, try again later. The new releases usually get posted before noon Eastern on Fridays, but sometimes, it takes a little longer! For an excerpt, hop on over to the Cobblestone Author's blog.

And if you're a gambling man or woman, I will be giving away one copy of the book to one lucky person who posts a comment either here or over at my blog under the cross-posted version of this post. I'm also giving away two query critiques and a signed copy of Brenda Novak's Dead Giveaway here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Maven Lacey KayeWe all read blogs, talk with fellow writers, devour books on craft, and listen to RWA conference lectures over and over -- to name a few of the more obvious resources at our disposal. What I'm wondering is, how often does any of that affect our technique? Do we read others' how-tos and test out the ones that appeal to us, or do we mire ourselves in "I could never do it that way" and "that would make me crazy"?

(Un)specifically, my family recently had a huge email thread on exercise going. Exercise is one of those things we all know (and have always known) we should do, but most of us don't do it. I bet there are as many ways to implement exercise into one's regimen as there are people in the world. My brother pointed out that many of us benchmark what other people are doing and try to implement that routine with disastrous results. He hypothesized that it can be more self-defeating to try to do it someone else's way than to not do it at all. It's a matter of ownership. As long as I'm not trying to do it your way, I'm doing it my way (which may be not at all). But as soon as I try to do it your way, I'm inherently not doing it my way, and my brain (often) immediately starts fighting back.

He suggested it might be more productive to think about and truly understand your personal goal and your reasons for wanting to reach it than to ask around and find out what other people are targeting and how they are working to reach it.

Now, you may be thinking that this post is, in fact, yet another example of how someone does something in a way that doesn't feel natural to you...just sit back and enjoy the irony :-) I happened to think his opinion was an interesting take on self-improvement. Do you copy the NYT author who writes 4 pages a day, or do you seek out your own internal rhythm and work with it?

One last thing before I head off -- and this is totally unrelated, so bear with me, but it was a huge epiphany for me and I've been dying to post it forever: In the last month or so I realized something about losing weight. I'm serious here...even though it's simple math, the logic escaped me.

They say you need to burn 500 calories a day to lose a pound a week. That has always made losing 20 pounds seem insurmountable to me. But then I realized what was wrong in my thinking. You don't burn 500 calories a day this week and 1000 calories a day next week, i.e. keep off the 500 you lost last week plus take off another 500 calories this week. You just trend at -500 calories and the old calories never come back. Obvious, right? But if it were truly obvious, people might not have so much trouble keeping the lost weight off. In other words, you don't have to necessarily work harder to lose more weight. You just have to have patience...lots of it.

/End remedial anatomy lesson

YOUR TURN: Which do you prefer? Doing things your way or benchmarking others? A little of both? Do you like to have a starting place then adapt it to your personal groove? Am I the only one who ever made losing weight more complicated than it has to be?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

From Point A to Point B

Maven Darcy BurkeI received what I think is an awesome comment from a CP yesterday. She said there was no sagging middle in Her Wicked Ways. And she said it in reference to the character arc I'm building for the heroine. This made me all warm and fuzzy inside. It also made me aware that I'd never stumbled through sagging middle "problems" when drafting HWW. I had a lot of these problems writing Glorious and I wonder why I had them with one book and not the other.

Any MaveFaves want to shout out the probable (I think) answer? Storyboarding! Once again, storyboarding has helped me in ways I didn't imagine. It's not so much that it prevented a sagging middle, it's that it helped me build a character arc. Now, I didn't get it perfect on the first draft. I'm revising/polishing right now and plan to go through chapter by chapter and make sure I'm nailing both the h/h arcs. But having turning points for the characters and the various storylines is a huge help in establishing - and sticking to - that arc.

We all know middles are the meat of the story. And I think arcs are maybe the meat of our characters. Showing their growth through action, introspection, and dialogue (yep, there's AID again) is what gets us from Point A to Point B or from "Once upon a time" to "The End." At least, it seemed to work for Her Wicked Ways. Ask me again after I draft The Tale of Gideon (yikes, that really needs a better working title).

What do you do to create and build on your character arcs? How do you keep them '"true" throughout the book? What's your secret to sagging middles (if you have one)?

Monday, May 19, 2008

How do you define success, redux.

Maven Carrie Ryan Last week, Maven Erica had a fantastic post asking the question, "How do you define success?" The gist of the post was that we can't and shouldn't define our own success by anyone else's. This really got me thinking and while I'm not sure I've come to any conclusions or have any grand statements on the matter, I thought I'd share :)

One of the things that's difficult about writing is that there's always a goal out there in the distance, always another rung on the ladder or another bar to hurtle over. Suddenly it's not just "write the book" it's "write the book, revise the book, research agents, query, get requests, get representation, sell, sell for more, get tours, make lists, sell again, sell more books..." Every time you reach one milestone, another appears in the distance and rarely do we stop and say "great job on climbing that hurdle" and instead we take off full speed to the next.

I think it can be too easy to fail to recognize your own accomplishments in this business. I think it's too easy to think "when I get an agent, then I'll know I've succeeded" and then once you get the agent shift that goal to "when I sell, then I'll know I've succeeded" without recognizing the success you've already had. This is one reason I feel it's so important to find that feeling of success within yourself rather than needing outside validation. That's why ultimately you have to write for yourself and your own love of it rather than to reach these external milestones.

Another issue with defining success in writing is that everyone succeeds in such different ways. In most other professions there's a defined-ish path to success. For example, being a lawyer my path is laid out: I toil as an associate for however many years billing X number of hours and collecting Y% of my hours billed and then I'll make income partner whereupon I'll work however many more years building a suitable book of business until I make equity partner. I can look at those around me who have succeeded and copy their paths and there's a good chance that I can follow in their footsteps.

There's no way to do this in writing. You can take 10 different highly successful authors and trace the steps they took to get to where they are and even if you could copy those steps, there's no guarantee you'd end up in the same spot. Just because Author A becomes a NYT bestseller after being lead title from B House doesn't mean that you're guaranteed to become a NYT bestseller if only you can be lead title from B House the next year.

I think that's why success has to be a deeply personal question for everyone. I love to look at other author successes as motivation. I love hearing about the success and reading about how the author got there (especially because there are so many paths). But in the end, I think it does come back to enjoying what you do and being happy with where you are.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Road Not Taken

Maven Jackie BarbosaEarlier this week, I got a call that gave me a moment's pause, wondering if I'd made a poor career decision last summer. You see, it was an editor calling to offer me a contract for Carnally Ever After, which I'd long-since contracted to Cobblestone Press. I submitted the story to said publisher back in April of 2007 (ed: not 2006; I'm chronologically-challenged!), and when I didn't hear one way or the other for a few months, I got antsy and submitted it to Cobblestone, never dreaming I'd get a contract offer from them within hours of submission. I figured I had plenty of time to wait for BOTH publishers to get back to me. When I hadn't heard anything from the other publisher after a full six months had elapsed, I figured the rejection dropped into my Spam folder and I'd failed to rescue it.

Anyway, my initial response to this call was to want to kick myself in the head. The publisher in question is a "big name" publisher, and there's no doubt I could have earned more money on the story if I'd contracted with them. Why, oh why, didn't I wait longer? Have more patience?

And then I kicked myself again because, duh, if I hadn't contracted that story with Cobblestone, I'd never have bothered to write the sequel. I'd never have met Deanna Lee and Emma Petersen and Amie Stuart, all of whom were instrumental in my decision to submit that sequel to Kensington Books.

So, as it turns out, what was objectively a "wrong" decision (to go with a lesser-known, smaller publisher without waiting to hear from the larger one) was actually the right one. I couldn't have known any of this back in June, though, and none of these possibilities factored into my decision. I simply decided that I'd found a reputable publisher who loved my story, and I was willing to forego the chance of hooking the "bigger fish" when I already had a solid bite on my line.

Wow, am I glad I did! If I had waited, there's no telling what would have happened, of course. It's possible I'd have written something instead of Wickedly Ever After that would have hooked an agent or editor. Or not. It's impossible to know.

As writers, I think we angst a lot over our decisions. Do I write this story or that one? Should I submit to this agent or that one? Should I sign with this agent or not? And so on.

But I think maybe we worry too much. Even if you make the "wrong" decision, chances are good it'll be a learning experience. It will probably lead you places you'd never have tried to go otherwise. And that, in the long run, it will contribute to your success in ways you can't even dream of when you make your choice.

YOUR TURN: What was the hardest career decision you ever had to make? Did you make the "right" one or the "wrong" one? Or are you still trying to figure that out?

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Maven Lacey KayeOver the weekend, I cut 35 pages out of the first 87 pages of my novel. I don't miss them. It's not news to any of us for me to say time creates distance and distance makes us more objective, but wow...I've never seen it with such clarity before.

I put this book down half a year ago, maybe longer. Big.Difference. Yesterday's post made it really clear to me how different my writing is now. I reread my sentences three times before I could do it without cracking up. WHAT was I thinking?

I found tons -- tons -- of extra words. Not news. Beta readers and contest judges have been telling me that for years. Why couldn't I see them?

I wish I had something hugely helpful to post, but instead, per Maven Carrie's post this week, I will have to satisfy myself with being She Whom Others Commiserate With. Next time someone tells you "too much introspection" or "do you think you could say that in any more words??", you'll think of me.

The good news is, it's not a permanent disease. YOU CAN FIX YOUR WRITING! Just prescribe yourself some time off and maybe a glass of wine. And don't forget the surgical tools...chances are, when you look at your novel again in the future, there will be a lesion or two that has to come out.

YOUR TURN: Share a paragraph you're really proud of (or something from a book you read that blew you away). Does it meet Maven Darcy's AID balance: Action, Introspection, Dialogue? Deb Dixon's GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict? Cherry Adair's WTFITPOTS?: What the %&*# is the point of this scene?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tag, I'm It!

Maven Darcy BurkeI tagged myself over at Diana Peterfreund's blog. Here's the deal:

1. Pick up the nearest book.

2. Open to page 123.

3. Find the fifth sentence.

4. Post the next three sentences.

5. Tag five no people and post a comment to the person who tagged you once you've posted your three sentences.

The nearest book is actually Diana's Secret Society Girl, which I've been meaning to pick up for ages. Picked it up at Target Sunday, started reading it today, irritated I have to write this instead of read it! Back to the task at hand...

In the interest of sharing (see Maven Carrie's post yesterday) - and because I haven't gotten to page 123 of SSG yet - I'm going to page 123 of Glorious:

She would make it up to Wroxton by being the best wife in all of England. Scotland too. And she would ensure Ivy had her Perfect Gentleman, whatever the cost.

Okay, that was fun. Here's Her Wicked Ways:

He glanced down at his clothes. The highwayman couldn’t compromise her. Montgomery Foxcroft had to do it.

Your turn! Share your stuff, whatever you're reading, something you want to read, whatever - it's up to you!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

How much do you share?

Maven Carrie Ryan A writing friend recently asked what my second book was about. Good question. Right now it's a companion book to The Forest of Hands and Teeth, ostensibly it's a sequel but we'll still see if that label fits once it's finished and turned in (incidentally, writing under contract does feel a lot like school, just with longer deadlines before you turn in your homework). As I pondered what more I could say about the book I started to wonder how much people really share about what they're writing.

Early on, when the idea for FHT came to me, I didn't say much about it on my blog. Maybe I didn't want to jinx it, maybe I was following what other writers were doing, but not talking about what I was writing suddenly became my habit. For my previous projects (pre FHT) I had word meters up (which I then protested) and talked at least minimally about what I was writing. And then, at the other end of the spectrum you have authors who have daily updates not only about word count, but also about plot.

On the one hand, I'm a writer and I blog about writing. It seems silly not to talk about what I'm actually working on at any given moment. On the other hand, I don't want to give too much information because I'm very anti-spoiler.

Plus, there's another element at play. It's hard to know how much I'm "supposed" to talk about. Not that there's a blog mafia out there watching my every word, but you start to get advice that maybe you shouldn't complain about writing, maybe you shouldn't talk about the struggles or put up a word count meter that will not only show the added words, but also the deleted words.

So that's the question I ask y'all. As blog readers, how much information do you want? What do you like to read about? As blog writers (or any kind of writer) how much do you share or think you should share?

Friday, May 9, 2008

To Contest or Not to Contest

Maven Jackie BarbosaBeverley Kendall, MaveFave and Avon FanLitter, contacted me via IM a couple of weeks ago with the exciting news that she'd finaled in her first RWA chapter contest for unpublished writers. I congratulated her and said I bet it was the beginning of a trend. Well, color me clairvoyant, but within a week or so, she had finaled in two more, and one of those was a double-final. She missed finaling in a third contest by ONE position.

As we were squealing with delight over this surfeit of good news, we started talking a little bit about the overall value of such contests and when/if writers should enter them. One of the things we've both noticed is that the same authors and works tend to reach the final round over and over again. It seems that once a writer reaches a certain level of skill and polish, she (or he) can pretty much count on reaching the finals in many (though by no means all) of the contests she enters. (All bets are off, of course, for those who write stories that are outside the box. Contest judges tend to be traditional/conservative, so the odds of running into one or more judges who just don't get your story are pretty high.)

As a consequence of this observation, we started wondering what motivated authors to continue entering the same manuscript in contests over and over again, especially when the pool of editors and agents reading in the final round is relatively small. Once a manuscript has reached the finals a certain number of times, the odds diminish that it will reach an editor or agent who hasn't already seen it before. And if the final round judge is one who's seen the manuscript before, but hasn't requested it, the chances the entrant will get a request this time can't be great.

Now, I can't claim any particular restraint when it comes to entering contests. I don't have an accurate count handy, but it's certainly in the neighborhood of a dozen over an 18-month period, and more than half of those were with the same manuscript. That said, I was pretty particular in that I didn't enter contests with the same final round judge more than once, and each time I entered the same manuscript, it was after I'd made some pretty significant changes that I wanted to "test-run."

Still, at this point, I didn't think there was anything that could induce me to enter another contest, at least not one for an unpublished manuscript. I just figured since I now have an agent, it's my job to write the books and hers to get them in front of the right people.

But as luck would have it, I met with my agent this week, and we discussed a story that's been taking up large amounts of real estate in my brain lately. The idea behind it is just far out enough that, even though everyone I've shared it with thinks it's fantastically creative and cool, there is some question of marketability. Kevan shared that concern and suggested writing it to the proposal stage, at which point, we'd float it out to a few editors to see what feedback we got and decide where to go from there.

That seemed like a great idea, but then it occurred to me that maybe I could get some of that feedback we were hoping for from the first round of editors by entering the manuscript in a contest. If the manuscript didn't make it to the final round, we'd have some feedback that might help us determine where to tweak to its marketability, and if I did make it to the finals with an editor we'd have targeted otherwise, we could get that editor's feedback without "blowing our wad," so to speak.

As luck would have it, I found a contest I'm eligible to enter with a due date next week with a final round editor we'd love to get the manuscript in front of. So, it looks like I will be going back on the contest circuit again, much to my chagrin.

All of this made me think harder than ever about what *I* think are valid versus invalid reasons for entering contests for unpublished manuscripts. Accordingly, here is my list of three bad reasons and three good ones (I was going to do five, but this post was getting WAY too long!):

Bad Reasons

  1. To get published

    Yes, it happens. People do occasionally get requests from editors/agents for manuscripts they entered in contests and even more rarely, they get offers for publication. But as a primary strategy for getting published, entering contests is significantly more expensive than the alternative (sending out queries, partials, and fulls) and fickle (because whether or not you get to the final round is so dependent on the subjective opinions of people who are, in many cases, just unpublished authors like you!).

    I think authors get seduced by the logic that say a contest final is better than a manuscript in the slush pile because the agent/editor has to read it. (Guilty as charged!) But honestly, that agent or editor will make up her mind about your manuscript in the same number of pages whether it's a contest entry or something that came to her via the query route.

  2. To gain "credits" for the author bio portion of your query letter

    Contrary to what we'd all like to believe, the only unpublished contest finals that really "matter" to agents/editors are the big ones. That is to say, the Golden Heart and a possibly a few other premiere contests like the Maggie. And having a lot of contest finals can actually be a negative. It raises the question, "If this author is so great, why hasn't she gotten an agent/sold yet?"

  3. Purely for the thrill of finaling

    Getting that phone call or email telling you you've made it to the final round in a contest is pretty exciting. But if that's the only reason you're in it, you could probably get that excitement cheaper at an amusement park.

Good Reasons
  1. To get feedback on a manuscript

    If this is your reason for entering, then you can't summarily dismiss the criticisms you receive as authors are sometimes wont to do. They may not all be valid, but if you really want feedback, you have to be willing to listen to what you hear. That's not always easy, especially if some of the things you hear aren't the things you want to hear.

  2. For a chance to get the manuscript in front of an agent/editor you couldn't otherwise query

    Most of the time, the agents and editors who judge the final round on unpublished contests are people you can query privately as well. But every once in a while, an editor or agent who isn't "open" for submissions judges a final round. It can definitely be worth entering a contest to get a shot at that person, especially if he is your dream editor/agent.

  3. To support your chapter

    If your chapter is running a contest, then entering your manuscript(s) is a way to add money to their coffers and get something in return. Of course, you should also judge said contest (but not in the category(ies) you entered, lol).

Of course, none of these rules apply to the Golden Heart. That contest is one you enter purely for the glory of finaling. Nothing else matters.

YOUR TURN: Can you think of other good reasons for entering contests? Bad ones? Have a contest experience you'd like to share? Come on down!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

10 Sure-fire Ways to Drive Maven Lacey Crazy

Maven Lacey KayeYesterday, I was chatting with a new acquaintance of mine, trying to nail down a mutually agreeable time we could meet up to play some pinball. Now, this person is notorious for no call / no show, so I wanted to be *sure* the time was agreeable. I didn't stop to wonder why I needed to know this person would show. To me, that was obvious. It's why they're called plans. You know, you plan them, and then they happen. Work the plan. Any changes to the plan need to be communicated in a timely fashion, to all parties, and should certainly be kept to a minimum. After all, changing the plan confuses people. It's frustrating. And if you can't look forward to what you're going to do at the end of the week, what's the point of going out on Friday, anyway? I mean, that IS the point, right? Good times will be had by all. You know it for a fact.

Never say there could be another point of view.

Are there people who actually thrive on not knowing what their Friday night will hold?


Who are they?

People *I* know?

I don't think so...

My friend IMed back: Never make (P)lans with a (P)erceiver! :-)

I IMed back: What is this crazy talk?

What I got in response sort of annoyed me. Nobody wants to think of herself as a (J)udger. How terribly unflattering.

So I googled it, having heard of the Myers Briggs assessment before, even if it didn't trip up instant recognition at the first mention. (I even wrote a blog about it a year ago.) Now, I've taken other types of assessments at work, as requirements for certain group projects. (See blog above.) I know my type. And no, it's not always flattering. But it's me and it makes sense to me and the rest of you...stop being so scatter-brained!

Well, being the type of person I am, I never really read through any of the other possible assessment outcomes. (And literally, that fits perfectly with the type of person I am.) Imagine my surprise when I read up on Perceivers. What craziness is this? People who don't wear watches!? People who thrive on chaos? People who celebrate their ability to generate creative ideas but shirk the responsibility of implementing them?! People who don't like to make plans way in advance, for fear of limiting their options as things come up?

That's insanity.

Or is insanity someone like me repeatedly trying to get someone like that to behave in the same way I expect myself to behave? Being the type of person that I am (and yes, this is in the type description nearly verbatim), having gained this new insight, I immediately revised my expectations so as to avoid generating the same unwanted outcome in the future. And, naturally, I phoned a friend to discuss. Because being the type of person I am, I like to talk my issues out, not sit alone with them and percolate.

Which basically started a flurry of interpersonal assessments that resulted in my reading a few other possible outcomes. You know, the ones I never had any interest in before. (Why? Well, if you guessed that perfectly matches my personality're probably paying attention :-) ) All this reading up on various personality types -- ones that are eerily, freakily close to reality; so much so it's hard to believe anyone was able to nail down my and my friends' psychosis in so few words -- made me think about those authors who swear by Sun books or Sign books or that one book with all the hero / heroine combinations, whose name I can't remember (and as my personality type, don't care enough to look up because I trust someone else will supply the minutia). I've clearly never cracked one open before. I never thought I needed to. I mean, I've known enough people in my life to paint a few personality traits, right?

Or is that just my personality type talking? The one that says I can see the big picture, so why stress myself with the details? Or is getting the combination of your character's personality too much like having the answers to the test -- is it cheating to be able to conceive of how their internal clockwork ticks if you haven't even had a chance to get to know them yet?

YOUR TURN: Have you or do you use a personality book to help you craft your characters? Have you taken a Myers Briggs assessment (or other assessment), and if you have, were you surprised -- or freaked out -- by the results? Have you and your spouse / significant other / close friend ever taken a test together? Are you a Judger or a Perceiver?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Come to the Dark Side...It's Fun!

Maven Darcy BurkeI've crossed over to the dark side. Yesterday we bought a mini-van. I swore I'd never live in Suburban Hell (sure do!) or own a mini-van (double check!) What has become of me? I'm a blah-blah-blah old soccer mom (tripe check, my first grade daughter plays soccer and what's husband is the coach) who just happens to write historical romantic fiction (okay, that last part is pretty cool). So now that I have a mini-van, have I irrevocably thrown myself into the abyss?

You be the judge. Here are some other things I've done recently that somehow defy logic (at least the logic I thought would pertain to my life at this point):

-Clean and organize more than is "normal." (Note: this does not mean I live in House Beautiful, it simply means I live in House Unchaotic, which is a feat in itself.)
-Slavishly watch American Idol and even vote for a favorite contestant (hold on a sec while I dial).
-Regularly post on a chat board regarding said American Idol contestant as well as my other two favorite reality shows: The Amazing Race and Survivor.
-Wear more eye makeup than I've done since college.
-Wear burgundy-black polish on my toenails (and they look awesome!).
-Choose to do almost anything other than write (includes all writing-related tasks) without regret.

I have a good excuse (I hope). I took April pretty much off from writing while Her Wicked Ways percolated. I did work on plot points for my next book, The Tale of Gideon (that's the working title, but I need to find a better one so I can put a blurb on my website - perhaps I'll have a contest soon...) and started revising HWW maybe ten days ago. But revising isn't the same as powering through a first draft. During January and February, I had this driving need to sit and write as much as possible to get to The End (much like reading a really good book), even when I was stuck for a day or two. Every waking moment could have been (and probably was) filled with thinking about the story. Now that I'm not consumed with writing a story, my brain has more time to accept the temptations of the dark side.

You probably think I'm silly. It's not as if I'm out getting a tattoo or piercing my navel (for the record, I have a tiny tattoo on my ankle - my daughter calls it a "stamp" - and the thought of piercing anything other than my ears makes me squinchy). I'm just not consumed with writing (hmmm, and maybe I feel guilty about that?) A lot of us post about procrastinatory activities and how they're bad, but I'm allowing myself to slack off and embrace this period of unproductivity. I'm more than allowing it, I'm enjoying it.

How do you embrace the dark side? What do you do in your Between Books Phase? Do you allow yourself to be a slacker, if only for a day? And, tell us, what do you do when you joyfully slack?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Tell me who you are

Maven Carrie Ryan

These days a lot of authors have blogs and often, the blog gets more hits than the author's website (or sometimes, the blog exists for way longer than the author's website). I've also found, that a lot of authors include links to their blogs in emails or posts to various groups (another good way to generate traffic). And many times, these blogs are the first glance a potential reader has of the author.

Which is why I'm always so surprised at how scant some of these blogs are when it comes to promotional information. For example, on one of my loops an author has linked to her blog twice in the past month -- once to show us her new cover (very cool) and once to ask for help choosing an author photo. I followed the link. I thought her cover was cool and wanted to know more. But there was nothing about this author on the blog other than her name. Nothing.

No links to webpages. No profile telling me how many books she had, when her books would be published, how I could learn more about her. Here I am practically begging to become a fan of hers, but how can I?

I'm constantly amazed when I stumble on an author's blog but can't find out more about him or her. Sometimes, I can't even figure out what name they write under because their blog just has a title like "Book Writer" or "I like to write books" (just for example). And they don't put their pen-name, link to a blog, etc. I even remember Miss Snark once saying that she had an agent email her interested in a crapometer submission, but when they clicked on the writer's profile and blog, there was no email -- no way to contact to offer representation.

Naturally, you are all calling me a hypocrite right now. Because I barely have any information at all about my book (I have some in the sidebar to my blog) and my website isn't even designed much less written. But to be fair, the moment my announcement hit Publishers Marketplace, I put at least *some* information on my blog -- my name, an email, a link to the blurb.

I still believe that if you have a blog, hoping it will help with marketing (which I argue it will), then make sure it works as a marketing tool. Make sure people who randomly find your blog get the information they need. For example, look at Diana's blog -- she has all her book covers (so if I forget the title I can recognize it in the store), a list of her books, and her website and email are listed in her profile (though I'd argue that information gets lost and they should both be clickable links). Diana makes it easy for people to learn more about her and buy her books. Sure, hers is fancier than most, but even the most basic blog can have that same information.

So, if you have a blog, take a look at it and think about the random browser who stumbles on it. Maybe links from another blog, maybe follows the footer in an email of yours. Ask yourself what you want that new visitor to know about you, and then make sure that information is front and center.

Which leads me to my question -- what do y'all look for in a blog? What do you look for in a website? What are your pet peeves?


* When I see an interesting deal listed on PM, one of the first things I do is google the author name and a lot of times that leads me to a blog (or livejournal or whatever). It's frustrating to find a blog that doesn't give me any info on the author. Because to me, marketing starts the day the announcement is listed. Seriously, what better marketing is there for your book and name than tons of publishing professionals reading about it and wanting to know more? You don't have to have a professional website or anything, but at least update the blog with current info.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Performance Anxiety

Maven Jackie BarbosaIn the world of romance, heroes rarely suffer from this malady. Not only are they supremely confident gentlemen of the world, they are also so wildly attracted to their heroines that any possibility of failure to rise to the occasion is unthinkable.

Would that the writers who invent these rarefied creatures shared their immunity! Alas, I'm afraid it's not, because I seem to have developed a pretty bad case.

You would think that the validation inherent in receiving a contract for publication would be sufficient to convince any author that her work has merit and she should simply forge ahead. But I'm not any author. I am Jackie and I am neurotic. Which means that instead of rejoicing that my editor loves my work and wants to publish it, I'm worrying about living up to his expectations. About not screwing it up.

Now, of course, I know the best way to screw it up is not to get it written. So obviously, I need to conquer my fear. I've still got plenty of time, but every day I fritter away angsting and biting my nails is one less day I have to meet my deadline.

So, my question for you, MaveFaves, do you conquer self-doubt when it's preventing you from writing? I'm already trying the Angie Fox "it's only half and hour" method with some success, but I think I need more techniques in my box of tricks.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Creative Juices

Maven Lacey KayeLast week, I told you about my perceived cluelessness when it comes to writing contemporary-style romance. A few of you had some great recs, and after yet another thought-provoking discussion with MaveFave Keira (I owe her so much!), I've spent the last few days curled up with various women's fiction novels. Flirting With Forty, fellow Eastsider Jane Porter's novel-turned-soon-to-be-made-for-tv movie, really has deep POV nailed down. Also-Eastsider Shannon McKelden's recently re-released Venus Envy (let the spam comments commence) does "deliciously smitten hero" in a way that makes me wish Luke Stanton was stalking me. And fellow Washingtonian Lisa Kleypas's Blue Eyed Devil mixes contemporary issues with her classic, lyrical writing so well, it makes me wonder why I ever swore I'd never read her new, first-person Texas-set novels. (Which is actually the same thing I thought after reading Sugar Daddy last year, but whatever.)

So what have I learned thus far? (Besides being sick is a great excuse to get to all the TBRs stacked up next to my bed.) Well, two things. One, what I said to Keira the other day actually turned out to be true. Which is weird and not weird, because I knew it was true when I said it, but it was one of those you know it's true but it doesn't make it any easier to sit down and do it. Oh, what I said...right. I said there was nothing in the world that makes me want to write my books more than reading other people's books.

Good books, bad books, books I'd never write and books so close to mine I want to jump out of the nearest barouche. All books make me want to write my books. Similarly, watching very good tv (How I Met Your Mother, House) and very good movies (Becoming Jane, Becoming Jane) makes me want to write books. But in the last year -- ever since I stopped watching tv -- I've watched zero tv. As in, no tv. At all. Even sneaked. And the number of movies I've watched has dwindled to almost zero, too. And the number of books I've read...well, you get the picture.

I've been living with a scripted entertainment deficit, and it seems to have gotten to me.

So I popped in my Sex and the City DVDs after last week's post, and this week I read a few books. Which brings me to thing I learned number two: I desperately want to finish my book. My historical book. Which makes no sense, seeing as how I've been building up my contemporary stores, but there you have it. I miss Roman. I love Roman. I want Roman to get his HEA, dammit, and I want him to get laid already. Desperately.

YOUR TURN: How do you feel about entertainment input? Do you live a deficit-inducing lifestyle? Does watching really well-written tv make you want to compete, in a sense, with the emotion/witticism/characterization/etc? Do you keep up your reading while you're writing, or do you put it away for fear you'll accidentally copy a voice/plot/etc? Do you ever want your characters to get laid, or am I projecting? Oh, maybe don't answer that...

Manuscript Mavens

Manuscript Mavens