Friday, June 27, 2008

It's an Epidemic!

Maven Jackie BarbosaA few months ago, my local paper ran an article about a group of writers in my area who get together to support one another and commiserate over their rejections. (It wasn't the local RWA chapter, to which I belong.) Several people quoted in the story lamented over how impossible it is for a debut author to get published in New York these days. Agents and editors won't even consider an unpublished writer's work, let alone offer a contract for publication!

But is that really true? That the unpubbed, to quote Rodney Dangerfield, don't get no respect?

I used to think so. I was pretty sure that getting an offer of agent representation or of publication were longshots akin to winning the lottery. Unlike the lottery, that didn't stop me from trying, but I knew the odds were poor.

Yesterday, however, I realized that in the past year, I've seen a lot of my unpublished friends become either agented or sold or both. I mean, a significantly higher percentage than anyone would expect based upon the statistics we all hear all the time (agents reject 99% or more of all submissions that come to them, only one-tenth of one percent of books that come before a NY editor are published, etc.). In fact, these events have been occurring so often lately, it seems like a virtual epidemic.

I still think it's DAMN difficult to get published. I know quite a few authors whose work I think is more than worthy of a six-figure contract who have been rejected repeatedly by agents and editors alike. And doesn't seem to be to be quite the crapshoot it once did. Authors with lots of skill and talent and more than a little bit of good luck and timing can and do get published. Even if they haven't got a previous publishing credit to their name.

Agents are still looking for new authors whose work they love to represent. Publishers are looking for new blood, new voices. And with diligence and perseverance, new authors do get published.

So, yay for the aspiring and unpubbed. Go forth and submit. And never abandon hope!

YOUR TURN: Do you feel encouraged when an unpublished author sells? Or do you think, "There goes another slot for a debut author; now I'll never get published!"

P.S. A hearty congratulations to Avon FanLit winner and all-around sweetheart, Sara Lindsey, whose three-book deal with NAL/Signet was announced this week, thereby inspiring this post.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mile High

I'm at the airport, thinking the best thing I ever did was commit to a smart phone. I swear, I don't know how I lived without it! Okay, I do know. I was constantly strung out and waiting for my next fix of the internet. Now I get whatever I want, when I want it...It's a heady feeling.

I love flying. I hate airplanes. I build airplanes. I love building things, and I love my job. This is something of an awkward situation, but one made so much more awkward recently, when the following conversation took place in my living room:

Spiderman: /picks up Aviation For Women magazine off my coffee table
S: /flips through it
Lacey:/comes back from kitchen with wine. Sees what is transpiring and decides to nip that conversation in the bud
L: Oh, that. Right. I hate flying. Love the articles, but...shudder
S: Oh, I was just checking out the article on such and such thing that sounds really cool
L: /has no idea what Spiderman is talking about, as likes to pretend said magazine does not exist
L: So.../changes the subject...What are you up to this weekend?
S: Not much. Just flying some friends over the San Juans [in a Cessna]
L: /realizes now will never, ever be invited on an outing she didn't even know was *possible*
L: Crap.

And so goes my attempt to overpower my nemesis. He's a wily one, to be sure, and completely unpredictable. Who could've guessed he was secretly a small aircraft pilot? C'mon. Guys should come with decoder rings.

The best part is, I would totally go flying. I fly all the time. I am a 'fraidy cat, but if I stayed away from everything I'm afraid of, I'd never go anywhere! I'm a Travelocity VIP member, for goodness sakes. So why can't I keep my mouth shut? Or better yet, be able to predict the future?

Which ties in nicely to the point of this blog, actually. See, I'm a pretty determined person, and one day, I will be published in romantic fiction. But that time is not now, because right now, I'm focusing on losing 50 pounds. I think I got tired of working on problems I have no control over and needed a break.

In publishing, there's no guarantees. I can work my butt off for one year and get a six fig contract, or work for a dozen years and be grateful for $500. I can't control what happens to me, to a certain extent.

But if I work out consistently, I can predict the outcome. I will lose weight. I will look hot. And I will feel great about my hard work and accomplishment.

Spiderman? There's no telling what will happen there. It's just interesting enough to hold my attention without distracting me from my two primary goals: losing the author spread and kicking butt at work. So, with that in mind, I'll take my business class seat and raise you an aisle hike. And Spiderman? Well, we'll just have to find something a little less vertical to do :-)

YOUR TURN: What are you afraid of? When did you say something you really regretted? Do you ever choose projects based on potential for success? Have any advice for me and my friend Spiderman?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Shameless Self-Promotion

Maven Darcy BurkeToday I'm indulging in shameless self-promotion. A few weeks ago I was interviewed by our local newspaper. They received a press release regarding my Golden Heart final from RWA who graciously sends them to three media outlets (designated by me). I had no idea if the press releases would bear fruit and was thrilled to get a call from Kristen Forbes who wanted to interview me for the article.

I'd never done an interview before! But I'm a talker (no, really?), so it was pretty easy (okay, except when I spotted a couple of teachers from my daughter's school at a nearby table and had a moment's panic for some inexplicable reason). The only problem was not asking her a bunch of questions in return (which I ended up doing anyway - she was incredibly nice and fun to talk to). I'm just amazed at how much information she packed into the article. And I'd even forgotten a few things I'd said. She took awesome notes.

Ever done an interview? Been on the news? What about from the other side - ever interviewed anyone? What's the one thing you'd like to share about yourself - dish it here!

Oh, and here's the article of course!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mid-Series Pros and Cons

Guest Maven Carla CapshawWelcome guest Maven, Diana Peterfreund!

Today, my third book is on shelves. It’s called Rites of Spring (Break) and you can buy it here. Okay. Plugged. It’s the third book in the Secret Society Girl series.

There are pros and cons to writing an ongoing series.

PRO: My readers already know who Amy is. I don’t have to spend much time describing her or explaining her world or back story.

CON: My readers already know who Amy is. I don’t get to spend much word count describing her or explaining her world or back story.

PRO: I finally get to write those scenes I’ve been dreaming about for three years.

CON: I finally have to write those scenes I’ve been dreading tackling for three years.

PRO: I get to create a long, involved story arc that spans four books and several hundred thousand words.

CON: And that story has to be complex enough to not only fill up all those hundreds of thousands of words, but have four smaller stories that can stand on their own as well as fit together into a cohesive whole.

PRO: I get fan mail about what people love best about my series and hope to see in the latest book.

CON: Sometimes the fans are hoping for stuff that ain’t gonna happen. Sorry.

PRO: People who liked the last two books will probably like this one. Yay, built-in readership!

CON: People who haven’t read the last two books might be afraid of picking up this one (Don’t be. The reviewer from Night Owl Romance said she never read any of the previous books, then gave it a five heart “top pick.”)

So it is with great trepidation that I send out my latest -- my little conjoined twin -- into the world. Will they like her? As much as the others? More? Less? I always hope more, since I try to grow as a writer with each book I write, and I hope that with every new adventure, readers become more engaged with Amy and her friends. And I think they will like it, even those who have begged me not to do what I gleefully do in this book. (Those of you who have read it, please keep the spoilers out of your comments below…) It’s out of my hands now. It’s up to Amy and her big mouth, her foibles, her smarts, and her bravery. It’s up to her relationship with the reader.

Reader expectations mid-series is an interesting conundrum. When I go to my signings in the next few weeks, I’ll be speaking to people who have, if I’m lucky, read only through Under the Rose. And I’ll be talking to them about Rites of Spring (Break). But in my head, I’m living in the fourth book. The things that are current to me are two books in the future to everyone else. I first realized what a challenge this would be when my first novel, Secret Society Girl, came out while I was in the middle of writing the third. So much had changed between the characters that it felt a bit like talking to someone you haven’t seen since high school, who is still surprised that you ended up an English teacher after swearing you’d go pre-med in college.

Except catching them up would be a spoiler. And I’ve never been known for my poker faces.

Rites of Spring (Break) is especially challenging in this arena; as part three of four, my characters and storyline are past the point of no return. Everything has been flipped, thwarted, brought to the breaking point. At work every day, I’m neck deep in tying all those strands together. But for the next year, no one will know about that part except me, my editor, and my husband, who has to hear me whingeing at the dinner table.

There’s another con, I suppose. The pro for that one is easy. I’ve got a secret. And I could tell you… but then I’d have to kill you. :-)

YOUR TURN: How do you feel about spoilers? Do you frequent the spoiler sites for movie and television productions? Do you relish knowing what’s going to happen? Or do you, like me, like to be surprised? How do you feel about ongoing series – pro or con?

(Diana asks that you please keep spoilers for Rites of Spring (Break) out of the comment thread. She will be posting a “spoiler thread” for discussion on her own blog later this week.)

Leave a comment and one lucky MaveFave will win a copy of Rites of Spring (Break)!

Friday, June 20, 2008

This Too Shall Pass

Maven Jackie BarbosaLife seems to move in mysterious circles sometimes. Earlier this week, I was checking the stats on my websites, seeing how many people had come by recently and how many of those had actually found me on purpose. (I figure the ones who find me after inputting searches like "her creamy bosom" or my agent's name or my editor's name probably aren't really looking for ME.)

As I was scrolling through the list of visitor paths, I happened on one coming from a parenting newsgroup I used to subscribe to and post on regularly before I got too busy writing to keep up with that stuff any more. I clicked the link and, lo and behold, someone had posted asking if anyone knew what had become of me. Several people had answered, including a friend who lives in Virginia with whom I still correspond on irregular occasions. And someone posted a link to my website as a follow-up.

I thought it was pretty cool that my old friends (whom I've only ever known online) were asking after me, so I posted a response to say hi and let them know what I'm up to and where they can find me. I did explain before I unsubscribed from the newsgroup WHY I was unsubbing, so it wasn't like I just vanished or anything, but it was still flattering to be remembered and asked after more than two years after I left.

But I didn't see the symmetry in this until this afternoon. You see, I've been lamenting quite a bit lately to my writer friends about how I'm up to my eyeballs in everything. Kids are out of school, so home life is crazy. I've got teaching engagements with my day job almost every day this week and next. And I have to get ready to go to a wedding next Friday night and leave on a two-week family vacation the day after. I've had two books come out in the last two months, and I've got promotion to do.

Oh, and did I mention there's this little matter of three novellas I have to deliver to my editor by September 1? Two of which are no more than a third written, if that.

It helps to whine because I'm finding plenty of company for my misery. Others are in the same boat. Their work and personal lives are crazy. Their writing is suffering. They're hanging on by a fingernail and wondering when or if things will ever return to normal again. And it's awfully nice to know I'm not alone.

That thought made me remember why I haunted those parenting newsgroups for years and years. Because I didn't feel alone in what I was experiencing as a parent. Other people had been through--or were in the throes of--the very same struggles I was facing, whether it was a newborn who wouldn't sleep more than 45 minutes at a stretch (all 24 hours of every stinking day, and yeah, I had one of those!) or teething or potty training or five-year-old trash-mouth. I had company.

But I also remembered the most oft-repeated advice on those boards. Advice I myself gave to other parents as I gained knowledge and experience: "This too shall pass." And while I have to admit, that seemed like cold comfort when I was hanging onto my sanity by a thread because I hadn't slept properly in months (actually, I think there may have been a period where I hadn't slept properly in YEARS!), when the phase would pass and the NEXT problem would crop up, I'd always think, "Damn, they were right. It DIDN'T last forever!"

So today, I'm giving myself that advice. This too shall pass. I'll cope with what life throws my way, and before I quite know what happens, it'll be throwing something else at me. Maybe something better, maybe something worse, but definitely something different. And somehow, I'm finding that's pretty good comfort!

YOUR TURN: Life throwing you curveballs? Want to vent? Need commiseration? Bring it on!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Predictably Lost

Maven Lacey KayeIn the last week or so, I've been watching Season 4 of LOST (at Maven Darcy's urging; she couldn't believe I'd let an entire season go by when it's on the internet), reading Julia Quinn's The Lost Duke of Wyndham, and gossiping incessantly with my girlfriends over men friends who have lost their minds. I've come to a conclusion.

Unpredictability is where it's at.

So now I'm wondering how we generate unpredictableness ourselves. In the romance genre, in particular, there are certain expectations our readers have that we are [required] to meet. There has to be an HEA. There has to be a love story. There has to be something about the heroine our readers can identify with, and true beta heroes are a tough sell. But within those basic (and arguable) confines, we have choices. Maven Darcy's outstanding post yesterday got me thinking [as I was watching an incredible and shocking episode of LOST], while we're busily and creatively ruining our characters' lives, should we also be looking for the most surprising way to do it?

At the same time, the reader also needs to feel like they can predict the book, to a certain extent. I think this is a cross between keeping the story realistic and logical and helping the reader feel smart. So no space alien babies, and the villian needs to make sense, at least in hindsight. But still. When we're plotstorming, it probably wouldn't go amiss if we asked our critique partners to fill in the blank. As in, "Can you guess what happens next?" If they say, "Yeah, he falls into the same cellar where she's being held captive and they make hot, sweaty under-the-ground love," then maybe that's not the answer. Maybe we should ask, "What's the last and/or craziest thing you would expect to happen next?"

But maybe, by virtue of them thinking it, that is the expected thing.


YOUR TURN: Surprise or reader intuition? (That's code for predictable.) If you think you keep the reader jumping, how do you do it? Would you rather have a man you can predict or one who's constantly keeping you guessing? Oh, how'd that get in there...

Authenticity in Action

Maven Darcy BurkeEver forget to practice what you preach? Raises hand. I swear it was an accident. Recently a lovely writer friend of mine graciously read Her Wicked Ways. She had great things to say (yay!) about the last two-thirds. What about the first third? She found the pacing off. Too much introspection and non-relevant action. Oh no, but I try to balance action/introspection/dialogue! Remember AID? Uh, yeah, I guess I forgot. Or wasn't paying attention, more likely.

Regarding the introspection, I think I was in a rut of inner dialogue to replace action. In a character's POV scene, it's cool to ground their external dialogue with inner dialogue. Fun technique, but easy to overdo. Same with tagging external dialogue with action. We all know the pitfalls of arching brows, shrugging shoulders, and flexing fingers.

But I had plenty of non-arching/shrugging/flexing action! Except the action still wasn't tied to the goals of the scene. Whaaaa, you say? I'll give an example. I had a scene in which the hero and his mentor/best friend type discussed his romantic progress with the heroine using the miserable summer and the failing crops as the backdrop. The cold weather and disastrous planting play hugely into the hero's GMC. So, here they are checking out the fledgling plants that are woefully behind schedule and musing about the potential for a freeze that night. Out comes the heroine and conversation turns to her and blah, blah, wake up!

After my friend gave me her comments, I reread the first several chapters and immediately saw her point. When I got to this point in the story, I sat back for a moment and pondered how best to make the action in this scene more relevant. I mean, standing around talking about the weather is nowhere near as exciting as doing something about the weather. So if a freeze could be imminent, why not dump snow on them? Now. As in, we need to get these plants covered before the snow accumulates and kills the tiny sprouts! (Yes, Maven Carrie's technique of "how can I ruin my characters today" mentality was incredibly helpful and I want to give credit where it's due.) Now my scene had real action that mattered to the story. And the conversation that was there still happens, but it's more authentic. Yes, that's it, authentic.

So thank you dear friend/CP (you know who you are) for reminding me that action should be authentic for the scene and contribute conflict as well as interest. And thank you Maven Carrie for helping me torture my characters.

What do you do if a scene just doesn't have "it?" Do your scenes have authentic action that moves the story forward, that contributes to the purpose of the scene? How do you keep track of all the myriad things we aim to achieve in our writing?

Congrats to our friends over at Riding With the Top Down on your second anniversary! Speaking of anniversaries, the Mavens have been blogging for a year this week. Crazy, huh? Stay tuned for exciting anniversary happenings...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Agent myths -- you must change everything

Maven Carrie RyanRecently, I've been blogging about myths that many of us hear about agents. I started this theme based on a few tidbits I overheard at a conference and just wanted to be able to throw my spin on things.

So, at that conference I heard an author talking about how you should be careful about the details you tell an agent about your story. The idea is that if you know an agent doesn't like things like... say... a story set on a star-ship, you shouldn't pitch that your story is set on a star ship and should instead highlight other aspects of your story.

And while I totally agree with the fact that you should highlight your strengths in light of what an agent is looking for, the advice I heard went farther than that. The advice was -- if an agent doesn't like a star-ship setting, you should be willing to rewrite your entire manuscript based on that even before the agent makes an offer or shows interest.

Here's the thing... agents definitely ask for revisions, even before signing clients. And I think trying to figure out whether to tackle those revisions and re-submit is a difficult choice. The advice I've seen most often is that if you agree with the revision requests you should go ahead and do them. If you don't agree, you should think twice. And I tend to agree with this.

But I don't agree with re-setting and changing everything about your story on the off chance that doing so will please an agent who hasn't even given an opinion on your story. To me, this ties in with my post from last week -- feeling like agents are these terrifying beats. They're not -- they're there to work with the author to present the best story possible.

When I was submitting The Forest of Hands and Teeth I was convinced that agents would reject me the moment they saw the word "zombie" in the query. Worse than that, I fully assumed that my query would be sent around from agency to agency to be laughed at. "Zombies!" they would all shout, "This girl wanted me to sell a book about zombies!" This is one of the main reasons I queried my agent, Jim -- I knew that he'd recently sold a book about zombies and therefore wouldn't laugh at me!

In the end, I took a chance with my zombie query and it worked out, even though I expected nothing but laughter. And so I feel very strongly that you shouldn't be willing to compromise your story on the off chance an agent may possibly not be interested. First of all, if you do it right, the agent will often be interested. Second of all, if you find the right agent, they'll love it.

So take that chance. Yes, be aware of the market and what agents and editors are looking for, but don't be willing to sacrifice your book because one agent might, on a whim, not be interested. You want an agent just as excited about your book, your ideas, and your writing style, as you are.

What do you think? Should you be willing to sacrifice parts of your book to gain agent interest?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Warning Signals

Maven Jackie BarbosaLast Friday night, at my daughter's bridging ceremony from Brownie to Junior Girl Scouts, I met another writer. Unbeknownst to me, the father of one of the other girls in our troop is writing a novel. Naturally, I was thrilled to meet another writer in my "real" life, and we swapped stories about agent and publisher hunting, publicity, and the trials and tribulations of the writing itself. I honestly had a hard time dragging myself away from the discussion because it was so refreshing to talk to someone who "gets it."

It was only after I'd left the party that I got to thinking about the implications of some of the stories he'd told me. He mentioned he'd submitted the work to a few agents and at least one publisher, and now had it with a "book doctor" to fix it. He also told me about a someone he knew who'd sold out his entire first print run, but that this person had spent so much on publicity that he'd made next to nothing on the book. At the time, neither of these points struck me as off, but in retrospect, they seem like warning signals. Warnings that a writer is maybe not talking to the "right" people.

Now, I don't know this for a fact because I haven't talked to him since then. But little alarm bells go off in my head now that I think about some of these things.

The Book Doctor/Professional Editor

In principle, there's nothing wrong with having your manuscript professionally edited. In fact, I'd say it's de rigeur. It's just that, ideally, it should happen after you've received a contract for publication, and it should be free.

Now, if you're paying a professional editor because doing so gives you that extra level of confidence in your work, that's fine. But all too often, writers end up hiring so-called "book doctors" because they've queried a shyster-type agents whose primary business isn't selling books to publishers, but sending business to the other guy. These agents say nice things about your book, but tell you it needs "work" to be marketable and that such-and-such an editor can help you for a smeall fee of X per page.

Of course, just because these agents are hucksters doesn't mean they're not right. Your book may actually need a little more work to fly in the market. But you should be able to get that kind of input for free from other writers by joining a critique group or working one-on-one with individual critique partners. Finding critique partners isn't easy--I have worked with a lot of people over the years, and some of those relationships have panned out long-term and some haven't--but it's well worth the effort. Not only do you get constructive and honest feedback on your own work, but you can learn a ton from critiquing their work in return. I know having great critique partners (including Mavens Lacey, Darcy, and Erica) was absolutely instrumental in my ability to sell a manuscript and land an agent. I just wouldn't be the writer I am today without them.

But pay a professional editor? Nope. That's my publisher's job!

Publicity Eats Up All the Profits

I have to admit, when I heard my writer friend say that it cost so much to promote a book, I kind of raised my eyebrow. I mean, how much does it cost to have a blog? (Answer: $0) How much does it cost to start a Yahoo Group for your newsletter. (Again, $0.) Those are small things, of course, and they aren't the be all and end all of an author's book promotional activities, but my sense is that you don't have to spend a LOT of money to effectively promote a book so long as your publisher is large enough and reputable enough to get shelf presence in bookstores. Oh, sure, everything you do above and beyond that helps, and it may affect your sell-through numbers to some extent, but the reality is that word of mouth (reader to reader) is the SINGLE MOST EFFECTIVE MARKETING TOOL in the world, and alas, you can't buy it!

What struck me as "off" about this particular story, though, was that the print run numbers were very, very small, and that made me think the book was probably self-pubbed or vanity-pubbed. That's a whole different ballgame, obviously.

Needless to say, though, I wonder now whether my friend has been talking to the "wrong sort" of publisher, especially since he mentioned that an editor told him he had to have a marketing plan, complete with a book signing tour, in place before the book was even contracted. Maybe I should be doing this and no one's told me (a very real possibility), but I'm still wary of the notion that it should cost the average author more to promote a book than he/she can earn from it.

Bottom Line

I think it behooves authors to be skeptical any time someone suggests that an outlay of a significant amount of cash will make him/her successful. When the desire to get that first publishing contract is so strong, it's easy to get scammed, and there are all too many people out there who will feed on those aspirations in any way they can.

YOUR TURN: Have you had experiences with agents or editors that set off your warning bells? What happened? Heard any horror stories from friends or other authors?

P.S. My contemporary novella, The Gospel of Love: According to Luke, comes out today from Cobblestone Press.

P.P.S. I'm over at the Naughty and Spice Blog today, talking about how I learned to stop living (and writing) in the past. Thanks to the fabulous Amie Stuart for the invite!

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Maven Lacey KayeOver the last month, I've done exactly one productive thing. Unfortunately, that productive thing wasn't writing a book. In fact, in the last six months I've done almost nothing productive when it comes to writing a book. I'm not okay with that, but that concern is for another post.

Long-time readers know I'm a process engineer. I'm devoted to studying and improving productivity and output; it's my passion. I never thought I could go at it, though, with the same sort of single-minded determination I used to use to write novels. Engineering seems and white. I guess I was just waiting for the right opportunity.

A month ago, I became head of a project that meant big time savings for my organization. It had the potential to improve communication between various orgs, and almost assuredly would create higher morale and job satisfaction for my minions and minions everywhere. The only problem was I had 3 weeks to pull the whole thing off, including implementation and beta testing. During those three weeks, I received requests for the same program to be implemented at other sites -- that would be the program we hadn't even written yet.

And I have a life.

Suddenly, I felt very, very kindred with Maven Erica :-) My phone wouldn't stop ringing. My email was full of bug reports and frequently asked questions. I had one week to get 100 people up to speed on a user interface that had never been tested and was barely developed. I had three devoted coders working around the clock to keep up with the changes. I was making phone calls and shooting off emails to organizations I'd never contacted before and presenting the concept to managers I desperately needed to have buy in from.

It was so, so awesome.

The energy was amazing. Apparently, I thrive on God-awful deadlines. Who knew? And seeing all the shocked-yet-hopeful faces when it was announced the project had eliminated the need for the daily afternoon meeting we'd been having for thirty years -- quite literally, priceless.

I wonder if we're authors because we like to see what's in our imagination come alive. I can equate every step in this project with the same sort of ephemeral buzz I get when writing. First, we had a workshop to talk about the future state [of the meeting we ended up eliminating, w00t]. That was like when I get together with the Mavens and brainstorm the concept of a novel. Then I was locked in a room with three bright, enthusiastic coders ready to tackle the logic to create the software -- that was like storyboarding. (We even had food.) Then we banged out a draft just to see if the concept worked; I don't need to draw this part of the picture for you. Then we fine-tuned it, and then, knowing it was buggy as hell, we released it into the world to have beta testers help us locate and smash them. (Contesting and beta reading, anyone?)

It was and still is hard to come in every day to my inbox and realize the interface isn't perfect. It will probably never be perfect, as it's written in Visual Basic and heavily utilizes Microsoft programs...(sorry, Keira, but it's true). But when the feedback is positive -- wow. Is that a great feeling or what? And when we're improving job satisfaction, not just because we're saving faceless money, but because we're literally helping people have a better day...that's nothing short of amazing.

The only problem is that during this time, my "life" became about this project. Either I was working on this project or not sleeping because of this project or worrying about this project or out kicking it with friends, valiantly trying to forget about this project. And now, just 2 days from full implementation, I'm still blogging about this project. It never ends!

But I am trying. My game plan this last week has been to come home ON TIME (+/- an hour of over time), work out, take a nap, and either a) play with my Xbox (damn you, Ryu!) b) watch an episode or two of LOST (can you really watch just one?) c) read a book (Lost Duke of Wyndham is on my TBR) d) go to happy hour (no comment) or e) do nothing. Yes, that's right. Do nothing.

But we had to filter through a, b, c, and d to get to nothing.

YOUR TURN: Do you ever let yourself stop? Do you ever feel like even when you're "relaxing," you're really trying to cram something fun into your day? Do you ever find yourself replacing the joy of writing (Freudian? I just typed "job") with the joy of something else? (there goes that job again)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What I'm Going to Do On My Summer Vacation...

Maven Darcy BurkeSo it's the last week of school here and I am sooooo ready for summer. Of course it's 50 degrees here in Oregon, so summer seems like an absolute pipe dream. I'm ready for summer because it should be warm (note, I like it warm, not hot), because I don't have to rouse my tired daughter for school, because I don't have to worry about doing homework or getting lunch made, because I can write more.

Are you laughing? I hear you laughing. Yes, I hope to get more writing done. I'd actually like to write the first draft of Their Wicked Bargain between now and September (maybe that's the pipe dream). Not sure I can make it, but I'm going to try. And I'm going to try an early morning/late night schedule. We'll see if it pans out and I promise to check in with you. If I don't, ask, okay?

In the meantime, we're headed to the beach for a long weekend on Friday with some friends. Can't wait. And I'm leaving my laptop at home. I could take it because the campground* has wi-fi, but it's sketchy at best. I took my laptop when we stayed there during Spring Break in March because we left the day I got the call that I'd finaled in the Golden Heart, and I could not be away from the computer. Pathetic, I know. But, I ended up frustrated because the connection was more dead than alive. Thank goodness for McDonald's and their free wi-fi.

We're starting our summer break with this camping trip and finishing it over Labor Day with another camping trip to central Washington (annual pilgrimage to the Gorge Amphitheatre to see the Dave Matthews Band).

What are you planning for this summer? Both vacations and other goals - anyone else hoping to write a book?

*Lest you worry about us camping in 50 degree weather, it's worth nothing that this is "camping." While we could tent, we rented cabins complete with beds (they supply the mattress pads, we supply the sleeping bags), microwaves, mini-fridges, TVs (with cable, of course), porch swing, fire pit, barbecue, and HEATER. Oh, and there's an indoor pool.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Agent as Terrifying Beast

Maven Carrie Ryan Last week I was talking about a conference I went to and some of the writing myths that I kept hearing over and over again. This week, I want to talk about another myth: the agent as terrifying beast.

Someone at the con told the story of a friend of hers who was so stressed out every time her agent called -- so terrified and nervous -- that she had to get a phone with a mute button so that she could take the call in the bathroom. We're not talking about the first time they talked, we're talking years of this.

Yes, it's easy to get nervous when you're talking to agents, especially the first time. And yes, my heart was pounding when I first talked to my agent on the phone. But the thing to remember is that you and your agent are partners -- you're working together to get the best deal that you can get (for you personally and your book).

I think sometimes it's easy to feel like it's us versus them: the writers versus the agents who are the gatekeepers to our goals. But like I said last week, agents want to make a sale as much as writers do. Agents want to find that great book, that promising client to work with.

Sometimes I hear writers who are terrified to ask their agent questions and raise legitimate concerns even after they've signed a contract and been repped for a while. They're afraid of being "that client" that all agents dread -- needy, whiny, too much work to want to deal with. Sometimes it's hard to remember that not only are you in a partnership with your agent, you're also in a business relationship. And if you need information to handle your end of the business, you shouldn't hesitate to ask.

At the end of the day, I try to remember that agent and author are working towards the same goal. They're people just like us writers. They hate rejection, just like us writers. And they hope for that amazing sale, just like us.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Call Story: Carla Capshaw

Guest Maven Carla Capshaw Welcome, Guest Maven Carla Capshaw!!!

Hi all you marvelous Mavens! Thank you so much for having me here today and a special thanks to Erica for inviting me. It's an honor. You Mavens are amazing. :-)

I have to be honest. When Erica asked me if I'd like to blog about my "call", I thought it would be a snap. I was wrong. How do you pack almost a decade of blood, sweat and tears into a semi-short, hopefully interesting blog? Well, after much debate and backspacing, I decided to hit on a few of my journey's peaks and valleys and give some honest commentary that, unless you're one of those (disgusting ;-) people who sold your first story on partial to your dream editor and went NYT bestseller before the age of twenty, will encourage anyone who hasn't sold yet to keep your fingers to the keyboard until you have your own call story to tell. :-)


Once upon a time, I decided to write a book. I call this stage my Age of Innocence. My first manuscript was a short contemporary full of passion! drama! and enough backstory to sink an ocean liner. Needless to say, it didn't sell, which deflated me a bit at the time since all my friends and family loved it. But I'm stup...I mean tenacious. I started another book, finished it, didn't sell and started another. When the third time wasn't the charm, I hit my first real valley. I didn't want to quit writing but I was discouraged.

Fortunately, it was around this time I joined Romance Writers of America. No longer was I a lone writer slaving over my computer from 10pm 'til 2 in the morning, every morning (I'm a single mom with two day jobs). I was surrounded by other crazy women with the same dream I had--some of whom had even achieved it already. I wanted to be one of them.

For the first time, I was hearing about "craft", "finding your voice"and "marketability". Unfortunately, all that wonderful info seemed to conflict with other great advice like, "write the book of your heart" and "just write a great book and it will sell". I mean, wasn't that what I'd been doing for the past three years? It certainly hadn't been my intention to write crappy books from my ear canals, but the great books from my heart still weren't selling. The short contemps I favored only had a few publishers to submit to and once rejected were dead in the water. If I wanted to be published, I needed to change course.

But what to do? I'd always loved history and Historicals, so in my usual fashion, I said, "Why not? Let's give one of those a whirl." Excited and armed with all the advice and notes from numerous RWA meetings, I chose my favorite time-period (Colonial America), picked my location (my fav city, Charleston, SC) and researched the Revolutionary War until I knew more about the Southern campaign of 1780-81 than my college history professor.

THE FOX, as I called it, was my first , invaluable experience with critique groups and contests. FOX went on to final in fifteen of them. Won seven first places, including contest overall wins in the MARA, The Golden Rose, The Happily Ever After and the 2004 Golden Heart for Best Short Historical. I had found my voice. I was a contest diva and I was feelin' pretty good. ;-)

It was my best of times and worst of times. Things were happening. I'd hit my first real peak. My wonderful agent, Michelle Grajkowski at 3 Seas Literary signed me and though I got a few rejections, they were 'good ones'. After a few months, though, those rejections began to point out a stomach-churning trend. The Historical market had nose-dived and Colonials were at the bottom of that sinking barrel. Editors said they loved my work, but couldn't buy my time period. Sadly, nobody wanted the book I'd spent two grueling years working on. I had no where to go--again.

Directionless, I'd tumbled into my second valley. In fact, except for a few sprinting starts, I didn't write for a year. What was the use? Why take away time from my family and exist on four hours of sleep a night when I'd written what I thought was the best book I could, had numerous contests and editors validate my writing ability, and yet I remained unpublished? I began to hear whispers like, "If it's such a great book, why doesn't it sell?" or "Maybe she can only write a good partial."

Disheartened, I really did almost quit. :(

Happily, I didn't. My turning point came when my wonderful friend Tammy Johnson emailed the guidelines for a new line Steeple Hill was starting called Love Inspired Historical. As I read the list, my heart started to pound with excitement. Even though I was hesitant (did I truly want to go through that whole roller coaster ride again?), I really wanted to write something for them. After praying about it, I got the idea for a story set in ancient Rome about a wealthy young Christian who's sold into slavery and her master, a yummy ex-gladiator who has everything except inner peace--and the woman of his dreams. ;-)

Though I worried about taking the chance on another "off" time period, the synopsis flowed and the first three chapters were the easiest I've ever written. I submitted TO WIN A GLADIATOR to Michelle who thankfully hadn't ditched me. She called a couple weeks later, said she'd read it that afternoon, loved it and in her enthusiasm emailed the partial to Melissa Endlich (the line's editor) that same day. Crazily, Melissa had asked for the full that same day! Did I mention, I only had the partial? That I'd sent it to Michelle just for feedback? That I'm a S-L-O-W writer? This was in June 2006, I believe. I ended up finishing the manuscript the day before the Golden Heart deadline and got the retitled THE HEART BECKONS in on time thanks to Express Mail.

But, I thought the second half stunk like a rotting corpse. I wasn't about to send it to Melissa yet. I ended up rewriting the second half and got it turned in to Michelle (agent) about three weeks before National 2007. Melissa (editor) met with me at National. She asked, "Where's my gladiator?" Since she'd been waiting almost a year for the full, that felt great. I promised her Michelle had it and she would have it soon. She said she couldn't wait to read it.

To my surprise, considering the garbagey ending I'd submitted, the manuscript won the Golden Heart for Best Inspirational in 2007. Was I happy? Yes! But I couldn't shake the niggling fear I was on the same road FOX had dragged me down. The two manuscripts had followed the exact same path. Months went by. The niggling fear turned into something much darker. I began to give up hope...

And then the phone rang. My agent was trying to reach me. It was November 15, 2007 at like 2:37 in the afternoon. To be honest, I didn't look at the clock, I was too busy reaching for my phone. I called her back. Michelle said, "would you like to sell a book today?" I said, "sure, why not?" The rest I can't remember. I was too excited. :-D

So, it finally happened. I got "the call" I'd been waiting on for too many years to admit, proving that anybody who doesn't quit can succeed. My as yet untitled debut will be out with Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical in September 2009. Currently, I'm working on a sequel and buried back in ancient Rome. Come visit me at and/or befriend me at Myspace .

Most importantly, don't give up on your dreams. They're waiting for you to make them come true.

Thanks again for having me here! I'm giving away books throughout the day to four blessed posters.

Have a fabulous week!

Carla Capshaw

Thanks, Carla, for sharing your call story--We can't wait to get our hands on The Heart Beckons!!!

YOUR TURN: You're on, MaveFaves! Questions or comments for Carla? Post 'em here and win fun prizes! Carla is giving away four new releases!! Thanks again, Carla!

Friday, June 6, 2008

It's All About the Passion

Maven Jackie BarbosaThere hasn't been a whole lot of writing in my life this week. Instead, my days have been heavily dominated by the day job, and particularly by a conference I attended Monday through Wednesday.

I have to be honest and say that when I was reminded that I had this conference to attend, I was far from thrilled. I have a lot on my plate at the moment, and taking three days out to go to workshops that probably wouldn't teach me anything I didn't already know (yeah, call me arrogant, lol) was hardly appealing. But, my company paid good money for me to attend, and so, attend I did. (Fortunately, it was held locally, so there was no major travel involved. Just the 20 minute drive to and from downtown San Diego on $4.20 a gallon gasoline. But I digress.)

Truth be told, there weren't a lot of workshops geared toward the things that I would have really liked to learn. Or at least, they weren't marketed in such a way that I thought they were. In all likelihood, I missed a bunch of sessions that were just not accurately described in the conference materials.

I did, however attend one really FABULOUS workshop on Wednesday afternoon. It was my last of the conference, and honestly, it made the whole experience worthwhile. Not so much because of the subject matter, for though I did learn some new things of value, there was nothing really earthshattering in the material he presented.

No, it was because the speaker was flat-out fantastic. Dynamic, funny, and absolutely PASSIONATE about the subject. And it occurred to me that this guy could have been reading the phone book aloud, but if he did it with the same charisma and passion, I'd have been hanging on his every word.

Of course, when I teach workshops of my own (as I had to do today), I try to bring excitement and energy to my performance. It's one of the reasons teaching is so exhausting! (And why, when I got home this afternoon, I pretty much collapsed in a watery heap and didn't do anything useful for the rest of the day.)

But sitting there listening to this guy talk about something that was arguably incredibly boring (performance support) and eating up every second of it, it occurred to me that a big part of what keeps me hooked in a book is that the author demonstrates the same kind of passion for his or her story in writing. And I got to wondering HOW the author is getting that emotional connection to the story across to the reader. Clearly, it's not with body language, tone of voice, or ad-libbing responses to the audience on the fly, all of which the speaker used in spades. Obviously, whatever an author is doing to communicate that sense of urgency to the reader is both deeper and more subtle than anything a presenter can do with a live audience.

I like to think I can TELL that the author *loves* the story he/she is writing, loves the characters, and is aching to share that love with me, the reader. But I'm not sure I can put my finger on what is telling me that. I know when I'm WRITING something I feel passionately about, the writing itself seems to come more easily and I'm almost racing myself to get to the end because I want to experience the story MYSELF. But I'm not sure if that really comes across to the reader.

My contemporary novella, The Gospel of Love: According to Luke, comes out from Cobblestone Press next Friday. (Yes, Friday the 13th. I promise, however, no one named Jason and no hockey masks appear in the story.) And I really felt a passion for that little book while I was writing it. It fell out of my head in a little over two weeks. Every day during that two weeks, I couldn't WAIT to get time to sit down at the computer and write more.

I hope readers of the story will feel that passion in the words I committed to paper (or screen, as the case may be). And I believe fervently, with every fiber of my being, the loving the story you're writing is the first and most essential ingredient to producing a marketable manuscript. After all, if you don't love what you write, why should anyone else?

YOUR TURN: Do you think you can tell when a writer is passionate about his/her story? And conversely, do you think readers can tell when YOU aren't? How?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Never Thought I'd...

Maven Lacey KayeThis week, I decided to check out online dating. I have several friends who've been doing it for years and while I suppose that might mean they haven't technically been successful (as arguably, were they "successful" they would not still be dating), they've had enough harmless fun with it that I figured it couldn't hurt to find out what it's all about.

What's our motto again? Oh, research. Right. Research.

My first order of business was to create my profile. Should be easy, right? I have pictures of me and I know me and I know how to click a check box. The "What is your favorite thing to do?" text boxes should be a cinch. I mean, I write romance novels. I convince higher-ups to fund my crazy ideas all the time. Surely, between those two talents I must be able to write something that will generate a little interest in me.

Never, ever underestimate how difficult it is to write an online dating profile. On the one hand, you're selling yourself. Should be easy -- just list your good points, right? But on the other hand, you're paying money to find people who like you just the way you are. Why jeopardize that with a varnished version of the truth?

I've browsed perhaps 50 men between the ages of 26 and 35 and I have to tell you, I'm surprised at the number of intelligent, well-though-out profiles I've seen out there. I'm not sure if this is a function of the type of people who are most likely to a) be able to shell out the money for an arguably overpriced online dating site b) be interested enough in finding a relationship to shell out money for an online dating site or c) meet the education level and income level I've narrowed my search to, but I'd say if nothing else, there's good news out there for women everywhere. Not every single man in the world just lurched out of his Xbox cave, grunting and dragging pin up calendars behind him.

The only downside to the online dating thing -- okay, actually there are two -- is that if I try to narrow my search to the few qualities I consider absolutely imperative, I match men. Now, that is partly because lots of people don't fill out all their fields, and you can't match with a blank field. But that's also partly because let's face it, we can't always get what we want. Sometimes what we think we want is wrong. Isn't that how every romance novel relationship starts out, anyway?

I'm not saying one needs to settle to find a match (I would never, ever say that), but just that it might be a better approach to look for a little chemistry to start things off. I'm not speaking from online dating experience here, as I just started three days ago. But scanning a list of potential qualities really doesn't give me the same thrill reading a really well-written, witty, engaging, slightly sarcastic profile (uh, with a hot picture) does.

I have no idea where I'm going with this.

YOUR TURN: Have you ever tried online dating? Blind dating? (I haven't yet...better put that on the list of things to do!) Speed dating? Are you a stickler for some quality in a mate? What world views constitute no-gos for you? Can I deduct my online dating fee in my taxes if I write a book about it?!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Writer's Life for Me!

Maven Darcy BurkeFirst, let me award B.E. Sanderson a signed copy of Stephanie Rowe's Sex and the Immortal Bad Boy for her hilarious title offering last week. Though I won’t be using Give a Lord a Bone as an official title, picture it as the subtitle. I did come up with a tentative title: Their Wicked Bargain. I also came up with a title for book three that I absolutely adore: His Wicked Heart. So, yay on both counts! Do let me know what you think.

I’ve been suffering from writer’s life this week. What is that? Please contribute to the following:


  1. Have I edited my WIP enough?
  2. Will my CPs love my WIP as much as me?
  3. Is the hero’s arc strong enough?
  4. Why won’t everyone leave me alone so I can write?!
  5. Your angst here
  1. One of my CPs cried reading the end of Her Wicked Ways!
  2. I can’t wait to start my next book in earnest!
  3. Can’t wait for my agent to read HWW!
  4. RWA is going to rock!
  5. Your excitement here
  1. What if I can’t write another book as quickly and efficiently as HWW?
  2. What if no one ever buys my books?
  3. What if I get a ginormous zit right before the GH ceremony (legitimate fear, people)?
  4. How will I afford gas? (I assume this is everyone’s fear, but perhaps not.)
  5. Your fear here
One thing I really love about the writing community is everyone’s willingness to share their angst, excitement, and fear. They’re the things that unite us as writers and as human beings. So, come on and let’s angst together.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Con Agent

Maven Carrie Ryan This weekend I went to a local con - ConCarolinas (for a recap, see JP's post here). It was awesome -- totally tons of fun and my first SFF con! Of course, because I didn't even hear about the con until the Monday before and therefore couldn't pre-register, I went rather stealth :)

But here's the thing, over the course of the day I attended, I heard a few authors give advice that kinda made me squirm. And it made me want to blog about it because I felt like some of this advice was perpetuating some myths about agents and getting an agent. Of course, rule number one that I must highlight is that there are often no hard and fast rules. Everyone has their own approach and you have to figure it out for yourself. Even so... here are my thoughts on some oft perpetuated myths (spread out over a few posts...).

One thing that really stuck out to me: a few people (and some of them well published authors) said that the best was to get an agent was to go to cons. Now, while I agree that you can make some great connections at conventions, if you're only going so you can attend a pitch session and stalk some agents at the bar, you're wasting your money. Here's the thing, you can be the most fun person ever, you and the agent you meet can go get manis and pedis, you can spend all night sharing embarassing stories and margaritas, but if your book isn't any good, none of that matters. Sure, knowing the agent might get a little more attention, but you still have to deliver the goods.

Agents are generally on the lookout for books they can sell -- they want to fall in love when they open their slush. You don't have to go to cons and meet agents in person in order to have them fall in love with your work. Trust me, I've met plenty of agents at cons and none of them ended up offering me representation for my book (in fact, one of my queries didn't make it past the slush reader for an agent I'd met several times). All the offers I got were from the good old fashioned slush pile. Yes, agents do read queries and they request pages and they make offers without having ever met you!

Don't get me wrong, cons are great things. It's a super fun way to meet other like-minded people and to be surrounded with the buzz of it all. Meeting agents is part of that buzz and it's part of the business. But it shouldn't be the only reason you go. Save the money from plane tickets and hotels instead and invest them in stamps :)

More myths to come next week (unless, you know, I forget or get distracted :)

So tell me what you think -- is the best way to get an agent to go to a con?

Manuscript Mavens

Manuscript Mavens