RWA Countdown: Why Packing for a Trip is like Writing–Do It with Purpose or It Can Cost You

download (5)In exactly four weeks, myself and fellow romance writers will be converging on Atlanta for Romance Writer’s of America’s (RWA) national conference and I thought I’d dedicate the remaining Writer Wednesdays to posts on prepping for it, as well as tips.

To start off, this is a recycled post from last year, my first trip to RWA, and the prepping definitely paid off! This year I won’t be flying, but I might be taking Megabus instead of driving, which also has baggage restrictions.

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If you’re a romance writer, then you know that a week from now several thousand romance writers will be descending on Anaheim, CA for the annual Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference. I’m going for my first time, and it’s also the first time I’ve flown since the airlines started charging for extra baggage.

Yesterday morning I looked up the dimensions of the bags I’m allowed and the weight restrictions and started planning on how I could trim what I normally pack for a trip. That same morning, I came across Jami Gold’s post, The Ultimate #RWA12 Conference Packing List and it got me thinking–packing for a trip is a lot like writing. I love metaphors, let’s see how far I can run with this.

Know the purpose for your draft/trip

Each novel is going to go through multiple revision passes. In the early draft phase, some things are not as important and so it doesn’t pay to get worked up over it. For instance, a first draft is just getting your story basics down. The next pass will be structural, making sure you have a solid plot. It would be costly time-wise, to polish any of your prose at this stage, or to ask/pay someone else to give you line edits, since any line, paragraph or scene could change dramatically or get cut.

How is this like packing? If it’s just a quick trip to a familiar place, the stakes aren’t high, and you’re driving, you can be pretty casual about packing. You won’t be penalized for throwing anything or everything into your car and sorting it out later. You have a rough idea of what you need and go with it. Since the stakes aren’t high, it won’t matter if you forget something.

Weighing each word/item

Once we get to that final polish before submission, however, the stakes are different. Now you need to scrutinize every word and scene to make sure it serves the purpose of your story. I’m at this stage with MUST LOVE BREECHES. I’m doing a mind-numbing Find for a long list of words and phrases that could either be cut, or that could be red flags for my prose. I’m only on Chapter 8, but I’ve already cut over 800 words I did not need! I have to do it in chunks, because it is so tedious, but I know the story will be better in the end. I’m at the pre-submission stage for this WIP.

How is this like packing? It’s like my preparation now for the RWA conference. The stakes are high, it’s a costly trip, and I’ll be flying where I need to be careful about what I pack or the airline will charge me. So, I’m going through absolutely every article I’m bringing to see if it can serve several purposes, to see if I actually need it, and in the case of toiletries, if it can be poured into a smaller container. A small tube of toothpaste still gets the job done, but will be more efficient (like that shorter sentence after you trimmed out those words you didn’t need). For a normal trip, I already have a pre-packed toiletries bag I just pull out and throw in stuff I use everyday but don’t have duplicated. It’s quick, it’s efficient and I’m on the road, no agonizing. But I can’t do this for this trip. I’ll be taking everything out of that bag and evaluating it. Just like in a rough draft, it’s okay to write clichés or insert extra ‘baggage’ we don’t need, but for a final draft? No way.

Research

At some stage, you will need to do research for your novel, especially if the stakes are high. First drafts can have placeholders, but final drafts cannot. Some things you write will come from your acquired knowledge, but the true test is recognizing your own limitations and knowledge gaps and to take steps to amend them. You can also surprise yourself in what you find when you research that can make your story stronger.

How is this like packing? For my first writer’s conference, I was driving and I was going to a city I was familiar with, so some things I knew what to pack and plan for. But there were also gaps in my knowledge that I recognized and took the steps beforehand to research, mainly the agents I’d be pitching to. So I researched them, made dossiers, and packed them.

Not researching can also lead to missed opportunities. Case in point: I was perusing some posts on the conference and saw that Saturday night is a big dress-up deal, as in folks wear ball gowns! If I hadn’t taken the time to familiarize myself with what was happening, I wouldn’t have known and wouldn’t have packed one. Fortunately for me and my limited budget, I’m a denizen of Mobile and Mardi Gras balls, so I can simply choose one from my closet and pack it. Now, I understand that one can attend in business casual, but they’re in the minority and I would’ve hated missing an opportunity to dress up like that. How often do you get to wear a ball gown?

Personality and brand is important

While there are guides to writing well, at some point you need to be skilled enough to let your unique voice shine through your writing and know when to break the rules. You will also bring your own sensibilities and mindset into your writing. You also are nurturing a brand–you.

How is this like packing? There are tons of advice out there about what to pack and what to wear for your trip, but ultimately you need to be true to yourself. You’ll pack things that show your personality, sometimes without you even realizing what it says about you. Are you someone who always packs a deck of cards, just in case?

Since my RWA trip is about furthering my writing career, and is not just a trip to the beach with family, you better believe I’ll be packing with this in mind. Yesterday at Target, I bought a little Yoda plushie that I can attach to my conference bag to help distinguish it from the 2000 other bags, but I chose it because it’s f&*)*ing Yoda! And see, that’s part of my brand as a geek girl romance writer. Unfortunately my geek clothes are all super casual, so completely inappropriate for this conference. My funds didn’t allow me to purchase funky, dressier stuff only nice, classic clothes on clearance, but it will give a professional appearance which is vital. If I ever get successful, I’ll be able to not only afford it monetarily but flaunt convention a tad.

It can cost you

Failure to understand the nature of the writing business can cost you. The title of this post uses the phrase ‘do it with purpose’ instead of  ‘do it correctly’ for a reason, though. You need to go about writing with a clear purpose at every stage, but there is no “right” way to do it. However, if you fail to do it with purpose, it will cost you. Perhaps it’s not having patience enough to seek outside opinions and self-publishing your first novel. I just read a comment from someone who only had friends and family proof her work before she put it up. She got some pretty bad reviews, which she said stung at first. She admitted though that now that she’s going to critique groups, she’s realized her story could have been much better. The cost to her? Bad reviews and potential brand damage.

There are so many other ways it can cost you– submitting to agents/editors before the story is as polished as it can be, or not researching said agents/editors, will cost you the ability to pitch to them again for the same project, for example. Just like any stage of writing, this needs to be done with purpose as well.

How is this like packing? Used to be you could throw anything into a suitcase or more than one and check it. No longer. Money is tight for me, so it totally sucks that I have to pay $25 to check my bag, but I already know I won’t be able to take everything in a carry-on. However, I do not want to go over the 50lb limit, or check a second bag, so I’ll be going over everything to make sure I don’t incur any more costs. I’ll be packing with a firm purpose. Just like in writing, as I mentioned above, I’ll be scrutinizing every item to make sure it serves the purpose of this trip.

It can also cost you during your trip if the stakes are high. For instance, if I didn’t do any research or planning and just quickly packed for this trip willy-nilly, oh boy would it cost me professionally when I arrived. I would have been ill prepared and come across as unprofessional.

Veteran Writers/Packers

Because I’m a new writer my knowledge is pretty limited. Especially compared to the multi-published authors. There are a lot of things that are second nature to them that I have to consciously do, or strive for, or learn. I’ll make mistakes along the way. I already have, in fact. I’m learning.

How is this like packing? Veteran conference goers will have an easier time than I will packing for this trip. They know what to expect, what to bring. They’ve made mistakes in the past and learned from them, and get better and better each time they go.

How about you? Are you going to RWA? Did this metaphor make a lick of sense? Do you see other ways packing is like writing that I missed?

The Inside Scoop on Getting In Bookstores – Things You Should Know

1.10.10Barnes&NobleCliftonCommonsByLuigiNoviMost people who know me online probably don’t know this, but I work in a local independent bookstore and I’ve been wanting to write this blog post for a while, because nothing turns me from being the ra-ra writer supporter I am with my writer friends online and locally than when I’m at the bookstore and an indie or self-pubbed author comes in with the attitude. And generally it’s the entitlement attitude. Before I go further, I want to qualify all this in case some interpret this to mean that writers owe obeisance to bookstores and should be humble and stuff. No. That’s not what I’m saying — I’m not saying bookstores are above writers in any way, shape or form. Yes, they are gatekeepers, but I’d like to think that they are/could be an indie writer’s ally or partner. Some of this post is going to necessarily be anecdotal, but I’ll also share some tips, as well as some ground-breaking changes in how distributors are handling indie books.

Be aware of how you present yourself

Just as with anything in this business, be conscious of how you are presenting yourself as this is a professional setting. Be courteous and friendly as you would in any other kind of business setting. Think of bookstores as potential clients, maybe, if that will help? This may sound like a no brainer. But let me tell you, in my role on the bookstore side more often than not, authors harm themselves in this regard. I’ve seen the following:

  • Writers who were visiting from out of town, and were only here for that day, and were upset the owner/decision maker wasn’t in at the time they showed up. And they took it out on me, the store clerk. I wanted to say to these authors they shouldn’t have assumed this and called ahead and made an appointment. I even had one go so far as to insist I call the owner (on his day off!) and tell him this author was in town for just that day. I refused and tried to explain this would only turn off the owner and he got more and more pushy and later harassed me with phone calls. He ended up leaving a courtesy copy. It later sold, but did we ever reorder? No. And it had potential as it was geared to a popular regional cooking style in the area. But the author was so obnoxious to the owner, it soured it for him.
  • We have one local author my boss won’t order any new releases from because when that author had their (I’m using a non-gender form on purpose) debut signing at the bookstore, they were extremely rude to my boss. This not only affected their future releases, but also that current one as it was afterward buried in the regional fiction section, spine out, and it’s not one they push or recommend. And we recommend LOTS of books EVERY day.
  • Writers who come in with the attitude that we’re obligated to carry their book

Okay, even I’m getting turned off by the negativity of my own post, LOL. So let’s move on and talk about how you can get in bookstores, yay! Because despite how it might sound, I DO want you to be in them.

Price your books with bookstores in mind

Most authors who come into the store don’t understand this and want to sell their book to us at the retail price. Bookstores are a business and just like any others that sell products, we order our books (products) at wholesale prices so we can turn a profit. Otherwise, how could we exist? Typically, we get a 40% discount from the major distributors like Ingram and Baker & Taylor. We also have the ability to return them if they don’t sell (and that’s important to remember). So if you go with a small press, make sure they offer their books through one of those two distributors. That will make it a LOT easier to get picked up as the bookstore can order it with all the other books they order. Self-published? Set your retail price with enough of a margin so that giving bookstores this discount won’t cut into the production cost.

Some bookstores allow you to sell your book via consignment, but be aware that not all do (ours doesn’t). And if they do, understand that they’re doing it to support local authors knowing that they aren’t making anything off of it. Check a bookstore’s website to see their policies. For instance, this indie bookstore in Atlanta, Bound To Be Read, has this on their website:

If your book is available through a distributor such as Ingram or Baker and Taylor, please contact Jeff McCord by e-mail or by phone at 404-522-0877.  If your book is self-published or published through a small press, we may consider taking it on consignment after review.  Because of limited space, consignment is usually restricted to local authors.  Call or e-mail Jeff McCord for more information.

Book Soup in LA has this posted (misspellings are theirs):

All consignment requests must be made in writing. We regret that we are unable to accomodate walk-in visits. In keeping with our general inventory only bound books with legible titles on their spines will be considered. To submit a book for consideration, please drop off a copy of the book along with a one-paragraph letter including your telephone number, mailing address, and promotinal material and a self-addressed stamped envelope with sufficient return postage. The submission should be marked “Consignment Request” and dropped off at the Book Soup information desk or mailed to the store address. Requests which fail to provide the information listed above will not be considered. Our review process takes four to twelve weeks. The book (not the promotional materials) will be returned in the self-addressed envelope, along with a letter notifying you of our decision. Books submitted without a self-addressed stamped envelope will be held at Book Soup information desk for pick-up. After 90 days, books not picked up will be recycled. If your book is accepted for consignment, you will have the opportunity to discuss your work with our buyers. Unfortunately, prior to acceptance, requests to contact bookstore personnel in person, by phone, or by email will not be granted. With this in mind, the decision made by our buyers is final. Book Soup is proud to support the writing community through our consignment program. Our buyers do the best to provide shelf space and display opportunities for consignment books, while still keeping in mind our inventory needs and the interest of our customers. Consignments are books that Book Soup agrees to add to our inventory with the understanding that payment will only be made on completed sales. We look forward to reviewing your work and we thank you for your interest in Book Soup.

Let friends know it’s there!

Okay, you’re in the bookstore, yay! But like with any other aspect of indie publishing, you need to promote. Let folks know it’s there. We have some local indie authors who do well because they tell their friends we have copies. One local author even has her car wrapped! It worked at least once, because someone came in the store saying they’d seen it and had checked out the blurb online and came into our store and bought it. We have others though that don’t take this step and the book never sells (only making my boss more reluctant to buy books from other authors since he can’t return them if they don’t sell and he doesn’t take consignments).

Make the decision easier

I asked my boss what would make it easier (besides being available through Ingram) and he said to give him a review copy and a flyer with the blurb, how to order, and reputable reviews (not reviews on Amazon–his words, not mine). I also think it makes a difference making an appointment or catching him when he’s there. Sending it via mail is too easy to put off. A review copy is important because the decision maker needs to be able to determine whether they can SELL the book to their customers. They’re not going to outlay money for a book that will just sit on the shelf collecting dust. Indie bookstore owners know their local market and what sells. Plus, they could become a new fan and actually actively pimp your book if they end up loving it! We definitely have some faves at the store that we pimp.

New policies at the distributors have changed the landscape!

I read about this initially on Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog back in April and thought at the time it would be a great addition to this post if I ever got around to writing it. But I think this post on Judy Goodwin’s blog summarizes it succinctly and has a link to Rusch’s post if you want to read more. Basically, the two major distributors (Ingram and Baker & Taylor) have changed their policies and now list indie books mixed in with traditional titles and offer the 40% discount and same return policy. This is HUGE folks. As it also means you also have a chance of getting picked up by the chain bookstores too! It’s not all indie books–I think it’s only with books in CreateSpace’s Extended Distribution and other qualifiers– Goodwin’s post has the deets.

In summary, put yourself in the bookstore owner/manager’s shoes and understand this is a business, not a lending library or non-profit whose mission is to carry your book. And like with any other aspect of this business, do your homework and research what your stores’ policies are. I also apologize if any of this came across as scolding–that was not my intention. I want to see indie authors be successful but just have witnessed too many fail due to things they can control, and I hate to see that.

What about you? Have you had trouble getting in local indie stores? What have you found that works? What are your indie stores policies? Do you have any other tips to share?

Tweetable: The Inside Scoop on Getting In Bookstores – Things You Should Know @AngelaQuarles  <–Click to tweet

Photo source: By Nightscream (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Is your WIP in need of some manscaping? Pluck out those to-be verbs (From the Archives)

I published this post originally back in the fall of 2011 and as I sit here completely blank on what to post today, I thought I’d pull up this fun post. So here’s the old post, with some small changes:

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Is your WIP in need of some manscaping? Pluck out those to-be verbs. Or at least eliminate enough of the suckers so they’re not populating your manuscript like the wiry hairs on a hirsute male.

Argh! As my fingers poise over my keyboard, I hesitate. Recently, I’ve become loathe to point out style advice like this when critiquing because this might be someone’s style. In fact, my fingers hesitated so much, I just returned to writing this after taking a 2 hour procrastinating tour around twitter and klout. Sigh. Okay, getting over it. Onward.

So, what do I mean by to-be verbs? These are any time we use is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been in constructing our sentences. These verbs indicate a state of being, which is important to remember when applying this guideline because sometimes what we really want to illustrate is movement, not a persistent state. But! There are times when we DO want to indicate a state of being and using a to-be verb is entirely appropriate rocks (like the to-be I used in the second sentence of this paragraph).

Like any writing tip, this is a guideline only. Not a rule. You should only write what resonates with you.

In case you do want to see how it might improve your story, here are some structures to look out for in your WIP. I like to see them as flags of possible weak areas. I find them, analyze, and either leave them as is, or change them:

  • was + -ing. Just convert the -ing into the action verb. These are the easiest to fix. He was riding > He rode. Sometimes we can go even further, because it’s still not specific enough. For instance, he was speaking before a large group could be changed to he spoke before a large group, but that’s still pretty blah. What kind of mood is he in? What’s happened leading up to this? Can we use this to illustrate the character? Possibly! Maybe something like: he hunched over the microphone, eyes downcast. He swallowed and… you get the idea…
  • was + adjective. They can indicate we’re telling and not showing. Consider something as simple as this: He was gorgeous. That’s telling. How was he gorgeous? Describe what makes him gorgeous to the narrator. As often is the case when showing and not telling, we will use more words to show his hunkiness to the reader. Just using shortcuts like this, or the house was elegant, the food was tasty are like placeholder cards (cardboard cutouts!) scream ‘cardboard cutout!’ in your manuscript telling the reader how they should feel about a character or envision the scene. Better to take the time to describe it in a way that empowers them to feel and see it on their own without tacking on such a nonspecific descriptor. The reader will be pulled into the story in a much more visceral way. Plus, everyone’s tastes are different differ, so what’s tasty or beautiful to one person might not be that way for another, so we’re missing a chance for character development here.
  • was + verb + infinitive verb. Here are two examples from my WIP: she was tempted to say became she itched to say and they were due to leave  became they planned to leave.
  • was + adjective + noun. Again from my WIP: She longed to tell him, but really that was a stupid idea became She longed to tell him, but that would top the list of stupid things to do.
  • was + noun forms of verbs. Just convert it to its original verb. For instance, she was the inventor of… can be she invented
  • was + any kind of word expressing emotion. For example: He was scared about the monster under his bed. Don’t label the emotion, show it instead. A five-headed beast with poisonous drool lurked under his bed, without a doubt. Just his luck, too, today of all days. He sidled across the wall, one eye peeled

There are probably other structures where this pesky guy shows up, but these should get you started. The point is to be aware of it and really scrutinize whether it’s the best way to describe it captures your character or scene. Sometimes it is does! Or it would be very strange to convert it. Or that’s the voice of your character. Or it fits the rhythm. But if you’re getting feedback that your prose is lackluster, consider going on a fishing expedition through your WIP with a pair of tweezers in hand. Sometimes it will be really hard to find another way to say it (at least it is for me!) but when I finally do, it pops! And generally characterizes my heroine or hero in a much better way. I’m offering this tip precisely because it is something I still struggle with it and didn’t find a heck of a lot of practical advice out there, other than don’t use it. I liked Shirley Jump’s example (tip #2) in her article Show Not Tell: What the Heck is that Anyway?

And in case you thought my opening sentence was just for shock value I wrote the opening sentence for shock value, I really did have a purpose. Some people really like overly hairy men, who am I to judge? Same with writing guidelines like this. If it works for you, do it, otherwise don’t; leave the hairs in, or pluck ‘em.

How about you? Do you struggle like me trying to convert to-be verbs? Do you have other tips for helping to eliminate them where advisable?

Tweetables:

  • Is your WIP in need of some manscaping? Pluck out those to-be verbs @AngelaQuarles  <–click to tweet
  • If your prose is lackluster, consider going on a fishing expedition through your WIP for to-be verbs @AngelaQuarles <– click to tweet

Do you know your own GMC? Not your characters, yours as a writer?

By Auregann (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

For writers of genre fiction where plot and story are central to the success of the book, we’re often told to clarify our characters’ GMCs. For non-writers, this stands for Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. And it’s best if you can have both an external and an internal one for your Main Character (and your other Main Character if it’s a romance) and your Antagonist (if it’s sentient).

This can be easily transformed into a sentence: Hero wants x because y, but z happens. Internal GMCs would be: Hero needs x because y, but z.

Anyway, as writers we can be so focused on perfecting our craft that sometimes we can neglect ourselves and hamper our goal. Last week I was at my monthly critique group meeting and one of us has multiple unpublished novels under her belt. She’s definitely put in the 10,000 hours of practice as she’s been writing for the last 10 years and she is extremely talented. Her prose drips with ethos and voice, her scenes and characters come alive, and she has great stories to tell. But you can’t read any of her work. In fact, though she’s been doing this for so long, we’re part of only a handful who actually knows she writes. She also has a fear of having folks she knows reading her work (I think she’s fine with strangers).

And this is all fine if she is writing solely for her own benefit. So at the meeting I asked her what her ultimate goal is, as that will help clarify whether she needs to go through the time-consuming and often gut-wrenching process of getting your work out there. And she would like to be published. She’s starting to research going the indie route and we were discussing it with great energy.

So to grossly simplify my good friend’s GMC, it would be: She wants to be published because she’d like to share her work with others, but she lacks time. And her internal GMC would be hampered by a fear.

Why is this good to know for yourself? Because just like with your Main Character, you need to know your goal, what’s opposing you, and then launch yourself into your own Story World and start tackling the steps to take you to your own Goal. Along the way you’ll have setbacks, your internal fears will hamper you, but keep yourself focused on your main goal and you’ll get there.

And if you need some inspiration to help you keep going through your Story World, an earlier post of mine talks about pushing past each setback you’ll hit on your journey, Writer Wednesday: When You Hit That Wall, Do You Nurse Your Head, Or Climb Over? Then once you picture yourself climbing over (or around or under) that wall and the multitude of writers who are not doing that, read Kristen Lamb’s post What Are the Odds of Success? …Really? In it, she maintains that “It has been statistically demonstrated that only 5% of any population is capable of sustained change.” So with each metaphorical wall you hit as a writer, remember that only 5% get to the other side. Do you want to be part of that 5%?

Do you know your own GMC? What fears are holding you back? Do you have your next immediate goal you need to tackle?

Tweetables:

  • Do you know your own GMC? Not your characters, yours as a writer? @AngelaQuarles <– Click to tweet
  • Have you launched yourself into your own Story World? Know your own GMCs @AngelaQuarles <– Click to tweet

Image source: By Auregann (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Guest Post: Stephanie Lawton on The Art of Genre Hopping

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Excited to have fellow Mobilian Stephanie Lawton on my blog today to talk about her new release, Need, which is the follow-up to her debut release Want! Take it away, Stephanie!

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Thanks, Angela, for the opportunity to say a few things about my new release, Need, genre-hopping and nontraditional publishing. Quite a mouthful, that, but I assure you they’re related and relevant to most writers.

In an ideal writing world, we don’t sit down and immediately conjure up the perimeters of a specific genre. Instead, we tell our story the way it needs to be written. Only when it’s finished do we begin to think of its marketability and where it fits in the pigeon holes of the publishing world.

Nine times out of ten, it’s easy to tell where a book belongs. Narrator under eighteen? It’s probably YA. Silk sheets and a red room of fun toys? Probably erotic romance or erotica (or perhaps comedy, but I’ll leave that one alone …)

So what happens when your story genuinely doesn’t fit a specific category, or doesn’t fit well enough to be a sure thing for an agent or publisher to be comfortable selling? Answer: You go indie.

For some, this means hitting up indie publishers, which are doing quite well in this changing market. They’re also generally more open to well-written stories that may not conform to what’s currently popular or projected to be so. The good ones still demand quality, but they often see the value in putting something out there that appeals to specific readers, or readers who are tired of the same big-house tropes.

This is where I lucked out with my romance series. The first book, Want, was published as upper-YA. The story hinges on the heroine being seventeen, but the issues she’s facing are very adult and all the rest of the characters in the book are adults. Is it YA? Not really. But is it adult? Most potential readers would automatically assume it’s not based on the narrator’s age.

A year after publication we’ve seen the rise of a category known as New Adult. Bingo. And guess who pioneered this wildly successful trend? Indie writers (many self-published) and indie publishers.

There were many demands from readers for a second book to find out what happened next to a certain character, so I penned Need. This time, I wrote from the main male adult character’s POV (I can’t call him a protagonist or antagonist and be completely accurate). He’s twenty-eight, beyond New Adult and well beyond YA.

Plus, when his story began pouring out, it was really adult, as in practically erotic romance. When I first sent it off to my indie publisher (right of first refusal and all that) I figured there was no way they’d let me get away with veering so far away from the first book’s genre. I honestly expected a big ‘ole “Hell no!” complete with finger snaps.

But guess what? They loved it. What’s more, readers are loving it.

The moral of the story, boys and girls, is to take a chance, write what you love, and trust that there are options for your story and readers who will jump at the chance to delve into something off the beaten path.

Happy writing and reading!

Need’s blurb:

NeedIsaac Laroche is cursed. All he wants to do is hide out and feel sorry for himself. Never mind that he got caught sleeping with his seventeen-year-old piano student, or that he abandoned her when the truth was exposed.

Isaac’s feisty high school sweetheart has different plans. Heather Swann has returned to their hometown of Mobile, Alabama, to regroup after breaking up with her troll of a fiancé. She’s restless and looking for a diversion, but she bites off more than she can chew when she sets her sights on rehabilitating Isaac with her unorthodox sexual, mental, and physical plans.

The two quickly reconnect, but their happiness is threatened by family secrets, old vendettas and the death of a beloved father-figure.

Can Heather handle Isaac’s baggage, or will her own come back to haunt them both?

Where to get your hands on it:

Inkspell Publishing (paperback and digital) | Barnes and Noble (paperback and Nook) | Amazon (paperback and Kindle) | All Romance eBooks (digital) | The Book Depository (paperback) | Kobo (digital)

Author bio:

photo 3After collecting a couple English degrees in the Midwest, Stephanie Lawton suddenly awoke in the deepest reaches of the Deep South. Culture shock inspired her to write about Mobile, Alabama, her adopted city, and all the ways Southern culture, history and attitudes seduce the unsuspecting.

A lover of all things gothic, she can often be spotted photographing old cemeteries, historic buildings and, ironically, the beautiful beaches of the Gulf Coast. She also has a tendency to psychoanalyze people, which comes in handy when creating character profiles.

Links for stalking!

Author website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Thanks Stephanie for giving us this peek into indie publishing! Visitors, have you found this to be the case too with indie books? Have you let a story take you where it needed to go and found acceptance? This is definitely an exciting time to be a writer!

Dealing with Critiques and Reviews – the 40-20-40 Rule

One of my earliest blog posts was about dealing with critiques and I shared what I called the 30-40-30 rule that I learned from my uncle. Well I just had a short vacation with said uncle and found out I had the percentage wrong! He said it’s 40-20-40! So here’s my old post, revised a tad with that calculation.

As a writer, at some point you will reach the stage where you will need to have others critique your work. There are many reasons to do so that others have covered before, but as a former computer programmer, one way I like to look at it is: you cannot test your own code. You think you’ve written the program to do exactly what you want, you test it and hand it off to the Beta tester. And they find mistakes. The reason is because they didn’t build it and so don’t know your thinking behind it and do what comes natural to them. Consequently, they take paths you never dreamed of and hadn’t tested for. Yikes!

How does this relate to writing? You think you’ve sufficiently explained motives behind character actions, or have shown the emotional reaction sufficiently because YOU know the character so well and know EXACTLY why they’re doing it and fail to see that it didn’t quite come across the way you pictured it. Oops! A good critiquer or beta reader will find these ‘thin spots’ for you.

Okay, so you’re ready to get critiques? Are you sure? I’d like to tout again this great advice from Writer Musings: How To Get The Most Out Of A Critique, Part Three: if you don’t know the heart of your story, you are not ready for feedback. This is so true because you are going to get a wide array of feedback. And by wide array, I mean some folks will hate a particular line and others will like that same one. Soon, you’ll be wanting to pull out your hair. Or, worse, you’ll take every single suggestion as gospel and water down your story, your voice, to such a state that it will be milquetoast.

The problem is, if you’re doing things right, I think, you’ll have some people not like it. Crazy I know. But I think I’m right. Here’s why. If you have a unique voice or your characters’ voices are interesting and unique, that means some people are not going to like it. It’s just not their thang. And that’s okay. Make it bland, though? No one will find it objectionable, but are any of them excited? Probably not.

So what’s a writer to do? I like to invoke my uncle’s 40-20-40 rule. He got this advice when he became dean of a department — 40% of the people are going to like you no matter what, 40% will not like you no matter what, it’s the 20% in the middle you need to worry about. This rule is so handy and applicable that I’ve quoted it many times for different scenarios. It’s why politicians are really in trouble if they drop below 40% in the approval ratings, because they’re losing folks that would normally support them no matter what.

When writing, use this rule, too, during your critique period and also when it’s published. Make sure you show your draft to people outside of your 40%-guaranteed likes (i.e. your family and friends). One excellent place to get a wide sampling and great advice is my favorite critique forum: Critique Circle. It runs by a credit system — the more you crit others, the more credits you earn and so the more you can post for review. The other part I like is that it is broken up by genre and there are only a certain number of slots for each, so you’re guaranteed to get crits, unlike other sites where you join a huge long list and folks have to wade through. The more crits given in a particular genre for that week’s cycle, the more slots available for that genre for the next week. Check it out.

But then be prepared for diverse opinions! It can be very overwhelming and it’s tempting to take every single piece of advice. Make sure you evaluate each one, even if it’s contrary or hard to swallow. They may have an excellent point. Take a few days and let it sink in. If it will make your piece stronger, use it. If it resonates with you as the writer and fits with your vision, use it. But if it doesn’t, don’t. You’ll get ‘critters’ who don’t like your genre, so of course they’re probably not going to like your piece. Evaluate to see if the critter ‘gets’ what you’re trying to say/tell. You’ll soon get the hang of it. I had one critter in the beginning that was telling me to delete things that were what made my character different. She didn’t like the character and so was watering her down to what she liked. I didn’t take her advice because I knew this was how my character thought, and others were liking this exact aspect of her.

So, I’m going to risk that 40% will not like my character and my story and hoping the 20% in the middle do.

EDIT: A sharp commenter noted that this is a breakdown of the Pareto Principle, known as the 80/20 rule. The lesson is the same: concentrate on capturing that elusive 20% in the middle, and the 40 on either end are the ‘trivial 80%’ noted in Pareto’s Principle!

What has been your critique experience? Do you find this rule applicable as well? Do you think the percentage distribution is right? Or do you feel 30-40-30 is more accurate?

Photo by jared

Tweetables

  • Dealing with Critiques or Reviews – the 40-20-40 Rule click to tweet
  • When evaluating crits & reviews, aim for the 20% in the middle! The 40-20-40 rule click to tweet

Are you using a thesaurus correctly? And is this irony?

179909_620791327948192_959396268_nSometimes I wonder about the universe and how it will sync random events to make a point, teach us something, or just plain laugh at us.

Case in point

Yesterday, a fellow writer posted this some-ecard with the quote from Stephen King on Facebook and I wrote the following comment:

I don’t know– I think there’s an exception–if you’re only using words you find in there that you already know well and have just forgotten it, and so you’re like “oh, yes, that’s a good one.” Problem is when people use it to use words they don’t know and so potentially use it in the wrong context or it has a shade of meaning they are unfamiliar with. Or are just trying to use ‘impressive’ words. I sometimes (I’m of a certain age) find that I also forget nice simple words too.

And then I proceed to fire up the old Kindle to read a new book that should be right up my alley–a quirky, nerdy heroine stumbling toward love. It was recommended by another writer in a blog post as a refreshing, new voice and I just had to check it out. It started out great (voice, check), and I do really like the quirky, nerdy heroine (check), but soon I started cringing.

The problem?

The writer is using a vocabulary wider than her own. It clearly suffers from thesaurusitis and while the heroine is supposed to be über smart and nerdy, and so it would seem to be appropriate for the heroine to have a great vocabulary and use big words, the problem is, the writer doesn’t have the same vocabulary as the heroine she’s trying to write and so is using words that she thinks portrays the synonym for the word she looked up, but the shade of meaning or context is completely wrong. Making for some unintentional funny moments. Frankly, it’s spoiled the book for me, though I’m still going to continue reading it today just because I do like the heroine and her situation. But I won’t be recommending it to anyone. My co-worker asked if it was supposed to be intentional, but I don’t think so–this character isn’t being portrayed as someone who thinks she’s smart and using words in the wrong context to provide hilarity, she’s actually supposed to be smart.

And is this irony or just Alanis Morissette irony?

I hate to admit this, but I struggle with whether something is true irony, so help a girl out. Is the fact that I wrote that comment on Facebook saying there is an exception and then on the same day I start a book that illustrates the other half of my comment:

Problem is when people use it to use words they don’t know and so potentially use it in the wrong context or it has a shade of meaning they are unfamiliar with.

Is that true irony? Because I rarely read a book that suffers from thesaurusitis and it was kinda freaky for me to start one on the same day that did.

Do you agree with Stephen King re: thesaurus usage? Or, do you use one? And if so, how?

Tweetables:

  • Today @AngelaQuarles asks: Are you using a thesaurus correctly? And is this irony? click to tweet
  • Is a thesaurus useful or do you agree with Stephen King that a writer should never use it?  @angelaquarles click to tweet

My Thoughts on the New Golden Heart Scoring System

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The scores for Romance Writer’s of America’s (RWA) unpublished manuscript contest, The Golden Heart, have been sent and there’s already some discussion on loops about what the scores mean and whether it’s working.

First, some background. The Golden Heart’s mission from RWA’s website is to:

…promote excellence in the romance genre by recognizing outstanding romance manuscripts

This is a coveted contest final in the Romance world. After finalists are announced, agents regularly give automatic requests for fulls to them. At the national conference, the finalists are announced and winner awarded during the final gala night in an Oscars-like setting.

This is the first year a new scoring system has been used. In the past, the judge gave one overall score based on how they viewed it. There’s been criticism in the past that this wasn’t based on any specific criteria. This year, judges were asked to break down their score into the following categories:

Romance (1-20)
Writing (1-10)
Characters (1-10)
The Story/Plot (1-10)

For a total score of 50.

On the loops I belong to, writers are asking what it means when they get a wide range. Some have said it’s as varied as 11 (as a total score!) to 48, for the same manuscript, and others are reporting the same wide range. I’ve also seen some writers say they received a 1 or a 5 for their Writing category. In the instance of one of the ones who got a 5, I actually Beta read that manuscript and their writing (which should be based on the craft, i.e. grammar, command of language, etc) was not 5, IMO.

It’s a true adage, that in contest feedback, large swings in opinion can mean that you have a strong voice and so you’re alienating some folks who just hate your voice.

Golden Heart this year has taken care of some of the unfairness in these large swings by dropping the lowest AND the highest score, but I’m wondering if there’s more to it than this. I judged entries this year and here’s my thoughts:

There was no grading scale given to help orientate the judge on what a 1 as opposed to a 5 or a 10 means (other than that 1 was on the low end, and 10 was a perfect score). Lacking this, I made one up for myself by taking the grading scales used in local chapter contests. So when I judged the entries, this was the criteria I used by taking the 1-5 scale used in local contests and extrapolating it out to:

9-10 Ready to Publish, no changes needed.
7-8 Almost there.
5-6 Several minor problems.
3-4 This area could be strengthened with some significant rework.
1-2 Major problems in this area.

And for the Romance category, I used this:

17-20 Ready to Publish, no changes needed.
13-16 Almost there.
9-12 Several minor problems.
5-8 This area could be strengthened with some significant rework.
1-4 Major problems in this area.

And so I gave my scores accordingly. But do you see the problem here? I did this on my own. Who knows whether this is what the coordinators had in mind? Who knows what other judges used to assign their numbers?

In many local contests that use a scale, they give what the judge should look for in each category. Perhaps a way to improve this would be to give some kind of scale guideline for each category in order to take out this part of the subjective equation. Because yes, every judges opinion is subjective, but how to use the numbering system shouldn’t be subjective.

Also, some folks had high scores in all categories except romance, with their romance number being 7s and 8s, consistent with what they were getting in the other categories. So, it makes one wonder if the judge didn’t realize the scale went up to 20?

I also had an interesting phenomenon happen. I had one entry I judged that I thought was so great, I gave it a perfect score (the only one I gave). The writing was great–sharp writing, sizzling sexual tension (I was literally squirming) and the synopsis was well done in that the plot was crystal clear, plausible and the character’s goals and motivations were all clear and made sense (it was the only one that did). I was surprised it didn’t final and then I saw that it was published, so it must’ve been disqualified. Anyway, I bought it, so I could read it, and the story completely did NOT hold up. The prose was still technically flawless, but man, for the Black moment/final climax, it totally hinged on the character doing something completely out of character as it was written (but which in the synopsis made it sound like it was totally their character) and also the characters never really got fleshed out past cardboard cutouts to serve the plot. Just goes to show how only reading first 50 and a synopsis truly do not help pick the best. Jami Gold’s post yesterday touches on this in her post “Why Is Storytelling Ability So Important?” based on judging a recent contest.

So here’s some thoughts I have on how the contest could be improved for the future:

  • Give a scale on what each number means for each category
  • If Romance will still count double, perhaps double the score after the scores are turned in. I’m sorry, but there’s some people who just don’t pay attention. How many folks missed out on finaling because they were unlucky enough to get more than one judge who didn’t look close enough to see the scores went to 20 in this one category only?
  • Unfortunately, I think asking to read a full will be too much work, so fixing the instance I found where the problems exploded only once the full was read probably can’t be addressed. RWA had a hard enough time getting enough judges this past year

What do you think? I see this as a place to discuss the new scoring system and whether it worked or didn’t. Is it an improvement on the old system? Do you have some suggestions on how it could be improved for next year?

Are You an Obsessive Series Reader?

If you read and enjoyed Book One of a series, do you then have to read all of the rest? I just finished reading all eleven books in JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series–I started on March 29, and chewed through all of them by this past Saturday.

As I step out of this Ward fog, life is still going on around me. And I’m kind of relieved actually. I really have other things I need to be reading, but more importantly–doing. Because when I get my teeth on a series like this, I’m reading when I don’t normally read. Barring something unusual going on, I read every day, but within certain time allotments. But this past month, I was reading in the mornings on weekends, or coming home from work and reading, when I should be concentrating on writing or revisions.

But I also miss the Brothers! I love getting immersed in a world like that, with an author who delivers. I’m not usually someone who tears up reading romances, but man, the emotional rollercoasters she executed were quite something, and more than once had the ol’ tear ducts working. I think my favorites were V and Z stories, and my heart just broke for Qhuinn. And Lover At Last was my first M/M Romance. I think my least fave was Phury’s, which was disappointing because I was really looking forward to his.

Reading them also had a side benefit–they were a great lesson in Deep POV writing. If you’ve been wanting to see Deep POV in action and don’t mind walking on the dark side for your romance, you can’t go wrong reading these.

What about you? Do you chew through a series that grabs you to the exclusion of other things you should be doing? Have you read the BDB series? Which were your faves?

Agent Pitch Prep Tip: Make Dossiers

agent_megibowConference seasons is here again! Some of you may be headed to the RT Convention coming up shortly and participating in their Pitch-a-Palooza, or taking advantage of the pitch appointments at the RWA conference, or those at regional conferences. Whichever you’re doing, it’s best to be prepared. I’ve now pitched seven times at three different conferences and I thought I’d share one of my tips: Make a dossier on each agent!

This serves several purposes:

  • Ensures you’ve researched the agent
  • Helps you get to know them a little before you meet them
  • Helps make you feel like you’re prepared
  • Provides you with info to help break the ice
  • Gives you something to review quickly while you’re waiting for the appointment to start

This last is super-important if you’re pitching to more than one. You can quickly review and remind yourself that yep, this is the one that likes The Hobbit, or this is the one that loves dorky heroes. Whatever it is that you have in common that will help cement that agent in your mind before you go in.

Things to include:

  • Photo
  • Agent Name (Duh)
  • Name of Agency
  • Location of their office
  • Who their agency represents (only list those authors you know or are familiar with)
  • Who they represent (again, just the ones you’re familiar with)
  • Books they like (Obviously only ones that you like too or that might be comps for your work)
  • Other Items of Note (anything else about what they’re looking for, personality quirks you have in common, anything else that’s relevant to your project. I knew one agent hated having pitches that started with the author handing her a business card, so I made sure to note that)

Things I didn’t list, but that could be good to add:

  • Questions to ask
  • Possible icebreaker topics

I took these sheets and made a folder with each one, complete with a label printed for the tab.

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What if you don’t find much?

Some agents keep a low profile on the web (like mine!). But still it helps to put whatever you can find. To the right is all I could glean on my agent before I pitched to her. But it really helped to review this and know what she looked like. Be careful what you do find on the web–QueryTracker accidentally had Vicky Dreiling listed as being represented by her and it turned out that was incorrect. Double-check what you find with another source.

Anyway, I think my ice-breaker was going to be about her looking for quirky characters, but it turned out I didn’t need one. We were interrupted right when I sat down because I’d dropped my little stuffed Yoda that I had attached to my conference bag as a mascot and quick way to identify it amongst other bags. We had a laugh over it and she said “I love Yoda!” and off we went.

After the pitch

Afterward, I wrote down what they wanted on the sheet and their contact info. If they gave me a business card, I attached it. It also came in handy to keep any relevant info that transpired afterward in that folder or written on the sheet (like date partial full sent, reply, etc).

What about you? Have you used something like this and did you find it helpful? If you haven’t, would doing this help you? Can you think of other things to add that might be good to keep track of?