Friday, January 30, 2009
I just spent a chunk of time working through unsolicited submissions ("the slush pile"). Doing so many in a short time really reinforces the difficulties of this task. For every diamond in the rough, you have to dig through tons of coal.
Every author hears the same advice over and over. Why do people ignore it?
~ Submit your work ONLY to publishers where it would fit. Research publishers, find out who publishes what, and read what they put out so you know if your work fits. Tailor your submission to each publisher.
~ READ AND FOLLOW EACH PUBLISHER'S SPECIFIC SUBMISSION GUIDELINES.
Okay, I know the answer to my rhetorical question above. I'm preaching to the choir - knowledgable aspiring authors do follow this advice already. If you are reading this blog, you are probably "the choir" because you actually are looking for information about writing and publishing, you are trying to be professional about being an author.
The rest of the "aspiring authors" - who constitute the bulk of the slush pile - don't know a damn thing about the publishing industry or the skill of writing. They don't belong to writer organizations, haven't tried to learn about about writing and submitting, and have never acquired the basic information on submitting and getting published.
Some of this week's submission horrors:
1. The paper submissions. Never send paper to a publisher whose guidelines very clearly state "electronic submission only, no paper". And vice versa. Your paper submission will be dropped in the trash can. If you included an SASE, you may get a form letter instructing you to read the submissions guidelines.
2. A higher level of "wrong" in paper: the paper submission with the writer's letter asking that the submission be returned - but no SASE included. Sorry, no publisher pays to mail your mistake back to you - especially for the ones from another country.
3. The emailed submission with a whole string of editor addresses in the "To" field. Was the sender so uncaring or lazy that they couldn't send individual emails? Or did the submitter believe any of us would think "Oh, I must read this right away, before someone else beats me to it?" Nope - what we all thought was "Unprofessional. Uninformed. Either stupid or manipulative. Don't waste my time." (By the way, I know some of those other editors in the To box - they don't take electronic submissions. Now we really think poorly of this submitter.)
4. The poetry. I used to wonder why these people targeted us, when we do not publish poetry. Then I heard from editors from many houses that they all get poetry, which their house does not publish. There is a very limited market for poetry and limited publishers who do it, so I guess aspiring poets get desperate and waste their time and money sending to every publisher in existence.
5. The artwork. Err, no, a publisher does not want your depiction of what you want on your cover accompanying your submission. Nor clip art accompanying that poetry we don't want either. Nor photos of you or your family and pets.
6. The submission in another language. Don't bother sending a cover letter in bad English - no, a publisher is not going to pay someone to translate your submission they never requested and aren't going to accept. Publishers deal directly with agents and publishers in other countries to acquire English-language rights to books that they already know they want. Submit your neophyte work to a publisher in that publisher's language.
No, I didn't make any of this up, these were actual submissions this month. And this is before I even read the manuscripts!
So how did you handle your very first submission? Do you feel you knew what you were doing? (And if you haven't submitted that finished story yet, get up your courage and DO IT. Just do it right.)
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
At the Florida Romance Writers conference last week, we had a speed-submissions session. I've participated in this type of event at several conferences. Basically, writers anonymously submit the first page of their manuscript. For each, the moderator announces the genre and reads the first page aloud. Then a panel of editors/agents has only a few minutes to provide their initial response. Did they like it or not and why, what problems were immediately apparent, would they keep reading past that first page?
Participation requires considerable courage from the author, since some other attendees may recognize that as your book and will be hearing the frank public comments from the editors/agents. But this is a fast way to get a critique of the start of your story, know if it even has a chance in its present form of getting attention. And it's enlightening to hear the different responses. Remember, editors and agents all have their personal tastes, and one person will say they loved it and another will hate it. But I have noticed that, on these panels at several events, editors/agents do tend to focus on the same things within each submission, there was general consistency about what does not work.
It's important that writers be aware, as one of the editors pointed out, that "We are looking for reasons to reject." No, that's not being mean, it's being realistic. Editors are swamped with submissions. We have limited time to review them. And more importantly, there are only so many slots available in a house's release calendar. We need to get through those hundreds of submissions and weed the stack down to the few that are (in each editor's/agent's own opinion) the best and most marketable. We're not going to spend time reading past the first page if we have immediately hit on problems or gotten the initial impression that this story is "okay but not great". We want great!
So if you are at a writer conference and have an opportunity to participate in something like this event, give it a try! See the start of your story through an editor's eyes.
Monday, January 26, 2009
I think I've referenced this excellent blog by a children's book editor before. Two recent articles of universal writer interest regarding submissions.
Today's Easy Question
Can you send in a handwritten submission? Her response is absolutely in line with our experience at ECPI - only children and incarcerated felons do this. Yep, we do get subs from prisoners, handwritten in pencil on lined paper, due to their restricted access to computers.
I Don't Know Why I Love You Like I Do
Even multipublished authors get rejections of new proposals from their existing publisher. No matter how great the writer overall, not everything they produce is great.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Q: How many writers does it take to change a light blub?
A: One, but only after checking with at least three critique partners.
Q: How many agents does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: One, but you have to query 765 to find the one who’ll actually do the screwing.
Winners, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your prize!
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Let me tag onto Suz's article, Seduce Your Reader (hey, scroll down a bit if you haven't read it).
I have over 800 books on my To Be Read shelves. I've selected the next couple I want to read. What did I pick?
"My course of action became clear once I tied him to my bed."
"Hanged by the neck until dead, every one of 'em," Lavinia Mather said with enormous satisfaction."
"When the Desdaine triplets were born on a frigid February night (Withering came first, then Derisive, then Scornful, all sunny-side up and gazing with big blue eyes at the ceiling), the doctor and attending nurse screamed and screamed."
"If you want a short-cut to an alien culture these days, there is no quicker route than to look at a French phrase book."
"Later, while I was facing the Potter Moth, or fleeing for my life from the First Ones, or helping man a cannon aboard Jack Havock's brig Sophronia, I would often think back to the way my life used to be, and to that last afternoon at Larklight, before all our misfortunes began."
Yep, those are the first sentences of the books. (BTW, they include a non-fiction and a middle-grade novel. I read eclectically.) Now mind you, I'd already bought these books based on things like the author name, genre, back blurb, and first page. But out of all those books on my shelves, it is that first sentence that grabbed me, made me decide to move the book from the shelf to my bedside table to read next.
Most submission guidelines say to send the first three chapters of your manuscript.
Uh, you don't really think you've got three chapters to seduce an editor or agent, do you? You don't actually believe we read a full three chapters of every submission? What, you think we've got hundred-hour days? That's what it would take to read that much, considering the volume of submissions to most publishers and agencies.
Imagine a potential reader browsing the bookstore shelves or looking through the excerpts on an online site. You've got at best a couple of paragraphs to grab a reader or you've lost a buyer. And that is what the editor or agent takes into consideration - will this book sell well? So you have to seduce the reader persona within that editor or agent - if the start of the story doesn't sell the book to them, they are not going to contract it and give it a chance to seduce all the other readers.
Oh, and after that "wow, I want to read this" first sentence, don't let the reader down! Make the first couple of paragraphs just as enticing.
My course of action became clear once I tied him to the bed.
It all started innocently enough. I was supposed to meet some friends at a hot new bar, but the entire evening conspired against me. The trendy bar had a huge line winding from the velvet rope all the way down the block. And then the skies opened, drenching my perfectly constructed 'do and plastering my gelled hair to my head in a sticky mess. Of course it also ruined my new suede outfit, and...
Where was I? Oh yeah, the guy roped to my bed. Well, not roped exactly--more like tied securely with my black lace stockings.
Oh, and did I mention he was blue?
But I digress...
(Galaxy Tryst by Piper Leigh)
Oh, yeah, we never did specify a prize, did we? Hmm, maybe we'll just let the winner ask for what they want. (Not that they'll necessarily get it, mind you...)
Did you ever hear a good idea and think "Wow, that's so simple, so obvious. Why did I never think of it?"
The January 2009 issue of the SCBWI Bulletin has an article on "Keeping Those Characters in Line" by Denise Ortakales. What is her advice? In order to keep information about the characters in your book, how they are related to each other, their individual histories and lives and quirks - use the genealogy charts and worksheets available on many genealogy websites! Treat your characters like they are real people. You think of them as such anyway, don't you?
You can find ancestral charts (pedigree charts), family group templates, forms for recording individual information, timeline charts. Genealogists are very structured, organized and detail-oriented - which is what you need to be about your book and characters. Try these various websites to find free forms you can download:
Family Tree Magazine: http://www.familytreemagazine.com/freeforms/
Family Tree Resources: http://www.uftree.com/family_tree_template.asp
Kindred Keepsakes: http://www.kindredkeepsakes.com/products/charts/free.asp
Bailey/Williams College : http://www.cs.williams.edu/~bailey/genealogy/
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
This is all about the “F” word.
No, not THAT one
In case you think this is a lesson in The Art of Lovemaking, sorry, folks – maybe at a later date…
This is all about seducing your reader, luring them into your story so that they won’t—can’t—put your story down. We’ve all experienced it – that beginning to a story that immediately captures your imagination, involves you, sucks you into the story so that you’re halfway through before you realize the hours have flown by. Isn’t this what every author wants to achieve? Gaining that immediate commitment from their reader so that they want to devour your story?
So, how do you do it? How long do you have? If you’re thinking the whole of the first chapter, think again.
Think about it. Ladies, imagine you’re with a very hot, very sexy man. You’re hoping for a little—or a lot—of wonderful, mutually satisfying sex. But instead of seducing you, making you want what he’s offering so that you can’t say no, he wants to talk to you. Nothing wrong with talking, but there’s a time and a place for everything. No, just then you don’t want to hear about his first girlfriend, his mother, his uncles, how his parents got together, what he ate for breakfast… When that starts, he’s lost you, hasn’t he?
This is how it is with a book. As a reader, but particularly as an editor, I want to seduced straight away. Don’t let my interest cool. Make me tingle. Make me gasp. Keep me focused on your story and your characters. I begin reading your submission with high hopes. I liked the synopsis, was captured by the blurb, so don’t lose me on the first page. Those first few pages are critical. If you want me to stick around for the main event, in this case, the rest of your story, compel me to keep reading. Seduce me into wanting to read more, to go deeper, all the way to the climax.
What prompted my ruminations on this topic was a post by Toni McGee Causey on the Muderati blog: http://murderati.typepad.com/murderati/2008/10/the-con-of-the.html . Titled “the con of the art”, Ms. McGee Causey talks about how to write a good beginning to a story, and she’s absolutely correct—
The opening to a novel is all about seducing, capturing the reader with just the right tone, the right shift of the body, so that they lean in a little. Tell me more.
The beginning of a story used to be difficult for me, until I realized what it was all about. It's not about the set up, or the backstory. It's not about the world or the place or the weather. It's about titillation. Potential. It does not have to be about understanding, yet. The whole "they have to know this thing happened back then in order to know what that event means" scenario…
I read a lot. Part of the job. And I’m shocked by how often I come across stories that start with a backstory info dump (so often slipped in under the misnomer of “Prologue”). I don't NEED to know the whole backstory to understand enough to know if I want to continue reading. In fact, a lot of—most—times it has the effect of switching me right off the story. Why do I lose interest? When too much backstory or the annoying info dump are laid on me, I'm instantly aware that I'm reading a STORY. Okay, admittedly I am, but for me as a reader to become involved, I need to be able to shed the "this is only fiction" mindset and embrace the world, the characters you the author are presenting. For the space of that book, THAT needs to become my "reality", even if it is fantasy, or paranormal, or science fiction. The second I begin to think “It’s only a story…”, I’m not involved in your story or your characters. An essential skill of an author is that ability to lure readers to submerse themselves in the world and characters they're creating, without them even realizing. That's what fiction is all about as opposed to non-fiction. That's the escape fiction stories offer.
So, yes, I want to be seduced. Straight up. First few pages or less. I want to be sucked into that reality that isn't my own. For just a little while. Giving me the who is who, where they are, what went before, and why this is so, is NOT going to do that for me. And if you give me so much information that I feel as though I need to take notes to keep it all straight (and THAT happens more often than you’d believe), we’re in trouble, baby!
Remember, foreplay and seduction—that’s what the first few pages of your story represent. And they’re arguably the most important in your story. They can be the difference between a request from the editor to read the full manuscript, or a rejection letter.
Leave the backstory for later—seduce me first. It makes the climax so much more satisfying.
Good examples of great beginnings can be found in the following Ellora’s Cave books: Joey Hill’s Natural Law; Lisa Marie Rice’s Midnight Man; Jory Strong’s Trace’s Psychic; Robin L. Rotham’s Alien Overnight; Gail Faulkner’s Full Ride.
Or for books of a more mainstream nature, see 9 Great Ways To Begin A Novel: http://research-writing-techniques.suite101.com/article.cfm/9_great_ways_to_capture_a_reader
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Q: How many copy editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: I can't tell whether you mean 'change a light bulb' or 'have sex in a light bulb'. Can we reword it to remove the ambiguity?
Q: How many editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Only one. But first they have to rewire the entire building.
Q: How many managing editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: You were supposed to have changed that light bulb last week!
Q: How many art directors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Does it HAVE to be a light bulb?
Q: How many copy editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: The last time this question was asked, it involved art directors. Is the difference intentional? Should one or the other instance be changed? It seems inconsistent.
Q: How many marketing directors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: It isn't too late to make this neon instead, is it?
Q: How many proofreaders does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Proofreaders aren't supposed to change light bulbs. They should just query them.
Q: How many writers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: But why do we have to CHANGE it?
Q: How many publishers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Three. One to screw it in, and two to hold down the author.
Q: How many editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Awkward sentence - please revise.
[contributed by Jaci Burton]
Q: How many editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Are you sure there were light bulbs in 1701?
[contributed by Cricket Starr]
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
It takes a special writing skill set to create top-quality short stories. Try squeezing plot, characterization, and goal-motivation-conflict-resolution into maybe only a dozen thousand words. Not even novella length—a short story. Not every author can accomplish it, or even wants to—many prefer the development space within a lengthier novel, they want to create fuller stories.
And the write-a-short-story task is even more complex if you happen to be writing erotic romance. Now you not only need the characters and plot, those characters have to be getting hot and heavy very fast, and keep the heat going to the end. So here's some advice from one of our excellent ECPI editors on the primary elements of an erotic romance short story.
QUICKIES – A GUIDE FOR AUTHORS
by Sue-Ellen Gower
You’re with the man of your dreams/your lover/your husband/your knight in shining armor, and suddenly the lust overtakes you. You have to fuck, and do it now! Up against the wall, in the alley, in the apartment stairwell… You don’t care where you are, if anyone sees you, the only thing that matters is that you need him—inside you—now!
Or perhaps it’s morning… You’re going to be late for work, but you woke to the feel of a large pair of warm hands cupping your breasts, pinching the nipples, a hard, hot erection nudging you with a tantalizing thrust and withdraw from behind. A husky, sexy, sleep-roughened voice whispers in your ear, your man’s warm breath sending shivers all over your body. And it’s so delicious. You just have time…Who cares if you miss the train—you can catch the next one. The only priority you have right now is getting that gorgeous cock inside you, feeling your man take you, hard, fast, driving you over the edge into a climax that sizzles your brain!
It’s fast, it’s intense, it’s over quickly and it leaves you breathless, flushed, but exhilarated!
That, folks, is a quickie.
That is also the concept behind Ellora’s Cave Quickies®. They’re a quick story, intense, but leave the reader breathless. Like the other kind of quickie, they’re all about the sex. Hot, fast, driving up your excitement to a shattering climax.
Tina Engler, Ellora’s Cave founder, said it best: a tight plot with intense emotional stakes… The keyword for Quickies® is intense.
Here are some suggestions on what we’re looking for in the limited word length of an erotic romance short story:
o Think vignette. Definition: Vignettes are the literary equivalent of a snapshot. That means not trying to cram “too much story” into it.
o Because of the short length, the story needs a limited number of characters and a very concise, clear and simple plot. The setting should not require extensive explanation or “world building”. A very concise, clear and simple plot means AVOID too many scene changes, too many characters, or too much non-sensual-based plot. These stories are meant to be highly erotic between a couple or threesome. If you want to bring in more characters, more back story, or more “getting to the sex”, consider writing a novella instead. A Quickie® is meant to be just that—quick.
o Get to the sex quickly. We can’t stress this enough. You have 15,000 words to tell your story. What do you consider “quickly”? If you’re thinking of the 10K mark, think again. A very high degree of sexual tension between the hero(es) and heroine is acceptable in lieu of getting them horizontal—or vertical, if the wall is more their spot ;-) —in the first dozen pages, but unless the sexual tension from the first word is off the charts, you’ve left it too long if they don’t do the hot and sweaty until the final 5K. You not only missed the first train, but the second and third ones too. 10K of “getting to it” would make it a slowie, not a quickie.
o Even though Quickies® need to have explicit and graphic sex, there still needs to be an actual story (plot). The best way to fit in both sex and plot is to have the plot driven by or revolving around the sex!
o There isn’t the length/time for portraying a detailed relationship development—remember vignette—so fated mates or love-at-first-sight situations, or a story where the hero and heroine already know each other, work well.
o The sex needs to be HOT and INTENSE and PLENTIFUL. Two scenes of “man on top” will not qualify as an erotic romance. (Unless, of course, the heroine is tied down and spread-eagled, and has a vibrating dildo in whichever passage the hero isn’t currently occupying.) A quickie can be vanilla sex between a monogamous couple and still be hot. The sex, though, needs to be plentiful, with very graphic descriptions and words—and be very high in emotion and intensity! That means ALL of those things—not just one or two of them.
o We’re not just looking for quantity of sex, but also QUALITY. It has to leave the reader (and your editor!) hot and panting. Mechanical descriptions (step-by-step) or a shop full of sex toys and bondage won’t work unless the author also conveys the characters’ emotions and sensations. That’s what makes it intense.
o In real life, quickie sex focuses totally on the sex, not “how was your day, dear?” over a glass of wine to get in the mood—it’s a case of gotta do it, and do it now!
o Quickies® should always, always be an excellent example of the author’s style, something they consider some of their best writing.
In summary, an erotic romance short story needs ALL of the following:
~ intense emotional stakes
~ a limited number of characters and a tight, concise, clear and simple plot
~ lots of highly erotic, graphic and intense sex that leaves the readers (and your editor!) hot and panting. Get that reader’s heart rate escalating within the first half dozen pages and keep it there!
Monday, January 5, 2009
Ah, the eager and enthusiastic author who wants to be sure her prose is colorful, descriptive, lively, imaginative, descriptive, shows rather than tells—and did I say descriptive? She’s never met an adjective or adverb she didn’t love, and couldn’t use a hundred times in her novel. She spurns the simple “he said”; all her dialogue tags are of the “he jeered overly sarcastically under his breath” style. Her heroine doesn’t have blue eyes, she has eyes of sparkling cerulean blue, ocean blue, the blue of a summer sky, laser blue, or sapphire blue. And the author reminds you of the color every damn time she mentions the woman’s eyes! She feels that readers will get her meaning better if she repeats meanings via synonyms—“the pinnacle and peak of his desire”, “the initial, first meeting”, “scary and frightening monster”.
You can’t find the story under the verbiage. You need to take a weed-whacker to the words to find a plot. Writing like this would drive a reader crazy. Luckily for readers, these submissions drive an editor crazy, and therefore never get out in the world to torment readers. (The editors union is lobbying for mental health coverage of job-induced insanity.)
Might you or one of your critique partners or writer friends be an Overwriter? The Editorial Ass blog discusses this addiction.
(And my article title is a direct copy from her—in admiration.)
Alas, there is no 12-step program, but we’re willing to take suggestions on how to spot this problem in your own writing, and on how to break the addiction to excessive adjectiving and adverbing (and verbing of nouns).