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Monday, July 27, 2009

E-ddicted

by Raelene Gorlinsky

I have an ebook reader. (Well, okay, it belongs to the company, but it is mine, mine I say!) It's the first I've really used for my own personal reading. I know, I know--I work for an e-publisher, how can I not use an e-reader? Well, I work on a computer all day, I read submissions and releases on my laptop. I stare at a screen enough, I didn't think I'd want to do that for pleasure reading. Plus, I just didn't see how I could enjoy any screen that displayed less that a full paperback book page. Yep, all the typical excuses of the non-e.

Then, a week ago, this e-reader arrived in the office. And I'm addicted. I've spent more time reading for pleasure in the past week than in the past month--and all on the e-reader. I read myself to sleep at night, and amazingly, it doesn't hurt when the reader slips out of my hands and drops on me as I fall asleep.

Notice that I haven't mentioned which e-reader I'm using. Because that isn't the point. They all have pros and cons. The big negative for me, a device I would not want, is any that can only use proprietary-format files (like the Kindle). My device reads pdf, prc, txt, epub, and more. But the point I'm trying to make is that I, who firmly support digital books but never got into e-reader devices, am suddenly a convert. My boss is going to have to pry this thing out of my hands if she ever wants it back. Company property be damned--it's MINE.

Friday, July 24, 2009

I Am Woman

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Okay, Kelli's got that dang "It's Raining Men" song playing over and over in my brain. So I'll try to supplant it with another tune, today's topic.

We women generally like other women, right? We've had BFFs since we went to kindergarten. There's so much we can talk about with our female friends that we would never say to a man. Most women say they are more comfortable amongst a group of other women than in a mixed group or a group of men.

So why aren't female-on-female romances more popular with women? Yeah, f/f movies (okay, porn) are really popular with men, they apparently love to watch women together just the way heterosexual women readers have made male/male romances such a hot trend in the past few years. But based on sales figures at romance and erotic romance publishers (I don't know about sales at GLBT specialty publishers), those same mainstream women don't buy many f/f romance books. Or even menages of two women and one man, rather than the incredibly popular two-men-one-woman.

A couple of theories are kicked around. Women love the fantasy of being pleasured by two men, but don't see the fun in having to share a man with another woman. Or women don't want the "competition", the comparison to another woman. Most of us already have insecurities about our bodies, our appearance--would we really want a sexual situation where we are compared to another woman, even if she's a lover or friend? Or, worse, by the man in a trio?

But on the other hand--who better to know how to make a woman's body feel pleasure than someone with the same body parts? Would another woman be a more empathetic or understanding or supportive lover because she knows what works best on her own body and emotions, and therefore on her female lover's? Or does the whole idea of sexually touching and being touched by another woman leave you cold?

We're starting to see a few more female-on-female or two-women-one-man menage erotic romances coming out from e-publishers. Ellora's Cave has released some in past, without much sales success, but we have now decided to give it another try. We are actively soliciting erotic romances with female/female content.

But to acquire books that readers want to buy, we need to know what you want to read. So tell us. What turns you on or turns you off in female/female romances--both in the sex scenes and the romantic relationship aspect? Would you read f/f or f/f/m or f/m/f? And of course, the important part--why or why not?

And for those of you wearing an author hat--what are the challenges or difficulties or rewards of writing such stories? Are you at all interested in doing so? How would you research it? Do you think it would attract heterosexual female readers, or only bisexual or lesbian readers?

So...are you interested in such stories? Would you vote with your book-buying dollars?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It's Raining Men

by Kelli Collins

The recent post on a popular social blog (you may know the one) about a certain e-pub’s love for publishing M/M generated tons of responses. More than 130, last time I checked. Aside from the occasional attack, there were also dozens of thoughtful and insightful posts on the M/M and M/M/F genres in general. A few authors and readers mentioned their dislike for the genres, but in no great detail. As interesting as all of this was (and how), I want to know a bit more—specifically, why hetero female readers/writers, in the immortal words of Depeche Mode, just can’t get enough.

What precisely attracts you to M/M? “It’s hot!” doesn’t cut it for me. Why exactly is it hot? I’m not complaining or judging, and while it's not my favorite genre, I don't hate it, by any stretch of the word. Though the genre’s thoroughly saturated the market, it still sells consistently well, so I’ll happily continue editing it. And I should be clear that my curiosity has nothing to do with M/M submissions, and won't change how I review them.

I just truly want to understand the psychology behind a straight fan's love of gay erotica...or at least toss some theories around. Because let’s be honest with ourselves—this is not gay erotica. Not really. At least, not according to my gay male friends, anyway. (The ones who've read some EC M/M. They can appreciate the story, but thought the romantic elements in no way reflected the relationships they've been in). I've also noticed no similarities to the gay erotic fiction I’ve read that’s written by gay males. (Anthologies, mostly. The writing? Sometimes "meh". The sex? Damn hot.)

For the most part (note those words!), M/M as the erotic romance community knows it features hardcore-hetero alpha males who just happen to be having sex with each other. Take any of those men, stick them in a het book with some hot blonde chick and he won’t change a bit, beyond the fact he’s now rogering the opposite sex. Presumably the lack of reality doesn’t bother readers. No surprise there; who wants reality in their erotic romance anyway?

So what is it? The mere thought of two otherwise-straight males having sex? I've edited my fair share, and I can recognize and appreciate a sexy, vivid, emotionally riveting M/M scene…but I can’t claim to understand the fascination for readers, at least not enough to justify the meteoric rise of the genre over the last few years. I mean, I don’t want to watch my gay friends getting busy with their partners.

And if straight women are attracted by the idea of two men having sex...why haven't F/F or F/F/M or F/M/F been shown the same love? But that's another post...watch for it on Friday.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Letter Laws: How NOT to Write a Cover Letter

by Raelene Gorlinsky

In critiquing query letters for a recent online workshop, we noted a number of the same problems in many of them. For any submission cover letter or query letter, there are some simple basics that will keep the editor or agent reading the letter, rather than tossing it into the "send form reject" pile.

~ Only one page long! And do not make it tiny font, narrow margins, or other tricks to fit more words onto the page - slash, slash, slash the number of words you have written.

~ Even if sent as an email, it should be in proper letter format, with date and addressee info at the top, signature line at the bottom.

~ No "clever" formatting or graphics. No, it is not cute or interesting, it is unprofessional and annoying.

~ Get the name and title correct for the person you are addressing! Don't misspell an editor's name, that implies you didn't bother to find out the correct name. You don't know the editor's personal life or marital status, so use Ms., not Mrs. or Miss.

~ Be sure to state both your real name and pen name. It's confusing if one has a query letter from Jane Johnson, but attached chapters marked as from author Polly Patrick.

~ Include a succinct single sentence with story title, length and genre.

~ Learn to write a fantastic, entrancing, single-paragraph blurb.

~ Unless specifically invited to do so, don't submit if the story is not complete. Never say you have a "partial", or that the book will be "done by x date".

~ DO NOT include personal information. Nothing about your life, your family, your hobbies, where you live. What matters is the story.

~ DO include relevant professional writing credentials: previous publications, membership in writing organizations, prestigious contests won (not third place; not contests no one's ever heard of).

~ Your letter should reflect that you've read the publishing house's submission guidelines and followed them exactly. Don't say "sample chapters available on request" or "first page enclosed" when the publisher's guidelines say to include the first three chapters.

~ PROOFREAD! This is probably the most common failing, and the worst possible one. The number of grammar, punctuation and spelling errors in cover letters is appalling. If an editor sees errors in your letter, the editor assumes the manuscript is also full of errors. And likely isn't going to waste time looking at it. Get six - or sixteen - other people to proofread your letter. You want to impress the editor with your letter in order to get her to move on to reading your submission.

Okay, if your letter can accomplish all that, you've got a decent chance that the editor might then look at your actual submission.

Friday, July 17, 2009

After the Sale: What Happens Now?

by Raelene Gorlinsky

You’ve sold your story! You’ve signed the contract. (I’m assuming here that you read every word of that contract and understand and agree with it all—before you signed.) So…uh, what do you do now? What happens between contract signing and book release? How does the manuscript you submitted get turned into the polished gem that will soon glow on the “New Releases” page of your publisher’s website?

(I will address this as if this is your first publication, or at least the first with this publisher.)

The actual process will vary from publisher to publisher, and there will be variation between e-publishers and traditional NY print houses. But here are the basics.

“Meet” your editor: You may have had some contact with your editor already, especially if your submission went through discussions or a revise&resubmit before being accepted. Or your only contact to this point may have been “the call” to tell you about acceptance (for an e-pub, most likely an email, not a phone call). But now that you have an official relationship and a joint project—your book!—you need to get in touch and start to build that working relationship. Things like exchanging contact information and preferences and information that will help you work together smoothly.

Always remember, this is a professional relationship, not a personal one. Do not try to turn your editor into your best friend or mommy or therapist. You both want to have a pleasant, productive, friendly relationship, of course. But your editor works for the publisher, not you. She must put the publisher’s interests first, and that can mean occasionally having to give you bad news or be more blunt than your crit partners were (‘cause they’re your friends and didn’t want to hurt your feelings). The editor’s job is to make this the most marketable book that will be a product of pride from the publisher; her job is not to pamper your feelings or provide for your emotional needs. So the editor does not need to know about your personal life except as it affects your writing career. If you have a day job or have four kids at home, convey that to your editor in the context of what hours it is easiest to reach you and how many hours per week you have available to work on your writing. Same with anything else that impacts how long it will take you to work through edits, or when you can submit the next book, etc. Authors, like any other people, may have disabilities that affect their work, and it helps your editor to understand and compensate if she knows about it up front. (And of course, notify your editor of any situations in future that affect your work—if you are unavailable because of a serious personal or family emergency, are taking a three-month vacation, just gave birth to triplets, or are entering the Witness Protection Program.)

Also exchange “technical compatibility” information at the start, since our business involves constant exchange of electronic documents. The default work platform for most is MSWord on a PC. If you are using some other software or a Mac, let your editor know, so she is alert to file incompatibility issues.

Discuss the plan: Ask your editor what the steps of the process will be, what dates to aim for. There is a lot more than just “here are your edits”. What about cover art? When will a release date be available? When can you get the book’s ISBN? (Bet you didn’t think of that, did you? But some advertising venues require that before they’ll let you place an ad.)

Your editor should send you any forms or procedures you need. Here at EC, we send new authors a whole bunch of stuff, including our house Style Guide, cover art request form, contact list, and editing checklists.

Okay, now we’re ready to actually edit your book!

Revision letter/Content edits: Maybe your plot and characters are already very close to perfect. But for many, if not most, books, the first step in the editing process is story content revisions. Beef up this scene and take that one out, delete this extraneous subplot, fix all these timeline issues, put more oomph into the conflict. Make the sex sexier! Her actions here make no sense, just aren’t realistic or believable. He does not grovel enough to redeem himself. Why is the heroine’s sister Cindy for the first half of the book, then Candy for the rest? And if this is an historical, either change that name or provide proof that women in 1234 England were named Cindy/Candy.

Yep, lots of rewriting. Did you really think that acceptance meant the book was perfect as is? Let me introduce you to the Easter Bunny… Or in this case, your editor, the Fairy Godmother who helps you get your wish for publication of a fantastic book.

Cover Art: When this happens will vary. But at some point, you will be given a chance for input to your cover design. For a newbie author at a traditional NY pub, this could be as little as your editor saying, “Oh, by the way, you got any suggestions about the cover?” At e-pubs and many small presses, the author traditionally gets more chance for input; you may be asked to fill out a form about your book and its important elements. But remember, what you provide are suggestions only—there is no commitment that the cover will match that. The cover art is the publisher’s choice, not the author’s.

Edits: Can be called line edits, copy edits, proofing—actually, all of that. Now that the “story” has been revised, it’s time to start tweaking all the words. Clunky sentences, awkward phrases, misused words, unclear dialogue. Plus, of course, grammar and punctuation and spelling. (You did self-edit and proof each revision before sending to your editor, right?) And don’t forget the house style guide. If the publisher doesn’t have one of their own, they probably specify something like CMOS as their standard.

There may be several rounds of editing until the book is clean and both editor and author are satisfied.

Copy Edits: After you think the book is done, then the copy editor gets a crack at it! The copy editor is the expert proofreader, consistency checker, final and fresh pair of eyes to look at your book. She will catch all the things you and the editor missed because you’d read this thing so many times now you aren’t seeing what’s actually there anymore. At EC, our copy editors check for:
· Consistency (names, words, timeline, and physical descriptions).
· Coherence and choreography of physical actions.
· Verify correctness of facts; copyright and trademark issues.
· Sentence structure, proper word usage, clarity, point of view.
· Typos, misspellings, grammar, punctuation.
· Proper formatting per our standard Word template.
· Conformance with EC’s style and standards and with our story guidelines.

Copy editors aren’t paid nearly enough. A good copy editor is worth her weight in gold and should be remembered in your prayers and your will.

Release Planning/Promotion: Once your book was actually contracted, of course you immediately started promoting it all over the place. On your blog, website, e-newsletter, MySpace, Facebook, on other people’s blogs, on chat loops. And on and on. Let people know the title, what it is about, that it is “coming soon”.

Once you get a cover and a confirmed release date, do it all again! Decide on promo items to buy and how to distribute them. Hold contests and giveaways. Make sure every potential reader recognizes your title and cover, and knows when and where they can buy your book.

Oh yeah, and then don’t forget this one. Celebrate! Your book is finally done and out. Accept congratulations from friends and fans. Enjoy the fan email. Anticipate that first royalty check.

Now—have you submitted the next book yet? And are you working on the one after that?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Let's Talk About Sex (Scenes)

by Meghan Conrad

Let's face it, guys: writing sex scenes is hard. I'd go so far as to say that for many people, sex scenes are the most difficult type of scene to write. Part of that is a sex scene is first and foremost an action scene, so you have to be aware of the timing and choreography the same way you would if you're writing a climactic scene in a thriller. To complicate things further, while the thriller writers have nearly infinite options for how their scene plays out, you guys have one, since obviously your scene ends in orgasm. And, just for good measure, the thiller writers have a wide assortment of guns, explosives and other incendiaries while you guys get about half a dozen words for genitalia. Ouch. Is it any wonder that so many people hate writing sex scenes?

So what can you do to make your sex scenes stand out? It's twofold.

Treat your sex scene like an action scene. Block out the choreography, making sure that everything you mention is possible. Keep an eye on where hands and arms are, making sure that you don't end up giving your hero three (or more!) hands. Make sure that the scene flows in a logical manner--does her bra somehow come off before her shirt? Do his pants come off twice?

Sometimes, even when the sex is fairly clear, I find that I need to chart things out. I'll make a flowchart, detailing exactly what happens when. Once it's written, I go back and list off all movements so I can look at them without being distracted by the story. This can be really useful, especially if you use sticky notes. If you decide that the scene needs revision, you can play musical notes until you have something that works.

Once you know what's happening when in your sex scene, you can start wondering how you're going to describe it. One of the biggest problems for sex scenes is that it's so easy for them to become repetitive or mechanical--the same words or actions are used over and over, in book after book.

Some authors try to avoid this by using euphemisms whenever possible. "His throbbing trouser snake nudged against her labia, then slipped into her wet grotto." Ew. Especially in erotic romace, euphemisms are a bad idea. We might be able to skim past a few, but multiple euphemisms will trip up the reader--not only do we get sucked out of the story to wonder why you made that particular comparison (how is his penis like a ferret, again?) but repeated use of euphemisms makes your hero and heroine seem immature. If you can't say penis, should you really be having sex?

You also want to avoid Tab-A Slot-B sex scenes, scenes where the hero and heroine are clearly supposed to have sex, so they do. This is maybe the most common problem I see in submissions. The story's fine, the story's okay...and then suddenly the hero and heroine have sex, realize they're in love, and go off to live happily ever. All well and good, and there's certainly never wrong with sex + love + HEA, but you have to support that in your writing. There's more to writing sex scenes than just the physical aspect of it, and if you miss the underlying connection, you might as well not have the sex scene in at all.

It's not enough to tell your reader that the hero put his long, hard cock into the heroine's eager cunt. They need to know what it felt like, physically and emotionally. The emotional aspects are almost more important than the physical aspects, to be honest. These sex scenes are supposed to actively contribute to the development of the relationship, and you need to show us that. Tell us how the characters feel, what they're thinking. Give us more to think about than how big his cock is--tell us how satisfying it is, how he knows how to use it, how it makes her heart skip a beat.

When writing a sex scene, do:
  • Pay attention to the emotional as well as the physical aspects.
  • Utilize all of the character's senses. How does it smell? What does the other person taste like?
  • Use charts and careful rereading to make sure that no one develops a third arm mid-coitus.
  • Remember that with strongly emotional writing, a plan-vanillia, missionary-position sex scene can be every bit as sexy and arousing as a menage a trois with double penetration and light BDSM.
  • Show us, don't tell us--saying "his long, hard cock was supremely satisfying" isn't anywhere near as evocative as telling us about how she was desperate for his cock, how she loved the sensation.
When writing a sex scene, don't:
  • Act like you're afraid to use graphic words. This isn't second grade, and saying penis isn't going to get you benched for recess.
  • Get so caught up in making the sex as extreme as possible that you lose sight of the story.
  • Forget why they're having sex in the first place--presumably it's more than just being in the same place at the same time. It's because they find the other person attractive, or because they're falling in love, or because they were both lonely. Don't cheapen the relationship in the name of sex.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Seeing Red

By Kelli Collins

Having been on both the giving and receiving end of edits, I know they’re usually a source of angst. But where most authors consider edits little red badges of failure, I prefer to see them as bringing me closer to books that shine like Kojak’s big, bald head. Edits should encourage, not discourage; they should be the deadliest weapon in your arsenal, not harbingers of doom.

The closer you are to your work, the more emotionally involved, the harder edits will be. Nothing you haven’t heard before. So how does one develop the resolve necessary for successful editing? That fabled thick skin that allows you to step back and view your work objectively? It starts with you—and it’s called self-editing.

I hereby bequeath to you my precious red pen, and empower you to use it with impunity. Heady feeling, ain’t it? There’s no end to excellent self-editing tips online, so no excuse not to practice it. The better you become, the less red you’ll see from your editor. Your chances for acceptance will increase. Your readers will thank you. Your characters will love you (they don’t want to look bad either).

To get you started, some of my favorite tips for authors (by no means a comprehensive list). Said in many ways, on many sites, by many editors:

1. Spellcheck, spellcheck, spellcheck. No excuses. It’s the number one reason for most of the rejections I hand out.

2. Take a break. Walk away. Just walk away! By the time you’ve typed “The End”, you’re about ready to bleed Times New Roman. Distance yourself a bit, work on something else, gain some objectivity then go back with a fresh eye.

3. Avoid info dumps. The first couple pages of your book are not the place for extensive descriptions and back stories for your characters. Reveal your characters and their stories gradually, in sensible places throughout their narratives.

4. Avoid repetition and over-description. If your hero’s eyes are green, search that word. If your heroine’s hair is red, search that word (and redhead, red-haired, etc.). You’ll be surprised how often you repeat yourself. Also avoid long strings of adjectives. “The six-foot-two, muscle-bound, hunkalicious, oh-my-god hot doctor walked into the room.”

5. Avoid crutch words that add nothing: when, that, just, really, very, suddenly, then, etc.

6. Read your book out loud. It’s a great way to spot repetition, run-on sentences, awkward structure and long dialogue tags. The words might look right on the page…but how do they sound?

7. Read backward. No joke. The last word in a sentence is often the most powerful. Do you really need the last word or three at the end of that sentence? “Dazzled by the creamy confection’s delicacy, she couldn’t get enough of it.”

8. If your publisher has a house style guide, learn it, live it, love it. Not published? Start with The Chicago Manual of Style, which breaks down all grammar, style and punctuation for you. Then build your own personal style guide, a checklist tailored to your personal writing habits, words you often misspell, rules you have trouble remembering, etc. (Mine is two full pages. It takes me an average of 6 minutes to search my authors’ books for each item on the list. I’m proud to report most have now pounded themselves into my head—but I still check them anyway.)

9. Don’t rely on crit partners to do the work for you. Most crit partners are friends, family members, fellow authors, etc., who likely have as much or less experience than you. And love them though we do, they often won’t tell us what we need to hear. They’ll tell us what we want to hear. Sorry; it’s the truth. Who wants to hurt anyone’s feelings (plus, most of us suck at constructive criticism)? If I ask my best friend what she thinks of the haircut I just gave myself, she’s never going to tell me, “It sucks. You look like a Dark Helmet from Spaceballs.” Even if my own mirror says my hair can now legally be used as a hardhat on construction sites.

10. Finally—write first, edit later. Resist the urge to go back and read each chapter upon completion. It’s the easiest way to get sucked into the tenth level of minutia, where you’ll remain for untold weeks or months in self-doubt hell. You’ll revise and revise and revise and…

Monday, July 13, 2009

Passionate Posts this Week

by Raelene Gorlinsky

This Wednesday through Friday, Kelli, Meghan and I will be doing online workshops and Q&A on the RWA Passionate Ink (erotic romance writers) forum.

Wednesday: self-editing
Thursday: writing erotic scenes
Friday: what to expect after you sign the contract
every day: query letter critiques, first page critiques, general Q&A

We will cross-post our articles from the PI forum here on our blog. (Not the PI forum comments or discussion, though.) So we hope to have dual discussions--talking to you all here on the same topics we are talking about on the PI forum.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Me Time: Word Banishment

Editor-in-Chief Kelli Collins’ rant-o-rama continues…

We’ve all seen lists upon lists of words/phrases that should be banished from the romance writers’ lexicon (see the Smart Bitches’ scathingly witty post on lave/lathe).

You don't think I'm gonna be left out, do you? I'm a child of the '80s, after all...sorta...and if there's one thing I love, it's a good list (I tried to get Hal Sparks to narrate, but it seems VH1 owns him).

Most of these aren’t new, just particularly vexing to yours truly. Call me a word Nazi, but if you’ve had to beg authors to take these words out of a couple hundred books, you’d be a bit uppity too. And there are so many more, but frequency of use was the criteria here. Just seeing any of the words below makes me shudder. They should be rounded up, blindfolded and put in front of a firing squad of sharpshooting grammar enthusiasts.

That whole freedom of speech thing requires I mention these words are, of course, still allowed in our books. So by all means, continue using them if you’d like to see a grown woman cry.

Dance: In any form. List Classic. (See my recent Annoy-o-Meter.)

Mine: Mine! MineMineMine! MINE! Okay, we get it. You’re alpha. And monosyllabic.

Little one: Common nickname for heroines, particularly those starring in BDSM novels (WTF?). If a guy called me this, I’m juuust feminist enough to punch him in the crotch.

Like never before: Some characters lead very sheltered lives.

Velvet fist (F)/Velvet rod (M): Actually, pretty much velvet anything is cliché. And coupled with the vampire genre, well...you might as well stick a long black cape in there too.

Fire/inferno/blaze: Almost impossible not to use, or so I’m told; used most often to describe the body, and specific parts thereof. If you’re going to use fire references, perhaps be kind enough to include a list of the sexiest ways I can incinerate myself.

Womb: Stop it. Just…stop.

“You’re wearing too many clothes.” Well, they are the reason we're allowed in public. Oh, were that we were all wizards who could magically make our clothes disappear when the mood strikes. Where's our alpha Harry Potter when we need him?

Water references: wave after wave, crashing waves, cresting waves, tsunami (in reference to any emotion), etc.

Cliff references: Per Meghan: "You know what happens when you fall off a cliff? You die!"

“looked through his/her lashes”: Um…don’t we all?

Anything that pierces “straight to his/her soul”: Maybe I’m a heartless wench, but I’ve never felt a damn thing “straight to my soul”, including anyone’s gaze (most frequent use). Does anybody think/talk like this? Do they admit it?

References to heroines who can (finally!) “take his length”: Can’t believe how often I see this in the hero’s POV. Not only am I uninterested in the specific size of your character’s tool, thoughts like this make him sound like one.