Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dear Santa...

Thirteen Gifts for Editors

'Tis the season for giving and receiving. If we're going to make a list for Santa, we might as well go all-out and ask for what we really want.

1. Helen in Australia would like water, please. Preferably a great big raincloud with a drenching downpour right over her house, but over the water catchment areas will do. Australia is in year 7 of drought. There are kids in outback Australia who have never seen rain. If rain is too difficult to arrange, how about a big iceberg towed from Antarctica and moored off the Australian coastline?

2. Raelene is a goddess who accepts offerings of colored gemstones, show-quality Corgi puppies, and snazzy red sportscars. However, she'll settle for advance copies of new releases by her favorite authors, fancy bookmarks, and Tarot decks.

3. Mary A. would love nothing more than an exotic around-the-world vacation including bonding with the alpacas in Peru, glacier-dodging in Antarctica, souk shopping in Morocco and monastary-hopping in southern Spain. Should that prove too troublesome, she also likes things that smell nice.

4. Mackenzie just wants books off her Amazon wish list. One can never have enough books. Also, those diamonds she mentioned once before would be a pretty neat surprise.

5. Martha says, "I’d take salmon, fresh from Seattle. Emeralds, my birthstone, or if someone is REALLY generous, a laptop, top of the line naturally, as ALL the authors love me."

6. Briana would love gifts of male helpers, buff, sweet, preferably with sexy accents, the less clothes the better! Failing that, books make Briana a very happy editor, not only fabulous submissions, but books of any shape or sort!

7. All Jennifer wants is one beautiful red rose--in a vase that's being held by Paul Stanley [lead singer of Kiss, for you young 'uns].

8. Because KelliK has all the material goods she could ever need or want, she wants only peace on Earth...and goodwill toward bloggers.

9. Nick would be very happy with a four-hour massage. Or an Eames Lounge Chair.

10. Meghan would like books. Also possibly some bookshelves, as she has none and is currently using piles of books as most of her living room furniture.

11. Pamela really need a teleportation device--world travel size. Maybe with future upgrade capabilities to intergalactic. And chocolate, for her travels.

12. Shannon would like a new pair of Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choo boots (perfect for walking all over men), Prada for carrying her whips & chains, and to satisfy her sweet tooth--a chocolate-covered Brad Pitt from his Troy days.

13. Donna would wish for World Peace, but bets everyone else asked for that. How about nonfat, no-calorie chocolate that tastes as good as the real thing?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

And the Winner is...

Okay, here's a winner, a reminder, and a new contest.

Word Libs Winner

The winner of our Word Libs game is Red Garnier! Red wins an ebook download of her choice (EC, Cerridwen, or TLC). Red, please email and let her know what title and the format you need. Here is the "story" Red created in the game:

She wants to be free...

Titty has been a chairy in her father's Hornyville since she was eight-thousand-to-the-decimal years old. He wants to twister her off to the highest broomie, but she wants to find crookedy love. Could the wormy bookmark who has been a-la-pirouetting around her father's grounds at night be her key to freedom?

He wants to be tamed...

Dick is a fantasizing gypsy, free from the dirty-trunks of USA society. But his crotch longs for love. When he spots the cheesily-gallivanting woman in the lord's Hornyville, he knows she is the one for him. But can he swing-ala-ding her from her catatonical father before it's too late?

Cover Letter Critique

See the blog post . Send in your cover letter to be critiqued (to If your letter is selected, you'll win a free ebook download. We'll be posting the first critiques in early January!

Comments Contest

When we return from the holidays, the editors will laugh over--err, uhh, seriously review--all the comments posted on the December blog articles, and will select what we consider the three best comments. Each of those people will win a free ebook download. So go give us feedback on some of the articles!

Holiday Hiatus

Hey, we're taking a break for the holidays! We will have a Thursday 13 tomorrow, and then will resume posting blog articles after the new year. So come back and see us on January 3rd.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Seasonally Adjusted Story

by Helen Woodall

Dearest Editor,

I know you will be wanting to buy some Christmas stories with Christmas just around the corner so I am sending you my latest masterpiece. I just know you will love it as much as I do.

Originally it was going to be about Halloween but life intervened – you know how it does – and I didn't get it finished. But I just changed the pumpkin pie into mince pie so I am sure everything will be fine.

Love from
Your Favorite Author
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Hello Author,

I am sorry to inform you your book is not acceptable as it is. You need to do some more revising.
I can quite understand that it may snow at Halloween and Christmas where you live, but you sent your hero and heroine off on vacation to Uncle Charlie’s in Australia – and December is summer there. They need sunscreen and flip flops, not coats and snow boots.

In Australia chrysanthemums flower in May, not December. And birds do not fly south to escape the winter. South is the Antarctic. It is very cold there.

Your Editor
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Dearest Editor,

Since it took you a whole month to read my book I am not going to be able to get it ready in time for Christmas now, so I have made it into a Valentine’s Day story. The pumpkin pie/mince pies are now jelly cakes in the shape of a heart – so very romantic.

I have changed the flowers and the birds. Did you know Begonias flower all year round? I can use them in every book I write and never have to worry again!!!

Love from
Your Favorite Author
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Hello Author,

Maybe because you have changed the dates of your story so much, there is now nothing at all to make it a real Valentine’s Day story. Jelly cakes in the shape of a heart are indeed a lovely romantic gesture but they do not specifically say “Valentine’s Day”. Nor do Begonias.

Perhaps you should decide on a holiday and stick to it. Do some research specifically about that holiday and then weave those items into your story – spooky details for Halloween, maybe some carols for Christmas, or something unusually romantic for Valentine’s Day. Really the whole point about writing a holiday story is that the season is an integral focus of the plot – it brings the characters together for a reason or to a specific place or to do something different from normal.

If you send your characters to some special location you should use that location in the story. Uncle Charlie lives in Queensland – there is a very famous coral reef there that I am sure would make a wonderful background for a romantic scene.

I am sorry to inform you that your book is still not acceptable in its current form.

Your Editor

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Research Books

by Mary Altman

Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders by Josephine Ross is an entertaining and witty yet only vaguely informative look into the Regency era. This compact hardcover was written less as a research manual and more as a collection of rules regarding etiquette, covering general manners, forms of introduction, formal calls, dancing and dining, dress, matrimony, family and servants. The author uses source quotes from Jane Austen’s collection of books and letters to lay out her rules, most of which will already be familiar to the Regency reader.

What this book lacks in information it makes up in charm. Henrietta Webb’s illustrations appear liberally throughout the book, making it a pleasure to read. In all honesty, I would not recommend this book as a source material; however, I would strongly recommend it as a gift for lovers of Jane Austen and the Regency period. It’s a quick, fun read and quite beautiful to look at.

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist—the Fact of Daily Life in 19th-Century England by Daniel Pool is far more informative. It covers everything from currency and measurements to the rules of whist, presentation at court and life in the workhouses. I found this to be a useful book filled with interesting facts. It’s accessible and easy to read and extremely entertaining. It isn’t without faults, however.

Pool’s book suffers from a lack of organization. He lumps everything together by subject and occasionally fails to clarify when the events he’s describing take place. Because he covers information from the Regency through the Victorian period, this grew confusing at times. Additionally, several of his claims have been contested, so if you’re using this book as your source material, be sure to double-check your facts. Even with those problems, the wealth of information outweighs any difficulty sifting through it. The glossary alone is worth it.

Jack Aubrey Commands: An Historical Companion to the Naval World of Patrick O’Brian by Brian Lavery is a beautiful, detailed coffee table book that delves into the lives of His Majesty’s Navy. It has less to do with O’Brian’s books than you’d imagine from the title, but the information provided is detailed and the illustrations and diagrams are completely accurate. This book covers everything from tacking and wearing to life at sea, with historical quotes, model ships and colorful maps working to bring the world of the seaman to life. I highly recommend this book.

Historical Clichés

They're tried, they're true, they're trite. They've made their way into infamy among readers, who decry them as much as they love them (in the way you love your husband who always leaves the seat up, or your sweet aunt who sends you the same ugly sweater every year). What's that, you say? You've never read about virgin widows or brooding heroes? Gentle reader, there is no way you've read more than one historical romance if you've never encountered a single genre cliché. Actually, chances are you haven't read any at all.

So after looking at the clichés, what are some examples of atypical historical elements you've encountered? Characters, settings, plot lines? Tell us your favorite unusual historicals.
Common clichés found in historicals

1. The heroine is a blushing virgin who is so unaware of her genitals and what they do that she is shocked and perplexed when the hero gives her pleasure. Double points if she's at a loss for words to describe what's happening.

2. The Virgin Widow: The heroine's cruel/inattentive/impotent husband either never consummated the marriage or never gave her an orgasm.

3. The heroine is the innocent, inexperienced ward; her unwilling guardian is older, wealthy and socially prominent, has had a string of beautiful and enticing mistresses. Let us guess whom he falls in love with...

4. He's got the bluest blood of the realm! If you believed Romancelandia, every other peer in England is a duke--and a handsome, unmarried one at that!

5. Old Boney won't get the best of him! The hero is a peer but is also secretly a spy for England! Bonus points if he works with a secret cabal of other spies, all of them dashing and brooding and rich...and future heroes in an on-going series, of course.

6. The innocent governess and her dark, vaguely threatening master of the house is a gothic classic. Bonus points if he has a relative locked somewhere on his estate.

7. You can't have a governess without a child, and one of Romancelandia's favorite clichés is the dissolute rake forced to raise a child (usually a daughter who is unnaturally bright and/or saucy), only to be transformed by her innocence and the love of her female caregiver.

8. The Devil of Fill-in-the-Blank always wears black, always rides in a black coach with matching black horses and always tosses about dark stares and sardonic glances as he storms around Regency London.

9. You can't have Beauty and the Beast without the Beast! Thankfully, minor burns and scars are enough to make many Romancelandia heroes brood excessively about their hideous features. Hey, sometimes even a limp will do!

10. Heroines should have flaws. Unfortunately, many of them seem to share the exact same flaws--either fiery tempers and brash manners or bookish ways and a need for spectacles, without which they cannot be trusted not to trip, fall and tumble onto any available lap in a moment's notice.

11. Apparently young girls in all historical periods knew the best way to meet the man of your dreams was to masquerade as a boy. Be a squire to his knight, stable lad on his estate, new footman in his townhome, or cabin boy on the ship he captains.

12. Get thee to a nunnery! If a medieval heroine's not already in a convent (where she probably nurses the hero back to health), she's on her way to one.

13. The hero or heroine must marry as soon as possible or they'll lose their fortune/disgrace the family's good name. Bonus points if the reluctant marriage is mandated in the will of a recently deceased parent or guardian.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wallpaper Needs Walls

By Raelene Gorlinsky

Okay, you’ve researched the period in which you are setting your historical story. You are sure that your characters are wearing appropriate clothing, traveling in the right kind of carriage, even speaking appropriate slang. They don’t flick a lighter for their cigarette, use non-stick cookware in the kitchen, or have polyester clothing with zippers. So you’ve got it right? Wrong. What you may be producing is a “wallpaper historical”. The term refers to stories where the correct “things” and look are there, but the characters and possibly the plot action are not an accurate reflection of the times.

True historical accuracy includes reflecting the social mores, behavior, attitudes and dialogue of the people in the specific time period and geographical location. To be believable, your characters must think and feel and react the way people did back then – not like a modern person just dropped into that time.

We are all the result of the society in which we are raised. A medieval man was biologically identical to a 21st century one, but his mind was filled with completely different knowledge, what was important to him was not the same, the options that would even occur to him in any given situation would be different, as would the choices he made. And I’m sure teenagers have been burdened with excess hormones and overblown emotions since we became homo sapiens, but the way they reacted to that would not have been the same then as it is now.

Some eras, most notoriously Georgian/Regency/Victorian, had very structured and rigid rules that were part of the culture and governed society. The rules were based on a person’s social class, gender, age, and marital status. Acceptable behavior for an unmarried young woman versus married lady versus widow were different, for example. Any breaking of society’s rules would lead to social disgrace and other consequences. This was especially true for the upper classes.

It was the appearance, the public conformance to the rules, that was critical—what went on in private could be very different. Yes, characters in historicals can indeed do things that were "wrong" by society's rules. That's a standard feature in such stories. But two things must be present to keep the historical accuracy:
~ the character has to know that what s/he is doing is improper and could get them in trouble.
~ if "caught", the appropriate consequences must occur. Social disgrace or ostracism, loss of position or money, forced engagement, whatever.

Here’s a scene: Your 18-year-old heroine is out shopping, and sees a majorly luscious guy walking in her direction. She realizes he’s one of her older brother’s friends, and she’s dying to meet him. As he passes her, she says in a friendly but not pushy way, “Oh, hello. Aren’t you Devlin Devereux? I’m Thomas Tremaine’s sister; I’ve seen you with Tom.” Seems okay? It is if your character is shopping on Main Street USA today. But if she is on Bond Street, London, in 1820, she is asking to be given the cut direct, to become a laughingstock and be snubbed by the ton, possibly be banished to the country by her embarrassed family until society forgets about her improper behavior. Not only shouldn’t your young lady have been so forward as to approach a man to whom she has not been formally introduced by a family member or other proper person, she likely wouldn’t have even thought of doing such a thing – she was raised with the social rules and restrictions of her world, and her mind functions within that. What would have sprung to her mind on seeing this desirable guy would have been something like hinting to her mother that brother Thomas might introduce a few of his moneyed and marriagable friends at the next ball they attend.

Say it over and over: historical characters should not act like modern people.

Something to watch out for is individual or group behavior that is a reflection of modern custom. For example, after dinner, the members of a household in past did not all go off and do their own thing. Fires to heat a room and lamps to light it were expensive. Either the whole family gathered in one room, or the gentlemen in one room and the ladies in another. Young children were not usually present; they’d been sent upstairs to bed.

Also take into consideration what legal options the characters, especially women and minors, had available to them. Many an historical story has been ruined by women doing things that they just would not have been able to during that time period. Could your character really have gone to a bank and withdrawn money? Hired and fired household staff? Made decisions about managing her property? Remember that for most of history and in most parts of the world, women were nothing but property themselves. They were “owned” by their father or husband. They had no control over their money or property, they had few legal rights. The extent to which they could make decisions or run things was limited to what their “owner” allowed them.

Dialogue: Just because you’ve put some period terms in your characters’ mouths does not necessarily make them sound right. Now, don’t get carried away – a whole book filled with dialect drives a reader crazy. Do not write a dinnacanna-type story, for example. A little bit of slang or dialect to set the tone is fine, then cut back on it. But make the speech patterns and common language historically accurate. How do you do this? Read lots of text that is original to that period. Especially letters written then. They reflect the “voice” of the people of that time.

Oh, and by the way, while you were doing all that research you DID go to primary sources, right? Wikipedia does not count, nor does reading something in another novel. You have to find the original source of the information in order to be sure it is correct.

So, share your stories of books you've read where unfortunately the wallpaper had no walls to stick to. Or most especially the books you recommend because the author did get it right.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World

By Helen Woodall

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester
[November 2005; ISBN 9780434013296; currently out of print, available used]

This 382-page hardcover is subtitled “The Definitive Guide to the People, Places and Society in Georgette Heyer’s Regency Novels”. And while it is very much focussed on Heyer’s books, it is also very useful for general information about the Regency period. Just how many people danced a set simultaneously in the quadrille? Where did the man of the haut ton buy his snuff? What on earth is an Aigrette? And how many of those royal characters were real people anyway? The research is very thorough.

I fell in love with Georgette Heyer when someone’s mother loaned me a copy of The Masqueraders. I was maybe 12 or 13 years old at the time and still love that book – and just about all her other historicals as well. So I love this compendium for all the extra details about her Regencies and the world it opens up. But more than that, it is truly useful for general information of the period, details of famous persons, the slang of the times, the historical timeline and a detailed index which speeds access to the data. But it is focussed on Heyer’s view of the period. If Heyer didn't write about it then it won’t be in this book. I must have spent four hours trying to find out a servant’s annual wages in those days – I felt sure I read it in one of her books – but it is not in this volume, so Heyer probably didn't write it.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Historical Hysteria

If you are billing yourself as a writer of historical fiction, you should have at least a basic grasp of history. And then you need to do lots and lots of research on all the details of the time period you are setting your story in.

Some interesting historical "facts" we have seen in both submissions and, alas, published books.

1. Ah, those medieval feasts, with lords and ladies being served a turkey. Wonder how they got these North American fowl in fourteenth century England?

2. You did know that the zipper was common in ancient Egypt, right? Made it much easier to get into and out of those nifty robes.

3. The lord and lady of the medieval manor invited the countryside to their wedding - where they merrily danced the waltz. (The waltz originated in the late 18th century.)

4. The old Earl and his Countess hated their oldest son's bride, so when the Earl died, his wife declared that the title and entailed lands would go to their younger son! Perhaps the author should have done a bit more research on English inheritance laws. I threw the book against the wall.

5. Heroine accidentally breaks a precious vase. So she immediately goes on eBay and buys a replacement. This seems perfectly reasonable - except that this was a time travel, the heroine was now in the early 19th century. Electricity ? Computer ? Internet ? eBay?

6. Historical American Western - the heroine riding in a stagecoach rolls down the glass windows.

7. Setting is colonial New England, early 18th century; hero is an Indian, heroine an English lass. The heroine is injured, and the hero fixes her with a BandAid® !

8. In a Regency-set historical, the heroine describes her heart racing like an engine revving.

9. The mid-18th-century character was caught stealing food and transported to Australia. Um, no on both counts. It was to the Colony of New South Wales with them (starting in 1770), or Van Dieman's Land (actually Tasmania). The name Australia came into use around 1800. And transportation of convicts started in 1788 and went on for about 80 years.

10. A Regency miss was going to elope with her unsuitable suitor - and assured him she'd be awake at midnight to sneak out to meet him, because she would set her alarm clock!

11. Those American Revolutionary War soldiers only thought they were dying of cholera. Actually, cholera did not spread much beyond India before 1829.

12. So nice that the 1920s-era flapper drank Tang instead of something harder. Too bad Tang wasn't around until 1959.

13. Please, please don't have your pre-20th-century character using "cool" as a slang term to mean something fashionable or popular or desirable. A Regency miss wears a shawl when going out for a walk on a cool day and is cool to the undesirable suitor she meets on the way, but she does not describe her new bonnet as "cool".

Monday, December 3, 2007

Historical Research

by Mary Altman

Lady Jane McDonald flushed and pressed her hand to her anxiously twisting stomach as the forbidding rake hovered inches away from her. He was the bane of every Mama’s existence, the devil with the silver tongue and amber eyes.

He was also the one man she could ever love. And she was going to give herself to him tonight.

“Perhaps my lord would care for a walk?” Jane asked quietly, brows arched in question. “I could use your assistance with a delicate matter.”

“Another puzzle plaguing you?” His voice was like rare velvet, smooth and rich. Jane had to clear her throat and look away before she could gather the courage she needed to continue.

“No, my lord,” she said, looking up from beneath a fan of dark lashes. “I need your help with my zipper.”

And just like that, the story’s ruined.

Historical romance is one of my favorite genres to read, but it is one of the most difficult to edit. Where contemporary fiction often relies on an author’s ability to respond to what’s around her (you can always catch a flight to Chicago to get the feel right, after all) historical fiction relies on an author’s ability to invoke what she cannot possibly experience. What was the London Haymarket like? How did people talk during medieval times? How did the air smell during the Jubilee? An author typically relies on her senses to observe and reimagine settings for her books—historical authors must rely on research instead.

But how can you accomplish the left-brained task of research while remaining true to the right-brained action of storytelling? I have a few tips that may help you out.

1) Do the hard stuff first. A few authors I’ve spoken to claim they write the story and then apply the historical facts. While each author’s method is her own, I can’t help but feel these authors are missing something by writing this way. Historical details shouldn’t be the window-dressing on a book—they should be the foundation. The depth of accuracy and feeling is what divides a historical romance from a wallpaper historical, and it’s difficult to lend a story any depth if you’re tacking on details at the end. Schedule in time to get the research done before you start in on Chapter One.

2) Have a bible close at hand. No, not the Christian bible—a writing bible. Once you’ve finished researching, gather your notes and organize them into categories. Some authors prefer a 3-ring binder while others use spiral notebooks and still others rely on Word files. It doesn’t matter how you organize your bible so long as it is organized and in a readily accessible place. You’ll want it someplace where you can access it in a moment’s notice when you’re deep in a scene and need to know what sort of undergarments the heroine should be wearing.

3) Visual aids can keep you in check. If you’re writing about Regency London, why not have an old map of the city taped above your computer? If you’re describing a Victorian woman’s dress, why not have a few fashion plates in a nearby pile? Having a few maps or sketches nearby can go a long way toward keeping your details accurate.

4) Double-check everything. There are scores of research books out there to help authors catch a glimpse into past eras. The problem is, they don’t always agree on what those past eras were like. Don’t take one book’s word as gospel—check around to make sure you’ve got everything correct. Falling in with a crowd of fellow historical authors is especially useful here. They often know what the best research books are and can point you in the right direction. (And no, Wikipedia doesn’t count.)

5) Be ready to defend yourself. It’s your editor’s job (my job) to question everything in a manuscript. Always be ready with your research in hand in case your editor asks you to explain a point. Saying “According to the following sources, puce was the new pink in 1812!” is much more convincing than saying “Well, I read it somewhere.” Your editor is not being mean or calling you to task for anything if he/she questions a historical detail—we simply want everything to be perfect. And trust me, you’d rather have your editor pointing out possible errors than your readers!

The most important thing to remember in writing historical fiction is that readers are savvy. Historical readers tend to read very widely and have a very broad base of knowledge. They know when you’ve got your facts straight and when you’re just glossing over details and flying by the seat of your pants. Scheduling time to do the research may be hard for some, but it pays off in the long run.

So what do you do to maintain accuracy? Tips, tricks, rituals by candlelight--lay them on me.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Word Libs

by Mary Altman and Nick Conrad

When a day is too ________ and I need to ________, sometimes it helps if I _______ a book of Mad Libs® and ________ my mind.

Mad Libs® is a word game in which a player is prompted to fill in the blanks of a sentence to form zany, occasionally ridiculous stories. Here at EC, we enjoy relaxing every now and then with a game, and Mad Libs® seemed like a perfect way to share the fun.

Try this one, for example.

Or this one.

Or maybe this one is more your style.

If you have a particularly funny response, go ahead and share it in the comments so everyone can enjoy it. Who knows? You may even win a prize.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Please Name Him Tom, Dick or Harry

Some character names have become so overused and such cliches in Romancelandia that putting them in your story is embarrassing and laughable. Come on, you certainly have more imagination than that! Or at least could find a baby name book and pick something different. Just don't drift too far into uniqueness and end up with a name your readers will never be able to figure out how to pronounce.

Most cliched and overused character names in romance novels

1. Luc, Lucian, Lucius for male vampires
2. Angelique for female vampires
3. Devil or Devlin - especially in a Regency
4. Colt, Colter, Cade or Cady - especially for cowboys
5. Wolf, Wolfe, or Wulfe - no, no, not another brooding medieval hero!
6. Gray or Grey - Be different, why not Puce or Teal or Magenta?
7. Hawk / Hawke
8. Brand / Brandon
9. Heather - You know, people did name their daughters other things during the Seventies.
10. Jason, Jace, Jayce (ditto)
11. Deveraux as the last name of anyone living in New Orleans
12. Rock, Stone, Granite - Is he a guy or a geological feature?
13. Aiden for every hero of Irish descent

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Literary Review's Bad Sex Awards

The organizers call it Britain's "most dreaded literary prize". The contest is "to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it."

This is its 15th year, and {drum roll, please} the winner is the late Norman Mailer.

A section of the scene:
"So Klara turned head to foot, and put her most unmentionable part down on his hard-breathing nose and mouth, and took his old battering ram into her lips. Uncle was now as soft as a coil of excrement. She sucked on him nonetheless with an avidity that could come only from the Evil One - that she knew. From there, the impulse had come. So now they both had their heads at the wrong end, and the Evil One was there. He had never been so close before.
The Hound began to come to life. Right in her mouth. It surprised her. Alois had been so limp. But now he was a man again! His mouth lathered with her sap, he turned around and embraced her face with all the passion of his own lips and face, ready at last to grind into her with the Hound, drive it into her piety."

You can read the finalist entries at,,2217735,00.html

Frightening, truly frightening. Thank goodness these authors were writing important, socially acceptable fiction, not those *gasp* trashy romances so many people snear at or don't want to admit to reading. ;-) They'd give erotic romance a bad name.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cover Letter Critiques

By Raelene Gorlinsky

Get Ya' Critique Here! Cheap (free) and Easy!

You can find a zillion workshops, classes, online references and advice on how to write the perfect cover letter that goes with your manuscript submission to an editor or agent. So I’m not going to teach it here. I’ll just give a summary.

1. Keep it short! One page will do, thank you.
2. Focus on the story. The story is the only thing we care about. Provide a brief (one or two paragraphs) blurb that is catchy and interesting and conveys the genre, setting, tone, main theme and target market of the story.
3. No personal info about you unless it is directly relevant to your qualifications to write this story. Your family, hobbies, or pets have nothing to do with whether we acquire the story. Only mention your job/profession/expertise if they relate to the story.
4. Do list previous publication credentials. List writing contests only for WINS in MAJOR contests. No second places, no contests that we've never heard of.
5. Make 100% absolutely damn sure that there is not a single typo or error in the cover letter (or the submission).

And now the fun “show, don’t tell” part. Send us your cover letter, and we’ll tear it apart—err, provide professional advice—online for everyone’s edification. (Without revealing your name, of course.) So send your letters to, and in a couple of weeks we’ll post a few with critique from our editorial staff. If your letter is selected for dissection, you win a free download of an Ellora's Cave or Cerridwen Press ebook.

To get things started, here are three real cover letters we received with submissions. No, we don’t make these up—we don’t need to, the writing world is weird enough without any help from us.

Example 1: Uh, Well, It Is Short

"I am aware of your busy schedules and commitments to other Authors. If it be possible and convenient to you please let me know something within three months. Even if the answer is keep your Day-job."

That's it, the whole cover letter. Okay, this author could have been a bit wordier. Like tell me something—anything—about the story. The writer probably thought the reference to keeping the day job was cute, but I just saw it as an expectation of a rejection. Oh, and giving the editor/agent a deadline is a real no-no. It indicates you either know nothing about the publishing business, or you are totally arrogant.

There was an author bio attached:

"Of course I am {name}. I was born in a little town in {state}. I was raised everywhere on the East Coast. Having a well developed home was something that I have no memory of. However I did not let that be a total failure to me. I was as well off as a thousand other kids that grew up the same way. So it was not that bad. I did serve my country in the U.S. Army and went to Vietnam in the late sixties and the early seventies. I was there over a year. Actually 14 months, 19 days and 1 hour. Not that I was counting or anything like that. I made it back so that worked out really well.

"Growing up without proper training did get me into my share of trouble. However because I was a small person I was not a bad ass. It seamed like I got my hind-parts kicked my share of times. This made things more clear to me. To stay out of trouble one must stay away from some of the things that causes you to be put in those situations. You know if you kick a dog enough he learns why he is being Kicked. I was married several times before I figured it out. This is not the best thing for me. There is people who are meant to be married and then there are people who are not good candidates for this adventure.

"I learned early in life that I was different. I believe in Reincarnation. That is something I believe that controls our direction in life. We come here to do something. Plus we always bring baggage from other times. This baggage is just as important as anything. We look at ourselves in the mirror at times and ask the question. Who am I? The answer often evades us. Our sexual desires do not stand up to the things that people tell us. So we are left to the dilemma of trying to figure these little abnormalities on our own. Actually all of this makes us a little wiser in some ways. We discover who we are and what we really want in life. Not what others tell us what is good for us. That is what this book is about. People understanding that they are who indeed they are. Not what is normal in a certain situation."

I included this whole mess just so you can see what editors have to wade through. I haven't the foggiest idea what all the drivel means or why the author spewed it all over the page. And the whole point is: WE DON'T WANT AN AUTHOR BIO. Tell us about the story, not about you.

Example 2: Cute But Crazy

"Dear Overworked and Under-Appreciated Editor:"

Hey, I sorta like this opening. This writer understands my job. But a more professional address would have impressed me more.

"You open the envelope. Your eyes sharpen. Not another one, pleading her case with you. Your mouth aches for a smoke and a stiff drink. You sip your coffee instead and catch a glimpse of yourself in the glass. You grin. Oh, yeah, you still have it. You are sexier now than you were five years ago. You have a sensual allure. And a little bit of mystery. Some sadness in the eyes from heartbreak and suffering in the past, for those careful enough to see it. And a little bit of gritty wisdom. A good laugh that turns heads. You inhale deeply and keep reading, savoring your power. You enjoy this. Hmmm, Maybe this query is something different, something special. Perhaps this one would be The One. The query that would meet all your needs and satisfy the secret yearnings that you have never even admitted to yourself. You sit up straighter. You have to tell someone about this. You decide to call a meeting immediately."

I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't like coffee. And I rather resent this stranger making assumptions about my personal life and secret yearnings. Oh, and reading submissions is major stress for editors, not a power high. Perhaps this "clever" writing should be saved for the actual story, not the cover letter.

"I have written a novel, {title} (65,000 words) which I would like to submit for your consideration. It is a lesbian murder mystery that takes place in my hometown of {town}. The protagonist is African-American and a women’s college basketball coach in {other town}. After suspicious death of her most recent ex, she is drawn to {town} for the funeral and some answers. The book also has an historical component connecting the characters to the {event} of 1921. I call it a les/his/mys. It can become a series."

A lesbian historical mystery? Well, it's different, and cross-genre can be very popular. This is a reasonably good high-level blurb and does catch my interest. It even includes the story length.

"I have rejected a five-book contract for this novel from a small, independent press and a one-book contract from a lesbian press only because they were not a good fit. I now have the World’s Best Agent, {name} of {company} Associates, who represents me on another manuscript and who will advise me in a behind-the-scenes kind of way so I will not do something stupid like trade for chickens or beads, which I am likely to do."

Why in the world would you tell me you've rejected contracts, and imply you are a difficult author to deal with? If you have an agent, why are YOU writing to me, instead of having your agent contact me? And do you really want to announce your lack of intelligence?

Example 3: Books from the Big House

It's not uncommon for editors to receive submissions from those incarcerated in prison. (For some reason, only males; we rarely receive one from a female prisoner.) Oh, and they are all insistent on their innocence—I've yet to receive a submission from someone who was guilty of the crime for which they were convicted. Actually, a book might be a lot more interesting from an admittedly guilty guy.

"I spent the better part of the first 12 years of my incarceration pursuing a college education in general business with a minor in psychology in my endeavor to understand how I went from my first year of college on the street with big plans to make something positive out of my life to a convicted murder doing 17-life."

I don't even know what that sentence is saying. I haven't looked at the story submission yet, and I doubt I want to if this is an example of the sender's writing skill.

"What I foundout after some ten courses in the human behavior field wasn’t a pretty picture replete with a second life I uncovered in repressed memories from childhood trauma to a chemical assited hypnosis session which lead to an involuntary guilty plea for someone else’s crime. This total recall type of experiance caused me to abort my graduate studies for what resulted in a ten year pro se mission for justice that further opened my eyes to the corruption in state and federal judical systems."


"After concluding the party’s that conspired to bring and keep me down were untouchable, I spent another ten years or so which partcially overlaped my futial mission for justice pursuing various jail house hustles with intentions to buy my way out of prison. For one reason or another these endeavors proved as futile as my mission for justice and some 3 years ago I started to write with an eye on the N.Y. best seller’s list as my ticket to freedom."

Really? Your conviction gets overturned if you write a best-seller? And I'm so sorry to hear that your 'hustles' didn't earn you enough money to finance an escape attempt or buy off a judge. (Does the writer really think this sort of thing is impressive?)

"One of my biggest problems in getting published will be the challage my stories will be for editors and legal department in my use of celeraties from the music, motion pictur, and TV industry as characters. I believe sunanims and other devices can be utlilized to avoid the deflimation of charactor law suite. As you can see a spell checker will also have to be utlized to bring my work to market. I look forward to your request to review some of my work."

Nice to see the writer understands the legal issues in publishing. And why didn't he use spell checker on this letter before wasting my time with it?

Okay, time for YOUR cover letter. Seriously, send it to us and we'll give you our best suggestions for grabbing an editor's or agent's attention for your book.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Fan vs. Fiction

by Mackenzie Walton

It happens all the time. You’re watching a TV show—or seeing a movie, or reading a book, or doing any number of things—and it occurs to you that two characters have a lot of chemistry. You get to thinking about how the pair would get together, what obstacles they would face, the hot sex that would inevitably ensue, and before you know it, you’ve spun a scenario that you think is even better than what the writers have cooked up.

Less frequently, but still on a regular basis, someone is so moved by the brilliance of their angst-filled story about Riker and Crusher’s timeless love affair that they type it up and submit it to us for publication.

Um, please don’t do this.

Basically, what is being produced is called fanfiction. For those of you who may not know about it already, fanfiction is an unauthorized story written about licensed characters or settings. It’s been around for decades, originating largely in fanzines and then exploding into prominence once the Internet made sharing information so easy.

Despite its illegality, fanfiction is extremely common and opinions about it are divided. Some creators actively encourage fanfiction. After all, it shows that fans care about these characters. Others denounce any form of unauthorized work featuring their characters and actively try to keep it from being readily accessed in order to protect their copyright. Regardless, fanfiction writers are rarely threatened with legal action because their work is generally on a small scale and is not for profit.

Key words—not for profit.

Because that’s where things can get sticky. A story that is accepted by a publisher is (hopefully) going to make a profit. That’s the whole point. Readers buy it, the writers gets a portion of it, the publisher gets a piece of the pie, eventually a few pennies trickle down so the poor editors who are chained to their desks can buy a crust of bread for dinner. Everyone is happy.

But if it’s fanfiction? The actual owners of the concept get nothing. Believe it or not, people don’t like it very much when tons of people are making a mint off their idea, while they don’t make a cent.

So, at the very least, that’s not very nice. We like our authors and we certainly wouldn’t wish this kind of scenario on any of them. Even more threatening, however, is the fact that the owners of these characters—especially those owned by big corporations, like Time Warner or Disney—have lawyers. They might not bother to hassle a lowly fan writer who doesn’t have two dimes to rub together (Bill Gates probably isn’t holed up in his mansion writing Due South stories). They will, however, sue the pants off a publisher who is producing unauthorized work.

Moreover, in many cases, there are already legal venues for the publication of certain characters’ continued adventures. For example, Pocket Books produces authorized novels about Star Trek characters and themes, and other publishing houses have similar deals with other series. So if one is truly zealous about an idea, there are legitimate ways to pursue it. However, this road may be long and fruitless, and the writer may ultimately have to conform to the owner’s vision.

So, to sum up—we can’t publish these kinds of stories. It’s simply not worth the liability.

That being said, there are still some options to legally publish what some might consider fanfiction. Where works of fiction are concerned, copyrights generally last for the duration of the creator’s life, plus 50 or 70 years. This is why novels featuring characters such as Dracula are fairly common. There are also folkloric characters such as Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast that no one owns and are free to be reinvented by anyone. Copyright laws can sometimes be tricky, however, so you should research carefully before proceeding.

A more cautious approach might be to use these characters solely as a basis for your own stories. If you like the cockiness of Han Solo, surely you can translate that into a hero of your own creation. There can be intelligent teenagers other than Hermione Granger. There’s no reason why you can’t use your favorite characters as inspiration for a story that is fun, thoughtful, and most importantly, publishable.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Things Editors are Thankful For

Besides turkey and stuffing, and family and friends, there are things editors give thanks for on this day.

1. Authors who can spell--and proofread!

2. Authors who can create intensely emotional stories.

3. Authors who understand the importance of world-building, and create lush and unique worlds.

4. Control+Z (undo!) and authors who use it correctly.

5. - your one-stop dictionary look-up.

6. Authors who will apply corrections and advice not only where the editor has suggested, but to the rest of the story AND future writing. It's never too late to learn!

7. Control+F...used very carefully.


9. Authors with a sense of humor.

10. Authors who love to research.

11. Authors who ask, "What can I do to make this story better?"

12. Authors who understand the publishing world.

13. Authors who take that extra minute to say thanks for everything we do.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Conferences for Writers and Readers

by Raelene Gorlinsky

There are writer conferences and then there are fan/reader conventions. Although some types of activities may occur at either, these are actually two separate species of beast. You as an author or aspiring author need to understand the differing benefits and decide where you want to spend your money—because participating does not come cheap.

The writer conference may have an event or two (often a booksigning) open to the public, but the main activities are aimed at authors and the profession of writing. Authors and aspiring authors come to share knowledge about their craft and business, network, schmooze with fellow industry professionals to get the latest news and predictions.

Reader conventions also have lots of authors in attendance, but the point is for fans to be able to interact with their favorite writers and for authors to promote their books to readers. The convention will focus more on parties and social events, and "accessories" to publishing such as cover models, contests, free books and promo souvenirs. Because some fans are also aspiring authors, and because the convention needs to attract author attendance, there are often workshops or panel discussions, but not to the seriousness and depth that one gets at a writer conference.

Of course, we are all familiar with the "biggie" writer conferences, those put on by the professional organizations like RWA, MWA, SFWA. The quintessential reader convention is the Romatic Times annual blowout. But there are many, many smaller events that are more affordable, may be closer to home for you, and offer a more intimate atmosphere and attendance (usually less than 100) that permits more personal interactions. Here are two that I have attended and recommend to all.

Womens Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy

From their website (
"The Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy, is a writer’s conference with a difference. It is a relaxed and fun forum for writers, editors, agents and booksellers from all over the world to meet and talk about writing. […] panels on the European market, foreign rights and bookselling channels in Europe."

The conference (this was its fourth year) is still small but growing. It is funded by contributions and grants from local banks and businesses, Italian government agencies, and Harlequin Mondadori. WFF is becoming well-known as a cultural event in the region. The 2007 conference got daily coverage in the regional newspaper, there were posters in many store and restaurant windows around town and in the town square. Some of the events, like author readings, are open to the public and drew crowds. So this is a pretty high-profile conference for being small.

The conference itself was fantastic! Very well done, high class. This is a wonderful learning and networking opportunity for professional authors—lots of panels and presentations, but no promo giveaways, no raffle baskets, no speeches at meals, no mobs, no pressure. Participation by important people in the European and U.S. publishing community: Italian, German, UK, and US publishers, agents and authors. The PR director from the American consulate in Naples was a speaker. They had a staff of simultaneous translators, for us non-Italians.

I would label this as the most enjoyable and unusual writer conference I've attended.

Celebrate Romance

In two separate incarnations, this reader/author meet-and-greet has been going on for, hmm, maybe eight years? I attended four of the first five as a fan, before I moved to Ohio to work for EC. They were the first reader conferences I ever attended, and gave me the wonderful feeling of being part of a huge group of fellow book lovers.

The convention moves around the country, a different location each year, to make it convenient to different groups of readers and authors. The next one is February 29 to March 2, 2008, in Columbia, South Carolina.

From their website:
"Celebrate Romance (a.k.a. “CR”) is a unique conference where romance readers and authors come together as equals to celebrate their love for the romance genre. Unlike many other conferences, this gathering has no other agenda but to support readers and their passion for romance novels."

The event is run entirely by volunteers. Because of this, all attendees (readers or authors) pay the same registration fee and participate in the same events. Fans spend the weekend at meals, panels and social events with their favorite authors - heaven for romance readers!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Conference Adventure!

by Mary Altman, Nick Conrad, Mackenzie Walton

A choose-your-own-adventure game for you! Come to our conference and see what happens to you! Here's the setup:

You’ve waited months for this day to arrive. Your clothes have been packed and repacked as you figured out that perfect ensemble, you’ve honed your pitch to an art form, and you’ve had those brand new business cards double-printed and stored away in a silver card carrier. You are ready to take the writers conference by storm.

The conference is hosting a reception the night before registration. Tomorrow, you and your fellow authors will have a chance to pitch to a fabulous editor, but tonight it’s all about unwinding, having a good time and meeting each other.

Standing at the door, you spot three conspicuous attendees: a very young, very pretty blonde sitting at the bar sipping a daiquiri she likely purchased via fake ID; a somewhat frumpy but extremely friendly looking middle-aged woman sitting alone at a table and cradling a cup of coffee between her hands; and an uncomfortable-looking older gentleman fumbling about at the buffet.

So go! Have fun!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Conference Vignettes

Yep, every editor has them--funny, frightening, freaky or fantastic anecdotes about things that happened at writer conferences.

So what's the most interesting conference story you've got?

1. The pair of authors who actually did it (and we'd all thought it was just a publishing industry urban legend): They followed me into the bathroom and stood outside my stall trying to convince me to buy their Nintendo fanfic.

2. The male author who heard me begging for chocolate to revive me during a multi-hour pitch session, and went to a lot of trouble to track some down and send it over to me. And he wasn't even on the list to pitch a story to me! (His wife's a lucky woman, to have a man who understands the importance of chocolate.)

3. The local paper covering the writer conference asked to interview me about e-books and Ellora's Cave. The resulting article was very nice--except that two-thirds of it was about why I wear hats at conferences and what I thought of the local food specialties.

4. A male author, upon hearing that I edited erotic romance, asked if I wanted to dominate him and show him what a bad boy he was.

5. During a mix-and-mingle, an author and I struck up a friendly conversation. Not bothering to look at my name tag, she reached over to pat my hand and asked me if I was here to support my romance-writing mother.

6. During a pitch appointment, one of the authors was so nervous that she asked if she could read from a note card. Unfortunately, she read so fast and slurred her words so badly that I could only catch every third word. I felt like such a monster for asking her to try again.

7. I was so nervous during my first conference that I couldn't work up the nerve to approach people. Thankfully, several ladies noticed me being the wallflower and came to adopt me. I immediately was able to relax and enjoy myself.

8. An author booked a pitch session with me for her "erotic romance". It was the semi-autobiographical story of a child enduring horrendous abuse - sexual, emotional, physical. The author went into far more detail than I could stomach. She was astounded and annoyed when I said it wasn't the type of book we published, it wasn't an erotic romance. "But it has lots of sex!" she retorted. She refused to grasp my explanations that "romantic" and "erotic" are not defined by merely the act of sex - especially when that sex is violent rape or child abuse.

9. I arrived at the conference hotel with the worst cold ever - exhausted, so congested I could barely breathe, throat too sore to speak, bleary eyes. After waiting in a loooong line to check in, I was informed my room would not be ready for several hours. I almost cried. Several members of the host chapter spotted me. They introduced me to a group of writers eating in the restaurant so I'd have someone to sip soup with, then they sat with me in the lobby, fetched me hot tea, even covered me in a blanket! One of them got me checked in so I didn't have to stand in line again. I felt so guilty for being a burden when I was there to "work" for them, but their pampering and care were just the support I needed to make it through the weekend.

10. Warn the waiters! Yeah, they probably knew it was a luncheon of romance writers. But apparently no one told them it was erotic romance authors, whose table conversations about the books they were writing and reading were quite, umm, explicit. And then the speakers got up - and, knowing their audience, didn't hesitate to call a cock a cock! Those young male waiters were neon red. When it was my turn to speak, the microphone kept cutting in and out, so I ignored it and spoke very loudly - unfortunately, the mic would kick in for a few seconds here and there, always when I was saying "sex", "fucking", or such.

11. While pitching her book to me, an author burst into tears. The story sounded very moving, but it was rather uncomfortable to sit there while she sobbed over her own book.

12. To reiterate the lesson illustrated by Number Five, name tags are very useful tools. I cannot count the number of times people have asked me what I write, if I'm someone's husband, or if I am with [insert various other press names here].

13. The first night of the conference was followed by a complimentary trip to a local comedy club. All went well until afterward, when the cab company failed to send the requisite second cab and six of us were stranded at the club. The conference coordinator called the company several times, but it was one-thirty in the morning before we finally managed to get a ride back to the hotel--and what came for us was a tiny sedan. We were too tired to wait any longer, so we all crammed into the cab. There were four of us in the three-person backseat, and two people had to sit on other passengers' laps. As we rode back, the coordinator said, "All right, who's hungry? Let's hit a drive-through! My treat!" There is no better way to break the ice with a bunch of strangers than to sit on one another's laps and then bond over burgers and fries. And yes, we got food for the driver too.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Great Hunt

by Mary Altman

The thrill of the chase. The exhilaration of the hunt. There’s nothing quite like the pulse-pounding excitement of tracking, spotting and running a publishing professional to ground—and there’s no hunting ground more fertile than the halls and ballrooms of a conference hotel.

But before you release the hounds for the coming conference season, please take a few moments to consider how best to approach the agents and editors you may have the chance of ensnaring. Publishing professionals can be tricky beasts, but remembering a few key points will help you both walk away unscathed.

1) Food for Thought. I had been warned about networking before I attended my first conference and knew to always be polite, professional and approachable. My publisher hadn’t thought to tell me that if I managed to be all three all the time, I would be half-starved for my pains. Dinner conversation is a wonderful thing, and it can be exciting to realize you have a publishing professional at your table. But please let him or her take a few bites between questions. It’s hard to listen to pitches when my stomach is protesting so loudly.

2) Keep Your Eyes Open. Conferences give name tags for a reason—to keep us from embarrassing ourselves. The only thing more mortifying than introducing your good friend What’s Her Face is making an incorrect assumption about the person sitting next to you. If my name tag says Publishing Professional or Editor, asking me what I write or whether I’m here to support my mother (!?) probably isn’t the best conversational icebreaker.

3) We’re People Too! One of the things I wanted to constantly remind authors during my first few conferences was that I was just as nervous as they were. Meeting people can be nerve-racking, especially if you want to make a good impression. Remembering that the publishing professional standing there looking aloof may be just as anxious as you could help nudge you in the right direction. For example, at my first RWA conference, in Denver, Colorado, several lovely ladies went out of their way to make me feel comfortable and relaxed.

4) Keep it in Your Pants. It doesn’t matter that I edit erotic romance for a living. If anyone grabs me and pulls me aside, then proceeds to tell me in shockingly explicit language (and trust me, I know from explicit!) about their sexual experiences or, God forbid, ask me about mine, I will reach for the pepper spray. Don’t ignore the person in favor of the title and don’t assume that just because I edit spicy books, I want to hear about your prowess with a bullwhip or your teenage high school fantasies.

5) The Gossip Lounge is Open. Editors have good memories for bad behavior and we just love sharing zany conference stories. Do not become my next entertaining “and then he asked me if I wanted to dominate him!” anecdote. Act friendly but professional and editors will have only good things to say about you.

Conferences should be just like real life magnified. Yes, you need to get in there and be aggressive. Track down that editor you’ve been dying to meet, make that elevator pitch, strike up a conversation in a bar. But also keep in mind that editors are people too. So before you blow your bugle and shout “tally ho!”, think about how you’d like to be treated…and whether or not you’d like to be chased to ground.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Teach the Children...

By Raelene Gorlinsky

Just my personal opinion, but not only do many schools do a poor job of teaching good writing skills, they make the whole subject boring and distasteful to kids. It frightened me when I walked into my son's classroom some years ago and saw a plethora of grammar, spelling and punctuation errors in the teacher-created signs and posters around the room. How many of those kids will be able to write a decent essay for a class assignment, produce quality work in college - let alone turn into the next generation of great authors that I want to read?

So, pending a complete restructure and modification of school curriculums and textbooks, you as parents (or grandparents or aunts/uncles or...) can start your young kids on the path to actually enjoying punctuation and grammar and such fun topics. How? Why, by reading them books that teach these things in a fun and interesting way! And, yes, such marvelous learning aids do exist. Here are a couple to get you started on showing your children the shining path to future bestsellerdom.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves - the children's picture book version of why commas really do make a difference! By original author Lynne Truss, illustrations by Bonnie Timmons

Blurb: "You might want to eat a huge hot dog, but a huge, hot dog would run away pretty quickly if you tried to take a bite out of him. [...] see how forgetting to include a comma or placing one in the wrong spot can completely change the meaning of a sentence--with hilarious consequences."

And then there's her companion book about apostrophes, The Girl's Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can't Manage Without Apostrophes.

Illustrates the shift in meaning precipitated by missing or misplaced apostrophes.

World of Language series by Ruth Heller

The first thing that wows you about these books, and will bring you back to them again and again, are the lush, incredible illustrations.

But they actually do teach parts of speech and sentence structure in a highly entertaining and memorable way. Your kids will LEARN from these.

Up, Up and Away : A Book About Adverbs
Many Luscious Lollipops : A Book About Adjectives
Merry-Go-Round : A Book About Nouns
Behind the Mask : A Book About Prepositions
A Cache of Jewels and Other Collective Nouns
Fantastic! Wow! and Unreal! : A Book About Interjections and Conjunctions
Mine, All Mine : A Book About Pronouns
Kites Sail High : A Book About Verbs

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Good Grammar Guides

Remember those grammar and style and word usage reference guides that you learned about way back in school? The ones that gave you all the "rules" and made your writing appropriately formal and pedantic -- IF you happened to be writing a school term paper, or for a solemn professional journal or such. A lot of the old standard writing guides are out of date (yes, our language does change) or just not as applicable for informal fiction writing. But not to despair of having someplace to look up those thorny punctuation or verb tense problems, or figure out which word you really mean! There are lots of modern and FUN guides available now.

1. Out of the Loud Hound of Darkness (A Dictionarrative) – Karen Elizabeth Gordon

2. Torn Wings and Faux Pas (A Flashbook of Style, a Beastly Guide Through the Writer’s Labyrinth) – Karen Elizabeth Gordon

3. The Well-Tempered Sentence (A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed) – Karen Elizabeth Gordon

4. Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English – Patricia T. O’Conner

5. Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions – Harry Shaw

6. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation – Lynne Truss
(And for extra fun, get the children's picture book version by Truss, illustrated by Bonnie Timmons, and "Eats, Shites & Leaves: Crap English and How to Use It" by A. Parody.)

7. Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins (The Careful Writer’s Guide to the Taboos, Bugbears and Outmoded Rules of English Usage) – Theodore M. Bernstein

8. Sleeping Dogs Don’t Lay: Practical Advice for the Grammatically Challenged – Richard Lederer & Richard Dowis

9. Word Court – Barbara Wallraff

10. Lapsing Into a Comma (A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print -- and How to Avoid Them) - Bill Walsh

11. Grammar Gremlins (Taming the Mischief-Makers of the English Language) - Don K. Ferguson

12. The World of Language series of children's books by Ruth Heller. Yes, children's books, but clear and concise -- and beautifully illustrated. Merry-Go-Round (nouns), A Cache of Jewels (collective nouns), Kites Sail High (verbs), Many Luscious Lollipops (adjectives), Up, Up and Away (adverbs), Behind the Mask (prepositions) and more.

13. Chicago Manual of Style - "The" style guide for many. Be sure you use a current edition, many things have been updated over the years.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

For EroRom, E-Pubbed = Top Seller

Author Robin L. Rotham ( has painstakingly compiled statistics about how, for erotic romance authors, previous exposure through e-publication relates to future success in print book sales. Yep, we're not surprised at all that so many erorom authors started out with (and in most cases are also still with) e-publishers.

Per Robin (and provided here with her permission)--
At this moment on, for print books:

1) The TOP 10 Erotica bestsellers were written by e-published authors.
2) 4 of those 10 were actually published by e-publishers -- EC and Samhain.
3) 13 of the top 25 Erotica bestsellers were published by e-pubs -- EC, Samhain, NCP, and Loose ID.
4) 40 of the top 100 Erotica bestsellers were published by those same e-pubs.
5) 13 of the top 100 Romance/Fantasy, Futuristic & Ghost bestsellers were written by e-published authors (that I recognize -- there may be more).
6) 6 of the top 100 Romance/Fantasy, Futuristic & Ghost bestsellers were published by e-pubs -- EC and Samhain.

(Robin accumulated these figures by hand, many hours work. Ahem, I'm going to have to have a word with her editor - shouldn't she be working on her next book? ;-0 )

Monday, November 5, 2007

Learn the Basics

by Donna Hoard

Advice from a Copy Editor

Are you bubbling with wonderful ideas you’d like to share with the reading public? Good writing takes lots of imagination and creativity, but as a copy editor, I’d like to address the more practical side of your work. You really need to know the basics.

Your manuscript must be readable and fairly clean, or it won’t be considered. You need to check grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Then, give it to several trusted critique partners for more input. It’s nearly impossible to edit your own writing. Your mind sees what you meant to write, not what is actually on the page.

Consult references books and websites.

My favorite reference book is The Chicago Manual of Style. I also found these highly rated style books on Listmania, under Essential Books for Copy Editors:

Garner’s Modern American Usage by Brian A. Garner
Words Into Type (Third Edition) by Marjorie Skillin and Robert Malcolm Gay

There are many grammar sites online. Here’s a link to Writing World.Com, which has assembled several links to get you started:

Remember, it’s best to use websites associated with universities and other reputable sources, rather than “Buffy’s Best Grammar Site Evah”.

Compound words can be extremely difficult. Often, there is more than one “correct” version. There are many online dictionaries, but my favorite is OneLook (, which searches multiple dictionaries. This can help you decide whether the word should be solid, hyphenated, or open.

Sometimes it’s easy—if you type “party goer”, OneLook redirects you to “partygoer”, your only choice. Sometimes it’s a question of seeing which usage is most popular. If there are two entries for “bow-tie”, four for “bowtie”, and fourteen for “bow tie”, then the best choice is obvious. Keep in mind, editors give more credence to Merriam-Webster than Wikipedia.

Do your research!

You may think small details are unimportant, but readers will be annoyed if your character does something “wrong”.

For example: A Waikiki resident throws his suitcases into the backseat of his ’57 T-bird, drives on Kalakaua Avenue toward Diamond Head, then arrives at Honolulu International Airport.

Knowledgeable readers know that a ‘57 T-bird does not have a backseat and Honolulu International is in the opposite direction from Diamond Head.

An author can lose credibility making such mistakes. It might pull readers out of the story—or make them want to throw your book across the room.

No matter how esoteric the subject, you’re bound to find some links in search engines like Google. Again, consider the source. I recently visited a grammar site that had the spelling error “past participal”. A big clue to use another site!


The Find or Search feature in your word processing program is a wonderful thing. Please use it!

Accumulate a list of common mistakes to check. Yes, there is a difference between “any more” and “anymore”, and when you are “prone”, you are lying facedown. And please, please, please, learn the difference between “lay” and “lie”.

The checklist may be a little extra work, but you have the assurance that you haven’t missed a single occurrence of a particular error. If you’ve misspelled or misused a word once, chances are there will be more of the same.

Please be kind to your editor; learn from your mistakes!

Also, if you decide to write a series, please refresh your memory about the previous book. Compile a fact sheet about your world and characters. The heroine from a previous book who makes a guest appearance in the next installment should have the same eye color as she did in “her” book. And a character should have the same last name as before. (Yes, these mistakes actually happen.)

Also keep in mind that different publishers have different styles. So even if you think you’ve written the Most Perfect Manuscript Ever, you and your editor may need to tweak it a bit to comply with the house style.

Content editors welcome an innovative, entertaining story, but if the basic writing skills are missing, no matter how wonderful your story is, it’s likely to be rejected. Editors can’t be expected to teach Writing 101.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Rejection, Romance & Royalties: The Wacky World of a Working Writer by Laura Resnick

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Recommended Reading!

This book should be required reading for all authors, aspiring authors—and editors. It is a collection of Ms. Resnick’s articles from various periodicals, including Nink (monthly journal of Novelists Inc.), SFWA Bulletin, and Romance Writers Report, about aspects of the publishing business and the business of being a professional author.

Ms. Resnick has an entertaining style, so the book is a pleasure to read. But it is the information contained that is most important. Despite her occasional diatribes against publishers and editors (and what author doesn’t feel that way sometimes?), she offers a huge amount of information and practical advice to authors. She tells it like it is, faces the rough realities of trying to support yourself as an author.

The best articles related to the “craft” and career of an author, in my opinion:

The Luck Myth - Yep, it’s persistence, not luck, that gets you the breaks.

Passion - Why you feel the need to write, and how to have a “spark” in your writing.

Copy Edits We Have Known and Hated – Funny and scary anecdotes: “a good copy editor is worth her weight in chocolate, a bad one makes you jumpy about copy edits for the rest of your career.”

…Does Not Meet Our Needs at This Time – “Professional writers get rejected. All of the time. Even by their own publishers. Even by editors who like them personally and like their writing. In fact, multi-published, award-winning writers get rejected all of the time.”

Labelismization – The marketing aspects of determining genre, establishing a “brand” for your books.

It Can Happen Here—And Often Does – “Bizarre mix-ups, infuriating screw-ups, and wacky mistakes that are out of the writer’s control.” Like having your name misspelled, your book misprinted.

Orphans of the Storm – When your editor leaves the publishing house.

Going Public – Perils of booksignings.

How Long Does It Take? – To write a book…

Jabla – Writer’s block, disappearing writers, one-book wonders.

The Artist’s Knife – “Just as the artist’s knife scrapes, folds, and carves one’s talent and vision into a masterpiece, the writer must find her own inner knife to refine, regroup, and dig deep when challenges arise and plans founder. The writer must carve her talent into work that builds her career.”

Habit Forming – The process of writing is different for every writer.

Of course, for sheer fun, read the article “Enlarge Your Penis”, on addiction to the Internet.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Pub News: National Novel Writing Month Begins

Across the world, writers are stocking up on caffeine, strapping themselves to their keyboards, and struggling to meet their word count goals for the day. At the end of the month, exhausted and triumphant, they’ll have 50k of their latest novel and a new feeling of community accomplishment.

That’s right—it’s November 1st, marking the beginning of National Novel Writing Month. National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) began in July of 1999 in the San Francisco Bay area. Its statement of purpose is simple: write a novel in a month. 175 pages, 50,000 words. What began as a literary block party in California has become an international juggernaut. Forums keep authors in touch, word count bars keep them honest, and the intense deadline keeps them working. There’s even a NaNoWriMo for kids!

To find out more, head over to

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Vampires and shapeshifters of the more unusual kind.

1. Bunnicula by James Howe depicts a rabbit that sucks the juice out of vegetables.

2. In Kate Steele's upcoming book, What the Cat Dragged In, one of the heroes is an owl shifter.

3. Gabriel, the hero of Megan Sybil Baker's Gabriel's Ghost, shapeshifts into a Kyi-Ragkiril, a winged demon.

4. Jonathan Raven of Lynn Michaels' Nightwing is an archaeologist whose soul or "self" was split into two parts by an evil, immortal Egyptian soul-eater -- one half is a ghost, the other a vampire.

5. In Stephanie Meyer's "Twilight" series, the vampires are perfectly able to go out in sunlight...if they don't mind sparkling as if they'd been doused in glitter.

6. Clive Barker's Cabal introduces us to a zombie werewolf hero.

7. Bearwalker by Steven Lee Climer and Lori A. Soard tells the story of a man who turns into a bear when enraged and is driven to murder.

8. In N.J. Walters' Stefan's Salvation and Eternal Brothers, a group of power-hungry humans form a vampiric cult, believing that power is passed through the ingestion of blood.

9. Kij Johnson's The Fox Woman tells the story of the feud between a Japanese family and a den of werefoxes...and what happens when the shapeshifting heroine falls in love with the human hero.

10. In The Cat's Fancy by Julie Kenner, a normal housecat turns into a woman after falling in love with her owner.

11. The Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce tells the story of a human woman who falls in love with a reindeer shapeshifter.

12. The vampires in Marly Chance's Been There, Bit That are not affected by sunlight and have a lifespan fairly close to that of humans.

13. In Jaid Black's Trek Mi Q'an series, the planet Khan-Gor is inhabited by barbaric humanoids who can shapeshft into kor-tar, gargoyle-like creatures with wings and spikes on their bodies. The Khan-Gori are so feared by the rest of the galaxy that they have closed off the planet to outsiders.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Making Nice With Your Editor

by Mackenzie Walton

If you are an author and your manuscript has been accepted for publication, you’re going to be edited. For many authors, this is a traumatic experience. Your story, which you’ve labored over for months, is sent to a veritable stranger and CHANGED.

In spite of this, editors are not evil people. (Well, not because of the editing. I can’t speak for everyone’s personal lives.) And even if they did turn out to be evil, bad news—you still have to work with them. It might make your relationship with your editor a little easier if you keep a few things in mind:

1. No, really, we’re not doing this to be mean to you. Our job is to help you improve your story until it is as wonderful as it can possibly be. We WANT it to be good—not just to help you, but because a poorly edited story will make everyone involved look bad—not only the author, but the editor and publisher as well. Suggested changes may not always make sense to you, but that’s the nature of the game; someone with a new perspective is going to see things differently than the person who’s been staring at this story for months. I often advise my authors not to fall in love with their words, because if they do, it can make the editing process a lot more painful.

2. Be patient. When we’re not whiling away the hours with sophisticated martini parties in the office, we actually edit, which, like any craft, takes time. We want to do the best possible job for you. Also, while we would love to lavish all of our attention on you and you alone, you are not your editor’s only author, and we must distribute our time fairly.

3. Remember that your editor is human. Unfortunately, the development of the Edit-Tron 3000 has stalled, so in the meantime you are forced to deal with someone who is a living creature with actual emotions. Your editor may not work as quickly as you’d like or may make decisions you don’t agree with, but he or she does have feelings, and your communication with your editor should remain polite. As anyone who has worked in customer service can tell you, honey attracts flies better than vinegar. Your editor is someone you have to work with; you want them to like you, and they’ll be more willing to go the extra mile for you if you treat them with respect.

4. Send us bribes. Okay, apparently I’m not supposed to suggest this. Never mind. Forget I mentioned it. (PSSST, I LIKE DIAMONDS.)

It is rare for an author and editor to have a perfectly harmonious relationship. There is likely going to be some misunderstanding and disagreement. However, keeping these few things in mind will make the situation a lot easier. Remember, even the best writers have editors, and hey, like they say—change can be a good thing.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Use Your Words

by Mary Altman

What’s sexy to you?
Touched? Nibbled? Licked?

What’s hot?
Rubbed? Slid? Arched?

It’s important for Romance authors—or, really, any author who’s ever been told that sex sells and skin is in—to ask herself these questions. What makes a really hot scene? What will best help the reader get into the moment? What words should you naturally reach for to provoke the appropriate response?

Thrust? Rocked? Plunged? Sawed?

The bottom line is that your words are an arsenal, and as a fiction writer, it’s your job to reach into the rucksack, pull out the grenade, and lob it over the fence. It’s your job to blow your audience away. Every romantic encounter should be as sensual as you can make it so that you can grab the reader and force her into the experience. You won’t be able to do that if you flavor your intimate scenes with jarringly unsexy words.

If you do that, you may as well be shooting blanks.

But what makes an unsexy word? Unfortunately, it’s all up to interpretation. Words that may fade into the scenery for some will leap out and bludgeon others. Words that turn the crank of one person will leave the next vaguely grossed out. There are some common avoidables in a sex scene, however—words that you should be cautious about using for fear of making your audience cross their legs in discomfort.

1) It’s a Jungle, Baby. Despite being compared to an exotic flower for decades, the vagina should never call to mind the dense, dark, and dangerous foliage of the Congo. Avoid the temptation to use words such as sweltering, sodden, muggy, humid, or soggy.

2) Is Anyone Here a Doctor? Personally, when I’m reading a sex scene, the last thing I want to do is play Spot That STD! With that in mind, I’d like to encourage authors to cross oozing, seeping, and discharge off their mental checklists.

3) Life is Not a Frat Party! I didn’t much like obnoxious frat boys when I was in college—I definitely don’t want to read about them in my romance novels! Keep readers like me in mind when describing anatomy as tits, titties, ta-tas, nips, or boobies.

4) Your Vagina is Not a Box of Chocolates. You more or less do know what you’re going to get—or at least you should have a pretty good idea—and it’s not something you can find in the pantry. Cross out words like buttery and soupy. This editor also advises that you take care with voracious. Though it’s a common erotic word, it should never make the reader mentally compare girly bits to Seymour’s Audrey 2.

5) Just Plain Gross. I have nothing pithy to say about these last words except…ew. Bloated, turgid, and bulbous aren’t actually sexy, no matter how many Romancelandia heads say otherwise.

There are literally hundreds of other bafflingly unsexy words used in intimate scenes…and that’s not even touching the mystifying euphemisms! (Really, what is an alabaster baton? Am I running a relay race here?) It’s important to remember that words that turn you on may leave me cold and phrases that have me recoiling in horror may make you sweat. That’s fine—you can’t please everyone. But if you find that your sex scenes are making readers reach for their trusty pith helmets and mosquito netting, sit back, put down the thesaurus, and reread what you’ve been writing. A few judicious word changes could keep your editor from wailing “The horror! The horror!”

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Eewy, Icky Euphemisms

There are some words and phrases that should never be used to describe a character's "private parts". We swear we did not make these up--this is a selection of phrases from actual submissions of romance manuscripts. There is nothing the least sensual or romantic about any of these.

Thirteen Eewy, Icky Euphemisms

Hers (you know, her pussy, cunt, vagina, clit)

1. aching oozing entrance
2. clutching coming cavern
3. cum hole
4. inflamed seeping tunnel
5. pleading pouting gate of her vagina
6. pulse-pounding swamp of love and cum
7. ultrasensitive cum-covered bud
8. southernmost slippery lips
9. soaking, smothering cave
10. drenched hair-topped cavern
11. bloated pulsing bud
12. constricted, battered hole
13. contracting crease

His (cock, penis)

1. buffeting brick-of-a-bat
2. engorged cylindrical monster
3. near-spurting spear
4. object of her oral affection
5. spherical head with its narrow semen-spitting slit
6. thick, long rope of granite
7. torturous tube
8. one-eyed purple-headed yogurt slinger
9. white marble battering ram
10. ready-to-pop pole
11. pointy protrusion
12. bulbous buffeting baton
13. albino boa constrictor