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

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Pub News: Sales Up Over 40 Percent at Amazon

From Publishers Weekly:

Sales in Amazon’s North American media segment soared 38% in the third quarter ended September 30, to $1.08 billion, while sales for the entire company jumped 41%, to $3.26 billion. Net income rose to $80 million from $19 million in the comparable period in 2006. In the period, Amazon sold 2.5 million copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows worldwide, making it the largest new product release in Amazon history. Because of the deep discounts on the title, however, Amazon did not quite break even on sales of Deathly. The company said media sales also benefited from sales of Potter “attachments".

Coming out of the Cave: Editors on the Prowl

by Nick Conrad

We don’t bite. Nor do we live in dark caves, only emerging at night to feed on the souls of our innocent supplicants. We never demand virgin sacrifices or firstborns. And sometimes—sometimes—we actually go home and do things that don’t involve editing at all. Like socialize. And eat.

Okay, so a fair amount of eating goes on when we’re at our desks, too. But most of us prefer standard fare over the blood of the living. Oh, and we like caffeinated beverages. Lots and lots of those.

We are the editorial department of Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc. We’re regular folks who have come from various parts of the US—and the world. The driving force that unifies us is our passion for the written word and our commitment to providing a product that reflects that. It’s a drive we share with you, the author, and we strive to cultivate your talents and let that passion reflect in your work.

So that’s why we’re here. We understand that sometimes the best way to get an answer is to go straight to the source. What do fiction editors look for in submissions? How do we decide if a story is “hot” enough to qualify as an erotic romance? Why in heaven’s name are we so anal-retentive about things like commas* and word choice and realism, for crying out loud? Isn’t it supposed to be fantasy? What’s wrong with a few creative liberties? (Answer: Nothing—in moderation and in good taste.)

We also want to put faces** behind those names you see just before the title page. Editors, like authors, are readers first, and what we do goes well beyond turning out a product. We’re with a book every step of the way from its submission to its release, and we take as much pride in our work as you do in yours.

Our goal for this blog is to engage you, the authors and aspiring authors (and readers). We will offer you a glimpse into our side of things, some helpful advice, and some exciting and interactive activities. (Psst—that just might include a few critical reads!) There’ll be occasional fun and games and humor—we’re not completely stuffy. Above all, we’re here to make contact with the outside world, to venture out of our cubes and help shed some light on the mystery of what goes on behind the scenes at ECPI and publishers in general—aside from the overconsumption of caffeinated beverages, anyway.

We hope you’ll join us!

*By the way, rumor-mongers, we at ECPI are not anti-comma. We do try to cut out overuse of them because large amounts of punctuation can make books in digital format harder to read. But we do use commas.
**For the literalists in the group, you’re not really going to see our faces. I’m very shy about my three heads, Mackenzie’s hair never holds still for the camera because snakes are hard to train, Meghan lost her soul the last time someone took her picture, Raelene always ruins the shot by shapeshifting at the last second, and Mary—well, it’s hard to be photographed when one doesn’t have a reflection.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pub News: Nora Roberts wins Quill Award

Nora Roberts won the Quills Book of the Year award for her novel Angels Fall. Ms. Roberts, who also won in the Romance category, said that she was going to thank the appropriate people--her fans. The award is selected by the reading public from the nominees.

A Chink in his Armor: A Word on Alpha Heroes

by Nick Conrad

Disclaimer: Though same-sex and ménage à trois romances are a growing part of the romance market, this article only pertains to the heroes in heterosexual, two-person romances. The reason for this is that the dynamics are different in male/male or three-person relationships. And, of course, advice about heroes is usually not relevant to lesbian romances at all.

It's tough being the hero of a romance novel. Sure, the attention from the ladies for being a well-over-six-foot-tall wall of muscle is flattering, but it sets a hard standard to live up to. After all, one can't forget the alpha hero’s most important measurement—success. Our heroes punch in at a variety of jobs—CEO, construction worker, doctor, warrior, highlander, lawyer, cop, cowboy, personal trainer, and then some. Many of them hold executive positions, ranging from heading a law firm to commanding an army. But the hero doesn't need to be rich or powerful to succeed at his ultimate goal. The true measure of success lies in his ability to be irresistible—to the heroine, of course, but also to the reader. Sure, a reader’s vision of the perfect man can be quite personal, and no book or character can appeal to every reader. But many authors beg to know—what makes an alpha hero? And how does an author keep him reined in enough to avoid becoming another A-word altogether?

Confidence is the sexiest form of power

An alpha hero is someone who, regardless of his profession or position in life, is a doer, a go-get-it kind of guy. He takes charge of situations, and his mere presence commands respect from women and men alike. But this commanding presence has to come from within. Casting the hero as the head warrior of an undefeatable legion is worthless if his character is an indecisive navel-gazer who won’t pursue what he wants or stand up for what he thinks is right. The bricklayer—or the accountant—who is confident, quick-thinking and driven tends to have greater appeal than someone who doesn’t really live up to his projected image. And when a truly confident hero (that is, not an overconfident jerk) makes mistakes, he will own up to them. Confidence isn’t about denial of one’s own faults. It’s about the ability to maneuver past those faults and make right.

The Alpha meets his match, and when to forgive bad behavior

Once the hero falls in love with the heroine, she is his ultimate weakness. She's the proverbial chink in his armor. Once he realizes he loves this person, the stakes change. Suddenly, even if he is still physically or hierarchically in control, he’s no longer in control of his heart. And that is a dangerous thing. If nothing else, it’s a major adjustment for a man who is not used to being powerless in any way. Nine times out of ten, if an alpha hero has managed to love before, it ended very badly and he’s terrified of that happening again. He might wrestle with his emotions at first, but most likely his response will be to become very protective of the heroine (because he can’t lose her). And this, of course, will probably allow for more sparring as the heroine resists her hero’s stifling behavior. But regardless of the turn of events, the hero needs to eventually realize when he’s overreacting. More importantly, no matter how large and in charge the man is, he had better learn to listen to the heroine. True love means you know when to compromise, even if it doesn’t come easily. That goes for the heroine, too. She may love her hardheaded man, but if he’s consistently ignoring her, that’s not hardheaded—that’s just uncommunicative. And people do not read romances because they’re looking to curl up with a story about a nice dysfunctional couple.

What a good alpha hero is not is an unforgivable jerk, or so over-the-top in his behavior that he becomes a parody of himself. It is good to strike a balance, to allow the hero to let down his guard and show that he's capable of tenderness, sensitivity and emotions other than anger, arousal, and “male satisfaction.” (“Male” satisfaction? Please. If there’s that much testosterone seeping into his brain, he should see a doctor.) And when he does mess up, he needs to clean up the mess. As hard as it might be, the hero had better suck it up and apologize. Even if he’s too proud to admit to it at first, it takes a bigger man to be able to say “I’m sorry” than to pretend he can do no wrong.

Alphas are people, too

Like any other character, the hero reaches his fullest potential for development through his interactions with other characters, especially the heroine. Though the power struggle between the hero and heroine can add great flavor to the story, what kind of fun is it if the hero always wins? Even if he is a thousand-year-old vampire or an alien warlord, the hero is allowed to be a little bit human. Alphas aren’t supposed to be perfect. (It would make for a rather flat, boring character with little opportunity for development.) If anything, a few flaws are what can make a hero admirable. In addition to being allowed to make mistakes (as long as he owns up to them, as we have discussed), he can have fears and inhibitions. He can have a physical disability—there's no weakness whatsoever in that, it's just another character trait with its own possibilities. The most self-aware, assertive, independent alpha man out there could be blind or in a wheelchair. And listen, tough guy, it's okay to cry.

In short, the hero doesn't have to be a brick wall. A true alpha hero is such because of what he does, not what he is. It’s a classic case of “Show, don’t tell”—let the alpha man’s actions speak for themselves.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, this mild-mannered editor has a planet to save.

Being Smart About Submissions

by Mary Altman

So you’ve had a fantastic erotic romance idea. You’ve fleshed it out, you’ve researched it, you’ve tied yourself to the computer chair and finished it and, of course, you’ve run it through multiple critique partners until it shines. Now, finally, you’re ready to submit. You print out your masterpiece on glossy pink paper, pepper it with kisses, and FedEx it to its final destiny as a bestseller for Ellora’s Cave. You’ve done everything in your power to ensure that you’ll be signed and published, right?


Many authors jeopardize their chance of being published by not presenting a professional submissions package in the style requested by the publishing house. Every week, it seems, our Publisher has to throw away paper manuscripts that have been mailed to her, returning a form letter explaining that we only deal in electronic submissions. That’s time, money, and aggravation that could be saved if the submitting author had read the guidelines.

Acquiring editors face a similar frustration in the electronic slush pile, and I’ve often found myself wanting to reach through the computer screen to grab the offending author, sit her down and explain the basics. If you’ve already mastered this particular topic, congratulations! You may move along. If you’re not sure how to prepare a book for submission, keep reading. A cranky editor is an editor less likely to read your book with the spirit of forgiveness.

First, the introductory e-mail. A cover letter should go in the body of the e-mail. The cover letter is a short paragraph or two including all the basics: your name, how to contact you, a sentence or two about your book, and any relevant publishing history.

When I say a sentence or two about the book, I do not mean a summary—that comes later. The appropriate thing to put here would be:

Passion’s Flower is a 60k Romantic Suspense told entirely in iambic pentameter. It follows the story of a woman on the run from the Editing Mafia and the English Professor who shows her all’s well that ends well.

(Though if you write a book entirely in iambic pentameter, your readers would likely kill you. Not to mention your editor.)

Don’t give us your life story. Don’t tell us this is the book of your heart (see previous blog entry for why). Don’t tell us that we are your only hope, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and that if we do not publish this book, you will eat your computer and waste away into a shriveled husk of wasted talent. I know I sound flip, but this is done and it doesn’t impress the editor. Even the most kindhearted editor can’t let his or her professional judgment be ruled by personal sob stories. I as a person feel deeply for you and hope you find success and fortune enough to buy that hydraulic leg. I as an EC editor have to judge the book entirely on its merits. So keep your cover letter short and topical and leave personal details out of it. Do, however, mention any major awards or publishing history. If you’ve won the Golden Heart or have a three-book deal with Tor, we definitely want to know! Having publishing cred doesn’t automatically mean you have a better chance, but it does show you at least have some familiarity with the publishing world. Likewise, if the book you are submitting has been published before, we want to know that too…as well as whether you have the rights back or not.

The synopsis is a huge make-or-break issue with many submissions. A synopsis tells the acquiring editor who the characters are, what the conflict is, how the plot unfolds, and how the story is resolved. I always read submissions despite a bad synopsis, but I can usually tell by the synopsis whether the author has the chops to write professionally. How do I do that?

Content. Is this story suitable? Does it have any of our taboos? Is the plot interesting or complex enough? Has this been done a thousand and one times? Is it too category? (The definition of category could take up an entire entry on its own. A quick and dirty definition would be: is it a storyline Harlequin has perfected? Does it have secret babies, Navy SEALS, small-town sheriffs, amnesia or women inexplicably running from the mafia? These in themselves do not define category, but they’re a few of the staples.) Is it something we’re interested in? Do I think it will sell well? Can I spot any major plotting problems?

Presentation. Is the synopsis riddled with typos and grammatical mistakes? That’s a red flag to make me look more carefully and critically at the story itself. Please edit your cover letter and synopsis. These are our first impressions of your novel—make them good!

Overall flow. Is this a contest junkie? (Again, an entire post could be written about those! In short, contest junkies are writers who polish the first three chapters to perfection and let all the middle chapters sag.) Is this professional? Does the author have the ability to write clearly and concisely?

A synopsis should be 3-5 pages giving a detailed but not too detailed overview of the plot. Please, please, please do not write a chapter-by-chapter summary. There is no easier way to make the acquiring editor frustrated and unhappy. Please do not end with “Will she choose Joe or Adam? Read the book to find out!” A synopsis is not a teaser—we need to know how the book ends. As I said before, the synopsis should tell us who the characters are, what their conflict is, and how they go about resolving it. Don’t give us the kitchen sink, but definitely give us something we can sink our teeth into. The synopsis represents your work. Make sure it’s doing its job.

So, you’ve written a professional cover letter, attached a clean synopsis, and submitted your book. That means you’re golden, right? Unfortunately, no—your story still has to stand up to a critical reading even if you present a professional submissions package. However, even though I can’t promise you eventual publication, I can promise that a cranky editor is far less likely to read your book with an open mind…and nothing makes us crankier than authors who never bother to learn the basics.

Bleeding All Over the “Book of My Heart”

by Raelene Gorlinsky

A piece of advice for authors and aspiring authors: When you submit that wonderful manuscript, or if you get the fantastic news that it has been accepted, DO NOT tell us that it is the *book of your heart*. Red flags go up, and the editor is likely to run screaming from the room.

Why? Here are the hard facts, without heartstrings. Think about this. The publisher is mainly interested in whether enough people will buy this book that it will make a nice profit. The publisher doesn’t need to care why the author wrote the book, how meaningful it is to her, or even what the author thinks about her own work. It is what potential readers/buyers will think that counts.

So when an author indicates an overly emotional attachment to a particular story they’ve written, it is a signal of possible rocks in the road to publication:

(1) The more attached you are to your story, the more likely you are to object to revisions and editing. All stories are improved by editing. Your editor is the best judge of what makes a story appealing to readers—the author often does not have the detached perspective necessary. And no editor wants to knowingly entangle themselves with a resistant and uncooperative author who whines about how the editor is destroying her dream, altering her voice, stabbing her in the heart—nope, we’re just trying to help you turn this draft manuscript into something that more than just your mother or best friend would pay to read.

(2) You, the author, are likely to have an inflated opinion of your special story’s value and marketability. You are going to be devastated by any less than glowing reviews, and disappointed by any sales numbers lower than a gazillion. That will make you unhappy, when in fact the publisher may well find the sales perfectly decent.

The book of your heart just may not touch sufficient other hearts. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. It’s YOUR book, and you can still enjoy it and be glad you wrote it. But face that it may lack enough appeal in the general market to garner sales.

I know it is hard, but authors need to remember that this is a BUSINESS, and sales are the driving factor. If you feel that emotional about this special heart book, then consider getting it self-published and giving it to all your friends and family. They likely will appreciate it; there just aren’t enough of them to convince a publisher to appreciate it.

Impress us with your businesslike professional attitude, rather than worry us by your emotionalism.