Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Synopsis Dos and Don'ts

By Meghan Conrad

You've written your book. You've drafted your cover letters. You're all ready to go, right? Not quite. Before you can submit, you have to write the dreaded synopsis--a brief summary of the events of your book.

For the purposes of synopses, "brief" means two to three pages. Not seven, not twenty-one, but two to three. I realize that many of you are shooting me nasty looks, loath to reduce your manuscript, the manuscript of your heart, to a mere two pages. Unfortunately, dirty looks don't work all that well from a distance, and at some point, you're going to have to suck it up and write a synopsis.

When writing a synopsis, DO...
  • Focus on the primary action and characters.
  • Make sure that you tell us what's happening at the beginning, middle and end of your book. (And yes, your books needs to have a beginning, middle and end.)
  • Hit the main points, both high and low, of the plot.
  • Tell us how the book ends. It doesn't ruin the book for us, I promise.
  • Grab the reader's attention immediately. Your synopsis needs to be as engrossing as the book itself.
  • Keep in mind where you're aiming the book--if you're writing romantic suspense, you need to cover both the romance and the suspense in the synopsis. If you're writing erotica, don't shy away from talking about sex. (Similarly, if you're writing an adventure novel that happens to have romantic elements, focus on the adventure.)
  • Proofread. I know everyone's heard this one before, but if your synopsis is littered with errors, the assumption is that your manuscript will be, too.

When writing a synopsis, DON'T...
  • Get bogged down describing things. At this point, it doesn't matter how beautiful your heroine is or what the weather's like.
  • Tell us too much about the subplots and secondary characters.
  • Give loads of backstory. The synopsis should start where the book starts--that is, where the action is.
  • Talk about other books in the series, or plans to write more books in the same series.
  • Throw in a bunch of questions, especially if you've put in questions instead of an actual ending. We shouldn't have to ask questions--that's the whole point of reading the synopsis.
  • Try to be cute, saying that if we want to know the ending, we'll have to read/request the full, buy the book, whatever. It's presumptuous, it's annoying, and it's a waste of our time.
  • Use a different style of writing than you use in the book. If you've written a dark urban fantasy, your synopsis should reflect that--it shouldn't be a humorous synopsis.
  • Capitalize PROPER NOUNS. Yes, many formatting guides list this as appropriate, but it's rather dated at this point. We can figure out who the characters are without the all-caps.
  • Talk about other books. We want to hear about your book and what makes it unique, not about how your book is what would happen if the Harry Potter series and the Twilight series had a baby, and that baby was a hybrid vampire-wizard-werewolf orphan who is either sparkly or invisible, depending on the phase of the moon and what they ate for breakfast.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Don't Cry on My Shoulder

by Raelene Gorlinsky

It happens fairly regularly. I get an email or phone call from a distressed author. "My computer crashed!" Yes, this is an awful situation for those of us completely dependent on our computers to do our jobs - like writing and all its attendant tasks (research, communications, online promo...). So there is the immediate crisis that getting your computer repaired or replaced is hassle, expense, and delay to your work schedule. But it can usually be handled in a few days and with several handfuls of OTC headache pills.

But then, too often, comes the real core of the problem. "And I don't have a backup!" Either the author doesn't back up her files at all, or she does so only, oh, once a week or month. Which means that if her hard drive data is not recoverable, she has lost either her complete WIP or all work done since that last backup, which could be many thousands of words. And she isn't going to be able to meet her deadlines.

This is where I cease to be sympathetic to the sobbing writer. WHY didn't you back up your files? How can you possibly have any excuse for risking something so important to you, and what for some is your job, your source of income? You KNOW computers regularly crash. You're not a teenager, you're not allowed to have that "I'm indestructible, it'll never happen to me" attitude.

My whole laptop hard drive is automatically backed up to an external drive three times a week. And I email several critical files to myself at the end of every work day--the ones I absolutely could not live without for even a day. You can copy your files to a CD or a thumb drive or any other removable device. Or do the basic - set up a Gmail account and email your files to yourself there and let them sit in the archives. (Well, periodically purge the old ones.) There's no cost, it takes only a minute.

"My computer crashed and I don't have a backup" has become the modern version of "My dog ate my homework" and is just as unacceptable.

How frequently do you back up your files, and what method do you use?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Author Advantages of E

by Raelene Gorlinsky

The below is posted on the ESPAN-RWA (Electronic and Small Press Authors' Network), part of the recent raging debate about RWA National's stance against e-publishing. (According to them, you are not necessarily a published author and you are not "career-focused" if you publish through an e-publishing company.)


ESPAN asked for an upbeat and positive article about e-publishing, so let’s chat a bit about why you as an author may want—or not want—to consider submitting books to an e-publisher.

For me, the major issue with RWA’s stance on e-publishing is that they are saying there is only one “right” way—only one publishing model that is fair to authors. I think authors are intelligent business people who deserve information on the benefits and risks of all the options available, and can then make their own choices for their career.

Remember, this is not an either/or situation. A great story is a great story, regardless of format. And digital is not going to replace print; there will be readers for both. You can have books at both primarily print houses and at e-publishers. (And with either, your book is most likely to at some point be available in both digital and print formats.) You have the opportunity to individually evaluate which path is likely to be best for you and for each book you write—and the answer will not only be different author by author, but may vary for different books from the same author.

So let’s take a look at some of the reasons you as an author should consider to go the e-publishing route. You must evaluate if or how each of these fits into your career plan.

E-publishers are more able to take a chance on new authors or risky stories. That gives you more freedom to write the type of story you want, reach niche markets and subgenres.

It all comes down to the business reality of “Can we sell enough copies of this book to cover costs and make a profit?” The massive advantage of e-publishing is that we can take chances on books that the big print publishers won’t touch. If you’ve got to sell minimum 10,000 or so copies of a mass market paperback to make a profit, and have to commit money up front (an advance) to the author that the book may never earn, then of course a sensible publisher only wants books aimed at the middle-of-the-road majority, ones they feel are a “sure thing”.

E-pubs will look at the advantages of a great book aimed at a small niche market or by an unknown author with a quirky style or in a chancy sub-genre that is just reaching for popularity. An e-publisher can cover costs on a much smaller number of sales, and so is willing to take the risk of offering opportunities to authors that big publishers won’t give them. (Remember, NY rejected erotic romance until e-pubs had built up the reader market for it and turned it into a successful genre with big sales.)

More flexibility in story lengths.

Print publication requires some physical size and pricing considerations. Readers just don’t perceive a book with a quarter-inch width to be value for the money (unless it’s a free promo item). So short stories and novellas have to be batched into anthologies for print. And a publisher can sell only so many anthologies, meaning the available slots are very limited. They also recognize that many readers won’t pay for a full anthology book if they don’t love all the authors contained.

But a digital book can be any length, and can be priced accordingly. And readers seem to love buying individual short stories. So there is a huge market within e-publishing for that shorter story that NY has no space for.

A monthly paycheck.

No, most e-pubs do not routinely offer advances. But most pay royalties monthly (a few quarterly, I’ve heard), based on actual sales. Many authors feel they manage better with a steady income rather than a big chunk once or twice a year. Or they want a combination—most of the Ellora’s Cave authors who’ve now sold to traditional NY pubs are continuing to write for EC for that very reason. They’ve told me they want or need that monthly “paycheck” from their e-pub to carry them between advances from NY.

Less stress due to being able to work at your own pace, fewer deadlines.

Submission process is easier, cheaper, generally faster. Doesn’t require an agent.

Being able to get published more quickly, and have more books come out in a shorter period of time—thereby building your name recognition and fan base.

Backlist, backlist, backlist!

An e-book doesn’t go “out of print” until the contract expires (if ever), unlike print books that disappear from the store shelves within a few months and are not available anywhere once the print run is sold out. New fans of an author purchase backlist heavily, so the story generates continuing income. Many an e-pubbed author is making more from backlist than frontlist.

Many e-publishers also eventually issue some or all of their books in print.

So, again, it isn’t an “either/or” choice—just a choice of where your book starts.

So make your decisions based on what is right for your career and your life. There is no need for “us” versus “them” in the publishing industry. It’s all “we.”

Raelene Gorlinsky, PublisherEllora’s Cave Publishing Inc.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Pity the Poor Period

by Raelene Gorlinsky

The workhorse of punctuation. So common and standard that it is never noticed, unless it is missing The mainstay of sentences. But is it appreciated? Is it lauded and applauded? No! It is ignored or supplanted by flashier symbols popping up where they should not be!

I opened two mass-market-size fiction books at random and counted the sentence-ending punctuation on random pages:
19 periods, 1 question mark
21 periods
21 periods, 2 question marks, 1 ellipsis
24 periods, 8 question marks, 1 exclamation point (lots of dialogue on this page)
23 periods

Good, this seems about right, I didn't have any argument with the punctuation on these pages. But I wonder what that text was like when the author first submitted it, rather than this edited and published version. (Notice that this is a statement of what I am wondering, not a question - so ends in a period. However, if it were in dialogue and I wished to indicate that it was said in a interrogatory tone of voice, then ending with a question mark would be appropriate.)

Far too many authors seem to feel that the period is mundane and boring, that their writing is somehow improved by ending many hundreds of sentences with exclamation points (or multiple exclamation points!!!), ellipses, and em dashes. Yes, we editors have been known to actually count, in appalled fascination, how many exclamation points in a submission. And to wonder why authors can't read and follow the basic rules for punctuation. Or understand the proper use of sentence-ending ellipses and em dashes.

Em dash: an abrupt cut-off or interruption of a thought or spoken word.
Ellipsis: a trailing off of a comment or thought

So please, take a good look at the story you are writing at this moment. Use words, not just punctuation, to add emotion and depth to your writing. If the sentence is not exciting, ending with an exclamation point does not make it so.

Got a favorite example of misused sentence-enders in a book you've read? Or the most number of exclamation points ending a sentence? (I've seen up to five!)

And don't get me started on the proper punctuation of dialogue and dialogue tags...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Daddy Issues

By Kelli Collins

After years of editing Romantica™, I’ve seen some things. Been around the block a time or two. Had to research things I never even suspected I’d want to know—learning a whole helluva lot about myself in the process. (Turns out I might be rather pervy, by some people’s standards. Who’da thought? You’ve gotta watch those “good” Midwestern Catholic girls.) The point is, not much bothers me. You’ve got your things, I’ve got mine, and so long as we’re mutually respectful and not bashing people over the heads with our ideals, I’m good. I now know enough about my own quirks that I try super hard not to judge.

However, I do wonder. Oh boy, how I wonder…

My latest cogitation? Author dedications.

I’ve seen books dedicated to husbands, wives and assorted significant others; to critique partners, proofreaders, writing groups and RWA chapters; agents, other authors and that friendly police officer who patiently explained the differences between every gun known to man. Even had a few dedicated to myself (thanks, guys; checks are in the mail, I swear).

That’s all fine and dandy. But the books that make me wonder are those dedicated to fathers. Erotica books, mind you.

Now, I’ve shown my father due appreciation in many ways. Cards, gifts, toasts, etc. But I don’t know how I’d feel dedicating an erotic novel to dear old Dad. On one hand, it could be a heartfelt gesture for a man who’s supported and applauded his daughter throughout her life. On the other…slightly shuddersome maybe? Part of me says it’s a touching nod to a daughter’s first “hero”. Another part says, um…Freudian much?

Then there are those erotica books dedicated to kids… But that’s another post.

Anyway, I am truly 100% on the fence here. Completely torn. And oddly, I have no such intellectual uncertainty kicking for erotica dedicated to moms. Is it because she’s a woman? Am I sexist?! (Note to therapist…)

A quick poll amongst friends and colleagues indicates I'm the only one spending time pondering this particular issue. So if I come to any solid conclusions, I'll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, I'll just keep editing. And wondering.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Blogging Basics

by Meghan Conrad

One of the questions that I get asked most often is if authors should have an author blog--a professional blog for them to talk about their books and writing. Many, if not most, of the authors who I work with do, and for the most part, I think that this is a great thing. Blogging seems to be the queen of new media--authors promote themselves on their blogs, take blog tours, and the myriad review blogs opine daily on the latest releases. Blogging gives authors a platform that they have no other way to get, and it allows them to cultivate a readership who cares not just about the author's next release, but about the author themselves, and I think building that sort of readership is a great way to start a career.

A hundred readers who are passionate about your work are, in my opinion, more valuable than a thousand readers who buy your book on a whim and don't feel strongly about you either way. The hundred readers are, obviously, fewer immediate sales, but they're the people who will say to their best friend "Oh, you just have to read this book." They're the people who are going to ask if you can come speak at their writer's group, the people who are going to buy every book you put out. This sort of fan base is invaluable to an author, and having a blog is a wonderful way to build it.

There are, of course, pitfalls. One of the things to keep in mind is that everything you're posting is in a public forum, and it can--and, let's face it, probably will--be found by other authors, potential fans, and editors who are Googling you. When those people, all people who have the ability to affect your career, search for you, you don't want the first thing they find to be a flame war between you and another blogger. You probably also don't want your furry fanfic showing up on the first page of results, or an angry rant about a bad review. The last thing you want to do is put people off before they've even opened (or bought) your book, and part of that means that you need to present a professional front when you're in a public space like the internet.

If you choose to blog, even if you don't intend to use it as a professional tool, you should be aware that the people who find it are often in your profession and that their opinion of you has the ability to impact your career, for better or for worse. When editors get a new submission, we'll run a search for your name. While I don't think that anyone's going to reject you for your blog, it makes us wary if you're complaining about the utter stupidity of one of your editors, raging about low sales, or otherwise betraying a naive view of publishing and an unprofessional demeanor.

Sometimes it does come down to what everyone's mother told them on the playground: If you can't say anything nice, it might be better to say nothing at all.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


By Kelli Collins

Letter from aspiring author:
I’m preparing my first erotic romance submission for EC. I’ve noticed almost all the authors on your site are female. Would you recommend a female pen name, then?

My kneejerk answer: Yes. After thinking about it for a few days: Maybe…?

In genre fiction, I’d like to think male and female writers are on a pretty even playing field. Subtle arguments can be made for certain genres; men may have a larger showing in Suspense and Horror, women tip the scales a bit in Mystery and Young Adult, etc. But in Romance and Erotica, it’s clear women have men in a nigh-unbreakable headlock. With a few punches to their manly bits for good measure.

We can argue the specific reasons forever (please do). I subscribe to the “all things being equal” theory, so my opinion hinges on the simplest answer—audience. Romance and erotica enjoy a near-exclusive female readership. It makes buckets of sense that the obvious choice to give women what they want and need in the genre are other women. But that doesn’t answer the aspiring author’s underlying question:

Will women read romance and erotica written by men?

Obviously some do. EC has several male authors, some of whom don’t hide their gender. True, they don’t openly advertise it on their covers, opting to use initials with their surnames. But a simple click to their sites and you learn the score. From what I can tell, it hasn’t hurt their popularity. But popularity doesn’t always translate to sales…

We have others who write under female pen names, give no indication of gender on their sites and whose popularity range from “Love her!” to “Um, who’s that?” Their reasons for choosing a female pseudonym are varied. They think it’s necessary for the audience. They don’t want family or friends to know about their “other side” (common for male and female erotic authors). They’re worried about the type of fan mail erotica can attract. Professional life. Religious affiliations. Stigma. Embarrassment. And a hundred and six other reasons. But they’re always personal and, if for that reason alone, always valid. I’m not in the business of questioning them.

But how about you? Do you think men can write the romances women want? Are they too much “head” (mustresistjoke!) and not enough “heart”? Do they have to be the sensitive sort to write moving romance? Or the romantic sort to write blistering erotica? Could perhaps gay male writers have an edge? Or maybe I’m making too much of it and you guys are thinking, “I don’t give a crap. Bring on the sex! WOO-HOO!”

Well? Enlighten me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Winning at WisRWA

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Last weekend was the annual conference of the Wisconsin Romance Writers. And a happy 25th birthday to that RWA chapter!

I was impressed by the enthusiasm of all the attendees, both published and aspiring authors. (Even the occasional accompanying spouse or parent seemed to be enjoying the event - 'course, that could be because it was located at a casino hotel.)

Catching up with others in the "biz" is always enjoyable for me. I would hate to live or work in NYC (I enjoy the amenities and lower costs of Ohio, thank you), but I often miss the contact with other publishing professionals, the good gossip and the even better business discussions and advice. So here are wild waves to Hilary, Laurie, Deb, Birgit, Elaine. And to all the authors I chatted with. During the editor/agent panel, I mentioned that most editors spend huge chunks of their "personal" weekend and evening time reading submissions; people get into the publishing business not because of love of money (we make little) but because of love of books. Give us a good book to read, an author to chat with, or another editor to swap war stories with, and we're in heaven.

Hey, you -- yes, you, the authors who pitched to me and heard me say "Please send the submission." I meant it! Stop being shy or coy or whatever it is, and just send it! Don't self-reject; give us a chance to look at it. I heard a couple of good book hooks, and I want to see the stories.

Good food, good books, good people to talk with -- how could a conference be any better?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Me Time

When Editor-in-Chief Kelli Collins bitches about whatever’s annoying her this time.

A recent post on my Twitter page after a heavyweight championship bout of submissions reading:

“Scary amounts of adjectives do not disguise amateurish or sophomoric writing. Sorry.”

To which my dear friend Joe, a newspaper editor, responded:

“Did you just use two adjectives where one would have sufficed? Can you justify that second one?”

Me: “Due to their distinct meanings (describing two distinct problems), yes.”

Then I proceeded to call Joe another choice adjective. I admit to getting a little testy on occasion.
I don’t have truckloads of time to read external subs these days. I try to read a batch about once a month and, much like another monthly occurrence, it often leaves me feeling achy and bloated. However, with each new batch of subs, I hope anew. Actually, I hope and I pray. I light incense. I do the occasional ritual foot shuffle, involving steps from ancestral Polish folk dances and this really catchy chant I like. But that’s another post.

This time around, several of the subs continued the trend that prompted my tweet: Adjectives, adjectives everywhere but not a decent descriptor.

This isn’t about scene-setting, this is about illogical excess. Adjectives and modifying phrases attached to inane objects. I have to wonder whether the average reader really cares. I admit I don’t; at least not most of the time. Give me the goods. Get to the story. Describe the heroine’s office, please, but just tell me she’s got a pen in her hand, not a “slim, sleek, extravagantly expensive Porsche pen”. (Though if you’re looking for a birthday gift for me…) Tell me about the jaunty angle of the hero’s black trucker hat if you’d like. But unless the overarching theme is extolling or denouncing materialism, I don’t really care about his “intricately rendered, uber-hip Ed Hardy designer hat with tattoo-inspired black skulls and flaming red hearts”.

In the romance genre, you’ll seldom find anything more overly described than body part. And worse, they’re defined again and again and again (often with the same words each time) throughout the entire story, at their every occurrence. The hero’s hands. The heroine’s hair. The hero’s abs and chest. The heroine’s chest and legs. Their eyes (color, specifically), backsides, genitals and voices.

Look, if you tell me once that the hero’s hands are strong and lean and tan and sexy and calloused, I’m not gonna forget it. If you’ve defined the heroine’s soft, luxurious, glinting, coppery red hair a time or twelve, I hereby give you permission to ease up. And the eyes. God! I recognize the creativity involved in coming up with 18 ways to describe your basic blue eyes. But, um…stop. Please? (And what the hell is up with all the redheaded, green-eyed ladies out there? And the color is universally emerald! I ask you: Outside of contacts, have you ever seen a pair of emerald eyes in your life? I want pictures. Again…separate post.)

Even in erotic romances, a hundred descriptions of the same body parts are more than the average reader needs. A sampling of those adjectives which appear ad nauseam in nearly every submission:

Hot. Wet. Hard. Rock-hard. Muscular. Almond-shaped. Glistening. Steely. Soaked. Throbbing. Clenching. Heavy. Mushroom. Aching. Pulsing. Featherlight. Turgid. Heady. Earthy. Spicy. Musky. Pebbled. Delicious(ly). Luscious. Sexy. Sweaty. Strong. Mine!

All lovely, useful words, to be sure. Feel free to use them. The problem is frequency of use, especially when this list is but a molecule in a drop of water in the vast ocean that is the English language. I’m not saying you shouldn’t use the most popular or common words available, but why stop there when so many more are at your disposal? And I should warn, when the profusion of adjectives is so prevalent, it might lead certain editors (ahem) to wonder if it’s a fallback for larger problems. Like maybe a mask for writers hoping that, by throwing up descriptive roadblocks, readers won’t realize they’ve skimped on the plot, or don’t actually have anything thoughtful to say. Or maybe, if they describe the hero’s penis 27 different ways, the editor will overlook the lack of world-building and characterization. But maybe that’s just me being cynical.

At the very least, the most obvious problem to my mind is repetition—and not only in your book. The same words, over and over in every book, give this editor the impression of similar stories. If the plot time is wasted in favor of multiple descriptions of the hero’s crisp, soft white shirt of the finest Egyptian cotton, or the heroine’s pouting, deep red, Cupid’s bow lips, I promise the immediate sense will be, “Haven’t I read this before?”

And that’s not the impression you’re shooting for…right?