Thursday, February 18, 2010

Authors Advising Authors #12 - Delphine Dryden

After earning two graduate degrees, practicing law awhile and then working for the public school system for over ten years, Delphine finally got a clue. She tossed all that aside and started doing what she should have been doing all along, writing novels! In hindsight she could see the decision was a no-brainer. Because which sounds like more fun? Being a lawyer/special educator/reading specialist/educational diagnostician…or writing spicy romances?

When not writing or doing “mommy stuff”, Delphine reads voraciously, watches home improvement shows, noodles around with html and css coding, and plays computer games with her darling (and very romantic) husband. She is fortunate enough to have two absurdly precocious children and two rotten but endearing rescued mutts. Delphine and her family are all Texas natives, and reside in unapologetic suburban bliss near Houston.


How many books did you write, and how long were you writing, before your first acceptance?

I was incredibly lucky and actually sold my first novel. Before that I had been writing (short stories, fan fiction, etc.) for about three years as a steady thing, but hadn’t tried my hand at any novel-length original works. And of course I’d been writing shorter things off and on all my life. I just never thought I could turn it into a “real” profession!

What was the most surprising thing you learned after becoming published?

Oh, gosh, so much about the whole process of getting a book edited and ready for publication was really surprising and interesting to me. It surprised me that I actually received reviews on well-known web sites (favorable reviews! Yay!) and that I received actual fan mail.

Got any advice or an enlightening story about dealing with revisions or working with editors?

Again, I was soooo lucky because my very first editor happened to be one to ride the river with (I love you, Kelli!). I think the most important things to remember when revising are humility, keeping an open mind, stifling those defensive impulses and remembering that your editor has made a career of improving novels before they’re published. If an editor makes a suggestion it never hurts to give it fair consideration, because chances are they do in fact know what they’re talking about. Your editor can teach you a lot about your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, so you should pay attention and treat their comments as a series of little learning opportunities.

What’s your favorite promo tip?

Gosh, I’m the wrong person to ask, I’m a total neophyte at marketing myself, still. Just about all publicity is good publicity, though.

Did you have an agent when you sold your first story? Do you have one now?

Nope, and nope again.

Do you feel there’s a stigma attached to writing erotica/Romantica™?

Yes, I do think there is a stigma attached to writing erotica, particularly if you’re talking about erotica that includes BDSM or other non-vanilla themes. When asked about my novels by, say, my mother’s friends, I usually make a show of saying the “E” word behind my hand, whispering it and lifting my eyebrows suggestively: “I write erotica, actually.” (Subtext: Ooh, isn’t it just too droll and deliciously outrageous of me to do something so naughty?).

I try to avoid sounding apologetic, because I don’t feel any shame in what I do. But it’s true that I almost never add, “and a lot of it involves bondage and spanking and other similar delights,” because while people might buy my usual assertion that Romantica™ ebooks are the Harlequin™ romance of the twenty-first century, I do think a lot of people still have a very narrow view of what constitutes “romance” and are all too likely to slip into the assumption that anything outside that category must be “porn”. And I think everybody can agree there’s a stigma surrounding that.

How do you handle writer’s block, or do you believe there’s no such thing?

I don’t know if there is such a thing as writer’s block, unless a particular writer thinks of it as a block. I think of it as writer’s stagnation. When your ideas dry up or just can’t get free, you can’t figure out where the characters are heading, and you wonder whether you will ever finish this damn book anyway.

I think the trick is to avoid a “blocked” feeling by shifting your focus elsewhere for a time. That’s usually what helps me the most. Write a different part of the book you’re working on, or work on a different story completely, or brainstorm new ideas and write up any scenes or character descriptions that seem promising based on those ideas (even if you have no place to put them yet). Keep writing, in other words. Eventually you’ll write your way back into your novel. Sometimes with a great new idea for a character or scene!

What lengths have you gone to in the name of research? What wouldn’t you do?

*blush* I have gone to great lengths in the name of research, and that is all I’m gonna say about that.

As far as what I won’t do…water sports, scat, any type of blood play and strenuous and/or predicament bondage. And I feel it’s only fair to admit that the only thing keeping me from trying predicament bondage is a touch of arthritis in my back and hip, and a long history of bad knees. Safety first! There isn’t much that’s less sexy than stopping a scene because of arthritis.

What’s the most importance piece of advice you have for aspiring (not yet published) authors?

Write. A lot. If you can’t figure out what to write about, write about whatever springs to mind. Write snippets of scenes or character descriptions that come to mind (carry a Moleskine™ notebook around like Ernest Hemingway did!). Look at the world around you every day and write about that. Write short stories. Write poetry. Write fan fiction. Find an online group that does challenges, and write challenge responses. Meet with other writers, either in person or over the internet, and exchange feedback about what you’re writing. Try National Novel Writing Month (, which is one of the best trial-by-fire writing exercises ever. My first sale was a Nanowrimo book!

Would you offer any word of warning for aspiring or new authors about the writing profession or the publishing industry?

Research your potential market. Find out what the various publishing houses tend to buy, by looking at their author guidelines and by reading books they’ve published. Find out what the different publishers’ submission guidelines are, and follow them scrupulously. Writing is an art, but if you want other people to read what you’ve written you must also recognize that publishing is a business, and you must research the business aspects of publishing. Your brilliant manuscript will never get through the editor’s door if it isn’t in the right format, or if it isn’t something that particular publisher wants to handle.

My main warning would be not to get discouraged, though. If you’ve gotten enough positive feedback to know you have some amount of talent, go ahead and keep polishing your work and sending it to different publishing houses until you find a fit. A close friend of mine submitted his first novel to fifty-three different publishers before finding a buyer. Now his book is not only published, it’s been turned into a stage play. So keep trying, but in the meantime keep practicing and improving your skills at the craft of writing.

Anything you want to share with readers about yourself, or previous, current or upcoming EC releases?

I love writing for EC, and I’m very excited about the new series I’m working on, Truth & Lies. It’s about a bunch of quirky hometown kids who are all grown up now and trying to figure out complicated stuff like life, love, cybersex and where to buy the best rope for tying up your partner! The first book, How to Tell a Lie, was released on November 27th; another three books are planned and I’m writing like a mad woman, so check back frequently for updates!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bad Blog! No Cookie for You

By Meghan Conrad, Editor, Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc.

When we were asked to write something about submissions, I had lots of great ideas: write a strong cover letter, follow the submission guidelines, proofread, have an engaging first page… Then I found out what Kelli and Raelene were writing about and realized I’d have to do something a little different.

So instead, I’m going to talk about what may be the least-known aspect of the submission process—the part where we Google you.

I realize that some of you are probably looking at me in shock. Yeah. That’s right. We Google you.

We might not Google the author of every submission, but every submission that I’m serious about gets the Google treatment. I search for the book title, the author’s pen name and the author’s real name. If you have a blog, I’ll read that; if you’re posting on message boards, I’ll read that, too. Does your LiveJournal or account mention your real name? Because if it does—you’ve probably guessed—I’ll read that, too.

And, yes, what I read is going to influence my response to your work. If you’ve written the next Harry Potter, it’s unlikely anyone’s going to reject you because you present yourself badly online, but for the rest of us, it’s something to keep in mind. I’ve rejected one or two good books because the author behaved so badly online, we decided we didn’t want to work with her. I’ve rejected a great many more books I was on the fence about after the author’s online presence ultimately convinced me the author probably wasn’t worth the effort.

What are we looking for? In general, we’re looking for signs that you’re relatively normal, literate, and reasonable, which is admittedly sort of difficult to quantify. A well-written blog is a great sign, or a Twitter account with hundreds of followers. This is fiction, so you don’t need to have the platform that would be expected for nonfiction, but having followers is an indication you write well enough that people find your posts interesting and useful—points for you!

It’s easier, though, to talk about what might put an editor off. Posts slagging off publishers or editors are big red flags, especially when you’re criticizing several companies (indicating that the problem is maybe you, not them) or resorting to over-emotional rhetoric like name calling. It’s normal to have problems from time to time, and even to talk about those online, but there’s a big difference between “I’m not getting my royalty statements on time” and “I never get paid on time because those greedy jerks are trying to screw us over and take all our money to feed their crack habits”. (For added realism, please add several vulgarities to that last bit.)

Similarly, trash-talking about other authors is worrying. We’re not talking about disliking a book, we’re talking about personal attacks and flat-out nastiness—things that make you look immature and petty.

Complaining about low sales, especially if you’re blaming someone else for them, is probably best avoided, as well. It’s one thing to say “My last book didn’t do so well—I guess the trend for dark YA fantasy involving elves is waning.” It’s another thing entirely to say “My last book totally flopped, and I’m so angry. I can’t believe that my publisher didn’t send me on the fifty-city tour that I demanded! And the cover they made me was totally fugly—it was blue, not black, my heroine’s eyes were the wrong color, and they had gold foiling instead of silver! They ruined it!” Not only do you look like sour grapes, but you also look very, very unrealistic.

Maybe this is too obvious, but it seems like every few months, there’s another author behaving badly on Amazon or Goodreads. There’s a lot to be said for taking criticism—even the one-star-review kind of criticism—gracefully. Which is to say, of course, that it may not be in your best interest to start arguing with people who leave bad reviews of your book. I promise you, the editors and agents out there will be far more bothered by angry flame-outs than they would by the odd bad review.

Also worrying are blogs—or, worse, short stories or writing samples—with horrible grammar, punctuation, and spelling. No one expects you to be perfect, but I do tend to assume that the writing on your blog is a representative sample. If you’re missing three periods and have seventeen misspelled words in a five-hundred-word blog post, what’s your submission going to be like? Even if your submission’s in great shape, a blog riddled with errors will throw up red flags, making us doubt your abilities. After all, why would you choose to write “I cant wait for you’re book 2 cum out!” if you know better?

This is one of those lists that could go on forever. The point, though, is probably obvious by now—if you don’t want your mother, grandmother, and editor reading it, don’t put it on the internet.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Respect Yourself—And Me

by Raelene Gorlinsky, Publisher (and editor), Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc.

Always on the checklist for submissions is “Proofread; make sure there are no typos, misspellings, grammar errors.” Seems simple and clear, a no-brainer. So why do so many authors get sloppy about this? (“Well, I spelled most of the words right.”) Do you not realize the message you are sending? Errors in your submission tell an editor two very clear—and very unpalatable—things that will get you the form rejection letter in three minutes or less.

You don’t respect your story.
If you are a skilled and professional author, you want your submission to absolutely shine, to be the very best you can do, to have the best chance of catching an editor’s attention. If you don’t care enough to proofread and self-edit, you are telling me that either this story or your writing career are not important to you. If you can’t take the time to round up several people to help you make your submission completely clean, I’m not going to have any faith in your willingness—or ability—to spend the time on revisions and editing. Bluntly, it implies to me that you are lazy, stupid or unprofessional. Instead, make your submission an example of your pride in your story and yourself.

You don’t respect editors.
So you believe that your time is more valuable than mine, that I should be your typist and proofreader? That I should waste time slogging through this mess you sent in? You need a reality check. A professional and experienced editor is focused on story development—working with the author on plot, character growth, relationship development. NOT wasting editorial time on things the author should be responsible for, like spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure. Yes, an editor may (maybe!) choose to contract a fantastic book even though the author needs a little help with one or two specific writing mechanics—maybe the author doesn’t quite understand how to use dialogue tags or is choppy about POV switches. The editor may feel this is something they can teach the author—but will then expect that the author learns this and the next submission will not have the problem.

Let’s be frank about this: Great story ideas are a dime a dozen. Yours just is not unique. I can open the next ten submissions and find something just as good or better than yours, no problem. So it is how you present your great story that counts. Gee, would I contract the wonderful story concept that will require massive amounts of effort trying to teach the author how to write cleanly, need excess copy edit/proofing time, and mean working with an author I suspect is unprofessional and unskilled? Or should I contract the equally great story that obviously has been through multiple self-edits and much proofing and is nearly 100% “clean”, allowing me to focus my editorial skills where they should be? That’s not a hard choice.

How many errors are acceptable in a submission? Every error an editor hits is a black mark against you. I was on a conference panel with a group of editors from many publishers, and we were asked this question. Most of us came up with some figure. “Three”, “One per thousand words”, and so forth. But we all applauded our fellow editor who honestly and bluntly stated, “I stop reading when I hit the first error.”

(Remember that a publisher may be more lenient with, more willing to work with, an author who is already published with them and has shown very good sales numbers on the previous books. But if you are just trying to get in the door, you have to meet much higher standards to prove you are worth our time and effort.)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Turn the Page

First Impressions Part Two
by Kelli Collins, Editor-in-chief, Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc.

So you’ve sent your cover letter and it was short and sweet and contained a blurb that has me jumping up and down and squeeing like a fangirl to read your submission. I open the submission doc—delighted and impressed that you’ve read our guidelines and sent exactly the chapters we required—read the first line, which is appropriately enticing because you’ve read all about the importance of first lines and spent months dreaming up just the right one…

Only to come to a screeching halt at paragraph two—where you proceed to tell me the heroine’s name, age, height, weight, eye and hair color, distinguishing features, boob size, job title, hometown, names of her brothers and sisters, and how she used to be a Wiccan but gave it up when she couldn’t find the nerve to go skyclad during solstice gatherings.

Oh sure, you laugh…but it happens all the time. I routinely read books in which every detail about a character, or details about the room/house/town/state/planet in which the story opens, are all crammed into the first page. Some authors like to call it “setting the scene”.

Editors call it infodumping.

And infodumps aren’t reserved for first pages only; that just happens to be where they regularly appear.

Let me set my own scene for you: Editor X has 3 minutes to spare before she boards a plane, or attends a meeting, or gets to her stop on the subway. Though she’d rather whip out her iPhone and send a few tweets into the ether, she decides to use the time more wisely and takes a peek at your submission. And instead of being instantly caught up in the action of the story, she spends that precious time wading through details she could have learned anywhere in the book (preferably spread thoughtfully throughout), but instead the author decided to chunk it all on the first page, boring Editor X to tears and ensuring the first page she reads will also be her last.

That’s the reality of submission reading. It takes just a few minutes to read that first page, and if you haven’t hooked me immediately, there’s a great chance you never will. Sure, I’ll read several more pages, just to give you a fair shot, but I’m already suspecting the subsequent pages are going to be as ho-hum as the first, and already I’m not looking forward to them.

Leave routine details for later. Yes, I want to know what your heroine looks like so I can visualize her, but I don’t need to know from the first page. It can be discovered more naturally in her narrative later, spread throughout at the most appropriate moments. Or perhaps I’ll learn how lovely her deep red hair looks with her dark green eyes from the hero’s POV, when they first meet, etc.

I want to be in the middle of a breathless foot chase on the first page. Or in the midst of a screaming match between a sassy heroine and her soon-to-be ex. Or trepidatiously walking down a barely trodden path through a moonlit wood on the way to a séance that will hopefully unleash some sexy ghost. Or in a rodeo ring on the back of a bucking bronco with a thousand people cheering my name. Or in bed, the springs squeaking loudly, shouting someone’s name and just on the verge of…

Drop me in the middle of the action, and make me want to keep reading to see how that chase or fight or séance or bronco busting ends. Starting your book with an exciting scene straight from the guts of your plot not only keeps me moving forward—it keeps your story moving forward. And if you’re talented enough, it’ll scarcely stop long enough for readers to catch their breath.

And what reader doesn’t love being breathless?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cover Me

A few weeks ago, the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal online chapter of RWA invited us to post on their blog. We were asked to provide some insight on what editors really look for and consider in submissions. Something more detailed than the standard checklists; a look into the editor’s mind. So over the next few days, we will share with you here at Redlines and Deadlines what we had to say about cover letters, the first page, “clean” submissions, and an author’s public image.

Cover Me
First Impressions Part One
by Kelli Collins, Editor-in-chief, Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc.

I read dozens of submission cover letters each month. Well…from those who care to include them, anyway. (Tip #1: Do!) And while the information contained within can be an endless source of amusement, there is such a thing as TMI. (Tip #2: Just because you’re submitting an erotic romance does not mean I want to read scintillating tidbits about your personal sex life. Gah!)

The first and best piece of advice I can offer in regards to cover letter: Keep it simple. I’m looking for specific things in your letter, which include:

Your real name
Your pen name
Book title
Word length
Genre (Tip #3: Know your publisher! EC publishes erotic romance and erotica. Please don’t send me your book of first-person inspirational poetry.)
Short blurb

And that’s it. No, really. An intro is nice, but keep it short. A mention of memberships to writers’ groups is fine, but keep it short. A list of previously published books isn’t necessary, though some authors like to mention other houses that currently publish their work, which is fine by me. And while authors absolutely love to include every contest they’ve entered for the last five years, this is another piece of information most editors skip over. I’m sorry; it’s true. If you must include contest details, limit yourself to first-place wins only. (Tip #4: That fifth-place win might seem impressive…until I discover there were only five finalists. Which means your book was—that’s right—last place.)

Short, sweet, to the point. If you want to make an impression, show me that you appreciate my valuable time by not sending a three-page cover letter intimately explaining how your backyard garden inspired your food-fetish erotica novel. My visual imagery works too well for those kinds of details.

Oh, and Tip #5: Spellcheck. No matter how short and sweet that cover letter is, if it’s filled with errors…I might not bother with the submission.

See you in the slush pile.