Sunday, November 28, 2010

Reminder: Fiction Feud Contest

Remember, Tuesday is the deadline for the Fiction Feud! Enter your answers in Comments. Winner will be announced Wednesday.
(Hint: Don't bother sitting next to Barbara Elsborg and copying her test answers!)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Review Repetition?

by Raelene Gorlinsky

My turn to talk about something that's bothering me. What does Kelli call it, Me Time?

As a reader (NOT wearing my editor or publisher hat) I'm getting a bit concerned about a particular aspect of online reviews. As in, how many of the reviewers actually thoroughly read and think about the books--or how many are just copying someone else's review? Every person has individual reading tastes and preferences, so I'd expect opinions on books to reflect that diversity. Why am I seeing more and more online reviews that say the same things about a book? (I'm specifically talking about online review sites and bloggers who post reviews, as those are the most prolific and the ones I'm most likely to read. I'm not talking about reviews at big businesses like Publishers Weekly or the New York Times.)

Okay, if a book has very apparent glowing elements or serious flaws, likely most readers/reviewers would notice and mention those. But type of plot, characters, setting -- everybody's different, so should have different things to say. But I'm seeing multiple reviews with almost the same wording. And that's not matching up with the diversity of comments from my fellow readers. For example, I just read a steampunk romance by a well-known author. The book got a lot of buzz and a number of online reviews. A lot of those reviewers had close to identical comments about the hero. Yet when I read the book, I saw the hero in a completely different light, I had a different understanding of his motivations and emotions. And when I talked to others who'd read the story, they had varying takes on and opinions of the hero. If a dozen readers voice a dozen different opinions, it seems odd that another dozen readers who happen to label themselves reviewers churn out almost identical opinions.

The same thing happened with a recent erotica story. Every reviewer seemed to make the same comment about an item they felt was unnecessary. In fact, the sentences in reviews on different sites were practically duplicates. And yet comments from readers reflected that some of them appreciated that element or felt it was not a problem -- again, diversity of reader opinion that was not reflected by diversity in reviewer opinion.

A "reviewer" is just a reader who posts their comments for others to see. And nowadays anyone with a blog wants to post reviews, whether they have any skill at explaining a book's strengths and flaws or not. It isn't like there's special training or testing to be allowed to call oneself a reviewer. Just (hopefully) a love of books and an ability to analyze what you like and dislike about a story and express that coherently.

Unfortunately, sometimes authors are so hopeful to have someone mention their name and praise their book that they provide free copies to any person who says they'll write about the book on a blog or review site. Authors should research all such requests for review copies: ask the person for all the places they post reviews and under what names, how many books they have reviewed and in what genres, what their process and timeline are, what their criteria are for selecting books to review and what books they will not accept, what they do if they DNF a book. Make sure you trust this person to read your whole book and give it a fair and well-thought-out review. (And I am leery of reviewers or sites that never post negative reviews -- I don't want nasty, but I do want honest. I learn a lot about a book that got an F or DNF at AAR, SBTB, DA or GBU, and I may choose to read some of those books based on the analysis in that review.)

It was pointed out to me by someone associated with a review site that six online reviews are not necessarily six reviewers. It isn't just that a person may post their review in multiple places -- lawdy, how many places can you find the same Harriet Klausner review. But some reviewers use several "pen names" to post on different sites. They just slightly modify the wording of the review to post it elsewhere as if they are a different reader. And it has always been rumored that some reviewers don't read the books -- they read the blurb, excerpt, and other reviews, and then post a review under their own name. So of course in such a case they'd be mimicking someone else's comments and reflecting the same opinions.

Why? Are some people so eager to believe their opinion matters to others, to suck up to authors, or to see their own name online that they will "cheat" in order to post lots of reviews?

I don't really care whether a reviewer liked or disliked a book. I read reviews to find out about the plot and characters, the writing style, particular elements it contains -- so that I can decide if it's the type of story I would like. So it does bother me that I may be misled by reviews that are just a copy of someone else's opinion. For example, I would avoid a book if multiple reviews say the heroine is TSTL -- I assume if that many people had that same reaction, it likely is accurate about the story. But now I wonder if I'm missing books I would enjoy, because really only one or a few people had that opinion, and others just copied them.

I appreciate insightful and informational reviews, I thank and applaud the dedicated reviewers who put time and effort into reading and analyzing a story. So it's discouraging that I'm seeing less of that, more useless repetition from a minority who are diluting the value of the reviewing process to readers.

If you read reviews, have you noticed this phenomenon? Do you post reviews and have an opinion to offer on this?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fiction Feud!

By Kelli Collins

One hundred people surveyed, top five answers are on the board...

Not really. Just the top answer is on the board, but if you've seen Family Feud, you get the gist. All the fun of the game without all the perviness of Richard Dawson! Win! The following is a shortened version of a game I hosted at RomantiCon 2010, used to illustrate some of the most over-used items in Ellora's Cave books. If you weren't able to attend, here's your chance to get in on the action and prove your romance/erotica smarts. Using Comments, post your best guesses to the questions below, whatever you suspect might have been the #1 answer. The person who guesses the most correct answers wins an ebook of his or her choice!

Deadline: Tues., Nov. 30; answers posted and winner announced Wed., Dec. 1. Good luck!

(Tip: Answers are collectively culled from all genres. And your gut instinct is usually correct.)

1. Name the most overused hero name

2. Name the most common adjective used to describe an erection

3. Name a type of sex play authors throw in their books to get the BDSM icon

4. Name the most common uncommon eye color for heroes OR heroines

5. Not counting those that are sexual or romantic in nature ("passion", "love", "desire", etc.), name the most overused word in erotic titles

6. Name the most common adjective used to describe a vagina

7. Name the most common thing a hero does to a woman's nipples

8. Other than a bedroom, name the most common place characters have sex

9. Name the most common last name authors use for their pseudonym

10. Name the most common occupation for romance heroes

11. Name the most common way that M/M heroes meet

12. Name the most common euphemism for coming

Friday, November 19, 2010

Recommended Links

"A Few Words on Professionalism" by Anne Rainey
Three Wicked Writers blog

Every author and aspiring author should read and follow this advice. Writing is a profession, you can help yourself be successful by being professional.

All About Japanese Tentacle P*rn" by Cecil Adams

Well, it actually makes sense once he explains. "Till 1993 Japanese law prohibited depictions of penises and intercourse. So Maeda was obliged to come up with a substitute: tentacles."

Dorchester Hires New CEO; Sets New Plan (Publishers Weekly) 11/16/10's+PW+Daily&utm_campaign=3b719fa7b1-UA-15906914-1&utm_medium=email

It's very sad, but it looks more and more like Dorchester is not going to survive. They launched a lot of great writers, and have always put out some excellent fantasy and paranormal romance.

Write Us a Story!

Ellora's Cave Publishing announces its special theme series for 2011.

~ Story length 18K - 45K words.
~ Any genres, settings.
~ Must use the theme as a primary story element.

Submissions should be sent (as .doc email attachment) to Include full story, 2-page synopsis, and professional cover email. See our Author Information brochure (available under Submissions heading on our website) for additional info.

Submission deadlines are firm. Earlier is preferred.

Theme is pirates: historical, contemporary, futuristic/space, or your interpretation.
Stories will release in June 2011.
Submission deadline is January 15, 2011.

Theme is tech sex: all the ways to meet and fall in lust and love via modern technology--texting, IM, skype, online dating.
Stories release in October 2011.
Submission deadline is April 30, 2011.

Theme is love letters, cards, diaries.
Stories will release in January/February 2012 (in time for Valentine's Day).
Submission deadline is August 31, 2011.

Stories must be set in Canada, at least one of the main characters must be Canadian, and the story should have a Canadian "flavor" (slang, customs, holidays, etc).
Submissions for this can be any length 7K to 120K words.
Submissions must be received before September 1, 2011.
Stories release throughout 2011.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jaid Black's BLOWJOB

At the 2010 Ellora's Cave RomantiCon convention, best-selling author Jaid Black presented a workshop on  writing sexual tension and erotic stories. Remember the acronym "blowjob".

Basis: What is the conflict to start the tension? Why is this happening? What is the underlying foundation, the reason for the story? Start fast with the story, have impact at the beginning.

Libido: Establish that the hero is "larger than life" in all aspects. Building the heroine is even more important; she's the one readers will identify with. Make her real. What is missing that she needs from this hero?

No Orgasm too soon.

Withhold: Build as much sexual tension as you can before the first sex scene. To get the reader hot, you as author should be aroused by what you are writing.

Journey: Take time with the sexual journey, keep it building. You don't have to jump into penetration and orgasm right away, use other types of sexual interaction to advance the intimacy and build sexual arousal.

OMG Moment: The moment before the "moment", holding on right before orgasm, where you (the heroine) can't take it anymore.

Burst: Then go back and do it all again, building up that tension again.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Story - Book

by Raelene Gorlinsky

I'm trying to watch my words. To me, a "book" can be any format. But most people still associate that word with print on paper. If I am talking about a specific product, then I differentiate--a print book, an ebook, an audio book (and who knows what could come in future). But here's the important point--what authors, editors and publishers deal with is not a "book", it is a story. That's what we care about--the words themselves, the ideas and information they convey. Authors write a story, editors acquire and edit a story, publishing companies produce and distribute a story. That story will be provided to readers in a variety of formats, but that doesn't necessarily change the story itself.

One of my favorite sayings is All words are pegs to hang ideas on. The terms you use have an effect on people's perceptions, sometimes beyond what you intend. It's like the old argument about using "man" or "mankind" to describe human beings as a whole. Yes, logically we all know that word means everyone, regardless of gender. But what it conveys subconsciously is that males represent the world, are the important people, and women are subsidiary. The underlying implications of words are more often limiting rather than inclusive.

So I'm trying to remember to use "story" instead of "book". Because that's what is important--the story you are telling, not the format in which the story appears.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Assistant Needed

By Grace Bradley, editor

As my stable of authors continues to grow, I find myself needing more hours in the day. Since that is clearly not a possibility, I decided to bring in some help. Piper came very highly recommended, the purrfect editing assistant. She has it all—intelligence, good looks, a fondness for cheap lunches out of a can. I really didn’t see any way this could go wrong. But she’s been on the job for three weeks now and my schedule is not any less hectic. In fact, I’m working just as much as I ever did and the grocery store runs for Fancy Feast are cutting into my work day.

I can credit Piper with one thing, and that is her ability to keep a close eye on office inventory. She pointed out to me recently that we are running low on red and pink pens. This is a problem for two reasons. First, I can’t edit without them. Second, I buy them in a twelve pack. This can only mean that I’m getting some messy manuscripts. Piper has one thing to say about that: Self-edit.

Either this manuscript is really awful or Piper hasn’t taken her morning cat nap. She’s falling asleep on the job. You’ve got to grab her on the first page, folks. Unless you’re writing about the extra-groovy feeling your character gets while imbibing in catnip or sharing a can of minced meat with the one they love, you’ll lose her. She neglected to tell me in her interview that she had been spayed. Sex scenes will not do it for her. This is a problem, considering what I contract.

She’s taken over the office like she owns the place. Here she is again, falling down on the job. I’ve tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, but this is an internal submission from one of my best authors. It certainly shouldn’t put her to sleep. So sadly, I must let her go as my editing assistant. I think I’ll keep her on as the family pet, though. I kinda dig the way she sits in my lap while I work and purrs. It makes me a happy editor, and that makes all the empty red pens more tolerable.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Romance Recipe for Success

One of the reader discussion groups at this year's RomantiCon convention was "Recipe for Success", hosted by authors Fran Lee and Amber Skyze. They solicited reader opinions on "the most important ingredients for a breathtaking, satisfying romance" (with emphasis on erotic romance).

As always, there was wide diversity of opinions, but consistency in basic areas.

The five most important elements in a good romance:
  • HEA
  • Hot, delicious sex
  • Strong romance
  • Believable plot/conflict
  • Strong, engaging (and enjoyable) characters
Almost all agreed that a relationship was of the utmost importance in a romance. They wanted to see the characters develop strong emotional connections.

Humor was appreciated.

About half stated that sweetly poignant moments were essential to their enjoyment of a novel.

Plots were expected to be unique, not simply makeovers of overused situations and reworked “same-old, same-old”, and have believable world building.

Many stated that the author's voice was important.

Sensual content: Two-thirds of the participants stated that they liked to see a delicious, hot buildup of tension between the H/H. About half stated that instant hot sex was good, but most of these also liked “slow buildup”. The general consensus was that the sex must be hot and intense when it did occur, but that slow and seductive was appreciated as well. Most participants made it clear that the sex must fit the story. No one wanted gratuitous sex just tossed in. The sex had to be part and parcel of the plot, and be steamy. One said “must be breathtaking and memorable”.

Heroes: The overwhelming majority wanted alpha heroes who were strong and tough. Roughly half added “flawed” and “bad boy”. A few added “tortured” or “smart”.

Heroines: Saucy and sexy. About half liked heroines who exhibited tomboy tendencies, were wicked, strong, and/or flawed. About one-fourth liked their heroines to be ultra-feminine. A few participants added “smart”, “smart and independent”, “witty…keeps hero on his toes” and “tortured”.

Genres: When presented with a list and asked to indicate all their preferences, almost all marked Contemporary. Over half also chose Paranormal, Vampire, Shifter, historical, BDSM, Erotic, GLBT, Cougar, Ménage, or “all of the above”. Erotic, Cougar, and Ménage were most notably chosen. Sci-fi/fantasy was included in about one-third of the responses.

Book length: A majority of participants preferred novellas or short novels, but about half said they also enjoyed full length novels.

When asked what made the participant re-read the same book over, most responded that they liked to go back and re-read the good parts, memorable sex scenes, or the hilariously funny parts. They liked to re-read the places where the characters began to build their relationships, and a good percentage liked to go back to the scenes that really “touched” them.

One person stated that she found that each new reading revealed even more than she had found in the prior reading. One person stated that she almost never re-read a book, but that she does search for more by the same author if she liked the book.

As Fran said afterwards, "The responses were gratifying in that every single participant reinforced our impression of the deep sense of individuality in our readers. We found that our readers (and the participating reviewers and authors) are discerning and share a taste for high-quality books that leave them emotionally moved. Not willing to sit back and simply accept what is offered out there, they were most willing to step up and tell us what they wanted."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nothing but 'Net

By Kelli Collins

The lovely ladies over at Three Wicked Writers plus Two tell me they've fielded lots of questions from new authors regarding websites. As in, whether or not to have one, and the importance of the content contained therein. What works, what doesn't...and what editors recommend. That's where I come in, by answering some of the Wicked Writers' most frequently asked questions. I'm honored you would want my opinion, ladies. The fact you may have asked because I never shut up and have an opinion on everything has crossed my mind...but I don't care! I'm taking the opportunity and running with it! (Oh, and gentlemen, we love you and we love men who write erotica, but considering the industry is dominated by chicks, I'll be going with the feminine pronoun for the purposes of this post. No offense, dudes.)

Why do editors need to look at an author's website?
Need? Well, some think they don't. But for my money, it's the quickest way to learn about a prospective author, in particular how she presents herself. And not just her site...but her blog, tweets and Facebook posts as well. Is the site a raging grammatical nightmare? That's likely how her submissions will look (don't kid yourself; your mom's/sister's/friend's proofing skills only go so far, in most cases). Is the author slamming fellow writers or (god forbid) publishing companies on her blog? Is her Facebook wall just a loooong rundown of game posts? To me, these things matter. They tell me pretty much everything I need to know. And they continue to tell me things after an author is signed. (Your edits are 5 weeks late because you've contracted a disease that renders your fingers immobile? That's funny. According to FB, you've been playing FarmVille for the last 15 hours straight, and your Twitter feed from the last week could be a novel unto itself.)

If a website seared your retinas and offended your sensibilities to the point you thought the author had committed web page murder, would you feel compelled to tell then they may be better off changing their website?
Yes. Lol! I have no problem telling authors why I don't visit their sites. The music (which I can't turn off!!) makes me wanna commit hari-kari. The home page is a visual nightmare, with texts and graphics seemingly placed at random so my eyes ping-pong all over with no place to land. The text is too small; the colors are too visually straining (black is always easiest to read...but not on an equally dark background). Some semblance of order is needed. Without it, it's just too mentally exhausting to navigate the site.

If yes, how would you broach the subject and what would you say?
Well, seeing as how I have little to no filter, I just lay it on the line: "Hon, you need to revamp your site." Followed by all the reasons why. It's not personal for me, it's business. And I relay that to the author, explaining as best I can why her site might be offending the masses. Websites are an author's number one promotional tool. If you're lucky enough to get readers to visit, but can't get them to stay,'re pretty much screwed.

Where does your gaze land when you view a website for the first time? The banner? The sidebars?
On websites, as in newspapers and magazines, our eyes are attracted to images first, large headlines second. I'm no different. Because our eyes are also trained to read top to bottom, left to right, my eyes are drawn to the banner first if there's an interesting graphic element. My eyes almost always go to sidebars last; an argument to place links to site pages beneath the banner. (We're conditioned to think sidebars are largely reserved for links, advertisements, etc. Things that may hold my interest the least.) Because graphics and headlines are so frequently viewed, make them count. Use them to point readers in the direction you want them to go, to entice them to read your posts and as tools to keep readers on your site as long as possible.

If you see a vulgar website, does it put you off reading any of the author's work?
Not necessarily. While vulgarity does tell me a bit about the author as a person, it doesn't necessarily reflect the type of books they write. But that's years of experience talking. An author might not get so lucky with readers, who may well assume a crude site is a sign of crude books. But while I might still read authors' works, their use of vulgar images, language, etc., is another thing that might keep me away from their sites. For instance, I swear like a sailor and I love looking at hot bods as much as the next person, but there's something to be said for teasing glimpses and a modicum of professionalism. There's at least one site I no longer visit because I'm just not interested in seeing the author's "cock of the month" pictures. There are plenty of other places I can go for that, if I really want to see it. Websites should appeal to the broadest range of readers possible.

As tastes are subjective, what one person thinks is an ugly website, another will like. What are the basic things you look for when visiting sites?
Some sort of order; if I want to see your bio or view your current releases, finding the pages easily is key for me. A degree of simplicity (you don't need to pack every square inch of the site with content or images. Seriously). A pleasing color scheme. If my eyes are happy, I'll stay on the site longer.

What is the one thing you do NOT want to see on a website, as in, something that looks unprofessional in your opinion?
See previous "cock of the month" mention...

What is the main thing that turns you off a website?
Disorder, followed very closely by dated information. I can't tell you how often I visit sites that haven't been updated for months. There's just no point in having one if you're not maintaining it. Silly, poser-style images. Come on, people, there are oodles of free pics available on the 'Net, nearly all of which are more appealing than creepy-looking pod people. Finally, no contact link. If you're interested in might want to give editors/publishers a way to contact you (and of course, readers LOVE to email authors).

Would you advise authors to post portions of a WIP on their website?
Man. Tough question. And I'm truly torn. Half of me would rather see a short, super-enticing blurb. For one thing, I've seen some seriously long excerpts (as in, several chapters). Why should readers buy the cow when they're getting the milk for free? But more importantly, excerpts from current WIPs are unedited. No. I'm sorry. I don't care if you've had 12 people read it. They're still unedited. And that can work against an author in a big way, particularly if the excerpt doesn't specifically state it's unedited (no, most readers won't assume).

On the other hand, I'd be lying if I said I haven't invited authors to submit books directly to me on the strength of excerpts on their sites. I've done so frequently, actually. If an author follows me on Twitter, for instance, I check out their site (if they are smart enough to link it in their Twitter bio). If there's an excerpt or a free read of some sort, I read it. Nearly every time. And knowing these things are largely unedited makes me doubly impressed if I stumble upon one that's clean and compelling. I don't hesitate to invite those authors to submit. So I suppose in the case of new authors, there are great advantages to excerpting your WIPs. But if you choose to...for the love of all that's holy, make sure the excerpts are as clean as humanly possible and chosen VERY carefully (use the excerpt you think will instantly hook the reader).

Three Wicked Writers plus Two are Tess MacKall, Regina Carlysle, Anne Rainey, Natalie Dae and Madison Scott. Together, along with a host of guest bloggers, they post several times per week.

Monday, November 1, 2010

It's a Small World--Help Keep It Clean

By Grace Bradley, EC editor

Despite how large the publishing industry seems, in actuality it is very, very small. This business relies heavily on networking—Facebook, Twitter, blogs, personal relationships—and as a result we are all very well connected. This is an excellent thing…most of the time. We become so comfortable in our own little “bubbles”, not thinking for a moment that what we say outright (meaning what we type) or imply will go far beyond the regular visitors to our blogs, our friends on Facebook and our followers on Twitter. Remember the part about personal relationships? That’s where your personal business ends up receiving a much larger audience than you intended.

A recent incident led me to write this blog. I received an email from someone in my network (which is extensive—when you’ve been in this business for a while you get to know a lot of people) who thought I might find something “interesting”. She had been directed to a particular blog by someone in her network because that person thought she would find the little tidbit “interesting”. Without going into detail, the blog in question aired some insecurities an author had, along with the author’s personal take on what led her to be in that position. Not only was her perception of reality not quite on the mark, but to make matters worse, negative comments followed—none of them made anonymously. So I’m sure you can see how this downward spiral is forming. I am now aware of several authors’ general negativity and harsh comments about an industry they are a part of. If I were a writer, I wouldn’t want my name associated with negative thoughts or actions because Big Brother is watching. But that’s just me.

The publishing business is tough and anyone who is in it knows it requires a tough skin. You must be able to accept criticism, constructive though it may be, on something you’ve poured your heart into. You have to be able to accept “no” when everything in you is screaming, “yes, yes, yes” (you’re thinking about an orgasm right now, aren’t you?). You have to adhere to your publisher’s policies, your editor’s schedule, your editor’s evaluation of your work, even if you don’t agree. You have to be flexible and understand that unforeseen changes occur in business and you have to roll with those changes.

Are you allowed to be frustrated, heartbroken, incensed? Absolutely. We’re all human, after all. Should you post these reactions in public? Absolutely not. Remember how small this big industry is. So share your concerns with a friend, a spouse, a fellow writer (via email or on the phone, please), the poor soul who is unfortunate enough to be stuck behind you in a long line at the grocery store (of course, assuming they aren’t in the industry…just how small can it be, right?). And the best solution? Take your concerns to your editor or publisher. I know that I would much rather have an author express their concern directly to me so that I have an opportunity to ease their distress and do what I can to reassure and help them.

If you take anything away from what I’ve written, it should be this: Do not publicly post anything you would not want your editor or publisher (or authors and readers you don’t know) to see. While editors don’t spend our time trolling the net looking for “authors behaving badly”—we simply don’t have the time or desire—Google Alerts set to our publishing house and networking contacts are quick to point out what we’re missing while busy working on your books. My best advice? Keep it clean, people. :-)