Posts Tagged ‘books’

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Authors: Habit Seven

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Hello again! Well here we are, the last habit. I hope this series has been helpful to you. It’s the most detailed and time-consuming non-fiction article I’ve written to date. It’s been both fun and an enormous challenge.

A quick review of numbers one through six before we get to the final habit.

Highly Effective Authors…

1. Write every day.

2. Understand the business side of publishing.

3. Learn how to take criticism.

4. Set goals and meet them.

5. Learn how to self edit their work.

6. Read books both in their genre and outside.

And finally, Highly Effective Authors submit their work.

Yes, to some of you this may seem like a no-brainer. You can’t sell a book if you don’t submit it. Of course. But others will understand exactly what I’m saying.

First, some writers get caught up in the trap of trying to make their work perfect before they’ll send it out. They polish. They send it to CP’s, gather a bunch of suggestions on improving it and then dig into edits and revisions. They tweak. Fuss. Tweak some more. They send it to contests for more feedback and then tweak and fuss and change again.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with polishing your manuscript and making sure that what you submit is your very best work. But, Highly Effective Authors know when to say “Enough” and put the work out there.

Something to consider: Most often, a manuscript is rejected because there is something wrong with the story, not with the writing. Lack of conflict. A subgenre that is over-bought. A plot full of clichés. The biggest challenge of writing is learning to craft a compelling, marketable story, not learning to produce clean writing. A compelling page-turner will sell, even if the writing isn’t the world’s most well-crafted. Don’t believe me? Take a look at some of today’s best sellers.

Second, Highly Effective Authors know the proper etiquette for submitting work.

They understand and follow industry standards. White paper. Black ink. Clear, readable font (Times New Roman or Courier New). 12 point. Double spaced. One inch margins. One page query letter, professionally written (which is a whole ‘nother subject), a synopsis that details the goals, motivation, and conflict of the main characters and includes the resolution of all main threads. No binding on sample pages. No glitter. No chocolate bribery…or any bribery. They understand agents/editors aren’t out to “steal” their work, and don’t include warnings or withhold pages to protect their stories from possible theft.

Third, Highly Effective Authors follow publishers’/agents’ submission guidelines very carefully.

Many houses and agencies have submission guidelines posted on their web sites. Before submitting anything, a Highly Effective Author will do his/her homework, checking the agency/publisher’s site to make sure he/she is submitting the correct material in the correct format. Many publishers and agents have moved to electronic submissions. Some want writers to fill out detailed forms and then paste sample pages into it. Others want an email, with a specific form of attachment. And yet others want hard copies via snail mail. It is vital a writer check for submission guidelines and follow them to the letter.

Finally, Highly Effective Authors know that selling isn’t easy. That rejections are going to come. And that they’re going to hear a lot of no’s before they’ll hear a yes.

Publishing is a competitive, sometimes harsh world that is shaped and influenced by subjective editors, analytical bean counters, and publishers’ marketing departments. Not to mention the book buyers, who are heavily influenced by other media–movies, TV, the internet. Publishers are always trying to guess what the next big thing will be–vampires, warriors from outer space, reality television, erotic romance. When something hits, they all jump in. When the market becomes saturated and sales fall off, they all get out. A Highly Effective Author realizes that sometimes it’s simply a matter of having the right story at the right time.

But all these challenges and frustrations don’t stop the Highly Effective Author from sending out those submissions and collecting those rejections. Dozens. Hundreds. They may be at it for one year before they get their first request for a full, let alone a contract. Or it could take five years. Twenty. They always keep that goal in sight, whether it’s their first, fifth or tenth contract. And nothing will stop them from reaching it.

Good luck! And may you all be Highly Effective Authors.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Authors: Habit Six

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Hello again!

Only two more habits left to talk about. A quick review of numbers one through five first.

Highly Effective Authors…

1. 1. Write every day.

2. Understand the business side of publishing.

3. Learn how to take criticism.

4. Set goals and meet them.

5. Learn how to self edit their work.

And now, on to habit 6.

6. Highly Effective Authors read. A lot. And not only do they read a lot, but they read books both in their genre and outside.

Why is this habit so important?

A. Because authors who read tend to have a better handle on the market, and are therefore better able to find their niche. It’s extremely difficult for a writer to know what work is being published if they aren’t readers. And without that knowledge, it’s impossible for them to consider how they might fit into the market.

B. If you write category romance, it’s particularly important for you to read the lines and get a feel for each one. Lines change. Evolve. It’s virtually impossible to “get” them if you haven’t read several recent titles.

C. Writers gain inspiration from other authors’ work. Reading, among other activities, gets the creative juices flowing.

D. Writers learn about plotting and storytelling from published stories. I’m not suggesting a writer “steal” a plot from a published book. But what I am suggesting is that writers learn about plot arcs and storytelling from published books.

E. By exposing him/herself to other genres, an author can bring a fresh spin on a tired subgenre. Take a look at the huge number of genre-blending books that are being published today. Yes, editors need to be able to fit a book into their current lists, and so a book that completely breaks all rules and fits nowhere is likely to be rejected. But injecting a fresh spin inspired from an outside genre can (and has!) lead to a breakout novel for some authors.

Now that I’ve listed all the reasons why it’s so important to continue reading when you’re writing, I’ll address the primary reason why writers (especially new ones) stop reading.

They can’t turn off the internal editor and enjoy a book the way they used to.

I’ve been writing professionally since 2001. I was published in 2004, under my other pseudonym. I’d say it was in the last year that I was finally able to sit down and read books in my genre and enjoy them, without the internal editor nitpicking them to pieces. It takes time to shut that obnoxious voice up. But that’s okay. You still need to read. Outside of writing, reading is the most important thing you can do to develop your craft.

So head to the library or the bookstore. Grab a book and settle in for some great reading. Don’t worry about the little voice in your head screaming about punctuation or adverbs. Just keep turning pages, absorbing the story.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you read (and hopefully distract you from the little stuff):

1. What kind of character is the protagonist (hero and heroine in a romance novel)? Do you care about the character? Why or why not?

2. How does the author use conflict to keep the reader turning pages?

3. How does the plot progress? Do you see some kind of framework or structure?

4. (Romance) What scenes does the author use to develop the romance? And how are they balanced/blended with the external plot?

5. What sorts of tools does the author use to maintain the pace in the middle of the book?

6. How does the author tie up each thread of the story?

7. Is the ending satisfying? Why or why not?

8. If you had written this story, how might you have told it differently?

There you go, the sixth habit. The final habit seems like a no-brainer, but it’s not as obvious as you think.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Authors: Habit Five

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Wow! We’re at Habit 5 already! Let’s summarize quickly before we move on.

Highly Effective Authors…

1. Write every day.

2. Understand the business side of publishing.

3. Learn how to take criticism.

4. Set goals and meet them.

And now Number 5: Highly Effective Authors learn how to edit (there’s that four-letter word) their own work.

I don’t know if you realize this or not, but self-editing is harder than you think. For one thing, it means the author must realize that every word she’s bled and sweated onto those pages are not golden. No one’s work is perfect. And I’ve found that each writer has both his/her own unique set of strengths and weaknesses.

Sometimes it takes a while for you to learn what your personal strengths and weaknesses are. But take my word for it–If your book gets published but isn’t thoroughly edited, you’ll find out pretty quickly. Reviewers can be harsh critics.

So, if you don’t know what you should be looking for, how can you possibly fix it?

A few suggestions:

You could find a critique group or partner.

If you’re brand new to writing, I highly recommend you find yourself a critique group or partner. For a number of reasons. You’ll learn to take criticism. You’ll polish your craft by critiquing other people’s work. And you’ll take advantage of your partner’s strengths. Ideally their strengths will complement yours.

But I will warn you, not all critique groups/partners are created equal. You still need to have some idea of what kind of help you need before you pick a partner. Do you need help with grammar? Finding redundant words? Tightening writing? Finding your voice? Closing up Swiss-cheesy plots? You need to find a partner with skills in those areas.

You could use a reference book.

There are several nonfiction books out there about how to edit fiction. Most of them concentrate on basic grammar and the technical aspects of writing. So, if you don’t use verbs properly or write loose, twisty-turny sentences, you might get some help. If your weakness is inconsistencies in plotting, they may not do you a bit of good.

You could enter some writing contests to get anonymous feedback.

Contests are a whole ‘nother topic. In fact, I’ve done some blogging about them. Some authors fall into the habit of writing and polishing three chapters, entering hundreds of contests, and never finishing a book. There’s also the problem of conflicting (or downright useless) feedback. At least in RWA chapter-sponsored contests, the judges are often unpublished writers. And these people can get *really* hung up on nitpicky things while missing more important issues (like the fact that the heroine is totally TSTL and should never leap into an erupting volcano). However, if you hear the same thing from every judge who reads your chapter, you can assume there’s a problem.

Conversely, you could volunteer to judge a writing contest.

When you judge someone else’s writing, you’re developing a critical eye, learning what to look for in your own work.

* * * * *

Here are a few suggestions on how to read your work with a more critical eye:

1. Let the book sit for a few weeks and start working on something else. Then go back and read it, cover-to-cover in a single day. Look for dropped threads in your plot.

2. Read it again. This time look for inconsistencies. Is your heroine wearing a blue top in the beginning of a chapter and a red one later? Do your characters undress twice in a scene?

3. Read the book backward, last chapter first, and so on, looking for inconsistencies, dropped threads and holes in your plot.

4. Read it (beginning to end) again, concentrating just on dialogue. Do your characters each have a unique voice? Does the dialogue serve a purpose? Are you using action beats to break up long-winded soliloquies and attribute the dialogue to your characters (versus “he said/she said”/dialogue tags after every line)?

5. Now, read the scenes in each character’s pov’s, skipping the ones in the others’. Make sure each character’s journey is consistent and complete.

6. Read it again, slowly, this time looking for smaller issues, long blocks of narrative (telling), POV abuse, unclear sentences, loose writing, repetitive sentence structure (always starting with “he” or “she” for example) and misused words (who’s/whose, they’re/their/there, it’s/its).

7. Finally, use Word’s Find and Replace feature to highlight weasel words (as, there, then, etc), -ing verbs, adverbs (-ly), and forms of To Be to see what kind of concentration you have of them in your book. Rewrite sentences if you can without making them clunky and awkward (I once went too far with this, and ended up with a huge mess. Some “was’s” are necessary).

I hope these suggestions help! Editing can be painful, but it’s a necessary evil. And the results are definitely worth it.

For more information on editing:

Self Editing by Lori Handeland http://www.eclectics.com/articles/selfediting.html

Self Editing Checklist
http://home.earthlink.net/~jdc24/selfEdit.htm

Elements of Style
http://www.amazon.com/Elements-Style-Fourth-William-Strunk

Self Editing for Fiction Writers
http://www.amazon.com/Self-Editing-Fiction-Writers-Renni-Browne

10 Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance novels releasing July 1-6th, 2010

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

July 1-July 6

Blood Law: A Novel (Jeannie Holmes)

Unholy Magic (Stacia Kane)

Chains of Ice (Christina Dodd)

In Other Worlds (Sherrilyn Kenyon)

Undead and Unfinished (MaryJanice Davidson)

Demon Blood (Meljean Brook)

Bonds of Justice (Nalini Singh)

Cupid Cats (Katie MacAlister)

My Way to Hell (Dakota Cassidy)

Zombie Moon (Lori Devoti)

Q&A with editor Angela James

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

For those who don’t recognize the name, Angela James is the Executive Editor at Carina Press, Harlequin’s new digital romance imprint. She is taking questions on the eharlequin forum.

Click HERE to follow the thread.

Click HERE for Carina Press’ submission guidelines.

Click HERE for Carina Press FAQ’s.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Authors: Habit Four

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Hello again! I hope you’re enjoying this series. Please, if you have questions or comments, don’t be afraid to post them.

Ready to move on to habit number 4?

Highly Effective Authors set realistic goals and know how to reach them.

When I was just starting out, I was clueless about publishing. I’m not ashamed of that fact. I think I’m in the majority, at least that’s my opinion, based on the comments I’ve heard from new writers. How many times have I heard, “If they’ll publish this crap, anyone can get published.” Or “This is garbage. I should write a book. At least mine’ll be great.” I’m not saying I thought the published books I read were crap. Quite the opposite. But I did think that it would be fairly easy to get a book published. After all, everyone who’d read everything I’d written loooooved it, including my high school creative writing teacher (Hey, don’t laugh. Those nuns were tough!)

I was going to be an overnight success.

Heh. Righttttt.

So, my first goal (selling to a major house in one year and making the NY Times list) wasn’t exactly realistic. Anyone want to tell me what’s wrong with that goal, besides the fact that it was close to impossible to achieve?

Going back to day two, Highly Effective Authors know the business side of publishing. They realize the submission process usually involves months and months of waiting. And because of their knowledge, they are able to set themselves up with daily, weekly, monthly and annual goals that are both achievable, aggressive…but most importantly, under their personal control (and yes, this is what was wrong with that first goal).

Highly Effective Authors treat their writing career as a business. As entrepreneurs, they appreciate the need for long and short term goals, realizing those small, well-planned steps will lead them in the right direction a lot more quickly than huge leaps this way and that. And they also understand the smaller successes make it easier to weather the rejection storm that’s very likely coming their way.

Highly Effective Authors also possess a certain single-minded determination to reach those goals, no matter what hellish situation real life throws their way. Not that I’m saying anyone should neglect their kids, their sick grandma, or their day jobs–but it’s true. The ones that really want it bad, seem to somehow juggle a lot of obligations.

Okay, so now that we’ve covered the general gist of today’s habit, how does one apply it to him/herself?

A. Begin by sitting down and thinking realistically about what aspects of your writing career you can control. Helpful hint: response times to submissions and acceptance/rejections are outside of your control. Bribery doesn’t work.

B. Decide where you want to be by next year at this time (For instance, “I’ll have three books completed and submitted to ten editors/agents by the start of September” or “I’ll have one book completed and submitted to my A-list agents by December”). Be as specific as possible.

C. Determine what steps you need to reach that goal. (Three books equals 1200 pages. That’s 100 pages a month, plus time for editing/polishing. First book edited by December and submitted to the first five editors by January 1.).

D. Break down those steps into manageable daily goals, taking into account some down time–days you won’t be writing, like holidays, weekends, whatever. (30 pages written per week, six days a week, five pages a day)

E. (This one’s the most important) Make the commitment to meeting those goals every day.

F. Finally, celebrate every time you meet those goals. Did you meet your daily page count? Have some chocolate. Or enjoy some time playing on the Divas. Did you finish a book? Treat yourself to a pedicure or a dinner out with someone special. Select whatever rewards that’ll keep you going when the temptation to let a goal slip hits you. Believe me, it will.

Do you want to be published so bad it burns in your gut? If so, you’re half way there. Set those goals and work, work, work.

See you next time. I’ll give you a little hint of what’s next. Habit 5’s a four-letter word.

Unique book promotion idea.

Friday, June 11th, 2010

While reading one of my fave blogs, I stumbled upon a link to This Article on www.nypost.com. An author named Jennifer Belle hired 40 actresses to sit in public places (within NYC)  and laugh out loud while reading her book. It’s a very creative idea, and in at least one respect brilliant because it’s getting her some additional press.

One of the biggest challenges an author faces is getting word of her book out to the public. According to UNESCO, there were between 150,000 and 200,000 new titles published in 2005, in the US alone (I haven’t been able to locate more recent numbers). I’ve read the average fiction novel sells anywhere between 5,000 and 11,000 copies (this number, I’m guessing takes into account returns). With over 100,000 books published every year, it’s not newsworthy to have your novel published, at least according to television, radio and newspapers.

I believe, as book publishers struggle to find their footing in this volatile market, promotion budgets will be slashed and authors will be forced to take on the burden of marketing his/her books.  In most cases, this has already happened. More and more, authors are going to have to come up with unique and fresh ideas to promote their work. It’s not enough to write a great book anymore. And then another. And another. Those great books could very well end up being recycled to print another author’s great book.

So how does Jane Author get the media’s attention so her book, one of 150,000 or more, finds its way into the hands of readers instead of the bottom of a recycling bin? I don’t have the answer. Quite the opposite, as an author who is anxiously anticipating her upcoming release, I would love to come up with something mad/brilliant/newsworthy to promote my books. Perhaps looking outside the publishing industry would be wise? Can you think of a product that was promoted in an unusual/unique/interesting way? I’d love to hear about it.

Bookshelf Porn

Monday, June 7th, 2010

IMO, there aren’t very many things more perfect or more beautiful than a wall of full bookshelves.
For those of you out there who agree with me, there’s Bookshelf Porn. My personal fave: this hidden door bookshelf, leading to a room full of books.

Bookshelf door

I just had a bookgasm 🙂

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Authors: Habit Three

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Hello again! I hope you all had a great Memorial Day weekend!

So far, we’ve talked about two habits for highly effective authors: 1. Writing Every Day and 2. Learning about the Industry/Business side of publishing

Are you ready for habit number three?

3. Highly effective authors learn how to handle criticism.

I’ve been a member of many critique groups over the years, and there are always one or two (or more) members who expect everyone to love their work. Any “negative” (meaning, less than glowing) comment is met with a defensive (or hostile) rebuttal. This works against them in the long run, and puts them at a huge disadvantage later. How?

A. Because critique partners will sooner or later either learn to dance around the truth or give up critiquing altogether. That robs the writer of an opportunity to learn.

And,

B. Because a writer with very thin skin will often have a hard time accepting edits if she/he sells. That will put a strain on his/her relationships with future agents and editors.

Highly effective authors know they’ll be criticized on many fronts if their work is ever published. Critique partners. Editors. Agents. Readers. Reviewers. They have no choice but to develop a thick skin. They quickly learn the value of honest and constructive feedback, particularly when it’s coming from a reliable source…and before the book is in print, when it’s not too late to make changes.

Now, my personal critique partner horror story: I have to admit, I was clueless when I started writing. I was sure EVERYONE would love everything I’d written when I first started. But, thanks to a (now defunct) site called iPublish, which was somewhat similar to Gather’s First Chapter contests, my delusions were quickly squelched. Not everyone loved my work. Some did, yes. But others didn’t “get” it. And some hated it. “Why do you need demons in a romance story?” “Your scenes are overwritten.” and there was the “You don’t know what the hell you’re doing. Go back to kindergarten and learn how to write.”

Did those criticisms hurt? You bet! And (of course) I often felt they were dead wrong. But I learned, after selling and reading my first bad review, that it was better to hear about the bad BEFORE the book was in print, rather than after.

I now embrace the critic. Are they sometimes wrong? Maybe. But I tend to see some truth in every bit of criticism I read of my work. And I take those grains of truth and apply them, hoping the next book will be better.

Remember, it might take one editor to love a story for your book to be published. But it’s going to take thousands of readers to love a story for you to sell your next book.
Learn from the criticism you receive. Grow. Challenge yourself. Resist the urge to post any kind of defense of your work…and be a Highly Effective Author.

Anyone care to share their critique partner horror stories? Post them in the comments.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Authors: Habit Two

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Before we dig into the second habit of Highly Effective Authors, I thought I’d remind you that last week we talked about Habit 1: Writing Daily.

Habit 2. Published authors learn about/understand the business side of publishing.

Highly effective authors aren’t shocked when they get their first (or their tenth) rejection. They realize publishing is highly subjective. They have realistic expectations regarding submissions and rejections (unlike me when I first started). And they are determined to keep trying, even when they have collected enough “Dear Author” rejection letters to wallpaper their entire home.

Highly effective authors know how to professionally submit their work. They are able to generate a well-written query letter and synopsis. They use correct manuscript formatting and are well aware of both the do’s and don’ts of submitting. (Side note, for a humorous look at the do’s and don’ts read my How to Not Get Published).

Highly effective authors not only know why they must research publishers and agents (identifying scams, locating submission guidelines, etc.), but how to find what they need on the internet. When they need information, they turn to accurate and reliable sources, such as Writer Beware, Piers Anthony and Predators and Editors, rather than gossip blogs.

And finally, highly effective authors know how publishing works. They know and respect the differences between epublishing and print. They have some understanding of print runs and marketing. Branding and creating buzz. Google Ranking. They understand that writing is a craft but publishing is a business, and they realize that in today’s market they have to be both craftsman (craftswoman) and entrepreneur.

Overwhelmed yet? I hope not.

Yes, all this stuff requires reading, research…and yes, time. But again, time spent learning about the industry never interferes with Habit Number One–writing.

Next time, a habit that’s painful to a lot of writers…