Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Why Romance Will Always Be A Big Seller In Fiction

We go into bookstores and have to go to a back corner to find the romance section. We go to general fiction writing conferences and hear other writers say "Oh? You write romance?" with a tone as if they are looking down their noses. But, I am sorry to say this to all of you who think so little of this genre, romance has been around for a long time and is not going anywhere.

Obviously the numbers say it all. This is a $1 Billion dollar industry with 64% reading romance at least once a month. These figures come from the Romance Writers of America, but if you ask romance writers and readers, the numbers really are not the big picture.

Why is it that people read romance? For the simple fact that we love the happily ever after! We love watching a couple go through the same struggles we face every single day, and always triumph. Good does triumph over evil. We read these novels because, although we know how the story will end, this is a chance for us to work through our own issues through the lives of the characters.

Romance novels are not about the things that happen behind closed doors, like so many believe. These are stories about real people (O.K. some may be vampires and other paranormal beings) with real emotions and real feelings. We read these stories to watch relationships build and, for those of us in relationships, this is a chance to relive our own relationships.

If you ask the followers of the Diana Gabaldon OUTLANDER series, although they might take a bit of pleasure in seeing Jamie run around in a kilt and no shirt, what they really talk about is how the Jamie and Claire truly love each other. They talk about the relationship. They talk about the things they do for each other. That is romance!

These stories make us smile. We can be sitting on a commuter train or bus in the busiest city in the world, coming home after a completely terrible day, and disappear into a world of complete happiness. And people have been doing this for centuries. When you consider the time Shakespeare was writing and performing his plays, this was not exactly the most pleasant of times. The real world was pretty disgusting, but when that audience walked into the doors of the Globe Theatre and saw Romeo and Juliet, they saw romance. When they watched Beatrice and Benedict struggle during the early acts of Much Ado About Nothing and triumph in the end as they recognized they truly were in love, that ugly world outside was gone. And, I am sure, when they walked out the door, back into the real world, they probably did so with a smile on their face.

Romance is the ultimate example of a humanities genre. These are stories about humans. These are stories that study humans. And these are stories that celebrate humans. So, is romance going away soon? I think not.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Why Memorizing or Reading Your Pitch Is Wrong

I am always amazed at the approaches some of the authors (no actually a lot of authors) take when it comes to pitching their project to an editor or an agent. I understand that authors have a limited amount of time to actually pitch their project to the professionals, but the approaches they have chosen are pretty much guaranteeing them a certain rejection. They may not get it right there at the table in that hotel conference room, but it is coming. The idea of memorizing an elevator pitch or having it all written out is the worst thing a writer can do.

When I hear authors talk of this approach, the rationale is simply, "I don't want to forget anything." or "I am really nervous about this." First of all, this is ridiculous. You have been working with this story for months now and frankly, if you don't know your own story by now, you really have no business talking to an editor or an agent. Secondly, and this is the big one, if you are this nervous talking to someone about your pride and joy, then publishing is not the business for you. This is a PUBLIC business where to make it in the world you will be EXPECTED to talk to people. If the only people you can talk to are your characters at the computer screen or the cat curled up on your desk that you frequently send social media posts to your friends about, then consider some other business where the public is not coming into play.

Pitching to editors and agents give you an additional marketing tool that you simply do not get when you send in an unsolicited manuscript or proposal via email or snail mail. You are getting a chance to show your personality. You get to demonstrate to the editors and agents that it isn't just your amazing manuscript they get, but they get you and your professionalism.

When you sit there and read your pitch, your you turn on your "deer in the headlight" look and crank out that scripted pitch, you are showing the world you are far from prepared. And then, when you add in all of those apologies about how sick you are, how tired you are, or how scared you are, consider that a big billboard saying, "I am a loser and would be the worst person representing your company." I don't care how good your story is, you have just demonstrated you don't have it.

I would also remind you the pitch session IS a job interview. Consider this. Do you sit down and read your resume and cover letter at a job interview. Do you tell that corporate executive "I am really nervous, this is my first time" or do you shove a business card in their hand the moment you sit down at the table? Absolutely not! You present yourself in a professional manner, and you show that person sitting across the table from you that you are the best person for the job.

So, if your writing chapter has been doing sessions on elevator pitches, or your roommate at the conference is pushing you to write out that pitch, consider that a wrong move!

What we want is simple.

  • Be yourself
  • Be professional
  • Tell us about your project
  • Give us the basics - title, genre and word count
  • Tell us what makes this story unique
  • Tell us what else you are working on.
And, again... if you can't do that, then maybe cancel that appointment, give it to someone else who is ready and return to your room. There, you can sit down behind the computer and write that query letter. But, please be advised, you will still have to talk to us at sometime or another.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Is Your Book Timeless?

I see a lot of writers who want to jump onto the bandwagon and craft novels around specific things that are happening in present day society. These trends seem like a great marketing tool because the audience is already there. And, while this might have an impact at the time you are writing that novel, will that trend still be there a year or two from now? We tend to forget that by the time your book that you are marketing to that editor or agent reaches the bookshelves, you may be a year out. 

I recently had a wave of submissions where authors were structuring novels around those current trends. One person, in particular, was marketing the book around a current musical trend. Or at least it was recent when the author wrote the story. In this case, the group is no longer one of the top groups out there, and, based on the expert opinion of my teenage daughter, this group is "so yesterday."

When I looked at the writing, it was pretty good, but as I contemplated where we could sell the story, that audience is simply not going to jump on board. This target audience was a YA/New Adult group and, while they do jump on trends fast, they also dump the trends equally as fast. 

In simple terms, this book will not sell.

When you are looking at stories with a premise that is not timeless, or you decide to write fan fiction genres, you need to understand you are taking a huge risk. If the trend is still strong when you are submitting to those editors and agents you might be in good shape, but... do you have an escape parachute? Are you prepared for when that market is gone? This is really one of those cases where you have to be careful "putting all of your eggs in one basket."

Just something to consider on a Friday!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

You Can't Write A High Concept If Your Story Doesn't Have One

Yesterday, I had on my "Oldies Station", you know the one that plays things from the 80's? (I really didn't need that yesterday)...and... they were playing Air Supply's "Making Love Out of Nothing All." Needless to say, that nice little "ancient" ditty, got me thinking about something I see a lot with many authors and their submissions or pitches. Authors trying to make something out of nothing.

One of the key elements we need to hear in a submission, pitch or marketing tool (for those of you in self-publishing" is the "High Concept" of your story. In one or two sentences, we need to know what is unique and marketable about your story. What is it that makes this story stand out from all of the other projects out there and makes the reader, editor, or agent want to buy the project? Taking the word itself, it is simply saying what makes your "Concept" "Higher" or better than all of the other projects out there?

Many seem to think that the high concept is nothing more than describing your plot by combining two different books or authors. "My story is really a mix of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time and Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who." Now, while using this can sometimes clear up a confusing story, it really doesn't show us what makes this story unique from all of the other projects out there.

So, getting back to Air Supply. For many authors, when it is time to write that query, craft that pitch or even answer the editor or agent when we ask what they would describe as the high concept, and all they come up with is silence, the answer should be glaring them in the face. The story simply doesn't have a high concept. There is nothing special to it.

I remember working with a group of authors over a weekend where we had one session on query letters. We outlined a basic query letter and I had them working on it independently for a few minutes. As I looked around the room, I saw pencils, pens and computer keyboards frozen in time. Their faces had those deer in the headlight look. The silence was deafening. Suddenly, one author called me over to her table and looked me in the eye and said this was impossible.

I asked here what the problem was and her answer was immediately agreed on by the other authors at the table. "My story isn't unique."

Now, this is where things get really difficult. A) If your query letter should contain a high concept; and B) Your story doesn't contain a high concept, what are your options?

First of all, (and this is that Air Supply link), you cannot make something out of nothing. In other words, writing something to tell the editor, agent or author that your story is special when it isn't cannot be made up. It becomes very obvious to all of us on this end that you are tying to sell us on something that isn't there. Think of those movie previews where the producers have filled that short clip with explosions, loud music and so forth, but in the end, there is nothing that makes the movie stand out. Why? There is no high concept.

Secondly, this might mean you will have to go back to the storyboard and see what you can do with the story. You may be looking at a serious re-write, or just a huge over-haul. I will tell you, just changing names or locations will not make the story unique.

Finally, you may need to focus your attention, not on this book, but the one newest project. Before you get too far into it, you might want to start thinking about that high concept. This is really where those plotters have it figured out. Make sure it is there from the ground up.

Now, for those of you getting ready to send out submissions today, or this weekend, take the time to look at that submission. What makes your story unique? Are you showing us? Or are you getting ready to send us something like everything else out there?