Thursday, October 2, 2014

You Can Be A Starving Artist - Just Don't Dress The Part

I fully understand that writing is an independent activity. This is one of those where we sit for long hours at the computer, working hard to get that right phrase, or craft that great dialogue. I fully understand we might spend hours in some bookstore or a coffee shop researching what we are going to do with our characters in the next scene. All of these are clearly "casual" activities that do not require a lot of make-up or dressing up. We need to be casual. We want to be casual. 

In all honesty, there is nothing wrong with getting up, wearing that tattered sweatshirt and lounge
pants if that is the best thing to get you writing. There is nothing wrong with wearing your "lucky hat" that you "always wear" when you want inspiration. But... there is a time and place.

Even though this is a business where the majority of the work we do is in private, when it is time to head out into public, that starving artist routine you have needs to be left behind. This is a profession and not a hobby. You are now a professional so get it in gear people and dress the part.

I am always amazed when I attend writers conferences and see the outfits people are wearing. You have all types here from those people who seem to think they need to "dress the part of their genre" to those who seem to think they have just gotten up and were in the middle of taking the garbage out to the front curb but then decided to make a detour to a writer's conference. 

Maybe I am channeling my grandfather here. He always complained about the women he would see at the store who had curlers in their hair and just slapped a scarf over the top. He would always wonder if getting that full week's worth of grocery was that important and needed to be done at that exact moment. Couldn't the person take that extra 10 minutes to do something with her hair?

Don't get me wrong people. Writing conferences are long and we need to be casual. I get it! But there is casual and there is business casual. It is this second one we want to see.

I should also include here those authors I mentioned earlier that seem to think dressing in the style of their genre is "representing their brand." Umm, sorry people, it isn't going to work. Teens do this all of the time to see if they can "get the attention of people in the grocery store." You are adults and the only attention you are getting is one that will not get you that book contract. 

Your reputation is not simply based on the books you write. Authors match the name with the face and the outfits you wear. I know there are writers I see at RWA that I certainly do match their writing with the outfits they wear. "Oh, I remember that person with the [insert outfit]! Yep, they were weird." And you know what, I don't tend to make an effort to approach the person and find out what they write. When I see them at book signings, I might glance over to see what they write, but I never go and get the book. The "outfit" told me this person was not a professional.

It is beyond crucial for you as an author to think of what image and what message you are sending to your readers. Is this something that shows your ability to be a professional writer and someone we should pay you money to continue your craft? Or, Is this an image that says maybe the only money we should give to you is for finding you something decent to wear out in public. 

It is your choice! But, since this is a business of gathering readers and not running away the readers, I might recommend taking the professional approach.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Write What You Know

We have all heard that expression before. We need to write from what we know. We write from our own experiences. Unfortunately, in this business of publishing, I have seen far too many authors ignoring these rules they tell others to do. Authors are now writing from what they know.

What do I mean? This is the whole issue of trying to write in that newest and hottest trendy genre. Authors are always jumping ship on their current work in progress when they read an article, or hear and editor or agent talk about the hottest new trend. Time and time again, I have heard authors say "I heard Editor X is really looking for a story about [fill in the blank]. I have this great idea for a project that might work so I am going to go and write it." WRONG!!!!

Now there are several problems with this statement. The first is, when we as editors and agents say something like that, we are hoping that someone already has a project along those lines. We aren't looking to wait 3-6 months to find it. That opportunity will be gone and we will have moved on to a new idea. But the second issue, with doing this is the bigger issue. Does the author have any experience in that genre.

I am going to use YA and New Adult as the model for this discussion, but it can really extend to any other genre out there. When these two genres really took off, a ton of authors started diving into writing their versions. For many, however, they had no experience with this age group. Sure, they were this age a while ago, but that was it. Many didn't have kids in the house this age, they weren't working in careers around this age group. They weren't even reading this genre. They were completely isolated from it. But now, they believed they would immerse themselves into this genre.

When authors do this, the stories become too forced and too cliche. The characters say and do things that seem so out of place. All of this stems from the author really lacking a true understanding of the genre. There is much more to a New Adult novel than simply a college student worrying about dating and getting a job. It is a mindset.

I have always found it interesting how many authors submit stories for me for lines within Harlequin because the genre and word count fit, but when you ask the author how much they read of the line, you find they haven't really read it before. They read other genres or they read single title. This tells me a lot.

You might be wondering if you can learn to write in a different genre and the answer is a resounding yes. You certainly can, but it takes time to really learn the genre well. It takes time to figure out the little nuances that make it special and unique. When you spend the time reading the genre, you do see those common phrases and patterns, but more importantly, you start to see WHY the author used those techniques and WHY that technique had an impact on the story.

When editors and agents tell you to "read what we produce" there is a reason to it. Despite what some of the authors think out there that this is just a subversive ploy to increase sale, the reality is they are trying to help you. They want you to find that perfect match to the publisher.

Maybe, just maybe, if you start listening to that suggestion and write what you read, you might find those rejection letters decreasing and maybe get "the call" you have been hoping for.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Even Bad Boys Have To Be Mama's Boys

I was reading a client's project last week that we have prepped for a particular editor. When we do something new like this, we often build the story from the ground up and spend a lot of time thinking through plots and characters to insure we are heading in the right direction. In any case, after reading through the first three pages, it hit me that the hero was really a jerk. Yes, there were some comments that were tossed in that implied he was supposed to be a good guy, but darn it, at the end of that partial, I really struggled to like the guy.

Unfortunately, there are so many stories that I have seen where the writer has tried to create this tough "bad boy" image for the hero, and made him so much of a "bad boy" that he becomes unlikable. The machismo, toughness or hard exterior the author created now has build up such a wall it become tough for the reader to connect with him.

If you think of this outside of writing, this happens all of the time. If someone moves into your neighborhood, or starts up in your company and his or her attitude is cold and distant, it becomes really hard to break that shell and get to know the person. What's worse is, the longer you don't talk to the person, the harder it is to finally get up the nerve to say something later. Eventually, there is nothing you can do to make that connection.

For an author, those opening pages of the book - essentially those first three chapters - is crucial to give the reader a chance to like the hero and heroine. The two of them might not be able to get along, but we have to make a connection with them. The rakes can really be bad boys, but we also have to see the softer side at some point. The tough cop can be ruthless at the station, but when he comes home, show us that softer side. It doesn't have to be much, but something has to be there.

In the case of my author and her story, it took a whole 2 paragraphs we had to insert to give us a sense of why he was being such a jerk to the heroine in the opening pages. We didn't need to have pages of back story or pages of mindless drivel and introspection. It was a small piece of introspection where he simply said to himself, "I have to stay distant to her. I cannot fall for her again (yes they had a prior relationship). He had to get her away soon because he knew, the longer he was around her, the harder the fall would be."

It is that little piece that we give to the reader to allow us to accept that  ruthlessness.

I do think authors make this mistake because they "don't want to give away too much." In other words, they are trying too hard to keep the reader in the dark just as much as the other characters. I should note, we see this also with query letters where the author "doesn't want to give away the ending to the agent." This is true for back cover blurbs for the consumer, but for the agent, we need to know. The same goes for the reader. It is OK for us to know things the other character doesn't know. This builds suspense.

So, if you do have those bad boys in your story, go ahead and keep 'em. We like these guys, but remember, to show that softer side. Let us in on their little secret of being a mama's boy and make sure it happens early in the story. I promise, your readers will not tell the heroine about that softer side. It will be our little secret until she finds out about it and then falls madly in love with him.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Holes In Your Story? Maybe You Should Consider Plotting

Before I get started on this, I want to say that I don't want to hear from any of you out there who believe plotting takes away your creativity. Plotting has nothing to do with creativity. It has everything to do with organization and spotting those mistakes in your story before you get to them.

As most of you know, I am a big fan of plotting. When we plot stories, we can actually write faster because we know where we are going but more importantly, you can spot the holes in your story well in advance. I hear far too many author out there who believe that being a pantster is the best way to go. Of course the majority of those authors also speak of hitting brick walls in the middle of their stories and then having to figure out how to get out of the mess. Often that requires backtracking and re-writing large sections of your story.

Now I don't know about you, but I simply do not have the time to waste to go back and do something again. My time is precious and to go back and completely re-write something that I spent hours working on the first time is not a good use of time.

You really don't have to plot out everything in a formal outline so you know every page number when things are going to happen, but you should take the time to know how your characters are going to get from Point A to Point B in your story. You should plot it out long enough to know how the bad guy causes the trouble, how the characters get to that dark moment and most importantly, how they are going to get out of it.

In recent weeks, I have read several full manuscripts from authors who are clearly writing by the seat of their pants and not plotting. I am finding huge holes in the story. Somehow the characters end up in a location and they never left the first place. Somehow they find out something about the other character, but they were never in a situation to get that piece of information.

We have to remember these are huge issues for our readers. They will nail you hard for these mistakes. Sure, there will be many who miss the mistake, or they might be nice and allow that mistake, but unfortunately, too many will completely write you off and never return to your writing. They have lost faith in you and your writing.

Do me a favor. If you are someone who hasn't ever tried it, take the time to do so. You might be surprised that you still have your creativity and you have found all of those mistakes.