Sunday, May 20, 2018

Considering The Golden Heart...

For those of you in the Romance Industry, two awards have stood out as representing top achievements in writing - The Golden Heart and The RITA. As many of you saw just recently, the Board of Directors of the Romance Writers of America are looking to eliminate the Golden Heart due to a decrease in submissions and the cost of running the award. While I fully understand the reason the Board is looking at making this tough decision, I do personally believe that there may be an even bigger underlying reason for this decline.

The Board noted that these are just "changing times" in the industry. I contend, however, that there is a bigger reason to consider, and this has something to do with how the two contests are being run and, more importantly, being judged. This is something that I have argued for some time, and it has always fallen on deaf ears.

Let's start first with the how these are judged.

Both awards have essentially one criteria to look at the book. "Did I like the book?" That's it. Now, to be fair, in the directions for both awards, they do try to suggest things to consider when looking at the book, but it is still a purely subjective call. To add to this, the books that people judge are often books in genres they do not normally read, or may not be familiar with at all.

If you give someone who only reads sweet romances or inspirational romance a book with a high heat level or even erotica, how will that book score? The answer is simple, not well. If I don't like reading that genre, I will never score it high.

The solution to this is easy. Score it with a standard rubric. Look at things such as plot development, character development, setting, dialogue and so forth. Using a standard criteria would allow someone to look at the project objectively. I can rate something on character development, even if I do not like what that character may be doing.

I do know many have said they do not believe a rubric like this would work because each genre is different. That, I am sorry to say is wrong. Yes, if I write a rubric that says, "Is this piece of historical fiction accurate?" it would not work for a contemporary. But the writers of that criteria. do not have to be that specific.

The key is to get rid of that subjectivity.

The second reason is who does the judging. I get that we want the membership to read the books and do the judging. But if we have authors who are not published, or who are just self publishing books that are not that high in quality, you have a situation of the blind leading the blind. Add in that vague criteria, and the contest becomes what I have heard so many authors argue, "A Crap Shoot." You get judges who don't know their butt from a hot rock and you are screwed.

The RITA is also no different, but in this case, you have one additional factor that comes into play. When these books show up to be judged, we see the covers, publishers and authors. You cannot tell me that there are judges (and I am betting far more than you would think) who open up that box and say, "Hey, I got Jane Smith's book! She has won this award before! I like her books!" Um, far from objective. I think you will also have authors who open that box up, and see the publishers and already start making decisions. "Oh, that's a Harlequin! I'm not a fan."

This solution is so easy. Submit a manuscript free of names and covers. Make it fair.

Now, let's add in the cost. These are expensive! You are spending a ton of money just for a crap shoot? Not a worthwhile investment.

I do believe that the lower numbers of submissions are not due to the changing times, but the lack of return on investment. I do believe authors would continue to support the program if they knew they would be judged fairly and those that win really do represent the best of the best and not those lucky enough to get judges who are either liberal with the scoring, or just like a particular genre of book.

Just something to consider.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

What To Cut And What To Lose From Your Story

I was talking with a client a couple of days ago and we were venting about some recent books we had read. Other than the normal, "How did this even get past an editorial board?" discussions, one of the biggest things we looked at were the number of books with so much useless information included. So, that led to the question: what do cut and what to keep?

I get that when we are writing, our brains start to take over and we really don't "think" about the words going on to those pages. At the time we are writing those scenes, everything seems relevant. We know that our readers will need all of that information either at that exact moment, or even when we get to a later scene. Unfortunately, 90% of the time, that is not the case. Now, the time you spent writing those scenes and the time it will take for the reader to get through that useless scene is for nothing.

One of the first rules I follow when it comes to looking at the need for a scene is simply, "Does it advance the storyline." Does the inclusion of that scene, that character, that segment move the plot any further? In many cases, that scene only sets a tone or is a vehicle to get the characters from one scene to the next.

I think a great example of this is something one of my writers faced while writing her last book. She had a great well written scene with the hero and heroine in a carriage driving out to a summer house. In the end, however, we felt the story was just slow right there. The answer was simple. Cut the scene. The dialogue the shared in the carriage, the introspection and all of that other "stuff" was cut down to one paragraph at the summer house. Something to the effect of "The three hour carriage ride was fantastic. They talked about their goals and dreams. They shared thoughts about the latest politics..." I think you get the idea.

If you think about it, this all comes down to word economy. Those 2000 words you used to describe that carriage ride can easily be used for more worthy things later in the story.

So, ask yourself today. Does the story need that scene, or is it something you just need to see in your head as an author to get the characters to their next destination?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Come on people! This IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE!!!!

Look, I fully understand writing the perfect query letter is tough. I fully understand trying to understand what is hot and what is not in the publishing world is something even Stephen Hawking would have run from. BUT, reading what and editor or agent wants in a submission is not that difficult.

In the past week, I have received multiple submissions and letters from authors who openly state that they have read over my guidelines but really don't know how to submit the material. What is even scarier is that these are email directly from my website.

Let me show you something. This is a screenshot from my one of my submission pages:

I tried to make this as simple as possible...

But wait, there's more. Should you use the form I have provided you would see this.

Again, this is not that hard.

Fill in what you have and hit submit. Please also note the word count on this form? You would not believe the number of people who submit projects that are well below 75,000 on the word count. You would not believe the number of people who, instead of putting the Premise of the Story in the box, will simply cut and paste and entire synopsis (again, see the word count) or even the story.

Yes I know this is a bit of a rant, but I am not the only person out there. We are all seeing this with submissions.

Following directions is a major skill that agents and editors are wanting to see in an author. When we send revision material, we so want to make sure you can take those steps.

I understand that you have been taught to ask if something is unclear, but, for the most part, submission guidelines are easy. Just read! You might find the number of rejections will decrease a bit.