Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Love Stories Are Not Necessarily Romances

I receive a lot of submissions for stories claiming to be romance but, in reality, these are just stories with either romantic elements or love stories. Although these stories share many of the same characteristics, they aren't quite the same thing. It is important for writers to know exactly what the genre is that they write so they can better market it to readers, editors and agents.

So what is a romance? Let's keep this short and sweet today.

When we think of a romance genre, we need to start with the central story arc. These are stories about relationships. When we read a romance, we are following the two characters as they grow together into a stronger relationship. The ultimate goal here is to get them to a happily ever after. This may or may not be marriage.

The level of sensuality is not a factor in romance. A lot of people feel that the sex level needs to be there for it to be a romance. They often believe if there is no sex, then it is women's fiction. Nope! Not the case! It is all about the relationship building.

Love stories have a focus on other elements and the relationship is not the key here. These stories may also end up without a happily ever after.

When I talk to authors during pitch sessions I often find myself really listening to what the authors are saying. If they spend the entire pitch (or query) talking about how the two are coming together, then we are likely listening to a romance. If the emphasis is on other elements, then we might be talking about love stories.

So, to test this, tell someone about your story, or simply tape yourself talking. Don't read the memorized pitch or read anything. Just talk. Then go back and listen to what is stressed. This will tell you a lot about what genre you write.

Monday, September 26, 2016

I Give You Permission To Struggle

Things are not always going to be easy when you are a writer.

I know this sounds like a "Captain Obvious" comment, and maybe it is. Unfortunately, as authors, we are often obsessed with making every day of writing perfect and every scene we write, the best ever. We beat ourselves up when we have a bad writing day, or if we get a review from "some jerk on Amazon who clearly doesn't get it."

Look, I get it! These are not things that we want to happen in our writing career, but these things will happen. And you do have permission to struggle every now and then with your writing.

You have permission to spend your entire day just attempting to get 500 words written.

You have permission to write a totally sucky scene just to throw it away the next day.

But here is the thing. Tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow things will probably go well for you and the words will flow endlessly. Tomorrow you will find divine inspiration and every word you write will be golden.

I don't know if you remember Martin Landau's Oscar speech from a while ago, but he went on and on about the "peaks and valleys" of his career. Like Mr. Landau, you too will have those struggles. But it is OK. You will make it through it.

Just a little motivation for a Monday.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Proving Yourself Takes Time

I am always talking about how much time it takes in publishing. There is the time it takes to get responses back from agents and certainly the time it takes to get that contract. But time also plays a huge role in establishing yourself as an author. It takes time to prove yourself to everyone out there.

First of all, it takes time for your readers to warm up to you. Sure, your first book may be amazing, but often, readers want to see if your 2nd, 3rd and even 4th book is going to live up to that reputation. There are simply a lot of "one-hit-wonders" out there so be aware that your first book may just be average in sales, but that doesn't mean the book is bad. You are just getting introduced to a lot of new readers.

Secondly, it is going to take some time to prove yourself to those editors and agents. Although you might want to be a part of that continuity or that upcoming anthology, the editors are simply not going to toss that project your direction right from the start. They want to see how well you work. They want to see how well you take feedback. And they want to see where your writing is really going in terms of your voice. You might feel your voice fits with that project, but the editors might see it another way.

Finally, even your agents need time to warm up to you. They may spend a lot of time micro-managing your career in the early stages, but, as you prove yourself, they may back off and see what you can do.

Again, this takes time.

So enjoy the ride. Your time will come. I promise you!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Don't Just Read The Great Books, Read the Garbage Too!

When we first start writing, we are often drawn to some of the great authors in our genre. We want to "be just like them." In fact, this happens with a lot of different disciplines (teaching, art, sports and so forth). We want to learn from the best. In fact, I have spoke about this same concept several times here on the blog when we talked about critique partners or deciding on workshops and classes you want to attend. However, when it comes to learning from other author's writing, or say my son wanting to watch Michael Phelps and learn from observation, that approach might not be the best.

The problem is that with many of these people who are really good at what they do, their talent is really coming naturally. They have likely moved past that clinical approach beginners take when it comes to their craft and we just aren't going to be able to see those small little nuances that make that huge difference in the final product.

There is also another problem we face by trying to learn from these people. As beginning writers, we are often in awe of this person and their craft. As we read their novels, we are "swept away with the story," or "we fall in love with their heroes." You know what I mean ladies. When you first read Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER you ran around dreaming of Jamie and wondering why your husband couldn't be more like him.

But how can we learn if we don't look at the best?

When I teach writing classes at the college, I often get students who ask me to provide examples of what I mean when I talk about something like "writing that is rambling" or "transitions that lack fluency." I have to say, coming up with an answer to this is harder than you think and the reason is simple. I don't look to provide examples of the bad writing, I try to provide the good examples, much like writers do when they go to the amazing writers for guidance. But, I have found the solution. I use their writing.

When we see something that isn't working, it forces us to really study that writing and determine what is going on. Learn from it! What  is it that the authors are doing that are not working for you? What techniques are they using that are working against the story or making the connection between the author and the reader not quite right? But more importantly, what would you do to fix the problem.

The idea is simple. If there are things that are bad in their writing, you need to find a way to NOT do what they are doing in their story.

I was speaking to one of my authors recently and she was venting over this book she just picked up. She couldn't understand why the editor would have ever wanted to print this particular book. She also couldn't figure out why reviewers were apparently saying this book was great. So I took a look at the story. I had to agree with my author. This story really wasn't that good. But what we did do was spend the time dissecting what the author might have been thinking when she wrote that novel. We tried to determine what the editors and reviewers were thinking. It was this dissection that gave us a better understanding of the editor, the publisher and even what seemed to be working. We also had a chance to reflect over my author's writing and identify things she was doing that worked.

Reading the bad stuff also gives us a chance to reflect on things that don't work for us as readers. Seeing this in someone else's writing forces us to become hypersensitive to those strategies in our own writing. If we don't like it in other books, then let's not put it in our own stories.

So, if you want to really learn, start reading those bad stories. Read the stories that get 1 and 2 star reviews. Figure out what they are doing...

and then don't do it in your own writing.