Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Caution: Making Your Sequel A Saga

We do know, in the publishing world, readers love to have a series of books to follow. We love seeing some characters we met in book 1 eventually have their own book and their own story to tell. This is a great way to really keep your readers going, especially if they know this first book is part of a series. Hopefully, your first book rocks and it makes the reader beg for more. However, there is a point and time when you have to just let something go.

I have, however, seen several authors really pushing the concept. These authors had a great series and then decided to go back and write about everything from the cousins of the neighbors of the characters in the first book. When the trend for the Jane Austin books was hot, I saw authors literally reaching deep down into the family trees just to find anyone potentially connected with Mr. Darcy to write about. The problem is that this is now going too far.

The reality is that new readers just picking up one of these books will not know all of the connections. You are only drawing on your "base" (to use a political term). Sure, you might get readers who say, "Hey this is a new book in the Hamilton Brother Series," but the allure of those brothers will not likely be there with these new random people who probably didn't make any appearance in those first books.

I really think of writing a series as knowing when to stop. Give the readers something. Get them hooked, and then give them a great conclusion and move on.

For authors, continually pushing a series beyond that first series really starts to stagnate the characters and their world. As an author, you really cannot create anything new and unique for the reader. On the outside, the stories eventually become repetitive.

So, before you start thinking this series can extend to 8-15 more books, consider again. Will you wear out your readers? Will you stagnate? More importantly, since sales drive your future, are you willing to risk this?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Use Hobbies and Interests As A Basis To Your Novels

Authors are frequently told to write what they know. And yet, all too often, writers shy away from that knowledge when writing their novels. I have suggested to a writer friend of mine, who loves writing romance, AND who happens to be in the medical profession, to consider writing for the Harlequin Medical line, or even anything where the setting is in the medical field. Despite the fact that this person is a walking font of information for this style of writing, she avoids the idea.

In reality, if you have a background in a particular area, you are a fool for not tapping into that work. Authors with a background in history should really consider writing historicals. Those with unique hobbies can find ways to work that into their stories.

Now, does this work all of the time? Probably not. I don't know how many stories I have seen coming across my desk of "struggling romance authors finding their own romance." Not exactly a big seller. I would also say that a story where the hero is an accountant might not be the sexiest of all stories. Still, the authors can tap into that knowledge to craft other character. Consider that accountant. The odds are this author could probably create a pretty kickin' story around investigating a money laundering scam.

I remember Jo Beverly once explaining why she stuck with the same time period in history. The answer was pretty simple. She knew the time so why would she want to go out and spend the time trying to fully immerse herself in another time period. Seemed pretty obvious to me.

One of my authors writes romantic suspense. She puts her characters in some pretty remote sections of the world. As we were drafting a new series for her, we were looking for some new areas. I tossed out one location and her comment was, "Shoot, I haven't traveled there yet. Might have to shy away from that area for now until I can convince the family to let me travel there." Good thinking!

The point of this is simple. If you have some knowledge in a field, use it. Why go out and research something new when the tools are right there for you.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Don't Over Complicate Your Story

Too often, I find authors who have a great premise to their stories, and yet, completely screw it up by over-complicating things. In most of the cases, the added complication comes from adding far too many additional sub-plots to the story. The result, is, the story completely loses focus from that central theme and story arc that sounded so good at the beginning.

When I explain this to writers, I love to use the Harry Potter series as a great example. Consider that last novel. By the time Rowling got to The Deathly Hollows, she had so many sub-plots going and so many characters that it required two novels just to wrap things up. Everyone in the story needed a conclusion, and in some cases, the conclusions contradicted each other.

For authors doing this in a 75,000 - 100,000 story, the addition of all of these additional elements means that something else is going to be sacrificed. What we see is the story now lacking a depth of character and plot development. In other words, in order to get to all of the plots, the author sacrifices really providing depth for the central story arc.

What I have found is that this issue generally stems from authors getting hung up on the GMC's of their characters. This would be the Goals, Motivations and Conflicts. Authors spend so much time trying to justify behaviors that they end up creating additional plots. For example, a character is overly committed to their work and is a borderline work-a-holic. Instead of simply saying this is how this person has always been their entire life, they create a huge backstory with an abusive father. They may also create a secondary sub-plot with another company that is now run by a friend from college... and then it falls apart with a past relationship of someone stealing the other person's girlfriend... I think you can see where this goes to.

Adding over-the-top conflicts does the same thing. Instead of simply picking a great conflict and working with it, the author now creates multiple conflicts to make the story even more interesting or giving the character more challenges to work with. While this might seem like a great approach at that time, the author forgets that to solve the problems will require a lot of additional work. Again, to meet the word count issue, the main story is sacrificed.

As you are plotting your story, make sure to really pay attention to the main story arc. Think of everything that you are adding and keep asking yourself if those pieces can be done in an easier way. Can a character already in the story provide that information? Can this action or scene be justified with just a personality? The more you do this, the more you will keep that focus you wanted when you started writing the story.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Why Revisions Are So Difficult

So, you sent your story out to your editor or your agent. You love this story. You worked your "you know what" off and it contains all of your blood, sweat and tears. And then, you get that letter back saying something such as. "I really love the things you have done with this story but there are a few things that I think we need to work on." This is then followed up by pages of comments.


But the thing is that revisions are part of the entire writing process. It is the revision phase that really fleshes out that great story that you, your agent and your editor envisioned when you were discussing it at the proposal phase, But still, I get it. Revisions are tough. But why?

The biggest reason is that you, your agent, and your editor were looking at this story while wearing blinders. You know what I mean? Those things the race horse wear. Of course we are talking about this in the metaphorical sense. Each of the players in this story saw it being written one way. They saw the characters one way. They heard the discussions one way. And they saw the resolution of the conflict being played out in their unique way. When you have three sets of eyes looking at it this way, you will often run into things that seem to be impossible to resolve.

But this is not the case. The odds are, you are all looking at the exact same issues in the story. The struggle you are having is how to resolve those issues.

I know with many authors, they see the only way to resolve the story is a complete re-do of the entire story. They panic and see this changes as being something that will mandate time they simply feel they do not have in their life. The editors or the agents may also see it that way. But there is a solution.

As you look at the revisions, simply make a list of the problems and look at these in blocks of issues. What you will often find is that the issues back in Chapter 10 may all be fixed with a small tweak in Chapter 2. In other words, you made a mistake early on and for the next 8 chapters, you just dug your self into the problem deeper and deeper.

Secondly, look for the easy solutions. If you have great dialogue, but you ended up inserting another random character in the story to say those things, and the end result was a chapter that was just slowing the story down. You had to put that person into the story, work them in smoothly, get those lines out, and then work them out of the story. This is too much. Could another character figure this out? Could your protagonist just come to this understanding without bringing in someone else to tell them?

I always tell my authors to not panic when those revisions show up. Let's look at the comments and see what we can do.

Now, with that said, will there be times when the revisions are a pain. Yes. But now you know how to work through the problems.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Are You Thinking Like Your Characters?

I always remind authors to remember where literature falls in the area of education. Literature is part of the humanities division. These are stories that talk about the human experience and give us an insight into who we are as people. Now, why is this important? Because, as an author, you have to create the most realistic portrayal of your characters. And, the problem is, many fail to do so.

Too often, I find myself rejecting projects, not because the premise is not great. It often comes down to the fact that the author has simply written words on the page and not given the reader the depth of character development. We simply see characters talking on the page, but those characters are not really coming to life.

I also find that I end up passing on projects because the characters simply do not sound authentic. Their comments and behaviors are not what normal people would do in those situations. The author, instead, has used the characters' dialogue and actions simply to move the plot forward and not so much to give us a sense of the person.

So, as you work on your stories today, I want you to really listen to your characters. Would a "real" person say those things or act that way? Would a "real" person really have those emotions at that exact time? The more you do this, the easier it will be to draw your reader in.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Gossip and Rumors are Not Facts

The publishing industry is always full of change. Gosh, it seems like I say this a lot, but it is true. Editors change. Lines are created. Lines are eliminated. The list goes on and on. When these changes start happening, it is amazing how fast the stories flow around social media, and with each post, the stories often get tweaked, adjusted, and many times, move further and further away from the truth. As an author, it is important to be aware of these changes, but please also note, that what you might be reading may be an interpretation of what is really going on.

Authors need to understand that when these changes happen, these are BUSINESS decisions. These are not situations where someone is randomly making the change just because he or she wants to. These are not changes because someone who has no idea what they are doing made some executive decision. When these companies make changes, there were likely a lot of meetings and conversations that took place before hand. The goal of a company is to make money. Again, remember, this is business.

Consider some of the recent changes that have happened at Harlequin. Several of the lines have been scheduled for elimination. At this time, we simply know that the decisions were made. All of the conversations and meeting notes are certainly not out there, but know that these decisions were not taken lightly.

We can certainly speculate as to the reasons. In many cases, it might simply come down to sales that were simply not there. Why? The books were simply not being bought. The readers out there have shifted their attention to other interests.

We can also speculate that some of the lines, may simply have transformed over the years into duplicates of other stories out there.

The point is, we can only speculate.

So what can you do as an author? First of all, certainly pay attention to the changes. Make adjustments in your future plans to accommodate those changes. If these changes do not affect you, then just keep on doing what you are doing.

Secondly, if you do want to share your thoughts with your fellow writers, do so with caution. I would also recommend that if you do post something, simply remind people that this is all you know and you cannot read into things.

Just some things to consider as we move closer to the weekend.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Your Career And Unexpected Changes

We are always talking about how the publishing business is always changing. What worked one day stops working the next day. Things happen! And yes, it does mean that sometimes, those things will have a HUGE effect on your writing career. What do you do when you are suddenly faced with those career changing events.

First of all, it is important to always be thinking ahead in your career. You want to be proactive and not wait around for those tragic moments to happen. As an author you should have a clear sense of where you want your career to be in 6 months to even several years from now. What will you do if you find out that your current proposal is not going to work for that editor? Do you have a back up plan? Small little things like this will help you when these changes smack you in the face.

But let's talk about those moments when they do show up. Here are a couple of things to consider:
  1. Don't panic. Yes there will be a moment of wanting to run around the house screaming, or even moments of thinking a strong shot of something will help, but panic is the one thing you don't want. It is in moments such as this that we need rational thought.
  2. Can you adjust what you are doing? Let's say your current book project is now being cut due to changes at the publisher. Are there ways to take that same project and move it to another line? Is this something that can be held on to until something else shows up? Sometimes it might just be a small tweak that will help you out.
  3. Talk to your editors and agents. This is really the time for some conversations. No, you are not here to argue with them, but to spend time working on strategic plans. Work together to shape the next phase of your career.
  4. DO NOT dive into Social Media with your rants. Although there will be a part of you that wants to start placing blame and accusing everyone, this is not the time and place to do that. Remember, you don't get any of those thoughts back. Once those comments are out there, you are stuck with those comments. I would also add that you never know who is listening. Someone who may want to work with you now sees you as someone who is difficult.
  5. Review your career plans. This is the time to really inspect where you are now and where you want to be. It might simply mean that this change is going to head you in the right direction and not send you spiraling off course. Just relax and see what you need to do next.
  6. Visit your resources. When I talk of resources, I am talking about your colleagues. Do you have some colleagues who can steer your through this mess? Can these people get you into a new direction.
What you should see is that the rational and relaxed people will triumph in situations such as this. Those that panic??? Well, let's just say the future might not be so bright.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Finding Trends - Keeping Up With The Times

Editors and agents hate being asked the question of what seems to be the latest trend in publishing. We always end up saying, "If we knew that answer, we could predict the future." Still trends do happen in publishing and it is important that authors pay attention to those trends. Their writing has to adjust to the trends that are out there, or, they will find that their writing may flat-line. Your writing will end up looking like someone in the present day wearing a leisure suit.

When we talk about trends, we are talking about it on two different levels. The first would be the plots of the stories. The second would be the voice of the story. Let's talk about each.

The plots of the stories do change over time. Yes, I understand this is an obvious, no duh type of statement, but, it is a reality. What we are talking about here are what storylines work and do well and what plots are just not going to sell. There will be times when specific stories sell like hotcakes and then the next year, even marketing that story will result in more rejections letters than you can image.

Consider in the early 2000's the meteoric rise of the "chick lit" genre. Editors and agents were clamoring all over each other to get a piece of that pie. We saw paranormal writers jumping from the dark side to even creating vampires with an amazing sense of humor.

And then it stopped.

If you were to even breathe the word chick lit, those same editors and agents ran screaming.

We saw this in paranormals. Vampires and werewolves were hot. And then not.

In historicals, western's were really great stories, and then the tide shifted to these stories having a limited market.

Now please, do not get me wrong. There are still a few authors out there that can hold on, but for these authors, it is because of their following, not necessarily because of the general market.

So, as an author, what do you do? You adjust your writing. You find a way to tweak what you are doing and move it closer to the current market trends. No, you don't have to give up what you are doing, but you will need to adjust.

The second trend that we see is that of voice and style. Here too, you will see a lot of small changes. Sometimes the voice will shift to a high level, literary fiction level, and then it shifts to something much lighter and really the summer read.

But there is also another level. This is simply the style and the voice of the time. Topics, attitudes, word choice, etc. All of these go through huge transformations, and it is up to the author to make those shifts.

I see this a lot with authors who were published earlier and then took a hiatus from writing. Now that the kids are out of the house and they have time, they are returning to their writing. Unfortunately, too many of these authors may have moved into the future, but their voice is still that of a decade or two earlier. If you don't believe me on this, go back and find some of those old romance novels from the 80's and even the 90's. Not something like you would read today, that is for sure.

Again, as an author, you have to adjust with the times if you want to sell.

Now I know that some of you are saying that this is selling out to the establishment. You don't want to write what others are telling you to write. You want to write "Your story." Let me just say, no one is telling you to give up your own voice. This is just an issue of editors and agents wanting you to write a book that will sell. Remember, when your book sells, EVERYONE wins.

Keep your writing, just remember to adjust to the time. Unless you want to look like that person in that wonderful polyester leisure suit!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Does Your Query Letter Sell You?

I have been reading a lot of query letters this last week that stood out to me. No, it was not because the projects were amazing. It was simply the fact that so many of these query letters were simply milk toast. These letters did nothing to convince me that asking for more of their project would be worth it.

What so many authors fail to remember, is that a query letter is the first sales pitch you are providing for your manuscript. Sure, we will make a decision based on the actual story, but you have to get us to that point first. You have to sell us! Your story has to sound amazing and even more so, you have to be someone that sounds like the most incredible writer out there.

Think of your query letter as being that cover letter for your resume when you apply for a job. In that letter you highlight your successes. You demonstrate to that future employer what you bring to the table and how you and your experience stands out among all of the other projects out there. The same thing has to happen in that query letter.

Here are a couple of things to ask about your letter:

  • If you are comparing your story to other projects are you showing how you bring something new to what these other authors have done?
  • Is your high concept showing us that this project is different from any other story out there?
  • Are you showing us that the characters in your books are people that readers can relate to, but will want to know more about?
  • Are you giving us a sense of your plot that demands we want to read this book?
  • Are you showing us that you have a strong sense of the business and what it will take to be a published author?
  • Are you showing that you have a sense of your future in this business?
I think a comment another agent made on a panel I participated in summed it up well. If we read your query or read your project and come to a "MAYBE" conclusion, then that "Maybe" becomes a "No."

Make sure your query is not a Maybe-Letter!

Monday, May 8, 2017

What Is Your Genre? What Is Your Story Arc?

This last weekend, I had the chance to attend the Seattle Writer's Workshop. One of the things that really jumped out at me as I talked to writers, were the number that really did not know what genre they were writing. They had some ideas, and many were simply working with what others had told them the story might be, Some simply were guessing. 

Knowing your genre is exceedingly important. That knowledge dictates the approaches you take to simple things such as tone, dialogue, pacing, character types and tropes. But there is also a larger piece that so many writers miss out on. Knowing your genre will guide you marketing of the book.

Now, when I speak of marketing, I am talking not only about the marketing you would do to bring in new readers, but also the marketing you would do when finding the right publisher or agent, and even pitching that project to the editor or agent. For those of you who are taking the self-publishing approach, knowing your exact genre will guide you when deciding where on the virtual bookshelf you plan on placing your book. 

The thing to remember is that your story is not going to go to every single editor or agent out there. If you think about this as a job application, you are only going to apply to the jobs that you are most suited for, right? Same thing here. 

So, to understand your story, think of your central story arc. Focus only on the main storyline. Ignore all of the other subplots, themes and so forth. Obviously, this will also include your setting. In other words, if you are setting the story on Mars, the odds are this is going to be science fiction. If your story involved werewolves and vampires, the odds are you are writing paranormal. Time period before 1945? Probably historical. 

One of the easiest things to do, if you are still unclear, is to go to a bookstore and dig around to where you believe the bookseller would place your book. If you are just looking at something that is general fiction, you may want to take the time to think about it as literary, bookclub, humorous, etc.

In reality, this is something you should have decided BEFORE you wrote the story. But, if you are someone playing a little "catch-up", this might help!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Upcoming Conference

I am so looking forward to working with the writers attending the Seattle Writing Workshop this weekend. THE CONFERENCE INFORMATION

A couple of quick notes:
  1. If you are signed up to pitch to me, make sure to visit my blog.
  2. I am presenting about writing and pitching romance, BUT what I am talking about WILL extend to other genres.
  3. If you are just hanging out, make sure to come and see me.

And finally, I am attending this conference because someone invited me. I ONLY attend conferences and meet with writing groups by invitation (with the exception of the Romance Writers of America).

HINT: I can come and see your group!

PS. If you are not signed up, please let me know and I might be able to meet with you after the conference. There are a lot of cool places to meet in Bellevue!