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Pros and Cons of Writing for Different Publishers (part one)

I’m a member of the Marketing for Romance Writers loop. There’s a wealth of knowledge available in this group, mainly promo and marketing advice but there are also discussions about other writing related things such as publishers. Late last year the subject of writing for different publishers was raised. Author Brenna Lyons had such awesome advice about the pros and cons that I asked if she’d write a post for me on the subject. Over to Brenna…

Pros and Cons of Writing for Different Publishers (part one) by Brenna Lyons

Why do it?

All I Want For Christmas by Brenna LyonsYou’re a prolific author– It is possible to overload the system of a single publisher, if you submit everything you write to that one. Can you imagine the havoc that could cause with a prolific author?

You write in several genres– It’s a solid fact that authors who write in many genres may not be able to place all of their books with a single house. If you sign with a publisher for your fantasy erotic romance books and then you write a straight fantasy book, that publisher is likely not your market.

To work with publishers/authors/editors you enjoy– This is not my favorite reason to change or add publishers, but some people do choose publishers this way. For me, it is more important that I think the people I will be working with know what they are doing, are pleasant (or at least tolerable) to work with, and have a smooth-running system that I feel will work well for me.

Getting in on special collections or projects– This is actually a good reason to join a publisher…if your other concerns are met as well. Think of it this way. Even if it’s the collection you think is perfect for you, if the contract and staff are far less than ideal, you are better off taking your personal ideas elsewhere. Remember that this is your career!

A new concept or contract option that you enjoy– Unfortunately, some authors are so dead-set on making sure a particular thing is addressed at their next company that they allow themselves to be blinded to the less savory aspects of the company they target. You have to keep the full package in mind. It is typically easier to convince company B to add something you want than to convince company D to change half a contract that you don’t like to suit you, just because it already has that one item covered.

In addition, a new concept in publishing is good…if it works. Keep in mind that many of the more radical designs don’t last very long. A company that gives you 75% of cover price sounds great…until you find out that you won’t be able to sell a quarter of the books you did with your old publisher.

The pros to having more than one publisher?

Reaching new readers who haven’t read you before– There is no denying that you will likely reach some readers at the new company who are not regular buyers of the old one. However, while some readers buy a company, many readers buy the author. That means that, once introduced to you, the readers are typically willing to follow you from publisher to publisher…as long as they are comfortable with the publisher sites…or they follow you to one-stop places like ARe/OmniLit or Fictionwise, where they can buy books from you with several publishers at once.

Name building at double or triple the speed…maybe– This sounds good in theory. But while it is true that you are reaching more readers, there is typically an overflow of readers that read both houses…or one company may have a large audience while another is new and has a small one. You can’t count on doubling your publishers meaning that your double the readers who know you.

Less wait time for editors/release date…maybe– You may very well reduce your wait overall, since you are waiting editors at several publishers, so you can get four books through in the time you might have gotten one or two through at a single publisher. However, you may lengthen your wait on a particular book.

Not being pigeonholed into one genre or style– This is one of the most widely-stated reasons for people choosing to have more than one publisher.

The cons to having more than one publisher?

Planning ahead to fulfill your contracts– You have to keep an eye on what you agree to do and when. If you have three books coming in for edits, you better have everything out of your way and be prepared for some long nights and days getting those edits done in the 30 days you have to do all three! And, you don’t want to burn out.

The “Prolific Trap”– When you’re prolific, you often get contacted by your publishers saying things like, “We have X going on. You’ll put something into that, right?” This is where you get into an interesting balancing act. Do you say “I can’t” and get on a publisher’s bad side? Do you say “yes” and figure out a way to make it happen? That depends on your comfort level.

Glutting the market on your name– It is possible to put out so many books that the readers can’t keep up…or don’t want to keep up. At what point do the readers’ eyes glaze over? The problem is that there is no set number I can give you. If you write really well, that glut may not come for a long time.

Expectations of publishers– Your publishers have certain expectations of their authors. The problem comes when you either have conflicting schedules…you should be in chat with B at the same time C is doing a list game you should be taking part in…or you are get used to the expectations for one and have problems changing gears.

Keeping your mind in the game: which publisher is which– You could make a file of printouts or a database of guidelines and house styles a prerequisite for having more than one publisher. Worse, it’s easy to start resenting one company for not being more like another. You can suggest changes gently, but if they don’t want to change, you either have to live with it quietly or not sign them any more books. You are under no obligation to stay with a company that doesn’t offer what you need as an author PAST what you have already contracted.

Arranging SOME crossover readership to aid in the transition– You want to find new readers, but you also need the old readers following you along and bringing new readers with them by word of mouth. Having some distribution channels or promotion channels that overlap is a wonderful thing.

The “Leave your other publisher at the door” problem– Imagine a well-meaning reader or reviewer congratulates you on an award finaled for with a publisher on the wrong list…or someone mentions a series from publisher B in publisher C’s chat. Though it is beyond your control, and no matter how skillfully you handle it, it will still be held against you to a certain degree.

Come back for part two tomorrow.

Brenna Lyons is a bestselling, award-winning author in spec fic indie press. With 21 series worlds and stand-alones, it’s not a surprise that Brenna works with between six and eight publishing houses at a time and fields ten or more releases every year. You can reach her at her site http://www.brennalyons.com

Playing the Odds

Author Adrienne Kress has an interesting post called It’s Not About the Odds. She talks about the luck required in getting a publishing contract and how you can slant those odds in your favor by doing a great query letter.

Rebecca at Dirty Sexy Books has a tongue in cheek post about urban fantasy stories. If you’re not really sure what an urban fantasy is read the Ten Commandments of Urban Fantasy.

Margie Lawson has a guest post at Routines for Writers. It’s all about writing body language and verbal cues–an important thing in good characterization.

And finally, You Are What You Eat, Foods That Improve Your Sex Drive is an article by Elizabeth Black that makes for very interesting reading. Stay about from fried foods and rich cream sauces – that’s all I’m saying! :grin:

I’m reading a book called The Wolf Almanac by Robert H Busch. It’s research for a new idea I have, and you might have guessed from the title that my story will feature wolves.

What are you reading at the moment?

A White Box

A book is a sum of things—characters, setting and description, dialogue, pace and plot. It’s the combination of all of these elements, done in the right way that makes a book exciting and sought after by readers.

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It takes a lot of work to get a book to a standard that’s saleable. My first drafts are like white boxes. People inhabit the white box—my characters that is, but they’re quiet and in shock from the lack of scenery. It’s all white in there, after all.

During the first stages, my characters are a bit superficial and half the time they have no idea what they’re doing, what their purpose is in the box. It’s almost like the first run through of a play where the cast are strangers and feeling their way into their parts.

It’s during the second and third run through that I add the color and turn my white box into a real world, complete with real people. Adding setting and description is a skill I’ve fought to learn—it certainly doesn’t come naturally.

Not so long ago, it was normal to read very flowery descriptions in books. These days descriptions in fiction are briefer and spare at times.

Here’s a paragraph from Powder and Patch by Georgette Heyer.

The Apparition wore a coat of the palest apricot cloth, with a flowered vest of fine brocade, and startling white small-clothes. Red-heeled shoes were on his feet, and his stockings were adorned by sprawling golden clocks. He carried an amber-clouded can and a jeweled snuff-box, while ever and anon he raised a cobwebby handkerchief to his aristocratic nose. He minced down the street towards the market-place, followed by the awestricken glances of an amazed population.

That’s a lot of description for one person, although I have to say I’d love to see him in person. You probably won’t find this amount of description in a modern romance, not focused on one person. We’re more likely to add it in more sparingly in bits and pieces.

This snippet is taken from Dark Lover by JR Ward.

When she was finished with the Twinkie, she flipped open her phone, hit speed dial, and put in an order for beef with broccoli. As she walked along, she looked at the familiar, grim landmarks. Along this stretch of Trade Street, there were only bars, strip clubs, and the occasional tattoo parlor. The Chinese food place and the Tex-Mex buffet were the only two restaurants. The rest of the buildings, which had been used as offices in the twenties, when downtown had been thriving, were vacant. She knew every crack in the sidewalk; she could time the traffic lights. And the patois of sounds drifting out of open doors and windows offered no surprises either.

With this paragraph, we get a little characterization along with a feel for the neighborhood. We learn that although the district is run down, the place is home for our heroine.

In another book, that shall remain nameless, the description of a room sounded like a shopping list. It mentioned an antique rug, hardwood floors, a Victorian sofa and the color of the brocade, a coffee table and the type of wood, the silver tea service on top, two Victorian chairs, a gas fireplace, silver-framed photo frames, the photos inside them, the mantelpiece, a cherry and glass counter and quite a few other things.

The actual story wasn’t too bad, but this description, done list style, made me roll my eyes. I’ve edited the list quite a bit. The descriptions took up over half a page.

What I try to do is show the character experiencing the setting, give sensory details. I show them walking across a thick carpet and wondering if their shoes are going to get lost in the pile or holding out their hands to catch snowflakes, feeling the cold and dampness or tasting it melt on their tongue. They might notice the cars buried in snow or hear the chains on the tires as they fight for purchase. I try to involve the character’s senses of sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing to make the description come alive.

Here’s a paragraph taken from Tea For Two by Shelley Munro

“I see a line of dots.” Hayley Williams peered solemnly into her customer’s white china teacup. Outside her colorful curtain-partitioned area of the tea tent, children shrieked with excitement as they lined up for the Ferris wheel and merry-go-round. Her assistant chatted to one of the ladies in charge of the tea, extolling the high points of a reading by Madam Deveraux. Somewhere in the distance, a toddler howled and a brass band played “Rock Around the Clock”. Closer, touts shouted spasmodically about the exciting things available at their stalls. The clatter of china and the muted gossip of the ladies in the makeshift café added to the cacophony of fairground sounds.

For me this is actually quite a long description, but I hope it plops you right in the middle of a fairground.

When it comes to describing characters, I’m typically very brief because as a reader, I like to imagine myself as the heroine. If there’s too much description I think it gets in the way of my imagination. Just a brief hair color, eyes, build etc is all I need. You might think differently.

How much description do you like to read in your books? Do you like lots of description or a bare minimum? Do you like detailed description of characters? And writers: what approach do you use when it comes to description? Do you have a white box like me or is your world colorful from the start?

Horses & The Monster That Shall Not Be Named

I often come across good articles and posts relating to writing and the writing business when I’m surfing on the net. What? You thought I wrote all the time? :grin:

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy both keeping up with the writing market and learning new things. I thought I’d share the bounty and repost some of the links I’ve found.

Bootstrap Book Marketing Co-op has a post on one thing that can really derail a writing career, and that is professional jealousy. We all have times when we feel down or think someone else is getting a better deal than us and the green-eyed monster creeps in. Bootstrap has a post called The Writer’s Other Classic Curse and Four Ways to Deal With It.

Erastes writes some very thought provoking posts at Reviews by Jessewave. A recent post related to horses in historical novels. Neigh…I blame Hollywood talks about horses and mistakes writers making with them. Note Reviews by Jessewave reviews gay romances, but the post on horses relates to all historicals.

Note: There are two posts today. Scroll down…

First Draft in 30 Days.

30_DaysAs a writer I’m always interested in craft books, and I’ve been meaning to pick up this particular one for a long time. The title—First Draft in 30 Days is a bit misleading because if you follow the methods prescribed you’ll end up with a very detailed outline rather than a first draft. Ms. Wiesner does state though that because you revise the outline so much before starting to write, the end result is more like a final draft, which will require only minor polishing before submission.

The first part of the book deals with preparation and the things the writer should do during thirty days. Days 1 – 6 are for the preliminary outline and include character, setting and plot sketches and a summary outline. Days 7 – 13 are for research. Days 14 – 15 are for story evolution, internal and external conflict etc. Days 16 – 24 are for a formatted outline where research, character and setting are incorporated into the outline. Days 25 – 28 are for evaluating the outline and days 29 – 30 are to revise the outline.

The book includes a series of worksheets for each day, which are helpful. They can be handwritten or done in a computer file.

The second part of the book shows how to incorporate the 30 day method when you have a completed manuscript or a partial one that is perhaps not working. There is also a section on setting goals for projects and book promotion.

One thing Ms. Wiesner stresses is the importance of brainstorming throughout the outlining process, which is something I agree with. She says constant brainstorming during your day means you’ll never sit down in front of a computer and wonder what to write.

I’ll admit that I’ve always been a determined pantser, but after reading Ms. Wiesner’s book I think I’ll try her outlining method. I’ve decided to plan a new story while I complete my current work-in-progress. I am a little worried about sticking to a rigid plan because I’ve always thought too much planning spoiled the story for me, so it will be interesting to see how I go during the next 30 days.

The methods outlined in this book will not work for all authors, but it is definitely worth reading.

First Draft in 30 Days by Karen S. Wiesner is available from Amazon.

Writers: Do you read craft books? Do you have any favorites that you reach for on a regular basis?

Readers: I’m always on the lookout for book recommendations, in particular young adult stories at the moment. What are you reading this week?

Lovable Characters

Thursday Thirteen

I picked up a copy of The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel by Christie Craig and Faye Hughes the other day and came across a great list of how to make fictional characters lovable.

Thirteen Ways to Make Characters Lovable

1. Make your character an underdog. Give them a handicap and have them refuse to give up.

2. Have your character willing to admit he made a mistake and set out to make amends.

3. Make your character hurt emotionally but remain strong for others in his life.

4. Make your character kind to the underdog, small children, elderly people or animals.

5. Have a character who is self-sacrificing.

6. Have a character who is able to laugh at his or her own mistakes.

7. Have a character who is levelheaded.

8. Have a character make a mistake but for the right reasons.

9. Have a character who is the strong, silent type and means well but is unable to express it.

10. Have a character who takes risks and is willing to pay the price.

11. Have a character who has depth, layers and secrets.

12. Have a character who is able to forgive.

13. Make your character work against the odds to succeed.

Source: The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel: From writing the perfect love scene to finding the right publisher–All you need to fulfill your dreams (Everything Series)

What makes characters lovable for you? Can you think of other reasons to add to the list?

Interview with agent Holly Root

Today my special guest is agent Holly Root from the Waxman Literary Agency.

Shelley: Tell us a little about yourself. How did you become an agent?

Holly: I actually had no idea that “agent” was a job until after I’d already landed in publishing. When I moved to New York I knew I was interested in trying something a little different than the editorial work I’d been doing, and that led me to make my way to the agency side. Agency work allowed me to work with authors shaping their books but also shaping their careers.

Shelley: What are the most recent books you’ve sold?

Holly: This summer was busy with renewing contracts for clients at Pocket, Grand Central, Harlequin and elsewhere, and that’s always fun, seeing an author’s series continued. I have some great debut fiction heading out on submission soon too.

Shelley: You’re going on holiday. What books do you take with you for your reading pleasure?

Holly: If I were leaving tomorrow I’d take the four books at the top of my TBR pile, and these are books everyone should read: Jennifer Weiner’s Best Friends Forever, Sophie Kinsella’s Twenties Girl, Malinda Lo’s Ash and James Dashner’s The Maze Runner. Unfortunately there are no holidays planned soon!

Shelley: A query letter is very important these days. What mistakes or problems do you see in the query letters you receive?

Holly: Most are just not quite ready for prime time—clear first drafts, or letters that lay out the entire plot to less than stirring effect. I also see many letters that say, “Writing this was very therapeutic.” I find most authors feel that way, but it doesn’t affect the market appeal of the work so it doesn’t belong in your query.

Shelley: How would you describe your ideal client?

Holly: Crazy talented as a writer, thoughtful as a person, and cool-headed enough for the wild ride we’re about to go on together. Ideally we’d also have similar communication styles; nothing is harder than working on a subjective endeavor like fiction with someone who doesn’t speak your language editorially.

Shelley: Do you offer editorial advice for your clients?

Holly: Yes. We do at least some editing before every submission. Once there’s an editor involved, I defer to that person so as not to have extra voices whispering in the author’s ear while writing, but I am always available for advice, even if the advice is just “write it and see.”

Shelley: A lot of aspiring authors struggle with high concept and the fact agents and editors are looking for a high concept in submissions. What is your advice to writers with regard to high concept and how would you define it?

Holly: I actually did a blog post on just this question, so I’ll refer readers here: http://waxmanagency.wordpress.com/2009/02/06/recipe-for-success-high-concept/

Shelley: For authors who live outside America, one problem that comes up is setting. Is a US setting necessary or does it depend on the genre?

Holly: That’s an excellent question. For contemporary genre fiction I think a setting outside of America is a bit tougher sell, but of course historicals (mystery, romance, general fiction) have often, even primarily been set outside our borders. If you’re in the more upmarket fiction market there’s more openness to settings beyond the US as well.

Shelley: What is your best craft tip for aspiring authors wanting to submit to an agent?

Holly: 90% of writing is rewriting. I don’t know that it ever gets easier, but I know that the more you learn to self-edit and polish, the stronger you’ll be at those skills.

Shelley: Thank you very much, Holly!

For more information about the Waxman Literary Agency, and up-to-date details of genres they represent or would like to see in the future, check out their website and blog.

Conference Report

It was a weird sort of a weekend for me. I attended the conference, but I have to admit I had trouble focusing on what the speakers were saying because of the personal stuff going on in our lives. I did, however, have a couple of real lightbulb moments – thank you Fiona Brand and Mary Theresa Hussey – and I think that once I return from holiday, it will be with renewed energy and inspiration for my writing.

I attended an early morning talk with agent Melissa Jeglinski from the Knight Agency. They read the first pages of manuscripts and she stopped them when she reached the point where she’d make a decision. The following is a summary of her dos and don’ts. For you experienced writers out there this is probably commonsense to you, but a reminder never hurts!

1. Don’t start your manuscript with a one-sided conversation. i.e. phone call. You’re wasting an opportunity to use characterization through dialogue.

2. It’s good to make the reader want more. i.e. intrigue them but don’t throw everything and the kitchen sink into that first page.

3. Add characterization rather than too much backstory. i.e. have your characters make an appearance early rather than giving lots of narrative first up.

4. Sentence length – don’t make those opening sentences too long and convoluted. You want the reader/agent/editor to understand the sentence. If they have to read it twice you have a problem.

5. You need a coherent flow of dialogue and narration. Don’t have all dialogue and no narration at the start of your story. Make the dialogue meaningful.

6. Don’t feel the need to give a detailed description of clothes etc in that first page. One or two details are fine but don’t describe everything in minute detail.

In a talk about Harlequin and the various lines editor Mary Theresa Hussey gave us a list of points that the editors use when they’re reading a submission.

1. Are the opening and closing lines strong? i.e. it’s that hook thing. Use strong hooks!

2. Do the characters make decisions? i.e. are they active rather than sitting back and letting things happen.

3. Do the conflicts come across as strong and interesting?

4. Are the characters compelling?

5. Does the story start in the right place? i.e don’t be tempted to slide in all that back story!

6. Do you want to read on?

If they can answer yes to all these questions, your manuscript is in good shape.

Mary Thesesa also mentioned that the Harlequin Intrigue line and the Harlequin Presents line are definitely looking for new authors, so if you’re interested in either of these lines get writing!

And two final things: If you’re interested in the new Harlequin YA line check out the prequel for Rachel Vincent’s debut story. You can download your free copy here.

Harlequin do regular podcasts that can be downloaded at this link or at iTunes. There are some additional ones coming any day now so keep checking back. The existing podcasts include editor inside information and interviews with authors.

TSTL and Whiney

I read a review today about a book I’ve read. The reviewer said the heroine was whiney and didn’t act her age. That didn’t come through for me when I read the book. I know reviews are subjective, but it made me start thinking.

What qualities does a good heroine possess?

I know most of you are going to mention the “too stupid to live” heroine. No one likes a heroine who consistently does stupid things such as walking down to the cellar to investigate noises when she’s been told not to go down to the cellar. But is it all right for a heroine to make a silly mistake if she learns from it and deals with the consequences? My answer would be yes. It’s the heroine who consistently makes stupid choices that drives me nuts.

I like an intelligent heroine, one who knows what she wants or failing that, decides what she wants during the course of the book. I want her to make choices, and if they’re bad ones to learn from them. I want her to have the strength of character to deal with the consequences of her choices. I want her to play nice with others, yet stand up for herself if a bully confronts her. I want her to show some passion and not be afraid to love. If she’s been hurt in love before, I want her to grow and become willing to take chances again because this is after all, a romance.

I want her to have pride in her appearance without being vain. I’d like her to be confident with her body and to remember that a person’s attitude makes them sexy. Sure, people judge by appearances, but it’s personality that drives an attraction.

I don’t mind a little whining, but “woman up” and deal with the situation after the whining. Don’t keep stomping on that whining button! I don’t expect my heroine to be perfect. None of us is perfect and our heroines shouldn’t be either. Integrity is good and above all, a heroine should be consistent so she doesn’t come across as a flake.

And lastly, I want her to be kind to animals. I have a soft spot for animals and like heroines who have the same interest.

Two of my favorite heroines include Eve Dallas created by JD Robb and Mercy Thompson created by Patricia Briggs. Both are strong women, both have integrity. It’s interesting to note both are in series. Possibly that’s why they’ve made such an impact on me.

What qualities do you think a heroine should have? Which flaws can you forgive? Who are some of your favorite heroines?

Stereotypes

Have you seen the YouTube featuring Susan Boyle? The judges took one look at Ms. Boyle, listened to her talking and decided she wouldn’t be able to sing. The music started, Ms. Boyle started singing and smashed apart every one of the judges’ preconceptions, showing true talent. The audience loved her. Millions of people have watched the performance on YouTube. I’m one of them, and I smiled the entire way through. Her performance was amazing.

It made me think about stereotypes when it comes to the romance community. Don’t authors lounge around wearing flowing pink dresses (sometimes with ruffles) and eat lots of chocolates while they’re writing about arrogant alpha males and quivering virgin heroines? And don’t romance readers wear thick glasses, fluffy bathrobes and stay at home with their fictional friends on a Saturday night, eating lots of chocolate while they’re reading their chosen genre?

We know these stereotypes are wrong. Lots of people don’t and accept the above descriptions (or something similar) because they don’t know any better. Well, the chocolate part might be right, but you understand what I mean. We’re all individuals who love the written word and reading/writing about love and romance. Stereotypes are wrong, and we should wait before judging anyone. First impressions aren’t always right, but we’re probably all guilty of judging or applying sterotypes at some time or another. I know I have.

A few days ago, Julia tagged me with a meme called Keeping It Real. I had to post a photo of myself taken without primping and doing ordinary things. The photo caught me on a day when I wasn’t wearing pink, but I’m in my second office i.e. my chair with my laptop. As you can see – no stereotypes here.

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I’m meant to tag people, so if you’re brave enough, consider yourself tagged. Follow the Keeping it Real link above and scroll down to the bottom of the post. I have to say that Julia takes a great photo.

How would you describe a writer or a reader? (You can have fun making up a stereotype or you can do a truthful description of a writer/reader as you see them)