Monday, April 14, 2014

Selling Your Package

By "your package" I mean YOU. (What did you think I meant? You have a dirty mind.)

I started off in my troll cave. I researched the agents and their submission processes and I spammed out queries. During the querying process you hone your letter, trying to showcase your voice and cover the key points of your story with  brevity and hook the attention of the inundated agent assistant. At this point, the package is your query, not your manuscript. You might have the best book in the world, but if your query doesn't get their attention, no one will ever see it.

Your book = the face.
Your tube top = the butt in the mirror.
I finally left my cave and started attending conferences. I live in Southern California and the dress code here can be described as, "what's a dress code?" Most of the industry professionals are from the East Coast where, if you believe What Not to Wear, they dress up to go to grocery shopping. Shopping aside, the agents and editors at the conferences are dressed professionally. Ergo, if you want to show respect and present yourself as a professional, you should dress professionally. You're pitching your manuscript(s), but the first thing they see is you. You are the package.

Note: I am not a fashion guru by any means. I would describe my look as "scumbag" and am currently wearing yoga pants and a TMNT t-shirt my brother 'accidentally' left here two Christmases ago. I'm actually a little more done up than writing alone at home usually warrants -- My hair is clean and am still wearing a bra.

You may ask, "Erin, aren't you being shallow? Don't you think the agents/editors care more about my writing than what I look like?" To that I would answer this:

Of course they care about the writing, but they are considering whether or not you will make them money. They are wondering if they can work with you. All of this comes from that first impression. Are you worth more than that one book you're pitching? How will you handle public relations? Signings? Social media? Simple things like sitting up straight, smiling, and making eye contact is worth almost as much as your pitch. Hygiene, breath, clean/pressed clothes -- all of this goes to showing who you are. If you rock the scumbag look to an agent session it may seem like you don't have your stuff together or that you don't respect their position. You may have a great book, but if you're covered in cat hair, smell like old beer, and are wearing the same sweats you wore yesterday that is the first thing they see. The same thing goes if you decide to present yourself as sexy (something I see a lot with my high school students who equate "dressing nice" with what they would wear to a club). Think of the position you want as a writer, not a stripper. Put your boobs away and wear shoes you can walk in. While everyone says not to judge a book by the cover, we all do. First impressions matter.

No, I'm not an agent or editor, so I am not speaking from experience in their specific field but I have worked in sales. Think about what you're selling. Your book? That's part of it, but during a pitch you're selling the package of yourself as a writer. The agent/editor is a professional -- you should aspire to be, too.

I'm not telling you to buy a new wardrobe for a conference. Nor am I telling you to be someone you're not. I look on the well groomed version of me as just another facet of the whole. Be clean and comfortable (although, personally, I'm willing to deal with a little discomfort -- sometimes the discomfort is a reminder not to get too relaxed, to remember my purpose, and to sit up straight). At conferences I wear suits, slacks, and dresses that fall into the business professional category. I make sure everything is freshly pressed, not missing buttons, etc... I may be just shy of hobo when I'm grocery shopping, but at conferences I am pulled together, clean, and tailored. Ultimately the entire conference is like a job interview and you need to be on constantly.

Saying the word "package" so many times brought this video to mind. Though it has nothing to do with professional attire, I'm posting it for your viewing enjoyment.






Saturday, March 29, 2014

Out of My Comfort Zone

I'm writing a contemporary romance.My first love in writing is historical. I branched into paranormal, but I didn't leave historical far behind. In fact, even though my paranormals are set in modern times, history plays a huge roll.

Not so with contemporary. Previously known as Chick Lit, contemporary is traditionally set in a small, Americana, town full of quirky characters. The main characters are either coming home, reinventing themselves somewhere new, or long time residents stuck in a rut. This can be either the male or the female. Then the love interest arrives. Attraction and conflict ensue. Character arch involves personal growth, forgiveness, etc... then happily ever after. There isn't usually an external stake. The internal stakes are all about the main characters finding happiness.

The current hot trend in male love interest is the emotionally unavailable tycoon, and why not? The unlimited money really leaves a lot of options as much as having the hero in a historical be a Duke. So, yes, I'm going there. My only concern is that I don't generally write 100% alphas. Why? I don't respond positively to them (maybe this is why I'm not published?). I like balance in the relationship and all my books include the heroine discovering she is worthy of love and wielding her own power in a relationship of equals. And, as the unnecessary trolls in Frozen said, everyone is a bit of a fixer upper. I don't write perfect people.

My contemporary will not include perfect people either, but it will be in a small town brimming with quirkiness (I can do that). My hero is super rich and super hot, of course. My heroine is established in her own right. Both have given up on love. He misjudges her place in life as lack of sophistication. She misjudges his place based on being a cold bastard. Then they get over themselves, actually communicate, and, viola! HEA. I'm even including a puppy.

I can do this. I know what I'm going to write and I can write it. I have to keep saying it and then I'll believe it.  I know it doesn't sound like a challenge and it shouldn't be, but I'm working outside my purview. I'm putting my Irish paranormal on the back burner to write this one, not because the muses told me to, but because it would be good for my career. I always told myself that any agent would be lucky to have me because I am capable of writing anything. You tell me what you need and I'll write it. Well, now is the time to prove it. Use it or lose it. Put my money where my mouth is. Look a gift horse in the mouth. Eat yellow snow. Or something.

Wish me luck. I'm only 2k into it  (aiming at 80) and need to write like the wind.

Monday, March 24, 2014

I Really Hate Titles

Seriously, I do. I will come up with something clever, but not sexy. The titles I like don't give a clear idea of the story and aren't gripping. It's really a problem.

Next time I pitch, I think the header on my one sheet should say "Insert Title Here" instead of whatever I come up with. After all, editors often change the title anyway, right?

Currently my Irish paranormal is called Touching the Past. The forest is central to the story, so when my critique partner and I discuss is, she calls it Sexy Trees or Psychic Trees. My husband, who really is a proponent for the titillating angle (which is not the entirety of the story and, therefore, shouldn't be the only selling feature) wants me to call it She Gives Him Wood. I like the idea of the title One (inspired by the U2 song) or Eternal Memory or The Heart's Guardian... but no, not sexy.

Allow me to scream. Hey, Screaming Trees... no, that was a grunge band.

Okay, better now.

How do you come up with a title?

The image shown left (and more!) can be found here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Where's the Love?

Over a year ago I posted a blog (rant) about a run in with an acquaintance who had such a scathing attitude to the romance genre that it left me reeling. I understand not choosing to read it or just not getting into love stories, but the vitriol dripping from the comment was overwhelming. Any attempt at pleasantries between us was effectively crushed. Honestly, unnamed person, you could have just smiled and said no, then brought up the weather. Social niceties 101.

At the time I assumed this person must read obscure but profound literature. You know, the stuff college professors assign or the titles on your list that you never actually read but plan to some day because the names show up on crossword puzzles. Plus, it's fun to seem like you're smart, right? And, of course, the best way to do that is to make sure everyone else knows you think they're an idiot.

The fact that thinking about it still bothers me shows how sensitive I am. Oh well.

My point, you ask? Well, today I found out that this person reads sci-fi/fantasy and my jaw dropped. Wait, after that absolute slap in the face about the genre fiction I write and love, you read genre fiction too? You mean you deign to waste your brain space on formulaic, commercial tripe? You respond to the hero's journey? Say it isn't so.

Oh, it is.

Don't get me wrong, I love sci-fi/fantasy. My adolescent reading started with mystery and then morphed into sci-fi/fantasy with Xanth trilogy (or so it began) and I kept going from there. I only started on romance ten-ish years ago. I'm not insulting the genre, but I am saying that it is a genre of commercial fiction.

So what makes one genre more elevated than another? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say NOTHING. Within all genres there are good and bad authors and it's entirely subjective. That said, why the disdain? I teach high school and I can't remember even a student being that rude before. Seriously.


Image from HBO's mini-series Game of Thrones, written by George R.R. Martin (and yes, I've read it but not seen the series). High fantasy with a lot of kinda rapey sex.





Sunday, March 2, 2014

McDonald's

Today, while my daughters practice their Irish step dancing in preparation for the St. Patrick's day performances, I find myself making use of the WiFi at McDonald's. It's not the first time I've done this. Starbucks is often too crowded or hipster for me, plus the coffee is cheaper here. This is, however, the first time I've done this at the McDonald's on Nordahl in San Marcos. This is only significant because this is the location of my first official job. And, no, I do not feel nostalgic. In fact, McDonald's occasionally features in my nightmares. If it wasn't for the coffee, good price on drinks, and cheap cones I would probably never patronize a McDonald's again. Seriously, I've seen the how they make nuggets (shudder).

It was a great first job for me. I got to learn to follow rules and focus on people other than myself. I was sixteen and cute, so I worked the counter. We got swamped one night after a movie got out. My shift ended at nine, but there I was at nine thirty frantically taking orders and making fries while my dad's impatience burned hot (I didn't drive -- he was picking me up from work). I told one of the manger-type-guys there that my shift ended, at that point, almost an hour ago and I had to leave. I clocked out and left. The next day a higher manager on the totem pole pulled me aside and gave me a talking to about responsibility and the McDonald's family. She told me that McDonald's counted on me and, since I had true McDonald's potential, I should take my responsibilities seriously. I told her I was sixteen and my shift had ended almost an hour previously and I wasn't sure whether it was illegal or not to work a minor over a certain number of hours. A month later I got a role in the school play and quit.

I don't mean to trash working at McDonald's. For me it was a great start out job. Some people turn it into a career and that's great. I knew when I took the job that it was only serving to add something to my resume. I knew I was going to go to college. I knew my McDonald's potential would translate into a lot of fields that required a smile while you did something unpleasant. Since then I've worked in retail, insurance sales and service, and education. Eventually I look forward to adding 'published author' to that list.

So here I am, more than twenty years later, blogging whilst I sit in a McDonald's that in no way resembled my job sit of yore. My daughters are working on their hop two threes while I work on my fifth novel. The pretty girl behind the counter politely took my order and smiled while she pretended to be interested in the fact that I used to stand in the same place. I wonder where time will take her, what will her McDonald's potential translate into?

Just for fun, in honor of fast food employees, view this drive through prank video:


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Judging

If you'd ask me last month how to get inspired about getting housework done, I'd have told you writing. Not in-the-zone writing, but the kind where you force yourself to sit and stare and reread and type filler to get from point A to point B. You know, the writing that you'll end up deleting next time.

I was wrong. Writing is a great way to get excited about housework, but if you really want to get inspired to scrub things that no one sees anyway, judge a contest. That will get your cleaning motors running. I'm a machine, I tell you!

The good news is that I am plugging through the contest. It's a little awkward because these authors are all just like me - they have a finished book (or four) and are trying to get their work out there. Some submissions have great bones but poor finishing. Some are excellently written but I can't seem to get into the characters. Some draw me in right away... Really, it's just like reading anything -- absolutely subjective to my interests and whims (not counting the poor editing that pulls me right out of a story that might be great).  Being a judge doesn't make me more objective, it just makes me not give up.

Judging has also made me wonder about previous (and current) contests in which I've participated. Are they all judged by schlubbs like me? I mean, what makes my wisdom all that and a can of Coke? Nothing. I'm just another writer plugging away toward my word count and crossing various appendages with the hope that someday, SOMEDAY, it will all pan out. Sigh.

On that note, I can only hope that the people who judge my submissions to various contests give me the attention and honesty I'm giving the submissions in my packet. I may not be the reader that will give them the push they need to get into the world of publication, but I will be thoughtful and apply opinions based on my experiences in this crazy world of writing.

And I will do some more dishes. Who knew the grout around my sink was actually cream colored? I always thought it was brown.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Kryptonite

I can spew one hundred thousand words, but summing it all up in two hundred and fifty is horrible. Seriously, fork in the forehead horrible.

Queries are my kryptonite. Not only are they not good, but I suffer a complete psychological shut down when I even start to think about them. When I force myself to write one, I can't even remember what my story is about. I start babbling and think of alternative things I could have written that would be great in m query. It's bad.

Writing a synopsis is not as bad, but it's not fun either. I took a great class this past summer at RWA13 in Georgia which really broke it down. In fact, when I had to write a synopsis for Golden Heart, it flowed from my finger tips. Of course, some really horrible grammar mistakes also flowed (and remained unnoticed by both myself and my husband). Still, it's the best synopsis I've written (now that, too late, I've fixed it).

I see these online classes about how to write a query. I read Query Shark and nod in agreement at the sage comments therein... but when I try to apply it, I freeze.

Do you have any tricks to writing a query?
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