Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stalking Agents

This will be my third year at the Romance Writer's of America conference and every year I use their spreadsheet of agents hearing pitches to create a stalking list. It's not creepy at all. Well, maybe a little -- I prefer to think of it as being prepared.

I make a list in order based on how well I think we'll fit. I include their picture, a list of clients that I have read and those that seem to be similar in theme/voice, and a quote from their site about what they're looking for. The list has been helpful (even though I remain sans agent)

I write this today, not to creep you out, but to share an epiphany. Year to year I use the RWA area of interest grid to update my prey potential agents and it changes very little. This year I noticed that only half the agents want paranormal romance. Given that I am pitching one paranormal and halfway through a second, I have to curse under my breath. Three years ago they all wanted paranormal. This year they all want contemporary. Did that last year? I don't know because I didn't look for that information because I only had historical and paranormal. This year I'm adding contemporary to the mix and it seems like a smart move.

My point? I was using the grid to see if I'd want them, if I had a chance. It never occurred to me to use the grid to guide what I should write. In a way, the grid acts as a not-so-secret view into the mind of the agent based on what they think they can sell. It is a prediction, if not of future trends, of what IS selling. Of course I wanted to be aware of the market and I did that by looking at the best seller lists, etc... I realize now that RWA gave me a tool, a comprehensive list of things agents actively want. I'm just lucky that this year I have something to offer within that area. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Making the Dress

A few years ago I wrote a post about how Irish dance is like writing. Basically the analogy was based entirely on how you don't quite realize what you've gotten yourself into until you're neck deep. Irish dancing, I thought, was just a nice little dance class where the girls didn't have hooch-y costumes. It's not. It's a huge competition based tier system with increasing difficulty and expense, but once you've invested yourself there's no getting out.

As Irish dancing is not just about dance lessons, writing a book is not just getting the story out, it's immersion in a writing community, hours of inspiration and perspiration, lack of sleep, excitement and dismay, great and crappy writing, and all of it hinging on non-objective opinions that could make or break you, but once you've written that first book there's no getting out.

Lily's dancing is now at the point where a solo dress is required (not technically, but it's allowed and not having one might put her at a disadvantage). Without going into every step of the process (which began months before I ever put scissors to fabric), I designed, redesigned, researched, watched tutorials, analyzed the current trends, made a bodice, started over with a whole difference fabric, made a dress, cut off the sleeves and made new ones, beaded and
embellished, removed beads and added better ones and, when it was finished and Lily was dancing happily in it, I still saw room for improvement. I'm adding more embellishment before the next feis, just a bead here and there that, from the audience perspective (you can't see these things when you're too close) were clearly missing.

I have written books and thrown out chapters. I
recently threw out most of my first book in a rewrite attempt that basically turned into a completely different book. I've taken critique that I didn't understand until I gave myself space from the project. I've put a lot of work into things that will never see the light of day and I've gotten better with each step. Lily's dress is fine, but I know that it's not going to be the best I'll ever do, and that makes it hard to put it out there and be open to criticism.

Lily did not place high enough in any of her dances to be promoted to the next level and that's fine with me. This dress is a fine novice level dress, but not prizewinner.

As I get ready for another conference, I have to take a look at my writing from a distance and see how it stacks up against what's out there. Does it stand out? Does it stand out for the right reasons? Does it stand out so much that it doesn't belong? This is all something that is hard to determine from a close perspective. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Genius Lost

I have a fair to middling commute daily during which time I listen to talk radio, sing along with my iPod playlists, or drive in silence.

Driving in silence, more and more, is becoming the norm. During this time I brainstorm plot lines, get to know characters, and come up with amazing blog posts. The problem I have is transferring all this genius down later. The result? My blog posts are few and far between.

Blogging used to be a precursor to writing. I would check the blogs on my feed, compose a post or two, then get down to the dirty work. Time seems scarcer of late, so if I want to write forward in my manuscript, I can't dillydally. My blog has suffered.

But, oh, those unwritten posts would have rocked your world. :)

In tribute to those never-written posts, I leave you with this. Enjoy.

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.

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