I’m over at Word Whores this first Sunday of the new year, giving insight into my last-thing checklist to polish a manuscript before I send it in.
I’m thrilled to announce that last night I received a contract offer for Ruby from the fabulous folks at Carina Press! Ruby will be the third book in the Facets of Passion series, following Sapphire (10/24/11) and Platinum (2/25/13). Ruby should be out sometime in the fall of 2013.
This is a milestone for me, because it’s the first time I’ve sold a book I haven’t written yet. Fabulous Editor Deb asked me for a partial and synopsis on a book 3 after we finished work on Platinum. And they liked it!
I feel so grown up now.
Plus? I have a deadline. At least I got to pick it myself. (Yes – I totally used my spreadsheets to plan. Shut up.)
Happy Thursday, everyone!
I’ve been working up the third story in the newly christened Facets of Passion series, which started with Sapphire (last October), continues with Platinum (out in February) and will culminate with Ruby. Normally I wouldn’t have started on this third novella yet, keeping to my established rotation. (And because I need to work on RP2 for all of you bugging me for it!) But Editor Deb asked me to work up a polished partial and a synopsis for her, with an eye to bundling the three books. Very exciting! This is something you only get to do after you’ve proven yourself to your editor and your press.
She’s so funny, because she asked how long it would take me to do that and I said, it depends on the amount of partialness she’s looking for – and I assured her that is, indeed, a word. She told me she told me she needed 20-30 pages of extra sparkly partialness. I love her.
So, at any rate, I’ve been working up Ruby. Even though each story involves different characters, and different emotional arcs, they are intertwined for me, thematically. Ruby is a kind of culmination of the three. (Though I do have an idea for Book 4.) I know this is part of me being a character-driven writer, who doesn’t really plot ahead, but some stories just feel “murkier” than others. The characters in Ruby are more complex people in many ways, with layers of “psychological candy,” as CP Carolyn Crane just put it.
It took me longer than it should have, to work up these sparkly pages – maybe because I felt more pressure, knowing I couldn’t just spin along with the story to see what happened. I reworked the opening several times. The whole thing felt a little formless still. Out of focus But I sent it to the CPs for feedback, cringing, waiting for them to ask me WTF I’m doing.
And they say it’s working!!
Funny how, as a writers, sometimes you just can’t tell.
But Carolyn just told me she thought this is a super strong book shaping up. Which is so good to know. Laura said “very complex and fun stuff!” Marcella just wants more. This all reassured me that the luminosity is there, shining through – and the comments they gave me are helping me to focus it.
Maybe I *can* have both.
First thing that Friday morning, I dragged myself together in time to meet several other Carina authors (Jennifer Bray-Weber, Adrienne Giordano, Ruth Casie, Rita Henuber, Julie Rowe) and Carina freelance editor Mallory Braus for breakfast with our Brenda Novak auction winner. We had a lovely time – including mimosas! Poor Joyce had managed to sprain her ankle the day before, tripping over tape at the doors of the keynote luncheon, and was a real trooper. She asked us for the honest dirt on writing for Carina and we all raved with the lurv. So much for dirt!
I made it back over to the convention in time to catch the tail end of Marcella’s workshop on using acting techniques to add tension and emotion into your writing. She even put me on the spot to talk about Feeding the Vampire, which she’d used early on as an example of starting with action. Hey kids – I’m an example! And not a cautionary tale this time!
Robyn Carr spoke at that day’s luncheon and did a marvelous job. She gave us her personal story, which is my favorite kind of talk. It took her thirty years to make the NYT Bestseller list, so she said she wasn’t inspirational to anyone. She so was. You might have seen all the people tweeting her best line: “Success is not measured by fame or fortune or power. Success is measured in moments of satisfaction.”
After lunch, an incredibly handsome man gave me a massage. He’d been set up there all week and, by this point, had three other handsome young men working with him. Brilliant business idea. I told him a lot of heroes would be modeled on him after that. He laughed but, after he finished, he knelt down and put my shoes on, which involved tying the ribbons around my ankles. He gave me a sexy smile and said how into those shoes he could get. Several women watching said they nearly swooned on the spot.
After more workshops, that evening was the Carina Press Author Cocktail Party. Always a delight. I made two new friends there, Cathy Perkins, who I’d vaguely known from Twitter before that, but never really talked to, and Monique Domovitch, a brand new author, who is also with fabulous Editor Deb. We hit it off so well that we retired to the pool bar for a glass of wine before the Harlequin party. Alas, Monique had signed too recently to go, but we had lunch the next day, where I think we talked for two hours. My favorite part of conference: new friends!
The Harlequin party was, again, awesome. Held off site with a tight invitation list, the party showers us with treats. Wait staff were lined up at the doors with trays of a special pink Harlequin martini. I may have had three that night… Which isn’t as bad as it sounds, because I danced and danced and danced.
The lead photo up top is from that party, showing one of my local chapter mates, Robin Perini, explaining something to agent Laurie McLean. And here’s Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, a junior agent with Laurie’s agency, giving us the Vogue pose.
Here’s the ever-vivacious Victoria Dahl, being unnaturally demure.
And Carina Press Executive Editor Angela James, with photo bomb provided by the wiley Andrew Schaffer.
Mallory Braus, looking deceptively sweet.
And the dancing, of course.
Hope to see you all next year!
Selling out. It’s the cry of the artist. The accusation of the betrayed fan. I’ve blogged before about whether I think this is a real concept and where it came from. Essentially, for a writer, it’s sacrificing the story for commercial gain. That can mean even the gain of not violating an existing contract. We’ve all seen it happen. Charlaine Harris reportedly kept writing the Sookie Stackhouse books long after she wanted to. I would say that I’d love to have that problem – deciding between writing a book I don’t care about and a multi-million dollar contract, but I think it would be an extraordinarily painful decision to make.
All the same, I think brand new authors, especially pre-pubbed authors, worry about this a great deal. Maybe it’s because the artistic vision, the fledgling storyteller is so very fragile and new. It’s very difficult to know – definitely an acquired skill – how to separate good feedback from bad. Agents and editors famously reject anything that’s too outside the marketing box, even as they ask for “fresh ideas.” It takes time and confidence to know when to believe in a story nobody wants to buy. Because, sometimes, it can be true that your carnivorous shape-shifting sunflower story is and idea that plain should just not ever see the light of day.
The other end of the spectrum is writing to spec. The worst examples are those authors who get into writing particular series, like Vampire Diaries, where they have no artistic control, a corporate ideal dictates the characters and stories and straying from dogma is brutally punished.
As with all things, there’s a place somewhere in the middle. I’ve discovered it gets easier to find that sweet spot once you have a good editor relationship.
See, when you’re a new writer, you’re nearly throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. Some are better than others at writing for the market, knowing what kind of thing sells fast and what doesn’t. I have a friend who’s an NYT Bestselling Author who absolutely planned her series with that goal. I, myself, am terrible at this. I tried the same thing, the same approach she did, and my “fresh take” on things is apparently so out in left field that no one has any idea how they’d sell it. So far, I have two totally different novels that have decidedly not stuck to the wall. They slide off into a disheartingly floppy pile on the floor. Sometimes I just let them lie there for a while.
But others *have* stuck.
And there, my friends, is the key.
Because once you’ve sold that book to an editor who loves you (and she will or she wouldn’t have bought your book – my editor Deb recently tweeted that part of her decision to buy a book hinges on whether she loves it enough to read it 4-5 more times in the course of editing, a hell of a lot of love), then you have a relationship where you can discuss the next story. In my case, I don’t have contracts for the next books, so they’re always careful not to guarantee me anything. Which is good for me because I don’t have to guarantee anything either. But they will give you an idea of will or won’t work for them. Editor Grace guided me towards a different word count and essential elements she’d like to see. I wrote Hunting the Siren with those guidelines in mind, but it was still my story. When I mentioned to Editor Deb what I was working on as a follow-up to Sapphire, she pointed out a few things that would make it a hard sell to the acquisitions team. I set that story aside and wrote Platinum instead, which the acquisitions team snapped right up.
Is this selling out? I just don’t think so. Mainly because I’m still writing all of my other stuff. It might also be that I have two fabulous editors who really respect that writing isn’t something that can be controlled and dictated. They give me freedom, but they also give me guidance for the market. That’s their part of the job, as far as I’m concerned.
And heck, at least they’re not cluttering up my kitchen floor.
Little shameless plug: you can now sign up for my newsletter!! I know – you all are gasping in giddy surprise. I’ve been told (in no uncertain terms and by readers, amazingly enough) that I *need* to have one. If you want to subscribe (and I totally do not blame you if you don’t), there’s a place to do it in the right-hand column of the home page. One of my readers, the lovely Susan Doerr, even volunteered to compose one for me and it’s really just great. (I suspect she worried about what travesty I’d come up with on my own, given my hatred of all things newslettery.) This is very simple, comes to your email In-Box and we’ll only do it quarterly or so. I’m told I’ll have special treats and giveaways, too. Whee!
Okay: Writer’s Block.
So, those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time might be surprised by today’s topic. I’ll be up front: I have never believed that Writer’s Block is a real thing. In fact, I had to create the label for it just now. I’m a big believer that habit and ritual will get words down. I’ve always thought that Writer’s Block was more about angsting over the process – and maybe a bit of resistance towards just doing the work – than anything real.
And then I hit it.
I didn’t even know what it was.
See, what happened was, last Friday I got my developmental edits on Platinum. They’re not bad – Editor Deb Nemeth is excellent at her job: specific, clear, good insights. I even wrote a post last week about how she pushes me to write difficult scenes. She also asked me to layer in more detail about the setting in Charleston, SC, and my heroine’s daily life owning an art gallery.
Several of my friends joked that I clearly needed to take a tax-deductible research trip to Charleston. I laughed.
Now, I’ve been to Charleston a few times, but not since, um, maybe ten years ago? And I’ve shopped in art galleries there. I have friends who own small businesses that sell to the public, but they’re more coffee shops and bookstores. But hey, I’m the queen of networking, right? So I set to finding someone to talk to.
I hit wall after wall after wall. Nobody answered their phones or responded to the messages I left. The one gallery owner I talked to, from Santa Fe, was very weird to me. The Charleston Chamber of Commerce interactive marketing director advised me on how to look up galleries on their website.
It was all very weird.
I tried to work on the edits and got nowhere. The layering thing bothered me. I kept Googling, placing calls, asking my email loops.
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
So, at lunch on Wednesday, I was
whining expressing my frustration to David and he said something was clearly in my way. That I was blocked for some reason. “Normally,” he said, “you just do stuff like it’s no problem. You’re doing something wrong here.”
As soon as he said it, it all made sense. It described precisely how I felt: Blocked. Nothing was flowing as it should. Nothing was going my way on this.
“I think you should just go to Charleston,” he said.
And I laughed, like I’d laughed before. I started to tell him how I didn’t have the time or the money for such an extravagant move. Then it occurred to me that I’d just been told I needed to fly to Providence, RI on June 3, for the day job. That’s at least the correct side of the country. I checked into the plane tickets and I could fly to Charleston on Friday, spend the weekend and be in Providence by Monday morning.
So, that’s what I’m doing.
I’ll tell you what – as soon as I bought that ticket, everything started flowing again. People returned my messages, I started revising happily and easily. Bluebirds perched on my desk and sang sweet songs of joy.
I don’t know why I have to go to Charleston, but it’s clear I do.
I don’t recommend this method for resolving all Writer’s Blocks, but I think the lesson here is to listen to yourself. When you feel blocked at every turn, there’s a message in that. Sometimes the answer is to do that thing you think can’t be done.
It might open all the doors.
I might have posted this pic before, but I recently put my screensaver on slide show and I saw this one from a couple of years ago go by. Kind of fun to see your own photograph and think it’s cool. It’s appropriate, too, because we had a rainy weekend. Very unusual for us, especially given the severe drought in the desert Southwest, but we’ve been socked in since Friday, with rain coming and going. The woman at the gym (not the Crazy Gym Lady – she is thankfully long gone) said it’s to be sunny tomorrow and how she’s looking forward to it. About three people jumped on her saying “We need the rain!”
Like we don’t have an average of 325 days of sunshine a year. She can’t give up a few to have some much-needed rain?
~Deep Cleansing Breaths~
I might have been a little sulky this weekend, because I received my developmental edits for Platinum. I know – that was fast! And they really aren’t bad at all, except Editor Deb asked me to write two scenes that I “dodged.”
She did this to me on Rogue’s Pawn, too – pushing me to write this one scene I just SO didn’t want to write. She said
On Platinum, though, I really thought I’d made a considered decision not to write those scenes. I’d kind of had them in my head all along, but when I got to that point in the story, they just didn’t seem to FIT. I mentioned this to her in an email and she replied:
Any time you try to dodge writing something, you should ask yourself why, and try to push through it and make yourself write it anyway. Writing through tougher scenes may often reveal something about your characters, helping you dig further to uncover some truth about them or the story. Whereas avoiding them will often leave readers feeling a bit cheated. They might not be able to put their finger on exactly why or what, but they may sense that a good story could have been great.
I know this. Right?
And this is part of why I really value having an editor like her, because she does push me to write a great book. Left to my own devices, I’d likely allow myself the dodge.
Because it didn’t feel like dodging at the time. I suspect all avoidance techniques are like this. We kid ourselves that we’re not really procrastinating, we’re Doing Research! Oh, I’m not being lazy about getting my wordcount in today, I’m giving myself a break! I’m not avoiding that friend who was a cow to me, I’m just really busy.
It takes a good, hard look in the mirror to parse some of these out. With emotional stuff, that’s why it’s often good to see a counselor, an objective third party who can point out your behavioral dodges. Sometimes your friends can do it, like your critique partners can. But often it takes a professional to hold your hand to the flame and tell you to do better.
Whether it’s easy or not.
So, I have my official back cover copy for Rogue’s Pawn now! You know what I mean – if you were holding a paper book in your hand and you turn it over to read the back to see what it’s about? Yeah, that.
This is no fairy tale…
Haunted by nightmares of a black dog, sick to death of my mind-numbing career and heart-numbing fiancé, I impulsively walked out of my life—and fell into Faerie. Terrified, fascinated, I discover I possess a power I can’t control: my wishes come true. After an all-too-real attack by the animal from my dreams, I wake to find myself the captive of the seductive and ruthless fae lord Rogue. In return for my rescue, he demands an extravagant price—my firstborn child, which he intends to sire himself…
With no hope of escaping this world, I must learn to harness my magic and build a new life despite the perils—including my own inexplicable and debilitating desire for Rogue. I swear I will never submit to his demands, no matter what erotic torment he subjects me to…
This is kind of a weird moment for most authors, I think – seeing the final condensation of the story. For better or worse, I will now see these three paragraphs ALL THE TIME. Any time someone reviews the book or mentions it, these words will tag along. It’s not a bad thing, just part of the business. I’ve always wondered how bands feel singing their signature songs twenty or thirty years later. I mean, does Stevie Nicks sing Landslide and think “Blah blah blah?” Or does Aerosmith, when they perform “Dream On,” which will have released forty years ago next year, think “When will this song ever die?” Never mind that Steven Tyler can’t hit the notes anymore. Or are they just grateful that they managed not to OD and that people still want to hear their music?
Probably a mix of both.
So, it’s funny to get this copy and be given the green light to spread it around. I’ve seen it a few times now – from what they sent me and then what my editor, the incisive and insightful Deb Nemeth, worked up from it. I suppose I’ll be lucky to be still looking at it forty years from now.
No cover yet – I’m promised it any day now. But I know who’s designing it: http://www.kixbydesign.com. There are some amazing covers on the site, so I’m feeling all tingly and hopeful. Think good thoughts!
Seems like everyone is dealing with edits lately. I know that’s likely a false observation, based on only a few data points. But one of my CPs was wresting with copy edits she didn’t totally agree with and another received kind of on odd batch of late-breaking line edits after copy edits, mostly eliminating word repetition. Another is coping with pretty deep first round developmental revisions.
For those not in the trenches, there are various rounds of edits we receive from our publishers. They are:
Revise and Resubmit
This is before you get a contract. Usually you’ll get a letter from the acquisitions editor saying what they like about the book, along with what you’d have to change for them to acquire it. A surprising (to me) number of authors won’t do them, saying they won’t “work on spec.” Of course, there’s no guarantee that they’ll accept if you revise. Still, as my fab editor Deb Nemeth points out, it takes a substantial amount of time and effort for her to write an R&R letter. It’s much easier to say no. With an R&R, they’re already invested.
The first step after you sign your contract. There are one to two rounds of these, usually depending on how well you revise on the first round. These can be overarching changes like “firm up the heroine’s motivation” or “write this chapter in real time, not as a memory.” Sometimes writers react to developmental edits like they’re an insult or as if the author screwed up. No, it happens to established authors all the time and can have a lot more to do with how the publishing house wants to target the book. One friend of mine had grandparents in her YA novel who were way too supportive and helpful. Her editor asked her to go through and make them unsupportive, to add more tension.
This is what it sounds like – the editor goes through the whole book, line by line and scrutinizes every word, phrase, sentence and paragraph. Usually there are two rounds of these. Hopefully the second is far less painful than the first.
The final round! (Or two.) The Copy Editor is a different person, very specialized who has the job of Quibbling. They fact-check. They fix everything according to House Style (the established rules of the publishing house – for example, Carina has a no colons or semi-colons rule). Copy Editors tend to be very literal. They hate metaphorical language and they love Perfect Grammar above all else.
So, my friend who was angsting over her Copy Edits was upset at having a lot of “thats” inserted. It’s the difference between, for example, “The hammer that she used every day” and “The hammer she used every day.” A lot of writers hate “thats” and work to eliminate them. Copy Editors tend to insert them, for perfect sentence structure. The writer felt that (heh) this changed her voice.
There’s lots to be said about voice – volumes, really. Amusingly, as I was deciding how I could wind this up succinctly, I was discussing on Twitter this book I finished reading last night, how much I loved it and how, this morning, I’m missing it. And my editor, the aforementioned fabulous Deb, replied: “That feeling of wanting to be back in a story after you finish reading the book? That’s the quality I look for in a submission.”
And that, my friends, will never be affected by a few more that’s.
Heh – at least I amuse myself.
I was IMing with one of my Critique Partners yesterday, about how I’m hitting this new place in my writing career. KAK (who just redesigned her blog AND actually posted to it here) is pre-published and is hitting the querying and submitting now. She was catching up with me on how Sapphire is doing, and I said it seems to be doing really well, though I make a point of not looking at sales rankings, etc. (With the glaring exception of that run on the Carina Press website, which I caught by surprise and then all the people who love me kept checking and telling me that I was still #1. That was pretty damn fun.) One way I knew was that my Carina editor, the insightful Deb Nemeth, emailed to ask if I was sending them more BDSM romance. Check that, she said “you are submitting more right?” and then said things about building readerships and frequency of publishing and so on and so forth and other things that I just don’t like to keep in my head for very long. KAK holds marketing stuff in her head much better than I do – one of the reasons I love her – and she said that Deb is right and that you need 3-4 books a year to build a readership. And I asked her if she wanted the email address for my boss at the day job.
Okay, I might have been whining a little bit.
Because she said, hey, you should be happy that editors are ASKING for your work. (I may have mentioned that my Ellora’s Cave editor, the lovely Grace Bradley, has been making similar noises.) I was chastened. I should be grateful. I *am* grateful.
The thing is, they ask what I’m working on and the novel I’m finishing is not one they’re asking for. So far, nobody is really asking for The Body Gift, either. So, I’m in this funny place where I have limited writing time and I’m spending it writing the books nobody is asking for instead of the ones they really want.
I’m insane, right?
I’ve seen career writers talk about this particular struggle – the work you want to write vs. the work they want to pay for. From that I know that this will never change. Charlaine Harris wrote the Sookie books way longer than she wanted to because of this. And you keep reminding yourself how tremendously lucky you are that they want to pay you to write more.
But then there’s that other reason we write. The love of it. “To touch the hem of the gown that is art itself” as Ann Patchett says. (Yes, I’m still reading that book. I went back, slowed way down and now I’m highlighting great lines to share here.)
I suspect the next step will be finding a way to do both.