Show Me the Money! (Or at Least Don’t Make ME Pay)

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is Lit Cons, Fan Cons, Comics Cons: What’s Best For You?

I imagine there will be a variety of replies to this topic – and maybe someone will take on defining each – but I’m taking a bit of a slant and talking about the stance I’ve taken on conventions in general. Come on over to find out more. 

 

Certain Social Standards and Choosing the Happy

My two boys, enjoying the new recliners and the lovely sunlight of a winter afternoon. I feel sure if Jackson could make his recline, too, he would. 

 

The recliners were a Christmas gift for David. The family all pitched in and we replaced the couch with them. There’s the Before and After. We actually ended up keeping the couch and moving it to another room, which entailed moving stuff from THAT room to an entirely different room, which meant moving the dresser into the closet, and the Big Closet Reorganization, that you may have seen me posting about the last few days. (Mostly on Facebook and Instagram, but there’s a pic here, too.) 

It’s funny because, when I saw Megan Mulry Monday night (we saw The Favourite and had dinner after – if you want to hear my thoughts on the movie, you can listen here), I showed her the pics of the rearrangement. She’s house-sat for us before, so she was familiar with the previous set up. She agreed the recliners were a great idea – so much easier to swivel to watch movies, so comfy! – and then asked what I’d do about the fact that I have two other armchairs on the other side of the room. I started laughing and said, “Nothing! I’m leaving it as is, but my mother said the SAME THING.” So Megan starts laughing, too, saying “Omigod, me and your mom.” (Who she’s met and they enjoy each other.) And I said, “Yeah, my mom said, ‘but you can’t have chair, chair, chair, chair.'” Megan is still snorting into her beer, and says, “I know – like a meeting!”

I suppose I could put a conference table in the middle… 

The thing is – and this is part of why Megan was laughing, because our mothers are very much alike, with Certain Social Standards – the reason I “can’t have chair, chair, chair, chair” because “it looks like a meeting,” is a consideration for entertaining. That’s what Certain Social Standards are all about. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’m very glad that my mother taught me the social skills she did. I know a lot about entertaining and putting events together, skills that have come in very useful in my corporate work, my career as an author, and in my volunteer work for organizations like SFWA and RWA. Social skills are critical for careers of all kinds, even largely isolated ones like being a writer. My podcast on Friday has engendered a lot of conversation on the etiquette of thanking authors who provide blurbs. 

But in this case, I draw a line, because David and I very rarely entertain. I do not host the Junior League meetings in my house, nor the Bridge Club. We occasionally have parties, though less often than we used to, mostly because it’s so much effort, but even then we have them outside whenever possible. When we do have a dinner party, we move everything around anyway. So why would we arrange our home with an eye toward having OTHER people like it?

I work from home. David is home a great deal, as he has irregular hours. We have a very pretty house with incredible views that we worked hard and dreamed long to acquire. It’s a place of peace and delight to us – so we set up the furniture in a way that adds to our relaxation and pleasure. 

I think this speaks to a larger point of why we make the choices we do. How many of our choices are made to please other people, or to meet their expectations? How often do we make a conscious choice to go against Certain Social Standards and instead do the thing that people might laugh at, but that makes us happy?

Something to ponder. 

 

 

The RITA® Award – 2018 Scores

This morning I got a new comment on an old post, which is always interesting. When I saw which post, I totally got it. Last year I put up an article on my blog: The RITA® Award – Is It Worth Entering? Right away I knew why that post, because we all got our scores from the 2018 RITA® Award contest. 

That’s me above, by the way, at this year’s RITA ceremony, with my fantastic agent, Sarah Younger, and one of her newest clients and Golden Heart finalist, Alexia Chantel

I won’t reiterate everything I said last year about the contest, except to say that I still believe in everything I said then, 100%. Even though I didn’t final with either of the books I entered this year. And I’m going to share my scores again, because so many people said they appreciated that I did so last year. 

I entered two books, The Shift of the Tide in Paranormal Romance, and With a Prince in Short Contemporary Romance. 

My scores?

The Shift of the Tide: 9.6, 9.5, 8.9, 7.9, 5.9 – Final Score: 8.7666666667
With a Prince:  9.5, 8.6, 8.3, 7.9, 7.2 – Final Score: 8.2666666667

The Final Score is figured by dropping the highest and lowest scores, then averaging the other three. Finalists in each category are the top 4% of scores, unless there are fewer than four or more than ten, in which case it’s adjusted. 

I’m super pleased with these scores! The average for The Shift of the Tide is second only to that for The Pages of the Mind, which finaled and won last year, so score! And I’m pleasantly surprised by the consistent scores on With a Prince

One interesting trend, the score for the Top 25% in the Paranormal Romance Category has been going up. (25% of all entries had final scores equal to or above that score.) In 2015, it was 8. In 2017, 8.23. And in 2018, 8.3. That indicates to me that overall scoring is higher, and the field even more competitive. I don’t have the 2016 data when I entered The Talon of the Hawk. Maybe I didn’t get my scores that year? Or maybe I deleted the email in a fit of pique because I’d been so hoping it would final. (It won best Fantasy Romance from RT that year after all!) I seem to recall a judge marked it “Not a Romance,” which also happened with The Mark of the Tala. Happens to all of us. 

I also haven’t really tracked the trend in averages for Contemporary Romance, as it’s not my primary genre, but I can tell you the Top 25% score was 8.36, even higher than for Paranormal. Very competitive!

So, onward and upward. You bet I’m entering again for 2019. 🙂

 

A Little Ditty ’bout Joe and Ava

Today sees the release of SHOOTING STAR! This is a dark and intense romance, one unconnected to any other of my books or series.

See, what happened is this. I wrote this book starting in July of 2015. Arguably, however, I’ve been working on this idea for almost fourteen years, since autumn of 2004. I know this because that’s when I saw this magazine cover.

I was on travel for my day job as an environmental consultant – as I often was in those days – and hustling through an airport, when I saw a newsstand plastered with this magazine. For those of you lacking historical context, this was the same year that Mean Girls released. But that was a bit of a sleeper and hadn’t made much of a splash. Far more present in our minds was the Freaky Friday remake, where Lohan starred with Jamie Lee Curtis and did an amazing acting job of body switches. Five years earlier, Lohan played both twins in the Parent Trap remake – and did so brilliantly – but her role as a teen with her Type A mother inside her body blew us all away. She was a charming, smart, vivacious and tremendously talented teenage actress.

But in the autumn of 2004, Lohan turned eighteen – and was immediately splashed in sexy poses in a men’s magazine. I stood there flipping through it, stunned and flabbergasted. They had her posing on a bed in her underwear. In those days, I wrote mainly essays, and published many of them in magazines. So I knew the lead times, which usually were four to six months. That meant they’d done this very sexy photo shoot with a seventeen-year-old girl, one filming a movie where she plays a high school student.

I stood there, wondering how the hell this happened. 

Of course, we know more now – about her mother and various other factors. And we can guess the rest, all of which contributed to a spiral she still hasn’t broken out of. I wrote an essay about it back then, about protecting our young women. I could never sell that one. Nobody was interested.

But her sad story sat in the back of my mind. Fast forward to July of 2015, when I attended the RWA National Convention in Times Square in New York City. My room looked out on the flashing stories-tall digital screens, advertising all manner of things, usually with beautiful women involved. I decided to fictionalize the story, to tell the tale of a child star of tween movies and shows, but who grew up to continue as a pop star. More of a Miley Cyrus career arc. 

Ava was born. And when I looked around for the man to save her from herself, Joe Ivanchan walked in and insisted. I really hadn’t planned to write about an Army vet who’d suffered terribly and had a service dog to keep him on the steady – but sometimes I don’t get to decide these things.

I wrote the book. My agent took it on submission. And we couldn’t sell it.

I revised it, and we took it on submission again. No luck.

I revised it yet again, my new agent took it on submission. And still no luck. One house told me they loved the book, but hadn’t had any luck selling “issue-driven fiction.”

So, I finally decided to publish it myself. In many ways, more than any other book I’ve self-published, this one is a labor of love. I’ve been mulling this story for so many years and it’s finally out there.

That’s enough for me. 

 

 

Not all desires are shiny and sweet—and the dark ones might change you forever…

It’s not the kind of obsession a tough Army guy can admit to—a jones for Ava, the pretty-princess pop star. Not just her body, the perfect product that sells all those magazines. Her music.

The critics call her human lip gloss, all style and no substance. To Joe Ivanchan, Ava is the exact blend of reality and fantasy that he can tolerate, the closest he’s willing to get to giving his heart after the injury and breakdown that got him out of the service.

But Ava is real. She’s a flesh and blood woman with a publicity machine and an album deadline, along with a whole team of handlers paid to shellac a pristine sheen over a damaged, desperate soul. A woman with fears, with secrets, with desires.

When Joe finds himself in an interview to join her security team as her driver, his instinct is to get away. But the woman behind Ava’s carefully focus-grouped image is even harder to walk away from. The angry needs tormenting her speak to something within Joe. Something empathetic, protective—and primal…

Besides, even a falling star can light up the darkest night.

Buy the Book

The RITA® Award – Is It Worth Entering?

I’ve been waffling for some about whether to do this post. I’ve debated it with writer friends – what would we do without them?? – and pondered it in the back of my mind. Mostly I was deciding whether or not to respond to various threads in Facebook groups or in author loops. Usually on those, when the question is “Should I comment?” the answer is No. That’s one of my social media rules of thumb: if it occurs to me that I *shouldn’t* say something, I don’t. 

But I’m seeing this question come up a lot lately – is it “worth it” to enter a book in RWA’s RITA® Award contest?

I saw a lot of this discussion in the wake of the 2017 RITA® Awards in July – and before that when the finalists were announced – and now it’s heating up again because the contest opens on November 1

Thus, I’m going to answer the question here. Whether I think it’s “worth it,” what my scores were, how I feel about them, and finally whether the award really affects sales.

Full disclosure: I’m speaking as someone who won the 2017 RITA® Award in Paranormal Romance for my book, The Pages of the Mind. That’s my RITA® statue in the top photo, in the bookshelf I had to buy especially to house her. More than one wag has compared her to a golden idol who gazes down on my writing desk – and I’m at peace with that. 

So, you might say I’m biased because I did win, and you’re absolutely right. Winning a RITA® Award was one of the best, most transcendent moments of my life. Here’s the pic of me that my wonderful agent, Sarah Younger – recently promoted to Senior Agent at Nancy Yost Literary Agency, yay! – took of me at the moment they announced my book won. 

That is sheer happiness, folks.

But I’ll tell you what – the photos you don’t see are all the times I cried because my book DIDN’T final. Which was a fair number of years, because I’ve been entering since 2009 and 2017 was the first year I had a book that made it to the finals. Which was exhilarating on its own! Let me tell you, I received so many congratulations and good-hearted celebration on my behalf that I felt like Cinderella at the ball – only I got something way better than a prince.

Believe me – I absolutely get the disappointment of not making the final rounds, year after year. But, I didn’t give up. I kept entering my books. And I kept studying what other authors were doing, and working to improve my craft.

And still, it’s a gamble. Judges’ taste varies. Reading is subjective. Different people score on varying scales, just as readers do. One person’s three-star rating is another’s five-star rating.

So, yes, The Pages of the Mind got amazingly good scores. I say “amazing” with intention because I have no idea why this book struck the chord that it did. Well… I can speculate, but I certainly never expected it. I see a lot of people throwing around comments to the effect of “you should only enter your best book.” I can vouch that I had no idea that this would be my RITA® Award-winning book. In fact, the book that I *did* think would at least final, The Mark of the Tala, which received the Seal of Excellence from RT Book Reviews and was nominated for Book of the Year, was marked as not a romance by one judge, on top of not making the finals. 

Not only that, but I entered two books in the contest for 2017, the other being the next book in the series, The Edge of the Blade. I’m willing to share the scores for each because I think it’s illustrative and important.

The Pages of the Mind: 8.2, 9.8, 9.5, 9.0, 9.9 – Final Score: 9.433333333
The Edge of the Blade:  9.7, 3.3, 5.9, 9.0, 8.8 – Final Score: 7.9

For those doing the math at home, the highest and lowest scores are dropped to calculate the final score. I can tell you that getting such high scores for The Pages of the Mind is a first for me! And looking at that, I can see why it won. For whatever reason, people really like this book. Which, hooray!!

Now, am I obsessing at all about those very low scores for The Edge of the Blade? Nope. Not even a little bit. When I shared these with my local chapter, LERA, for the exact same reasons I’m sharing them here, there were people indignant on my behalf. It’s the same indignation I’ve seen online – that no published book could possibly deserve a 3.3, that it’s simply mean to score a book lower than 5 and so on. My take is, of course those are legit scores. Judges can score from 1.0 to 10.0, with increments of 0.1. I have no idea why those judges gave me 3.3 and 5.9, but it could be because that book has a pansexual heroine. It also could be that they really thought my book was poorly written, which is fair. 

And yes, I’ve gotten scores that low in other years, too. I got them when was entering contests for unpublished manuscripts – both 2s and 10s on the same piece. I have a strong voice and that’s one of the effects, readers tend to either love or hate what I write. That’s also fair. I don’t expect everyone to love my work.

Who knows? Could be those judges didn’t like me personally, which colors things. That’s okay, too, because I don’t expect everyone to love ME, either. Plenty of people will never pick up my books, for one reason or another, and that’s fine because people should read what makes them happy.

So, then – did having The Pages of the Mind final for and then win the RITA® Award make a difference in sales? 

Hard to say – mostly because this is a traditionally published book and I don’t have real-time access to sales. I also don’t look at sales and Amazon rankings much anyway because I think it interferes with the creative side of writing. But I can say anecdotally that I saw a lot of mentions of readers picking it up because the book finaled and won. I saw new reviewers tagging me on social media and saying I was a new-to-them author and they were reading because of the RITA® Award. Even better, I saw a lot of readers declaring that the book made them want to go back and read my other books. I think my sales have gone up, probably quite substantially.

More than that, I’ve been amazed at the boost both the final and the win gave to me personally and to my reputation overall. Writers not in romance – like in SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) – mention that I’m a RITA® Award-winning author, and say it with pride and admiration. The day after I won, at the St. Martin’s party – with whom I’d recently signed a three-book deal – the Publisher, Jennifer Enderlin told me that she’d sent an email to the higher ups that they should notice they’d just signed a RITA® Award-winning author. Other authors, big names in romance, congratulated me and knew who I was. I felt like I’d reached a new level in my career. A personal milestone achieved.

As for readers recognizing it or not – some do, some don’t. A lot of my readers sent me photos from their local bookstores and libraries, showing my book in with other RITA® finalists for read-along challenges and pools to pick the winners. And my waxer, an ardent romance reader, knew exactly what it was and actually cried when I took her my trophy to show it off, she was so proud of me and excited.

And then there’s this. That’s me reading MY name and MY book title on a RITA® statuette. Just like I can look up and see her looking down on my desk. When the writing isn’t going well, when some other author gets notice I haven’t gotten, I can look at that tangible evidence and remember the incredible feeling you can see in my face here.

Is it everything? No. Awards are one aspect of measuring success, and one only. I have many other books that have never received an award of any kind and I think they’re good, too. They tell the story I wanted to tell.

But was it “worth it?” If I count up all the money I spent entering books over the years, the tears I cried in disappointment, the certainty that not finaling meant I sucked as a writer, fighting jealousy over those who did final – was it worth it?

Absolutely. Do it. Put your hat in the ring. If it was easy, it wouldn’t feel so incredible when you finally make it there.