Planning for a Long-Term Writing Career

001 (2)Lunch with, Joyce, the winner of the Brenda Novak Auction prize that Carolyn Crane and I sponsored. We took her out to lunch at the RWA convention and gave her all the best advice we could come up with on planning the next stages of her career. It was very fun and we wish her well!

A theme that came up for me over and over at this convention was looking at the long-term career. It seemed we heard a lot of stories about writers who’d lasted through the ups and downs of the industry – and those who hadn’t. One gal I met had written for Kensington – my same publisher – back in the 1990s. She wrote nine books for them, in fact, then was dropped during one of the downturns. Her husband also divorced her at the same time. By the time she sorted out her life, she discovered her writing career had tanked without her noticing.

Quite the cautionary tale.

 Oh, sure, you can make judgments here. Having an agent would have helped. She likely missed signals, should have been paying better attention, but the fact remains that she “made it.” She had nine books with a very good publisher. And POOF. Gone.

During the same conference, I attended one of my favorite workshops, The Secrets of the Bestselling Sisterhood, put on by long-time career pals and friends, Jayne Ann Krentz and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. They often put their long careers in terms of their longevity when so many other very good writers have not survived. From their discussion, I tweeted:

If you’re in this business any length of time, your genre will go out of style. Find your core story and be ready to change genres #RWA13
 
I was amazed at how many people picked up that tweet, saved it in favorites and passed it around.
 
Upon consideration, however, I realize I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s excellent advice. Their point is – and this is mainly from Krentz, who has reinvented herself as an author several times – that the core story is the key. Whether you tell the story framed in fantasy or romance, with vampires or with regency-era dukes, with spaceships or sailing ships – those things are all external trappings. The heart of the story is what we love and want to read. And write.
 
All of this bears thinking about, much as we might not want to. The way the industry is, a huge amount of our focus and struggle goes into the effort to just get on the playing field. Getting Published might not be the high bar it once was, with the many options available today, but it’s still the enormous first step. It’s easy to see all the effort on the front end and forget the ongoing work.
 
But, like with marriage, while it’s tempting to see the wedding as the culmination of the quest – the search, courtship, engagement and ceremony are complete – it’s truly only the gateway into the thing itself. A lifetime of marriage is a continuing, evolving effort. We can no more let our writing careers go than we can take our spouses for granted and assume they are a done deal.
 
Food for thought.

What Genres Do You Read While Drafting?

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Edward Zelster Photography

This is the Kensington cocktail party at the RWA conference. I’m apparently describing something very large to Alexandra Nicolajsen, who manages the digital marketing for the house. Maybe a bus ad.

(That’s the lovely Carolyn Crane sitting next to me.)

As I mentioned previously, I brought back a lot of paper books from RWA, along with a wish list of ebooks I want to download to the Kindle. However, I also have a big road trip coming up. Today I’m flying up to Denver where I’ll help my mom and Stepdad Dave rent a U-Haul truck. My mom has sold my childhood home – after 41 years! – and they’re moving permanently into their Tucson house.

I’d already taken some things a few weeks ago and my aunt went and took some things. Then they had their friends over for a “take some things” party, followed by an estate sale. So there’s not THAT much to convey to Tucson. But there will be two vehicles and neither of them are all that comfortable driving alone for long periods of time. We’ll drive down to Santa Fe on Saturday (about 5.5 hours), spend the night, then go on to Tucson (~8 hours). I’ll hang out on Monday, then drive their “extra” vehicle back to Santa Fe, where it will now be ours. All of this boils down to one thing: audio books.

I sorely need to listen to some books, to help pass the solo driving time.

So, I went to Audible to find the right ones. After all, this is a perfect opportunity to catch up on books I really want to read – for research or because friends wrote them or because they’ve been on my list for a while. But then the two books I wanted most weren’t on Audible! I considered doing them on the Kindle text-to-voice, but I don’t LOVE that. The robo-voice takes away from the story for me. My friend, Sassy Outwater, who is blind, essentially told me I couldn’t bitch about that because, hello, welcome to HER world. I see her point, because Audible books are *expensive* – but I still like them better.

At any rate, I was in the odd position of finding books, any books, on Audible that would be good for the trip. And I didn’t want to burn a lot of time searching. Also, since I’ll be losing writing time doing this trip, I wanted books that would at least feed the story I’m working on, which is an Adult Fantasy. (Book 2 of Twelve Kingdoms, for those who don’t have my life memorized.)

Here’s where I get to my point, because I do have one (shocking!). I wonder what better feeds an in progress story – the same genre or a different one? Someone at the conference says she never reads books in her own genre, because she’s afraid of accidentally stealing ideas. That doesn’t really resonate for me. But I do think it’s better for me to read other genres than the one I’m cooking in.

I ended up choosing the first in Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English m/m detective series, as it’s been recommended to me many times. I’ll listen to Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ contemporary romance Ain’t She Sweet, though I’ve read it before, because it’s practically the text book on how to redeem an unlikable heroine – which I’m dealing with in the story I’m writing. Finally, I got Christina Lauren’s erotic romance Beautiful Bastard, so I can find out what got people so excited about it.

So, I’m curious. For writers, what do you read while you’re drafting? And for the non-writers, do you choose genre by what else is going on in your life?

One commenter will win a book from the ones pictured in Tuesday’s post. Except Sarah MacLean’s A Rogue by Any Other Name – that one has been snapped up by a previous winner.

Author Photo Contest!

BPlS_CeCMAErwnYThat picture is a bit blurry, but that’s Nora Roberts rocking it out on the dance floor at the Harlequin party a the RWA National Conference. She is so wonderful in so many ways.

I’m over at Word Whores today, talking about why scenes should have goals.

Also, I’m choosing a head shot for my book jacket! *muppet flail* A real book jacket!! So, I have four new shots. I’ll likely use the one I pick for all my social media schtuff, so you’ll be looking at it A LOT. Keep that in mind. Let me know which you like and why. I brought  a SLEW of books back from the conference, so I’ll be giving away the book of choice to three commenters.
(As soon as my suitcases catch up to me, I’ll take a pic of the stack and you can choose from that.)

All pics taken by Sarah at Pritschow Photography. I think she did an amazing job.

(Also, for the purists, these are not the highest resolution I have – I reduced size for the multi-upload here.)

Take it away!

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Oh! Atlanta

7_15_13Jackson would make a fine hat accessory, he thinks

I’m off to the RWA National Convention today. If you want to keep up on the fun, the best way is to check my stream here on Twitter. If you’re already on the Twitters, you can also follow the #rwa13 hashtag, for a broader view.

And, if you’re anywhere near Atlanta, consider coming to the massive “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing! More than 400 authors will be signing over two hours. Check out that list. I have trouble sitting at my own table and not running around going all fangirl over everyone else.

Should be a fun week!

Carina Press (Mostly) Uncensored!

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I’ll be participating in this very fun panel discussion at RWA next week for those of you going. We’re to be frank and answer what you REALLY want to know about publishing with Carina. See you there!

I’ll also be signing Ruby at the literacy event Wednesday night. You don’t have to be attending the conference to stop by – so if you’re in the Atlanta area, please come and say hi! I love to chat with people!

Does Writing Faster Mean Cutting Out the Art?

001During my travels last week, I stayed with a friend of many years, Kristine Krantz (aka KAK). She blogs on the Word Whores with me and also writes fantasy. We met via the RWA online chapter FF&P, sometime back in the vicinity of 2009. We became critique partners and friends.

At that time, we were both in the same place – shopping these fantasy novels we’d written and hoped to sandwich into some pre-cut genre somewhere. Though my path was hardly a straight-line – no A-ticket Cinderella ride for me – mine has gone faster than hers. She’s still “pre-pubbed” or whatever euphemism you’d like to slap onto that vicious purgatory of waiting for the market to catch up to your genius. I know this is a hard place to be, because I’ve been there. Another friend and sister Word Whore, Allison Pang, who I met at the same time and in the same way, also shopping a like novel, did manage to pull the A-ticket and full Cinderella ride.

(The moral of our three paths, by the way, is that none is strewn with rose petals and nobody, so far as I know, has received a sparkle pony life companion.)

At any rate, (I’m sure by now KAK has scanned ahead to find out just what the hell I plan to say about her) KAK invited me to stay at her house while I attended the Lori Foster Reader & Author Get Together. This turned out to be an unexpected delight because we spent many hours on her delicious screened back porch, overlooking her park-like back yard, while we worked on writerly things and talked.

There’s something truly restorative about rambling conversations on writing and publishing with like-minded friend who’s as keenly interested in the minutiae as you are. Though we see each other on IM, the conversations only go so far. I also realized, as we talked, that I haven’t been updating her regularly on all of my “business.” It’s a funny thing – as you get into dealing with Published Author World, you tend to talk most to people in the same tangle. I don’t *think* I ditched my pre-pub buddy, but we’ve been working on really different things. And, as you faithful readers know, my life has been moving really fast lately.

In fact, she FINALLY (hee hee hee) completed a monstrous revision of her epic fantasy novel. “Revision” is probably a misnomer because she really wrote a whole new novel with the same world and characters. I feel quite a bit of guilty responsibility for this since I was the one to give the crit that triggered the massive rewrite.

She says she doesn’t blame me.

But it took her a long time to do this. Meanwhile I’ve been working fast. It’s nice for her to be able to do this, because she has the luxury of time right now. We know you pre-pub authors get sick of hearing this from us – we got sick of hearing it, too – but writing before contract is REALLY different than writing for contract and under deadline. We know it’s not nostalgia-worthy since being in that hem-tugging, please-see-me stage of publication wears on the soul, but having the luxury of time is something we look back on fondly. Also the lack of expectations.

KAK and I had this conversation. She mentioned that she’d noticed me blogging about writing books I sold on spec and how it feels different. I said, yes, that it feels like another kind of writing altogether. For me it means:

  1. I have to form a plan ahead of time, because selling on spec means I sell the concept and THEN write the book. This is not a natural pattern for me.
  2. Writing a story you’ve “pre-sold” to an editor creates this lens where I feel like I’m writing FOR the editor. That person is very firmly in my mind, because they are now the primary recipient of my story. I haven’t decided if this is good or bad.
  3. There is a firm external deadline. I have to plan ahead – by a year or more, in some cases – to ensure I have the time to write and revise the way I want to.

This last is crucial because, as I rambled on the topic, KAK nodded and said, yes, you write faster and cut out the art.

Which I’ve been mulling ever since.

Because I don’t think that’s true. I can totally see why it would seem that way. There is certainly not the time to lovingly tweak and polish every bit. There is, also, a definite sense of creating a product that fits a particular expectation (see #2 above). However, I don’t feel like I’m cutting out the art.

Maybe this is self-delusion, because I really HOPE I’m not cutting out the art.

I definitely have not managed to short-cut the suffering. Writing a book faster is no less painful than writing it slowly. It’s more that I am more efficient about it. Some of this is experience. I know by now where I’m going to bog down and how I’m going to feel about it – and I’m quite a bit more ruthless about pushing through it. I don’t have time to wander for weeks through the Enchanted Forest (see last Friday’s post, if you have no idea what I’m referring to). I’ve BEEN through that stinking forest and now I just take the direct – and sometimes arduous – path straight through to the Fountain of Story.

I think it’s less cutting out some of the art and more knowing how to pack the art in there. Like really experienced travelers can pack for a two-week trip in 30 minutes and not forget a thing. You just get good at it.

Mainly because you have to.

Speaking of which, I have a novella due on Saturday and just shy of 9K to go to finish.

See you on the flip side!

 

What RWA Has Done for Me Lately

Dramatic sunset last night. And I got more happy news yesterday, which I should be able to share next week. Hopefully the world won’t end in two weeks, because I have plans.

There’s been some bruhaha over in the hallowed halls of RWA lately. One of the special interest chapters, Women’s Fiction, is being disbanded because their mission and bylaws don’t match RWA’s. RWA, being the Romance Writers of America, has the mission of furthering the romance genre. The Women’s Fiction chapter deliberately focused on fiction for women that are not romances. The chapter bylaws were apparently quite clear on this and some members were even asked to leave (with no acrimony, dues refunded) because their work did not meet the Women’s Fiction definition. All of this has come into play because of increased IRS scrutiny of non-profit tax-exempt organizations. Organizations with this status cannot have subsidiaries with bylaws that are in conflict with the umbrella organization.

All very dry and not really what I want to talk about today.

Amidst all the debate – and there’s been a fair amount of lively and mostly polite debate on the forums and email loops – one person said that RWA had never done one thing to advance her career. A couple of people called her on it, but I’d like to take it a step further.

I am a believer in professional organizations. The strength in numbers created by people of like minds can have a massive impact on the world, creating a smooth path that newcomers sometimes never appreciate.

I think of this with the women’s movement. So many young women refuse to identify themselves as feminists. That’s because we have the enormous luxury of not needing to. We can vote, hold office, walk about unescorted, obtain any job we wish, control our own money, cannot be owned or traded like property. All important qualities for being an independent human being – and all things that women did not use to have, and that many women around the world today do not have. It’s only a non-issue for the women enjoying the rights the women before us fought for.

Unions are a huge topic of conversation today. The impact of unions on our economy, creating in many cases unsustainable – even ridiculous – organizational and fiscal scenarios. But we can’t forget how unionization changed the face of our world following the industrial revolution. We take for granted our five-day work week, 8- or 9-hour days with breaks to eat, as if these are basic rights. Of course little kids go to school and can’t work in factories. But all of these “basic rights” are only there for us to take for granted because our predecessors banded into unions and fought for it.

Now, comparing a professional organization for writers of romance looks a bit weak in the face of these profound battles, but the principle is there. For a romance writer – and member of RWA – to say the organization has never done one thing for her only demonstrates that we have no idea what we’d be facing if RWA had never existed.

There’s a reason that the RWA president has to have published at least five books (I think that’s the right number), because our president must be experienced in the industry, with a credible level of clout for dealing with publishers and literary agencies. What if romance writers never had that public face to represent us?

We all know that romance has long been the sneered-upon bastard stepchild of the reading world – despite its tremendous sales. What kind of conversations would we be having about romance without those sales numbers that RWA compiles and shouts to the world?

For myself, I can vouch that RWA has opened more doors for me and provided the greatest community than any other writers organization I’ve been part of. And I’ve been in quite a few – from arts councils to small critique groups. The conferences, local chapters, online chapters and other communities in RWA have given me an array of tools and friendships that I could never attempt to quantify.

More, I feel certain that those writers who banded together back in 1981 created a smooth road for me. There are all sorts of things I take for granted that might not be there without our powerful and respected professional organization.

I’m proud and grateful to be a member.

In Which I Am FAMOUS

Isabel and Jackson napped together all afternoon. It’s so lovely seeing them be companionable.

 So, some fun things. You can see a picture of me on the New York Times business page here on slide #2!

 

And also? A pic of me in this video! (I’m at 2:20, if you want to expedite the process.)

Don’t I totally ROCK? Or, rather, doesn’t the very cool chick who photographed me at the convention totally rock? I feel like sending her expensive chocolates and cheap champagne. Or vice-versa. I don’t know her that well.

As for today, this might be my last Monday post for a while. Via Roni Loren’s Fill Me In Friday blog, I ran across this post, about blogging less than five days a week. It really struck home, because I’ve been noticing a lot of you check in only once or twice a week – much like his readers. And, gods know, now that I’ve got three series going and my AGENT (okay, I’m still a little giddy over that) I shopping yet another, I don’t need to blog every day.

So THIS? My official announcement that I’ll be putting up blog posts on Tuesday, Friday and at Word Whores on Sunday. Just *think* of the improved quality! The condensed intensity! The sheer reduction of emails in your In-Box!

Yes, I know what’s important to you.