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Friday Favorites – Romance, Love and Storytelling

I think I lost more than a few hours reading blog posts this week because I came across so many good things to read. It was hard to choose what to include, but I hope you enjoy my selections:

Emma Burcart has two posts about finding Mr. Right. First, she talks about how sometimes the chemistry just isn’t there and no matter what you do, he just isn’t the one. Then she writes about the mistake so many women make when they meet a man. They see him as a project that they can fix or change. The funny thing is, as Emma points out, if a man looked at us and said, I’d really be into you if you…fill-in-the-blank, we’d be pissed.

Tiffany White talked about Lost Girl this week. This show is relatively new to the U.S. I started watching it when it premiered earlier this year (thanks to another of Tiffany’s posts). I love this show. It’s about paranormal creatures living among people. The thing I like about it is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There is no end of the world gloom hanging over it. Bo is a succubus who spent most of her life not knowing what she was or how to control her powers. Kenzie is her human sidekick, and she gets some of the best lines. Definitely worth a peek 🙂

I have two posts that talk about ebook pricing and the value we place on our work. This is a conversation that is running all over because of things like Agency pricing and the 99 cent ebook. It’s something that’s important to me personally because not only am I an avid reader who spends a lot of money on books, but my debut will be released as an ebook. I think we all love a good bargain, but many times, I’ve looked at 99 cent books and although they were worth the money, they weren’t worth my time. I’m more likely to spend a little more on trusted authors or based on a recommendation. Chuck Wendig talks about ebook pricing. And then Jenny Hansen talks about the value of a story.

Kat Latham has a post about why an agent has to love your novel before they can sell it. I’ve talked about this before when I talked about getting an offer for my book. A lot of people have a list of “dream agents” that would like to work with. I can understand that, but really, I think the most important thing is to have an agent who loves your work. Although it’s a business partnership and you may become friends with your agent, you will have someone who is willing to fight for you if he or she really cares about your book.

I met Tonya Kerrigan at the Chicago Spring Fling conference last week. She has done a fabulous write up for a lot of the workshops she attended. She obviously took much better notes that I did. Here’s her post about why a story isn’t selling. Poke around her blog and you can easily find a ton of other information.

Speaking of conferences, I mentioned in my Spring Fling recap that for me, the conference was more about being around like-minded people that anything else. Janet at muffintopmommy, went to an Erma Bombeck conference and walked away understanding a lot more about herself. She’s really funny and although it’s a long post, as a writer, you’ll get it.

Finally, Stephanie Ben wrote about why romance and erotic romance is more than porn. With 50 Shades of Gray getting the attention is has, I think a lot more people will be coming to read romance and erotic romance, which is good. The thing that bugs me is that everywhere you look across the media, you see “mommy porn.” That term bugs the shit out of me. As a mother and a romance writer, I cringe.

And on that note … is there any term or misconception about a genre that drives you bonkers?

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Chicago Spring Fling 2012

As I mentioned last week, my RWA chapter, Chicago-North hosted its bi-annual conference this past weekend. Chicago Spring Fling 2012 was a huge success. The conference ran from Friday through Saturday night. I didn’t attend any workshops early on Friday because I was on transportation duty and had to pick up an editor from the airport, but from what I heard people started early and the information was great.

Our headliners were Simone Elkeles, Susan Elizabeth Phillips (both C-N members), and Dianna Love. These three women are funny and entertaining and offered great advice.

We had an agent panel and an editor panel and I think one of the most surprising things I heard from both panels is that the vast majority of requests they make at a conference never get sent. Something like only 30% of the people they request pages from send in the pages. Personally, I don’t get that. The book is supposed to be done before you pitch, but I suppose there are people who pitch without a completed manuscript, so that would account for some. But really? Why wouldn’t you send? If they asked, they are obviously interested.

image courtesy of zimbio.com

Friday night I moderated Hot Night, which is something we do at a chapter meeting at least once a year. We are a critique chapter and at every meeting, we are critiquing someone’s manuscript, usually the first 20 or so pages. Hot Night is different in that anyone who wants to read brings a love scene (sweet, sensual, or spicy) of about 5 pages to share. Then we offer critique. A chaptermate, Melonie Johnson, and I moderated the sensual Hot Night group and it was a ton of fun. The session was supposed to last an hour and we went for more than an hour and a half. We had a great time and quite a few people came up to us afterwards or even on Saturday to talk about how much they got out of the session even if they hadn’t read.

Simone Elkeles did a great workshop where she shared all kinds of personal information. She laid it all out there: the advances she got for her books, the promotion efforts she tried that worked and those that didn’t, print runs, you name it. She said that it pissed her off when she was a newbie and wanted information and no one would give specifics, so she decided she would.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips did a workshop on using character to drive plot and I’m so glad I attended. The more I hear her speak, the better I feel about my own process. Our writing styles and methods are similar and although I do try other things, it always comes back to be being a pantser and writing until I figure out my characters. Some of the exercises she had us do got me thinking about my WIP (on which I’ve been a little stalled) and I now have new ideas about how to fix it.

Blythe Gifford offered a workshop on how to write it without being there. Blythe writes historical romance, which is not my genre. I’ve never been a fan of historicals, but I’ve always said that there are a few people who can lure me in with their beautiful words and stories. Blythe is one of those people. In addition to sharing how she does her research for her books so that they can be as historically accurate as possible, she talked about the role of setting, which isn’t something I’ve given a whole lot of thought to. My books are set in Chicago and especially for the first one, Chicago plays a role. I couldn’t turn it into a small town romance because it wouldn’t suit the story or the characters, but I never thought about how the setting influences my characters and shapes who they are.

I also attended Kensington’s spotlight, and although my editor wasn’t there, I met with another editor, Martin Biro. After the spotlight I had a bunch of people stop me to talk about my experiences with Kensington. People were very interested in the new digital first division that will be launching soon.

There were so many more workshops and panels I went to, I can’t even wrap my head around it now and it’s been a couple of days. The one thing I’ve learned to love about conferences, besides meeting people I only know online, is the energy and buzz you get from being around people who understand.

As writers we spend a bunch of time by ourselves listening to voices in our heads. Our friends and families for the most part, don’t get it. They see all the hard work for little or no pay and question why we do it. At a conference, everyone gets it. They understand why and they understand the struggles and they can commiserate. And you come away from it dying to get back into your own writing.

I would highly recommend finding a conference that is affordable for you and go. I had a migraine for 2 days before the conference and then I was away from my kids for 2 days. By Sunday, I was woefully behind in everything in my life, but the time I spent with other writers was well worth it.

Book Deal, Querying, and The Voice

Before I get to talking about TV for today, I want to announce the news I shared on Twitter yesterday. I have an offer from eKensington. I’ve been holding the news for a couple of weeks and I’m really excited to be able to share. I got word from my editor (so cool to be able to day that), Peter Sentfleben, that I could go ahead and announce. Details are still being ironed out and I’ll post more as I learn about it. Virtual chocolate for everyone!

On to my regular TV talk. This past week, The Voice started its second season. I never watched The Voice last year, and I don’t know that I would’ve tuned in this season, but I had towels to fold and it came on after the Super Bowl, so I watched. For those of you who didn’t watch, contestants are pre-screened and invited to audition for the 4 judges, so there is no terrible singing like you get during the first episodes of American Idol. The judges are Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton, Cee Lo Green, and Adam Levine.

The auditions are blind in that the judges face the audience and can’t see the performer. If they are interested in adding the performer to their team, they press a button which will turn their chairs around and light up a sign that reads “I want you.”

I was fascinated as I watched. If more than one judge turns around, the performer gets to decide which judge he/she wants to work with. What surprised me is that it appeared that for most of the people this happened to, they didn’t know who to pick. I’m sure they didn’t go into it thinking that all 4 judges would want them, but didn’t they at least dream a little. Isn’t it natural to think to yourself, “What if?”

But then I got to thinking…

I know this seems like it has nothing to do with querying and finding an agent, but to me it does. A lot of advice out there will tell you to create tiers for the agents you want to query. Your dream agents, followed by the next level and so on. I can’t say that I had any idea of a dream agent. Are there agents that I’ve followed on line and thought they would be good to work with? Sure. Anyone who is serious about publishing will do that, but I didn’t have my heart set on anyone.

By the time I queried my agent, Fran Black, I had already queried lots. I revised the manuscript in between bouts of querying. I got requests for partials and fulls. And I continued to query. I didn’t stop just because some agents requested material.

I was a self-described query slut. I would query any agent who might consider my manuscript. That’s not to say I queried someone who only reps mystery (I’m not dumb), but I queried agents who offered any indication they might take on romance or women’s fiction. Some people would tell you not to do that, but my goal was to find someone who loved my book.

That’s my dream agent.

Within a couple of weeks of querying Fran, she contacted me for the full and then shortly after offered representation.

She loved my book.

The thing is, Fran wasn’t on my original agent list. In fact, she wasn’t anywhere on my radar. She wasn’t on QueryTracker or Agent Query. I found her on the Absolute Write forums, where someone briefly mentioned her and then I checked out her PM page and her web site. (Sorry, Fran, if you now get flooded with queries.)

In thinking about those performers on The Voice, I can see now why the decision is so hard. They get a few precious moments to try to figure out who loves their voice the most. Is it the one who turned around first? Or is the one who listened to nearly the entire song before deciding?

If a performer went into the audition banking on one particular judge to pick her, would she then be disappointed when a different judge turned around and not her top pick?

I think that by setting up a dream agent list, you’re selling yourself short. Do your research and know who the players are, but search until you find the one who loves your work, your voice.

Although I missed a few of the performers, my favorite so far is Juliet Simms:

Do you have a favorite yet for The Voice?

Pessimist or Realist?

It’s been a long two weeks for me. Right after Thanksgiving, we drove to Florida because my daughter’s cheer squad was participating in the National Competition. On the way, my husband asked my daughter if she thought she’d get first place. Her answer: “I think we’ll probably get fourth or fifth.” 

My husband accused her of being a pessimist, of not thinking positively. I like to think that she’s a realist (like me). You see, her squad made it to Nationals by default. We came in sixth place regionally, and only the top 5 teams go on. When another team opted not to go to Nationals, we took their place.

After listening to my daughter explain her rationale (and after I stopped glowing over how smart she is), I realized that writers could learn a lot from my 9-year-old cheerleader.

Many people write a book and query it with dreams of a huge advance that will allow them to quit their jobs, followed quickly by New York Times best-seller status. I’m not saying we shouldn’t dream; dreams are good. But there’s so much of the process we can’t control.

My daughter knew that she could do her best and practice so that she would give the best performance possible. She couldn’t control how tough the judges would be or how good the other squads were. Likewise, writers can’t control whether an agent will love their books. They can’t control whether they’ll get contracts or whether readers will gush over their words.

All we really have control over is what we produce.

After my daughter competed in the regional competition, the coaches took the feedback from judges and fixed the routine so the squad would have a better chance at Nationals. Writers need to do the same with each and every rejection. Take what’s useful, apply it, and move on.

Write the next word, the next page, the next book. Make it better. Because really, that’s all we can do. Whether you are working toward traditional publishing or self-publishing, there are always variables you can’t control.

My agent is currently shopping my book to editors. I hope someone will love it enough to want to publish it, but who knows? I’m not sitting at my computer refreshing my email every two minutes while clutching my cell phone waiting for The Call.

What am I doing?

I’m writing my next book. I’ve been rejected hundreds of times. I’m sure I’ll be rejected more. I’ve held onto my dream of being published, and I have faith in myself. But I am realistic in my expectations. I know I was lucky to find an agent who believes in me.

Yes, luck. Is my book good? I think so. I’ve been writing toward publication for more than 4 years, so perseverance played a part, but it was luck in querying the right agent at the right time.

Positive thinking works. Fake it until you make it is easily applied. Have faith in yourself and your abilities. If you want to be  professional writer, act like one. Even without the contract in hand.

This is the shirt we all wore to Nationals - Plenty of Positive Thinking

But you need to look at yourself and your dreams with a critical eye.

Are you doing the most you can to improve so that your dreams can be realized? Or are you just living on the hope of coming in first?

I think if my daughter went to Nationals pinning everything on getting first place, she’d be sorely disappointed with anything less, and it probably would’ve taken a whole lot of the fun out of the experience.

If you don’t get your dream agent or editor, do you stop writing? We write because we live it, and if it’s that easy to walk away, it’s probably not the right dream.

And by the way, my daughter who thought she might come in fourth? They took second place!

What’s the one thing you wish you could control when it comes to achieving your dream?