Thirteen Writing Resources for 2013

The year 2013 is well under way. I’ve decided to repeat one of my most popular posts, pay it forward once again, and share with you a dozen plus one lessons and resources from my arsenal of tools. Hopefully, you’ll find something useful for your own writing.

Thirteen may just prove to be the luckiest year yet—if you’re a believer, like me. I’m certainly wishing you a wonderful, belated 2013.

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Thirteen Writing Resources for 2013

Critique partners unite 

Ever feel like you are so caught up in revising your story that you can’t hear your characters anymore?

There are so many advantages to collaborating with critique partners who understand your voice and let you fly, but give you honest feedback when you’ve gotten into writer-gone-wild mode. Yes, it’s helpful when someone points out poor word choice or incomplete sentences but set your expectations higher when working with someone else’s manuscript and visa versa. The real challenge is in making your story sing, both beautifully and loud enough to draw attention to it. And, when your characters world gets murky and their voices sound flat, the value of good critique partners is immeasurable.
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What Sells Books?

It seems as if everyone ponders this question. For those of us struggling to land publishing contracts, we’re told to blog, be active on social media, create a brand, and network. Then, down the road, all of this will pay off in spades when we have that first debut novel to promote.

All of those things are worthwhile endeavors, but do they actually sell books? According to the latest research: No. Word of mouth is what sells books.

That’s right. It’s not Twitter, or Facebook, or blogging. It’s Reader A recommending your book to her BFF, Reader B. But word of mouth is elusive. Unpredictable. How do you get it, especially in such a crowded literary landscape?
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Learning to Speed Write

New Jersey Romance Writers just finished its February writing challenge,  JeRoWriMo, or Jersey Romance Writing Month. The challenge, to write thirty thousand words in the month of February.

I started a new project for JeRoWriMo this year, and I’m happy to say, I met the 30K goal, despite a few obstacles. Five day trip to Texas? No problem. Three out of four family members, including me, sick for over a week? Piece of cake!
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Discovering Local Flavor

Earlier this week, a photo album of rare color photographs from early 1900’s Paris circulated around Facebook. You read that right…COLOR photos from the early 1900’s. Here is the link: http://curiouseggs.com/extremely-rare-color-photography-of-early-1900s-paris/.

These photos got me thinking…we all have, thanks to the media, news, and marketing, distinct impressions of what makes a place unique. Wisconsin has dairy farms, Texas has cattle ranchers, California has Rodeo Drive, and New Jersey has the shore. Florida has orange groves and Washington has apples.

When I pitched my short contemporary romance set in Vermont, almost every agent and editor I pitched it to stressed the importance of setting taking on the role of a character in the story. In other words, evoke the setting in the prose. If the story is set in a place, make sure there’s a reason the story is set there. Your story should only be able to take place there, and nowhere else, if the setting is strong enough. If you’re setting a story in Vermont, for example, it seems like it should have a few key things…mountains, ski resorts, maple sugar and fall foliage.
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Advice for Understanding the New Age in Publishing and Promotion

Sarah Wendell, the creator and blogger extraordinaire from the site Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, offered an extremely insightful presentation on future trends in the romance market at the monthly New Jersey Romance Writers meeting.

I hope my interpretation of our meeting might help writers gain insight into the evolving, complex world of publishing. I suggest you visit Sarah’s site, for more information—and to check out the plethora of interesting articles, reviews, and laugh-out-loud comments posted regularly.
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Things This Writer Is Thankful For

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday! I don’t know about you but in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, it’s more apparent than ever how much I have to be thankful for. Nothing like the biggest and worst storm on record to make you appreciate the little things in life.

Here’s a short list of the things I’m thankful for in my writing life…

The Internet

Research can be fun, but it can also be a major time suck. I’m so grateful for all the wonderful historical blogs and sites that make it easier to find the nuggets of information I need. Google Books is worth its weight in gold for first person historical accounts.
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Snippet #5: The Runaway

Hello! I’m Jenna Blue, the newest member of the Violet Femmes. Although we’ve been all twined up this past year (forming fast friendships, critiquing like mad, and just generally enjoying the camaraderie of pals who ‘get’ this writing journey), I have finally taken the plunge and accepted their invitation to blog regularly. Thank you, Femmes! I’m touched and honored, and will strive to do you proud!

As most of you know, it’s Snippet Month! Before you sink into reading for pleasure, however, please take a moment to enter our contest by following the link below. We can’t wait to award one of you a brand new NOOK SIMPLE TOUCH!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/d514c70/

Today’s snippet from The Runaway, is not one that highlights the heat between my sexy heroine and hot alpha hero, or even one that foreshadows the danger that crackles in a romantic suspense… Instead, in honor of my fellow Femmes, I’ve chosen a scene that speaks to FRIENDSHIP. Because no matter the form, the start, or the length—to celebrate joyous times and bolster you in the bad—there’s nothing like good friends.

Although they both search for Mitch’s runaway sister, Charlie has stonewalled the sexy detective who arrived asking questions, believing she knows nothing that could help—and fearing her own secrets will come to light. After he leaves, Henrietta, who has witnessed the heated altercation in the middle of the busy San Francisco soup kitchen, gives Charlie a piece of her mind—as good friends are wont to do.

 Charlie glared daggers at the man’s back as he stormed out of Glide. When he stepped over the threshold, she pivoted and marched back to the kitchen without a glance to the left or right.

Henrietta held open the swinging door for her by casually leaning against it, while she fanned herself with a plate. “Quite a show,” she murmured.

“I suppose you had a front row seat,” Charlie muttered as she slid past. She didn’t want to talk about it, so she attempted to adjust her tone to sweet, “Another hot flash, Henry?”

“Woo yes. Brought on by all the excitement.” She ambled in, the swoosh of the door just missing her as it returned.

Charlie headed for the far counter and slammed empty tins into the industrial-sized washbasin. She yanked down the oven door, and reached in—

“Ow!” She jumped back and lunged for the sink, pulled the cold faucet handle, and shoved her hand under the rush of water.

Henrietta grabbed two mitts and slid out the tray of chicken. “A little rattled, are ya?” she needled.

“Just not paying enough attention, that’s all,” Charlie grumbled.

The older woman set the food under the warming lights without looking at Charlie. “My mind’s lingering on that hunk of a man, too.”

“Henrietta!”

“Well, he is a looker.” She returned to the oven for some warm dumplings. Charlie rolled her eyes and caught Henrietta’s smirk.

“What’d he say to make you so angry?”

“Nothing really,” Charlie eyeballed the pad of her index finger, found it slightly red, and stuck it back under the stream of cold water. “He just rubbed me the wrong way.”

“What’s he want?”

Charlie huffed out a breath, turned off the faucet, and grabbed a towel. “He’s a cop. He’s looking for his sister.” She faced Henrietta. “Tiffany Scott.”

Henrietta stared. “Then what was all the yelling about?”

“I wasn’t willing to give him any information without a warrant.”

Henrietta put her hands on her hips. “Why ever not, child?”

“Because how do I know she wants to be found? That he’s who he says he is? That he’s not the cause of her trouble, or that he’s doing what’s right for her?”

Henrietta cocked her head. “Isn’t this the very girl you been worrying over?”

Charlie nodded, sheepish.

Henrietta shook her head. “You are somethin’ else, if you withheld information that could help that girl. From an officer of the law, no less!”

“A job or a title doesn’t make a person automatically trustworthy, Henry.” Appearances could be deceiving—a truth she’d do well to remember. “Besides, if I knew where she was, I would have helped her myself.”

“Mmm-hmmn. Just by looking at that fine man, I can tell he’s on the up and up, and I bet you know it, too.”

Charlie frowned. Maybe, except if he was Tiffany’s brother, then he was also from Pennsylvania. Add that to the fact that he’s in law enforcement, and the chances of him recognizing her skyrocketed.

She threw the drying towel on the metal counter. “What I know,” she said, “is that the good-looking ones can be the worst kind.”

Henrietta clucked her tongue. “What I know is that a good man could be just what you need to force you out of that box you live in.”

“You rent me that box!” Charlie stomped her foot, then immediately regretted the petulant action. A landlady who acted more like a mother naturally brought out her inner child.

“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” Henrietta raised her chin in challenge.

Charlie blew out another breath hard—this one forceful enough to make her short bangs move. “Stop pushing. I have everything I need.”

“You most certainly do not! You serve at this mission and you waitress at night. Otherwise, you hide out in your apartment. No friends to speak of—”

Charlie began, “I have you and Cleo—”

“No friends your own age—real girlfriends! Never a date, no hobbies, and not a lick of fun as far as I can tell.” Henrietta had started fanning herself again in the middle of this tirade with a work-worn hand.

“You should talk,” Charlie said.

“I’m old! I’ve lived life, child!” She flapped both hands in exasperation and her generous bosom heaved. “You deserve more.”

Charlie shook her head. “Please, Henry. This is the only way for me.” Tears threatened, so she clenched her jaw. “I promise you, I’m content. It might not seem like much from the outside looking in, but this life is a blessing.”

Snippet #2 – The Lady Wore High Heels

Welcome back, readers, to Snippet Month at The Violet Femmes. The NJRW Put Your Heart in a Book Conference is next weekend, and in tandem with the conference, we’ll be announcing an exciting new contest in celebration of our first year together. So make sure you’ve subscribed to our blog, because this contest has a great prize, and you’ll want to enter as many times as you can!

Hugs,

Jaye

The following is a snippet from my YA work-in-progress.

Nadine is a young lady whose family is on the fringes of the Court in Renaissance France. She has just been chosen to be the companion of the new princess, Catherine de Medici, as she adjusts to her surroundings. The adjustment to palace life proves just as difficult for Nadine, who is used to helping out in the palace kitchens which her mother oversees. Added to her unease is the unexpected attraction she feels for the Prince’s right-hand-man, Gilles de Nantes.

A light knock sounded on the dressing room door. Nadine moved to answer it.

“No, Nadine, you stay. I will get it,” Maman ordered. Nadine took the opportunity of her mother’s inattention to snatch up the ribbon from the previous night, and tuck it in her bodice.

Maman opened the door to the house maid, Julée. “There is a man at the door, Madame. He says he is here to collect Mademoiselle Nadine.”

Julée followed Nadine and her mother as they made their way to the salon. Butterflies suddenly threatened to break free from Nadine’s stomach. They paused in the hall just outside the open doorway. Maman squeezed Nadine’s elbow and gave her a look of encouragement. “Breathe. And remember, I love you.”

“I love you, too, Maman.”

“Ready?”

Nadine nodded.

They rounded the corner into the salon. A man stood at the window, his back to them as they entered. As he turned, Nadine gasped.

“Monsieur de Nantes,” Maman said. She and Nadine curtseyed.

Gilles gave a slight bow in return. “Madame. I trust you are well?”

“Quite well, monsieur. Thank you.”

“And you, mademoiselle?” He cocked one eyebrow questioningly.

“Yes, thank you,” Nadine replied.

“Good! Shall we go?” Gilles motioned to the door.

“Surely you are not escorting my daughter on your own?” Maman interjected.

“She is in no danger from me, Madame,” Gilles replied. Nadine looked up at him, her eyes meeting his defiantly. So, she was not worth his time, was that it?

“Danger or no, it is not fitting,” Maman replied. “Please allow Nadine’s maid to accompany you.”

“Are you not fearful then, for the maid, Madame?” Gilles asked.

“Of course. However, I know my daughter. If you were to compromise her in any way, she would scream bloody murder. And if you were to accost the maid, well, you would have to fight my daughter off,” Maman warned.

“Ah, so that is the way of things, is it?” Gilles’ eyes twinkled in amusement. “Then let the maid come, and you have my solemn vow, no screams will be heard from the prince’s hall.”

Maman turned to Julée. “Keep an eye on this one,” she said softly. “He has the devil in him.”

“Yes, madame,” Jolée replied. “I will keep Mademoiselle Nadine safe from harm, I promise.”

“You are a good girl,” Maman said. She turned to Gilles. “I trust I will not hear of any nonsense.”

“You have my word, as the prince’s representative, that your daughter and her maid will be safe from me. Further, I will not allow anyone else to harm them, either.”

“I believe you. Now, go. Nadine, make me proud,” the comtesse said, kissing her daughter’s forehead.

Tears welled up in Nadine’s eyes. “I will, Maman.”

Gilles went to the door and turned. “Shall we? Prince Henri is waiting.”

Nadine blinked several times before looking up at him. “Of course,” she said, forcing a smile.

She fell into step slightly behind him, as was her station. Julée trailed after them, a few steps back. They made their way across the street and through the courtyard of the Louvre Palace. The black sky had turned to midnight blue. The stars winked their last as the sun began to rise on the horizon, bands of yellow to orange to green and aqua. A chaffinch, waking to the dawn, bobbed on the dried seed head of a flower in the Palace’s winter garden. Its happy song lifted Nadine’s spirits. Surely the dread she was feeling was misplaced.

“Monsieur? Can you tell me why the Prince wants to see me?” Nadine asked.

Gilles slowed so that she could draw even with him. “Mademoiselle Mystery, surely you know better than to ask that,” Gilles replied sardonically. His use of the moniker got her back up.

“Since you obviously do know my name now, I would appreciate if you would stop using that ridiculous one,” she huffed.

“Ah, but perhaps it has nothing to do with knowing your name. Perhaps I call you Mademoiselle Mystery, not because I don’t know your name, but because you are an enigma to me.”

“I can’t imagine you waste any of your precious time thinking about me, one way or the other,” Nadine replied.

“Can you not?” he asked, shooting her a sidelong glance. “Is it equally hard for you to imagine that I can reflect on anything, while performing one of my many required duties?”

“Certainly not. I only meant that I am sure there are other, more important things to occupy your thoughts than a girl of my position in the Court.”

“Well, in that you are wrong, I assure you. A girl with charms such as yours,” he looked down at her bodice, “would occupy the thoughts of any man who might be lucky enough to make your acquaintance,” Gilles replied.

Nadine turned her face away to hide the blush that burned her cheeks, and tried unsuccessfully to take offense at his bold actions. “I can see now that Maman was wise to insist on a chaperone.”

Gilles stopped short and turned, causing Nadine to stumble. He grabbed her arm to keep her from falling. “I assure you, mademoiselle,” he said softly. “You are in no danger from me. In fact, it is quite the opposite. If anything, I feel an uncommon urge to protect you.”

Nadine looked up, her eyes locking with his. “Protect me from what?” she asked.

“There are all kinds of dangers in the Court. I urge you to stay alert, know your place, and listen to what your instincts tell you,” Gilles advised.

Why You Should Go to a Conference

With the one year anniversary of The Violet Femmes fast approaching, I’ve realized once again how blessed I am to have such a great group of women supporting me.

As you may or may not know, The Femmes came to fruition at last year’s Put Your Heart in a Book Conference, put on by New Jersey Romance Writers, an excellent sub-group of Romance Writers of America. Encouraged by a glass (or four) of white wine (it’s surprising how much wine can promote creativity), holed up in a hotel room after the awards ceremony, the Violet Femmes were born. It goes without saying that if we weren’t all at that conference, our little group might not exist. Which is what prompted me to write this blog.

First of all, I want to propose that we coin a new term…Pro-ference. Because, really, there are no “con”s to attending a writers conference.

So, here are my top five reasons for attending a Pro-ference…whether it be Put Your Heart in a Book, another local conference, or (gulp!), RWA Nationals:

1.  Camaraderie.  There is no better feeling for a writer than being in the company of others…lots of others…who understand the daily trials, self-doubt, and successes of being a writer. Plus, the sharing usually involves cocktails!

cocktails

 2.   Advice.  Michael Hauge recently spoke at a special event for New Jersey Romance Writers, and he made an observation I found to be true from my first NJRW meeting. Romance writers, he said, above writers of all other genres, are generous to a fault when it comes to sharing information about our business.  Sure, there are egos, but I have never met a romance writer who guarded trade secrets more closely than Colonel Sanders guarded his secret fried chicken recipe. For example, at my first NJRW conference a couple of years ago, USA Today bestselling author Leanne Banks gave the Special Presentation, reserved for the first 100 registrants for the conference. We spoke a bit before her presentation, and I actively participated in a little exercise she conducted.Photo: Me sipping a "Harlequin Heartbreaker" at the Harlequin bash.

Later, she sat on a panel with Susan Litman, of Harlequin, and they talked about what Harlequin looked for in its different lines. Susan had just requested a full manuscript from me when I pitched her my category romance, so I sat in on that session. Leanne greeted me when she came in the room. Afterwards, I cornered her (poor woman!) in the bar as she grabbed a quick glass of wine, and asked her a question that had been nagging me ever since I had pitched to Susan. Leanne spent about fifteen minutes with me, answering questions and giving advice. And I had just asked her one question!

3.  Pitches.  As Michele discussed in last week’s blog, pitching is a prime reason to attend a pro-ference. Where else do you have the opportunity to meet, chat with, and pitch to several editors and agents in one place? Most regional conferences offer pitch sessions. NJRW’s conference offers lots…probably aided by our proximity to New York City, that publishing mecca. This year, NJRW’s Put Your Heart in a Book Conference offers a choice of almost 30 agents and editors…that’s a lot of potential to sell your manuscript!

 4.    Workshops. Probably the biggest draw for serious writers is the schedule of workshops offered. From the craft of writing, to resourcing, to brainstorming, workshops give us writers the tools we need to get the job done…not an easy feat, I can assure you. They help with confidence building, show us ways to get out of that corner we’ve just written ourselves into, and tell us what to do once we feel our manuscript is ready for someone’s eyes other than our own.

5.     Market knowledge. Whether it’s gleaned from editor and agent panels, or in conversations with other authors, finding out what agents and editors are seeking is invaluable information for aspiring and published authors alike. As audience demands are constantly changing, it is important to understand where the minds of the people helping you sell your book lay. Understanding the business of writing is instrumental in getting those books of our hearts published.

So, have you attended a pro-conference? What was your reason for attending, and what did you take away with you?

Hugs,

Jaye

p.s. Stay tuned for a special contest celebrating the one-year anniversary of The Violet Femmes! Thank you to everyone who has followed us over the past year. We appreciate your support!

Following the Trends

Boeken Kringloop Woerden 02

On a recent trip home, my uncle asked me, “There’s no chance your pen name is E.L. James, is there? Ha, ha, ha.” (Yes, I know. Comedy runs deep in my family.) “I wish,” I answered sincerely, thinking of my mortgage. “Well, why don’t you write a book like that?” someone else asked me.

Yeah, I thought. Why don’t I write an erotic romance? Thanks to authors like Anne Rice, Lora Leigh, Lauren Dane, and Maya Banks, I’m very familiar with the genre. And it’s hot, hot, hot! right now, due to Fifty Shades.

But do I want to write a story because the genre is trending…or write the story most suited to my voice?

Which is not to say it can’t be both. I don’t think there’s any harm in trying to write in a different genre as long as you are willing to abandon it if it doesn’t feel right. Like trying on a pair of skinny jeans, hoping they fit, but putting them back on the shelf because all they do is emphasize your muffin top. (Note: This has SO not happened to me.) You may discover a talent for an untried genre. Plus, learning to adapt your voice to different genres seems to be the best way expand your talent as a writer.

Agent Rachelle Gardner says the only way to make a living as a writer is through volume and variety. To think you’re going to write one book that’s going to sell millions of copies is unrealistic. Yes, it happens to a lucky few. But for the rest of us, we’ve got to learn how to write many sellable, marketable books over different genres. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it?

That said, I don’t want to jump into every publishing fad that comes along, either. I would be hard pressed to ever write a paranormal, for example. Or an Amish romance (which I was told at RWA ’11 are very popular). My brain isn’t wired that way and that would be some Herculean flexing of my writing muscle.

It’s tricky. As newbies, we’re told, “Write a unique story that is riveting and polished, and it will find an audience,” but is that really true? Sure, self-publishing makes this idea slightly more plausible. But there are gatekeepers in publishing, whether it’s an agent or an editor, and they know what is selling and what’s still sitting on the shelves. You may have an outstanding vampire story on your hands, but no one’s buying it because the genre has been labeled as dead by industry insiders. (Pun intended.) Then what?

So in your writing journeys, how have you grappled with the trends? Let us know! Anyone who leaves a comment in the next four weeks will be entered to win a $10 Amazon gift certificate, courtesy of the Femmes.

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