Make Your Own Luck

The Harder I work the Luckier I getAs we ring in the New Year, like so many others, my thoughts are on plans and goals for 2015. You know that old adage…the harder I work, the luckier I get. Just recently I shared with a writing pal that more and more I believe this is an industry where we must make our own luck. There are tons of writers out there. I find the amount of books published in the span of one year overwhelming, mainly because I want to read them all! Given that, how do we get our work noticed in the industry? As I’ve mentioned before, I’m in RoseAnn 2.0 mode. Meaning, while I have a published series, I have certain goals for the next phase of my writing career. First, I’d like to find a publisher for my new Young Adult work. Second, I’m looking for a publisher for my new Contemporary Romance work. Lastly, I’m looking for an Agent, someone who can represent both genres.

The biggest challenge is always getting your work in front of the right industry professionals. So, here are some thoughts I have on how we writers can make our own luck.

Contests

Our Femmes group has had a good run when it comes to contests. There’s a lot to be gained from entering contests. With so many out there, it can be hard to determine which one is right for you. Research the final round judges. If they are on your target list then a final placement guarantees they will have read your work.

Back in October I entered my new Young Adult into a few contests. That piece placed second in both contests, however it earned two full manuscript requests. So, while I didn’t win, those contests contributed to my 2015 goals.

The Cold Query

There is much to be gained from pitching at conferences. However, don’t discount the cold query. I’ve had a bit of success going this route in the past. It can be cumbersome, so you want to make sure you’re funneling your energy in the right direction, and putting your best food forward. Here is a bit of advice on the cold query process.

  • Do your research: Don’t waste your efforts or any industry professional’s time. Make sure those you query represent and/or are looking for what you write. RWA has a list of agents and what they represent. However, I have found the contest trail once again a great resource for this. Agents and editors who volunteer their time to contests usually judge a category of interest. Also, follow industry news. I get a lot of information on my twitter feed, and from my writer friends. When I come across someone I feel a good fit, I add them to my spreadsheet which includes their bio, what they represent, their query process, and any special notes or comments, such as…did I meet them at a conference, do they represent an author I admire, etc.? I track the progress of the queries in the spreadsheet as well. It’s good to have all this information in one place so when I decide it’s time to start the process I don’t feel unprepared.
  • Write a great query letter: I realize that sounds rather obvious. There are a lot of resources on the web when it comes to writing a solid query letter. In researching agents you will find many of them have examples of what they consider good query letters on their websites. I come across blogs written by agents on writing good query letters. The thing to keep in mind about a query, similar to a pitch at a conference, is that the Agent or Editor wants you to succeed. They want you to have the story they are looking for.
  • Personalize it: The best piece of advice I can give on writing a query letter, beyond including your GMC and ending in the story summary, is to personalize each letter. Make sure an agent knows why you have selected him or her out of the vast sea. Why do you think they are the right person to represent your work and career? Always make sure to include any professional publishing credits, organizations you belong to, where you can be found on the web, and a short bio. Always thank them for their time.

Keep Writing

It sounds simple. We’ve heard it a million times, but keep writing. Just because you’ve had some requests and/or you have material out there, that does not mean it’s time to take a ciesta. Unless you’re feeling burned out. If that is the case, some time off might be exactly what you need to recharge your batteries. You never know what opportunities might present themselves down the road. When they do, you’re going to want to be ready with plenty of material.

So, what are your writing goals for 2015? How have you made your own luck? I’d love to hear your stories!

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Engaging the senses in your writing

I was talking with my eleven year old son the other day and he was explaining in great detail about these people who I later learned are from the fictional online gaming world of Wizard 101. This isn’t the first time he’s done it, either. Both my kids regularly refer to characters from TV shows or electronic games as though they’re real. It drives both me and my husband crazy.

But then I started thinking that isn’t this what writers look for when we craft our stories? We want the characters to feel so real to the reader that they could be someone you know—or would like to know. Or could imagine falling in love with. Who doesn’t want to get that little catch in your gut like the heroine does when the hero gives her a smoldering glance?

How do you write to fully engage your reader?

Here are some examples of how to use your five senses to bring your reader into the story. These excerpts are from the partially edited second book in my Tangled Hearts series, Forever In My Heart, which will be coming out soon.

Sight

Vicky bit into a forkful of baked ziti and reveled in the divine combination of garlic, basil, tomatoes, ricotta, and mozzarella cheeses along with the slight bite of red pepper.

Taste

Back in the main room, Maggie poured his coffee, and he took it along with a cinnamon bun to his usual table by the window. Slathering the top with butter, he took a huge bite into a sticky explosion of brown sugar laced dough.

Sight and Smell

Her dark brown hair was pulled back in a high ponytail. A few strands escaped and curled against her neck. She smelled like berries, apples, and cinnamon and he had to fight the urge to reach out and see if she tasted as good.

Touch

He reached out and touched her arm. A spark jumped between them. She must have felt it, too, because she jolted. All these years and his blood still heated up being near her.

Sound

Surprised, she cried out and acted on pure instinct—or stupidity. She elbowed him in the gut. He grunted a moment before the gun clanked to the gun. She attempted to step aside, but her assailant grabbed her arm and punched her in the jaw. It wasn’t a strong punch, but it caused her to gasp for breath. Grabbing the cake carrier, she swiveled and smashed him in the head. He yelped and fell, swearing when he hit the hard ground.

 

In case you can’t tell, there are lots of food references in Forever In My Heart. I leveraged my Italian background in my story and enjoyed creating what I hope are scenes that make the reader imagine being inside Vicky’s café or at least make you crave something decadent. 🙂

Cinnamon buns anyone?

While writing this post, I did realize I shy away describing sounds in my story. It’s given me a renewed energy look for ways to go into more depth as I continue with my edits.

What tips do you have to engage your reader in the story?

Maria

The Standing Desk: What’s Old is New Again

When I started using a standing desk at the day job, I thought I was onto something new.

Turns out I was wrong.

In fact, standing desks have been used for much of human history. The elevated surfaces were built so that people could stand and write on a slanted surface. Tall stools were often nearby for when people needed to sit for a bit.

Members of the Doctors Commons, a society of lawyers, stand while working. (circa 1857)

Members of the Doctors Commons, a society of lawyers, stand while working. (circa 1857)

Thomas Jefferson was among the first on record to adopt the standing desk; he designed his own in the 1700s.

The nation’s third president came up with an adjustable desk that allowed him to stand (maybe while writing the Declaration of Independence?) or to bring it down to a level where he could sit  on a stool.

The six-legged desk also had an adjustable work surface that slanted upward.

The standing desk designed by Thomas Jefferson.

The standing desk designed by Thomas Jefferson.

Winston Churchill, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll and Charles Dickens were also known to use standing desks.

Woolf’s nephew, Quentin Bell, wrote that she “had a desk standing about three feet six inches high with a sloping top; it was so high that she had to stand at her work.”

I’m not sure why they all worked on their feet, but I was motivated by health concerns and the impact of sitting for too many hours each day–first at the day job and then at home while writing my novels.

Multiple studies suggest people who sit for extended periods of time run an increased risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, leg disorders, soft bones…not to mention a sore backside.

Way back in 1883, Popular Science magazine also cited health reasons when encouraging readers to use standing desks.

“At the first symptoms of indigestion, book-keepers, entry-clerks, authors, and editors should get a telescope-desk. Literary occupations need not necessarily involve sedentary habits, though, as the alternative of a standing-desk, I should prefer a Turkish writing-tablet and a square yard of carpet-cloth to squat upon.”

Illustration for an adjustable standing desk from an 1899 book, "School Hygiene," by Dr. Ludwig Wilhelm Johannes Kotelmann, John A. Bergström and Edward Conradi.

Illustration for an adjustable standing desk from an 1899 book, “School Hygiene,” by Dr. Ludwig Wilhelm Johannes Kotelmann, John A. Bergström and Edward Conradi.

A man stands while he works in this painting from 1829.

A man stands while he works in this painting from 1829.

Ernest Hemingway always stood while he worked, according to a 1958 Paris Review article:

“A working habit he has had from the beginning, Hemingway stands when he writes. He stands in a pair of his oversized loafers on the worn skin of a lesser kudu — the typewriter and the reading board chest-high opposite him.

Ernest Hemingway types at his standing desk.

Ernest Hemingway types at his standing desk.

In the book, Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir, AE Hotchner describes Hemingway’s set-up at his home in Havana:

“He never worked at the desk. Instead, he used a stand up work place he had fashioned out of a bookcase near his bed. His portable typewriter was snugged in there and papers were spread along the top of the bookcase on either side of it. He used a reading board for longhand writing.”

In Engaging the Earl, war hero Edward Stanhope returns home on the evening the woman he left behind becomes engaged to another man.

In Engaging the Earl, war hero Edward Stanhope returns home on the evening the woman he left behind becomes engaged to another man.

People have asked me if the creative juices flow while I’m standing up.

I was on my feet for much of the time while completing my latest book, Engaging the Earl, which is out today. (Shameless Plug Alert: $.99 for a limited time!)

I’ll admit writing was a challenge at first, but now I don’t even think about it. In fact, I’m more comfortable standing for four or five hours each day.

All in all, I feel much better, my body isn’t as stiff, my bottom doesn’t get sore, and I rarely get those aches across the back of my shoulders that I feel after sitting for long periods of time.

I’m such a fan that I am ready to get rid of my makeshift standing desk at home to splurge on the real thing.

After all, Hemingway, Woolf, Carroll and the rest of them must have been onto something!

And before I leave you…

5 Interesting Reasons to Read ENGAGING THE EARL

1. The hero returns from years at war on the evening the woman he left behind becomes engaged to another man.

2. Edward suffers from nostalgia…which is known today as Post Traumatic Stress (The U.S. military has stopped referring to this condition as a disorder–dropping the D from PTSD–to remove the stigma associated with it.)

3. The heroine’s dog helps Edward cope with his attacks. I decided to bring a dog into the story after being moved by an article about an Iraq war veteran whose trained service dog helps him manage his PTS.

4. Edward is loosely inspired by Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, who wasn’t allowed to marry an earl’s daughter because he was a second son with no prospects. Ten years later, after gaining a dukedom for his war service, Wellington returned to marry the woman he left behind.

5. Engaging the Earl is only $.99 for a limited time. And who doesn’t love a good bargain?

Amazon ~ B&N ~ iBooks ~ Kobo ~ GoogleBooks

Writing is Personal

Have you ever read a book and wondered how much of it is actually an account of the author’s own life?

I had a discussion with my eighth grader tonight about To Kill A Mockingbird, and she talked about how certain aspects of Harper Lee’s novel came directly from the author’s life. Scout is believed to be based on Harper Lee herself, and Dill is based on her neighbor, the one and only Truman Capote.

Naturally, as writers, we put a lot of our personal experience or viewpoints into our work. How can we not? There is no way we can separate ourselves so completely, mentally and emotionally, from what we create. Any writing instructor, agent, or editor will tell you…write what you know.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking, however, that we are writing our own lives, unless, of course, we tell you it is so.

There are people who believe this to be the case. More than once, I’ve seen that “wink, wink, nudge,nudge” look in someone’s eye when I say I write romance. I’m telling you right now…it’s called fiction for a reason, people! And I have a really healthy imagination.

File:1876. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.djvu

(photo in the public domain)

Certainly, I am present in my writing. My viewpoints, the important themes in my life, my values, all have their place in what I write. I think I would find it hard to write something that was completely antithetical to my way of living. Could Hemingway have written For Whom the Bell Tolls without drawing on his experiences as a reporter during the Spanish Civil War? Would Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer have felt so authentic if the author didn’t draw from his childhood to write the book? The task of a writer is figuring out how, and when (or even if) to present that bit of themselves through the eyes of the characters in the novel.

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The Dreaded Sagging Middle

I wanted to blog about a topic many writers—including myself—dread. It’s the sagging middle. And I’m not talking about out waistlines. I’ll save that weight loss discussion for another day. I’m thinking of the middle chapters of our books. The part of our story that loses its drive, its enthusiasm, and well…its umph.

frustrated writer

Others call this midbook burnout. But whatever you call it, the result can be disastrous for both new and established writers. We start out strong. We picture our hero and heroine in our mind with vivid clarity. We know what they look like as well as their initial goals and motivations. We craft wonderful beginning chapters and maybe even strong endings. Then something happens mid-way through. The essence of the story gets lost. The conflict is too simple or too complicated. We sit at the computer for hours in frustration and write little. We decide the writing process is too hard and we even think about giving up.

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? The good news is there is a way to work through our frustrations. Here are the four tips that I find most helpful:

Flesh out character development scenes

 My favorite book on craft for writers is Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. He breaks down the twelve stages of the hero’s journey. He calls step six “Tests, Allies and Enemies.” I’ve found this particularly helpful when I’m stuck in the middle of my book. By testing your hero and having him make allies and enemies you are allowing for great character development. You can learn a lot about a hero’s character by the friends and enemies he makes. Romances are all about the character growth of both the hero and heroine. So flesh out these scenes.

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Journey after the edits

You’ve prepped and polished your manuscript. You’ve gone through the nail-biting experience of pitching to an editor or agent. You’ve been rejected up the wazoo. After much blood, sweat, and tears, you’ve gotten “the call” and have been offered a contract. Congratulations, you’re getting published! The hard work is over, right?

Wrong!

The moment you sign that contract your life has changed. You will never again be that naïve unpublished writer in search of someone who will believe in your story as much as you do. Rather, you’ll be the naïve soon-to-be-published author with a lot to prove and in search of finding ways to reach your readers.

Discoverability. Friend or foe? Art or Science? Whether a writer or a reader, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with this word. So what’s the secret of being discovered? Actors and actresses seek it. As do authors. Below are a few tips I’ve found helpful on this leg of my publishing journey.

Marketing Plan – If you’re traditionally published, you may know your book’s release date months in advance. That’s not always the case if you’re published with a small press. I knew an approximate timeframe when my book would be available worldwide and backed into when I expected my Amazon KDP pre-release to be. It ended up being a month earlier. Unfortunately, I kept putting off preparing and had two weeks to put some type of marketing plan in place.
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On Milestones

Milestone: A significant event or point in development

A few weeks ago, I celebrated a milestone birthday. I met this particular milestone with less than my usual enthusiasm, and it got me thinking.

I’ve had many milestones in my life, from relationships, to career opportunities, to giving birth, and even getting published. How have those events changed me and influenced the person I’ve become? How have they made me feel about myself, and how have they changed the way others view me?

Then, of course, being a writer, I imposed those questions upon the poor, unsuspecting characters in my books. Suckers!

Milestones tend to be thought of as positive, life-changing events that give a person the impetus to be bigger, better, stronger, richer (both monetarily, and in their souls). I love when an action or reaction to a milestone is different than what you would expect it to be.

Heroine #1 earns her college degree after years of putting herself through school, and now has the world at her fingertips! The possibilities are endless! The only way to go is up! Her optimism knows no bounds! She lives in a world of exclamation points!

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Housekeeping and Editing…Two Challenging Tasks!

I admit I’m not much of a housekeeper. I know mothers that excel at having a well-kept home. I’ve stopped by to drop my kids off at scheduled play dates or even unexpectedly to sell Girl Scout cookies and have been invited into homes that are often tidy and beautiful. I do clean, but more often than not, there are toys strewn about, and my office/playroom is well…just plain messy.

MessyDesk

One rainy afternoon, I was mumbling under my breath while cleaning out closets when my hubby walked in and said, “What’s the big deal? Think of it as cleaning up your manuscript after the first draft.” I dropped the trash bag stuffed with kids’ clothes intended for Goodwill, and looked up at him in shock. As an engineer and introvert, he’s definitely on the quiet side, but sometimes he blurts out very helpful and insightful things. I started thinking and came to the conclusion he was totally on point.

So what do cleaning the house and editing your book really have in common? It turns out to be a whole lot.

Read the entire manuscript in one sitting

Get the feel for the story. Resist marking the pages and making notes in the margins. Just read for the content. This will reveal overwriting, sections that need more explanation, or unfinished plot points. It’s similar to walking through the house and noting what needs to be cleaned, which closets need to be organized, and how big of a task you have ahead of you.
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Ways to overcome hitting the proverbial brick wall

Before I begin this week’s blog, I’d like to welcome Diana Quincy, who has officially joined The Violet Femmes. This busy author juggles family, a day job, and writing. Her first book, Seducing Charlotte, is available now. And we can look forward to reading the sequel, Tempting Bella, which will be available September 9th. Click the “Our Books” tab for links to Diana’s books, and catch up with Diana and her latest releases at http://dianaquincy.com. Welcome, Diana, and we look forward to reading your posts!

Rejection, low contest scores, plot or conflict issues, negative feedback on your WIP? Sound familiar to anyone? Or should I say, does this sound familiar to EVERYONE! Like most of us who’ve embarked on this writing journey, you can identify with one or all of these. All can negatively impact our confidence and weaken our desire to continue to pursue our dream.

Generally, I’m a positive person and work hard to accomplish any goal that’s important to me. But I’d be lying if I said I never succumbed to feeling like I’ve hit a wall and can’t figure out a way to get to the other side.

A few months ago, I listened to a motivational speaker from my day job who spoke about accomplishing goals. Her name’s Vernice Armour (http://vernicearmour.com/), and she’s the United States Marine Corps’ first African American female pilot. I found her words very inspiring and applicable to any aspect of your life. Here are some key takeaways and how I related them to writing.

“Acknowledge obstacles but don’t give them power.” Vernice Armour

We’re told when we first started writing that it’s a hard business to break into. It’s a hard realization to understand until you’re there. And once you are, you have two choices: you can put that manuscript and your laptop away or you can keep going. Start a new project or revise your WIP, applying lessons you’ve learned along the way. Keep working to perfect your craft and to make your writing the best it can be. Continue to pitch your stories and seek alternative forms of publication.
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Playing second string, or, the importance of supporting players

Much attention has been given on this blog to main characters, their GMC (Goals, Motivation and Conflict), their character traits, and their story arc. What, then, of secondary characters and the supporting roles they play?

Like your hero and heroine, secondary characters need to serve a purpose in your manuscript. Following are some common secondary character types in romantic fiction, and their examples from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

File:Pride and Prejudice5 1940.jpg

The Comic Relief

When the going gets tough for the H/H, this character provides levity. The wise-cracking little brother, the brutally-honest best friend, the class clown. This person is often the wisest character in the story.  Whenever this character appears, he should make the reader (and hopefully your H/H) laugh. Mr. Bennet 
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