A New Year of Possibilities

Congratulations to KARA O’NEAL, who is the winner of the Femmes Favorite Book of 2014 post! You’ll win an official Violet Femmes mug! Enjoy! I’ll be reaching out to you to send your gift.

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For me, welcoming in the New Year is like buying a brand new notebook. The spine is perfect, the cover unwrinkled, the pages are blank. How I choose to fill them is up to me. But rather than that causing me stress, I’m energized with hope…with possibilities.

notebook

2014 was both a good and bad year for me. From a writing perspective, it was a good year. My debut book, Untangle My Heart, was made available world-wide in March, I completed edits for the second book in the series, Forever in My Heart, and I started writing the third story. Things were stressful at my day job but that was okay because my writing kept me grounded and brought me joy. From a personal perspective, I suffered a deep personal loss at the end of last year. Looking forward to 2015 gives me a chance for a start fresh and with it, renewed enthusiasm to strive to be the best person and writer I can be.

At the 2014 NJ Romance Writer’s Put Your Heart in a Book Conference, one of the speakers asked us to write down our goals. Here’s what I wrote with 2015 in mind:

  1. Finish writing Tangled Hearts Book 3 (Awaken My Heart).
  2. Begin plotting/scoping/writing a new contemporary series.
  3. Pitch new series at the 2015 NJRW conference.

Even as I’m typing this #3 is sort of freaking me out as I haven’t pitched in a couple years and the thought of going through that process…AGAIN…makes me feel as though I’m taking a step back. But as I think about this more, I realize it’s not going backward. Rather, it’s going FORWARD. Similar to RoseAnn who mentioned in last week’s post that she’s in RoseAnn 2.0 mode, I need to move to the next phase in my career. I’ve gotten my feet wet and am published. Now I need to move up the next rung on the ladder.

I’m 32k words into Awaken My Heart, and I’m hoping to finish it during NJ Romance Writers Jersey Romance Writing Month (JeRoWriMo) this February. Of course, Forever in My Heart is being released February 20th, which means I’ll need to spend time preparing.

In addition to my writing goals, I’ve set some personal goals:

  1. Get back to my goal weight by the end of March.
  2. Attend Jazzercise three times a week.
  3. Spend more quality time with my family.

No matter how many goals I set, sometimes those goals have to be changed or extended. And that’s okay. It’s my empty notebook to fill as I see fit. Life’s too precious and too short to be spending it not doing what you want. So have fun, enjoy life, and fill your notebook with things that make YOU happy!

Since last week we asked what your writing goals are for 2015, this week I’d like to hear what your personal goals are. Is anyone planning to run a 5k or a triathlon? How about any special trips?

Enjoy your year of possibilities!

Hugs,

Maria

 You can find me at:

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My Book Trailer Experiment

Ever since my first book was published I’ve been wanted to try creating a book trailer. My motivation wasn’t because I thought it would increase my sales, because everything that I had read said it wouldn’t. But when I got my cover for my upcoming release of Forever in My Heart, I decided it would be a fun way to tell about the story and reveal the cover.

So I took an online course sponsored by RWA, and looked at trailers from fellow romance authors. Here are some key takeaways I learned.

  1. Script – start with your blurb, and create a script of approximately 20-25 short phrases.
    • Focus only on the main conflict between the hero and heroine
    • Capture the essence of their goals and the conflict that’s preventing them from achieving the goals
    • Write short and engaging phrases that will entice the reader to want your book
  2. Fonts – use the same font throughout the trailer. If you keep changing it, the viewer will start to focus on the changing fonts and not the words. Here are some sites I looked at for free fonts:

http://www.1001fonts.com/    – I like this site because I was able to look up fonts by category. It helped me narrow my focus.

http://www.fonts.com/FindFonts/freefonts.htm

http://www.dafont.com/

  1. Music – choose music that reflects the tone of your book. For me, I found this difficult since my story is a Contemporary with a Romantic Suspense element. Here are a few sites you can check out. There are lots of others if you do a Google search.

http://incompetech.com/m/c/royalty-free/

http://vimeo.com/musicstore

http://www.partnersinrhyme.com/

  1. Photos – I really struggled with this because searching for photos takes time and often costs money. I opted to use clips from my book cover and slowly reveal the entire cover at the end. Not the most sophisticated approach, but my goal was (a) to share a version of my blurb and (b) reveal the cover. So I felt I’d accomplished this. Regardless of your approach, make sure you use photos that are of the highest quality (300 dpi or more). And in my opinion, more pictures aren’t necessarily better. Here are some sites you can look at for photos:

http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/

http://www.pdphoto.org/

http://www.istockphoto.com/

http://www.depositphoto.com

http://www.dreamstime.com/

  1. Putting it together. I used Microsoft PowerPoint to build my initial slideshow. I put each phrase on a page using the font I’d purchased along with the pictures. I added transitions from slide-to-slide. When I was comfortable with this, I uploaded the slides to Windows Movie Maker and finished the editing.
    • Make sure there’s enough time on each slide to read the words. I set three seconds per slide. In some cases, I had to adjust the words on a slide because it couldn’t be read. Going through this exercise forces you to be concise!
    • Movie Maker has some different transitions that PowerPoint didn’t have and I experimented. But be careful to not have too much motion and jerky transitions.
    • Make sure you end with your book cover, your website, buy links (if available), or release date (or coming soon)
    • My trailer is just over 30 seconds. I’d suggest not going more than 90 seconds for fear of losing viewer attention.
  2. Get opinions. I showed draft versions of what I did and got feedback. This was especially helpful in understanding if it was going too fast.
  3. It’s a wrap! When I was finished, I created a channel on YouTube and uploaded it. Make sure you change the settings to public before you start sharing the link. Don’t forget to add it to your website and post a link on Facebook.

Here’s a link to my finished product. Let me know what you think.

Hopefully you got some helpful tips. Please share if you have other resources you found helpful.

Hugs and best wishes for a healthy and happy holiday season!

Maria

NJRW Conference 2014 Highlights: What Publishers Are Looking for Now

The Editors Panel at the New Jersey Romance Writers Conference, Oct. 18, 2014.

The Editors Panel at the New Jersey Romance Writers Conference, Oct. 18, 2014.

The New Jersey Romance Writers annual conference is a treat I look forward to every October, not just for the chance to mingle with fellow writers and attend craft workshops, but also because it’s an opportunity to get a feel for the pulse of the publishing industry.

Given its proximity to New York, the New Jersey conference traditionally draws a fair number of editors and agents. Our own Violet Femme Joanna Shupe did a phenomenal job coordinating these expert panels, which are always an excellent opportunity to learn what’s going on in the  New York publishing world.

More than one editor on the panel mentioned that she’s looking for more romantic suspense, while another said she’s loving cowboys and Amish romance. One panelist mentioned that shorter, grittier romances are a current trend. All in all, there seemed to be a general cooling off toward paranormal, although one editor still wanted to see young adult paranormals.

As an historical writer, I was thrilled to hear editorial assistant Nicole Fisher say Avon would never give up on historicals.

Lauren McKenna, executive editor & editorial director at Gallery/Pocket books, reiterated her love of the genre, telling writers in the audience that what she’s looking for in historical submissions is something she hasn’t seen before.

The editors also touched on how digital publishing’s fast turnaround allows a new author to release books and build a readership faster than with print alone. They also talked about the importance of signing writers who are willing to work with their editors to make their books the best they can be.

During their panel discussion following the editors forum, agents stressed that  authors, both published and unpublished, should have an online platform and be active on social media because that helps the agents sell their books.

Earlier in the conference, I slipped into the standing-room-only special PRO presentation, “Taking Your Writing to the Next Level,” given by New York Times bestselling author Madeline Hunter. She gave pre-published authors tips on pacing and avoiding that dreaded saggy middle. She also left them with the advice: “Don’t let the rules of writing rule you.”

The Violet Femmes threw a “Ditch the Heels” evening social on the first night of the conference, which turned out to be a great success. Femme Jaye Marie Rome blogged about the bash last week.

Another highlight of the conference for me was the Book Fair. It was my first book signing and it was such fun to meet and talk with readers. I wasn’t sure what to hand out to people who stopped by my table but I eventually settled on candy, custom matches and a post card with a link to an excerpt of my latest release.

At my first-ever book signing and the "swag" on the left.

At my first-ever book signing and the “swag” on the left.

People who signed up for my mailing list had a chance to win a copy of Compromising Willa and a carton of custom tea — the heroine of the book blends custom teas so I thought that would be a fun promotional tie in.

Fellow femme RoseAnn DeFranco gets busy at the NJRW book signing.

Fellow Femme RoseAnn DeFranco gets busy at the NJRW book signing.

On the final evening, the Femmes went out for dinner at Bonefish Grill.

We caught up with each other, gossiped about the industry, and shared details of what we’re currently working on. These gatherings are always special because it’s rare for us all to be in one place at the same time.

We definitely made the most of it!

A rare opportunity for the Femmes to get together.

A rare opportunity for the Femmes to get together.

Having fun at dinner with fellow Femme Michele Mannon.

Having fun at dinner with fellow Femme Michele Mannon.

On Sunday, we all headed home, but the aftereffects of the conference lingered. I came home super motivated to jump back into my current work in progress. In that way, the NJRW conference is the gift that keeps on giving.

I can’t wait until next year!

Best,
Diana

You can find me at:

Website|Twitter|Facebook|Goodreads|Pinterest

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Recap of RWA 2014

RWA photo

Last week, I attended Romance Writer of America’s (RWA) conference in San Antonio, TX. It wasn’t my first National conference and it certainly won’t be my last. For the most part, writing is a solitary job. Authors keep their characters and their stories in their head, sharing with critique partners and beta readers. Attending a conference with approximately 2,000 other writers, agents, and editors is an amazing and inspiring opportunity to break out of that shell and network.

Here’s a highlight from a few of the fabulous workshops I attended:

I was surprised and excited by the number of workshops geared towards the romantic suspense genre. There was one on Guns for Writers where I learned the different classifications of guns and the correct stance for holding a gun. There was another for Writing a Believable Police Hero, Practical Self Defense (which, sadly, I missed), and Homicide Investigation 101. In case you didn’t guess, the hero in my WIP is a cop.

Cindy Ratzlaff gave an engaging talk about social book marketing strategy. Catch the Animoto video I created at the end. Totally cool!

Kristan Higgins, Alyssa Day, and Elizabeth Hoyt gave a fun workshop on Beyond the Alpha Male and Spunky Heroine. They challenged us to get deep into our hero’s character, including things such as knowing their weaknesses, how they’ve suffered, and deepest fears. What don’t they want the heroine to know?

For the heroine, there is a fine line between a strong heroine and a bitch. Be careful not to make her too bitchy and unlikeable, unless, of course, that’s your intent. What are her ambitions and desires that define her? What is her low point and why is the hero the worst person for her? How does he bring her back to that low point? How does she find her own inner strength to overcome it?

“Writers today must be both a writer and an entrepreneur.”Sylvia Day

“Each happy ending is a brand new beginning.”Karen Rose

Random highlights

  • Riverwalk boat tour with Michele Mannon
  • Meeting Joan Johnston in the elevator and gaining some interesting career advice
  • Meeting Nora Roberts and getting my own signed copy of her RITA® nominated book, Whiskey Beach
  • Signing at my first RWA Literacy signing
  • Cheering my fellow NJRW chapter mates, Nancy Herkness, Beth Ciotta, and Marnee Bailey on at the RITA® and Golden Heart® award ceremony
  • Books – I got way more books than I intended. Look for a giveaway soon on my author Facebook Page (Maria K Alexander – Author)
  • Getting my headshot taken at the trade show
  • Cowboys – you’ll have to watch the video link below for details
  • Meeting new friends, including another early riser and co-swag queen, Anabelle Bryant
  • Meeting wonderful Wild Rose Press authors, including editor and freelance designer, Diana Carlile, who designed the cover art for Untangle My Heart
  • Meeting Julie James, whose FBI/US Attorney series covers inspired Untangle My Heart. I even gave her a bookmark!

While I’m back to the grind and the day job today, I’m re-energized to jump back into edits for Forever In My Heart and my WIP.

Check out the video below which I made with pictures from the conference.

Hugs,

Maria

 

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

A Fond Farewell to an NJRW Friend

Life has its ups and downs. But knowing this doesn’t make it any easier when we lose a friend. Unfortunately, a dear NJ Romance Writer member, Valerie Luna, passed away a few days ago. This tragedy is a loss for her family as well as the NJRW family.

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Having only been a member of NJRW for four years, I haven’t known her long, but did get to spend time with Val at RWA Nationals in New York a few years ago. Val also served as a category coordinator for NJRW’s Golden Leaf contest for many, many years. As co-chair, I had the pleasure of talking with Val about how much she enjoyed reading the entries, collecting the scores, contacting the finalists, and handing out the awards.

Until this year, Val also served as NJRW’s basket chair. Each year she would collect books and other assorted donations, store them in her house all year, and host the conference committee when we came over to assemble the baskets. The one year I went to help, we must have assembled 60 or 70 baskets!

When I joined NJRW, Val served on the NJRW board as Hospitality Chair. Each month, she’d greet anyone visiting, welcome new members, and acknowledge our published authors. She’d also get the fun of handing out Hershey kisses to all members who submitted their writing (to an agent, editor, contest, etc), and Hershey Hugs to those who were rejected. Anyone who had good news to share was presented flowers. Val also handled matching up critique partners. It took me a good year of attending the NJRW meetings before I got up the nerve to ask for a critique partner. When I did, Val matched me up with Femme Joanna, for which I’m eternally grateful!

DSCF0086

Femmes Joanna, Michele, and Jaye may remember Val’s love for lighthouses. I’m sorry I never got to write that lighthouse scene for you, Val, but when I do, I’m dedicating it you!

Val, you’ll be missed forever and always be remembered for your loving nature, positive attitude, and bright smile. May you be at peace and spend eternity writing happy ever afters.

If you’re so inclined, please share your special memories of Val, as we pay tribute to this special woman.

2013 NJRW Conference Wrap-up Continues: An Interview with Keynote Speaker, Diana Cosby

As you know, the Femmes were present in force at the 2013 New Jersey Romance Writers Put Your Heart in a Book Conference. During the weekend, I got to spend a significant amount of time talking to the “Big Four” speakers, who all impressed me for different reasons. Historical romance author Diana Cosby was a personal favorite. Here, I hope to share with you just why I am in awe of this generous, talented writer.

Hugs,

Jaye

Diana Cosby with male model

Diana and her cover model

 A retired Navy Chief, AGC(AW), Diana Cosby is an international bestselling author of Scottish medieval romantic suspense.  Her award-winning MacGruder Brother books are available in five languages, with the 6th book in the series released in December 2013.  Diana has spoken at the Library of Congress, Lady Jane’s Salon, in NYC, and appeared in Woman’s Day, on USA Today’s romance blog, “Happily Ever After,” MSN.com, and in Texoma Living Magazine.

After her career in the Navy, Diana dove into her passion – writing romance novels. With 34 moves behind her, she was anxious to create characters who reflected the amazing cultures and people she’s met throughout the world.   In August 2012, Diana released her story in the anthology, “Born To Bite,” with Hannah Howell and Erica Ridley.  Diana looks forward to the years of writing ahead and meeting the amazing people who will share this journey. Visit Diana at her webpage, http://www.dianacosby.com.  

JMR: Diana, thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed for the Violet Femmes blog. 

DC: My sincere thanks for the interview.

JMR: I was so happy to get to know you better at the New Jersey Romance Writers Conference in October.

DC: I enjoyed talking with you again.  Always fun.  I also had the pleasure to speak with several members of the Violet Femmes, what an amazing  group of women!

JMR: Thank you! You delivered an awesome keynote address, full of little gems. I loved the story of how you celebrated with your mail lady when you received “The Call”. What from your speech did you hope the attendees took away with them?

 DC: Thank you so much.  It was an honor to give the keynote address at the New Jersey Romance Writers Put Your Heart in a Book Conference.  My mail lady – Nancy – has been an amazing friend throughout.  From the start when she began delivering my rejections, we’d talk about my goals, which are huge, but she always believed in my dreams.  My goal for the keynote speech was to inspire others to believe in themselves and dare to go after their dreams.  Too often our doubts about our abilities keep us from trying something new.

JMR:  You’ve lived all over the world. What was your favorite place to live? (You don’t have to say New Jersey!) Why?

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NJRW Conference Mania

First, our winner! Last week, RoseAnn DeFranco chatted up her new book, Return to Audubon Springs and gave away a $5 Amazon gift certificate to one lucky winner. The commenter who receives the gift certificate is Barbara Bettis. Congratulations, Barbara, and thanks for supporting the Femmes!

This Friday, the New Jersey Romance Writers “Put Your Heart in a Book” conference begins. Keynote speaker will be Diane Cosby, and we’ll have other presentations by Connie Brockway, Eloisa James, and Margaret Mallory.

Conferences can be stressful, especially if you’re pitching. Last year, VF Maria did a FAB post on How to Get Ready for a Conference. Check it out if you need tips.

For my tips, I took the question to the mean streets of Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-10-14 at 6.13.31 PM

Here were some of the answers from our attendees:
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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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What is a Hero?

I dedicate this post to all the men and women who died serving in the US Armed Forces and who we remember and honor on this Memorial Day, and for those currently in active duty.

Memorial Day flagWhat is a hero? When I was a child, the hero was the handsome prince on the white horse who rescued the princess and carried her off into the sunset. While that vision is great if you’re six, it’s not realistic of the heroes of the twenty-first century, or maybe for any reality outside a Disney movie.

Heroes come in all shapes, sizes, age, race, and sex. Despite their differences, all heroes have an element of honor and a commitment to serve and protect.

I attended my town’s Memorial Day parade yesterday. It was the first time I stood and watched the parade and wasn’t walking with my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. As the guns were fired to salute those who gave their lives to protect our country, I’m reminded of how selfless people can be and how many people lost loved ones in combat.
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