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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Believe

Photo credit: 2 little banshees / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: 2 little banshees / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

I love this time of year. That is to say, I usually love this time of year. Last year was the first Holiday season where my Christmas Baby had been ruthlessly pulled under the truth about Santa tent. With her birthday on the holiday, she’s always had double the fun, double the spirit, and double doses of believing in the season. Nothing could pull her out of her holiday slump last year. This year…she’s back, and it has made all the difference as we prepare for the season. This naturally turned my thoughts to writing and inevitably…my sock drawer. Completely logical, right? I promise, it is…let me break it down for you.

I’ve been in a sorting, organizing frenzy over the past few weeks, throwing things into the donation pile with an abandon I usually never attain. It’s been liberating. Finally, it was time to tackle my sock drawer. When I started I BELIEVED I had NO socks. As I started to sort, match, organize, discard, I soon realized that I was a sock junkie. True, I found some socks with holes, like those you’d find in a plot that you’d need to discard. I also found items that didn’t belong, like long sleeve black gloves I’d worn when I was a bridesmaid a MILLLION years ago, kind of like those scenes that should be ruthlessly cut from a manuscript. BUT I also found a lot more of value than I ever expected. In fact, the draw is filled with a wealth of riches. The truth is, I’m a bit of a sock geek. I mean, who doesn’t want to wear their warm and fuzzies during the winter while curled up on the sofa reading a good book…or writing one?

While sorting, my thoughts turned to a new Young Adult Mystery novel of mine. I started it back in February for the NJRW JeRoWriMo writing sprint. I’d written 15 K words in one week and then left the story for crap. I stuck it way down in the bottom of the sock drawer, so to speak, and focused my energy on a new Humorous Contemporary Romance series. In short, I slid back into a comfy pair of old socks and got down to the business of writing. Nothing wrong with that, I LOVE this new contemporary series, and I hope to one day share it with my readers. However, this summer I pulled the YA out and found I truly LOVED the story. I darned the holes I could now see, polished it a bit, and submitted it to two contests. Guess what? That story, WINGING IT, I’d left for crap, is now a finalist in both writing contests!

Writers (or at least this one) are emotional. It is so easy to doubt ourselves. If we don’t believe in our work, who will? So, at this time of year, when we are focused on the magic of the season, I’m going to remind everyone, regardless of your passion, please remember that fulfillment in any endeavor starts first with your own ability to BELIEVE.

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Get Wicked With Entangled Blog Hop!

“Trick or Treat” OR “Trunk or Treat” – Which do you prefer?

Welcome to the Get Wicked With Entangled Blog Hop! Stop by each blog to check out their favorite Halloween stories and enter to win their giveaways.

For this stop, I’m giving away a $5 Amazon gift card and a copy of my soon-to-be released historical romance, A SPY UNMASKED, the first book In The Crown’s Secret Service Series. The winner will receive an ebook copy on the date of its release on November 10, 2014.

Halloween Blog Hop

 

amazon

For the first time this year, my town hosted trunk or treat for the children. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Trunk or treat is very different from the way I grew up celebrating Halloween. We went door to door from block to block repeating the mantra “trick or treat” until our feet ached and our pillow cases were bursting with as much candy as we could carry home.

Trunk or treat is different. Families volunteer to decorate their cars with flashing orange lights, cobwebs, and big hairy spiders. The cars were parked in a big circle, and children walked around from car to car and filled their bags with candy. It’s an alternative to the old-fashioned Halloween in a much more concentrated setting where all the local parents can keep a watchful eye over the children. My kids had a great time. They saw their friends in one place—something they wouldn’t get to do if they walked around each of their separate neighborhoods.

But here’s the catch—they will still trick or treat this Friday on Halloween. So they get twice the candy. Fun for the kids? I’m still undecided.

So what do you think? Do you prefer “trick or treating” or “trunk or treating?” Please leave a comment and enter to win a $5 Amazon gift card and an ebook copy of A Spy Unmasked on its November 10, 2014 release day, then HOP to the rest of the participating blogs. Good luck!

A SPY UNMASKED

 Coming November 10, 2104 from Entangled (Cover is Top Secret!)

The mission did not go quite as Robert Ware—known in society as the new Earl of Kirkland–planned. A spy in the service of His Majesty, Robert is a “guest” at a masquerade party as he retrieves vital information for a murder investigation. Until he’s quite unexpectedly interrupted by an exquisite, masked woman with glittering green eyes. And a pistol she has cocked and aimed right at him…

Lady Sophia Merrill has defiantly taken up justice’s shining sword, determined to expose the brigand who murdered her eccentric but brilliant father, and stole his latest invention. Now she must masquerade as Robert’s betrothed in order to infiltrate the Inventor’s Society and find the killer. But the undeniable potent attraction between them not only imperils the investigation, but Sophia’s reputation… and both of their lives.

Happy Halloween!

Tina Gabrielle

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HOP to the rest of the blogs!

 

You can find me at:

 www.tinagabrielle.com

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In The Barrister's Bed InTheBarristersChambers LADYOFSCANDAL Cover Original Artwork A Perfect Scandal

One Year Anniversary Contest

That’s right. The Violet Femmes blog will be 1-year old in November.

One year ago, four romance writers attended the NJ Romance Writers conference. After many wonderful workshops, good food, and a bottle of wine, concept for The Violet Femmes blog was born.

We’d like to take this opportunity to announce and welcome our newest Femme, Jenna Blue. Jenna has guest-blogged with us and we’re thrilled she’s officially joining The Femmes. Stay tuned for a fresh look to our blog coming over the next month.

In conjunction with NJRW’s Put Your Heart In A Book Conference (10/12-10/13), we’re starting our celebration a little early. If you’re attending the conference, stop by the Goody Room and look for our special gift. Visit The Violet Femmes website 10/12-11/16 and enter our anniversary contest. You can get to the contest link from the upper right-hand side bar or directly by clicking the image below:

Thank you for following us over the past year. We look forward to many more exciting topics and guest posts over the next year!

Hugs from The Violet Femmes,

Maria, Michele, Joanna, Jaye, and Jenna

Conference Fever

Be sure to stop by the Violet Femmes blog each week this month and comment to be entered in our contest. This month you’ll be entered to win two novels, Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins and Beguiling the Beauty by Sherry Thomas. Come back every week and leave a comment to increase your chance of winning!

I’ve never been a lucky person in terms of winning things. I’m horrible when I go to the casinos and the most I’ve ever won on a scratch-off lottery ticket was, surprisingly, $20. So when I went to the Connecticut Fiction Fest conference last weekend and waited, anxiously, while the results of the Write Stuff Contest were read out, I tried to prepare myself not to take first place.

And I was overwhelmed with emotion when, amazingly, I did exactly that.

FIRST PLACE in Single Title Contemporary. Woo Hoo!!! It was a great feeling to win and I was especially glad to have fellow Femme, Michele, with me to cheer me on. Many thanks to the Connecticut Chapter of RWA, the judges, and agent Sara Megibow who picked the winner in the Single Title category.

I’ve posted the first paragraph of Love’s Second Chance at http://mariakalexander.com if you’re interesting in stopping by.

The Conference

Above is a picture of Michele Mannon (left) and me at the Connecticut Fiction Fest conference.

Aside from the contest win, which had me shaking and grinning like a new parent, there were a lot of other nice things about the conference. This conference was smaller than NJRW’s conference, which made it more intimate. It was easier to network with people and provided lots of opportunities to pitch to agents and editors. Below, I’m going to share some of the learnings I took away from the conference.

Sherry Thomas kicked off the conference with an inspiring keynote speech. She encouraged us to not give up on our manuscripts, despite the rejections. She re-worked hers quite some time before finally getting published. I personally believe that the trick is finding the magic combination of all the skills that work and that once you do, everything will click into place.

The fabulous Kristan Higgins held a workshop on writing the dreaded Chapter 1. If you’re like me, I’ve written and re-written Chapter 1 many times. Finding the right place to start your story can be a challenge and it might take a couple attempts until you get it right. One of the main things Kristan shared is finding that eye-catching first line. You know it when you hear it, but finding it is not that easy. Another key component in the first chapter is to make sure the main character’s primary goal is clear. If we don’t have an invested stake in knowing what’s important to the H/H, then the reader may not continue. The other main takeaway is about backstory. I’m sure we’ve all gotten feedback that our first chapter has too much backstory. Finding that right balance of just the right amount is definitely something I’m still working on. It needs to hint at events of the past that you’ll eventually build on in the later chapters. Essentially, you need to put in enough to tease your reader and want them to keep reading more.

In the workshop Raising the Stakes, Toni Andrews spoke about character-driven plotting. She encouraged us to figure out our H/H worst case scenario, and then to make it happen. It’s about not being afraid to create problems for your characters. Who wants to read a book where everything is perfect and no one has any problems. Yawn! We want issues, drama, and conflict. Make your main characters hit rock bottom and then show how they overcome their obstacles to find their HEA.

What conferences do you all have planned this year? The NJRW conference will be here before we know it. Registration hasn’t started yet, but keep checking the website below for more details. http://njromancewriters.org/index.php?/conference/put_your_heart_in_a_book_conference/

Is anyone going to RWA Nationals? If so, I’m very jealous. I went with Joanna last year and it was a wonderful experience. Next year’s conference is in Atlanta, so start saving your pennies, Femmes! It’s roadtrip time.

Maria

Contests – not for the faint of heart

Congratulations to Lita Harris, who is the winner of an autographed copy of one of Nancy Herkness’s backlist books. We’ll be contacting you offline, Lita, to find out what book you’d like. Thanks for visiting with the Femmes and we’re sure you’ll enjoy Nancy’s book. Thanks again, Nancy, for visiting with the Femmes and offering one of your books!

Don’t forget, anyone commenting during the month of April will be entered into our monthly drawing for a chance to win a $20 Barnes & Noble gift certificate. So, be sure to leave a comment on the Violet Femmes board this week!

Have you decided to brave the writing contest circuit yet? If so, I’m sure there’ve been times you’ve looked at your comments and scratched you head in confusion. I’ve received score sheets where one judge loved the entry and thought the book was ready for publication, while the second judge thought it needed only minor work, and yet the third judge couldn’t relate to the characters and told me to re-write all the conflict. Helpful or not so much? Hmmm…where to go next? First, let’s start at the beginning.

Where to start?

What are you looking to get out of entering a particular contest? Are you looking for constructive criticism or maybe insight into what others think of your plot? Or maybe you’re looking for the win, something you can put in a query letter with the hope it may draw the attention of that special agent.

It’s important to make sure your entry is as clean as possible before you enter a contest. Now that I have an established critique partner and group (hello, Femmes!), I start my critiquing process with them, before entering any contests. In my opinion, it’s easier to take critiquing from your friends. Not because they’ll be soft on you, either. Do you really want that? Agents and editors we pitch and query to aren’t going to be soft. They’re going to be honest, and in some cases, ruthless. They have to be. You should expect an honest evaluation of your story from whoever critiques it, even though you may not agree with what’s said.

Which contests to enter?

There are so many contests to choose from. Which do you pick? You need to go back to your goal. If you’re looking for constructive feedback, entering the Golden Heart isn’t a good idea since you don’t get any. You’ll want to choose a contest where you’ll get a detailed score sheet and, ideally, feedback directly in the entry. I find most judges do this to some extent and I, for one, greatly appreciate their comments. I also look at the final round judges and try to enter contests that will be judged by an agent or editor who I’m interested in working with.

Then, there’s the financial consideration. At anywhere from $20-$40 a pop, it can get pretty expensive to enter contests. Pick wisely. Personally, I find getting too much feedback at the same time overwhelming, so my rule of thumb is to enter one or two contests at the same time. Then, I wait until I get the results, make any changes, and then enter in one or two more contests.

Formatting your contest entry

Now that you know which contest(s) you’re going to enter, it’s time to start preparing your entry. READ ALL INSTRUCTIONS. Print them out, read them several times. Don’t get tripped up because you forgot to remove your name from the header.

Some contests have a page length total. Others only want the first chapter. Some want the synopsis at the end while others don’t require a synopsis at all. If you have a prologue, make sure that can be included. Pay attention to what they want and the order they want it (if specified). If no order is provided, I usually just follow the order it appeared in the submission format section.

If there’s a page count limit and it falls in the middle of a scene, you’ll have to make some decisions. All contest information I’ve read advises to end your entry on a hook, even if that means ending a few pages earlier or shortening part of the scene to make the word count.

Once you’ve followed the instructions, print out the entry and read it aloud. This is also a good practice for general editing and identifying any awkwardly worded sentences.

Write the contest deadline on your calendar and even set-up calendar reminders a few days before to submit it. You may not want to wait until the last possible minute to submit. Sometimes someone has to verify your payment before you receive instructions for submitting and you want to make sure there’s enough time.

Now comes the hard part…WAITING. My advice…forget about it. Move on to your next project and put the date when the finalists will be announced out of your mind.

Contest Results

As I mentioned earlier, some judges are ruthless in what they’ll say about your entry. I believe there’s always a delicate way of providing negative feedback that won’t make the author burst into tears. But, that’s not always going to happen. You’re bound to get a judge who tells you exactly what’s on their mind in a crude and uncaring way. It’s going to happen and you just have to pull up your big girl (or boy) panties and suck it up. But, realize their feedback isn’t personal.  They don’t even know who you are, right? And guess what? Their input may not be correct. Recently, I received feedback correcting the spelling of a word. I was puzzled because I remember looking up the word during editing. It turns out I was right and they weren’t. So, you really need to be careful what advice you take. Feedback is subjective to the judge’s own experiences and opinions. Of course, they may be spot on, too. How do you know which it is?

My first suggestion after reading the judge comments is to walk away. Put it aside for at least a day, when you can look at it with fresh eyes and some perspective. The bottomline is…it’s hard to take critiquing of our manuscripts. No one likes to hear what they’ve written has flaws. But remember, no one says you have to listen. It’s your manuscript. However, I would look for consistent comments across judges and even across contests. If your manuscript has been entered in multiple contests and you see similar feedback about the lack of conflict between your hero and heroine, you might want to examine your story more closely.

Regardless of whether or not you final or win a contest, you should be proud of yourself for entering. It’s not easy putting your writing out there for others to see. Regardless of your results, you are a winner.

My Experience

I entered eleven contests in 2011 across two different manuscripts. My goal this year was to final in one. Well, I’m thrilled to say I got my first contest finalist notification on March 30th for the Write Stuff Contest, which is run out of the Connecticut Chapter of RWA. It’s for my second manuscript, Love’s Second Chance, and is the first significant piece of news I’ve had about my writing since starting almost four years ago.

How about you? Are you for or against contests? What weird contest experiences or advice do you have? I’d love to hear your stories, so please share.

In the meantime, keep writing!

Maria

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