Friday, July 3, 2015

Great Titles For All Tastes

It is going to be HOT up here in the Pacific Northwest. For me, I will be driving kids to swim practice, the dance studio and to the stables. If I'm not there, I will be hunkered down inside the house with the AC going. That doesn't stop me from breaking out a few books.

So, if you are into tame romances, check out Nikki Poppen. Interested in thought provoking stories about race relations, Jean Love Cush has done a great job capturing this message. Want great relationship stories, check out Helen Lacey or Nancy Holland. If medical romances and your fill of Dr. McDreamy, check out Amy Ruttan. If historical is what you want, Ann Lethbridge is your choice.  If you are looking to escape to exotic locations for some romantic suspense, check out Ryshia Kennie! If you want the HOT and SIZZLING steam then Bronwyn Scott is your choice. And yes, if you just want some poetry, I threw in my book. Regardless...

Here is what to do (or read) over the 4th of July weekend.






Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Identifying The Focus Of A Conference

I was looking through a couple of upcoming conferences to see what was going on. These are conferences I am not personally attending, but it is always nice to see trends. In this case, what I saw was VERY telling. In fact, this is something you should be doing before every conference so that you can be either better prepared, or make the decision if this is the conference for you or not.

So, when I looked at the conference page, I started with the editors or agents. This is a conference close enough for me to get to in a full day's drive so if there was someone I wanted to meet with, I could make it there. This list was very unique.

The editors list had a small list of editors but half were from smaller independent and digital publishers. Those from the larger houses were VERY selective in terms of what they were looking for. A lot of non-fiction, memoirs and so forth. Anything commercial was simply not there.

As for the agents, the list was double that of the editors, but even these agents were looking for things that would only go to self-publishing houses or smaller independent presses. Sure, there were some mentions of commercial fiction, but the works they were focused on were those smaller genres.

When it came to the sessions, the focus was on VERY niche genres and over half were focused on only selling your books on your own and doing it digitally.

But what does this tell me? First of all, the conference is clearly showing their perspective that they wanted to overly emphasize this smaller market. For those wanting to take the traditional approach, they will simply be out of luck. Secondly, it is clear that this conference believes that commercial fiction is not the place to be. Finally, the only people who will be successful with pitch sessions here are those who either have the next 6 figure NY Times Best Seller, or people only interested in those smaller presses. There is not middle ground here.

I bring this up because this is what every author should do BEFORE dropping a lot of money in conference registrations, hotels, and transportation. Review the schedule. See who is going to be there. Be very clear before showing up. I the case of this conference, if someone were to show up wanting to write something more commercial and/or more traditional, the odds are, this conference would be a complete waste.

Even if you were interested in taking just sessions and skipping the pitches, the odds are you might be disappointed, unless you were into one of these niche approaches.

I should also note that authors cannot draw any conclusions from a brief study such as this that the conference line up "reflects what the trends are in publishing today." This may simply be that the organizers had their own agenda in mind. Sure, it may be trends, but that may not be the only reason.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Category to Single Title: It's More Than Word Count

During one of the first few years of opening Greyhaus Literary Agency, myself and one of my interns spent a year dissecting and studying the differences between Category (or sometimes called Series) romance and Single Title. We had heard editors and other agents make comment such as "that really has a category voice" so we went out to really look at what that was. I bring this up because I have seen a recent spike in authors who really do seem to miss the mark when it comes to understanding that it is more than word count. 

Too often authors will submit stories to me believing it fits one of the category romance lines I represent, but they do so strictly because of the word count. For example, Harlequin Intrigue looks for stories that are 55,000-60,000 words in length. Compare this to a single title romantic suspense line that will run at least 75,000 words but extend up into the 100K word count. Regardless, these authors because they have a shorter story, believe it is a great fit. 

On the other side of that coin, are authors who want to write single title stories or have stories that are in the 90,000 word count range. They simply feel that because the story is longer, it is now single title. 


There really is a huge difference between the two styles of writing, and it all comes down to the voice. Now, the word count does play a factory in understanding the voice. Remember that with a smaller word count, authors will leave things out and the focus their attention on different things than the single title authors would focus in on. 

The category romance is all about the romance and relationship building. This is a focused study of the growing relationship between these two characters. While there may be subplots in the story, these will be kept to a minimum. In essence, think of this like filming a movie. Category romance has limited cameras so it can only view individual things one at a time. No sweeping landscapes but the intimacy of the moment. 

For single title, because there is a larger word count, there is the room and luxury to "use more cameras". Authors can develop those subplots to create some added depth. More characters can be added to round out the scene. And yes, the story can focus on more things. 

But here is where the authors miss the point. The difference is also in the voice and the depth of the storytelling. This is not saying that category and series stories "lack depth". Instead, it is the focus and the intensity of the individual moment. In fact, one of the Harlequin editors (can't remember who said it) described these stories as being "really big stories in a small package." This means that the author is focusing on word economy, leaving off the unnecessary verbiage frequently found in single title, and concentrating the attention on the characters and their plot. With single title, the authors will linger more on scenes and moments. What a category author would do in a page or two would be stretched out to 5+ pages or a full chapter. 

Authors have to understand that just "adding stuff" to your story is not going to make it a single title. Some authors have literally told me they can "just put in a few more subplots and characters to get the word count up there." The problem with this is that they now have a 90,000 word category romance. It was just longer. The authors did not focus in on how the story sounds. 

I should note, that writing one style of writing is not better than writing another. This is often a huge misconception. Somehow, the belief is that writing single title creates a stronger story. Nope! The story is just different.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Who Shapes Your Career?

One of the first questions agents are often asked after we start talking with authors about representation is what role we will play in career planning. This is a very valid question and certainly you would want to ask any agent before signing with them. This is also the place where you first start seeing how the author-agent relationship really becomes a team affair.

What I do believe, is that many authors have this perception that once they have an agent, or even sign with a publisher, THOSE individuals shape their careers. This cannot be further from the truth. The bottom line is that your career in publishing is 100% YOUR career.

So, if that is the case, what is the point of having an agent, or even having a publisher? The answer lies in the relationship and the dialogue. Together, the writer and the agent discuss and plan how the author's career should head. This is based on the trends in the market, where they see a niche filled and so forth. But that discussion still begins with the author.

In the agent-author relationship, we start with where the author wants to go with his or her career. We talk about issues such as:

  • the genre the author reads and and writes
  • the voice the author likes to write
  • is the author interested in series or single title
  • how many books a year can the author write
  • how much guidance the author might need
  • what is the support network for the author
  • etc.
The idea here is to get a handle on simply where the author is and where he or she wants to go.

We then start with the first one or two manuscripts. Working with their vision of where they want to go and where they think they are, we determine if the manuscript is  A) matching with that vision; or B) can be shaped into that vision; or potentially C) if that manuscript really fits with another direction the author has not thought of.

In some cases, we might not really get that sense of direction fully until we have gotten some feedback from the editors after sending the project out. With the comments we get back from the editors, we can decide to either reshape the story into that direction, or we can shift the writing into a direction that seems to be a bit more focused.

The career planning takes shape when we discuss new trends with the author that might be occurring in the publishing world. Again, decisions we make with an author are not universal decisions. What works for one author may not work for another author. For example, an author might come to me to discuss the idea of venturing into another genre of writing. In some cases, I might recommend holding off on that shift to get the writer a chance to become established in one genre. In other cases, we might say to go with that new genre and let's see what happens.

We also guide them with determining which publisher would be the best for their writing. We do this because sometimes, certain publishing houses just aren't going to be a right fit for certain authors.

Finally, that career planning comes from the connection the agents have with the editors. We are frequently asked by editors to suggest authors within our agencies for certain projects. You have seen some of these with the anthologies that come out. Again, we determine if that author is in the right place at the right time with the right project to take on something new.

Now, I do understand that much of this is what you as an author are already doing or can do on your own. As I said earlier, career planning starts with the author. However, with that said, it is often difficult to see the right path because a person is too close to their own situation. When we started this post, I noted that we look at where an author thinks he or she is at. As I said, sometimes where they think they are at is not even close to where they really are. Without someone from the outside, the author can often flounder in this business.

Let me give you a quick example of this. I had an author I worked with early on in the agency. She really wanted to write single title romance and really thought her writing fit with certain publishers. In reality, she fit better with a category voice. She simply had stories that were really long category romances. I recommended that direction early on but she was determined to stay the course. So we worked with the stories trying to get her to reshape the stories into that single title voice. No matter how hard she tried, the stories just got longer but never shifted voice. Even some of the initial feedback we got from some of the editors was that her voice was category and not single title. We ended up parting company. Why? The career planning we provided was something she just didn't want to hear.

When it comes to career planning, we cannot do it for you. We can guide, we can shape and we can suggest, but we cannot "make your career happen."