Wednesday, September 17, 2014

You Make Your Career Happen

I want to keep this short today. This is one of those posts that really doesn't require a whole lot of depth.

Your future in the publishing world depends on you. Yes, we do spend a great deal of time talking about sales of books and these depend on other people, but having a career depends entirely on you.

Over the years, I have heard a lot of people blaming their struggles in publishing entirely on other people, businesses and events. While, in some of those cases, those outside elements may have had some impact, the future of that author was still entirely in that author's hands.

Instead of just complaining about the problem, the author needs to find a way to work out of the situation. It may be a small change or it may be a big change, but this is the time to be proactive. I am always reminded of something a friend of ours learned when working in the juvenile detention system. There were four questions that she would ask these kids;

  1. What do you want?
  2. What are you doing to achieve that?
  3. How is that helping?
  4. What should you be doing?
What I like about these questions is how it forces the individual answering the questions to take a personal responsibility in the situation.

So, if things aren't going your way right now, ask yourself those questions.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Greyhaus is Open To Submissions - But For What?

The authors are at it again! When I am closed to submissions, it is amazing how well people follow directions and the submissions quit coming in. This tells me authors are reading the information found on the website for what I want and what I don't want. BUT.., as soon as I open up for submission, it seems that all literacy skills are thrown out or lost. The submission guidelines have not changed, and yet I start receiving some of the weirdest submissions ever.

So today is for you. Today is also for those authors who are thinking they might want to submit but want to make sure what they have is what I am looking for. Today is also for those of you who simply want to ask about where their potential genre might fall in this great big world of publishing.

What I have simply done is copied all of my submission guidelines directly from my website for you. Ask questions! Please, however, do not ask questions such as:

Dear Scott, I have an 80,000 word women's fiction piece entitled "Sucking Up To The Agent". The story takes place in Scotland where the heroine.... which point you provide the ENTIRE pitch or query. Not going to work. You will have to go through all of the normal channels.

I want to also have you note two additional things:

  1. For the Harlequin submissions, I tell you to go and visit the Harlequin submission guidelines. If you A) have not done so; or B) do not read Harlequin, you might want to take the time to do so before you move on.
  2. Please read the entire list INCLUDING what I am NOT looking for. 
I say this all of the time, but this is not rocket science.

I'll check back throughout the day to answer questions (between working with the horse and sitting at the dance studio. :)

  • All Harlequin Lines
All other categories will be open at a later date.​
  • New Adult dealing with current issues. Think women's fiction for New Adult
  • Victorian Historical Romance
  • Ghost story romances
  • Time Travel
Word Count should be according to the Harlequin Guidelines 
Scott is actively looking to acquire authors for all of the Harlequin lines with the exception of the Teen Line. 
Authors wishing to write for Harlequin should know the line they are wishing to work for and demonstrate an ability to translate the specific guidelines of that line into a piece of writing. Please review the guidelines BEFORE submitting. 
It is recommended authors should have at least one story finished and either additional projects in that same line, or a clear vision of future works that will fit in that line. 
Word count 75,000 - 110,000
If you are writing in New Adult, please make sure that you fully understand this genre. It is not simply stories of teens having sex. I am interested in stories that really are looking at the world from this unique "in the middle" perspective. Essentially, if you read the Women's Fiction guidelines, you will get the idea.
If you are pitching this idea top me, please use the standard categories but in the premise, begin by stating it is a NEW ADULT project.
Word count 75,000 - 110,000
I am actively looking for real stories with real people in real romances. Please note this does not mean non-fiction. I am truly interested in finding, what I define as "old school" contemporary romances. Think the Danielle Steele level that really focused on the relationships.
Writers in this category should not rely on heavy amounts of plot devices or baggage for the characters. Keep these people real so that the readers can truly relate
Word count 75,000 - 110,000
These stories can be set in any time period. The stories should demonstrate a strong understanding of the time period and not rely on "source book" levels of research. 
I am personally not looking for westerns and stories set during the Civil War.
Show me you have something unique in this category!
Word count 75,000 - 110,000
I am looking for something that stands out as being unique. Telling the same old vampire, werewolf, demon, or angel story is not going to work. I am not interested in Urban fantasy here. I really want to see those strong paranormals. Time travels are great but please make sure the time travel is "real" and plays a role in the plot.
Paranormal IS NOT Fantasy! 
Word count 75,000 - 110,000
Stories should be real and the main story arc has to be the romance. Please make sure that we don't have characters doing things that would not normally happen in real life. Please review Maslow's Hierarchy to understand what I mean here. In other words, if someone is being stalked by a sexual predator, he or she will not be interested in sex.
Word count 75,000 - 110,000
I am actively looking for "book club" style women's fiction pieces. These stories should examine the world through a woman's eyes. We want to see what it means to be a woman. Stories can be historical or contemporary but the focus must be on the female journey.
Please focus on one issue and not a ton of personal problems the protagonist has.
Stories can have happy or sad endings.
Please no adultery.
Greyhaus WILL consider books that have been previously published. Please note that books must still meet the above requirements for what the agency is looking for. In other words, stories still must be only romance and women's fiction. Please review those guidelines before submitting.
When submitting previously published material, make sure to clearly state where it was published, if you own all of the rights 100%, and, most importantly, the last three months of sales.
Single Title Inspirational
YA or Middle Grade
Picture Books
Urban Fantasy
Science Fiction
Authors interested in only e-publishing or self-publishing

Monday, September 15, 2014

Look For Patterns - More on novel dissection

I am still busy dissecting novels right now. I have a couple of authors interested in trying their hands with other genres or simply looking to expand into other publishing houses. As I have said before, I make them take the time to really learn those lines and figure out all of the little nuances that house uses. Although this is a great skill when you want to make a move like this, it is also something you can do with your own writing to identify what works and doesn't work with your stories.

I know authors get very frustrated when editors and agents don't read your entire project. We hear it over and over again. "If you would just read the entire story, you would really fall in love with it." While this might be the case, one of the biggest reasons we don't read the whole thing is the partial has told us a lot about your writing. Why? We write in patterns.

You see, everyone has a specific way we do things. In many ways, we are all a little OCD about how we run our lives. We get up the same way every day. We have a pattern to how we do things around the house. The list is endless. And when things don't go right in our day, the odds are, the reason things fell apart is that our pattern was thrown out of whack!

Writing works the same way. You have to really watch for it and keep your mind open, but the odds are you also write in a particular pattern. Sometimes that pattern works, but sometimes, it might simply be the pattern you are using that has been the result of the piles of rejection letters you are getting.

We see writers all of the time submit a project that isn't right for us. In this case, let's say that the story lacked a depth of character development (which is something I see a lot of). So the author goes back to the drawing board, creates a new character and a new book and resubmits the project only to get the same comment back. So what happened? The author added more "stuff" about the character in the book. Each chapter was longer by several pages to get that depth in there - and yet it wasn't enough.

It all comes down to the pattern of the writing. Just adding more doesn't always fix the problem. Now in some cases, this might have been all we needed to see the depth and we would have asked for more than a partial and kept on reading. But if the problem is still there, it probably has something to do with the pattern of writing. In other words, the author just did more of what he or she was already doing and not breaking the pattern of "how" he or she was writing it.

As I said, this takes a lot of work and you have to keep your mind open to it. As you write a story, or anything for that matter, you have to pay attention to how you are starting things, how your are finishing things, and how you are phrasing things. You have to watch the structures you are creating and the words you are using. Don't just focus on the individual scene you are working on, or the paragraph you are writing. Is this something that you have found yourself doing in every paragraph.

I work with students in English 101 classes and their writing and they just don't see it until I point it out to them. They have all had Jr. High and High School teachers pounding the infamous 5-paragraph essay. Although there are some things that work with this formula, it isn't going to work for everything we do in writing. But when you start looking at their essays, you notice that pattern showing up time and time again. The biggest is their transitions, which they always put as the very last sentence of each paragraph or section. "We have now seen how Henry Ford created the assembly line and now we will look at how it was implemented in the work place." Their next sentence which starts the next paragraph. "After Henry Ford created the assembly line, he attempted to figure out how to use it in his work place." Arrrrgggghhhhh!

This problem showed up simply because the author was not thinking about what he or she was writing. Once they finished up that last paragraph/section, it completely disappeared from the brain. That section was done and now it is time to think about the next section. But now we are into that patterned writing.

As I said, I was doing a little of that dissection with a particular publishing house and watching how this publisher's top writer structured things. It is clear, in this case, the author was working with a pattern, but the thing that was selling were the "witty interactions between the characters" and the "scenes that were really funny to read." Plot? None. It was simply this pattern of putting one witty scene in front of another one. In fact, I could rearrange those scenes in any order I wanted and still have the same story. Now, how do I know this is a pattern? I picked up 5 more books by the same author. These were not all part of a same series, but all published by the same publisher. All did the same thing.

When you are dissecting like this, if you think you find a pattern or an idea of what is working or not working with any story, stop and look for that pattern. Pick up something else. Read in other places in the story. Is it still happening? If it is, then start asking yourself if this really works or doesn't work. You may have just stumbled on the key to your own success or struggles.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Why People Don't Read Any More

I have pushed here on this blog that one of the biggest reasons for sales to be down for authors lately is the lack of readers. People simply aren't reading books any more. I do think we can pinpoint a lot of reasons why this is happening and, if we really want to get those readers back, maybe we need to change how we are doing things.

Let's consider some of the reasons:

  1. READING IS A FORCED ACTIVITY IN SCHOOLS I really don't want to get into a "back in my day" approach to this, but sometimes there is no way around it. We are so eager to "get test scores up" that we are making reading a forced activity in schools. When I was in school, going to the library to get a great new book to read was a highlight for the week. We loved going in and finding something "we wanted to read." Sure we did book reports and maybe we did weekly reading times, but we got to read what we wanted to read! But now, we have programs such as ACCELERATED READER which limits kids to the books they are supposed to read. If the book is not in the computer for testing after they finish reading, the students are encouraged not to read the book. Instead of giving the kids the chance to read for fun, it is now ranked up there with tests quizzes and passing on to the next grade.
  2. THE ANTHOLOGIES WE GIVE KIDS TO READ IN SCHOOLS IS GARBAGE I have sat on countless committees assessing new curriculum for literacy programs in schools. We are given stacks of pre-selected books that some member of the board of directors selected and we are told to select from "these books only." What is frustrating is the quality. It seems that many of these larger publishers are making such an effort to create "student friendly books" or "books with a wide range of choices to showcase diversity" that they have forgotten the quality of the story within it. We give kids the "Readers Digest" version of stories that really miss the mark. The anthologies are "dumbed down" to meet the needs of the given grade. 
  3. STUDENTS ARE TOLD WHAT TO READ AND NOT GIVEN THE CHANCE TO SELF-SELECT - this one goes back to the forced activities in school argument. We now tell kids they need to read books that are "in their grade level." God forbid they read something in a range higher than where they tested at with the standardized testing methods! School librarians herd kids to sections of the library and tell them "this is what you should read." Now don't get me wrong. I do believe in exposing kids to different genres, but when we get to the point we are telling kids they can't read a given book, maybe we are missing something. 
  4. TECHNOLOGY DISTRACTS US FROM READING Look, don't get me wrong. I think technology is great, but when we get into a situation where people are making a decision as to what to do, they turn to their phones, their tablets, their X-boxes and Playstations. Even the ads for these new devices put the ability to read your favorite book below everything else. Take a look at the ad for the Kindle Fire Phone. What are we hyping on the phone? Movies and TV! The phone doesn't even say anything about the ability to be used as a phone. 
     Take a look at the ad for the Kindle Fire. Remember that Amazon really tried to create these for e-reading, but look now. Get the idea. We are hyping up everything but reading.
    Oh sure, there is a link for a magazine but do you notice where the kindle app is at? It's hidden. Even the description of the kindle shows you what they are emphasizing: 
    Our most affordable Kindle Fire—now with a stunning HD display, faster processor, and longer battery life
    • Experience movies, TV, and games, and more on a stunning HD display (216 ppi / 1280x800)
    • Fast 1.5GHz dual-core processor—apps launch quickly, games and videos play smoothly
    • Create profiles and set time limits for children with Kindle FreeTime. Easy-to-use parental controls let everyone enjoy, worry-free
    • Ultra-fast web browsing over built-in Wi-Fi, plus updated e-mail and calendar support for Gmail, Outlook, and more
    • Instant access to over 100,000 apps and games in the Amazon Appstore, including a new paid app for free every day
    Reading? What reading? 
  5. PARENTS DON'T DEMONSTRATE STRONG READING HABITS BUT TELL KIDS TO READ - Kids follow the lead of their parents. They watch and they learn from the adults. But in all honesty, if the parents aren't reading and they are spending their entire time watching movies, turning on Netflix and never reading, why should they kids do their reading. 
  6. YES, THE AVAILABILITY OF BOOKS IS STILL AN ISSUE I am putting this one down at the bottom because I do believe it is the result of much of the stuff going on in 1-5. Bookstores shut down because the consumers weren't buying the products. To get books any more is really a chore. Even within the schools, due to budget cuts, librarians don't even have their doors open all of the time. Our lack of buying books has forced us into situations we are now not liking. 
Maybe it is time to rethink what we are doing. Yes, I understand this was a bit of a rant, but we have to see that maybe the state of the publishing industry was because of what we have done in the past and what we continue to do now. I guess the simple question is, do we want to do anything about it, or are we going to just continue to whine, moan, complain and place blame on other things?