Thursday, March 26, 2015

Not Winning A Contest Doesn't Mean Your Writing Sucks

Today is March 26th and for those writers involved with the Romance Writers of America, this is a big day. The nominations for the RITA and the GOLDEN HEART are being announced today. There were a lot of people who entered and only a few make it to the finals. Today there will be a few people who will be amazingly happy. But today, there will be a lot of people who will ask "What is the point? My writing sucks!"

Before you ask this and make this judgmental call, let me remind you of a few things.

When it comes to writing contests, winning or not winning is not necessarily a matter of the writing being good or bad, it all comes down to the judging, especially in the case of the RITA and the GOLDEN HEART. This is where you see the subjectivity of this business at its finest. For you see, your score is all a crap shoot. It all depends on who you got as a judge.

Remember in the Golden Heart judging, the majority of the preliminary judges are just like you. They are still trying to figure out the business. They are still trying to get to that first contract. They too are unpublished. You may have gotten the judges who read your story and really don't know the difference between SERIES and SINGLE TITLE.

Remember also that you judge in genres you did not enter. If you write and understand historicals, you may end up with nothing but New Adult. If you don't know this genre or like this genre, the odds are you are not going to be able to give it a strong score.

On the reverse side, there is nothing that says the person who won really did have the best story out there. That person could have gotten the "Everything is Wonderful" judge. Maximum scores all around!

When it comes to the RITA competition, we have to add in another layer. There is name recognition and covers that play with the judges thinking. Open up the box of books and you are lucky to find "your favorite author" and the odds are we know who wins this. Not that you are stacking the ballot box, but you are already coming in with preconceived ideas.

The same goes for the publisher the book came from. This year, it was a wide open field with the traditional and the self-published books. You have single titles going head to head with Series/Category romances. Again, subjectivity is going to come into play here.

The final thing to remember is that the judging is all based on one score only. On a scale of 1-10, did you like it. Sure, we could include decimals, but even then, "liking" a story is entirely subjective.

If you do get THE CALL today, I want to cheer you on all of the way. The simple fact you can make it through that gauntlet of judges is impressive. If you didn't get the call you wanted, don't let it ruin your day. At least you entered the contest and there are a lot of people who simply didn't have the guts to do so.

And one final note. For those of you who made it to the Golden Heart Finals, you have an open invitation to submit to Greyhaus! In your query to me, make sure to mention this year's awards. Pretty much say that from the start. I will be asking for more material from you!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Does Your Story Have A Plan B?

I don't know how many times I have heard this happen to a writer. The project is done. It is submitted and you think things are golden when the your editor turns around and says, "You know, I don't think this particular thing works in the story. What else can we do to make this work."

At which point you get the deer in the headlights look and think, "Oh S...t! Now what do I do?"

The solution is simple. Keep thinking of Plan B's for your story. It doesn't have to be fully thought out, but keep it on the back burner.

There have been a lot of times I have sat with authors during pitch sessions and thought the story might be good, but in the present form, it just isn't quite working. So I ask about other potential directions the person can take it. Of course I always get the "You know, I am open to revisions" comment, but that is not what I am looking for. I would hope you would be open to revisions. What I want to hear are some alternatives that might sway me one way or another with the project.

This is really important when writing a series. I have one client I am working with right now with a series planned. I think the idea is a great one, but we are building in a Plan B to be able to stop the series at any number of books. We even have it set up for a potential single book project. The idea is we want to be flexible. By taking this approach, we can often make things a lot easier for an editor when we are pitching the story.

So, how do you keep those Plan B's ready for any sudden change in your story? Let us know!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Responding To A Request For More

Authors spend (or should spend) a great deal of time on that initial query letter, or even getting ready for a pitch session with an editor or agent. As we know, first impressions are important! Your goal is to get that editor or agent's attention so that he or she will want to read more of your project. But what if they do? Now what?

Your talent in sales cannot stop there. You are now into round two and it may continue for a couple more rounds. You cannot give up. But what approach do you take in this second round as you sell your manuscript (and yourself) to the editors and agents.

In round one, you focused for the most part, on the project Your goal, in that first query, was to highlight the plot, the character and the concept. Your writing is something to pay attention to. Your writing is something the market and this individual needs in his or her line-up. If you were able to give them an idea of "Hey! This sounds interesting and I want to see more" then we are now in round two.

The focus here is about keeping that enthusiasm up, as well as to start showing what you can do in the business.

First of all, take the time to show your appreciation of these individuals for taking the time out of their busy schedules to look at your work. Don't go over the top and sound like a dork. It needs to be authentic. Of course, if you can't be authentic with this person, the odds are you really don't want to work with this agency or publisher.

Secondly, it is important to remind the person of the things that got them hooked. You remind them about the general concept of the story, without cutting and pasting the first version. Repetition of the same things isn't good. Show us a different side. Now, if you pitched to the person, remind them of the things you talked about.

The key here is to remember the editors and agents are seeing a lot of people and projects. In all honesty, will they even remember you? Hopefully, but if they don't, just remember to not take it personally.

Now we start talking about you and the future. The key here is to show that since the time you pitched or initially sent a submission, you have been doing something with your life. This is where you can talk about a couple of other projects you are working on. Show that you have a career that is forward thinking. If, during that time, you earned recognition from a contest, it is great to highlight that here as well. Keep the editor or agent informed of any progress since that last time you talked.

Remember, however, that professionalism is still important. You cannot start acting like a "best friend" yet. You cannot look like an overly enthusiastic car salesman either. Simply focus on showing you are the best person for the job.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Are You Ready For The Business Of Writing?

One of the first things an author needs to do before he or she starts sending out those submission letters to the editors and agents is to consider if this really is the right time for them to start a new job. You see, becoming a professional writer is taking on a new job. Unless you are independently wealthy and can afford to give up your day job, the odds are you will have to do both. But what authors fail to realize is that professional writing really is a juggling act.

The joy you had of creating stories, building worlds, and having your characters interact with one another happened while you were wearing the "author" hat. This is the fun one! You could write 2000 words one day and maybe not write anything else the next day or two, giving the characters a chance to appreciate their new surroundings. But the other hat you now wear, the "business author" hat is more demanding.

As a business author, you now have to interrupt your writing with a lot of other activities. You will now have to create and maintain that online presence. Daily blogs, twitter, Facebook and so forth. You will now have to get out there in public to talk about your book (who else did you think would do it?). Your day will now be filled with correspondence with your editor, the marketing team, the cover designers and so forth.

But wait, it gets better! Just when you get on a roll with that current work in progress, it is almost a certainty you will open your email and get the AA's for your last book that now need to be edited and you have 14 days to do that.

Your day will be restructured. You now have a lot of other people counting on you to produce and work, but this time, it will be on their schedule and not yours.

Oh, and those of you thinking self-publishing eliminates all of those other people, you will now be wearing all of their hats so, in many ways, you haven't gotten out of it!

This is not meant to scare people away. This is just a cautionary tale and one that many authors just don't think about. And, this really is the reason why we see so many authors sell 1 or 2 books and then disappear. They weren't ready!

I'd love to hear from the writers who are now selling now. How do you juggle your time and still maintain your writing schedule (and keep the day job).