Friday, June 22, 2018

Fiction Friday: Hiring an Editor

My journey toward publication has been loaded with new learning opportunities. One of the biggest was choosing a content, or developmental, editor. This is both because this selection has the most impact on the quality of the book(s) I will put out, and because it’s the single biggest expense in the self-publishing journey.
The problem was, I didn’t really understand what a content editor would do. I knew they weren’t the same as a copy editor, who would look for problems with grammar and wording. Content editors work at a more macro level—they’re concerned with characters and plot.
But I still didn’t understand exactly what that meant.
Were they just a glorified (and paid) version of the critique group I’d had for so long? Or something more? What should I expect? How would I even begin to tell a good one from mediocre one or even a bad one?
A.E. Jones, who won the 2014 Golden Heart® for her paranormal romance, Mind Sweeper, did a series of blog posts on choosing a developmental editor. The posts are smart and incisive and will take you through a well-defined and repeatable process to make a smart hire. The first post is here.
I read A.E.’s posts, and I’d like to tell you that I followed her well laid out process, but I didn’t. I still felt unqualified to make a wise selection. Once I got the sample edits back, they’d probably disagree with each other. How would I know which editor was right?
Meanwhile, one of the 2015 Golden Heart® finalists, Arlene McFarlane, self-published her novel, Murder, Curlers and Cream. It’s a comedy/murder mystery/slow-burn romance. Arlene had problems finding a home for it in traditional publishing because it straddled sub-genres. Since this is also true of The Demon Always Wins, it occurred to me that maybe Arlene’s editor might work for my book, too.
So, I read Murder, Curlers and Cream. It’s a fun read and I recommend it, but for purposes of this discussion, what I was looking for was plot holes and inconsistent or poorly-motivated characters. I didn’t find that. The book was solid. And Arlene had nothing but praise for her editor, Karen Dale Harris.
So, without getting so much as a sample edit, I hired Karen. I got a little frustrated that it took longer to get the edit back than I expected (more on that next week when I talk about the perils of scheduling a release in the self-pub world), but when it arrived I was completely satisfied.
Also, a little overwhelmed.
Karen’s edit came in two pieces: a thirty (30!) page edit report and a markup of my 400 page manuscript. The markup included some copy editing as well as Karen pointing out plot holes and inconsistencies.
The edit report, though, was what finally helped me understand what a really good editor can do for you. Karen went through and summarized all the plot holes, all the weak (or non-existent) motivations and all the inconsistencies she found while combing through the manuscript. She also offered suggestions for addressing them.
She also spent some time explaining some really basic things about what romance readers look for—like, a book that’s primarily about a couple falling in love, rather than the nuts and bolts of how one might run a free clinic. (Setting is important, but it can’t  be allowed to overwhelm the story.)
In particular, I knew that the book wasn’t as sexy as I wanted it to be. Karen offered very practical (and mostly subtle) suggestions to correct that.
I’m sure that once the book is out in the world, my readers will tell me a thousand things that could be better about it, but I’m thrilled with where I wound up, with the help of my editor.
I just got the second book in the series, The Demon’s in the Details, back from Karen. The edit report is only half as long, in part because I took a lot of what I learned from working with her on the first book and built it into the second one from the start.
So, what would I recommend for a first-time author who is going the self-publishing route and needs to hire a content editor?
  1. Don’t skip the developmental edit. Neither you nor your critique partners know enough to create a strong book that is worthy of asking someone to spend money to buy it.
  2. Follow A.E. Jones process. You may be able to shoot from the hip and get lucky, but there’s a better chance you won’t.
  3. Recognize that there’s a learning curve to this, just like there has been with every other step along your writing path. You may not get lucky and get a great editor right out of the box, as I did, but even if you don’t, you’ll learn something from the experience.
  4. As far as the sample edits, since the first pages of the book are the most important in terms of hooking your reader, see what your prospective editors have to say about those. Ideally, at least one of them will say something that will give you an ah-ha! moment. If she does, grab her!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Bloody But Unbowed

Recently, a friend and former schoolmate wrote a blog post about her decision to publish independently.  One of the factors, she said, was watching me win the 2015 Golden Heart® for Paranormal Romance, only to fall short on getting a publishing contract.
Just for the record, I have to confess that I sent out a grand total of 12 queries. That included two requests for full manuscripts that I received via contests I entered in preparation for entering the Golden Heart®. From conversations with other GH finalists, I gather 12 queries constitutes a pretty lame effort. One of the 2015 group told me she made over 400 queries and/or pitches before she secured a contract.
Four. Hundred. Attempts.
By that standard, I gave up without a struggle.
I have to tell you, though–I found the querying process soul-destroying. The crazy hope when someone likes your work enough to request to see it, followed by dwindling confidence as months and months tick by in silence. Once, after a year, I got a note from an editor saying she was cleaning up her files and “thanks, but no thanks.” No explanation of why she decided against it, or why it took her a year to reach that conclusion. One agent said she really liked my voice and found the premise of the story intriguing, send her the full. A year later I followed up. It’s now been two years and I’ve never received a response.
After working in business for many years, I found the level of rudeness in the traditional publishing industry appalling.
As all this was happening (or, more accurately, wasn’t happening) I observed the publishing industry essentially implode. It became clear that publishers had no idea how to deal with a paradigm shift on the scale they were seeing. I watched as they tried stupid stuff–getting into wars with Amazon, doubling-down on pricing strategies that make no sense (e.g. pricing ebooks as high or higher than paperbacks; pricing ebooks for debut authors higher than titles for superstar authors). Several times I’ve seen statements from major traditional publishing figures suggesting that ebooks were a fad that are now on their way out.
Haven’t any of these people seen Singing in the Rain?
There was one (sort of) bright spot. One agent requested a full from a chapter contest. I sent it, she read it, and a week later she sent me a very nicely worded rejection, saying the book lacked sexual tension.
I knew that. What I didn’t know was how to fix it. After putzing around with it for a while, knowing it still wasn’t right, I bit the bullet and paid a substantial amount to a freelance editor to help me understand how to address that problem.
And then I read the statistic that was the coup de grace. Once I signed a contract, my publisher would keep approximately 90% of the revenue from my work. Out of my 10%, I would pay my agent, if I had one. If I was smart, I would plow every remaining penny back into marketing my book.
In law, there’s a term for contracts formed between two parties with vastly different levels of power: contracts of adhesion. It was increasingly clear that if I signed with a traditional publishing house, I would be signing a contract of adhesion, giving up nearly all rights to my work in return for whatever crumbs they chose to toss my way.
So I was faced with a choice: I could try sending out my new-and-improved manuscript, hoping for a nod from an industry that had given up nodding at debut authors, or I could take the project management skills I honed during my working years and build a plan to publish my own book.
When I was a kid, my mother used to quote the poem, “Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley to me and my sisters.
“I am the master of my fate,” she would declaim, “I am the captain of my soul.”
No one other than a handful of friends may ever read my books. I don’t have any control over that. But it feels like, with this approach, I’m at least the master of my own fate.

Friday, June 8, 2018

May Progress Report

Sometime last month, I realized I completely skipped my April progress report, so this update will stand in for both April and May.
Goals for April:
  • Write 15,000 words on The Demon Wore Stilettos.
That manuscript is currently sitting at 11,275, so even now, two months later, I haven’t hit that goal. There’s a reason for that, which is that I got distracted cleaning up my Contemporary romance, Girl’s Best Friend. It’s currently about a week’s work away from being ready for my beta readers.
Being ADD (undiagnosed) does not help in meeting project deadlines.
  • Prep my first-ever newsletter to go out May 1. (If you’re interested in receiving it, you can sign up here.)
Okay, so that didn’t happen either. It would have gone out June 1, but when I looked at my MailChimp account, I realized it included my home address. And while I realize that anyone can Google my name and find my address, just sending it out felt like a bad idea. So I arranged with another local author to split a PO Box.
It went out today–to a grand total of 21 people, two of whom I don't actually already know. (Fans!). All the experts assure me that a newsletter is the best way to grow my mailing list, and that may be true, but the best way to grow my fan base is to actually start publishing books.
Which will happen September 1. I’m 95% sure of that, because The Demon Always Wins currently sits with the proofreader. From there it will go to the formatter, who has promised me it will be ready to load onto Amazon for pre-orders by July 15.
  • Design updated business cards with my branding to take to Denver for the RWA national conference in July.
Decided not to do that. I’m not sure how much value business cards really have these days, and I have existing ones (that aren’t my branding). I decided not to spend the time and money.
  • Decide on some swag to put in the Goody room at the RWA national conference.
After much soul-searching and discussion, I elected to go with bookmarks. Spark Creative Partners, the lovely people who created my website, are working on them as we speak.
In addition to these accomplishments, I also received The Demon’s in the Details back from my editor, Karen Dale Harris, who had surprisingly few edits. By “surprisingly few,” I mean her edit report was fifteen pages, compared to the thirty-pager I got for The Demon Always Wins.
Goals for June: (there should be background music with drums thudding louder and faster as we move toward the wire.)
  1. Buy ISBN’s. (You can read about that here.)
  2. Study up on how to load a book to Amazon.
  3. Finish this draft of Girl’s Best Friend and hand it off to some beta readers.
  4. Figure out how to address the issues my editor raised with The Demon’s in the Details. (I said she had fewer edits. I didn’t say they were easy.)
  5. Get ready for the RWA National Conference in July. As a GH finalist, I will be attending a reception with agents and editors, as well as the luncheon where the awards will be presented to the winners. Since my post-retirement wardrobe doesn’t have a lot of fancy clothes, this requires some planning and, if I can't figure out an alternative, shopping.
What’s on your agenda?

Friday, May 4, 2018

Interview with Diana Munoz Stewart

Diana and I met back in 2015, when we were both finalists for RWA’s® Golden Heart® award for IamJustice_selectunpublished romance fiction. Last summer, I got to sit beside her at our annual meet-up and was thrilled to learn she’d received a three-book contract from Sourcebooks.
Question 1: Your debut novel, I Am Justice, released on Tuesday, May 1st. (squee!) Tell us about it.
The novel is about a secret group of female vigilantes that attempt to take out a sex-trafficking ring in the Middle East. More specifically, it’s about one of the members of this vigilante group, Justice Parish. I love this description:
She’s ready to start a war…
Justice Parish was rescued from a brutal childhood and adopted into a loving family and their not-so-loving covert sisterhood of vigilantes. Trained as a skilled assassin, Justice vows to protect and avenge others who haven’t escaped the cruel hands of injustice. Her next target: a sex-trafficking ring in the war-torn Middle East. She just needs the perfect cover to get close and take them down.
He just wants peace…
After years of witnessing the destructive nature of war, Sandesh Ross leaves the Special Forces and puts his heart and soul into founding a humanitarian group. Saving the world isn’t cheap, and when Justice walks through his door, claiming to be a PR agent who can help with donors, he thinks his prayers are answered. They’re both too busy saving the world to get involved with each other. But they might not be able to help themselves…
Question 2: You chose to go the traditional publishing route. What made you choose that over self-publishing?
I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do all of the legwork involved with self-publishing. And now that I’ve been through the process—editing, production, marketing, design—I’m even more convinced it was the right choice for me. I’m incredibly happy with the team at SourcebooksCasa.
The crew at Sourcebooks has been professional, responsive, kind, and informative. They’ve gotten the word out about my novel. I’ve feel blessed by and blown away by the marketing. I also couldn’t have asked for a better editor than Cat Clyne. She did an incredible job. It was an absolute pleasure to work with her. As it was with my copy editors and production editors.
Honestly, I’m not sure how anyone organizes all of this on their own. Those writers are superheroes! Of course, I’m not ruling out anything for the future, but I’m more than satisfied with how everything has worked out so far.
Question 3: You have seven kids. How has the experience of raising a large family played into your fiction writing?
The novel is about a large family of covert vigilantes, so some things are definitely different. But my experience with a large family has definitely played a part. I think that one of the most interesting parts of having a big family is group dynamics. And I’m lucky, not only do I have a big family, but I also have a large extended family. And this group—somewhere around 34 of us–travel together at least once a year. This year we’re going to Montana. Last year we went to Colorado. All of those personalities are sure to make for memorable experiences. I guess it helps that I not only love them but that I also like them.

Another family that I really love is my romance writing family! I am inspired and buoyed by them in so many ways. From the moment I stepped into my first RWA convention, I was changed by the professional, talented, ambitious group of women I found. And kind. I can’t forget kind. My sisters in writing have taught supported and nurtured me and made me feel welcome. So thank you, Eight Ladies, for your incredible work educating and entertaining and granting opportunities like this interview to all of your fellow writers!

Diana Munoz Stewart
Diana Muñoz Stewart is the award-winning, romantic suspense author of the Band of Sisters series, which includes I Am Justice and I Am Grace and I Am Honor (Sourcebooks Publishing). She lives in eastern Pennsylvania in an often chaotic and always welcoming home that—depending on the day—can include husband, kids, extended family, friends, and a canine or two.
When not writing, Diana can be found kayaking, doing sprints up her long driveway—harder than it sounds–practicing yoga on her deck, or hiking with the man who’s had her heart since they were teens.
Hobbies and Interests: Writing, Reading, Hiking, Kayaking, Weight Lifting, Flying, Running, Gluten-Free Cooking, Traveling
Diana is represented by the wonderful Michelle Grajkowski of Three Seas Literary Agency.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Fiction Friday: Putting On the Swag

In July, thanks to my Golden Heart® final, I’ll be attending the 2018 RWA® National Conference in Denver. The conference will attract a couple of thousand romance writers, who are also romance readers. Because I’m planning to release my first books this fall, it’s time to think about swag for the Goody Room.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, swag are small, inexpensive items authors give away to publicize their work. (Also, apparently, it’s a new slang term for what used to be "cool." The things you discover when you’re googling something else.)

Examples include:
  2. Candy
  3. Pens
  4. Stress balls (for squeezing)
  5. Lanyards
  6. Lip gloss
  7. Emery boards
  8. Hand cream
  9. Micro-fiber cloths for cleaning screens
Last year, I did a volunteer shift in the Goody Room, refilling bins and baskets, which gave me an opportunity to really look at the items authors had placed there, and to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. So, what constitutes good swag?
  • People pick it up.
What makes people pick up one item out of a room filled with other, similar items? It needs to be eye-catching. obviously, but it must also feel like it’s going to fill some need they have. Candy, particularly chocolate candy, appeared to work very well for this.
  • People hang on to it for a while.
After the person picks it up, they also need to keep it, for at least long enough to have an opportunity to check out the book(s) it represents–probably till they get home from the conference. Candy is a consumable. No matter how much eye-catching, book-related info you put on the package, once they eat the candy, they throw away the package.
So, for retention purposes, something less ephemeral works better—basically, everything else on the list.
  • It’s clearly branded so recipients associate it with you.
A friend who works in marketing suggested that having something that people will keep is less important than having something that’s so strongly branded it makes an impression.
The branding question is a lot broader than just swag. Spark Creative Partners developed some really great branding for my demon books, which you can see at my website.
As I’ve started to think about swag, though, I realize I will need a logo, too, that I can apply to whatever swag I decide to use.
  • It prompts them to check out what you’re promoting.
The same marketing friend strongly recommended putting a QR code on the item that the recipient can scan with her phone. The QR code should link to information about your product, along with a buy link.
I plan to release The Demon Always Wins on September 1st. This means that, for my swag item and my QR code to have real value, I need to have the book set up on Amazon for pre-order before the conference. Is that possible? Amazon will allow me to load the book this up to 90 days before my release date so, technically, yes. The bigger question is, can I finish my last round of edits and get the book proofread, formatted, ISBN-assigned, copyrighted and loaded by July 15th?
Deep breath, Jeanne, deep breath. You can do this.
  • It’s affordable, so that you’re not spending more on a single piece of swag than you’ll receive in revenue if the person buys your book.
The books are going to sell for between $.99 and $2.99 (I think). I view the money I’m spending on getting the first three books to market (website, editors, covers, etc.) as sunk cost. However, I plan to restrict what I spend on future books to whatever I make from previous ones, so it’s important to think about return-on-investment.
Even for a great opportunity like the RWA®  national conference, my unit cost needs to stay low. This rules out most of the items on the above list.
Have you ever picked up swag items? Have you ever bought something based on swag you picked up?

Friday, April 20, 2018

Fiction Friday: Is it a Romance or a Love Story?

When I got The Demon Always Wins, the the first book in my Touched by a Demon series back from my editor, Karen Harris, she said my story didn’t know whether it was a romance or a love story.
I was mystified. A romance is a love story and vice versa, right?
Karen explained that romances always have happy endings, while love stories don’t.
As part of the general background she provided on how she analyzes story, she also explained that the issues keeping the couple apart in a romance might be internal to the characters, or their external circumstances. The same polarity exists in love stories.
Eight Lady Jilly and I spent the next couple of weeks puzzling over this and sending each other dozens of emails with examples, and where we thought those examples fell along the two continuums.
Then, of course, given my background in working alongside computer geeks and statisticians, it occurred to me that this conundrum really lends itself to a matrix analysis. If you make the vertical axis internal vs. external circumstances and the happy/unhappy ending the horizontal axis, you come up with a matrix like you see above.

Once I had the matrix set up, I plotted in a few well-known stories along the axes.
On the Happy Endings end of the scale, I plotted romances. At the top, where the issues keeping the lovers apart are primarily internal, I put a couple of books by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (It Had to be You and Nobody’s Baby But Mine) and Jenny Crusie (Bet Me).
As you move down the chart, external circumstances start to play a larger role. In Twilight, I treat Edward’s vampirism as an external circumstance–it was forced onto him from an outside agency. However, his controlling behavior and insistence that Bella can’t become a vampire, too, is an internal, character-based issue, and that plays a large role in why they can’t be together.
Most romantic suspense novels–think early Suzanne Brockman–fall into that bottom left quadrant–whatever creates the suspense serves to keep the couple apart, but generally, so do their own character flaws. At the very bottom of that axis, I put Princess Bride–Wesley and Buttercup would be perfectly happy to be together but circumstances force them apart.
Since happy endings are binary–they either are or they aren’t, there’s nothing in the middle of the diagram.
Over on the right, though, we have all the stories with unhappy endings. The issues keeping Rhett and Scarlet apart are internal (except when she’s married, and that never lasts long).
In Wuthering Heights, class-ism keeps Heathcliff and Cathy apart, but so does their wildness.
Still further down the axis, we find Brokeback Mountain. Ennis and Jack are held apart by the danger of being openly homosexual in a profoundly homophobic world, but also by Ennis’ commitment to his family.
At the bottom of the axis lies Romeo and Juliet,  another pair of teenagers kept apart by the world.
Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? If you write romance/love stories, where does you work fall on this matrix?

Friday, April 13, 2018

Fiction Friday: Interview with Lark Brennan

Lark was one of the first writers to volunteer to be interviewed when I sent out my call, and I’m so glad she did! Since I always buy at least one of my interviewees’ books and read it before going on to research the author and put together what I hope will be interesting questions, this interview introduced me to a new favorite author.Dangerously Yours HR
Question 1: I truly loved Dangerously Yours. Your world-building was seamless, the characters of Lex and Bodie were engaging and the plot escalated smoothly along a trajectory linked to Bodie’s character arc. That’s pretty much the trifecta. Given that Dangerously Yours is your first novel, where did you learn to write so seamlessly?
Thank you, Jeanne! It’s always a thrill when someone loves one of my books. 
Dangerously Yours was my first published book, but not the first one I wrote. That was a 400 page, single-spaced mess which will never see the light of day again, but it taught me I could finish a book.
Then I discovered RWA and ate up every craft workshop at our three local chapters and the national convention. I kept writing and connected with a fabulous critique partner—Sarah Andre who you interviewed here in December. She, too, was serious about publishing and is still the first person who reads my polished “final” draft.
My next manuscript was a romantic suspense that finaled in some contests and garnered requests (and rejections) from several agents. Meanwhile on a trip to Paris I visited a wonderful place called Deyrolle and came up with an idea for a book about a man who had the ability to bring taxidermied animals to life. That man became Adrien Durand, the hero of what was eventually published as the second Durand book—Irresistibly Yours. I struggled with that story—wanting to create a serious conflict for a damaged man—and might have given up if not for Sarah’s insistence that I finish. That manuscript got me my agent, Becca Stumpf.
Although it seemed that my publishing career was about to take off, Becca saw both the potential and flaws in that manuscript and had me rewrite it for her twice before she’d submit it to editors. Unfortunately, after all our work, it was an out-of-the-box story and didn’t sell. I so loved Lex Durand in that book, I wrote her book while Adrien’s was out on submission and that became Dangerously Yours.
By the time Dangerously Yours sold, I was getting more confident in my writing and storytelling. Then my editor at Diversion, Randall Klein, ruthlessly cut out all the “boring stuff” and taught me about pacing. The end result was a book I am very proud of—thanks to everyone who helped me learn craft.
That’s a long answer but learning to write has been a long process for me—and I think it is for most people. And there’s always something new to learn from workshops, reading, talking with other authors, and most of all writing. Hopefully each book I write will be better than the last.
Question 2: You decided to publish with Diversion Books, the publishing company founded by Scott Waxman as the e-book arm of his literary agency in 2010. What made you select Diversion?
My agent knew the Diversion people and submitted Dangerously Yours to them along with other publishers. When they offered a contract, I felt we’d be a good match. They not only published e-books, but distributed print books of my series to bookstores including B&N and local indies. I loved working with my editor—a brilliant guy who didn’t let me get away with romance-y clichés and helped me hone my voice. Working with the team has been an invaluable experience that taught me a lot about publishing.
Question 3: From the bio on your site, it sounds like you’ve done a lot of traveling. What’s your favorite destination and why?
That’s a hard question. There are so many places I adore–sailing in the British Virgin Islands, and exploring England, Scotland and Ireland are trips I can do over and over.
That said, I love France and return there whenever I can. My husband and I often rent an apartment in Paris in the winter. It’s only a couple doors down from Deyrolle, the inspiration for Irresistibly Yours. Being Parisian for a week or two when all the tourists are gone is fun and relaxing, and we feel like we’re part of the life of the city, not just visitors.
In other seasons we rent houses in various areas of the countryside—the Dordogne, Loire Valley, Bordeaux, Côtes d’Azur/Provence. There are so many things to do—visit chateaux, browse village markets, enjoy beaches or mountains, or just watch the sunset from a terrace with an excellent glass of local wine. Plus we’ve made some dear French friends over the years. The lifestyle, food, and culture feel natural to me—maybe I was French in a past life or have French ancestors, and the country is in my blood.
Lark Brennan
Lark Brennan’s love of reading, writing and travel has led her to a string of colorful jobs and a well-worn passport – as well as several years spent sailing and diving in the Virgin Islands. Her travels have inspired her romantic suspense series, The Durand Chronicles, which takes place in some of her favorite destinations–the British Virgin Islands, Paris, Glacier National Park, New Orleans and Scotland.
Lark dreams of one day moving to the South of France, and in the meantime lives in Texas with her brilliant husband and two adorable canine “children.”


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