Spotlight Interview

Hello all!

Here is the link to my interview from last Sunday about my debut novel, “Secret Agent of God”. Authors contact Shah for your opportunity to be featured. Check it out: Spotlight Interview

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Query Letters: Quantity or Quality?

I met a writer at a conference who said he sent 300 query letters before self-publishing.  I read some of his work, he is a good writer; but is writing 300 query letters a good strategy?  Based on my research over the past several years, I would say that quality is always better than quantity.

This may even be the motto of my life.

I am not an expert on writing query letters, but I have found some:

http://www.facebook.com/agent.rachelle

True confessions time!

After researching Agencies, http://www.agentquery.com/  I sent three letters for my first novel Seeing Scarlet before beginning yet another round of rewrites.  The rewrites are my decision, because I know I can better.   Of the three letters sent, I received one request for a full manuscript.  Not bad odds.

For my second, not quite completed novel, I sent one letter and received a very nice rejection.  By that, I mean, several paragraphs, which were both encouraging and offered an explanation about why she could not take on the novel.

What is the consensus?  What do they want?

Send it to the right agent, someone who represents your genre and is actively seeking new authors.

No typos or grammatical errors.

  • If your letter is boring, the assumption is that your novel will be as well.
  • Brevity: agents are busy.
  • No gimmicks, but a good hook doe not hurt.
  • Answer the question:  what is your story and why are you qualified to write it?

If you think have ever been in involved in a job search and who hasn’t, it’s not unlike writing a cover letter, if yours stinks, no one will read your résumé or your novel in this case, no matter how great it is.

Oh, and most importantly, double-check the spelling of the name of the Agency and Agent.  They say this actually happens, but it won’t get you very far.

#Putting Some Win in Your Sales

Question for the week:  Can you sell your words without selling your soul?

If you directly show the desire to sell something or worse, call yourself a Salesperson, can you escape negative connotations? 

Slimy Salesman Image

The word Salesman calls to mind images of polyester leisure suits, used cars and telemarketers hawking something you don’t want, refusing to take no for an answer.

Funny how words work.  The alternate spelling of the word, sails, invokes much lovelier imagery:

Croatia Yacht Charter Sailing Catamarans

Is sales really such a dirty word?  As consumer’s we like to buy things.  So, are salespeople villains?

Is it because it seems so desperate to have to ask, “would you like to buy this?”

Or is it because we like to kid ourselves that we are not being sold to every minute of every day?

As Authors, we shudder at the thought of having to sell our books; it’s not just about book signings and readings anymore, subtle selling events.  At the mere suggestion of promotion, we cry out:  “I thought the Publisher did the selling?”  Maybe once upon a time, when Agents were more like Fairy Godmothers.

Fairy Godmother

The selling starts long before the story is even printed.  First, we have sell our manuscript to an Agent, then it’s (hopefully) sold to an Editor and Publisher.  If we are fortunate enough to find success, the expectation remains, we will do our part literally, to get the word out about our book and sell it to the public.

Even with twelve years in Sales and Marketing experience under my belt, it took a long time to come to terms with this fact.  I thought I’d escape selling by becoming a writer.  The jokes on me!

As a salesperson I preferred to view my job as educating people on a quality product.  I chose to offer a service or fulfilled a need.  Of course, in doing so, I was in fact, selling something. My sales improved when customers viewed me as likable or better yet, as possessing a sense of humor.

Can selling a book be so different from selling some other type of product?  How do you make yours the one people want to buy like some of the blogs turned books that sky rocketed to success:  Author Julie Powell’s, “Julie and Julia” or “Fifty Shades of Grey”, by E.L. James.

“Julie and Julia”, by Julie Powell, (Little, Brown)

With  416, 039 bloggers just on WordPress alone, and how many are seeking book deals, has this ship already sailed?

Okay writers, time to get creative!

In Writer’s Digest, September 2012 issue, Author, Laura DiSilverio used Pinterest to show the items in her character Gigi Goldman’s wardrobe, to promote her book.  Clever.

At the Unicorn Writers Conference, self published Author, Joseph J.   Bradley handed out bookmarks instead of cards, which included the book cover, a brief plot synopsis and all of his pertinent information.  Smart.

Candace Knoebel, a blogger/Author I discovered here on WordPress.com, produced a book trailer for the release of her new book, “Born in Flames”.  Inventive.

http://www.youtube.com/watchv=bu5qbaMXxh0&feature=share

I love this idea.  For me, writing is visual.

Small businesses have used t-shirts, magnets, direct mail campaigns, pens, pencils, golf balls and ball caps among other things to help promote their businesses for years.  Maybe your character likes to play golf?

Over the summer, I saw an airplane banner advertising wine.  It did make me a little thirsty.

Airplane banner

Skywriting would work, after all, it was a big hit for the Wicked Witch Of The West.

Skywriting Spells Out, “You Didn’t Fail”.

Writing the book it seems is only half the battle.  The challenge is before us to seek out  the next best way to sell our work without sacrificing integrity.

For now, my mission is to finish writing what I hope will be a quality novel that might fulfill a need to read, with hope that readers will find my characters likable and maybe even entertaining.

Thanks for reading and keep writing!

Getting to know your ABC’s: Author Websites, Blogging and Contests

Thought for the week:  If you do everything you’re told, will you win a prize in the end? 

Reading the writers magazines and listening to industry guru’s the word is you need to build a platform to succeed as a writer in today’s marketplace.  This is a terrifying prospect to those of us who are technologically challenged.  And what if you prefer a little anonymity and are not driven by ego or insecurity and refuse to measure your worth by your number of Facebook friends?  Is self-publishing the only alternative?

I was dragged kicking and screaming into the age of technology, having written my college papers on one of those giant word processors using word-perfect.  If you are under the age of 30, now you are wrinkling up your nose and thinking, huh?

The papers disappeared into that blasted machine, often lost by my incompetence and haste in writing assignments the night before their due date, still, I cursed the computer for eating my work.

It took me years to get an ATM card, trusting my a passbook savings, something I had control over.  Again-huh?  Was anyone else convinced the machine would give their money to the next customer or that the funds would disappear altogether?

Am I alone in a preference to receive letters and cards in the mail, you know, tangible paper objects that you hold in your hand?  Does anyone still get butterflies finding odd-shaped envelopes among the bills and solicitations in the mailbox, the kind that give paper cuts, as a remembrance or enjoy examining handwriting and noting what it reveals about the writer?

The modern wonder E-mail, doubled my workload;  I hand wrote messages before typing them on the computer screen, then, deleted and re-wrote them, repeatedly, just because it was possible to do so.

A few years ago, an acquaintance publicly mocked me for not having a Facebook account, as if I were some Dinosaur who slipped out of the muck and landed accidentally in the modern age.

Joining Facebook happened out of sheer laziness; living in Europe, it was too difficult to keep up with everyone back in the States via e-mail and nearly impossible to share pictures of places visited.  It took awhile to get the concept of whole thing.  Why would anyone care what I am doing?  Once, I deleted half of my “friends” because they were not writing to me regularly.  Until I realized, I wasn’t writing to them either.

So hearing that success means you need to build a platform, I know I wrinkled my nose and went, huh?  To what end?  To jump off? 

Surely, some of us could get around this somehow.  What of those of us longing for the old style of publishing, sifting through the one thousand-page, onion-skin, “Writers Market” handbook in search of publishing houses,  Sending full manuscripts in the mail along with a SASE.  Go ahead, say it-huh?

Born too late, I could have been a Pilgrim or at least a Settler’s wife, writing about my hardship with a quill pen.  Using a wooden churn to make butter.  Incidentally, I made butter with my class once in elementary school following a field trip to Plymouth Rock.  Please do not say huh?

Author Websites:

Launching an Author Website, I literally held my breath while pushing the publish button.  It felt just like diving off a large cliff into the open mouth of the sea.  The choice of background photo clearly was not accidental.  Funny how the unconscious mind is so much smarter than the conscious one.

Can you call yourself an Author if you have yet to publish any Novels?  Will anyone know you exist if you don’t?

Amazingly, friends rallied around and it feels safe having an intimate audience of 39 fans.  I have to marvel at people with over one million.  How do they keep up with everyone?  Does having that many fans make them feel comforted or naked and exposed?

Blogging:

Writing a blog is supposedly part of platform building.  Again, I wondered why anyone should care.  What do you say?  How do you come up with something interesting to write about week after week or unimaginably, day after day?

Posting once a week, about the behind the scenes struggle of writing and the effort involved in mounting the hurdles of the changing Publishing world seemed a good way to start.  It might help make someone else’s journey a little easier somehow.  It is also a sort of social experiment, to see if following all of this sage advice will work out or not.

It’s easy writing to an intimate group of nine blogger followers and silent readers, without risking too much.  I’m blessed garnering any interest at all.  It’s interesting reading followers blogs to see what they have to say.  There are some great writers in cyberspace, blogging, because they like writing and will do it gratis, even for a small audience.  It makes sense now, this alternate form of social network for support and sharing of ideas.

Contests:

Of contests, let me preface this by stating my intent in this blog is to help not hinder and I have mixed feelings on this subject.  Coming to terms with who wins and why frustrates me.  Not hearing feedback annoys me.  Am I spending too much time trying to win and need to step back and ask myself why?  To what end?  Is it just a competitive thing?

People have launched writing careers by doing these things, but doesn’t that mean its time for the next great thing? 

Does winning a contest validate a writer?  Or does it mean selling out as a writer to appease the masses or a panel of judges?  Is this winning or losing?  Is it possible contests only benefit the magazines or sites that run them?  After all, if they cared about good writing they could drop entry fees. Struggling writers are poor; do they consider this?  Or am I just “Bitter Pants, party of one,” as my friend L would say, because I have yet to win?

Well, if you read this entire, long-winded post, then I am already winning!  

Thanks for reading and keep writing!    

Yet to come:  The Benefits of Insomnia; My First Writers Conference; Query Letter Hell; Are You an Artist or a Craftsman?; Where’s The Reality Show For Writers?; Thinking on a Different Plane; What Compels Me To Write? & Why Trying Too Hard Fails

Echoes of the Silent Response

Thought for the week:  When seeking support, accept surprises, avoid obstacles and don’t always discount strangers.

Aside from other writers, I seek support and opinions on my writing from family, friends and acquaintances.  Interestingly, some of the most reliable feedback comes from acquaintances, not from my nearest and dearest.  Why?   I suspect the people who care about me, sugar coat their responses out of kindness.  I understand.  It’s hard to negatively criticize someone you like.

When analyzing feedback, I try to focus on common threads, tossing aside any commentary that falls too far to the extremes.  Good news always comes first.

“Great character, send more!”

“I can’t wait for the next chapter.”

Finally, the rare and valued, detailed critique:

“I was confused by this part.  I didn’t get where you were going with this or that.  My favorite part was such and such.”

From the rest, silence, leaving me to interpret its meaning.

You thought it stunk and don’t know how to say that without hurting my feelings.  Or you lost interest after the first sentence.

Silence leads to doubt and doubt has a way of coiling its slimy self in a dark corner of my brain, periodically raising its scaly head to hiss, spit or rattle its tail, lest I forget about it.  The longer this goes on the more agonizing it becomes.  

Do I really want to know that someone hated what I wrote?  Absolutely!  What I find out after probing is:

“I couldn’t find the file.”

“I couldn’t open the file.”

“I loved it, didn’t I tell you?”

“I was too busy to get to it.”

“I didn’t care for the story, but liked the other one you sent.”

So what does this mean?  Positive feedback is great, but just as important, is the other kind, it reveals something about your future audience.  You need a variety of test readers, including some lacking a keen interest in protecting your feelings, because assuming you publish your novel, readers who know very little or nothing about you will read your work, if you are lucky.

Readers of your published work will approach your story from a different perspective, bringing their own likeness into play, viewing it through their the lens of their history.  They will not concern themselves with what you think or how you feel; they expect you to fulfill their wants, needs and desires.  If you fail, will they be kind?

In the end, I gratefully take in to account all comments and then rely on my inner Editor and Critic, but sometimes, even she, tries to placate me.

Thank you for reading and keep writing!

Yet to come:  The Benefits of Insomnia; My First Writers Conference; Query Letter Hell! & The ABC’s…Author Websites, Blogging and Contests, Oh, My!

Maintaining Momentum

Thought for the week: We all spend time in the writing ditch; how you get out of it is up to you.

In the midst of writing and re-writing my first novel, “Seeing Scarlet”, a second novel materialized. Initially, I denied it time and energy due to WOCD, writer’s obsessive compulsion disorder, refusing to write novel number two, because novel number one was not yet complete.

However, this new character, Janice Morrison, would not go away. Every time I stalled out writing Scarlet’s story, Janice would tap on the back door of my brain.

“Hay, it’s me again, Janice. Got a second?”

“No, I’m busy. Come back later,” I grumbled.

“You still working on that book? Come, on! I’ve been waitin’ long enough here to tell you something. You won’t believe this one.”

Janice would just not hear me and I refused to listen because I was busy being stuck in the ‘writing ditch’, a place where you cannot move forward or backward, without digging yourself a deeper hole.

Frustrated anyway, I finally took a woefully needed break from Scarlet and tuned in to Janice. Before long, I had written twenty-five thousand words of her story. Now that number is nearly double. My second novel, “Secret Agent of…God?” is character driven, focused, true to the tale that I set out to write and is a narrative that technically told itself. The best part…it was fun to write again.

I learned something valuable from Janice. The protagonist sets the tone of the story and decides where it will ultimately go. In Scarlet’s case, I had tried to mold her into someone she had no interest in becoming. I became confused, thinking I was writing my story at times, but Scarlet is definitely not me.

I let Scarlet’s issues stew on the back burner for a bit and worked on Janice’s predicament and other projects, short stories and flash fiction for contests until one day, an answer to Scarlet’s problem presented itself.

While watching my eight-year-old outrunning ten and eleven-year-olds at her running camp, being fiercely competitive at all things, easily able to outsmart me with minimal effort, she was already so confident and different from me, at her age. I realized something, I gave her life and shared a few genes, but I can never take credit for how amazing she is, all on her own.

This triggered my ascent. I needed to accept Scarlet’s individuality as I have my daughters. As Scarlet’s creator, I owed her this much. When I began blending in this new perspective, a bright and more vivid character emerged.

Ask yourself if you have another tale to tell, at least temporarily. Write poetry, even badly, create a children’s book, draft a short story, pen an article about anthills. Meanwhile, let your character quandary simmer until a solution comes bubbling to the surface; when it does, simply stir in the spice you found before your ideas burn out or evaporate. At the very least, a fresh story will keep you company and give you something to chew on while you wait for a figurative tow truck to conjure a productive way out of the ‘writing ditch’.

Thank you for reading and keep writing!

Yet to come: Seeking Support: Surprises and Stumbling Blocks; The Benefits of Insomnia; My First Writers Conference; Query Letter Hell!; The ABC’s…Author Websites, Blogging and Contests, Oh, My!

Writers Group Therapy

Thought for the week: If you can’t take the heat, stay away from the fire pit.

As an aspiring writer, I subscribe to various trade publications, my favorite being Writers Digest Magazine. The magazine offers solid advice, contest opportunities, author interviews and inspiration among other things. One piece of valuable advice I garnered from WD was the recommendation to create a writing support system by becoming part of the writing community, in other words make some writing friends. What a novel idea. This craft can be isolating.

My first step was to join a local writers group. I went to my favorite source of information, the local library, where a helpful librarian directed to me to a group that meets twice a month.

Naturally, I had preconceived notions of what the group would be like. I imagined people like myself, amateur stay-at-home Moms who wanted to reenter the work force by becoming writers. No egocentrism involved there. I assumed between chats about writing we would swap stories about our children’s sports events and share recipes.

As it turns out, my group is primarily male and filled with some excellent writers with varied backgrounds: retired teachers with advanced degrees, a journalist, a songwriter, a film school graduate, self-published authors and traditionally published authors of novels or short story anthologies.

This threw me, I was not sure I was either worthy or courageous enough to be in this group, not to mention, read my romantic suspense Novel in front of them. I wondered how my membership might enhance the group. I hung in because there was no question I would have an opportunity to learn something.

At the first meeting, I sat quietly listening to the others read their work. I had in tow, chapter one of my novel, Seeing Scarlet. At one point, the group organizer called on me to read. I shook my head furiously and refused. Very mature on my part, yes? If I could have, I would have slunk under the table and slithered from the room. I considered quitting but instead returned a few weeks later for the next meeting.

I brought the same chapter and after a few people read, summoned the courage to read. My delivery was akin to that of an auctioneer. I am not certain anyone could even understand me. The piece was entirely too long and halfway through, I could hear people shifting in their seats. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw them checking their watches. Okay, I may have imagined that last part. Then, the critique of my work commenced. The quotes are only as accurate as my own recollection and are unassigned to protect identities:

“There’s way too much back story!”

“Where’s the action?”

“All I could think about was Scarlet O’Hara.”

I felt as if my heartfelt narrative was a slab of raw meat and the wolves were all having at it. Then, my personal favorite:

“I was falling asleep over here!”

They liked certain parts of it and some offered more carefully formed comments:

“You’re obviously a competent writer. It’s good to know you can form sentences with some degree of ability.”

Finally, the statement that cut to the quick:

“You’re quirky. You have a story to tell and it’s buried in there somewhere.”

I was upset, although I am not sure what I expected. I went home, drank some wine while wallowing in self-pity and flipped through the television channels.

What do a bunch of men know about romance anyway? What makes them think they’re so great?

Ironically, I stumbled across the movie “Gone with the Wind” on TMC. Scarlet O’Hara, humph! In truth, I had never seen the movie or read the book. Instead, I secretly scoffed about it. I began watching. Hours later, at two in morning, riveted, with tears in my eyes, I shouted at the television and shook my fist, give ‘em hell, Scarlet!

I had always presumed it was a sappy romance, but Scarlet O’Hara was the Heroine of her time, strong, determined, smart, witty, beautiful and maybe a little manipulative, but what choice did she have? I would be proud to have a character like her in my novel.

Watching the film, I realized a few things, you cannot scoff at romance if you are going to write it and you somehow have to make people care about your characters, so they could not possibly fall asleep in the beginning of your story.

What had I written? What was my novel about? Questions I needed to answer, before the reconstruction of the story could begin in earnest. I realized that I began telling one story and then morphed into telling another because I was chasing the market. I had committed the worst offense in writing; I had lost sight of my story and set aside good writing in search of commercial success.

The next day, still slightly steaming about the comments from my group, I re-read my notes from the night before and realized they were not trying to mean, they were trying to help me become a better writer. I felt even more embarrassed for my reaction. If someone is willing to hear or read your writing, take it for what it is, a gift.

Of course, a small part of my Irish pride still needed to prove to them that I could do better. I rewrote chapter one, over and over and over. Each time it got a little tighter and more fluid. After all, writing is only the beginning, then comes rewriting.

As regards the group, I stuck it out and I like to think I am earning my stripes. It has become something to look forward to although it seems like an odd cross between AA and group therapy for writers, not that I have experience with either.

If you join one, think of the first reading as an initiation of sorts. Learning how to take criticism on your work is vital to survival. You may never learn to take it without insult, but your writing will benefit from it, by incorporating the suggestions that make your work more polished.

Ultimately, being an author is a weird sort of solo act with many support personnel helping and guiding you along the way but you have to know what is best for your story.

I have since received much stronger reviews from my group and I now feel as though my writing better represents who I want to be as an author of novels-still unpublished, but unwavering.

Thank you for reading and keep writing!

Yet to come: Momentum; Seeking Support: Surprises and Stumbling Blocks; The Benefits of Insomnia; My First Writers Conference & Query Letter Hell!