Monday, December 19, 2011

New Calls for Romance Submissions

Hi all.  It's been a while since I've posted anything on my blog (I still love you, though) so I thought I would start up again with what I've been busy with these last few months - researching and answering publishers' calls for romance submissions.

Yes, I submitted two stories to Total-E-Bound in the last several months and I have now signed two contracts with them.  I am still sort of reeling over that!

I wish you the best of luck in submitting your romance stories.  From personal experience, my best advice is to keep at it.

Total-E-Bound:  My publisher.  (How sweet that sounds!)  They're always looking for shorter stories or novellas so try one out.  The current themes include bodices and boudoir (historicals), domestic staff, and immortal love, among others.  Something for every taste.

Samhain: Romance with some horror, erotic and "regular".  Again, shorter stories are welcomed as is any story up to 120,000 words.

Entangled: Geek love!  I think of myself more as a nerd than a geek (the difference is subtle) but I would love to take a stab at this call for "geek submissions" - romance stories with a geek as a primary character.

Good luck!

Monday, November 14, 2011

How to Get Rejected...A Lot

This year, one of my resolutions was to send out more writing submissions.  Short stories, full length manuscripts, romance, horror, you name it - I wrote it and I sent it out into the cold hard world.

This was also the year I had my first romance short story accepted for publication.

Coincidence?  I think not.

Something that changed in my life with the decision to send out more writing submissions was the sheer volume of work involved in getting together cover letters, synopses, editing the stories themselves.  Not to mention the research that went into finding the appropriate journals and publishers to receive my work.

And, then, once I had submitted my writing, I spent time checking up on the submissions after the recommended waiting period (and, often, before the period was up).  In some cases, I had to resubmit due to work being lost or misplaced or simply because the publishers' guidelines said to do that after a few months had passed.

Then, of course, came the hardest work of all - reading the rejection letters that started to spill in.

Oh, the horror.

Rejection letters are disheartening, in that they rip into your chest and pull out your still beating heart and then squeeze it and squeeze it until it bleeds tears of blood.

Yes, it feel just like that.

The Solution

I can't say that each rejection letter doesn't hurt.  They do.  They keep on hurting, I imagine, even for successful published authors.  That's because of what they represent...a decision that, for whatever reason, your writing wasn't good enough.  And, of course, that leads us to think that we aren't good enough.

Here's the thing: a rejection letter only means that your piece of writing wasn't what that specific agent/publisher/editor wanted at that time for their specific purpose/schedule/tastes/needs.  That's all.

A rejection doesn't mean your writing sucks and, most of all, doesn't mean some other agent or editor won't want it when it fits into their particular needs and tastes.

My solution is to keep my options open (and hopes alive) by sending out a bunch of queries at the same time.  As the rejection letters start rolling in, I can say to myself "well, that's one down.  I have ten more in the hopper, which means ten more chances to be accepted".  This inevitably cheers me up.

When I find that my 'hopper' has run low, I send out another batch of queries.

Yes, this is time-consuming.  It takes ten times as long to send out ten queries because it means additional research, revisions to your query letter, structuring your manuscript or synopsis in a specific way as set out in the individual guidelines.  It's work, yes.  But it's worth it.

No two ways about it, rejection hurts.  This is one way I've found to make it sting less.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Writing Burnout

Just as bad as writer's block is its twin: writing burnout.  It happens when you push yourself too hard and end up writing a lot in a short period and then nothing for a long time.  Indeed, I've been known to suffer from writing burnout just thinking hard about writing.

Yes, writing burnout happens even when you're not actually recovering from a bout of writing but when you've ceased to get any pleasure from the activity, or even the thought of, writing.

I have to constantly remind myself that, much like my day job, I need breaks from my writing.  Yes, even an extended period such as the past month (full disclosure: I have written a few pages in the last week).

Don't get me wrong, I love writing (and I do love my day job, at times).  But sometimes, as Patti Smith says, love just ain't enough.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder, etcetera.  A break from writing usually brings me charging back into it with renewed vigour.

My problem is allowing the burnout period to run its course.  My instinct is to jump right back onto that exhausted horse and hammer out a few pages, even when it is the last thing on earth I feel like doing.  Forcing myself to write works when I'm suffering from writer's block, not writing burnout.  When I feel burnout, I have to give myself time to rediscover my love of writing, which is sometimes lurking a few levels beneath my skin.  Sometimes, quite a few.

Writing is an art, a calling, a true love.  But like any love, you can occasionally benefit from some time apart, if only to recall why you fell in love in the first place.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Fear of Failing

I set myself up to fail sometimes.

Okay, that is a depressing statement.  I don't actually mean that I want to fail, but that I set goals that make it nearly impossible not to fail.  Take, for example, my recent resolution to write for an hour every day.  Now, I know with my work schedule and family life that I don't have an hour a day to spare.  Not every single day, certainly.  Yet I gave myself this goal and -- surprise, surprise -- I failed to reach it in the very first day.  And the next day.  And the next.

In fact, since I made that resolution to write for an hour every day, I have not written for an hour any day.  Yup, it's almost like I enjoyed the process of failing to stick to my resolution.

Almost.

The experience has made me wonder about myself.  What makes me write less at the very time I had promised myself to write more?

Maybe I made that promise to myself because I was feeling a lack of inspiration or energy to write.  Maybe I made the resolution at the very worst time to make it.  Maybe I'd just gotten lazy.

Or maybe I was afraid of giving it my all and still coming up short.  Of writing the very best story or novel that I could and still having no one willing to represent or publish it.

That's called fear of failing and before people started worrying about fearing success, they were caught up in worrying about this (which really makes more sense, when you think about it).

Fear of failing begins with a fear of trying.

The problem is that while trying leads to failure, it can also lead to success.  I may be anxious about how I will how I will handle sudden success (fingers crossed) but I'm not fearful of achieving publication and writing accolades, which have been my dream since I was a child.  I am fearful of spending so much of my life chasing this dream and never quite making it.

Does it mean that I won't be making any more resolutions about writing?  No.

Does this mean that I will stop trying?  Never!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Read "Proud Surrender" - My Entry into the New Voices Contest

I managed to get in my entry for the New Voices contest well in advance of the deadline.

Check out my entry, Proud Surrender: http://www.romanceisnotdead.com/Entries/398-Proud-Surrender

Please vote and comment on it, too, even if you only have "constructive criticism" to offer! :)

And if you're thinking about getting serious about your romance writing, try entering the contest yourself.

Good luck!  (And wish me luck).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Romance is NOT Dead!: New Voices Contest

Today, I just found out that Mills and Boon UK is running their New Voices contest again this year!

Argh!  Just when I was preparing to submit a new erotic romance to another Call for Submissions.  What is a busy romance-writing girl to do?

Ideally, I want to enter both submissions.  Wouldn't you?  The only problem is (and it's a biggie) is that I have barely completed about 10% of the erotic romance story and I have no idea which of my many many (many) first chapters to polish up and submit to the New Voices contest.  Double argh!

Preparation

Okay, so last year I didn't do too well in the New Voices contest.

This year, before I start tearing up the keyboard, I wanted to do some preliminary work to get my mind thinking c-o-n-t-e-s-t.

My first step in submitting to the New Voices contest is to read over my submission from the last contest and see what the comments were from the folks who took the time to read it.  I want to improve on what I did last year, for sure.

The second step will be reading over the finalists' entries and seeing what they did right.  I don't want to copy what they did, not in the least, but simply get an idea of what makes the winning chapters tick for both the readers and the judges.

Lastly, I think I will check out the statistics on the entries - how many entries were submitted in each sub-category (Contemporary, Paranormal, etc.) and how those entries (as a category) did within the other rounds.  I know, I know, that the winner many not necessarily be chosen from a particular category but I write all kinds of romances and I want to be able to narrow down my decision on what kind of story to enter.

Come on, why don't you enter with me?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Road to Publication - My First Revision Request

This summer, I received my very first revision request.  I was over the moon!

It may not sound like a lot but this was the first time anyone in the romance publishing industry had taken notice of my writing enough to say: hey, why don't you work on this story and get back to us.  It helped that the editor also said that she loved my story. I was literally grinning for days.

But then came the hard part -- actually making the revisions.

Some stuff was fairly easy: fixing a few typos and so on.  The hard part was changing several of my scenes that were guilty of "head hopping" or switching between the points of view of more than one character.  In one scene, I found that I had switched back and forth at least three times!  Ouch.

It was the first time I became aware of my technical writing habits (read: flaws).  Head hopping appeared to be my favourite technique.

It took me weeks to change the scenes to my liking and to ensure that each scene was structurally sound, which meant going through my story line by line, word by word.  It meant re-reading my work over and over, turning a task I usually find enjoyable into a labour of love.

Labour, I did and eventually I succeeded in producing a manuscript that met with my editor's liking.  Let me tell you, those few days' wait between sending off the corrected story and waiting for her to say it was good were a killer!

The process of revising taught me a great deal.  With someone else watching over my shoulder, I recognized my common mistakes and was able to develop a technique for fixing them.  Yes, it's painstaking but it was well worth it to get back that email saying my story looked good.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Writing an Hour a Day

I make a lot of resolutions.  Some almost impossibly ambitious (eat only natural whole foods) and others a little more realistic (submit five short stories for publication every month).

My resolutions usually focus on what I can change (writing, submitting) rather than those goals that are outside of my control (publish more, get accepted by a literary agent).  My mantra is all about "stick-to-it-iveness" (thank you, Principal Skinner).  If I keep creating and putting my writing creations out there, regularly, and strategically, I will eventually be published.  I sincerely believe that.

Oddly enough, I tend to make resolutions all throughout the year, without relying on that anxiety-inducing New Year's Eve fever to start me on my righteous new path.  I make those resolutions, sure, but I also make resolutions in February, March, etc.  Every new season brings a new set of goals.

Many of my resolutions deal with my writing habits.  Write more.  Submit more.  Edit more.  Research more.  Yes...and blog more.

My resolution for the new school year (no, I'm not in school still but I do tend to think the year begins afresh in the fall) is to write for an hour a day.

An hour, you say?  Fie.

Yes, I mean it.  Kinda.

I'll admit that my definition of "writing" will be somewhat loose. I will be perfectly happy if I submit stories, edit, research agents, etc. during my "writing" time. In other words, any writing related effort that I would otherwise be trying to cram into my already packed weekends will now be spread out throughout the week.

The benefit, as far as I can see it, will be inertia. Not a day will go by when I'm not thinking about my works-in-progress and my writing career as a whole.  In addition, it will take the pressure off of me trying to writing for ten hours during the weekend when I need to do things like spend time with my family, see my friends, clean my house and cook.

Will my Hour-A-Day Experiment work?  We shall see.

Come on, try it with me!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Blogging the Easy Way

Ha. That title must have caught you, didn't it?

I am here to tell you that there is no easy way to blog. Specifically, there is no easy way to blog well.

For one thing, you can't get around the writing. Writing a lot is not writing well. Indeed, the opposite is quite often true.  Everyone has heard the quote where the harried writer, alternatively believed to be Twain or Voltaire, states that he didn't have time to write a short letter so he wrote a long one instead.  The same axiom applies to blog posts.  A long post is often the sign of shoddy research or editing--not knowing (or having the time to determine) what is important, you include every fact or tip that could possibly be important.  Result: a long blog post and an increased chance that no one will read it to the end.  Or, worse yet, you will have lost your message in the tedious confusion of your writing.

That said, I have recently learned of my nomination, by the wonderful Kate Kyle, for a blogging award.  Wow!  I hardly thought folks were reading, much less enjoying, my blog so well.

I am flattered and amazed at the recognition that has come from my little blog that could.  It has fulfilled its original function of reaching out to fellow readers and writers (especially in the romance genre) and it has made me feel much more a part of the larger virtual community of writers, which I now realize is enormous.

Yes, there is no easy way to blog.  You must steal time from the rest of your life, and your writing, to research, write and edit your posts.  If, like me, you started out with the aim of posting every week, this can be an incredible challenge.  But, in the end, I hope you find that your blogging is worth every minute.  Like I just did.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Journey to My First Romance Publication

This is my first blog post in over a month and I am pleased to share a bit of good news that has kept me occupied for that period of time...I have had my first romance short story accepted for publication!

I am thrilled!  And busy!

When I last left this blog, I was deep into the process of preparing and editing my short story for submission into the Total-E-Bound erotic romance call for submissions.  This was, in fact, my very first attempt at writing an erotic romance story, a task I struggled with.

Apparently, I succeeded.

I received a request to make revisions to my story late in July and, after a few weeks of revisions, I resubmitted the story and had it accepted for publication.  I am now in the process of signing forms, giving some input into the cover art process(!), etc.

But, never fear, I will be back on these pages to chart my journey towards this first erotic romance submission, revision process, and acceptance.  I want to share my good fortune with everyone out there and remind you all that success is possible if you just keep at it.  Okay, I will stop myself from breaking into song.

(PS: I am now working on my second erotic romance story...I will keep you posted on that as well).

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Query Letters 101 – Attachments

You’ve done your research and found out the specific guidelines for submissions set out by the literary agent or publisher your query letter is targeting. You’ve read these guidelines carefully and noticed that they vary from agent to agent, from publisher to publisher. So much so that you’re starting to confuse them in your mind.

Some submission guidelines ask for sample pages or sample chapters, some want a synopsis of your manuscript, and some just want a query letter alone. How do you know what to send? And what should your pages or chapters or synopsis look like?

Manuscript

First and foremost, your pages or chapters should adhere to the guidelines set out by your target reader, but there are standard rules that most agents or publishers will use.

As with your query letter itself, the manuscript has one inch margins and a readable font.
Novel manuscripts usually have title pages, although it won’t be fatal to your submission if you don’t include one (unless the guidelines say you have to). A title page has your name and contact information (address, phone number, email) in the top left hand side of the page. Centred in the page (both horizontally and vertically) is the title of your novel and below that “by [Your Name or Pen Name]”. Include the genre and number of words in your manuscript either at the bottom of the title page, centre justified, or at the top right hand corner.

Do NOT put a page number on your title page. Start with page one on the very next page, which will actually be the first page of your manuscript.

If you’re not using a title page, your name and contact information can go in the top left hand corner of the first page of your manuscript.

For the manuscript itself, remember that each chapter starts on a new page. The title of your chapter should be centre justified. The chapter begins either one-third or halfway down the page – chapter title followed a couple lines below by the text of the chapter. The text itself – that is, your writing – should be left justified (ragged right hand edges), not full justified (even right hand edges).

Text must be double spaced. Your contact information is single spaced. Confused yet?

On the top right hand corner of every manuscript page (except for the title page, if you’re including one) should have the following information: your last name, the title of your novel, and the page number. This appears in the header of your page. If your title is longer than a word or two, shorten it to the essential. So a title like “A Heart Full of Passion” may become Heart or Passion.

Example: Comargue/ Passion/ 1

Synopsis

Most synopses (yes, that’s a word – look it up) are one to five pages. Generally, agents or publishers want either a single page synopsis or a two to five page one. You should have both on hand. The task of preparing a synopsis will require a number of drafts anyway as you whittle your work of creative genius down to a skeleton of itself so you may find yourself with several lengths of synopsis in any case.

In general, the same rules about formatting a manuscript apply to a synopsis except that a title page is not required for a synopsis.  The title I use is simply: Synopsis for [Title of my book].  On the next line, I put: By Nan Comargue.

Now that you know how to craft a query letter and format your manuscript, you have no excuse not to submit your work.  Get out there!  Good luck.

Photo courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at freedigitalphotos.net

Friday, July 22, 2011

Query Letters 101 – Salutation and Sign Off

A query letter is the first face you show to a potential literary agent or publisher. It should read and look as professional as possible. Remember, you’re not writing a friend or even a colleague, you’re writing someone with whom you hope to enter into a business relationship and every interaction should reflect this relationship, even before it’s actually begun.

Font and style

No two ways about it: use a 12-point font, preferably Times New Roman or Courier, in black. If you must be a rebel, use Arial or Helvetica.

Yes, there are a whole host of lovely and creative font faces out there. Use them for your grocery lists and emails to your friends. For these purposes, stick with one of the four fonts mentioned above, 12 point, black. That is all.

Margins

Margins must be one inch all around. Do not cheat on your margins to squeeze in a half-page summary of your manuscript. In this case, readability (not to mention following the rules) is more important than whatever text you can fit inside of a 0.1 margin. Your target reader will notice and it will diminish your professional tone and make it seem as though you are either a) the type of person who takes short cuts or b) the type of person who tries to manipulate the rules. Few people want to work with this kind of person.

Sign on

Letters have a standard format. Start with the date at the top of the page and then your recipient’s address, which should include: name, business title, company, and street address.

Don’t get fancy. “Dear” works well for everyone. And most people (perhaps not all) have names. Indeed, they often have both a first and a last name. Address them by their title: Mr., Ms. or Dr., as the case may be, and their last name. I default to Ms. for women but feel free to use Mrs. or Miss if you are confident that they use that title (i.e. if it’s on their website).

Use a comma or a colon after the salutation line.

Example: Dear Ms. Smith,

If you don’t know the gender of the target reader, that is if you feel you have to guess, use the person’s full name. I’ve been addressed as “Mr. Comargue” in correspondence and it never stops hurting.

Example: Dear Taylor Smith:

Do NOT use “Hi”, “Hello”, “Dearest” etc. Do NOT use the person’s first name unless you actually know them personally (and they know you). Do NOT, repeat, DO NOT misspell the target reader’s name.

Read the name over several times. Spell it out loud. Better yet, copy and paste it off of the person’s website. Just remember to adjust the style so that your font is consistent throughout your query letter.

Sign off

Your concluding sentence should always thank your reader for their time. You should also say that you’re looking forward to their response. Don’t put a timeline on it. Just leave it at that. If a lot of time has passed, and you read in their guidelines that you should have had a response already, you may need to follow up.

End the letter with “Sincerely” or “Yours truly” or, if you’re feeling particularly affectionate, “Yours very truly”. Follow that with a comma and your full name. They don’t know you well enough yet to be on a first name basis.

Yours very truly,

Nan Comargue

Photo courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at freedigitalphotos.net

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Query Letters 101 – Your Bio

After struggling through distilling your novel into a single ‘hook’ sentence and then agonizing all over again about turning into three or four sentences, you should be looking forward to an easy task today. The third paragraph in your query letter: your biography. This is all about YOU, so how hard could it be?

Relax, it’s not hard. It takes work, of course, but as a component of your query letter, your bio shouldn’t cause you to lose any sleep. It’s essentially fact-based. Who you are and what you’ve accomplished. In addition, if it’s relevant, you should include what makes you capable of creating the work you’ve created and making it authentic.

Here are some tips on crafting your bio.

Focus on the relevant facts

First of all, you need to know what to put in your biography. Like the summary of your novel, you’re starting out with a lot of raw material. Your life. Raw enough for you?

You’re not giving out your resume, or your mission statement, or your life history. You are talking about your writing here and you need to show your publishing track record, if any, awards or achievements for your writing, and why you wrote the book you did.

Publishing track record

Two criteria determine whether you include a publishing credit in your bio. Wait a minute! Determine whether? If you’ve published one story twenty years ago or never been published, you might rightly be asking why on earth would you ever leave out a publication, especially in your query letter where one of the goals is to establish that, yes, you can write. Then why purposely leave out a fact that shows other people thought you could write in the past.

Well, first let’s look at the criteria.

Recent: If you published that short story you’re so proud of, say, thirty years ago, you may want to think about excluding it from your bio. Why, you ask? For one thing, that writing credit you’re so proud of (and I have several of these of which I am inordinately proud) may not help you secure the agent or publisher you are targeting in your query letter. And that’ s the whole point, isn’t it?

At some point, the clock sets back. A thirty-year-old credit is the same as never being published in today’s market. The same rule may even apply for a ten-year-old publishing credit, particularly if it was in a genre that was trendy then and now no longer gets attention.

Relevant: You may write in your professional life or about a hobby. These credits will likely not help you to sell a work of fiction. So leave out the Journal of the American Medical Association when you’re trying to publish a romance novel. The exception is if it’s relevant to the work you’ve created, such as a medical romance, in which case you should mention it as a reason why you’ve written the book in the first place and why you’re best able to write that particular book out of all of the wannabe authors out there.

Awards and achievements

The same rules apply for your writing awards and achievements. Your Grade 6 essay contest winner will not help you publish a novel (unless it’s a YA novel about an essay contest winner). Ditto if you won the Technical Writing Achievement Award 2011 when you’re pitching a romance novel.

Why you wrote the book/ character

Comb through the piece of writing you are trying to publish. Why did you write it? Are you in it? Is your town, your friends, your job? What makes those things special to you? In other words, why are you uniquely capable of writing the book you did? It could be because you’re setting a story in little heard of Hundred Mile House and you want the world to know more about the quirky people who live in that town. You may have grown up there and the town itself is crucial to your work.

You may be writing about a topic about which you have special knowledge. You’ve put your romantic suspense manuscript in a legal setting and you used to work in a courthouse, seeing the most hardened criminals come through.

If it’s relevant, put it in there. What makes you special may make your work special. Use your biography to sell your writing.

Photo courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at freedigitalphotos.net

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Query Letters 101 – Blurb about your Book

You’ve already crafted your hook sentence, agonizing to fit your brilliant work of writing into a single sentence. Now you’ve got three or four sentences to do the same thing. This should be a breeze, right?

Wrong.

Welcome to the Agony, Part Deux.

During the course of trying to sell your manuscript, you will undertake the task of describing it in one sentence (your ‘hook’), a page or two (your synopsis) and a paragraph (the instant case: second paragraph of your query). Think of it this way: you will know your book inside and out by the time you’re finished.

Think hard

Think you already know your book? Think again. Boiling it down to a paragraph or a page are both useful activities as they make you think hard about what your book is really about. Who is your protagonist? A clueless rich teen? A TSTL (Too Stupid To Live – ouch!) heroine? If it’s the latter who ends up being described in your paragraph then maybe you have to re-think your characterization of the heroine. Perhaps a re-write is in order.

If you can’t describe your book in one of these formats then you may be re-writing it – the book, not the sentence or synopsis. How do you know which one needs to be re-written? After you’ve exhausted every avenue, even reiteration, every person you know who is willing to read and re-read your paragraph, and you still can’t make it work, you may have a problem with the manuscript itself. Think about it carefully before you start hacking away.

Get some expert help from some writer friends. If you don’t have any, try reaching out online to a writing community website or even Twitter. 140 characters is an admirable length for a hook sentence or even a second paragraph.

Eking it out

I find the best way to write your second paragraph is if you already have your hook sentence formulated. You may not have the final version of your hook but a working product is fine for this purpose.

Tease out your hook sentence. You now have three sentences to explain what you just accomplished in a single one. You may want to break up these sentences as follows:
  • Starting scenario: who the hero and/or heroine are – no, not how they look, unless that’s crucial to the story, but what their major hang ups may be about each, what’s going to keep them apart as they make their journey
  • Journey: what their challenges are and perhaps a major obstacle or two that they’re facing
  • End result: in a romance novel, the HEA (Happily Ever After) or HFN (Happy For Now) is assumed. But you can still explain how the hero and heroine get to that HEA (or HFN) and overcome their major obstacles.
A paragraph-long summary of your manuscript should read like the back of the book you eventually want to publish. The same way the back cover blurb should hook a reader who happens upon your book on the bookshelf, your second paragraph summary should make the agent or publisher reading your query letter want to go on to read the manuscript itself.

The end goal is the same: enticing the reader into wanting to read more of your writing.

Photo courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at freedigitalphotos.net

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Query Letters 101 – Your Hook

A good opening hook is like a snowball in the face. It makes an impact. It leaves you reeling. It makes you want more. Okay, maybe not. This is where my analogy ends.

Query letter terminology invites analogies. In the case of writing a ‘hook’, this analogy is apt.

A hook is not just a piece of curved metal

The hook is right at the beginning of your query. It’s the first sentence. Yes, that’s right. A single sentence. And I’m going to spend an entire post discussing it, which should give you insight into its importance.

Your hook sentence can be short and punchy or longer if your story is complex and you can still keep the necessary impact. Above all, you need to hit the high points in order to give the reader a solid grasp of your story idea. Otherwise, your hook may mislead your reader about what to expect from your book.

Let’s look at what the hook in your query letter should do. It should intrigue. It should build interest. It should keep your target reader, whether it’s a literary agent or a publisher, reading. It should sing arias. Okay, the first few criteria are a tall enough order.

However, the hook sentence is not a cliffhanger. No ellipses.

Fishing with a hook

Imposing requirements, aren’t they?

But, really, at its essence, what does the hook do? It describes the piece of writing you are trying to find representation for or have published. So your hook is about your writing, not about you or the audience or your favourite sushi restaurant.

Your hook says ‘this is an interesting book’ and makes your target reader respond with ‘I want to see more’. More of your query letter and more of your writing.

If you’ve submitted a partial manuscript as per the target reader’s submission guidelines, then your hook will make the reader open up that attachment (or scroll down the page, depending on the specifics of the guidelines they’ve provided). If you’ve submitted just a query letter then the hook sentence is doing even more of the heavy lifting – it’s attempting to get your target reader to write back to you and request your writing.

Example of Clueless

Let’s try it out now.

Clueless is one of my favourite 90s movies. I’m going to write a hook for it which will form the first sentence of my query letter.

“Cher Horowitz schemes to arrange everyone else’s life in this Emma-update, until she falls for her stepbrother and finds that love can’t be planned ahead.”

This one sentence tells us the crucial aspects of the plot and character, as well as gives us a link to the inspiration for the story, which is always useful. But what are we missing? How about the age of the main character? What about the title of the movie? It refers to Cher’s initial cluelessness. We might want to explain that title. So, yes, the movie is about love but it’s also about teenaged Cher finding her social conscience, an important part of the plot.

Okay, let’s cast out again.

“In this Emma-update, Beverly Hills teenager Cher Horowitz tries to arrange everyone else’s life until falling in love with her stepbrother gives her a social conscience and her first clue about love.”

Ah, better. A little long-winded, yes, but I think it covers the essentials and no more. The hook is baited. Now let’s together the rest of our tackle box.

Photo courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at freedigitalphotos.net

Monday, July 18, 2011

Query Letters 101 – Overview

Sure, you’ve just completed the book of your life, your life’s work, your Great [Insert Country of Residence Here] Novel. Now it’s time to write your query letter, the first step towards getting your wonderful piece of writing published. So you can just dash it off and cross your fingers, right? WRONG.

Your query letter is the single most important document you will ever produce in your writing career. Read that sentence again. The. Single. Most. Important.

Get it right. You can’t afford not to.

Components of a query letter

A proper query letter is made up of 5 (or 6) basic parts: the salutation, a hook sentence, a brief summary of your book, your biography, a closing sign off and, in some cases, attachments of your work and/or a synopsis.

For our purposes, I will be focusing on crafting a solid fiction query letter. A non-fiction query is somewhat different.

The hook

Pay attention! This will be the most important post you read in your life.

The opening paragraph of your query letter is meant to grab your target reader’s attention. The agent or publisher you are querying after an exhaustive search likely reads hundreds, if not thousands, of these letters every year. Make yours stand out and, most importantly, keep them reading.

The latter part of the first paragraph, after the hook, is informative: what are you offering for sale – think genre, length, title. Facts only.

The line

The second paragraph is about your novel. Summarize the concept of your novel into an attention-grabbing blurb.

It is difficult to boil down an entire novel into a paragraph but it must be done. Space is at a premium in your query letter. The entire letter should be no more than a single page.

The sinkers

The third paragraph in your query is all about YOU. Unlike your novel, your life doesn’t have to be summarized in a few sentences. Stay focused. Tell your reader (briefly) who you are and what you’ve done. Make sure you mention your writing credits. If you have none, you want to tell them why you’re best situated to write the book you wrote.

Reeling them in

Some agents and publishers want a taste of your writing along with the query. You need to know the rules of what parts of your manuscript to send and how these pages should look.

Your hook and summary may get your manuscript a nibble but your writing is what really reels your target in.

Okay, I done with the fishing analogy

Remember, your query letter is your first and best sales tool for your book. It should be so highly polished that it glows softly in the dark. So get out the Sham Wow.

Photo courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at freedigitalphotos.net

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Day on the Links: Health Edition

Recently, some of the romance readers and writers on Twitter have formed a diet club.  I didn't join but the project did get me thinking about my own health.

I could stand to be healthier (who couldn't?) and I often rely on the internet for information regarding my health choices.  For instance, there are tons of diet and healthy cooking sites out there.  So I thought that this week, I would share some of the great ones I've found.  Now let's all get off the computer and go jogging!

Live Strong: This website is the dot com version of the Lance Armstrong Foundation's dot org site dedicated to supporting people living with cancer.  This site is all about diet, nutrition and exercise.  Living healthy, in other words.  I often check it out for calorie and nutrition statistics on foods I'm thinking about eating (the figures can be shocking!) but the site offers a ton more in terms of information and inspiration.

Delish: When I have the time, I love to cook.  Knowing what goes into every bite I eat is frequently impossible but when I stand over the stove myself, I can monitor every drop of oil and every fresh ingredient.  Plus, I think my own cooking tastes pretty good. This is one of the best websites I've found for healthy recipes that don't take a ton of time or skill to make.

Good Housekeeping:  Yes, I know: the title of this magazine and website alone is enough to make you think you may be several decades too young for their advice.  Not true.  The health and diet section of their site has inspirational stories of women who've lost an amazing amount of weight as well as fun health and diet tools like a Diet Matchmaker and Cravings 911.  Definitely worth a peek.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Critical Thinking about Reading Romance

I'm not a critical reader.  I read for pleasure, for entertainment, for fun.  Outside of my job, for instance, I rarely read non-fiction aside from a few "The History Of..." books that give me a wide overview of a particular period, culture or historical event.

I've tried reading a book at my regular pace with a pen and paper in hand to jot down notes.  This only worked when I was giving a book report afterwards.  In adulthood, I find that it robs me of the very pleasure for which I read.  What's the fun of starting and stopping your reading every few pages so you can write down an interesting observation on the plot or main character or, perhaps more importantly for another writer, stylistic device?

Yet, for my writing, I understand that reading a romance novel critically could help me to craft my own writing.  Not to mention the fact that uncovering the secrets of some of the best-selling romance writers can only give my writing a boost!

So how do I read critically without losing my pleasure as a reader?  I employ two alternative tactics.

Read slow

In this method, I read the book very slowly -- yes, with a pen and notepad beside me, and I take note of style points and good use craft techniques as I read.  I take frequent breaks in natural sections of the book, for instance, at the end of each chapter.  Often, the chapters themselves and broken up by several lines to indicate a change of time or scene and I make use of these natural break points to summarize the plot and the book's progression.

At the end of this process, I have a fulsome account of both the book and the way in which the author chose to present it stylistically.

Read twice

The first time I read a book I want to critique, I read it once all the way through, just as I would any other pleasure book.  Then I read it again.  This time, I read slowly, I jot down points and comments, I summarize the plot, and I note down interesting techniques and turns of phrase.

When I read the book the first time, I have nothing to show for it.  But I do have the experience any other reader would have and that too could form a part of my review.

I'm a fast reader so the method I prefer is the latter one: read a book once as a reader and the second time as a critic.  It's the best of both worlds.

Photo courtesy of winnond at freedigitalphotos.net

Friday, July 15, 2011

Turning Point: My First Three Months of Blogging

Almost three months ago, I started writing this blog.

Was it worth it?  Yes!

Through my blog and my tweeting about what I was posting, I've been able to connect with tons of other writers and romance readers.  Truly, they are the best people on earth.

But it's also been an enormous amount of work to create a thoughtful blog post every single day, without fail, which has been my aim from the very beginning.

Do people enjoy my writing?  I have heard feedback from several readers who do.

Do people learn something?  It appears so.  Not surprisingly, my most frequent page hits are for the practical advice and tips I have researched and written about regarding writing.

Am I still constantly worried about typos and errors?  You bet ya!

In honour of my three-month anniversary I'm compiling my most popular posts below, as chosen by you, the readers:

Writing Sexual Tension: Slowing Your Roll

How to Balance Your Writing and Your Day Job: Overview

Following up on your Query Letter (Without Nagging)

Thank you for reading and keep checking out this blog for more about writing, waiting, and worrying.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Stop Writing and Take a Break!

Popular opinion has it that a writer should write every single day, snow or rain, heat or gloom of night. But we don’t belong to the U.S. Postal Service (which, by the way, does not claim this or any other official motto), so why do we adhere to such a stringent credo?

Certainly, there is a benefit to practicing your craft. How else would we get better? And for an aspiring writer, like me, perseverance is important to completing and submitting manuscripts on a regular basis.

But every day? That’s sounds like a job.

For the most part, I believe in treating my writing like a “real” job. I invest a lot of time in it and I do some part of it every day – either research, submissions, querying, networking, or, yes, writing. At least, I try to. When I don’t do anything writing-related for a day, I feel bad about myself, as if I was playing hooky from school.

Yet, I have to remember this: every job, no matter how demanding, grants time off. Annual leave, vacation, weekends, holidays. These are requirements of work too.

So why don’t we treat our writing like a job with a break now and then. Yes, I enjoy writing. I love writing and I love the feeling that comes with having spent a good chunk of time in front of a computer, creating pages and pages of fiction.

But…but…but, we need breaks, even from a part of our lives that we love. I’m not advocating a two day stretch every week or even every month. I still believe I need to keep my nose to the grindstone if I want to keep finishing one or more manuscripts every year.

I am suggesting at least an annual stretch of non-writing time. No touching the computer for a week, let’s say. It’s hard. You may be anxious to get back to writing during this time, even after just a day. Resist.

If you must, jot down ideas as they come to you during your break but limit this activity to a few minutes a day.

That strong itch to get back to your writing will stand you in good stead when your break is over and you will see your work with renewed energy and insight.

Photo courtesy of zirconicusso at freedigitalphotos.net

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Write Every Day!

Ideally, I try to write every day. Yes, every…single…day. Sometimes, I produce pages and pages. Sometimes, it’s only a few words. Either way, I think there’s an inherent benefit in writing each and every day.

Writing is habit-forming

Do anything often enough and it becomes a habit.

When I was younger, a lot of my friends and classmates were writers. Now, I’m the only one I know of who still does. Why? I think it’s because I never got out of the habit.

As a teenager, writing was just a part of my life. I wrote every week and even during lunches (ahem…or classes) and I attended a writing group at my school once a week as well. It got me into the mindset of writing early. Even back then, I was the one writing the most frequently and creating the most varied stories.

I was fortunate. I picked up the writing habit early and it stuck. But that doesn’t mean you can’t pick it up later in life. I have friends who are seniors who have reclaimed their writing dreams from youth. They write every day. So can you.

Practice makes perfect

Most people learn from their mistakes. The problem is that you have to make mistakes first.

If you’re not writing, you’re not making mistakes. But this kind of writing practice is more than just creating a lot of unexamined pages. If you’re not re-reading, revising, editing, sharing, critiquing, etc., your work on a regular basis, you may never stop making the first rookie writing mistakes.

Send your work out into the world, even if it’s just to a friend or family member. Share it. Put it away for a while and then read your story again with a fresh eye. In the meantime, keep writing. You will pick up on these critiques and incorporate them into your new work. Just try it and see.

Volume allows for perseverance and variety 

I write in different subgenres of romance and the reason I can do so is because I write so much. I’m not saying I write a lot of pages every day, especially when compared with full time writers, but I write as much as I reasonably can while balancing my day job and my family.

This has allowed me to write historical romances, contemporaries and, recently, an erotic romance novella.

Putting a single manuscript out into the hard world is difficult. It’s also limiting. It helps (mentally and practically) to have more than one iron in the fire. When you get one rejection letter, as I do every month or so, you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that you have four more manuscripts out there, giving you four more chances for success.

Try this exercise: write a sentence a day for a week. Then try writing a paragraph. Then a page. Every day. Before you know it, you will be in the habit.

Photo courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn at freedigitalphotos.net

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Elevator Pitches: How to Create Them and When to Bust One Out

I’ve never been fortunate enough to share an elevator with a famous literary agent or editor. In fact, as far as I know, I’ve never ridden the elevator with any agent or editor, famous or not.

(I did once speak to a famous musician as he tried to get on the elevator with me – he was heading in the opposite direction from the one my elevator was pursuing – but that’s another story. Okay, that’s pretty much the whole story).

Popular opinion seems to say that I should have a little speech ready for just such an occasion – the run in with the agent, not the musician. These short but snappy sound bites for your work are called elevator pitches and every writer with a manuscript worth selling should have one.

I don’t. But I intend to work on that. Right now.

Some tips I’ve compiled for my elevator pitch are:

The pitch:
The pitch itself should be a concise statement of your book and what it can offer readers that makes it interesting and unique. A tall order, for certain.

But think back to your synopsis and blurb writing. Many editors or agents want these types of short statements about your book in writing so consider this good practice for when you start submitting your manuscript. If you’ve already created a synopsis or blurb of your book then start there when you write your elevator pitch. Play around with the wording and order of the words. What looks great on paper may not sound smooth coming out of your mouth.

Make it your own:
The internet is littered with elevator pitch templates. Don’t just grab one and stick your name in the place of “Jane Smith” and your manuscript title in the spot that says “Your Amazing Idea Here”. Your idea may very well be amazing but you won’t do justice to it by using someone else’s words. Particularly if you are a writer and need to inject your voice into your writing. So too should you make the pitch you create in your voice.

Keep it short:
Well, duh. How long does it take you to ride the elevator? Not a heck of a lot of time. The basic rule is to keep your elevator pitch under 30 seconds in length. Don’t know how long yours will be? Practice it. Perform it a few times in front of a mirror and then a few times before an audience (even if it’s only a single person and that person is your mother). This will help to get the jitters out and also to accustom you to spitting that pitch out.

Try rehearsing your pitch in a public place. Try it out the next time you ride the elevator alone. Yes, it will give the security guards a laugh when they see you in their monitors talking to yourself, but it will also give you valuable practice.

Don’t forget your name!
Remember that the first part of your brief elevator conversation starts with you introducing yourself.

Example: “Hi, my name is Nan Comargue and I’ve written a book I think might interest you…”

Then go into your pitch.

There’s no point making a pitch as the Anonymous Woman. Part of the purpose of the elevator pitch is to get your name and book out there. There’s a possibility that your target agent or editor won’t be interested in your pitch but may mention it to someone who would be.

Now to get cracking on my elevator pitch. Someone point me to the nearest tall building.

Photo courtesy of Gregory Szarkiewicz at freedigitalphotos.net

Monday, July 11, 2011

Fav 5 - Free Romance E-Books

I'm a voracious reader, so much so that I often have a huge stockpile of books waiting to be read just in case I can't find the time to run to my nearest bookstore.  (Yes, I still purchase hard copy books from a physical store.)

But why spend money on a good book when they can also be had for free?

Think about it: some of your favourite romance publishers want to both keep you as a reader and to woo a new audience, so they offer free e-books to lure you in.

Hey, it works!

Harlequin:  I was raised on Harlequin/ Mills and Boon so I still harbour a soft spot for their books.  I am both amazed and impressed by how many of my favourite romance authors (subject, no doubt, of a future post) are still producing incredible works!  I remember some of these names from twenty or so years ago.  Try some of these authors for free and you too will be hooked.  I promise.

Smashwords: This site has a large selection of lower priced and free ebooks, including pages of romance novels.  The selections feature reader reviews (out of 5 stars) and a "prude filter" to allow you to check out only novels that conform to your desired level of heat.  Well worth the perusal.

All Romance Books:  For tons of variety and more spicy reads, try out this website.  Just keep in mind that you have to go through a sales-type transaction even for the free reads -- it's just that your cart will show $0 owing.  That means you also have to create an account for the site.  Well worth the effort.

Public Book Shelf:  Looking for romance classics as well as the newer stuff?  Try out this site which offers titles from Jane Eyre to Married to a Rock Star.  Much emphasis, however, is on classics and historicals so check it out if you have a hankering for a romance set in the olden days.

The Wild Rose Press: A decent variety of free reads is available from this romance publisher who offers everything in the romance genre from young adult to paranormal.  For hotter reads, check out the Wilder Roses for another helping of freebies.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Day on the Links: Woman Edition

I was going to call this A Day on the Links post the "Girlie" Edition but somehow that label doesn't quite capture the awesome variety, seriousness and frivolity of the websites I read on a regular basis.  While these are clearly women-centric sites, they aren't necessarily just for women.  I just like the female slant to the writings and the great sense of humour the writers for all of these sites display.

Jezebel: Full of current events and nostaliga, this website is one I can easily sit down and read for hours on end.  The articles range from the newsworthy controversies to reviews of favourite childhood books to celebrity snapshots.  In other words, anything and everything a modern woman is interested in.  Plus, the comments are full of smart, interesting women readers.

iVillage: If you're looking for health advice, a good recipe for dinner or sex talk, this is the one-stop shop for all women-related issues.  The articles are quick reads so you can just nip in and nip out to find just what you're looking for or browse for a while and pick up some tips on just about everything.

Chatelaine: My mother used to subscribe to this Canadian magazine and up until recently I still thought of it as "my mother's magazine".  Lately, however, I've been caught up in how much carefully researched and well presented information they have on all kinds of home and work related topics.  Plus, they have a great fashion and beauty section.  No longer my mother's magazine -- unless, of course, I have finally become her.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Waking Up Early to Write

This morning, I practiced what I sometimes preach here on my blog, and that's waking up early to make the most of the quietest time of the day.

If you're like me, you have a busy (and noisy) family who clearly don't mean to keep you from writing but often ending up doing just that.  My solution has been to make the most of the time when the rest of the household is sleeping.  That gives me two options: either outstay them later into the night or wake up earlier in the morning than they do.

For me, the choice was fairly easy.  I don't write very well in the night, after all of my energy is spent and my mind is sluggish.  I can't drink coffee late to keep myself up because that may mean I don't sleep at all that night.  And I find it tough to make sense of some of my writing later, to the point where I drop entire words that were crucial to making sense of my sentences.

So the choice was clear: wake up early in the morning to write.  My brain is freshest early in the morning.  I have the most energy and there are no distractions around my house.

Every weekend morning, I try to wake up at least an hour earlier than my family and I write at least a page or two before they come downstairs.  A whole hour, you ask?  And just one page???  That's because I also tidy up the house, putter around, clean, make coffee, and sometimes even cook breakfast.  Even so, it is worthwhile to get that page or two done with because that gives me a sense of productivity and accomplishment that lasts for the rest of the day.

Try it: wake up early and write a page or two before your family gets up.  It will start your day off on a great note.

Photo courtesy of Keattikorn at freedigitalphotos.net

Friday, July 08, 2011

Writing for Yourself vs. Writing for Your Reader

For years, I told myself that the only person I needed to write for was myself. I was my own best audience, not to my easiest critic (well, some of the time) and number one fan.

During these years, I wrote a great many historical romance manuscripts and, contrary perhaps to your first assumption, I did spend a lot of time revising and editing my work. But I also spent a lot of time re-reading my novels for pleasure. That was a BIG mistake.

When I stopped reading my own writing critically, I stopped being a writer and started being a reader. I was my only audience for a good reason. Those manuscripts stagnated. But no problem, I told myself. I could always write another. And another. And another. I also treated all of these manuscripts in the same disastrous way.

I was, in other words, a doting and smothering parent to my little darlings. It wasn’t good for them. In fact, it spoiled them rotten.

In the last few years, I have shifted my focus. I did this in a few ways.

Start with your target audience

I started writing contemporary romances with a specific series in mind. Fortunately, during the same period, I read literally hundreds of titles in this series and by the same publisher so I was well versed in what worked and what the editors would be expecting from a successful submission.

Yes, I know, the audience is really the reader, not the publisher but this is the necessary first step. Besides, who knows their reader better than the people at the publishing house? They spend the big bucks on research and marketing so why not take advantage of their expertise, albeit secondhand?

Do the research

Read everything your target publisher has put out about their audience. Read what other writers in the genre are saying about their readers. Read what the readers are saying on their blogs.

Get into the mindset of your ideal reader before you even put a word down on the page.

Keep your reader on your shoulder 

Think of that cartoon devil and angel who sit on a character’s shoulder and tell them what they should (and shouldn’t) do. That’s your reader. She (or he) sits on your shoulder (or on top of your head) and reads your work assessingly. The keyword is “assessingly”.

Periodically throughout your writing, say at the end of each chapter, think clearly about how the chapter has progressed and where the story is heading next. Think about your research and evaluate whether your writing style, language, voice, characters, behaviours of the characters and plot is in keeping with what you’ve learned about your target audience.

In this way, you can catch any digressions from your main purpose of pleasing your target reader before you travel too far off course. This can save you time and heartache later when you find yourself at the end of a manuscript that started going off the rails in chapter three.

Look at your draft as a reader

Perform your initial revisions and edits as normal.

Then, after you’ve cleaned up and re-worked your manuscript to get it into workable shape, put it away for a few days. Yes, that’s right, hands off the pages and step away from the computer. Finger off of that delete key, buster!

Let the manuscript slip out of your consciousness.

In a few days, come back to it and read it again, all the way through, without doing any edits. This should be done with a hard copy, coming as close to possible to the experience your reader will have.

After you’ve read it, set the manuscript aside. Ask yourself the kind of questions a book reviewer or book club might ask. Did this book grab your attention? Was it paced well? Were the characters believable? Did they engage your emotions?

If you, as the pretend reader, answered No to any of these questions, it’s time to go back and revise or rewrite.

Share your manuscript with a "real" reader

Get a friend or acquaintance who you know reads your genre to look at your manuscript, asking themselves the same questions as above. Ask them to write down their responses. You may even want to give them a template sheet to fill out their responses to the printed questions.

There’s no question about it: it’s harder to write for an audience than for yourself. If you’re happy writing for just yourself, great! But if you, like me, have gotten sick of that particular cycle, try some of these tips and write your story with a reader in mind. Your future reader will thank you for sharing your story with them.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

My Secret Identity, or Choosing the Write Pseudonym

A little while ago, I wrote about some of the reasons why a writer may choose a pseudonym. The issue I was struggling with was the fact that I write sweet or sensual romances but I am on the verge of branching out into my first erotic romance story for recent call for submissions.

I was torn. Did I want to muddy the good name of Nan Comargue by writing in several different subgenres? On the other hand, did I want to go through the energy and effort of taxing my limited memory by creating and maintaining a new identity?

That said, I’ve decided to take the plunge and create a new self to thrust out there into the cold hard world of romance writing. No doubt, she too will experience the highs (request for full manuscript) and lows (rejection letters) of publishing.

So now that I’ve decided to do it, how do I go about choosing the right (write) pseudonym for me?

Random Name Generators:

If I found the task of choosing a pseudonym a tedious chore to be completed as quickly as possible, I would just use one of these websites to create a plausible sounding name.

Porn Names:

Or, if you’re delving into erotic romances, as I am, you can use your porn name to create a suitable pseudonym. The rule for creating such names, as I understand it, is to use the name of your first pet for your first name and the name of the street you grew up on as your surname.

            Example: Rex (pet name) + Main (street name) = Rex Main

My porn name is Lady Wilson. Not really ideal and not good enough for my purposes.

Of course, I enjoy the process of choosing character names so why wouldn’t I savour creating a whole new identity for myself?

All I need to do is keep a few guidelines in mind:

Don’t use someone else’s name: Big one, since the point of creating a pseudonym is to avoid confusion. People should know they’re picking up your book and exactly what kind of book to expect from you. Not to mention the ethical morass involved in picking a name close to another individual or writer’s. Stephanie King, anyone?

Consider the genre you’re writing in: Erotic romance is not the same as sweet romance. You want a name that pops, screams passion or sensuality, and is also memorable. So, anything except Nan Comargue, in other words.

Looks and sounds good: A pseudonym should look great on the front cover of a book (here’s hoping!) and should also sound smooth on the tongue. Although I’ve lumped these together, these are two different traits. On the page, I don’t want a name that’s too long or repetitive, for instance, with the same sequences of letters in both first and last names. For listening value, I want a few different sounds in my mouth but there’s a tendency to trip over too many of the same sounds. No one wants a tongue-twister name. But remember that letters that look the different on the page can end up sounding the same.

I love the name: It seems obvious but sometimes you can get caught up in picking the “right” name and overlook the fact that you don’t love the name you’ve chosen. Think about it. If your writing becomes successful then you could be joined to your pseudonym for many years to come. You don’t want to grow tired of your alter ego.

So, keeping all of these tips in mind, what name have I chosen for my wilder, erotic romance-writing self?

Sigh. I still haven’t decided.

Photo courtesy of m_bartosch at freedigitalphotos.net

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

How to Create a Productive Writing Space

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how to be more productive in your writing output. I firmly believe that having the right processes and environment are big contributors to productivity.

I'm forced to ask myself: do I have a solid set up for productive writing?

Overall, I would say: Yes, I do.

Keep a dedicated space 

Most of my creative writing occurs in a dedicated place: my home study. Just being in that room gets my energy level up and the signals going to my brain: now’s the time to write.

Best of all, my study is far enough away from the kitchen and family room, which form the hub of activity in my house, that I’m not distracted by my family going about its daily routine. Unless they yell, of course.

Another advantage of using the study to write is that there is very little else in the study: just another desk with no computer and a set of bookcases filled with tomes no one wants to read. So, in other words, if I find you in my study while I’m writing, you won’t even have a good excuse to defend yourself with.

Have all of your tools on hand 

All of the necessities to get me on my merry way (writing, that is) are on hand in my study. What I need are: my computer, a desk and chair, my USB drive and internet connection for research.

Yep, that’s it.

All of these items are kept within arm’s reach of me as I write. Nothing breaks my concentration more than having to run around the house searching for a file on one of my myriad flash drives. Having it on hand may not be necessary every time I write (I use my USBs mainly for transporting files and back up) but having it there eliminates a potential distraction.

Comfort is key 

My desktop computer sits on a sturdy wooden desk. My keyboard is perfectly aligned to my height and reach. My chair is soft and infinitely adjustable. If there was one thing I would change, however, it would be the lighting. When the sun is shining, I can open the blinds and obtain optimum light, but when it’s dark, the sole overhead light is insufficient for any significant time spent on the computer.

In the end, though, my writing space allows me to sit for hours without cricking my back or straining my wrists – ideal for a long day of writing. Because isn’t that the real goal?

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Romance IRL – Find Out Your Friends’ Stories

How well do you know your friends?

Come on, it’s not a trick question.

Okay, I’ll go first.

I guess my answer would be that I know my friends as much as I need to. Aside from my best friend, who I know a whole lot of childhood secrets about as well, I mostly know about my friends’ jobs, a few hobbies, their children and immediate families, and for my married friends, I know a little about their spouses. That’s about it.

Often, I’ve seen my friends start dating someone, then become serious, then get engaged and get married. I know the basics and maybe a few incidents along the way. I may hear the gripes when a boyfriend is habitually late or a spouse is a slob around the house but I don’t, for the most part, know about the romance.

So, why don’t I ask?

Firstly, I’m pretty reserved. I share some things but not everything. I keep the most personal aspects of my life and my feelings on them from my friends, even the close ones. Some of these issues are only for family. Yet, when we’re talking about a romance, most people would be happy to share their memories and stories—particularly if these are happy ones.

So, why don’t I ask? I mean, now. Why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t you?

For starters, we have the best cover. We’re not asking to be nosy (I mainly stick to the mind-your-own-beeswax philosophy of life), and those who know us best will know that fact. We’re asking as writers. You may even make the stretch to say that we’re asking for journalistic reasons.

Try it. What have you got to lose?

Next time you’re out with a friend, start a discussion about your writing or about romance in general. You can even use that blog post you read the other day as a conversation starter. Ask them what their most romantic memory is. If they clam up, back off. But if their face lights up then you know you might be onto something. And, best of all, you might be on your way to a story idea. Just remember to ask permission and thank your friend in the acknowledgements!

Photo courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at freedigitalphotos.net

Monday, July 04, 2011

Write More – Eliminate Distractions

What stops me from writing the most? Really, there’s only one answer. Myself. Each and every time.

So what makes me undermine my writing time? Distractions. I succumb to them on a regular basis. You might almost accuse me of seeking them out. Perhaps, on a subconscious level, I do.

Strangely enough, rather than procrastinating over doing something I hate, I procrastinate over an activity I love: writing. Why? Because I believe in the delay of pleasure (romance readers and writers all over the world will know what I’m talking about) and I also believe that sometimes the anticipation of an enjoyable activity is as good (or nearly as good) as taking part in the actual activity. So, needless to say, I am hardwired to delay writing even when I have the time, energy and inclination.

The easiest way for me to get my butt into the desk chair is to squash the obstacles that can sometimes get in the way of me and it. How? Well, let me share with you what works for me.

Take care of the urgent tasks first: Those nagging thoughts that lurk in the back of your head are going to keep you from writing productively. If these tasks are urgent—and only if they are urgent—deal with them before you sit down to write. Allot a period of time in which to do so, say thirty minutes or an hour. When the time is up, stop. Pass the rest of the task onto someone else in your household. Then forget about it. You’ve done what you could.

Delegate the non-urgent tasks: Most of the lurking mental distractions are not urgent tasks that must be accomplished right away. They can wait. But if they still have the potential to distract you with their constant piping reminders then delegate them to someone else in the house and let them get on with it. This works best with household chores. Say it after me: “I’m writing this afternoon, honey, so could you please take care of the vacuuming? Thanks.”

Then do this:

Close the door: Put a physical obstacle between you and the rest of the world (and the noisy family who is hopefully now pushing a vacuum cleaner around the house). Let them know that knocking or screaming for you on the other side will not work. Electrify the doorknob if you have to.

When you emerge from your writing cocoon, warm and fuzzy with the after effects of creative adrenaline and productivity, the family will appreciate you more for your absence. And, hopefully, the house will be clean.

Photo courtesy of Rawich at freedigitalphotos.net

Sunday, July 03, 2011

A Day on the Links: Non-Writing Blogs

Before you think my whole life is about my day job and my writing, I do have a family, friends and other interests.  A lot of other interests.  Due to time and other constraints, most of those other interests remain theoretical.

Yes, I would like to one day learn about antique furniture and ancient civilizations but I don't know if I will ever have the time to do more than pick up a book or two and take what I can get from them.

Some other interests, I follow on the internet.  That's the great thing about blogs...they let you follow another person's interests and make them your own.  For the present, my interests include: cooking, frugality, and simplifying my life.  Not heady stuff but there are definite payoffs to pursuing these interests.  And, when the blog I follow is useful and well-written, I tend to come back to it again and again.

So, please enjoy today's round-up of my (for real) favourite non-writing blogs.

The Simple Dollar: I recently realized that I've been following Trent Hamm's posts on The Simple Dollar (TSD) for years.  Trent writes about his financial turnaround from his darkest hour, when his finances had hit rock bottom from years of spending and self-indulgence.  Now, he cooks at home, researches his purchases and does as much for himself as he can.  While I don't use many of the tips, this blog is still a constant source of inspiration and thought.  TSD has a large following so the comments are as interesting as the blog posts themselves.

The Stone Soup: Not only does this blog by Jules Clancy provide a multitude of quick and healthy "five ingredient recipes", but it also spends time thinking about food, diets and overall health. You can follow Jules as she tries different ways of thinking about food (and, of course, cooking).  There are great pictures and the recipes always look and sound delicious.  Plus, the posts discuss such basics as buying a slow cooker and how to chop onions without crying.

Zen Habits: As the title suggests, Leo Babauta's blog is about simplifying your life.  This may range from organizing your house to getting rid of excess possessions to getting healthy.  In today's world, this is exactly the kind of advice I find I need.  It's not just about the great tips and suggestions this blog provides, it's also about getting into the mindset that's it's okay to swim against the tide of 'more, more, more' and admitting that this mentality can be very stressful.

I think what I like best about these blogs is that the authors believe in the lifestyle they're writing about and that alone can be a great inspiration!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Great White Whale: Going Back to an Old Writing Project

I mentioned yesterday that I finished up my first erotic romance story and sent it off to a publisher for a themed call for submissions.  It was a great feeling to have completed a new story in a challenging subgenre and I allowed myself to relax for the rest of the day, resting on my laurels.

But, at the same time, I had a plan for my next writing project.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: an old story lingers in the back of your head.  You've maybe written a page or two of it, often the same few pages several times in different reiterations but were never satisfied with the result.  Maybe you've actually written a big hunk of the manuscript but aren't happy with how it feels to you.  Yet you keep returning to this story over and over, trying, striving to make it workable.

It's the Great White Whale story.

I have one.  Every now and then I return to the computer file with fresh heart and new hopes.  Every time, I leave it unsatisfied.  Perhaps because this story is more ambitious than others I have written.  Perhaps its themes are too complicated or its characters too complex.  Whatever it is, it stops me in my tracks every time.  Sometimes I get a page in.  Sometimes several chapters.  Then I stop.  Often for a very long time -- over a year.

But I keep coming back.  It's like a bad romance.  Is he good for me?  Is he going to ruin my life?  All I know is that I'm obsessed and I need my fix, good or bad.

My "Whale" is a non-romance novel for which I got the idea over a decade ago from a news story.  I wrote pieces of it for the better part of that decade.  During that time, I took more than a dozen hiatuses, often as long as a year.  I'm still writing it and it's still not even halfway completed.  It is agonizing work.

So why do I keep writing my "Whale"?  Because, in the end, I think it's a story that needs to be told.  And I've been chosen by the powers that be to write it.  So I plug away.  I take breaks.  I pull my hair out.  It grows back.  At least, it always grows back.

So, if you have a project that keeps calling out to you, return to it and see if the spark is still there.  It may be a doomed romance or it may be a case of 'my boyfriend's back'.  Chances are, if you started that story years ago and you still haven't seen anyone else publishing something remarkably similar, it may just be worthwhile to take a second look and try again.

Photo courtesy of winnond at freedigitalphotos.net

Friday, July 01, 2011

Reaching the Finish Line

As I get ready to polish my submission and send out my first erotic romance to a publisher, I am filled with a sense of accomplishment.

Less than a month ago, when I first decided to answer this call for submissions with my own entry, I was swimming in doubt and anxiety.  As the date ticked closer to the deadline, my stress level ratcheted up.  Would I be able to finish my manuscript on time?  Would I have enough time to edit?  What about the synopsis I'd practically forgotten?  Would I have the time to create a solid one?

These questions passed through my head every hour or so and I had to push them aside every time.  Too much time spent wondering "how" and "when" can get in the way of doing it nowThe longer I spent agonizing over whether I would finish my story in time, the less time I had to actually accomplish my goal.

Let me tell you, finishing a project feels great.  Yes, I could spend this time after I've sent off my story to worry whether it will get chosen for publication -- or I can bask in a job well done, to the best of my talent and ability.  The evaluation part of the process, at least for creative writing, is subjective.  I think I wrote a great story but I can't predict what anyone else might think of it.  They might love it or they might shrug their shoulders and say "meh".  Either way, it is now officially out of my control.  So there's no sense in worrying about it, is there?

For now, I want to savour the accomplishment.

For me, the time between writing projects is practically nil so I have literally no time to worry about the current submission.  That also means I have no time to dwell on a job well done.  Today, I will take the time to do just that.  But that doesn't mean that I don't know what I will be writing later today.  I already have it planned.

Photo courtesy of winnond at freedigitalphotos.net

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Home Stretch: Finishing Your Manuscript Under a Deadline

Over the last four weeks, I’ve been completing an erotic romance story for an upcoming call for submission. The deadline is July 1 and I’m nearly finished. The journey has been exhausting and rewarding.

For one thing, most of my free time has been spent writing this story. Enjoyable, yes, but for someone like me, who isn’t accustomed to writing for a specific purpose, the knowledge that I needed to get to the computer and write every day was a burden. No longer could I swagger into the study with an idea and all of the time in the world to follow it through, taking frequent breaks throughout, and hitting the delete key as many times as I wanted.

I was writing for a reason. A purpose. I was starting to feel like a “real writer”.

Writing under a deadline produces a sense of accomplishment. Even though I knew that the deadline was the publisher’s, it was also mine. I didn’t have to submit a story for this call for submissions. I could have spent my time aiming for a later call or just decide that I wanted to submit the story as a stand alone. I could have cut myself a lot of slack. But, mentally, I kept the pressure on.

Of course, I’m one of those people who works well under stress. A looming deadline gives me that shot of adrenaline to get the job done. I don’t miss deadlines. That’s just the kind of person I am. Besides, in my day job, a missed deadline can cost someone dearly.

As I get ready to finish up polishing my manuscript and sending that all important email to the publisher, I wanted to share some of my tips for completing a writing project under a strict deadline.

Keep the pressure on: Set up a reminder on your computer or phone every day to tell you how many days are left until the deadline. Schedule ahead of time what hours of each day you can dedicate to writing.

Let your friends and family know that you’re trying meet a deadline and will be unavailable for some period of time everyday. Trust me, they will remind you, even if you’re dragging your feet about writing.

Take the pressure off: I know, this sounds contradictory, but there is reason to my madness. What I mean is this: give yourself a break occasionally. Planning to write every day for the next thirty days may be unrealistic. Aim for five or six days a week. Use one or two days a week to rest and not think about your writing or the looming deadline. Your brain and your creativity will benefit from the break. I know that whenever I take a day off of my writing, I come up with great new ideas or bits of dialogue for my story. You will too.

Find the time: The last few days before the deadline are crucial. Block off these days and don’t schedule in any other activities. Before the deadline approaches, set up some processes to make those final days run more smoothly. Alert your family as to which of your tasks they will have to take over (of course, you will promise to make up for it after the deadline is over). Have meals ready to go and simply reheat. Keep your pantry stocked with coffee and energy drinks. Set yourself up for success.

If, as the deadline approaches, you suspect that you won’t make it, take an extreme step. Take a day or two off of work. Write, write, write. Don’t use that chunk of your precious vacation time to laze in front of the television and procrastinate. You won’t get it back.

If all else fails, work through the night and get that story done. Just remember to spend the morning revising with a fresh eye. Ideally, you should have some tapped and ready to go to review the draft once you’ve completed it. Use their advice and make your final edits and revisions.

Hopefully, these will help you to consider submitting a piece of writing to a publisher or writing contest. What have you got to lose?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Are You Still a Real Writer if You Haven’t Published?

All of my life, I’ve considered myself a writer. Heck, aren’t we all? We all churn out book reviews for middle school English classes and history essays for high school. We all do some writing at work, if only to tot up our hours worked every week. In a sense, we’re all writers.

But creative writing is a different animal. Most of those people who’ve written essays and book reviews don’t choose to write another document once they’ve graduated. Most of them wouldn’t pay attention to word count or run spell check unless they’re getting paid to do it. Most people don’t choose to write.

That’s what makes writers great. Every writer, at some point, has written a story or a novel for nothing. Zilch. Nada. As the industry politely calls it, “on spec”.

I’ve spent my entire career writing on spec and I’m not sure that that situation will change in the near future. Yet I keep churning out the manuscripts (I’ve produced more than twenty completed romance manuscripts to date – everything from historicals to alternate realities to contemporary series-style). Why? Am I crazy?

Yeah, crazy like a writer. An unpublished writer.

So, back to our central issue: are you still a “real” writer when you haven’t published a word?

On one level, we’re all real writers because we spend time and energy on our craft and produce stories and manuscripts that our families and friends love to read, even if forced to do so.

But there are real negatives to being unpublished.

First of all, you belong to the great unwashed hordes of aspiring writers who are hungrily seeking: a literary agent, a book deal, a few cents. The conundrum that most unpublished writers experience is that many publishers won’t look at your work without an agent and many agents won’t represent you without a publishing history or a contract in hand. Yikes.

Second, you can’t belong to certain professional organizations without a publishing credit behind your name. Organizations can be a great way to network and learn the inside tricks and tips of experienced writers. Unfortunately, some of them don’t want to hear from you unless you’re already one of them. Another conundrum for the aspiring writer.

No one takes you seriously, least of all your family and friends. Aside from the industry, who has turned its collective back on you, your friends and family tend not to take your years’ long toiling at the computer too seriously unless you’ve produced a publication during that time. They want to push you aside so they can play computer games and surf the internet. The nerve! Don’t they know that you’re working?

When you’re writing, the word “working” can often end up in quotation marks. People may see it as a harmless but time consuming hobby. You get paid to do work, right? So you can’t be working. Not really.

Acquaintances want to ask uncomfortable questions of you if you’re brave or foolhardy enough to announce that you’re a writer (instead of identifying yourself by the much easier day job title of lawyer or IT tech). The inevitable question is “what you have written?”, followed by “where have you been published?” “Nowhere” is such an unsatisfactory answer.

These are the pitfalls of being a real writer. But does that mean you stop calling yourself one?

Ask yourself this: if a doctor stops on the side of the road to administer emergency medical attention, is she no longer a doctor because she isn’t getting paid for it? If a musician plays a free concert with a bunch of other amateurs in the park, is he not a real musician? NO! He does it for love or she does it because it’s what she feels she has to do. Both are valid motivations and neither is money-based.

Fame and success can happen overnight. Ask any YouTube sensation. Paradoxically, such overnight success often takes years of hard work.

So remember this: you’re a real writer. Tell yourself that a hundred times a day in front of the mirror. If you stick with it, one day you will be a published one too.

Photo courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul at freedigitalphotos.net