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Congratulations to our resident blogger Sybil Nelson for winning The Strongest Start Competition at TheNextBigWriter.com with her middle grade entry, Priscilla the Great. She also has a movie deal for it. Now all she needs a publisher to realize the awesomeness of Priscilla The Great.

To get a sense of Priss’s voice, check out her blog Prissy Fit and the way-cool Priscilla The Great website. You can also get Twin Shorts FREE, a short story collection about Priscilla’s devil twin brothers written by Priscilla via the masterful pen of  Sybil The Great Nelson.

~ CV

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Please welcome our guest blogger, K.L. Brady, author of The Bum Magnet. I asked her to share her story, since she has such a cool one.

K. L. Brady is a D.C. native but spent a number of her formative years in the Ohio Valley. She’s an alumnus of the University of the District of Columbia and University of Maryland University College, earning a B.A. in Economics and M.B.A., respectively. She works as an analyst for a major government contracting firm and is an active real estate agent with Exit Realty by day—and writes by night (often into the wee hours of the morning). She lives just outside of D.C. in Cheltenham, Maryland, with her son, William, and two pet Betta fish, Spongebob and Jerry, and lives to eat chocolate, shop, read, and write.

How My Publishing Deal Found Me…

Some say luck is when preparation meets opportunity. I probably wouldn’t consider myself “lucky” any other way.

A few short months ago I was offered a two-book deal with Simon and Schuster on the first novel I ever wrote. Authors go years and years waiting for the fortuitous “break” to happen—sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. So, I’m often asked what was the secret ingredient? Karla, how you did get an editor to notice your novel? The easy answer is, “I dunno!”
The complex answer is I prepared like hell for opportunity, and when it came, I was ready.

For those who may not be aware, I self-published my debut novel, The Bum Magnet officially in October 2009, after fruitlessly trying to find literary representation. By February 2010, an executive editor at a publishing house had expressed interest in my book. A month later, I had an agent, and within another month I had a deal.

So, how did I prepare?

1. I wrote a pretty good book. It’s commercial which, in short, means the editors think it has the potential to sell a lot of copies. In all the letters I received back from editors, rejections or expressing interest, nearly every single one said they are looking for good commercial fiction and asked my agent to send it the moment he got his hands on it.

2. I also workshopped it and had it proofread and edited pretty well. Not perfectly mind you, but pretty well. I quite frankly could not afford to get the line edit from a former editor at a publishing house like I really wanted to do. So, I opted for the cheaper manuscript review in which she read the entire manuscript and gave me tips on plot, structure, pacing, etc. The suggestions she made were VERY minor, she was surprised that it required so little—but this was after it had been workshopped on TheNextBigWriter.com.
3. I designed the book so that it looked professional, that includes ensuring that it had a catchy book cover. Feedback has been about 70-30 in favor of the design. Can’t please everyone…but you can try to please as many as you can.


4. I designed and implemented a comprehensive marketing strategy.
The ebook versions on Kindle and Smashwords were as much a part of my marketing strategy as they were a part of my sales strategy. I sold them for 99 cents and got them into A LOT of hands. My Amazon rankings shot up high and remained there for a long time. My priority was getting my work out there, not profit.

I promoted my book like CRAZY. Every single day, I did at least 3 to 5 marketing activities. Posted it anywhere they would allow you to post a book. Promoted everywhere I could, including on the Amazon Discussion Boards which is where I think I had the most success. I also marketed heavily to book clubs.

5. Got it reviewed. I sent it out to book blogs, book clubs, and review sites and requested reviews. Among the most helpful were the book clubs and the Midwest Book Review, at least I believe that’s where I got some attention.

Along came Luck…

Fast forward to sometime in early February 2010. To this day, I don’t know how she found me, but the editor from Kensington sent me an email and said that she was interested in talking about my book. Needless to say, I was over the moon. We spoke the next day for about 45 minutes or so.

The details are foggy now. I just thought it was surreal to be talking to her. She has a number of African-American NY Times Bestsellers on her list (Carl Weber, Mary B. Morrison, Mary Monroe). I knew exactly who she was and I knew the publisher well. As a matter of fact, I had sent a partial in mid 2009 but never heard from her. (For those of you not aware, you can query Kensington editors directly. You don’t need an agent.)

So, she asked me about how I got into writing, how I went about publishing my book, what kind of marketing plan I’d put together, etc. In one of the funnier moments in the conversation, she asked me if I’d queried any agents or editors. I said, “Well, as a matter of fact I sent my partial to you.”

She got quiet and I heard her fish around her desk. She had my query sitting in an envelope right in her overhead. Ha! How’s that for coincidence? Of course, she was mortified. I told her not to feel bad. I truly believe that things happen for a reason. There was a reason that she didn’t read it back then. So, she suggested she’d be making me an offer. She asked me for a copy of my manuscript and to see my two works in progress. So, I sent them to her.

I was advised to get an agent and sent a note to the editor asking if she minded. She said no. As a matter of fact, she referred an agent to me.
At that point, I knew she was serious.

I queried a few agents, including the one she recommended for me. I went on Publisher’s lunch and found agents who worked with author in similar genres. I wanted someone with experience in selling African American (AA) fiction. Within a few days I had a few that were very interested. I ended up picking the agent who represented two female best-selling AA authors who write in different genres than mine. He had great credentials (a former editor for big houses) and he knew how to sell AA fiction. I couldn’t go wrong.

He asked me to make a few edits to the manuscript. Admittedly, I was reticent only because my book was already out there. But it came down to the fact that, even though I’d sold a couple thousand copies (ebook and paperback), I hadn’t sold enough to the point where changes to the manuscript would impact millions of readers.

So, I got over myself and my few measly sales and I made the changes he suggested. He sent it out wide—meaning submitted to all the major editors at the major publishing houses that he thought would be interested. He submitted it just as he would an unpublished manuscript but in the accompanying letter, we let them know that it had been self published, received great reviews, was building word of mouth, yadda yadda yadda.

So, two weeks go by and the rejections start rolling in. After about 4 or 5 I asked if I should get depressed and he said we had a long way to go. Finally, an editor from S&S said she liked it and was passing it around. The original editor who expressed interest from Kensington was still interested and waiting on her boss to return from vacation. Then another editor from Grand Central (Hachette) expressed interest. After all the offers and counteroffers, we finally accepted the one with Pocket.

That’s pretty much the story.

To answer some of the questions I received, no one ever asked about my sales numbers until after the offers were made. I did not query anyone after I published the book. I queried before I published but not after. So, I can’t really say whether trying to query an agent or publisher after you’ve self-published will work for you. I didn’t have to query.

How do I think she found me? Well, my book had been reviewed on several sites where her authors book were also reviewed. Mine was one of the few self-published books to get a 5-star rating, “favorite,” or “top read” status. My book also stayed in the Top 100 African American fiction list on Amazon. I went through the list at the time, and I was the only book on the list that didn’t have a publisher. I’d also been reaching out to book clubs and stuff like that. So, there are a lot of ways she could’ve found out.

I was also asked why if an author, such as myself, was doing well in distributing my book and getting good reviews, why would I relinquish control and sell my rights to a publisher?

Without a whole lot of work, there is no way I could reach the audience that S&S or another major publisher could reach. It was not about the advance for me. It was about the opportunity this deal offered to build my author brand and I plan to take advantage of every perk the brand and affiliation with a house comes with to market and sell more books. As a new/first-time novelist, I also wanted the chance to work with an editor so that I can improve my craft.

So, the long and short of this story is, I didn’t really find this deal, it found me. Your deal is waiting to find you too, and it all starts with writing a good book. When opportunity knocks, just make sure you’re ready!

Thanks, K.L, for sharing your story and what worked for you. Check out the synopsis and trailer for The Bum Magnet.

SYNOPSIS:

Real estate agent Charisse Tyson seems to have it all-a great job, a dream car, and a McMansion in high-and-mightyville. Everything in her life is just right…except the Mister. While lamenting the break-up with her most recent “the one” during a holiday meltdown, Charisse realizes she has a type when it comes to men—players, players, and more players. A magazine article motivates her to swear off men and examine the complex roots of her romantic fiascos.

Just five simple steps to turn her life to the stuff of legends, right? Life is never that easy…  Charisse commences her do-it-yourself therapy project and barely cracks open her emotional toolbox when she encounters the monkey wrenches: an irresistible new beau, two persistent ex-flames, and an FBI agent with life-altering secrets threatening to turn her world upside-down.  A tug of war ensues and Charisse is dead center, trying her best to distinguish the Don Juans from the Romeos. As her love life is propelled into unpredictable twists not even she could imagine, will a twenty-seven-year-old secret keep Charisse from finding the right “one”?  Laugh loud and often as Charisse discovers whether her choices in men reflect more than a penchant for good looks, great sex, and bad judgment.

TRAILER:

Thanks so much, K.L. Very informative post. I especially enjoyed the marketing aspect, which included things I hadn’t thought of.

Swing by K.L. Brady’s blog and website if you’d like to connect or learn more about her upcoming novels.

~ CV

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Sometimes our work is just not cutting it. Everyone knows it, even your mom, even Santa Claus. You need to be honest with yourself in order to bring your work up to snuff. You may have an unsnuffable work that you need to scrap, as I did with my first novel, and that’s okay. Move on. Pick up the pen. Try again.

Really, really, really read books on craft to give yourself good blueprints and so you can write well and recognize quality from trash.

And even if your work IS cutting it, there are some jewels you should always include to make sure it goes from workable to downright awesome.

1. Good flow

Create good flow, pace and rhythm not just in the plot but in your narrative, the way things unfold, the way sentences and paragraphs connect.

This means varying your sentence length, starting with a gerund every now and then, mixing things up, avoiding crutch words or awkward turns of phrase, not having every sentence start with He/She/Sue . You don’t want to have a choppy read nor do you want to one that forces readers to struggle through shattered and plentiful ten-line sentences.

Avoid dumps  of description and backstory. Even if you’re writing omniscience and can do it seamlessly and the point-of-view character is super observant and truly notices everything you point, don’t go overboard. Consider those details to be ribbons, sequins, accessories. They should dress up your work, not make up the bulk of it. If readers are tugged into a quagmire of verbage, no matter how great it sounds to you, you risk losing them somewhere in Ch. 6.

In my novel, Kings & Queens, I made the mistake of including a few paragraphs of backstory  on my character Derek when I opened his POV, but that clashed with my close perspective. I slashed all that and took it down to a line or two, as it applies to his thoughts in the scene.

Sometimes we get caught up in wanting to include everything, and too much info can be overwhelming and annoying. Think of your prose as music. Only important details are needed in that score.

When you think you’re all polished and ready to shop, email yourself the first couple of chapters and random sections. It sounds weird I know, but reading scenes out of your text document will help you notice issues with pace and rhythm especially. I noticed some choppiness and sludgy spots in my chapter 1 this way, which is the first thing agents see. Now I’m good to go.

2. Unforgettable Characters

It sounds obvious. Every wants unforgettable characters, but as a reader, how many times have you read a great book, then a month or too later, can’t recall names?  Then you have to skip over to Amazon to check ’cause the not knowing is bugging the snot out of you.

I have photographic memory, and this happens to me. A lot. Even if I loved a story and the characters in it.

Don’t’ let readers experience amnesia. Let your characters jump off the page and demand to be noticed and not quickly forgotten. Develop your characters so that they’re nearly palpable, then tether aspects of plot to their identity and desires. Give an extraordinary quality or interest that’s rarely seen and this will create the memory stickiness you hope to achieve.

3. Fresh Voice

Your voice is in everything you write from tweets to novels. Be inspired, but don’t emulate the style and voice of others. Let your uniqueness come emerge. Voice is an expression of the weird way your mind works, your personality in written word, your take on things, your way of speaking. Even this post has voice.

It should flow out naturally. Even if you write with different tones or various quirky First Person narrators, a bit of you should still shine through. If you’re feeling unsure or self-conscious, it will be noticeable. The only way you can gain confidence and to findYOUR voice is to practice.

People have called my writing quirky and different. I love giving readers golden nuggets of my weirdness. It puts a stamp of branding on my own works.

4. Balance in The Force

Your work can be packed with darkness, conflict and obstacles aplenty, but it should have some kind of forward momentum. In darker works, add some ribbons of dark or dry humor, irony, hyperbole, romance, tone shifts, brief moments of peace, lightness and success. This will bring more scope and needed contrast into your work.

Also, if your work is lighthearted, you should have present or brewing trouble, a paperboy who wants his two dollars, office cat fights (they happen!), insomnia, a stalker, a death in the family, skeletons in the closet, the annoyance of every Starbucks within twenty miles being out of whipped cream so there’s no way to gloriously top off that Java Chip Frap.

Always think about balance and contrast. My novel, Kings & Queens, deals with violence and psychological terror, but it still has bits of humor and scenes that tug at the heart.

So, I’ve given you some direction towards making your work shine. Go write and make your work AWESOME.

~ CV

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I went back to the doctor today even though I think she’s an idiot.  Why did I do this?  Well, she had what I needed, an antibiotic prescription.   I think she’s an idiot because she’s has misdiagnosed me even after I told her what was wrong.    She calmly dismissed my concerns, sent me home with an allergy pill and told me I’d be fine.

My face and jaw have now swollen up to the size of a summer melon and my eyelid is dripping contagious discharge.   So I went back, she charged me for another visit and finally gave me the antibiotic I requested for the severe sinus infection and conjunctivitis .   I knew I was getting a sinus infection and I told her but she dismissed me.

Why am I telling you this super icky story about my health?  Because editors, workshop members, family, friends and agents will try to tell you what is right or wrong with your story.  In some cases, they may be right but, in the end, you know the story better than anyone else.

As a writer, you should have a feeling when something isn’t quite right with your work.  Some say believe in your work and stand by it, no matter what. I say faith in what you’re doing is fine but no matter how much belief you have, it won’t inflate a flat character or fix a monster plot hole.

But you should have faith when you know you’ve polished your work to be the best it can be. Some changes are a matter of taste, not necessity.  Only make changes you can live with.

If something feels truly wrong, then don’t do it.    For example, if your agent says your male cop needs to be a four foot tall female contortionist with a penchant for body piercing, say no if it doesn’t fit your story.

You can say no.  Some writers forget that magic word.

But also remember you need the antibiotic too (book contract).  Is what they’re asking for more than  you’re willing to give?  If they want your male copy to be forty instead of twenty-five, will that ruin the story for you? If not, it may be worth the concession.

But how about if they ask you to amputate?  No way, right?   But what if your manuscript has a malignant plot hole, would you be willing to amputate a sub-plot, a character or your ending to cure it?   Sometimes your manuscript will need a drastic cut to save it.

How do you know when to cut and when to leave it?

There is no hard and fast answer.   I wish I could lie and say there was.   First, ask yourself if a large amount of your target audience agree with the consensus?  You may have to get readers from your demographic to read and give you anonymous feedback.  Sort of like a focus group.  If 90% agree it doesn’t work, you may have to rework it.

If your gut screams no, then write a second version of it with the drastic change for one chapter.  Set both the old and the new versions aside for a month. Then reread it.  Does the change make it a better book? If so, go with the new version.

Lastly, the proof is in the pudding.   If you can’t sell the book to a mainstream publisher without the changes, would you be okay with not publishing or self-publishing?  Is being a commercial success important to you?  How much?

You’re going to meet a lot of book doctors out there on your trip to being published.  Some will lay their hands on you and make you feel all tingly inside but don’t actually cure anything.  Others will be too quick with the knife and cut your work to the bone.  Some just take the money and let you fall on your ass.

But occasionally you meet a doctor who can see the problem and help walk you though the solution.   Those are the book doctors that every writer dreams of.

The one that knows how to make your book the best it can be.

No manuscript starts out perfect.  Its figuring out how to make it happen that makes you a great writer or merely a good one.

Good luck and good writing.

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163169174_35eb6662d9_mOne of the best ways to engage your readers is to make your POV characters identifiable and intriguing. And you do that by making motivations and desires clear, including various types of sensory impressions and giving your characters multiple facets like quirky interests or occupations, different proclivities or issues that can affect how he or she reacts like phobias, skeletons in the closet, job tension or fatigue from insomnia. Okay. Check. You’ve done that. Good. After all this great character building, does your work contain some unwanted distance? Are critters saying your work is pretty good but not engaging? Does your prose feel a bit clumsy? Filtering may be the cause.

Filtering is good for coffee, pools and cigarettes, but not novels. Yet it’s something writers do too frequently because they don’t know they shouldn’t.  But it’s something you should watch for and avoid in your work.

When you use combos like she saw, she felt, she heard etc., instead of just naming the stimulus, it zaps a reader’s connection with the scene character. Saying what’s observed or detected with a filter creates distance and makes readers feel like they’ve been ushered outside the POV just a little bit instead of right there with it. Plus, it mucks up work with superfluous words.

Whether you’re using First, Subjective Third or Omniscience, filtering should be kept at a minimum. Here are some examples that show the difference:

She smelled burgers and bacon from Yesterday’s, which incited hunger pangs. (filtered)
The aroma of burgers and bacon from Yesterday’s incited hunger pangs. (direct)

She noticed the dogwood blossoms that settled on his black Corvette sail off and flutter to the pavement. (filtered)
Dogwood blossoms that settled on his black Corvette sailed off and fluttered to the pavement.
(direct)

When she heard a window pane shatter and clink on the wood floor like crystal rainfall, she scampered to hide. (filtered)
When a window pane shattered and clinked on the wood floor like crystal rainfall, she scampered to hide. (direct)

To find the filtering in your work, look for noun-verb combinations like: she felt, she knew, she saw, she smelled, she heard, she tasted, etc. and could-forms like: she could feel, she could sense, etc. and rewrite them so they’re non-filtered.

In some instances, it’s effective to use a filter like this:

By the time she caught wind of his black cherry-leather cologne, her neck was in the stranglehold of a muscular arm.

She heard somewhere that filters can kill an otherwise good novel.

You can also use a filter to help set up POV.  In Omniscience, filters tend to be used more often, but once POV is established, they can be omitted. If your chosen narrator remains at a distance from all POV characters, not quite as far-removed as Objective/Dramatic nor as close as Subjective, then filtering can be used to maintain this distance throughout.

Filtering is a beginner’s mistake so it comes off as amateurish and that’s not the kind of impression you want to make. Rock on. Write on. Be direct.

~CV

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After a little snag in the launch date, Contraband, a romantic suspense novel by resident blogger, J.L. Campbell, is finally gracing shelves and available on Amazon. I read an early version of this book, so I can’t wait to see how it came out. I ordered my copy yesterday. You can get yours too, here.

SYNOPSIS:

As master of his destiny, Paul Weekes does what is necessary to survive. He makes his own fortune, but his luck nosedives when hijackers target his illicit shipments. He has no proof, but suspects the police officer who facilitates his exports off the island of Xantrope has turned on him. To make things worse, Paul’s ne’er-do-well cousin is accidentally involved in a gang murder, and a hit is put on him. A budding liaison with the cop’s niece adds more complication. Janine refuses to accept Paul’s way of life, but inadvertently becomes a victim of his lifestyle. Thrust into kidnapping, double cross and murder, Paul must choose between a relationship with Janine and staying alive long enough to change the course of his future.

Congratulations, J.L., and much success!

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Today, I want to talk about rejection. No, not a romantic rejection but one on your writing. In my workshop group today, they announced the winners of one of writing contest. Alas, I did not win. This was probably due to the fact that I did not enter. I meant to enter but I got busy and didn’t.

Someone was wondering at the fairness of the contest, the fairness of the judges etc… And I have no problem with them questioning the system. Questions are how you get answers even if those answers taste like moldy cheese.

But the truth is, as a writer, you will get rejected. Repeatedly. Last year alone, I had forty-eight, yes forty-eight, separate rejections of my poetry and short stories. There are days when I wonder if I’m wasting my time. There are days when I think I’m the suckiest writer on the Earth (don’t you love it when I use classy words like suckiest?).

Yet on some level, I know that’s not true. I’m not the best writer in the world. I’ve read that person’s book and I cannot write they way they do. That’s okay. I write like me and not them. Which is good because I’d look silly wearing their underwear and living their life.

Each day I work at my writing, I become a better at it. I don’t stink like sweaty feet in the jungle but I won’t win the Nobel Prize in Literature either. I’m learning to be accept that.

I’m okay with being rejected because it means I put myself out there. I didn’t give up even when I really, really wanted to. I have the forty-eight rejections to prove it.

Writing is one of those professions where being rejected is part of the job. You will get rejected, shredded, criticized, and edited. But you’ll also inspire, titillate, interest, educate, and entertain a hundred others. Writing is not a win or lose proposition but rather a win AND lose proposition.

And it’s not all tragedy. Sometimes you win. I’ve had five poems published on other years, just not this year. To me, this balances out the year of rejections.

As for critics, everyone needs a critic. A critic is your worst enemy and best friend.

A critic will tell you when you have run-on sentences, a faulty story arc, or if your rhymes are purile. A good critic will also tell you when your imagery is inspired, your words touching, and your meter is lyrical.

A good critic sees you writing in all it’s glorious excellence and flaws.

You need criticism because rejection is how you learn as a writer.

If you can’t stand to lose then don’t be a writer or a professional sports player, you’ll just end up miserable.

And who likes that? Not me.

When I get rejected, I feel bad and pout for ten minutes. I then print the rejection out and put it in my collection of such letters. Every piece of paper in that box is proof that I am a writer, that I am submitting, that I’m trying.

If you are a writer who never shares your writing, who never has readers, who never sends in to contests or magazines then what’s the point? A diary is a collection of your personal thoughts for yourself. A poem, short story, or novel is meant to be shared.

Be a writer, get rejected.

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