Author Archives: Karen Duvall

Write Deliberate Dialogue

By Karen Duvall

We’re deliberate about everything we write, so why should dialogue be any different?

Here’s the thing: Remember when you wrote your first story? As soon as your characters started talking it became a “wow” moment. The words flew onto the page as if your fictional people had taken on a life of their own. They’d become like real people having real conversations. Writing dialogue was (and still is) fun and you considered it your strongest writing skill. Perhaps you still do.

Writing down those conversations was the easiest thing in the world, and we were damn good at it. How could we not be? We talk to our friends, our spouses, our kids, the neighbors, the clerk at the grocery store… We know how to talk because we talk all the time. So writing dialogue is the most natural skill ever.

And then we discover it’s not as easy as we thought.

There is a skill to writing dialogue and I think it’s one we improve with practice. Lots of practice. It’s not just about ditching the dreaded speaker tags, or using “beats” to create natural pauses and add character actions to conversations that bring them to life.

There’s also planning involved. Which is what I mean by deliberate.

Most of us started out writing by instinct, probably because we’ve read so much over the years that some aspects of the writing craft were absorbed by our subconscious. This could also be why we assume writing dialogue is so easy. It feels easy. Planning it, however, takes more thought.

I recall one of the first lessons in dialogue I ever learned was more about what not to do than what should be done. First rule: don’t be boring. In other words, don’t write a conversation like this:

“Hi, Mary,” John said. “How are you today?”

“I’m fine,” Mary said. “How about yourself?”

“I have a cold,” John said.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Mary said.

Yeah, pretty bad. But what makes it bad? Well, for one thing, their conversation isn’t going anywhere. It’s not adding anything of value to the scene and it’s not revealing anything about the characters other than John having a cold. Big woop. If it were Ebola, maybe we’d have something there, but even then, it’s the presentation of this bland conversation that gives it a D-. Point is, this is not the kind of dialogue you want in your story.

Let’s say it’s important to establish these two characters greeting each other. It’s pivotal to the plot. Things can’t progress without Mary and John saying hello and confirming he has a cold. It’s a short greeting that has purpose. So if the conversation is going to be boring, do we have to use it? What other choice do we have?

Here is where being deliberate comes in. There are two kinds of dialogue: direct and indirect. Most of the time you want to use direct dialogue to show the characters interacting. You want to see them in action, hear their voices. But when the action isn’t important, or the details are superfluous, you use indirect dialogue. Basically, it’s a summary of the conversation.

It seems like such a simple thing, but how often do we run our characters off at the mouth only to discover what they had to say wasn’t any big deal. The big deal was for them to speak to each other. The precise content of the conversation itself isn’t important.

We can do this one of two ways, either of which is far more interesting than a he said/she said conversation. With indirect dialogue, you summarize the conversation in narrative:

I saw John yesterday and he actually said hi to me. I couldn’t believe it. We hadn’t spoken in weeks, then suddenly it’s like the fight we’d had in the store never even happened. And you know what? He looked like crap. Said he had a cold. I hope it’s mono.

Now you’ve skipped the boring part, went straight to the meat of the conversation, and added character development to boot.

Your second choice is to summarize the dialogue within direct dialogue:

John curled his lip in a snarl. “Yeah, I saw Mary. She tried to ignore me, but I refuse to stoop to her level. I said hello. Sure, she said hello back, but in that snotty way of hers, acting all high and mighty. I may be sick as a dog, but at least I have manners. More than I can say for her.”

Boring? No. There’s conflict here. We didn’t need John and Mary to have a conversation on stage, though they could have had one, depending on the needs of the plot. Sometimes you have to move quickly from one scene to the next so that you can get to the important part. The tense greeting between Mary and John is the propellant that ignited whatever flame scorches the root of their conflict. That conflict is more important than the boring banter we skipped to get to the juicy bits.

So be deliberate with your dialogue. Make decisions about what needs details and what can be summed up in fewer words. Then have fun writing it.

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Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing as Cory Dale, Karen’s latest urban fantasy, DEMON FARE, will release December 15, 2014.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com

On a Quest for a Good Book

About a year ago I decided to limit my reading diet to self-published books. Not forever, just until I found some new favorite authors to follow. I really want to support the self-published community as much as possible and figured I’d have a strong list of auto-buys by now. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened.

I know there are fabulous self-published authors out there because I have found some, and I must say I’ve been doing my picking based solely on blurbs, reviews and sample pages. I figured that would be enough to help me gauge my enjoyment and justify an investment of reading time.

Here’s where I went wrong: I should have asked for recommendations. I have discovered that most reviews are unreliable, both the good ones and the not-so complimentary ones. But I’m stubborn. I wanted to make my choices based on objective sources. Lesson learned.

Why have I had such a difficult time finishing these books? It’s mostly my bad luck, but I did discover structural problems in the majority of the stories I deleted from my Kindle after reading only a few chapters. Of the books I selected, the writing was fine, grammar good, voice passable, but plot and character suffered from a lack of practiced craft and developmental editing. They read like manuscripts that passed muster with a critique group, but not an editor.

They started out great or I never would have bought them. The sample pages caught my interest, the premise captivated me, so the beginnings of these books rocked. But I stopped reading somewhere between 20% and 30% of the way in. Maybe they suffered from contestitis, where the author had made edits and polished the beginning pages based on contest feedback. The rest of the story never received the same attention.

We talk a lot in RMFW about strong beginnings, effective hooks, introducing interesting characters, establishing stakes and obstacles… but it shouldn’t stop there. The strength you start with needs to carry through the rest of the book.

The problems I encountered were:

Bland characters – Characters who start out strong, then lose their purpose, or lack motivation, or just don’t care enough about the goal they had to begin with.

No tension – The story’s tension leaks out like a slowly deflating balloon. Time is spent exploring secondary plotlines instead of the main one, and the problems faced at the beginning are put on hold. Not good. Not good at all.

Disappearing characters or too many characters – It’s hard to focus on a main character when everyone in the story begins to have equal billing. Or when the most interesting person gets killed off or drops out completely, I lose interest in reading any more.

Likable characters become unlikable – It really upset me when a character I cared about seduced her stepfather about a quarter of the way into the book. I’d thought he was a nice guy, too. He’d raised her, for crap sake. They both turned out to be turds. Ugh. Those are hours I’ll never get back. I didn’t start reading another book for a couple of weeks after that.

Confusion – Mysteries I like. No, mysteries I love. But I don’t like it when things stop making sense. Confusion annoys me.

Meandering plot – Starts out heading in one direction then veers off in another for no apparent reason.

Exposition overload – I’m really tolerant of backstory, and probably enjoy reading it more than most people do, but even I have my limits.

Too many pretty sunsets – Or sunrises, or beaches, or gardens, or forests… You get the picture, which is the problem. Too many pictures. I adore good description and even teach a class on it, but too much kills the pace and saps life from your story.

Repetition – Same scene, different setting. Again. And again. It helps to change things up now and then.

Chaotic choreography – Action is a very good thing to have in your story, but it needs to be handled with a practiced hand. Fights, tangled lovers, car chases… When a lot is happening all at once, it should be clear in the reader’s mind what’s going on.

Call me picky—because I am—but I really wanted to love these books. I’m looking for an enjoyable reading experience and my goal is to find some great self-published books to fill that need.

Do you know of any self-published books you think I’d enjoy? If so, please leave the title and name of the author in a comment here. Thank you!

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Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.

 

Twenty Years of Conference Memories

by Karen Duvall

I had such a blast at the Colorado Gold Conference last weekend. It brought back memories of the very first Gold I attended in 1994. Twenty years. Damn, I feel old. I think I’ve only ever missed one conference in all these years and that’s because I moved to Oregon and the airfare would have killed me. I’m still in Oregon, and airfare is still a killer, but I make sure to save my pennies so that I never miss it again.

I recall my decision to attend the 1994 conference after hearing about it from a writer friend’s wife who was also a writer. She raved about RMFW and the conference, and since I’d only recently completed my first full-length manuscript, I thought it would be a great opportunity to find a publisher.

Okay, you can stop laughing now. I can hear you all the way from here.

I didn’t know much about what a conference entailed so I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know there would be workshops and published authors there, and I’d only recently heard about a special group of publishing professionals called literary agents. What a wonderful concept. I’m in!

As for publishers, I don’t think I met an editor that first year. I was too intimidated. Especially after I heard one of them speak. I’m pretty sure it was Michael Stedman of Walker that put the fear into me, but I could be wrong. It was a long time ago.

When I found out an agent had the power to get a writer’s work in front of an editor I thought, “Sign me up!” So I got in line for a pitch appointment with one. In those days you didn’t have to preregister to pitch to an agent or editor. So after hearing about this amazing chance to chat with an honest-to-god agent, I signed up to pitch to a literary agent named Grace Morgan. Once I sat down in front of this professional business woman who never cracked a smile, I lost my ability to speak. Seriously. I’d never had such a bad case of dry mouth in all my life. After a few awkward moments of silence and watching me on the verge of apoplexy, she patted my hand and said, “Honey, it’s okay. I won’t bite.” I wasn’t so sure about that, but her reassurance helped. I still choked. Even so, Ms. Morgan requested pages and I was beside myself with joy.

I also met some wonderful writers that weekend, writers I’d continue a strong friendship with for the next twenty years. I met my longtime friends and conference roommates, Shannon Baker and Karen Lin, at that first conference. We’ve shared our personal lives as well as our writing woes and triumphs, our wins and losses, and supported each other throughout our writers’ journey. We never would have met if not for RMFW and the Colorado Gold.

My first awards banquet was an eye-opening experience. I’d never before felt such a strong sense of community. I was privileged to see Rick Hanson himself read the simile winners and watched Alice Kober hand out the valuable prizes. I was awed by all the talented winners of that year’s writing contest. I didn’t personally know the winner of the Jasmine Award, but I teared up with everyone else when she walked up to the podium to accept her plaque (ten years later I accepted my own). I knew then that this organization would change my life, and it has.

When I returned home on Sunday after the 1994 conference, I tried to keep that experience alive by going through all the materials I’d brought home with me. So much information! It was overwhelming, but also exhilarating. My journey had finally begun because now I had the tools I needed to really get started. That folder of paper had ripped corners and coffee stains, highlighter marks and pen scribbles, and it reminded me of the Velveteen Rabbit because those papers were so loved.

The following year I signed with my first literary agent (not Grace Morgan). I was a finalist in the writing contest in 1999. I got my first publishing contract in 2000. I joined a critique group (go Alphas!), served on the board as PAL rep, volunteered for contest and for conference, presented workshops, started the anthology project, and though I’m now 1200 miles away from Denver, I still stay involved with conference and RMFW as much as I possibly can.

Last weekend I found myself reflecting on my first conference and all the memorable moments in between. It’s been one incredible journey that hasn’t ended, and I hope it never will. For those of you who attended conference for the first time, I hope your experience was as amazing as my first conference was, and that you’ll come back next year. And I hope you get involved with RMFW because this fabulous group of supportive writers will stand behind you every step of the way. You have my word.

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Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series and plans to publish her new urban fantasy novel, Demon Fare, before the end of 2014.

 

Pitch it to Me, Baby

By Karen Duvall

Wow! I can’t believe the Colorado Gold Conference is only one month away. I’m refraining from packing my bag too early, but I mentally add to my packing list every day. I’m all registered for conference, my plane reservations are made, my hotel room is set, I’m super excited to see my kids and grandkids while I’m there, and I’m eager to visit with all my Colorado writer friends again. This promises to be an incredible trip.

As I prepare for my journey, I’m also preparing for the conference itself. I feel very lucky to have made it into a critique workshop with Kensington editor Peter Senftleben on Friday morning. Though I have an agent, it never hurts to network and the manuscript pages I’m having critiqued is from the book my agent is preparing to submit to publishers. I want my pitch to be tighter than a banker’s wallet.

It’s fortunate for me that I’ll be teaching a “Pitch and Query” workshop for the Central Oregon Writers Guild on Saturday, August 23, at COCC in Redmond, Oregon. Perfect timing, yes? Because not only will I be helping guild members work on pitches for their novels, they’re going to help me with mine. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Guild members aren’t preparing to pitch at any specific conference I’m aware of, but it’s smart to have one ready for any situation when you might need a tight description of your book. During the workshop we’ll be working on queries as well. Conferences aren’t the only opportunities to pitch a novel. There are now many pitching opportunities online that include blog events with editors and agents, writer group forums, Twitter, Facebook and online writers’ conferences that are growing in popularity.

This is all the more reason why a pitch should be brief and effective. Step one — It needs three vital components for a solid hook:

  • Paint a compelling mental picture.
  • Offer an idea of genre.
  • Have a killer title.

What elements go into the pitch? First we state who the hero is, what his goal is and why he must have it, and what prevents him from getting what he wants. It’s vital that we focus on the conflict at the heart of our book. Put this all together and you have an ironclad formula for a successful pitch. If it falls within the purview of an agent’s or editor’s acquisition needs, you’ll probably get a request for pages.

I recommend writing several versions of your pitch. When you think you have a good one, don’t stop there. Polish it, let it sit for a while, then read it again out loud. The goal is to hook your audience, so it should be short and to the point.

As usual, it’s easier to use movies as examples because popular movies are the most familiar. Here are two fairly good single-line pitches:

“A cop comes to L.A. to visit his estranged wife and her office building is taken over by terrorists.” – Die Hard

“A businessman falls in love with a hooker he hires to be his date for the weekend.” – Pretty Woman

Both these examples use hooks to grab attention. Once you capture an editor’s or agent’s interest, you can take it one step further. Both these one-liners set the stage to continue on with the hero’s character arc and the emotional stakes that embroil him and the antagonist. The first line of your pitch is usually conceptual, an overview of the big picture. Once your hook has found its mark, it’s time to reel in your audience with theme and conflict.

Be prepared to answer unexpected questions that may not be covered in your pitch. You might be asked something like: Who’s your villain and what does he want from your hero? Where did you get the idea for your story? Who are the other characters and why are they important? Plus myriad other possible inquiries. Know your story inside and out.

Practice your pitch on a fellow writer or critique partner. If you pre-registered for the one-on-one pitch coaching sessions on Friday at conference, you’ll have a chance to try out your pitch and get feedback from a professional.

During my workshop here in Oregon I’ll be breaking up the class into groups so they can brainstorm and practice writing their pitches. But as a warm up, I have an exercise planned. They’ll get a list of vague pitches for popular movies that that can be “beefed up” to power pitch level. Vague pitches can be misleading and lose power due to a lack of specificity. I’ve collected a bunch and the class can revise as many as they want as practice for creating their own pitches.

Can you revise any of these poor pitch examples?

Batman: A man deals with the deaths of his parents.
Superman: A Kansas farmboy moves to the big city and helps people.
Spider-Man: A nerdy teenager learns to stand up for what he believes in.
Captain America: A troubled young man takes steroids, attacks foreigners.

Feel free to post in comments whatever you come up with.

Though I won’t be giving my pitch workshop at Colorado Gold, I will be presenting a workshop on Plot Devices: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly on Saturday, September 6, at 4:30 p.m. I’ll have a few tools to share for your writer’s toolbox so don’t miss it. See you then!

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Karen Duvall lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She’s an award winning author published with Harlequin Luna and is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy series.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com

So You Think You Can Write

One of my favorite TV shows is So You Think You Can Dance. I watch the episodes streamed on Hulu.com because I’m never able to catch them at the time they’re televised.

While watching the show the other night, I noticed some similarities between dance as an art form, and writing.  Dance is an art, as is theater, music, the visual arts, and of course the various literary arts. Each art can be performed with varying levels of creativity.

One of the points made by judge Little C was how each dancer, as an artist, interprets dance differently. They may each execute the same steps, but it’s how the dance is performed that makes the difference. Some dancers are superb technicians with impeccable timing, posture, extensions, and all the other myriad moves that are choreographed into a performance. But if their heart and style and individuality is left out, they won’t rise above the ordinary. Dancers who give it their all and let themselves feel the joy of dance, who pay less attention to their steps and more to how dance lifts their souls, are the ones who become extraordinary artists.

So I got to thinking about how writing is much the same way. I should change the title of this post to So You Think Can Write a Novel because writing, like dance, is interpreted different ways. There are superb technicians who are competent wordsmiths. Journalists and technical writers might fit in that camp. If you can write an excellent software manual, can you write an equally excellent novel?

Maybe.

Good skill in one area does not guarantee excellence in another even if it’s the same art. Aside from the X factor no one can quite put their finger on, when it comes to writing fiction, there’s so much more to it than good grammar and a knack for stringing sentences together. A great poet may be a poor storyteller, a fabulous storyteller may suck at journalism. I think it’s rare for a writer to be especially good at writing everything, but I’m sure there are exceptions.

So tell me, writers, are you a good writer? Or are you a good storyteller? Do you think there’s a difference?

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Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.

The Joys of Being a Contest Judge

The first writing contest I ever judged was the Colorado Gold almost twenty years ago. After that first contest, I was hooked on judging and have been a judge in dozens of other writing contests ever since. Imagine my excitement when I received my entries for this year’s Colorado Gold. It brought back wonderful memories of those early years and reminds me how judging has helped me improve my own craft while introducing me to some talented new voices in fiction.

I understand how scary it is to enter a writing contest, to put yourself out there in front of strangers and have your work judged. You’re being brave and generous because judges, who are writers themselves, have the privilege of reading your work.

What are the benefits of judging a writing contest?

Honing your craft: When you read the work of others, whether it’s through critique or a writing contest, you have an opportunity to consider craft issues you might miss in your own writing. You see first hand how someone else does it the right way, or the wrong way, and can then identify those same issues in your own writing.

Stylistic Differences: The entries in a writing contest help you understand how styles differ for every writer. You get to experience how style affects the voice of the writer and you come to understand that differing styles are not wrong, only a unique signature of the writer.

Appreciation of Imaginative Voices: The talent of others is a privilege to see. Every entry has a creative spark to appreciate regardless of any technical problems it may have. As a judge you can review the writing for what it is, not for what it isn’t.

New Perspectives: If you ever wondered what it might be like for an editor or agent to read through the slush pile, judging a writing contest can offer you a fresh perspective. It helps you view the writing from a publishing professional’s point of view.

Paying it Forward: A fair judge with good intentions of helping other writers is paying it forward with constructive advice and feedback. It’s a win-win for us all.

If you’ve never judged a writing contest, please consider volunteering to do so. The rewards are real and everybody wins. If you’re a contest entrant, I want to thank you for the joy of reading your entry. And if you’ve never entered a writing contest, I hope you’ll consider doing so in the future.

I have a pretty good memory and I still remember many of the writing entries I’ve judged in past years, even those that didn’t win, and I’m always hoping to find those stories on bookstore shelves (virtual and otherwise) someday. Thank you for the privilege of reading your work!

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Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.

Should You Cut an Agent Some Slack?

I recently read a blog where the writer talked about her friend who had an agent that was unresponsive. Her point was that it was time for her friend to “divorce” her agent and find someone new.

I get it. In the past, I’ve had unresponsive agents myself. The waiting to hear back is excruciating. First you query agents and wait forever to get a response, which is tough enough. But then to actually sign with one who won’t communicate with you is sheer torture.

The key word here is communication. The blog I read stated the agented writer had lost confidence in her own writing, thought the agent no longer believed in her, and was even thinking about ending her writing career. My first thought was that there are two sides to every story and this post didn’t share the agent’s side. There’s no point wallowing in a pit of despair if you don’t talk to the person responsible for pushing you into that pit in the first place.

I’m not excusing the agent for ignoring her client, but I do feel the writer/agent relationship is a two-way street. Neither can possibly know what’s going on with the other without asking. I think it was C.J. Box who regaled us all with a story during his farewell luncheon speech at a Colorado Gold Conference several years ago. His first agent had ignored him for an entire year and he was pretty upset about it. Finally, he called the agent to fire him and found out his agent was dead. The fault here is with the agency for not dealing with all the dead agent’s clients, but C.J. acknowledged that if he’d called sooner, he wouldn’t have had to go through months of agonizing silence.

The problem with a lot of writers (not C.J.) is that after months of pursuing the attention of an agent and then finally landing one, we’re reluctant to rock the boat. We hang onto that agent for dear life because if we lose him or her, we’ll never get another one. Obviously, that’s not true. However, it can be like staying in a bad marriage (I’ve been there, too) because you think you have no choice. You do have a choice. Depending on the circumstances, at some point you have to fish or cut bait. If you’re not happy with a situation, get out.

So how do you know whether or not to stay or go? Just be sure to get in touch with your agent. Initial contact might have to be through his or her assistant, but ask for a “come to Jesus” meeting by phone so that you can hash things out. No emails or text messages, but a good old fashion verbal discussion. Chances are the silence is legitimate, and if so, make sure your agent is aware of how it’s affecting you. It might be time to switch to another agent within the agency. Or it might be time to leave altogether. Or it simply might require more patience on your part.

My point is that in order to make an informed decision about whether or not to fire your agent, you need to have all the answers. Talk it out before letting the silence do you in.

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Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com/
https://twitter.com/KarenDuvall
http://www.facebook.com/Karen.Duvall.Author

Interview With Literary Agent Margaret Bail

MargaretBail

Margaret Bail, Inklings Literary

I recently had the good fortune of chatting with literary agent Margaret Bail (@MKDB) of Inklings Literary. She’ll be one of the agents attending the 2014 Colorado Gold Conference.

KD: How and when did you become a literary agent?

MB: I’ve been an agent for a couple of years, now. I started out by doing an internship with an agency and when that was over, I signed on with another agency as a junior agent and started the learning process. I ended up at Inklings because I’d met Michelle and Jamie during my internship (they were interns too), and when they opened Inklings and Michelle invited me to join them, I jumped at the chance.

KD: What fiction genres are you looking for this year? Is there anything special you’d love to see?

MB: I’m always looking for romance in all subgenres except Christian/inspirational. I also like science fiction, fantasy (though I’m really picky about this genre), historical fiction, western, mystery, thriller.

I’d like to see a fresh take on cozy mystery; a time travel romance; a good epic fantasy that doesn’t include a dozen (or even half dozen) points of view, or names I can’t pronounce, or every mythical creature ever imagined, or magic (think Dark Tower, which admittedly has a few of those elements but is so awesome it doesn’t matter).

KD: Is it harder these days to place authors/novels with the larger publishers? How does the increase in smaller and/or regional publishers, especially those who also take unagented submissions, impact your job?

MB: I don’t know if it’s harder per se to place with larger publishers, but the increase in mid-sized and small publishers, especially digital-only presses, means that advances from larger publishers are lower, and often publishers will acquire to their digital imprint before or rather than print imprints because there’s less cost and risk involved. They can offer even lower advances, and in many cases no advance at all, for digital-only or digital-first acquisitions.

As far as my job is concerned, this means often I’ll receive offers for digital-only with no advance when what we really wanted was print. However, were it not for their digital imprint, the publisher may have rejected outright, so at least the digital imprint gets an author’s foot in the door and gets them a publishing credit.

I don’t think that publishers who take unagented submissions affect my job at all. Generally, those publishers have laxer guidelines (than the larger publishers) as far as the quality of the work they accept and publish, so often they end up taking work I would have rejected, so it saves me the time of going through those queries. I know that sounds insensitive, maybe even brutal, but that’s the truth of it for most agents.

KD: Has the increase in self-published books had an effect on your agency? If so, what?

MB: With regard to self-published books, publishing companies are wary about taking those on unless they’ve had phenomenal sales. Once something is published – even self-published – it’s ALREADY BEEN PUBLISHED, so a publisher doesn’t want it unless they can make oodles of cash off something that’s really taken off.

This affects our agency because authors don’t understand that publishing requires infinite patience. If you self-publish and your sales are bleak, or not what you expected, and then you go back to querying agents in hope of still going the traditional publishing route, you’re crippled yourself with the self-publishing. Most agents won’t touch a self-published book unless it’s had outstanding sales, which doesn’t happen often. I get many, many, many queries from authors who have self-published, but are still querying agents. I can’t sell those books, so I have to reject.

KD: What gets you excited in a query letter? What makes you hit the delete button?

MB: Excited:  Concise, well organized, outstanding voice, great story and characters.

Delete: If you don’t follow submission guidelines; if you attach information instead of pasting it into the email; if the query letter is long, rambling, incoherent; if you’re querying a genre I don’t represent; if you spend paragraphs tooting your own horn and then the writing is atrocious; an incomplete manuscript; work that isn’t fully edited and polished.

KD: Writers are often advised to have a web presence before even selling their first manuscript. Of the following web and social media opportunities, which do you consider most important for the debut author: a website, a blog, Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads? Are there any others you recommend to your authors?

MB: “Platform” is more important for non-fiction than fiction, but a “presence” is always valuable. However, I don’t think that having an active web presence is absolutely necessary for fiction authors. I’ve sold authors who barely have any presence at all. In my opinion that whole presence thing is over-hyped for fiction. But that’s just my opinion. Other agents will likely tell you otherwise.

KD: How closely do you work with the authors you represent? Are you editorially involved, or do you prefer only to handle the business side of things?

MB: I work very closely with my authors. I tend to be laid back and casual, and end up developing great working relationships with my clients. Communication is very important to me.

As far as editing, I try to take on work that requires as little editing as possible because I just don’t have oodles of time to be an editor. It’s the author’s job to do all that before they query. That being said, I do a thorough developmental and copyedit for everything I take on. I probably do more than I should, actually, but the English professor in me just can’t help it.  And I have taken on a couple of projects that needed significant work, but were so outstanding I couldn’t turn them away. I try to stay away from those, though, because they’re so time consuming.

KD: If a manuscript piques your interest, what’s your next step? How often do you request revisions on a manuscript you want to represent? Do you offer representation before or after revisions are made?

MB: If something piques my interest and it needs very little editing, I’ll just offer representation. If it’s something I like but needs some work, I’ll ask for revisions. I don’t do that often, and if I do I wait to read the revisions before (and if) I offer representation. Just because an agent asks for a revision, doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get an offer to represent, though.

KD: When reading the beginning pages of a manuscript, what’s an immediate turn off? Consequently, what gets you excited about those first few pages?

MB: Immediate turn offs to me are:

1. Badly copyedited writing – word clutter, passive or incomplete sentences, grammar/spelling/punctuation issues.
2. Cliché openings like characters waking up, descriptions of weather, long exposition, back story, flashbacks, etc.
3. I really don’t like prologues and I don’t even read them. In pre-published work I’ve found that 99% of prologues are unnecessary.

Immediate turns offs don’t mean I stop reading immediately, but often they end up meaning rejections.

What gets me excited in first few pages:

1. Strong voice which is, admittedly, difficult to define.

2. Action with necessary exposition/back story woven in sparsely.

3. Clean, concise writing.

4. Clear setup of the story and characters.

KD: What are your thoughts on the current market for fantasy romance and paranormal romance? What areas of this genre do you think editors consider over done?

MB: Unfortunately both urban fantasy and paranormal romance are really glutted markets right now, and editors at big houses aren’t buying those genres as furiously as they were not so long ago. Stories in these genres now need to be very unique and stand out against everything else in the genre. Frankly, I’m sick to death of vampires and werewolves. I don’t know that anything new can be said about them anymore.

I think there’s still room in the market for both genres, but there’s got to be really unique angles and/or twists on it.

KD: What are your thoughts on New Adult? It’s very hot right now. Do you think it’s a fading trend like chick-lit was? 

MB: I think NA is definitely hot and on the upswing. It started out as what Michelle (my co-agent at Inklings) calls “college f**k fiction” meaning that it was just stories about college girls getting laid. But it’s developing into a genre similar to YA in that it’s all about people in this age group finding themselves, learning how to live in an adult world, and dealing with adult issues, and it’s spreading into all genres. Personally, I don’t like the college student stories, but I would like to see NA stories in any genre that deal with people that age. I don’t think it’s fading at all, and I don’t think it will.

In fact, I just talked to an editor not too long ago at St. Martins who said that although paranormal is kind of dying now, she sees NA paranormal as a growing market, which kind of ties both your questions together!

KD: How often do you communicate with your clients?

MB: Like I said earlier, I’m very laid back and often end up chatting with clients frequently either by email or social media.

KD: What do you do for fun when you’re not working? Any unusual hobbies?

MB: Not working? There are people who actually do that????

KD: What advice would you like to give authors who plan to pitch their novel to you at Colorado Gold?

MB: Relax.

Make sure the novel is complete and polished – then polish it some more. Get help if you need it, but not from your mom/brother/uncle/cousin/BFF.

Be sure it’s a genre I represent!

Relax some more – I’m a person just like you, and I write, too, so I know how you feel.

I hate the term “elevator pitch” but be able to describe the essence of your story in a few short sentences.

Relax and enjoy yourself!

Thanks so much, Margaret! We’re all very excited to see you at conference in September. Counting the days!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Karen Duvall

Karen Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013. She released a romantic suspense novel, Desert Guardian, that she published herself in June of 2013.

I Could Have Lost Everything

A couple of weeks ago, I woke up and started my usual routine of preparing for work. I work at home so I have a short commute to my office: down the hall, take a left at the entryway, and an immediate right through a set of double doors. It was a gray morning, typical in Oregon for this time of year, and like any typical morning, I pressed the little silver power button on the tower of my Mac Pro. I was rewarded with the Mac “bong” of greeting, but what followed was anything but typical.

Sick MacMy computer, my livelihood, my career-in-a-box, showed me an odd image on my monitor with scrolling words in several different languages. Something was wrong. The operating system refused to load.

Panic ensued. I called my local computer shop the moment they opened, we tried a few things over the phone, but the conclusion was indisputable. I think I heard Taps playing through my computer’s speakers.

Had I backed everything up? Most everything. The important stuff, at least. But I was going to be without my home business until whatever was wrong with my computer was fixed. They also needed my back-up drive in case the files on my hard drive couldn’t be restored.

I started imagining all kinds of worst-case scenarios. My back-up drive had been acting up recently after my dog dropped her ball on the USB cable plugged into the back of the computer and disconnected the drive. I’d had an error message that it might have been damaged. I’d checked it and it appeared all my files were there, but when I tested it on my laptop, the drive didn’t show up. Lovely.

Deep breaths. Okay, so at least I had the laptop I shared with my husband and I could access email, the Internet, Microsoft Office… But all my graphics software, the lifeblood of my business, was on the sick Mac Pro in the shop. I had design deadlines and various unfinished projects needing my attention. What was I going to do? There wasn’t anything I could do but wait.

After 3 days and 2 sleepless nights, I called the shop to ask for a diagnosis. They’d just started to run a diagnostic test and would call me later that day to give me the result. They didn’t call. It felt as if I were waiting at the back of a very long line that wasn’t moving.

I had to do something while I was waiting. It’s not in my nature to be unproductive. Since my husband and I were sharing the laptop I had to use my time wisely. This is how I learned the value of my Kindle Fire for things other than reading.

I’d recently finished revisions to the first book in a new series I was writing and had sent it off to my agent a couple of weeks before all this happened. It was time to start on the next book and the unexpected down time was a sign for me to get a jump on it. Though I’d been entertaining some ideas for the second book, I hadn’t planned anything yet. Two notebooks, a pencil, and a few Kindle web searches later and I was on my way. Not writing it but preparing to write it, which is not my usual process. The pantser inside me would normally hop directly to page one and get busy, but not this time. I had an opportunity to plot and develop my cast of characters, to fill up however many days I’d have to wait for my career-in-a-box to be in working condition again.

The nights were hard as my imaginative brain kept churning out horrible outcomes and expensive repairs, thinking of all the “what ifs” writers are conditioned to think. What if someone dropped my computer and it exploded into a thousand pieces? What if the tech working on my machine spilled his coffee all over the inside while he was working on it? What if the shop burned down? What’s the worst that could happen? I practically what-iffed myself into a nervous breakdown.

Seven days after I dropped off my poor old Mac at the computer hospital I got the call that it was ready to pick up. It had passed all their tests, but some internal workings within the drive were mysteriously preventing the system to load. All the data was still there and they were able to manually load it onto a new drive. I had them install a second drive inside the tower that houses the main drive so it could back itself up an hourly basis. That gives me a little peace of mind knowing my data is protected, but I can still imagine possibilities for disaster. I’m a writer. It’s what I do. Damn it.

In the end I survived. My computer survived. My work survived. What lesson did I learn? That if I’m not careful I can worry myself into an early grave? That there’s no such thing as idle time? That I have to make every moment count? Yep. All of the above.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013. Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com

Talk to the Paw: The Revision Process

Recently I’d been under the gun… my own gun, really… to make revisions to a manuscript my agent was expecting sooner rather than later. I enjoy the revision process because it’s my chance to dig in deep and pull the story out from cracks and crevices it may have slipped through along the way. Making revisions gives me the opportunity to add layers to my characters, clarify motivations, ratchet up the tension and spackle any holes left in the plot.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t write fast. In fact, I write much slower now than when I first started writing. The more I know the harder it gets, and though I scold my internal editor for interfering with the creative process, she won’t go away. My muse is hard to please. I take my time when it comes to revisions.

I’m thankful to my pets for their patience.

Sammy

Kinsey

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sammy: What are you moping about?

Kinsey: I’m not moping. I’m waiting.

Sammy: For what?

Kinsey: Rolls her eyes. You know very well what.

Sammy: Oh. That.

Kinsey: It’s that time again.

Sammy: Mom’s finished another book.

Kinsey: Yep.

Sammy: And you’re waiting for…?

Kinsey: My walk. Ball play time. Treats. The usual.

Sammy: At least we’re being entertained.

Kinsey: True.

Sammy: I never get tired of listening to Mom read her book out loud.

Kinsey: Me neither. She reads it from start to finish and even changes her voice sometimes for the different characters.

Sammy: I like that.

Kinsey: I do, too.

Sammy: So why are you waiting? I thought she sent the manuscript to her agent already.

Kinsey: Nods. She did. Just the other day.

Sammy: Then what are you waiting for?

Kinsey: For her to finish making notes for her next book.

Sammy: And now it starts all over again.

Kinsey: That’s right. And I don’t mind waiting so much. Especially when we get to listen to Mom read to us.

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Duvall

Karen Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com/

https://twitter.com/KarenDuvall

http://www.facebook.com/Karen.Duvall.Author