The Curse of the Critique Button?

I’m cursed. I can no longer watch a movie, attend a play, read a book, or (now) enjoy television without the writer in my head critiquing. And while that means I’ve finally internalized many craft lessons, it also means entertainment is much more complex. Last week, when I started griping about the slipping plotline on The Following, my man just rolled his eyes and nodded.

This was something I first noticed several years ago and, because I used to direct community theatre, I thought it was a result of directing experience. I found that I paid more attention to what other directors did in terms of lighting, costuming, and set construction. That was bad enough. When I became hyper-aware of choreography, line delivery, and how actors developed their characters, I realized writing was the culprit. I’d translated craft lessons first into my directing, then into how I watched a play.

Then, it was books. It became nearly impossible to shut off the critique in my head when I read. That aggravates me because I love to read. I focus on favorite authors but run out of books. That puts me on a search for new authors which sometimes means I grumble for a while—until I find the joy of a new discovery. I’ve learned, over time, to overlook small things but it still gets to me when I come across unmotivated characters. Especially because that makes me look closer at my own characters and necessitates editing. That’s a good thing, in the end, but it does make me complain. Ken just smiles.

Recently, though, I find it’s bleeding over into movies and television. I used to always notice costuming. Now, I see lack of motivation, manipulated plots, and lack of character arc. I leave movies knowing that I once would have been entertained but now see flaws. Television shows I enjoyed before now prompt negative comments. I can’t seem to turn off the darn critique button! I suspect it drives my family as batty as it does me but I have to give them credit for not laughing.

All that said, I’ve also developed a wonderful appreciation for things done right. I adore a well-written novel and will praise the authors who write them to no end. A well-scripted, well-directed play leaves me smiling for days. Great movies stay with me, becoming those I purchase to watch again and again.

This past month, I began to notice timing, motivation, conflict, character development, and surprise hooks as well as flaws in series TV. My list of favorites has narrowed, but I’m seeing a lot more “things done right.” This season, I’ve praised The Good Wife, True Detective, The Big Bang Theory, Mom, and Game of Thrones—an eclectic collection, each doing something different but all of them discussed in the living room as well-done.

So, yes, I’m cursed…or am I simply seeing things differently?

I suspect we all are, those of us who write.

What about you? What does your critique button have you noticing?

Taxes 101 for Authors*

*Note:  If you haven't figured out why I picked today to talk about taxes, you probably need this post more than you think you do... 

Most people in the United States work for someone else, as employees or independent contractors. (And, statistically, most people are employees.)

Most writers have "day jobs" to help support their writing careers.

For those who are self-employed, business owners, or primarily independent contractors, the tax obligations of a writer are probably already familiar. For those whose primary work experience comes as an employee, however, making money from writing means it’s time to think outside the W-2.

WRITING INCOME IS SELF-EMPLOYED INCOME

U.S. residents (and foreign citizens living abroad who pay taxes in the United States) will not receive a W-2 (report of wages earned by employee) from the publisher at the end of the year. Independently published authors won't get a W-2 from the distributions sites through which they sell their books (for example, from Amazon). Instead, an author receives Form 1099 – report of income other than wages, salaries or tips.

People who receive Form 1099 are considered self-employed or independent contractors by the IRS, which is relevant because people in those categories must pay quarterly estimated taxes during every calendar year. As soon as you start making income from writing, you must calculate and pay estimated taxes too.

WHAT ARE ESTIMATED TAXES AND HOW DO I PAY THEM?

Four times a year, on the 15th of April, June, September and December, authors and other self-employed people must estimate the taxes due to the IRS and their state of residence (if the state has an individual income tax – some don’t) on income earned during the previous calendar quarter. On the due date, the author (or contractor) must send a check for the estimated tax amount due (if any) to the IRS (and the state, if appropriate) along with the relevant estimated tax forms.

If you fail to pay estimated taxes on time, or fail to pay enough, the IRS and/or state may assess a monetary penalty against you.

The obligation to pay estimated taxes often comes as a shock to authors who previously worked only as employees or whose employers withheld taxes from the authors' paychecks.

BE PREPARED: ORGANIZE YOURSELF FOR ESTIMATED TAXES

Don’t incur a penalty because you were unprepared! As soon as you (a) sign a publishing contract or (b) self-publish your first manuscript:

1. Find out what you need to know about paying estimated taxes. Get the necessary forms and mark your calendar. If you can't figure it out on your own, attend a local workshop or talk to an accountant.

2. Set aside a portion of every royalty check or periodic self-publishing income to cover your tax obligations – don’t anticipate having enough left over from then-current income when the payment comes due.

3. Don’t forget to document your deductions! Authors may be able to deduct certain costs, including some expenses associated with research, writing, and publication. Consult an accountant or tax advisor to learn which ones, and don’t forget to save and mark receipts to document deductions.

I’m not a tax advisor, and this post should not be taken as tax advice. Consult a qualified accountant or other tax advisor before making decisions on tax-related issues.

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Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California publishing and business attorney who also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. Her second novel, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, releases July 15, 2014. Susan’s legal practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website, http://www.SusanSpann.com, and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

Going to the Garden to Eat Worms

By Kerry Schafer

 

"I'm a failure."

"I suck."

"I wish I were a better writer."

"If only I were smarter/had more talent/had a different brain…"

Sound familiar?

Most of us humans are really good at beating ourselves up.  As writers, I think we are even more adept at this fun and dangerous pastime than the average denizen of the human race. We say things to ourselves that would be considered abusive if we directed them at our partners or our children or our friends. And yet we say them to ourselves, over and over and over again.

Conjure up some of the things you routinely say to yourself when you haven't lived up to your own (or somebody else's) expectations. Even better, actually jot them down. I know time is precious and it takes a minute, but it's worth the time to gain the awareness of the soundtrack playing out in your head.

Here's one of mine. Every single time I check my email and there isn't any (or there is only spam), or if nobody is talking to me on Facebook or Twitter at a given time, I catch these words running through my head and heart:

"Nobody loves me."

If there's no publishing news, this turns into, "My agent doesn't love me. My editor hates the book." Now, this is untrue and I know it. A lot of people care about me and have shown this over and over again. My agent is awesome and my editor is a dedicated professional who has done wonderful things for my novels. The truth is that the people in my world—family, friends, and publishing people--are busy doing many and varied things. They have lives.

The lack of activity on social media or in my Inbox has no direct association to the number of people in my world who care about me and my career. I know this. And when I catch those words running through my head I've learned to take immediate corrective action.

When I tell you I say this to myself, though, it's sort of acceptable, right? A little human quirk. Yep, writers are like that. No big deal. We tend to sort of shrug and smile and acknowledge that yeah, we're not as nice to ourselves as we could be. And then we keep right on with the self abuse.

Make no question about this: it is abuse.

Picture this. You and I are out for a  drink or a cup of coffee, and I look at you across the table and say, "Nobody loves you." As soon as I say these words out loud and direct them at another human being I've stopped being quirky and turned into a bitch. Especially if I follow up with some other gems like, "You've got no talent. I don't know why you're trying to write this novel because it's totally beyond your grasp. Why don't you just give up? You're never going to succeed in publishing…"

At this point you'd be justified in throwing your drink in my face and never talking to me again.

Abuse is destructive. It does nothing toward inspiring creativity, motivating us toward goals, or becoming better human beings. And yet we go on, day after day, indulging ourselves in this litany of hateful commentary towards our selves. It's time to stop it, people. We've gone on long enough. We need to be kind to ourselves, encourage ourselves, motivate ourselves to be the best writers we can be.

For some of us that's a very difficult thing and some time talking to a good counselor might be in order. Since I actually am a counselor and have spent a lot of time working with clients on this issue, I'm offering five tips to get you started on changing the way you talk to yourself.

Try this:

1. If you skipped the opportunity to write down your negative self talk, take a few minutes to do it now and then come back here.  Done? Good job.

2. Now imagine that you are talking to somebody you love and value. Choose somebody who matters to you. A writer friend. Your child. Your lover. Image their face as clearly as you can, and now picture yourself saying these things to them.

3. Shift the self talk into something positive that you would actually say to somebody you were trying to encourage. (I suggest that you do write this down. There is something in the physical act of putting those words on paper that helps us rewire our brains.)

Example: "If only I had more talent…" might change to "I am working every day on mastering my craft and learning new skills."

"I'm never going to succeed in publishing" might shift to, "I'm going to write the best book I can. And then I'm going to write another one. The more I write and the more I hone my skills, the more likely it is that I will succeed."

Take the time to shift every one of the abusive self statements you wrote down earlier.

4. Monitor your thoughts. These patterns of self talk are engrained and don't just magically go away. Watch for them. When you have a sinking feeling of doom and gloom, check what's playing in your head and change the station.

5. Adopt a zero tolerance policy for self abusive thinking. Just don't allow it. When you catch yourself doing it, make yourself stop. Make the shift to something positive. Have some compassion for yourself, as you do for others.

Remember: you are stronger and braver than you believe yourself to be.

 

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

Kerry Schafer loves to hang out where the weird things are—in the space where reality and fantasy meet. She is the author of The Books of the Between, published by Berkley Press. Her bestselling debut, Between, is available in mass market paperback, Kindle, and Nook. The second book in the trilogy, Wakeworld, releases in April 2014. For more about Kerry, visit her website.

Writing for TV – Then and Now … by Trai Cartwright

I love Downton Abbey. I love House of Lies, House of Cards (both UK and USA), Orange is the New Black, Black Orphan, Girls, and I especially love The Walking Dead.

I’m a TV junkie, have seen since I was parked, along with the majority of my Generation X co-horts, in front of a TV rather than sent to after-school programs. My babysitter was Wonder Woman and reruns of One Day at a Time.

To this day, I don’t need bowls of macaroni and cheese or a glass of wine after a hard day – I need a marathon of The X-Files.

When I first moved to Hollywood in the 1990’s, I had a yen for TV writing, but it just felt insurmountable. I’d never even seen a teleplay, much less had any idea of how to write one. But Buffy the Vampire Slayer was on TV and I had dozens of Buffy episodes dancing in my head. I knew I needed to write TV spec scripts, because that’s how writers got started in TV.

But what exactly was a spec script? How did I write one? And what did I do with it when done?

I got lucky. My temp agency sent me to be the writer’s assistant for a legendary TV writer named Jay Tarses. He wrote for The Bob Newhart Show, and that infamous clown funeral episode on The Mary Tyler Moore Show? That’s him.

His first and best writing lesson to me was this: “See that bookshelf packed with TV scripts over there? Start reading.”

So I did. I spent the summer transcribing his notes into teleplays (he still wrote longhand, four hours every morning), answering his phone, making him coffee, and eavesdropping on all the meetings for his new show. And I read. And read and read and read.

Then I started writing. I loved it—just loved it. Something about the way Act Breaks formed the structure and how every episode followed a pattern that pleased rather than bored audiences.

I was hooked. I wrote a dozen spec scripts (turns out, this meant I wrote sample episodes for a range of shows on “speculation” – the speculation being that an agent would see talent and send me out to interview for the writer’s staff of a show. Not the show I loved, see, that’s not how it worked—any show that was willing to talk to a baby writer.)

That summer was blissful, and I thought my future was sealed: I’d be Jay’s assistant on the show I was transcribing scripts for, I’d get to learn TV on the set and in the writer’s room, and eventually, I’d get a chance to write an episode for that show, and boom! zang! I’d be a TV writer.

It didn’t work out that way.

The show was a sitcom about a police vice squad, and as it turns out, no one found sexual assault funny. We didn’t even make it past the pilot.

I shook hands with Jay at the end of the summer and he said, “You got talent, kid, keep at it.” I swooned.

I kept at it, but I never could get those writer’s room interviews. I wrote pilots no one would look at without it being packaged with a prominent show runner. Hacking into TV was damn near impossible back then—assisting a show runner like Jay really was my best shot, and I never got another shot like that again.

Meanwhile, the siren’s call of feature length film was louder than ever, and hacking into films was way easier than TV, so I walked away from my dreams of TV.

Still, every now and again, I’d get an idea for a TV pilot and couldn’t help myself—I’d dash it out with a mad gleam in my eye.

Now that I live and teach screenwriting in Colorado, I’ve had an audience-member’s seat for the radical, unprecedented changes in the TV business model over the last few years. TV is no longer a tiny pipeline you could only squeeze into if someone on the other end was yanking you through.

TV has been democratized, and the old rules (and rulers) are dead. Love live TV!

Now anyone can create a series, and there are dozens of “distribution outlets” awaiting—from Netflix to the internet, from cable to Amazon.com, for goodness sake. The pipeline is so vast that there is a desperation for content I haven’t seen since the indie film revolution of the 1990’s.

You don’t need showrunners, you don’t need season bibles, you don’t need an agent making magical phone calls. What you need is an amazing idea for a TV series.

That, and some teleplay writing skills.

So welcome, TV lovers and dreamers, to RMFW’s first ever Writing for TV class in Denver. 8 weeks to pilot. $225 for RMFW members. Begins May 13.

Teleplays have their own formatting and structural secrets, and the range of approaches are numerous. From sitcoms to network procedurals to mythology series to straight up dramas, we’ll discuss the most current techniques in putting your show to paper. This class will help you to identify and develop the storytelling elements at the core of every episode, every series, and every pilot. Don’t have a pilot in mind but want to start building a spec portfolio? No problem—come with an episode of your favorite show in mind.

See ya on the small screen!

Register here.

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Trai-Cartwright-HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

Authors Behaving Badly … by Kris Neri

By Kris Neri

???????????????????????????????As Charles Manson once said, “Are people strange, or am I just crazy?” Call me naïve, but as a published author myself, I assumed other authors must interact with booksellers as courteously as I do. I've always believed intelligence and sensitivity to be typical traits among those who write. For the most part I've found that to be true. But I’m also a bookseller— my husband and I own The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, Arizona. During my nine-year tenure as a bookseller, I've discovered that, for a substantial minority, common sense among authors is not as common as you might think.

So here are a few of the things I've observed that the authors among you, and those who hope to be, might want to avoid:

* Don't threaten the bookseller. Even before we opened our doors, someone wrote to say, “I have many friends in that area, and I'm going to send them all to your store to buy my books. But if you don't carry them, they'll never shop there again.” Now I like threats as much the next person, but that one got my back up. I decided they would sell snow cones in hell before we'd carry those books. To date, nobody has asked for one.

* Don't expect the bookseller to take a loss for you. This advice is directed to those published by presses that don't offer traditional terms. Someone emailed us to say she was published by a small press and asked if we could host an appearance for her. I told her to send a copy of the book, and I mentioned if wasn't available through traditional outlets, she would have to provide it on consignment at a 40% discount. For a store to take less means they must sell that book at a loss.

The “small press” turned out to be iUniverse, a subsidy press that only offers a 20% discount and doesn't allow for book returns — two conditions that make it impossible for most stores to carry their books. Yet the book was well written. But when I offered to give her an appearance, she thought it was time for negotiations. “I just bought a $32,000 truck,” she wrote in an email, “I can't give you 40%. I need to make money from this book.”

Okay, let me take a moment here to laugh my butt off at that idea. I wish I could say this was an isolated case, but it's happened too many times. Every spot on a bookstore shelf is a space that could just as easily go to someone else. When it's a book of marginal interest, that's a gift. If they have any issue with anyone, it should be with publishers who aren't professional enough to understand how other books are sold, and price and sell their books accordingly.

* If you don't read, keep your mouth shut. I assumed that, like me, everyone who writes is also a reader. Man, was I wrong! Incredibly strong numbers of published authors display no interest in any book without their own names on the cover. Okay, that's their business, and in my opinion, their loss. But why would anyone who hopes to sell copies of their books share that fact with the members of their audience. Yet they brag about it, displaying superior contempt for those who are so uncool as to still read. Then they're surprised when those uncool people don't choose to buy their book.

* Don't tell them where they can buy books cheaper. Some authors who do read will note for their audience all the covers of books in our bestseller section that they have read. But they don't stop there. Oh, no. They share how much less they paid for those books in Costco, the supermarket or used on Amazon. Then they're surprised when someone asks how little their book is going for used online.

* Don't treat a bookstore like a free swap meet. Some authors have discovered that they can make more money selling their own copies of their books direct to the store's customers. We learned that the hard way, when an author seized a moment alone with a customer to sell her own copy of her book for cash, rather than the ones we had stocked. Do you think there’s a chance we would ever have that author back?

Well…you get the idea. Authors should display the same level of courtesy to booksellers that they show in every other area of their lives. And if they aren't polite and considerate — they should learn how to do be.

Now, most of the authors who visit our store are great! They're considerate, fun, and they see booksellers as their partners in the book-selling process. But the numbers of rude, thoughtless authors are higher than I would have imagined. Wouldn't you think that, if they aren't naturally courteous, they'd be more practical? Selling books is hard. Why sabotage the efforts of the people trying to help you? Some days I think it would just be easier to sell “Authors Behaving Badly” DVDs on late night TV.

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Neri_Revenge cover artKris Neri writes the humorous Tracy Eaton mystery series, featuring the daughter of eccentric Hollywood stars, the latest of which is REVENGE ON ROUTE 66, a madcap romp along the Southwestern Mother Road.

She also writes a humorous paranormal series, featuring a questionable psychic who teams up with a modern goddess/FBI agent. Her latest magical novel, MAGICAL ALIENATION, was a 2012 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award winner for fantasy. Kris teaches writing online for the prestigious Writers’ Program of the UCLA Extension School and other organizations, including the Sisters in Crime Guppies. And with her husband, owns The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, AZ.

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.

Authors Who Overcame Hardships and Still Kicked Butt … by Lori DeBoer

By Lori DeBoer

The road to publishing can take years to travel, and it comes with a steep learning curve. Sometimes, the obstacles to success seem insurmountable. Life gets hard.

Everyone has off periods, when your writing time gets waylaid by other responsibilities. And it’s a real kick in the teeth if, when you do finally find yourself in your writing chair, the work itself turns out to be hard going. Like hauling rocks.

When I feel like I am hauling rocks, it helps to pull out my list of authors who had to overcome problems, the kind of problems that would make me roll up in a ball and never get out of bed. These are not the kind of first-world problems I currently have, such as, coffee hurts my gut and I can’t drink milk in it anymore. I whine about it a lot, but it’s not a genuine problem.

The authors I am talking about had great Dickensonian personal tragedies to overcome. (You’ll see how ironic my use of the term “Dickensonian” in a moment.) Some of them are modern, of course, but the fact that they were born into a time with electricity and flush toilets does not make their problems trivial.

Example one:

Lauren Hillenbrand was just nineteen years old when she became bed-bound with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. In an interview with Beliefnet.com (“What Price Glory?”), she says that her biggest challenge has been exhaustion. “I’ve spent about six of the last 14 years completely bedridden,” she said. “At times, I have been unable to bathe myself. I have gotten so bad I couldn’t really feed myself and a couple of times I needed someone to spoon feed me. I have had trouble rolling over in bed.”

Nevertheless, in 1988, after watching the Kentucky Derby, she was inspired to submit a piece to a racing magazine, Turf and Sport Digest, who asked her to keep writing. In 1996, while doing research, she gravitated to the story of Seabiscuit, one of the greatest racehorses in history, and his trainer and owner, who all overcome extraordinary odds. The book became a New York Times bestseller and was made into a movie. Hillenbrand said that writing the book was difficult, on the physical level, but that it fed her emotionally and spiritually.

Example two:

Jean-Dominique Bauby dictated his bestselling book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by blinking his left eye. It’s a beautiful little book that was made into a motion picture and is well worth picking up for anyone who loves transformative storytelling. Bauby, a former Elle editor, wrote it after a stroke that left him with locked-in syndrome. The dictation process took around ten months. His assistant recited the French alphabet in order of its most frequent letters and Bauby blinked to chose letters. Each word took approximately two minutes to formulate. Three days after the book was published, Bauby died of pneumonia.

This list goes on: Barbara Kingsolver wrote her first book while suffering from insomnia while she was pregnant; she had to hide in the closet while writing so she didn’t disturb her ex husband. Victor Frankl wrote one of the most influential books of this century, Man’s Search for Meaning, despite having spent time imprisoned in concentration camps and having his wife and family killed by Nazis. We all know that J.K. Rowling was a struggling single mom when she created the Harry Potter series, although she really downplays that story these days. John Milton wrote “Paradise Lost” after he went blind at the age of 43. He was also poverty-stricken.

You probably don’t know that, two days after his twelfth birthday, Charles Dickens was sent to work for a little over a year at the Warren’s Blacking Factory in a desperate attempt to keep his father out of prison for his failure to repay a debt. It failed, and the entire family, except Charles and his sister Fanny, moved into his father’s cell at Marshalsea Prison. His books capture the straits in which the lower classes found themselves at that time, because he lived it.

I’d like to add to my list of tragedy-surmounting, butt-kicking authors. Who inspires you?

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Lori DeBoerLori DeBoer is an author, freelance journalist and writing coach. She has contributed essays on writing to Mamaphonic: Balancing Motherhood and Other Creative Acts, Keep It Real: Everything You’ve Wanted to Know About Research and Writing Creative Nonfiction and A Million Little Choices: The ABCs of CNF. She is a contributing editor for Short Story Writer and director of the Boulder Writers’ Workshop. Her stories have been a Top-25 Finalist for the Glimmer Train Fiction Open as well as being shortlisted for the Bellevue Literary Prize. She’s been published in Arizona Highways, The Bellevue Literary Review, Gloom Cupboard, The New York Times, Iowa Woman, Pithead Chapel and America West Airlines Magazine. One of her clients was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and four of her clients have been finalists for the Colorado Gold Award. For more information, visit her website and blog.

Meet Kerri Buckley, Carina Press Editor

As part of our series to introduce everyone to our Colorado Gold Conference guests, I caught Carina Press editor Kerri Buckley for an informal chat.

Jeffe: Hi Kerri! Thanks for being here on the RMFW blog today!

Kerri: And thanks so much for having me. I'm getting so excited for the conference!

Jeffe: So are we!

Jeffe: I know that you're an editor at Carina Press, but what IS your job exactly?

Kerri: Heh. You won't be able to see it in the log of this conversation, but there was just a loooong pause on my end.

Jeffe: lol

Kerri: So I am an in-house editor at Carina Press—the first one, under Editorial Director Angela James. This means that I acquire and edit books for the Carina Press line. I work across genres and average 2-3 titles a month, publication-wise. That's my primary role. Beyond that, because I am in-house, I also do things like sit on the acquisition board where we review and evaluate projects. I work with marketing, publicity, sub rights, PR, and production on a daily basis. I write a lot of back cover copy. All to build our authors, position them correctly, and keep growing the line!

Jeffe: And, though you're newish to Carina, you're not new to the industry, right?

Kerri: Correct. I've been in publishing for what seems like forever, lol. I started as an intern at The Feminist Press (@CUNY) when I was in college and then was accepted into Random House's Associates Program when I graduated—that’s like a post-grad year in publishing. (But they pay you!) From there, I became an editorial assistant at Bantam Dell and stayed at Random House, in one imprint or another, for the next 8 years. I joined Carina in May of 2013.

So, full disclosureI took what I call "a sabbatical" from publishing after those 8 years at Random House. I wrote copy, I traveled a lot, I dabbled in some other industries. But I knew it wasn't right. I knew I needed to come back to books...eventually.

AND! While I was gone? The landscape changed pretty dramatically. It was clear to me that digital was the place to be. It was an area I hadn't really worked in before, but when I started to look around and see what was working, who was growing—I saw I needed to be in digital.

So that's where I started, as I was looking and formulating a re-entry plan.

Jeffe: I love that - "a re-entry plan," like you were out in orbit, returning to Earth.

Kerri: That Carina was hiring at that time was the luckiest thing that ever happened, actually. And that I loved their/our editorial? Fated? Mebbe.

Carina was the first digital-first line to come from a major house. They were AHEAD of the game and so already working when others were still sort of getting set up. I'm adventurous but I'm not crazy. I wanted to go with the winner.

Jeffe: What a great story!

So, why do you come to conferences like Colorado Gold?

Kerri: Personally? I love the atmosphere of cons. It's like spending a few days among your truest people.

Professionally? Attending cons like Colorado Gold is a HUGE part of Carina’s business plan. It's an opportunity to find brilliant new writers, a chance to explain who we are and what we do to an audience that's interested. The author experience is #1 to us, and that experience often starts with an initial meeting—at a conference.

Jeffe: You really DO want to meet and talk to authors?

Kerri: Oh, I do. I actually love pitch sessions. Can't get enough of them, seriously. It's exhilarating for me. Kind of like speed dating. I'm always expecting the next pitch to be THE ONE.

Jeffe: Like falling in love?

Kerri: Exactly.

And there are always at least a few crushes.

But also in an informal setting...a lot happens at conferences. Wine is ingested. Ideas are shared. Introductions are made. It's energizing!

Jeffe: We always hear the stories about the manuscript slid under the bathroom stall door - is that real?

Kerri: That has never happened to me. I kind of wish it had.

Jeffe: I've often wondered if that's an urban myth.

Kerri: On the other hand, there are some VERY, VERY successful books that have come out of conferences.

Jeffe: In fact, Kat Latham who just got nominated for a RITA for her Carina book pitched at a conference.

Kerri: Sure did. Isn’t that exciting?

Jeffe: Very exciting—so happy for her and Eleri Stone, our other Carina RITA finalist! Okay, so be honest - because this is confusing for writers - how should people talk to you, outside of pitch sessions?

Kerri: It must be confusing!

Jeffe: Nobody wants to do the wrong and horrible thing, you know?

Kerri: Yes, for me PERSONALLY it is absolutely okay to come and chat outside of pitch sessions. I just ask that we stick to the general rules of society.

If I'm in the middle of a conversation...maybe wait until I'm done?

If I'm clearly running somewhere frantically (this happens a lot—watch out!) maybe try and catch me later?

Other than that, fair game. I'm a talker.

Jeffe: That's great to know!

Kerri: Oh, I will offer a tip, actually.

Jeffe: We love tips!

Kerri: And this applies to cons in general. Having an "elevator pitch" about your book is enormously useful. Not a script—I don't want to talk to a robot—but just a 2-3 minute nutshell description of what you're working on, why it's awesome, why you love it.

Jeffe: Often the advice is to memorize your pitch.

Kerri: For a formal pitch session, okay, that works, but for the on-the-fly convos? I don’t want to hear your pitch. You should have signed up for a pitch if you wanted to play that way. I want to *talk*—but also to understand pretty easily what you're working on.

Jeffe: Fortunately talking about books is our favorite thing!

Kerri: me too!

Jeffe: The conference is six months away—what can writers be doing between now and then to prepare?

Kerri: Keep working on your WIPs, so you've got the best possible version in your mind that weekend.

Jeffe: Do they HAVE to be totally done by then?

Kerri: They do not. I will say that when we're considering work by a new author, most of the time we will want to review a full manuscript. So we might talk about it in Colorado, but I'll ask for you to hold off sending until you've got a full.

Jeffe: Do you ever give feedback in pitch sessions, about how the story might be improved?

Kerri: Yes, all the time. And I try to be nice about it.

Jeffe: I'm sure you are - I can't imagine you being mean.

Kerri: Oh, I'm a softie. But I can imagine being on the other side of that table. Who wants to hear the editor lady say they got something wrong? No one. So generally what I'll do is ask you a bunch of questions—why'd heroine do this? What's hero's motivation? HOW DOES IT END? And then I’ll throw out a few ideas.

Jeffe: Do you ever talk about a book being in a dead genre?

Kerri: Genre is a tough conversation to have. Although I'll never say one is “dead”—just maybe... “not on the upswing right now.”

Everything in publishing is cyclical. Look at Romantic Suspense! It was "not on the upswing" for a couple years—now back with a vengeance. In fact, we're looking for a series to build at Carina .

Jeffe: Very exciting news for the RS authors out there!

I know you have your wish list, as all the Carina editors do, but is there anything you're really hoping someone will pitch?

Kerri: Yes. I have a few updates to that wish list.

a) An Army Wives-style drama with *multiple* romantic arcs—Contemporary, please. I have been dying for this. b) Multicultural or PoC (Person of Color) New Adult.

c) I'm a total Eastern Europe nerd and I've been searching for THE Russian- or Polish-set novel for what seems like half my career. Could be mystery, could be contemporary, could be Romantic Suspense.

Jeffe: So, Carina is a Harlequin imprint—do the books have to be romance?

Kerri: No, they do not.

We publish mystery, crime, scifi, fantasy, action/adventure. We do not require genre fiction books such as mystery, science fiction, and fantasy to have romantic elements. We read, acquire and publish nonromance with no romantic elements, as well! If you have a mystery, science fiction or fantasy manuscript that has no romantic elements, we want to see it.

What we are not publishing, because there are other imprints at Harlequin who do, and because every imprint needs to have a focus: thrillers, horror, women's fiction, faith-based or inspirational fiction, nonfiction.

Jeffe: Lots of opportunities for our fiction writers, it sounds like!

Kerri: Indeed.

Jeffe: Anything else you want people to know?

Kerri: I will add that mystery, in particular, is an area we are focusing on for growth in 2014-2015.

Jeffe: Any particular kind of mystery?

Kerri: Oh, everything from cozy/amateur sleuth to high-octane. Personally, I tend toward the offbeat. I like quirky PIs, cranky cops, wackadoo agents—character-driven mysteries, I suppose you could say.

Jeffe: Sounds great!

Kerri: I think so. It's a fun hunt.

Thanks so much for taking the time to give folks a sneak-peek for the Colorado Gold Conference, Kerri! I’m sure everyone will be excited to meet and talk with you there.

Announcing the Judges for the Colorado Gold Writing Contest

There's one more thing we don't want you to miss about the Colorado Gold Writing Contest for unpublished novelists.

Announcing the 2014 Colorado Gold Final Judges!

Action/Thriller
Matt Martz, Editor, St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur

Mainstream
Peter Senftleben Associate Editor, Kensington Books

Mystery/Suspense
Terri Bischoff, Editor, Midnight Ink

Romance
Raelene Gorlinsky, Publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc.

Speculative Fiction
Jessica Renheim, Associate Editor, Dutton / Penguin Group

Young Adult/Middle Grade
Shannon Hassan, Agent, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency

For more information on the contest and the link to submit your entry, go to the Contest Page (link is in the Toolbar at the top of website)

RMFW Spotlight on Chris Devlin, Colorado Gold Writers Contest Chair

This month we're shining the light on Chris Devlin who is coordinating the RMFW Colorado Gold Writers Contest. If you want to know more about the contest which opened for submissions on April 1st, just scroll down to yesterday's special post or visit the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers website contest page.

Welcome, Chris, and thanks for all you do to help unpublished writers get their work recognized.

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profile_chris_devlin1. Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I'm the Contest Chair of the Colorado Gold writers contest. I volunteered for the position a few years back because I've been a member of this august organization since the 80s and I felt like it was time to give back. From the beginning, I've been surrounded by hard-working and dedicated members who gave their all so RMFW could be the great group it is and I thought--why not me? Commitment, involvement, engagement...it sounds like I've sort of grown up, or something. Scary.

2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

I'm afraid I'm among the pre-published, so no promos here. I'm currently working on a young adult urban fantasy series about alchemy in a Catholic boarding school. The biggest challenge is shutting up and cutting the word length so it's not the War and Peace of YA novels. Check back for progress reports.

3. We've all heard of bucket lists-- you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish-- what's one of yours?

I'd love to fly on an airship someday. I have this thing about dirigibles. Of course, I'll have to overcome my terror of flying and also transport back in time to before the Hindenburg disaster...

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what's yours?

Procrastination. Lack of discipline. It takes me forever to finish anything and that's just not cool.

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

The moments late at night when I sink into the other worlds I've created and I get to experience the depth and texture of having a rich inner life. I'm rarely ever bored because there's always my imagination to keep me occupied. That, and other writers. We're all nuts, but what a fun ride.

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

Commit yourself to this life and stop being distracted by outside drama and/or trying to save the world.

7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

Chris Devlin's deskThese days, because of a bad lower back, I do most of my writing in a recliner with a laptop ironing board across my lap for support. It's tragically middle-aged. My formal desk mostly has my cats on it now, as they love to step on the keyboard and turn the screen on. Cats. What can you do?

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

The last fiction book I read was a bargain edition of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova that I bought at the Tattered Cover. It's about Dracula and traveling by train throughout Europe. Good book and at 700+ pages long, it made me feel better about my tendency to overwrite.

Thanks for letting me spout off, Pat, and thanks for the RMFW blog!