When Scouting Goes Live

Call Me Zhenya-goldOn September 23, I finished yutzing around with my Scout entry and uploaded it. The campaign is now underway, ending on October 23. How are things going? I have no idea… But I’m learning a lot. One of the things I’ve learned is to ask for votes everywhere! So please! If you’ve enjoyed this series of blog posts or learned one or two things from it or if you just want to help me put my kids through college (I have TWO of them who are BOTH in college RIGHT NOW!), toss me a vote! I’ll be eternally grateful, and the karma will be awesome. Also, if they choose my book for publication, you’ll get a free copy! And then you can taunt your friends! HA HA! I got this book free and you didn’t!

Ahem.

On to the substantive (I hope) portion of the post.

Entering your book into the Kindle Scout program is pretty straightforward. You have to upload a formatted manuscript in .doc form. (For those who have been paying attention, yes, this means all my research into Scrivener vs. Vellum was useless for this project.) You’ll also have to have a bio, a completed cover, and blurbage for your book. The length limitations for the blurbs are pretty severe—I had a 100-word version of the blurb and still had to trim it. A side note--I paid someone to do my blurbs for me, because I wanted them to be kick-ass. I was pretty happy with the results.

Once you upload, you wait. You’ll get an email letting you know whether your book is accepted into the program. This actually didn’t take very long—I had my approval email within 24 hours. They send you information on your campaign link and tell you when it will go live (you have a few days to prepare).

Every day, you’ll get updated stats on your page views. See below for what this looks like. An interesting note here—the data provides page views, NOT the number of nominations. It also provides info on where your votes are coming from and provides some “also nominated” info. This means books your scouters also nominated. This inspired me to look for “allies,” like Nathan Lowell mentioned in his hella awesome workshop on Amazon at Colorado Gold.

 

kindle-scout-data-10-11-16The screencap here shows the first page of my stats for October 11. (Click for a .pdf of the full stats--it's 2 pages) On page 2, you can see that a little less than half my page views are consistently coming from Kindle Scout directly. The rest are from outside links, and so are the result of my promotional efforts or from other people passing the links around, etc. The big bumps occurred at the beginning, when I posted the link to Facebook and Twitter and also sent out a notification via my reader newsletter. There’s another big bump after my friend Marteeka Karland posted about the book in her reader newsletter, which is about five times the size of mine, subscription-wise. I got another bump when Kate Douglas, another friend and a long-time Kensington author with a good-sized following, posted a link on her author page with some praise for the excerpt (as in, if this isn’t published soon I’m going to HUNT KATRIENA DOWN!!). (We luff Kate :-])

 

Some other things I did, all of which seemed to have produced small bumps in page views:

Ran a Book-a-Day giveaway at The Romance Studio. This was a drawing for a paperback version of the book, which I’ll send out after Kindle Scout lets me know whether they’re buying the book (they buy only electronic rights, so paperback rights will belong to me either way).

Ran guest blogs on other authors’ blogs. This included a person from the Also Scouted list. I noticed one of the books popping up was one I’d already nominated, so I contacted the author and asked if we could exchange blog posts (an ally! And I’ll probably do this again with another author or two before the campaign ends). She only had a few days left on her campaign, so I made sure her post went up promptly, and she posted mine a day or two later. I also posted a blog at The Romance Studio a few days before the Book-A-Day giveaway.

Ran a Thunderclap. This didn’t pan out—I didn’t get enough backers to activate the campaign. I came close—76 out of 100—but couldn’t quite get it over the line. I’ll probably give Thunderclap its own post later, since I have some Profound Thoughts about the process.

Some things that didn’t happen that I’d hoped would happen:

I didn’t seem to get any pageviews from the Thunderclap recruiting. If you know how Thunderclap works, it’s pretty obvious why this didn’t pan out. There’s no direct link to your book until the campaign goes live (or if there is I didn’t find it). Again, there’s a lot to talk about regarding Thunderclap.

Amazon allows you to add your other books to your campaign page, and I’d hoped this would generate some sales. I figured some people would see the campaign, notice the other books I’d written, and check them out. So far I see no indication that sales of my Kindle self-pub books have spiked at all. On the other hand, I’m noticing that Amazon linked to a lot of out-of-print editions, so that might be my own damn fault for not tweaking the links when I had the chance. On the other hand, Authorgraph tells me a few of my Samhain titles have gone up in the rankings, so...maybe?

The numbers overall are lower than I’d hoped. On the other hand, I’ve spent a good amount of time in Hot and Trending, which doesn’t suck. It appears that the magic number to be featured in that part of the site is about 60 pageviews (you can see these stats on page 2 of the pdf).

As of now, I’m sort of running out of ideas for promotion. However, I have a book I’m consulting, and I’m going to pull ideas from there and execute them over the last stretch of the campaign. The book is called Crowdfunding for Authors by Bethany Carlson, and it’s not actually out yet. I got an ARC copy because I supported the book on Indiegogo. I’d suggest keeping an eye out for it when it does become available, because so far it’s looking like a pretty good resource.

That’s about it for the State of the Scout this month. Next time, I should know whether or not the book has been accepted for publication, and I can report on the beginnings of that process or let you know where to buy the book when I release it myself.

Again, to drop me a vote for Call Me Zhenya, drop by my campaign page!!

What Makes a Romance Novel a Romance Novel

Before we get too far in the tips and how-to’s of writing romance, we should define romance as a genre.

Over the years, romance has gotten a bad rap.  In the early days of the romance novel - in the days of Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers - there were books that, by today’s standards, would be viewed as rape stories.  These were stories of vulnerable females who were “owned” by strong alpha-males who had their way with the women.  The heroines could fight all they want - the “hero” won in the end - and eventually the heroine would realize that he was the man for her and they’d end up living happily ever after.

Bodice Rippers.

Here’s a definition that alludes back to this time:  A romantic novel or film marked by seduction of a female protagonist, sustained drama, and sometimes violence. American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language.

As the genre grew, this type of story became politically incorrect and gave way to stronger, less victimized heroines.

So what qualifies as a romance anyway?  Understand please that the answer found here is ONLY for the GENRE of romance.  But if you’re going to write books in this genre, you must know the rules.

Or you risk turning your reader against you.  And we don’t want that.

Let’s get to it then.

Googling “definition of a romance novel” can be fun.

Wikipedia says this: “The romance novel or romantic novel discussed in this article is the mass-market literary genre. Novels of this type of genre fiction place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an ‘emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.’”

The bastion of romance-writing - Romance Writers of America -  says it this way:  “Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”

RWA goes on to make it clear that there are many types of romance novels, from historical to mystery to erotica.  But no matter what, the love story is the main story.  A suspense novel with a side of romance doesn’t qualify as a romance novel.

To get this definition of romance from the RWA, there was quite a long and involved discussion amongst the leaders in the genre.  When they got to the “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending” part, they realized that a “happy” ending meant different things to different people.

Here’s Jennifer Crusie (one of those involved in this discussion) - “My feeling on this, which I have expressed loudly and often, is that the romance novel is based on the idea of an innate emotional justice in the universe, that the way the world works is that good people are rewarded and bad people are punished. The mystery genre is based on the same assumption, only there it’s a moral justice, a sense of fair play in human legal interaction: because the good guys risk and struggle, the murderers get punished and good triumphs in a safe world. So in romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice, unconditional love in an emotionally safe world.”

I’ve always said that romance was defined by a “happily-ever-after” ending but after reading about emotional justice in Crusie’s words, I might borrow that.  Don’t we really all long for a story in which, after all is said and done, good triumphs over evil?  And if you’re a believer in love conquering all, emotional justice might really be what you’re after in reading romance.

Leigh Michaels - writing for Writer's Digest - says it like this: “A  romance novel is the story of a man and a woman who, while they’re solving a problem that threatens to keep them apart, discover that the love they feel for each other is the sort that comes along only once in a lifetime; this discovery leads to a permanent commitment and a happy ending.

There are the rules summed up in one paragraph.

●   A hero and a heroine

●   A problem that threatens to keep them apart

●   A realization that this is “the one” and the struggle to make the relationship work

●   A commitment - whether that’s marriage or simply the implication of marriage - at the end.

 

I couldn’t have said it better.

As long as we’re here, let’s quickly look at what the RWA calls the two formats for the genre:

Series or "category" romances: books issued under a common imprint/series name that are usually numbered sequentially and released at regular intervals, usually monthly, with the same number of releases each time. These books are most commonly published by Harlequin/Silhouette.

Single-title romances: longer romances released individually and not as part of a numbered series. Single-title romances may be released in hard cover, trade paperback, or mass-market paperback sizes.”

I balked at this definition because I use the term single-title romance to mean any romance novel that isn’t part of a series.  Let me give you an example.  I have written a 5-book military romance series.  But I also have a “single-title” paranormal romance coming out in 2017 that is not part of a series.

I think I’d revise their formats and leave the word “series” out.  I’d make it Category Romance and Single-title romance.  Then within the Single-title format I’d put Series and Standalone.

But that’s just me.

As an aside, Category Romance used to be a sort-of laughing stock of the genre.  But not so anymore.  If you aren’t familiar with the amazing variety of categories in Category Romance, stop by the Harlequin/Silhouette website and check it out.  And before the dawn of Amazon and e-books, the authors of these books had, literally, thirty days to sell their books.  Kudos to the authors who made that work and thrived in that environment.

I’ll be back next month and we’ll get into some of the tropes of the genre.

Until then, campers, BIC-HOK - Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.

Jax

 

Current Climate in Publishing: The Sky Didn’t Fall, So Now What?

After the recent Colorado Gold Conference, I found myself wondering about indie/self-publishing and traditional happy-b-day-picpublishing. When I joined my first Gold Conference back in 2008, I/S publishing was the DEVIL. No, really, like the actual end of the world four to five horsemen. (I first typed horsemint, which is, according to word, any various coarse mints. Thought you might enjoy my overeagerness about just how bad it once was to I/S publish, that or my fat fingered typing ability).

This past conference, the vibe was MUCH different, and in fact, most of the I/S pub workshops were filled (I should know, our Rejection Panel went up against Nathan Lowell’s Amazon workshop Saturday morning. Thank you to the five people who joined us). Also, for the first time, iPAL the independently published version of PAL, was awarded a Writer of the Year (Lisa Manifold, who deserved it greatly for a) successfully writing and marketing great books, but more so b) being a leader in our community).

So my question to you, dear readers, and for once, comment dang it!, how do you feel about publishing these days? When you think of your current WIP, is it slated for traditional route or a more indie one? Have you come to the dark or maybe light side (depending on who you ask) of publishing?

Right now I publish with both. I see good things and bad for each. Nothing is ever going to be simple or perfect in publishing. Yet this is the first time I see I/S publishing tipping in favor to traditional. Or maybe just with my tribe. So let’s hear it. Good and bad. Beautiful and ugly. What say you about today’s publishing format climate?

Writing Productivity–How Do You Improve It?

I came away from the Colorado Gold enthused and energized from being around other writers, the only people who truly understand that part of my life. Even the best friends and closest family members don’t really get it, unless they’re also writers. I also came away with the realization that I have to find a way to be more productive. I’m convinced all the great marketing in the world is of no use if you don’t publish frequently and consistently.

Not only have I’ve heard this write-faster, publish-faster refrain on writer blogs and at conferences, but I’ve seen evidence of its truth in my experience maintaining a library fiction collection. I’m currently weeding, culling out books that haven’t checked out in four or more years. The majority of books I weed are either one-book wonders or older books that may have checked out well in the beginning, but now just sit there because the author hasn’t released anything new.

Facing this “inconvenient truth”, that I need to finish books faster, I’ve struggled to find ways to increase my productivity. It seems there are two strategies: to spend more time writing and/or, to write faster.

One way to spend more time writing would be to spend less time on email loops and social media. The downside of this plan is that if I give up on the relationships and contacts I’ve built on-line, I won’t have anyone to help me market when I finally do have a book published.

Another idea I had was to change my writing schedule to give myself more productive time. I’ve always written in the mornings. But that inevitably seems like the best time to work on social media. If I wait until evenings after work, I tend to miss things. But maybe I could write at night. I used to do this, especially once I got deep into a book. So, that’s something to pursue.

Then there’s the idea of writing faster. To do this, it seems like I need to change the way I write. I believe I used to write faster, before I was so conscious of the mistakes I was making. My rough drafts these days are usually not that rough, at least in term of the writing. Although I sometimes leaves holes for names, research terms, or information I don’t want to look up right at the moment, my first drafts are fairly clean and detailed. That’s the reason I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo. The idea of super-fast writing and just getting words on paper seems impossible to me. While I don’t carefully craft each sentence, I do try to make sure my sentences vary in structure and length, as well as editing out my known over-used words and other bad habits.

But maybe I’m taking too much time crafting my prose the first time around. Maybe I should let myself write a little sloppier, in the interest of getting through the first draft faster.

You could argue that that self-editing has to be done at some point, so it all comes out in the end. While that is true, because I plot as I write (Stupid, stupid, I know; but plotting never works for me), taking time to craft my prose slows down the development of the story, which makes the whole first draft take longer. So, one of my strategies to get faster might be to stop self-editing as much. Simply get the story down and worry about the details later.

These are my ideas for trying to increase my writing productivity. I’d love to hear from other writers. How about you, what strategies do you use to get yourself to the end of a book quickly?

Of course, as I ask this, I wonder if the truly productive authors maybe don’t take the time to read writing blogs!

RUMINATIONS ON THE WRITER-READER RELATIONSHIP

As I write this I am still days away from the most traumatic experience of my life - surgery. But by the time you read this, not only will it all be over, I will be well on my way to recovery, if not fully recovered. I will know whether or not the mass they found in a CT scan one fateful day while looking for something else entirely, was cancer or not. The worst, whatever it turns out to be, will have passed.

This bifurcation of time is extremely odd to me. It is backwards from what a writer usually experiences. Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, whether writing in present tense or past, the events the writer retells have already passed for him/her by the time the reader reads their words.

It almost feels as if you, the reader, have the advantage on me. For the first time the reader has the benefit of foreknowledge of events the writer has yet to experience. Does that make any sense to you? Would that you could tell me how it all turned (turns?) out.

Honestly I'm not entirely sure what bearing this has on writing or why RMFW members should read this blog entry. There is some insight here about our responsibility to our readers, as the ones conveying to them events they have yet to experience. Something about teasing their eagerness to know what happened, and why, while at the same time respecting momentary lack of knowledge until you eventually enlighten them through prose. Something like that.

All I know is this momentary reversal of roles, me the ignorant writer, you the all-knowing reader, is delightfully disorienting, and that fascinates me.

Volunteers, How Does RMFW Love Thee? … by Angela La Voie

2016_angela-lavoie2As RMFW volunteer coordinator, I keep trying to count the ways.

To the Breadth and Height

More than one hundred volunteers contributed to the success of Colorado Gold this September. Thank you!

What on earth takes a hundred volunteers?

Some of the most visible roles at conference include working at the registration and information desk, serving as conference chair, and monitoring workshops. Have you ever thought about all of the other volunteers you see, such as those who check in attendees for pitch appointments, round-table critiques, mentor sessions, and pitch-coaching? Don’t forget the people who welcome first-time conference-goers and transport VIPs from the airport to the hotel and back. There are volunteers who organize the author readings and the author signings, as well as those who help set up the bookstore. Throughout the conference, there are people who run errands and arrange supplies. There’s our photographer, too. Table hosts facilitate conversation at the Friday-night dinner. Other volunteers coordinate and present the awards and raffle prizes.

To Everyday’s Most Quiet Need

For all of the volunteers you see at the conference, there are several more you don’t. Our technology team keeps the Web site updated with information and enables online registration. Volunteers provide items for the gift bags and stuff them. There are volunteers who process and assemble all of the items you receive in your registration packet. And long before conference starts, volunteers recruit keynote speakers, agents, and editors. Volunteers arrange travel for the special guests. There are those who review workshop proposals, those who arrange the conference schedule and set up all of the various appointments, as well as those who manage each of these disparate activities. Planning for next year’s conference began before this year’s event took place.

And Beyond

While the work of our volunteers might be most visible and most concentrated in our largest event of the year, volunteers make each of our events come to life and provide for every task, large and small.

There are plenty of ways to get involved. Here are just a few:

• Write a blog post.
• Write a newsletter article.
• Lead a program in Denver or on the Western Slope.
• Help manage the Web site.
• Set up and manage a critique group.
• Help with social media.
• Volunteer for the History Project.

Which volunteer job is right for you? Think of the skills in which you have expertise. Maybe you’d like to volunteer in one of those skill areas. Is there a skill in which you wish you had more knowledge? For example, have you wanted to host a podcast, but want to learn more about podcasting and are willing to put in the time and effort? Offer to help our Podcast Chair. Do you feel shy on social media but ready to overcome that anxiety? Help our Publicity Chair.

Time is also a factor in volunteering. Do you prefer to focus your efforts in a defined timeframe or like to spread out your efforts over time? Have you volunteered in the past, but are looking to contribute in a new way? Do you feel ready to take on a bigger role in the organization? If you’d like to brainstorm ideas, send me an email at: volunteer@rmfw.org.

Some of the benefits of volunteering include making new friends, giving back, and learning new skills. Health studies have shown that volunteering can improve weight loss, memory, cholesterol, stamina, and even memory. When you volunteer with RMFW, you are helping writers live their dreams of sharing their stories and seeing their work in print. You. You are doing that. How amazing that is!

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

Angela La Voie serves RMFW as newsletter editor and volunteer coordinator. Her articles have appeared in The Chicago Sun-Times, Daily News of Los Angeles, The Dallas Morning News, Detroit Free Press, on MS-NBC.com, through The New York Times News Service, and elsewhere. She holds a BA (Phi Beta Kappa) in English and communication from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey and an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles.

You can learn more about Angela at her website and on Facebook and Twitter. And please check out the RMFW Blog Spotlight featuring Angela that was published August 1st, 2016.

You Are in the Right Place

(Friends - I'm taking the cheap & easy way out this month by using the blog space to publish my Writer of the Year speech / comments at Colorado Gold on Sept. 9. I included a few illustrations to break up the long text. Thank you all so much for your support. As should be obvious below, it means so much!)

Recently I was doing a bit of digging into the background of my late pal Gary Reilly.

If you don’t know the Gary Reilly story, it’s pretty simple.

When Gary died in 2011, he left behind 25 novels in a variety of genres.

These books were finished, repeatedly edited, rewritten and edited again.

Again, 25.

During his lifetime, however, Gary was only published once.

That happened in 1977 when Gary sent a short story off to The Iowa Review.

The prestigious Iowa Review. If you don’t know it, The Iowa Review has published everyone from Joyce Carol Oates to Ann Patchett to Kurt Vonnegut.

iowa-boxes-arrowsIn the issue that included Gary’s story, “The Biography Man,” Gary was alongside such greats as Ian McEwan, later the author of Atonement and many other great novels, and a writer named Ron Hansen, later the author of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

"The Biography Man,” in fact, was the lead entry in that edition of The Iowa Review.

The editor of The Iowa Review at the time was the incredible Robert Coover, who has a story in this week’s edition of The New Yorker called “Invasion of the Martians.”

The one-and-only and highly prolific T. Coraghessan Boyle was a contributing editor. I just think it’s so cool that Coover and Boyle had their hands on this story.

When I tweeted out a bunch of this information last week, by the way, T.C. Boyle replied promptly with a clarification about his role:

2016-09-01-tc-boyle

The next year, “The Biography Man” was picked up and included in the fourth volume of the Pushcart Prize Anthology. Again, he was published alongside some amazing writers—including John Updike and Jane Smiley. Thousands of stories are considered for the 60 or so that are included. (That story is now available, by the way, as an e-book here.)

pushcart-panelsWhen I tell this story to anyone who will listen, the immediate question is simple—why?

What happened?

How can you write 25 novels and not get published?

And what would keep you motivated to write 25 novels only to watch them stack up in your computer or on the shelf?

++

I met Gary in 2004. We hit it right off. And we started trading manuscripts. I had a few for him to read.

His manuscripts kept coming and coming to me—one by one. He’d never give me more than one to read.

I read—and read.

I couldn’t believe how good they were—funny, interesting, deep, scary, everything. He wrote humor, sci-fi, fantasy, noir and war-theme fiction based on his time as a military policeman in Vietnam.

Gary occasionally queried agents. I mean, occasionally. I’d have to sort of pump him up to get out there and do it. He didn’t talk about it much, but I know he had some big disappointments in his past. Some very close calls, including one offer to come write comedy in Hollywood.

It fell through.

europa-2One time—and I remember this so vividly—I brought Gary to an RMFW workshop at the Arvada library. Gary sat there but I could see how uncomfortable he was—this just wasn’t his scene, to sit in a room and listen to a workshop or interact with the presentation in any way.

I could never get Gary to come to another workshop or to come to one of these fabulous conferences. Quite simply, he wasn’t a “joiner.”

He lacked the “networking” gene, that elusive knack that some people are born with and others have to learn.

Gary liked his conversations one-on-one or small groups.

But he didn’t lack much else. He was a born storyteller. He loved movies of all types and quality.  He had an affection for weird, late-night flicks, B-grade stuff. And he prowled the paperback book shops along Broadway looking for old pulp novels or anything edgy or interesting. In fact, he loved the beat poets and beat writers.

++

Guess what? I also lacked that “networking” gene.

It’s true.

I wasn’t as reclusive as Gary in general—not at all. But when it came to writing fiction, I had a fairly abbreviated and isolated process.

I wrote my first mystery in the 1980’s. It took six years to write. I showed that book to a few friends before it went out the door and I quickly got an agent—in fact, a big-name New York agency that is still around today. I was so encouraged by this turn of events I quit a job and tended bar for a year to write another book.

Work on #2 was much quicker, but the money ran out and I went back to work as a reporter. I finished the second book in the early 1990’s and, in case it’s not obvious, nothing had happened with book #1.

I showed book #2 to a few friends, made a few changes, and went looking for an agent.

One day at work, the phone rang. It was an agent from New York, very eager to represent book #2. It turned out that the agency also represented John Grisham.

I said sign me up!

Despite the enthusiasm and despite the fact that my feet did not touch solid ground for about a week, nothing happened. Book #2 didn’t sell.

Around this time I met a real-life female hunting guide in the Flat Tops Wilderness of Western Colorado. I instantly believed I had a great character and great setting.

So I set about writing book #3, what was then going to be another stand-alone mystery. It took about three or four years to write.

I showed it a group of friends before it went out the door.

I eventually landed a good New York agency, one that is still around today. This is now the late 1990’s. After a few changes, we were on submission. No sale.

But we got enough feedback that the agent asked if I wanted to make some changes. I said sure. Nine months later, I had another draft ready and I sent it to my agent. I remember this was December because the agent said he would take it with him on Christmas vacation and we’d go out on submission again in January.

By mid-January, I’d heard nothing. By the third week, I started to call and leave messages. By the fourth week, I wrote a letter to the owner of the agency; what is going on?

In early February, I received a form letter rejection back, “I’m sorry your submission is not right for our agency at this time.”

Perhaps you’ve seen one or two of those kinds of rejections?

In the early 2000’s, I started writing another stand-alone thriller and I finished that a few years later. This time, a few agent nibbles but nothing really developed.

During all this time, I was vaguely aware of RMFW. I was vaguely aware of writing groups.

But what did I need? I had come so close. Yes, there were days and weeks and months where I thought, well, good try. You made the effort. You wrote some good stories, but that’s just the way it goes.

I had heard of writing groups but what could they show me that I didn’t already know? Many writers come close and fall short.

My relationship with RMFW was slow to develop.

I started doing the refreshments at the monthly workshops. Then I started running the monthly workshops—for years, in fact. I enjoyed the things I learned by attending all those sessions. And some of the day-long spring events were truly fuel for the fire.

I found myself making the transition from fully independent writer to someone who cared about all my cohorts were faring. I started to pick up tips and I started to look at my writing differently, with a better eye. And ear.

In 2007, a small, independent publisher outside of Boulder offered to publish Antler Dust, book number three in my four-book stack of unpublished manuscripts.

The publisher was small but he wanted to do it right—and gave me a standard contract with a very nice advance. He printed up 2,000 hardbacks, $24.95 a pop. Gulp.

After 23 years of working at the fiction thing, I got published.

And my networks grew—bookstores, libraries, conferences, all over the state. I had a blast getting out there and meeting readers.

And, guess what? My RMFW pals were extremely supportive, too—they came to readings, wrote reviews, cheered me on.

The reaction was so good to my main character Allison Coil that I decided to write a follow-up. When that was done, the first publisher had gone under but a medium-size house in Aspen gave me an advance and a contract and they got behind my second novel, Buried by the Roan. They also published a paperback version of #1.

Buried by the Roan was published about five months after my friend Gary Reilly had passed away and it’s dedicated, in fact, to him. He read many versions of that book and helped me immensely with it. Buried by the Roan was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award in 2012 and, if I’m not mistaken, I lost to the inimitable Carol Berg.

By the time the third book was ready, the Aspen publisher had gone out of business.

It was the RMFW connections, specifically former Writer of the Year Linda Hull, who helped with the introduction to Midnight Ink.

She conveniently left a copy of the third Allison Coil novel on her kitchen counter when the editor of Midnight Ink was staying at her house. What are friends for?

Trapline won the Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the fourth, Lake of Fire, also published by Midnight Ink, was a finalist for the same award this year.

To me, looking back, everything changed when I got involved in RMFW. When I started taking a regular role.

Being around others who were successful made me ask writing friends, what are you doing differently? How do you approach writing? How do you approach agents? What other conferences do you attend? And, finally, the big one.

Who do you know?

That’s a network.

People in a network are connected around a central purpose or mission or interest. In our case, we share a common, simple goal—telling stories and finding readers.

++

Which brings me back to Gary.

He was missing, I believe, this one thing. This network. This chance to interact with editors and agents and fellow writers at a conference like this one where, I believe, his books would have ultimately found a home.

And, yes, networking is something you can learn. I did. I went from my little world to a much bigger universe of friends and supporters.

Gary poured his frustrations about the publishing business into his greatest creation, Murph.

8-coversMurph is the star of 10 of his novels. Murph is Brendan Murphy, a self-effacing Denver taxi driver and unpublished novelist. Murph dreams of becoming rich and famous through writing.

Murph is also a big fan of Gilligan’s Island.

Says Murph,

The windows were rolled up and the hot sun was streaming through the windshield. It was as warm as I imagined Gilligan’s island must be. The real island, not the TV island. By “real” I mean an island in the South Pacific where a writer could lie on a hammock all day long and think about the plot of his next novel. If he was rich enough, he could hire a Mary Ann look-alike to mix rum drinks and wait on him hand-and-foot. But there wouldn’t be any hanky-panky. Nossir. He would be a man of such impeccable integrity that the mere thought of dallying with Mary Ann would grievously offend his moral sensibilities. He would be the exact opposite of me.

Other than becoming wildly rich and famous through writing books, Murph has two goals in life—one is to earn as little money as possible and the other is to never get involved in the lives of his passengers. He’s pretty good at the first goal and terrible at the second.

When it comes to writing and the publishing business, however, Murph has choice insights.

Says Murph,

A writer can become obsessed with the peripheral rituals of writing – such as sharpening pencils or visiting the Grand Canyon – when he should be focused on the most important part of writing, which is leafing through Writers Market and making lists of agents who don’t charge reading fees.

Says Murph,

A lot of artists start out as failed poets, then move on to being failed short-story writers before they finally break through to the big time and become failed novelists. If they’re like me, they branch out to become failed screenwriters. A few take the high road and become failed playwrights, but most just stick with being failed novelists because the potential to not make lots of money is greater.

Says Murph,

I was afraid that if I went ahead and wrote a Western, I would be dipping into the realm of what my creative writing teachers called “formula fiction.” I hated the idea of becoming a formula fiction writer. What if I got the formula wrong? Think of how embarrassing it would be if I tried to become a formula fiction writer and found out I didn’t have the talent to sink that low?

Says Murph,

I came up with an idea for a novel about a gang of punk Martians who come to earth in a flying saucer for no other reason than to commit mayhem. Martians usually come to earth to study the habits of mankind and report back to Mars for reasons that are never made very clear, or else they give mankind scientific devices that will turn the earth into a paradise. But I had never read a book about serial-killer aliens. It seemed like I might have found a niche market, assuming there were science fiction fans hungry for police procedurals.

++

As many of you know, my friend Mike Keefe and I have published nine of Gary’s novels since he died. The tenth comes out in October.

the-detachment-cover-and-coffeeThree of Gary’s posthumously published books have been finalists for the Colorado Book Award. National Public Radio twice has raved about Gary’s work. Booklist has praised the originality of Gary’s work. And of The Detachment, Gary’s second novel about his experiences in Vietnam, a 154,000-word masterpiece, the great Stewart O’Nan called it a classic and Ron Carlson, who teaches elite creative writing classes in California, called it Catch 23 or Catch 24.

I feel honored to be part of the process of bringing his stories to the light of day.

And part of the process of finding readers.

That’s what it’s all about—telling stories, finding readers.

But of course I wish he was here to see the reaction, read the reviews.

So what is the lesson? Well, I hope it makes you, in some way, more determined. More focused on advocating for yourself. Not giving up.

Thinking about Gary and looking back, everything changed when I got involved in RMFW. When I started taking a regular role.

Being around others who were successful made me ask writing friends: What are you doing differently? How do you approach writing? How do you approach agents? What other conferences do you attend? And, finally, the big one: Who do you know? That’s a network.

People in a network are connected around a central purpose or mission or interest. In our case, we share a common, simple goal — telling stories and finding readers.

++

Looking back on my own experiences, here’s a few things I believe:

  • I believe that by your presence here today, you are in the right place.
  • I believe the answers to all your writing and publishing needs are right in this room, right now.
  • I believe those answers are here, that is, if you know what you are looking for and know how to ask for what you need.
  • I believe that you will find ways to improve if you work at the issues, whatever they are, and write more. And write more.
  • And keep working.
  • I believe if you are already published, then you are looking for ways to get better.
  • I believe there is no shortage of learning. Who can forget the sight of Jeffery Deaver in an RMFW workshop last year, sitting in the back of the room and taking notes? Right?
  • I believe if you are interested in writing fiction, it’s something you can learn.
  • I also believe if you want to get published, that the tools today allow you to get there — and to reach readers with the same level of impact as if you were published by the big five.
  • I believe that’s up to you

I’m extremely proud of my membership in both PAL and iPAL — my first two titles would have gone out of print had I not started my own company and kept them in print.

In a way, that’s one of the neatest things about being a writer. We can be independent about much of what we do — what is more solitary than being a writer? But ultimately, we need a network, too.

The opposite of independent is dependent, right? So I suppose if Lisa Manifold is the Independent Writer of the Year, I’m the Dependent Writer of the Year.

And at some point we are dependent on editors, critiquers, publishers — and readers. No matter the size or scale of our publisher, we are all dependent on each other to tell stories and reach readers.

I’ll close with a quick quote from the philosopher Alan Watts. While definitely not known for his fiction, I think the comment applies.

Advice? I don’t have advice. Stop aspiring and start writing. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Write like you’re a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there’s no chance for a pardon. Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone. Write like you have a message from the king. Or don’t. Who knows, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to.

This honor means so much to me because it comes from all of you.

RMFW made all the difference in my writing career. Thank you again so much.

##

THE CURSE OF THE WANDERING PROTAGONIST

Originally published in Nelson Literary Agency’s monthly newsletter

Here are three examples of a formula I’ve seen many times in our query inbox. See if you can figure out why the formula doesn’t work…and why we’re probably going to pass on reading the sample pages:

Example #1: Middle Grade

“Protagonist and his friends go on many exciting adventures. Along the way, they encounter a band of pirates, a herd of mystical unicorns, a swarm of angry fairies, and one club-swinging giant who just wants to find his way back to his home in the Mountains of Malfesioria.”

Example #2: Coming of Age

“It’s the last summer before college, and in the wake of his father’s death, Protagonist needs to figure out who he really is. He takes off on a cross-country road trip in Dad’s old Jeep. Along the way, he meets a wise homeless man who teaches him about gratitude, a scrappy orphan who teaches him about forgiveness, and a blonde cocktail waitress who teaches him about love.”

Example #3: Crime Fiction

“In her quest to capture a serial killer, Detective Protagonist must interview one quirky character after another: a past-her-prime exotic dancer who bakes the world’s best chocolate-chip cookies, a grouchy old chess champion with an eidetic memory, and a cynical comedian whose dark sense of humor has managed to offend nearly everyone in Setting City.”

Each of these story-summaries is based on the same formula—a formula I call “The Wandering Protagonist.”

Keep in mind that there’s nothing inherently wrong with a novel in which the main character goes on a journey. And, of course, anyone on a journey is bound to meet interesting folks (human or otherwise) along the way. However, journeys and interesting side characters are neither story nor plot. As such, these three summaries have all missed some very crucial marks. What they’re missing, in the immortal words of Debra Dixon, are Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. I’d also add stakes. (Donald Maass puts his lesson on stakes at the very beginning of his book The Breakout Novelist.)

Let’s look at each example a little more closely.

In Example #1, our middle-grade protagonist has no goal—at least not one that’s mentioned in the query letter. (Hint: The protagonist’s goal should be present in the query letter!) What does he want? What is he looking for? Why? (That’s motivation.) What happens if he finds it, or doesn’t? (That’s stakes.) How can you (the author) make me (the reader) care about Protagonist’s impending success or failure? While this example does hint at conflict (pirates, angry fairies, a club-swinging giant), none of that conflict is directly hooked into the protagonist’s goal. Do the angry fairies want the same thing Protagonist wants, and will they do anything to prevent him from getting it first? Are the pirates the swashbuckling sort, or are they another antagonistic force standing in Protagonist’s way? Do our heroes end up helping the giant get back home? While the author might answer all that in the manuscript itself, this summary, unfortunately, is too vague and does little to pique my interest.

In Example #2, we have a goal, but it’s not a very strong one: Protagonist wants to find out who he really is. We’re missing motivation: Why does he need to find out who he really is (whatever that means), and what happens if he fails (stakes)? We are given hints of conflict: He’s mourning the death of his father, and apparently he needs to learn about gratitude, forgiveness, and love. But in this example both goal and conflict are internal to the protagonist. Remember that there are two kinds of dramatic conflict—internal and external—and that a good story develops both. Give this protagonist an external goal (to visit his grandmother in Sedona, or to scatter is father’s ashes at Niagara Falls, or to return something his father stole to its rightful owner) and some external conflict (the Jeep keeps breaking down, or the scrappy orphan steals his wallet, or his sister is chasing him across the country to stop him from, say, returning the object their father stole, etc.).

In Example #3, we have a goal that’s both clear and genre appropriate: To capture a serial killer. The motivation is implied: To stop the killer from killing again. The stakes are also implied: If Detective Protagonist fails, someone else will die. (Hint: For higher, better stakes, make the killer’s next target someone close to Detective Protagonist. Make the stakes personal.) So far so good. However, the author then wanders off into Wandering Protagonist territory, and there’s zero conflict in the rest of the summary. Perhaps this author, like the author of example #1, hopes to hook agents with his cast of quirky characters. But any author who thinks his secondary characters are more interesting than his plot probably needs to take a long, hard look at his manuscript!

To see if your query letter’s pitch paragraph is solid, print it out and grab a highlighter. Highlight your protagonist’s goal, motivationstakes, and conflict. If they’re all present and accounted for, you’re on the right track!

 

AngieHodappAngie Hodapp has worked in language-arts education, publishing, professional writing, and editing for the better part of the last two decades. After completing her master’s thesis, a work of creative nonfiction, and leaving academia, she gave herself permission to write what she really wanted to write: speculative fiction and romance. Angie is currently the contracts and royalties manager at Nelson Literary Agency in Denver. She and her husband live in a renovated 1930s carriage house near the heart of the city and love collecting stamps in their passports.

On Being a Waffle

Yeah, that’s me. The human waffle. No, I’m not running for office, but I am trying to be Elastic Writer Girl and make my story fit all the different opinions I managed to attract at Colorado Gold.

waffleSee, I have this great story. Everyone I’ve talked to loves it. So of course I submit it for a Critique Roundtable, Pitch Coaching, Hook Your Book, professional editor discussion, and Pitch Sessions. Because, everyone loves it, right?

Hmmm. Not so much. My first indication that Houston has a problem is when I get in the Friday round table and the agent says they really don’t like the paranormal aspect of my mystery and suggest I “skirt around” that concept. Maybe just a hint of “unusual.” OK, that’s just one opinion, you know?

Then I have a pitch coaching and it’s a real struggle for my coach to come up with a concept that can be shoehorned into a short and snappy pitch. It gets done, while sort of downplaying the paranormal aspect. Hmmmm.

At Hook Your Book I get one “I don’t really think this concept will work” and another, “Great concept, but you might need to play the paranormal down if you really want to sell this.” Double Hmmmm.

The professional editor thinks I need to consider going Fantasy with Mystery, but it’s really not a fantasy and I can’t make it so.

And then another agent at a pitch says she likes the concept but tried to sell something along the same lines and couldn’t get a bite. “Could you just have your character have a bad feeling instead of ‘knowing’ something?” She was very gracious and offered to read chapters and a synopsis either way, but warned me it might be a tough sell.

So there I am, taking my first several chapters and writing multiple versions to see how I can alter the story, and still be true to THE STORY. I’ve talked my dilemma over with a couple BFaW (Best Friend and Writer-types) and they laid it on the line: WRITE THE STORY I want to write and not what someone tells me it should be to be marketable.

Yeah. I know. But… Ouch.

So I said to myself, “Self, just get on with it and quit waffling.” Really. I did. Just like that. And so I did. Quit waffling. I decided that while I COULD write the story with intuition and “skirt” the paranormal I didn’t like it as much. It was too vanilla. So, damn it, I’m writing the story I started with. I hope to hell I’m a good enough writer that when they actually read it the editors/agents will be so in love with the characters and the concept that it won’t even occur to them that it might be a tough sell and they will be my champion with the powers-that-be who try to tell them the story doesn’t fit in the box.

pancake
So, as a Human Waffle turned to a fat, syrup-sucking pancake, I’m writing the damn story. Just as you should make your story YOUR story.

So, let’s get with it and Write ON!

Concerning Conferences: A noob’s thoughts on time, worth, and industry

It's our honor to introduce new victim blogger, Josh Dorne, who you might've met at the Colorado Gold.

Take it away, Josh....

Let's pretend, for one second, that I know what I'm talking about. For our current intents and purposes, it doesn't matter. I mean, come on! This is the Internet. But as of this writing I've only just attended my second ever writing conference: Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's, Colorado Gold 2016. So let's just say I've got some learning to do. That being said here's my perspective on writing conferences from the view point of a relative newcomer. At thirty-eight years old, I'm a bit late to the party. But regardless if you're younger, older, or simply just prefer words to things like real-life social interaction, a writer/author should always be moving forward in his or her writing career. Yes. It's a career. Maybe even a life choice...possibly an ill-advised one. But if you're reading this it's probably too late for you, so let's get started.

Is a writing conference worth your time?

Short answer...yes. Or no. Possibly, maybe. In the grand scheme, a weekend (as most conferences tend to last) is not a significant period of time. And if you're new or struggling (like me) in this highly competative industry where thousands of books are self published each day, and the traditionally published duke it out Thunderdome style, this is something you should consider including in your publishing/writing journey. Why? The answer's simple: Networking. A content loaded word that strikes fear into the hearts of men, women,  and whatever gender I might be by the time this posting is done. But something to remember: Everyone you meet at a conference is in a similar boat to you. Not only are conversations extremely easy to start, i.e. "What do you write?" "Are you published?" But the contacts and the people you meet are, in themselves, worth the price of admission. In my first conference alone I met two great people (and many more besides) whom I hope will be in my life and share my publishing/writing journey for many years to come.

Is a writing conference worth the money?

This question is more difficult, as is putting a price on things that are subjective depending on your position in life. Nothing can be promised inside of a conference. An agent connection or book deal cannot be guaranteed, nor should you expect one. The main things you can expect to get out of a conference are three-fold: connections (with other writers, agents, and editors), learning (such as how to write a bestseller, or the 3 Act plot structure), and experience (pitching, querying, and writering). I don't know about you, but before my first conference, not only did I have no idea how to query, but the thought of it sent my hizzie into a complete and total tizzie...because I'm hip, and with it.

So, is a conference worth it or not?

The answer to this is ultimately going to be up to you. Different people will take different things from the same experience. But if like me you're new to writing, new to publishing, or just need a new perspective from which to chase this elusive career choice, then for me the answer is yes. If you're expecting a miracle, or to be discovered and become the next JK Rowling, then it's possible that your expectation might need a slight (or drastic) adjustment. But if you want the opportunity to learn from people directly involved in the industry, speak to successful authors who've gone through what is currently keeping you up nights, and meet some cool people in the exact same boat you're in and possibly make some friends who you'll have for years to come? Then take the plunge and register for a conference near you today! You might only regret it a little bit. And that's nothing if not the dream.