The 411 on Category Romance

Are you tired of all the businessy stuff yet? You might be. But let’s not lose sight of the importance of knowing the industry. One more post and then we’re on to boy meets girl.

Today we’re addressing Category Romance, a.k.a. Series Romance. Here’s the definition from Goodreads: “Category romances are short, usually no more than 200 pages, or about 55,000 words. The books are published in clearly delineated lines, with a certain number of books published in each line every month. In many cases, the books are numbered sequentially within the line.”

The big players here are Harlequin and Silhouette. Harlequin was founded in 1949 in Canada as a paperback reprinting company. It wasn’t until the mid-50’s that the focus narrowed to Romance. They’ve partnered with many different publishers over the years and are now owned by Harper Collins. It wasn’t until the 70’s that they had American authors - it was all British writers until then. They actually turned down Nora Roberts because they’d signed Janet Daily and she was their “American.” Can’t you just see them sipping their afternoon tea with their noses in the air? Their bad. Eventually, Nora would write for them. So there was a happy ending.

In 1980 Harlequin terminated their relationship with Simon & Schuster, leaving them high and dry. So they formed Silhouette to compete with Harlequin. These books featured American settings and characters. Over time, the heat-level of romance went up and some other companies entered the scene. Harlequin didn’t adapt well, and in 1984, they purchased Silhouette. The Silhouette imprint continues, though. In the 90’s many of their authors began writing longer, single-title romance and, to keep them the Mira line of longer books was created.

But this was all before e-books. Remember, the way these category romances worked is that the company had a number of “lines” of books. Each line featured three or four books a month that were only on the shelves for that month. So a book had a 30-day window to sell. Many customers had subscriptions and got the entire line every month. That help these authors become successful, but it was truly a roll of the dice.

That 30-day window is still around. That’s still how these books are sold. Subscriptions are also still available but are much less popular. Of course, now these books are available beyond their store shelf-life on the Harlequin website in paperback (until sold out) and ebook format. Many romance author still make their living staying within the Harlequin walls.

One of the things - from an authors perspective - that sets Harlequin apart is that they do take un-agented queries. The first version of my True Valor went to New York after a request for the full manuscript. It was ultimately not a good fit for them but I was thrilled to have had it considered.

Their categories now include:

African-American
Classic Romance
Contemporary Romance
Erotic Fiction
Fantasy
Historical Romance
Home and Family
Inspirational Romance
Mystery
New Adult
Paranormal Romance
Passion
Relationship Novel
Romance with More
Spanish
Suspense
Teen
Thriller
Wholesome

Something for every romance reader and writer. If you’re at all interested in pursuing category romance, their guidelines are all available on their website.

Okay, campers. Next month - we’ll get into the nitty gritty of writing romance. In the meantime - happy Valentine’s Day.

Motivation

Motivation.

You hear it all the time. Your characters need to be motivated to pick up that sword and slay the dragon, venture to a distant galaxy, or figure out why there’s a dead body at the bottom of the well.

What motivates your character to do what they need to do in your story?

But, wait.

Strip away the story for a second. Let’s get back to your character before your story starts.

Long before...

Before she needed to grasp the sword, before he climbed into the rocket, before she lowered herself in the well to study the corpse.

Who is this person—at the core? How motivated was he or she--in general? As a person?

Was she ambitious to begin with? Or filled with ennui? Where did she draw motivation to, say, go to college or get a job? No, really, what drives her to get out of bed in the morning and go pursue her dream? Any dream?

And is it her own dream? Or a course charted by a parental unit? Family pressure? Family influence?

I’m thinking about all of this because I recently met a guy who was successful and highly visible for a long period of time.

And then, wham.

I mean, he got creamed. He was below down and he was below out. He had made some mistakes. He over-extended himself. He went completely belly up. He owed millions of dollars. It was a bleak scene. It took several years, but he’s picked himself back up. And now he's making another run at big-time business success.

He can trace his character and grit back to his parents and how he was raised. It’s such a key part of his life, how he absorbed what they taught him about how to approach that big wide world.

Why does anybody want to do anything?

That’s a common refrain of Brendan Murphy, a.k.a. “Murph,” the Asphalt Warrior (star of eight novels to date). Murph, the creation of the late Gary Reilly, lives a very alternative lifestyle. He questions capitalism, even the need for much of an income. How many people do you know who share that worldview?

With his idiosyncratic ways, Murph reminds me of Ivan Goncharov’s Oblomov, one of the most memorable novels I read in college, and Herman Melville’s Bartleby The Scrivener. Oblomov is incapable of doing anything significant. In the first 50 pages, he only moves from his bed to his chair. Told you. Great story.

And Bartleby declines most of the work assignments he’s given, even when the consequences mount.

Murph, Oblomov and Bartleby have their reasons. They are three-dimensional human beings.

Their lives are fascinating on their own because their sheer essence cuts against the grain of what’s acceptable.

Ignatius Reilly, also, the central character in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces.

Ignatius Reilly: “I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one.” Yes, to varying degrees, these four are anti-social.

The vast majority of fictional characters are not.

Your dragon-slayer.

Your astronaut.

Your detective.

Before the inciting incident that interrupts your character's routine life, who was this person? What got them up in the morning?

I don’t think it hurts, at a very fundamental level, to understand the answer to that question.

So your character stands out from the crowd.

Final thought from George Carlin: “Actually, if you ask me, this country could do with a little less motivation. The people who are causing all the trouble seem highly motivated to me. Serial killers, stock swindlers, drug dealers, Christian Republicans. I’m not sure motivation is always a good thing. You show me a lazy prick who’s lying in bed all day, watching TV … and I’ll show you a guy who’s not causing any trouble.”

“Cataloging” Your Book

It’s been over twenty years since I started ordering fiction for the public library where I work. We divide adult fiction into four basic collections: mystery, western, sci-fi/fantasy and fiction (which encompasses everything that doesn’t fit into the first three). In the past, cataloging, or deciding where to shelve a book, was pretty simple. Occasionally there were questions about whether a book was suspense, which we shelve in fiction, or a mystery. Traditionally a mystery is a book that features a private detective or amateur sleuth, or a police procedural, but gradually we started adding crime fiction to the mystery section. Then the thriller category exploded, and some of our patrons thought John Grisham and James Patterson books should be mysteries. (We resisted and kept them in Fiction.)

But that was only the beginning. Charlene Harrison started the True Blood/Sookie Stackhouse series, and we cataloged the books as mystery because that’s the genre she’d been writing in previously. But they weren’t mysteries, really. They had vampires in them. And where do you catalog vampire books? Anne Rice’s vampire books were in fiction. But other authors, like Laurell Hamilton, wrote vampire books that had a lot of supernatural elements and those books seemed to fit better in sci-fi/fantasy. And then Jim Butcher started a fantasy series featuring a detective, and where do you put those?

Dystopian fiction has traditionally been cataloged as fiction, probably because classic dystopian novels like 1984 and The Handmaiden’s Tale are considered literature, which meant they’re shelved in fiction. But if a dystopian novel has zombies, does it really belong in fiction? Wouldn’t it check out better in sci fi/fantasy?

In the end, that’s what usually drives my decision: Where will the book check out best? Where will the readers searching for that kind of book most likely look for it? That’s why the question of what genre your book fits into is so important to you as a writer. Readers have to find your book. If the people who would love your story don’t find it in the area of the library—or more importantly, the section of the bookstore, digital or otherwise—they usually browse in, they’re never going to discover your book.

You can’t control where your book is shelved in libraries or bookstores, but you do have some control over how it is marketed. And that process starts even before you the sell the book to a publisher. It may even affect how you write the book, as in which genre rules you decide to follow or which ones you decide to break. When you make a pitch to an editor or agent, you should be telling them things about your book that help them categorize it so they can see how it fits into their company’s marketing plan.

If you’re indie-publishing your book, you have total control over the cover, the blurb and the category/genre it’s listed in. Which means you really can fine-tune where it’s going to be “shelved”, in either a digital bookstore or physical building. So think a lot about where your book fits in the market. What are some popular books that are like yours? What categories are they listed in on-line? What do their covers look like? How are they described, both in blurbs and by readers?

It can be overwhelming, but ultimately this is your baby. You want to make sure your book ends up in the right place so people can find it and fall in love.

Advertise or Die

I recently had a brief email exchange with Janet Lane on a blog entry she was writing on the topic of book marketing, a topic that I hate. On later reflection I decided to add my own thoughts to hers, which you've no doubt read, precisely because I hate the topic so much.

(Janet: Forgive me if I step on your topic here, I walk only in your shadow.)

Much has been written about how writers are introverts and not easily given to socializing, networking, and schmoozing, all of it true. Marketing is my least favorite part of writing, and I strongly suspect I'm not alone. Marketing is hard for me, and while it comes easily to some, there are even those out there who claim they enjoy it but who are, empirically by observation, not very good at it. Marketing is an art, a skill, one not easily acquired and impossible to fake your way through.

First, when you advertise, remember that you are not marketing this one book. You are not even marketing your entire collection of publications. You are marketing yourself. You want to build an audience not just for your most recent release, but for future releases as well. Marketing yourself is entirely different than trying to sell a product. You have to give others a reason to read what you write, make them intrigued enough to do so, which means bragging on yourself. And yet, to stay likable, you can't come off as bragging about yourself. Doing something while not seeming to do it at all is like trying to pick up a pencil without actually picking it up.

We also live in a climate of very savvy consumers these days - people are very acutely aware of when you are trying to sell them something. Everyone has had the experience of being set upon by a salesman the moment we enter a store or used car lot - we cringe and recoil and are uncomfortable, even resentful, of this kind of hard-sell tactic. It leaves a bad taste in our mouth, and these days we are more likely to walk away having bought nothing than giving in to the pressure.

The term channel-hopping refers to the act of changing the channel on a television every time a commercial comes on. On-demand television must disable the fast-forward feature of their programs because they know, if given the freedom, viewers would much rather skip a commercial than watch it. Commercial-free streaming services have become ever more popular. Web browser ad-blockers sell quite well. I myself am a charter member of the national do-not-call list, and I faithfully report every unsolicited sales call I get. Hell, I never even answer the door unless I'm expecting someone. In short, consumers want to buy, but by and large hate to be sold something.

So now we have to market ourselves while NOT bragging on ourselves, and sell books without seeming to sell books. A more impossible task was never set before mankind.

What's left to us? Mostly indirect sales techniques. In personal appearances you'll notice people will avoid your table. I like to engage them on something entirely unrelated to the books so obviously stacked around me. I comment on the weather, or something they are wearing, or on anything else. I do not address the books I am selling until they ask. I answer their questions succinctly, never going on-and-on or offering any information they did not ask about. And the minute they pick up a book and start to leaf through it I shut up and walk away. From that point on they will buy or not, you have no further control over it.

If you don't keep a blog, start one. But don't write about your books and how good they are and how everyone should buy one. Instead, interview other writers or industry professionals, or write about topics peripherally related to the themes covered in your books. If your books are mysteries, write about other unsolved crimes in current media. If you write romances, then blog about prominent figures who have recently gotten married or divorced. You get the idea.

Keep your books, with buy links, prominently visible on your blog pages, just don't try to sell them directly. The hope is that people who happen upon your blog and like what you have to say on other topics will be spurred enough to check out your books and maybe - hopefully - buy them.

(NOTE: For god's sake, don't get political in your blog. In our current hotly charged, cavernously divided political climate it takes very little to alienate half of your consumer base with an off-hand reference to topics about which very few agree. Steer clear.)

Participate in events, such as book fairs, book giveaways, library drives, etc. Volunteer for things such as public speaking engagements, guest blogs, organizations that dovetail with the topics you write about. Send letters to editors, comment on others' blogs, leave thoughtful reviews for books by other writers on places like Amazon and GoodReads.

The point is, marketing is never going to be easy, and it gets harder as our industry changes. Your best bet at selling more books is to keep your name as prominent and visible as possible while never hard-selling your books or alienating possible buyers. Finding that marketing sweet-spot is as elusive as that cat hair tickling your nose that you can't quite seem to find. And frankly just as annoying. But keep at it - you're only certain to fail at the things you don't try.

Not Yet … by Rebecca Hopkins

Her head covering was purple and she’s from an ancient Indonesian Muslim ethnic group. My pants were stained with ink marks and I’m American, now living in Indonesia. She’s pursuing journalism. Fiction writing for me.

We were two writers sitting next to each other in the airport as we both waited for our connections to different Borneo towns. We’d just been to the same Asia-wide writer’s conference in Bali. We both clutched books we’d bought from real-live published authors, both holding onto writing dreams. We mirrored that familiar mixture of desperation, inspiration and hope on both of our faces as we chatted.

“Where do you work?” I asked. “A newspaper? Magazine?”

“Not yet.”

I nodded. I’ve heard this answer hundreds of times since moving to Indonesia 11 years ago. Married? “Not yet.” Have kids? “Not yet.”

It’s the only right answer to these very specific culturally appropriate small-talk questions. Marriage and family are so important in this traditional culture that no one I’ve ever met here chooses a hard, definite “no.” In other words, “not yet” is an entirely acceptable place to be when life isn’t (yet) as they hope it to be.

We understand this as writers. None of us are choosing that hard “no.” We aren’t choosing to never write again (though I’ve pondered it a time or two when in the query trenches). We don’t choose not to get published (though the odds , at times, seem slim). We don’t want to write only for ourselves, (preferring instead to keep the hope alive for the special connection with a reader will someday happen).

photo credit: Wirasathya Darmaja from Ubud Fiction Writers Readers Festival

Our dream usually lies—very acceptably —in that “not yet.” As in, not yet settled on the right idea, but still exploring and researching for just the perfect gems that will bring the idea to life. Not yet done with the plot line or the character arc but hitting the computer keys at 5 a.m. every day to watch/force/hope for it to unfold. Not yet done rewriting, but still plodding along, shining those drab first-draft words into magical prose. Not yet got this whole writer’s life figured out, but still tweaking schedules, reading books, reaching out to others who are a little further down the writer’s track than us, balancing other important aspects of life like family and work.

And maybe…not yet published, but determined to keep querying, keep writing, keep learning, keep trying.

We write and live and connect and survive and struggle and rant and fight and create and delight and delete entire chapters and sometimes get our hearts broken and then open our documents the next day to begin to heal again. All in the “not yet.”

My flight was called, and the “not yet” journalist and I exchanged contact information, determined to keep in touch to cheer each other on toward our “not yet” but now a little more revived writing goals. Join us?

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

Rebecca Hopkins writes novels about a world of ancient jungle tribes, sea-dwelling gypsies and isolated Balinese hand signing villages. It’s a world she’s trying to make her own—Indonesia. She’s lived in Indonesia with her relief pilot husband and three kids for eleven years.

Read more about her writing and life in Indonesia at www.rebeccahopkins.org. Rebecca can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

What “Starts with Action” Really Means

Writers are often advised to start their stories in medias res, or in the middle of action. This is pretty good advice—if you know what it means and how to make it work in your story!

First, though, let’s look at what it doesn’t mean. Some writers hear this advice and take action to mean an action scene. They might start chapter one with something like this:

Bullets zinged through the air. Bob dove behind a rusty old car parked outside the bank and jammed a new clip into his 9mm. “Run!” he yelled at Sam. “I’ll cover you!”

The problem with starting your story in the middle of an action scene is that you risk disorienting your reader—and readers, generally speaking, don’t like to be disoriented. Right off the bat, this opening introduces a lot of questions. Who’s shooting at Bob and why? How many shooters are there? A bank is mentioned, so is this shootout related to a robbery? And if so, are Bob and Sam the robbers or are they the cops? Who am I supposed to care about in this scene and why?

Other writers discard this advice altogether because their stories aren’t action stories—no shootouts, no high-speed car chases, no sprinting heroes, standoffs, shiny guns, or ticking bombs. They can’t possibly be expected to start with action if they’re not telling an action story, right?

The truth is, starting with action is something every writer can do, no matter what kind of story they’re writing. The trick is to understand that “start with action” really means “start in scene.”

Starting in scene means that from the very first word of your manuscript, you’re introducing us to a character in a setting and something is happening that hints at tension or conflict. Think of your novel as a play. When the curtain goes up, what do you want your reader see? A setting. A character or two. Movement of some kind that signals that something is happening.

When I’m reading sample pages, I often come across first lines that hold zero-tension and that project nothing but flickering white light on my mental movie screen. The author has not started in scene. Instead, they’ve started with narrative, exposition, or backstory:

When I was a child…

It all started when…

It is often said that…

Long before my troubles began…

My grandmother once told me…

If only I knew then what I know now…

Summertime always made Jane sad…

Some of these narrative intros go on for a few sentences before the author actually gets to his or her opening scene. Others go on for a few paragraphs or even pages. Still others become those dreaded prologues that many agents and editors—and readers!—simply skip because they want the curtain to go up. They want the story to start!

Look at your first line. Do you open in scene, with someone somewhere doing something? Or do you open with narrative, and then transition into scene later? If you opened with narrative, why? How long does it go on, and how does it serve your story or improve a reader’s experience of it? Put your finger on the line of text where your first scene actually starts. Can you chop everything that comes before that? If not, can you weave it in later, after you’ve established your opening scene?

Starting with action means that your opening scene should be external, something visible to your readers. To that end, remember that doing something does not mean your character is sitting alone and thinking. No cheating! If you’re opening with a character’s internalizations (thoughts, memories, ruminations), you’re really opening with disguised exposition or backstory.

Evaluate your opening scene and remember: A strong opening, written in scene, is one of the best ways to keep an agent turning the pages of your manuscript.

*Originally published in Nelson Literary Agency’s monthly newsletter

5 Important Things To Know About Self-Publishing–Part 1 … by Laura VanArendonk Baugh

Self-publishing (or indie publishing) is a big deal this days, as more and more authors use it exclusively or to supplement their traditional publishing catalog. But while self-publishing can be surprisingly fast and easy – one could take a Word document to retail ebook in about three minutes, if pressed – it’s definitely not a fast and easy path, and there’s lot of effort and knowledge required to be successful. Here’s what you need to know before you get started.

Self-Publishing Is An Industry.

There’s a thing about this industry that many authors fail to realize – it’s an industry. That means work. You can’t just vomit some words on paper, check that your mom likes them (“Lovely, dear, I’ll magnet them to the refrigerator”) and expect them to be profitable. That’s not how any industry anywhere works, and not here, either.

Authors write. That’s what they do.

Publishers publish. That means they are responsible for (including contracting for) cover design, distribution, marketing, ISBNs, layout, ebook conversion, audiobook production, front matter, back matter, ARCs, reviews, tracking sales, tracking expenses versus income to ensure profit, tracking and reporting sales tax, etc. (Oh, yeah, sales tax. You are doing that, aren’t you?)

“But I heard you can self-publish without an ISBN!” Maybe, yes, depending on your goals – but you’re missing the point. There’s a lot to do to publish a book, and more to do to publish a book successfully.

I keep hearing from self-publishing authors who are unhappy with their sales but are either unskilled at the above tasks or just plain don’t like them. You know what? That’s fine. If you don’t want to take on all the responsibilities of being a publisher, then don’t be a publisher. That’s what traditional publishing does. That’s why they get a larger percentage of profits, because they’re doing all that work you aren’t. And that is fine. If you want to be a writer and not a publisher, be a writer! Self-publishing is not the best choice for everyone, and there’s absolutely no shame in choosing a traditional path.

But if you choose to be a publisher, and then you do only a few of the publishing tasks or you do them halfway, then there’s no complaining at low profits. There’s no profit without work, because this is an industry.

Self-Publishing Costs Money.

Like other business ventures, capital is required.

Even after POD has eliminated the enormous upfront cost of printing, self-publishing has real expenses. An author-publisher may need to pay for editing, cover art, cover design, layout, ebook conversion, and probably also ISBN and copyright registration. You’ll also want a decent website and probably some business cards or promotional bookmarks, perhaps a banner for fairs. A versatilely-skilled author-publisher can do many of those tasks on her own (I actually like doing print layout and ebook conversions, though apparently I’m in the minority, and I have a lot of website background) but will still need to pay for tools, such as layout or graphics software, graphics resources and typefaces, web hosting, etc.

Most of us do not have a professional background in graphic design, so we’re better off hiring covers. A $10 cover is likely to yield a $10 sales quarter; save up and buy something professional. If you can’t afford a great cover to start, go ahead and work on the cheap, but then put your royalties right back into your writing career, making your next cover better (or going back and adding a new cover to an existing work).

A cheap cover or a bad website will hurt your sales; paying a little more for professional work will yield disproportionately greater sales (if your book quality supports it). You won’t save money by going cheap or doing yourself a job in which you aren’t trained. Learn the skills (there’s more to cover design than Photoshop!) or hire someone who has.

Vanity publishing still exists – and it’s dangerous.

The terms “author-publishing,” “self-publishing,” “indie-publishing,” and “vanity publishing” are often used interchangeably – the last usually with a distinct tone of disapproval and condescension. These are not all synonymous, but there can be considerable overlap in their Venn diagram, and it’s important to know the difference for your own protection.

“Author-publishing” and “self-publishing” are largely identical – it describes the author as the publisher of the work. The key here is that the author is responsible for publication and all its many tasks, from cover design to copyright registration to distribution arrangements (more on that later).

“Indie publishing” can be used to mean author/self-publishing, or it can refer to a small (“independent”) press, perhaps putting out ten titles a year from various contracted authors. This can occasionally be confusing – “What do you mean, you aren’t happy with your pricing? I thought you were indie?” – so ask if necessary.

“Vanity publishing” was once an author paying a printer to publish a work, and because it was not traditionally purchased work, it was often (not always) viewed as a lower tier of literary quality. Traditionally this author was recognizable by the full print run of boxed books in his basement or car trunk, but POD (printing on demand) has relieved that burden. While a number of classically famous authors have utilized vanity publishing (Edgar Allan Poe for one), it was usually because they couldn’t sell the book traditionally and it often didn’t fare well (Poe put out Tamerlane and Other Poems and moved 50 copies).

Today, vanity publishing has rebranded itself as “self-publishing” but with more predatory tactics: an author pays a company to produce his or her book, and the company makes money not from retailing the book but from the author. These books are often poorly produced, receive little to no distribution or marketing despite promises, and cost up to hundreds of times what self-publishing may have cost. While there are legitimate self-publishing services, be very cautious of all-in-one packages – and particularly of those with inflated price tags. Considering that the vast majority of self-published authors make less than $1000 in a year, how likely are you to make back that $4,000 publishing package cost? $8,000? $12,000? I know a couple who nearly lost their house via a vanity press con (“we just need a little more this month, and we’re projecting big sales of $100,000 in half a year”).

An author, receiving not the round of expected congratulations but a collective gasp of dismay when she announced she’d signed with a big name predatory vanity press, protested, “But how was I supposed to know they were bad?” I hit Google and found that while the first search result was their own website, the next five were pending lawsuits against the company. Do your research with any company you sign!

Part 2 of Laura's post is scheduled for Friday, February 24th.

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

Laura VanArendonk Baugh writes fantasy (epic, urban, and historical), mystery, and non-fiction. She enjoys helping other authors and will be teaching on writing craft and self-publishing with Ireland Writer Tours in August 2017. Find her at her website, on Facebook, and Twitter.

Word Economics 101

As my critique partners can attest, I’m a big proponent of what we call word economy. Not a technical term, exactly, but here's my definition: using only as many words as the story needs.

Of course, every story has different needs. Some need a clipped, concise writing style, while others need a more flowery voice. Some need mostly action, while others need lots of internal reflection and characterization. No matter what kind of story you’re writing, word economy always applies—and should never be overlooked. Word economy will help you keep readers engaged and make you look more professional to agents and editors. Here are my strategies for getting the most bang for my literary buck.

Firstly, I always keep in mind what I consider the Prime Directive of storytelling: Every single element (subplot, character, scene, paragraph, sentence, or word) must further the story in some way. This means each element has to move the plot forward, reveal character, and/or illuminate theme. No excuses.

I know, I know, your three-page description of the sunset is just so pretty! But don’t be so naïve, dear writer. Don’t flatter yourself that an agent, editor, or reader will love those three pages as much as you do. If they’re not meeting the Prime Directive, your story doesn’t need them.

Now, how do you determine which elements are meeting the Prime Directive? As you revise, give each element this litmus test: If you cut this element completely, would the story still stand? Too many side characters, subplots, and descriptive passages—especially if they’re not meeting the Prime Directive—can dilute your story. Cutting or combining them will make your story feel tighter, punchier, more powerful. If, however, cutting an element results in a weaker story, then that element is meeting the Prime Directive. The story needs it, so it can stay.

How could a three-page sunset meet the Prime Directive? Maybe it symbolizes the protagonist’s marriage coming to an end, or brings up memories of her father’s death, or foreshadows the murder she’s about to commit. But if not, cut it. And be prepared to be ruthless with your scissors.

When revising for word economy, it helps to start big and narrow your focus over time. In the early stages, consider word economy on the story level: subplots, characters, and scenes. Does Character X have an integral role in the story? If he serves a purpose, but not an integral one, could you combine him with Character Y to create a single more impactful character?

When evaluating scenes, consider each scene’s role in the overall plot. Does the scene bring your protagonist closer to or farther from her goal? Does it reveal some new, critical piece of information? Does it forge an alliance or drive a wedge between two characters? If not, it may be time to pull out your scissors again.

In later revisions, when your plot, characters, and scenes are in place, look at word economy on the word, sentence, and paragraph level. Is that chunk of backstory absolutely necessary, or is there a more concise, engaging way to deliver that information, such as through dialogue? Could those two sentences of description be reduced to one sentence, or cut altogether? Is that adjective or adverb telling the reader something he doesn’t already know?

Revising for word economy can be a liberating experience. It helps you break your story into elements and look at them more objectively, making it easier to “kill your darlings.” But with great power comes great responsibility. Don’t use your revision scissors lightly, or for the wrong reason. Word economy is not about sacrificing your voice and style so your story can be as short as possible. It’s also not about whittling your story down to fit the word count guidelines for your genre. It’s about what your story needs.

Writing is about giving your story what it needs—and word economy is about trimming the fat so the heart of your story can shine through.

To everything there is a reason. A time to write, a time to…not

I just got back from a retreat with a group of great writers in a creepy old hotel. There were times when I would have sworn I was the only one there, despite there being at least twelve other people in a twelve-room hotel. It was that quiet, because I couldn’t hear all the other keyboards clicking from where I was.

Why do you care? Okay, you might not, but you should. Because what I’m going to tell you is important. At least it is to me. Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean…yeah, maybe I have been listening to Sirius too much.

Four and a half days just writing. 35,000 words on the page for my newest Bad Carma book. Three meals a day in the companionship of great writers. Reading to/listening with - a bunch of fabulous writers. That’s what I got to enjoy at the retreat.

Not everyone can take four days off, even with a Monday holiday. It doesn’t have to be four days. But for me, it can’t be fifteen spare minutes. I know the butt in chair thing says you should write every spare moment every day. But I can’t. I’m a binge writer. I need to stay focused and when I do, I can write like crazy (35,000 words!). I have to be able to re-read my last couple of chapters, decide or know where I’m going from there and have no interruptions while I blast may way through the story.

If you’re like me, the guilt of not using all those tiny fifteen minute moments to write keeps worming itself way into your subconscious, and they shouldn’t. We don’t all write alike. Find the way that works best for you. For me, it’s at least four hours of clear time. No laundry, no cleaning, no food prep, no weeds calling my name. I can’t write when someone keeps asking me questions (sorry, dear, but I need you to shut the heck up!).

I know other people can pick up and write in short time frames. I read about them all the time. But I need to write like I need to write, and so do you. It’s important that you decide what that way is so you aren’t making excuses for not writing. If you need long blocks of time, how can you get them? Do you enjoy writing in coffee shops? Go there on a weekend. Do you need quiet? Can you reserve a space at the library? Do you have a friend with a nice sunroom they’d let you borrow when they’re out of town?

I have a friend with a VRBO house (she rents it out by the day, like AirBnB, only the whole house). I hope to talk a few writer friends into renting the 5 bedroom house for some long weekends to write. No chores. No husband. Hopefully no phones. But lots of comfy space with peace and quiet, snacks, writers to talk with during meals. And words on the paper. Lots and lots of words. Oh, and by the way, I didn’t get the most words – that was Cindi Myers. So it’s not just me. There are more of us out there than you hear about.

So find your method. If it’s fifteen minutes waiting to pick your kids up, great. If it’s twelve hours straight on a Saturday sitting in a corner of a quiet coffee shop or senior center, peachy. Just make the effort. Make those words happen. Seriously, just Write On!

 

What Editing with an Agent is Like

If you've been following me here on this blog (somewhat unlikely since it's been all of four months!), then you'll know that I just recently (October) got my very first agent for my very first book, Deity Six.  But what I haven't told you yet is what the editing process has been like so far. You may be aware that some agents like to take on a manuscript fully formed, no adjustments needed. While others like to leave their own stamp on it and help the author draft it into something bigger...or smaller, possibly even better.

This latter part is what's going on with me right now.

Things and stuff...they're going down:

One of the first things that happened after signing with my agent was a phone call. If you look online you'll see this is pretty standard protocol. If you haven't met your agent in person, the next best thing is obviously the sound of their dulcet tones over a grainy cellular network while you constantly question if they actually said what you think they said. This can simply be about introductions. "Hello. How are you? Nice to sort of meet you. You sound different then I thought you would have based on your picture." That sort of thing since it's likely you've never met in person. But with me, since I had met my agent at a writer's conference, the phone call we had was about jumping right into work. Deity Six, if you don't mind me self-indulgently plugging my own work multiple annoying times in one short post, and about the myriad things wrong with my baby. If you want to call it a baby. Really just an amorphous blob of too many words and misplaced modifiers as the author (me) tried sounding more intelligent than he/she/it actually is.

Sad.

Edits...Round One:

With Deity Six the main point of contention was the fact that the story didn't have an entirely clear genre/sub-genre that it fit when I originally wrote it. It was kind of YA because of the character's ages, but I didn't really think of it as such while I was writing. And it wasn't until later that I realized, yes, in fact, it is YA. So when my agent wanted to represent it, it was in that category...Young Adult Science Fiction.

And this is where the real work began. Taking something that kind of fit one category, and trimming down the more adult elements, all the while beefing up those elements which were YA and adding even more of them to make it fit squarely in Young Adult. The lesson to be had here: Know your genre and your target audience. And that will make it easier to tailor your story and your characters to fit what appeals to them.

Side Note:

Does that mean you should change your story to fit what's popular? No. Let me say that again...NO! Write the story you want to write. But knowing where your story fits and who it appeals to will not only help you to sell to the market best suited to it, it will help you to better engage your readers. End of side rant.

Edits...Round Two:

Similar to round one, this next pass through was about continuing to make changes to keep the story firmly in the genre it needs to be in. But there's more to it as well. Now you start getting into more specific refinement. Are the characters fleshed out? Are the story elements cohesive? How much of what has been written needs to be in the story? Can you add more backstory? Internal dialogue? The answer on all of these things...yes. At this point I removed chunks of chapters, pages and pages at a time because they served no real narrative or plotting purpose. Because filler, like fire, is BAAAAD! All the while I moved on, adding more personality to the characters, giving them uniqueness. I added more backstory and internal conflict, more personalization of the journey from my main character's perspective. Pretty top down stuff, and all of it useful.

What's next?:

The name of the game is refinement. Just like with your own editing of your story, with each pass your job is to make the story better, to make it fit the genre with meaning and authenticity. Only now you have help. Trust your agent. But ultimately this is your story and if something they suggest doesn't make sense to you...don't change it. Or, or even better, talk about it. Discuss. Compromise, without compromising the integrity of your story.

But don't be headstrong or arrogant. Some of the most valuable information you can get is from someone from the outside looking in. Because it's them, not you, that might have just the right perspective to see a problem, or make a change, that you weren't able to see before. And when that happens, your book will be that much that better for it.

Maybe someday soon I'll be able to put up a post about "Editing with an editor," and tell you with some authority what differences there are between that and this. Well, here's to hoping anyway. But until then, Merry Christmas! Or Happy Holidays. Or whatever floats your yule-tide boat.