Who the HELL Do We Think We Are?
Current roster: Mario Acevedo, Michele Bardsley, Sonya Bateman, Dakota Cassidy, Carolyn Crane, Molly Harper, Kevin Hearne, Mark Henry, Stacia Kane, Jackie Kessler, J.F. Lewis, Daniel Marks, Richelle Mead, Kelly Meding, Allison Pang, Nicole Peeler, Kat Richardson, Michelle Rowen, Diana Rowland, Jeanne C. Stein, K.A. Stewart, Anton Strout, and Jaye Wells
Rather than beat a dead horse - what could I possibly say about cliches that my co-Reluctants have not already said? - I thought we'd take some time out to get some feedback from the blogworld.
We want to know what we're doing right, and what we're doing wrong.
Do you like the weekly topics? Or would you prefer that we free-form and just write about whatever we want?
What about the interviews? Do you want more of them? Less of them? Do they impact you at all?
What about a book club? What if we picked one book a month and we all debated about it - and invited discourse, of course! Would you be interested? Not interested?
If we do giveaways, what sorts of prizes do you want to see? Keep in mind that we are broke-ass, lowly genre writers and do not have stretch limos just yet.
We want the League to be a fun read every day of the week (except Sundays, hah). So tell us. Do you want more industry information? More wacky short stories? More snippets? A top ten? Bad jokes (Hey, we have to let Anton post once a week, right)?
What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong? What do you think we can do to improve?
Send in the best response and the winner (elected by the jury of League peers) will get a $10 gift certificate to Amazon.com.
So chime in!
- Jill, the walking cliche
How about a scary snippet? Ooo, very scary. It has cliches in it.. :thinks desperately: Okay running up the stairs is totally cliche. :throws the snippet and runs:
Karina knocked on the door gently. "Come on, Jacob. Let other kids have a turn."
At the end of the hallway an older man frowned. Heavily muscled, with a face like a bulldog, he planted himself as if he were about to be overran by rioters. He watched her with open malice. The kids sensed it too and clustered around her. She didn't blame them – that was one scary guy. The woman who had opened the door to them wasn't much better: hard, thin, eyes like a rattlesnake, no compassion, no kindness, no anger. Nothing at all. If it wasn't for the kids crying to go potty, Karina would have turned around, got in to the van, and gotten right out of there.
But preschoolers and long car trips didn't mix, and here they were. Stuck at the end of a long dim hallway, in a small motel on a country road, sweating under the scrutiny of an over-muscled Arnold wannabe.
"Jacob, we need to go."
She heard the toilet flush. Finally. When she had volunteered to chaperon the kids on the school trip, she had no idea she would end chauffeuring five six year olds. But half the designated parent-drivers didn't show up and she didn't have any good reasons to say no. All in all, it wasn't a bad trip. They got to see an old tymie village, the day was beautiful, the kids had fun. Now they just needed to get back to civilization.
Jacob emerged from the bathroom. "I washed my hands," he informed her. "Do you want to smell them?"
"No. Does anybody else need to go?"
They shook their heads. Emily hugged her leg. "I want to go home, mom."
"Excellent idea." Karina led them down the hallway. "Thank you for letting us use the facilities."
The man jerked his hand to the right. "Door's this way."
Charming. She sighed.
The wood exploded. Shards peppered the hallway, knocking the man back. Stunned, Karina stared through the gap into the lobby of the hotel. The woman with snake eyes spun toward her, her face twisted into a grotesque mask. Her left arm terminated in a bloody stump and as she turned, red gushed, staining the counter with wet spray.
Something hit her from behind, arresting her in mid step. The woman's mouth gaped open in a terrified silent scream. Huge dark limbs clutched her and ripped her in a half like a paper doll. Bloody entrails spilled as the two halves came apart, torn apart by monstrous strength, and through the gap between them Karina saw a thing. Huge, dark, inhuman, it stared back at her with malevolent eyes, its very existence so at odds with everything Karina knew, that her mind simply refused to believe it was real.
The thing tossed the body aside. An odd odor reached Karina, like copper warmed by the sun.
The thing stepped over the woman, its gaze fixed on Karina.
"Run!" Karina turned on her foot and dashed down the hallway, herding the children before her. As they ran past the man, he rose slowly, pulled a wooden shard out of his eye, tossed it aside, and with a deep below charged into the lobby.
A snarl answered him, a promise of pain and death. It whipped Karina into frenzy. She swiped the smallest child off the floor and ran faster to the where a heavy door barred the stairs. She jerked it open. "Up the stairs, go, go!"
They ran, whimpering and sobbing. They should've been screaming but the same terrible fear that drove her chased them up the stairs. Instinctually they knew that to stop was to die.
Karina slammed the door closed, looked for something to bar it, but the stairway was empty. She ran after the kids. The boy in her arms was stone-heavy.
A hard thud echoed from below. They reached the top of the staircase and crowded on the landing.
Door clanged. Here it was again, the scent of hot metal burning her.
Karina wrenched the door open. They burst into the hallway. She scanned rows of doors, hit the nearest one, but it was locked.
Another - locked too.
Third – locked.
A vicious snarl came from behind the door. Emily screamed, a high pitched shriek that would've broken glass. Karina grabbed her by the hand and dragged her down the hall, to the single window. "Follow me!"
They reached the window. Below lay the narrow metal platform of the fire escape. She set the boy down, let go of her daughter, and rattled the window. Locked. From the outside. Who locks windows from the outside? She smashed the window with her elbow. Glass fell in a glittering cascade. Karina reached through the broken panel. A shard sliced her fingers, but she barely noticed. She grasped the latch. Her bloody fingers slipped.
Door thumped. Kids screamed, and she knew the thing had made it into the hallway.
The latch clicked open. Karina kicked the wooden frame. It flew open with a snap. She grabbed the nearest kid and hurled him onto the fire escape, then the next, and the next. Little feet thudded, running down the metal stairs. Emily was last. Karina clutched her daughter to her and climbed out on the stairs.
A black van waited below. Several men stood by the van. They had the children. They stood there silently, watching her, while the children screamed, and suddenly she knew that they and the thing inside were allies.
A growl washed over her.
The world gained crystal clarity, everything painfully vivid and sharp. Slowly Karina turned. Her daughter hugged her, her breath a tiny warm cloud on her neck. The metal rail of the fire escape dug into her back. The thudding of her heart sounded so loud, like a sledge hammer. Each breath was a gift.
She saw the thing emerge from darkness. Slow, it solidified from the gloom, one gargantuan paw on the windowsill, then another. Enormous claws scratched the wood. It climbed onto the windowsill and perched there, mere foot from her. She stared into its eyes, inhaled its scent, and knew with absolute certainty that she was going to die.
The thing opened its maw, revealing huge fangs. Its deep voice issued forth in a single mangled word, "Donor."
"Are you sure?" asked a male voice from below.
The thing picked up a bloody shard with its claws, sniffed it, and snarled. Karina snapped back, shielding Emily with her hands.
"My lady?" said the voice from below.
Karina turned and saw a man looking at her from the stairs. His face was preternaturally beautiful.
"I have a proposition for you, my lady..."
Is it that people are actually reading a lot of cliches in urban fantasy? There does seem to be a lot of repetition in character (vampires, werewolves, faeries, dragons) but the same could be said of white women in literary fiction, or child abuse victims in memoirs. Oh wait, real people can't be cliches.
Or can they?
Many writer's seem to be concerned about writing a "Mary Sue," which I'd never heard of before setting up a livejournal. What's weird about the concept is that this cliched character is seen as a negative, some cookie cutter individual that ends up polluting every newbie or hack's manuscript, as though siphoned from a medical waste dumpster.
It strikes me as ironic.
Over the course of my other career as a psychotherapist, I must have worked with well over a thousand individuals. And the one thing that unified them (and us, really) was that human beings are surprisingly similar and ultimately predictable. I've yet to meet a unique precious flower. Mary Sues exist, people. They're all around you. They are you.
So, as a writer, my character's reflect that belief. I guess that's what makes them unique, or at least unique from each other, or their own cliches. I say don't worry about it. Everything comes full circle. What is cliche was once original. Now people are flipping cliches inside out and playing with the results. So many people, in fact, that it's become a cliche in itself.
Cliche is the New Cliche. Like I said.
Or someone did.
I've bored myself.
Playing with cliches can be fun, as Anton said. The very title Personal Demons plays on the cliche in several ways and alludes to more. We have the actual personal demons, the Yezer Ha-Ra. We have the demon bodyguards assigned to Megan, who become in essence her personal demons. We have the demon love interest of the story, who gets very personal. We even have Megan confronting the literal (and figurative) demons of her past.
So yes, cliches can be helpful and fun. It's fun to twist them and turn them.
But it's also deadly to use them too much. It alienates and bores readers. It lacks snap. It makes them feel like they're reading a book they already read.
In that book, I have a scene in the autumn woods, with bare trees. I originally had the trees "like sentinels along the road", before it was pointed out to me that that is such a cliche. Yes, it's evocative and it works, but can't we think of something better? (I had to go back and check: Now the trees stand in twisted columns along the sides of the bumpy road.) Trees standing like sentinels make me think of the Ents in Lord of the Rings. I certainly don't want someone reading my book and thinking, "Hey, maybe I should go read that now." (Um, note to self: Perhaps edit woods scene to remove characters discussing Lord of the Rings. Yes, they really do.)
Cliches are extremely useful in dialogue. When characters speak in cliches it tells us so much about them. F'rinstance, if I bring a female character in and, with no other description, have her utter the line, "I never heard of such a thing in all my born days," what do we know about her instantly? We know she's probably at least middle aged. Southern. Might wear a hat. Is angry/indignant about something or disgusted with the behavior of someone, so chances are she's a busybody. The mere fact that she's speaking in a cliche tells us she's a traditional type. She may not be stupid or unimaginative at all, but she has a set way of looking at things.
Whereas if she'd simply said, "I can't believe so-and-so is doing whatever", we wouldn't get those clues. We'd need description of her to tell us how she said things, how she walked into the room, what she was wearing. Description is fine, but we'd rather not waste paragraphs on her tidy iron-gray curls, calf-length flower dress, or squeaky, sensible shoes and matching bag if we don't have to. We can slip those in later if we need them, because that one little cliche has told our readers what sort of person she is.
Similarly, a character who says things like, "Turn that frown upside down!" or "It can't be that bad!" or even, (shudder) "Smile--God loves you!" is automatically an insufferable and irritating do-gooder of the type who deserves a messy death. What I see when I hear those phrases are big, shiny teeth, strong from uncountable glasses of milk. I see homemade knit caps and prissy tucked-in shirts (which the character calls "blouses", and which probably have Peter Pan collars.) I see shelves covered with knick-knacks instead of books and weekends spent scrubbing floors by hand.
What do you see? What's your favorite example of cliche used to effect?
The topic this week? Cliches.
And since I'm kicking off the discussion, I'll play a little bit of devil's advocate.
I like 'em!
I can see you reaching for the Post Comment button now: Why, Anton & his trout, why?
Here's why: I think cliches are a great jumping off point for brainstorming. A cliche is a cliche mostly because at some point it was a great idea. It's just that now that great idea has gone beyond the ideal of a piece of fiction that it's been done to death. But it's a good place to start when brainstorming your own work. For instance:
Julie Kenner's Carpe Demon series. I'd call it suburban fantasy... a what if tale of what if Buffy grew up, had a kid and became a soccer mom? It has all the hints of Buffydom (demon hunter, a Watcher type character, quick witty dialog), but it is still its own unique voice . That's the trick. Cliche can be a great way to spark an idea, but then you truly have to make it your own.
Also, when you're trying to sell your book in a practical sense, a lot of editors are looking for more of the same when it comes to acquiring new books, that tried and true success especially in genre fiction. The closer something is to a cliche, with a twist perhaps, the more likely they're going to be able to get it past their editorial review board so they can purchase it. Not many editors that I know of deviate too far from the tried and true paths... it gets too risky for their comfort zone and to use a cliche- if it ain't broke, why fix it? It's not laziness on their part, but just good business sense.
So embrace the cliche, I say! Just don't be cliche... that's opening a whole other can of worms.
This week in the League lounge, my very own agent, Jim McCarthy of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. We'll be tackling all the tough issues, from ghost writing for reality TV pseudo-celebs to author whoring, from query letters to the state of urban fantasy. Won't you join us by the fire? Grab a cocktail and hang in the conversation pit.
First off, let's get something straight--our readers have to know--when are we approaching Tiffany Pollard, TV's "New York" about a tell all biography (I'll ghost write, obviously)?
This is assuming we haven't already...
When people ask me who my dream client is, I say it's Mark Henry. Then I chuckle and say, "No. Really, it would be New York from "I Love NY." Because she's the greatest thing in the universe, right?
On a slightly more serious note, our readers are aspiring writers themselves, what's your best advice for getting noticed in that pesky query letter--a concept as high as Deliverance meets My Pretty Pony, perhaps?
Oh lord. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's the movie pitch. Primarily because it's usually done so poorly. "If Dan Brown read MADAME BOVARY while shrooming, and 2001: A Space Odyssey was playing in the background..." The real key to a successful query letter is to get the point across succinctly. I go through a query pile twice. The first time is to purge the obvious passes. These account for those who open with grammar or spelling mistakes, have sent something for the wrong genre, have addressed the letter to the wrong person, or whose grasp of the English language is virtually nil. You might be surprised to know that's about three quarters of the pile.
Then I go back through the stuff that made the cut, and I read each letter to the end. Only about once a year does something immediately grab me from a query. If that happens, I immediately get in touch with the author to ask for the manuscript as soon as possible. Those very rare moments happen when the story sounds fresh and interesting, the tone of the letter expresses the tone of the book, and in those three or four very simple paragraphs, there is a preponderance of evidence that the author is a great writer. More often, things fall into the "could be something" pile. Once there, I'm likely to skim the sample pages, try to figure out if there is anything like it on the market, and sometimes make the call that it sounds more up a co-workers alley.
How do you stand out in a good way? Write a good letter and check it for spelling and grammar. We're nerds! We will judge you for your funky punctuation. And try to capture the spirit of what's exciting about your book. Convey your own passion for the material without egotism. Or, best of all, make me laugh.
Without starting a panic here--CALM DOWN PEOPLE!--what's the state of urban fantasy in the marketplace?
Good news/bad news. It's rock solid...for now. Urban fantasy is one of those genres that was kicking around for ages and then suddenly became the go-to category. Suddenly, some people are all, "Would you reconsider if I added a werewolf to my epic Civil War novel?" Um...no.
The result is this crazy proliferation of deals for new urban fantasists. Some of the stuff is brilliant. Some isn't. The point is, the market is getting a bit glutted, and it seems possible that there will be a degree of backlash. Look at chick lit. That was a veritable boomtown for a few years, and then it collapsed on itself. The best authors still have successful books (Jane Green, Jennifer Weiner, etc.), but new projects aren't selling unless they're genius. Could it happen here? It might. Depending on how many publishers jump on the bandwagon and whether that wagon will support the weight. As more and more is published, the competition gets all the more severe. So hurry up and beat other folks to the punch, or make sure you write something brazilliant.
I think we'll both agree that the upcoming zombie comedy HAPPY HOUR OF THE DAMNED, by some debut novelist, is going to push some buttons when it hits the streets in early March. Is anyone really prepared for what's about to be unleashed?
Buttons may very well be pushed. There will likely be a lot of, "Oh no, he di'int!" So some debut novelist and I will have to keep our fingers crossed that someone huge gets offended by it, the controversy hits the front page of every newspaper, and sales explode all over the place. I'm rooting for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to take a break from movie reviews (no, I'm not making this up: http://www.usccb.org/movies) and take the time to give Happy Hour an "O-Morally Offensive" rating. But that may just be me. (Also, way to sneak in something self-serving Mr. Henry!)
Yeah, on that. I'm taking a cue from Anton. So...I've seen your office and there are stacks of loose paper teetering everywhere. I was frightened. With so many manuscripts around, have you embraced your relationship with paper cuts?
I hear all these rumors of paperless offices and how technology is going to clear our desks and blah, blah, blah. That's so not what we're about. Al Gore weeps for the forests we have quite probably caused to be clear-cut solely for our own purposes. On most, if not all days, there are between 500 and 1,000 pages of reading material in my messenger bag. Yeah. I know paper cuts well. The only thing we go through faster than paper is Band-Aids. Yeah, I bleed for you bitches. Remember that.
Most people see agents primarily as negotiators of book deals; how much of your work is actually editorial input, career guidance and psychotherapy for unstable author types?
It varies so much depending on the client, really. I mean, ideally I am doing all of those things for my clients. Some people need more career guidance than others, though. And some are great writers who need a lot of editorial advice. Lord knows, some need a lot more psychotherapy than others. It's not unusual to have someone cry on the phone. Ideally, there's a give and take throughout the agent/client relationship (not like THAT!). We're in the business of representing writers, not representing specific books. Sure, the negotiating of deals is a big part of what we do, but beyond that, we stay in the process throughout the writer's entire career, helping them make decisions on what to do and when, navigating the murky waters of publishing's accounting processes, working on subrights deals, and being there when the author needs to scream or cry to/at someone who isn't going to hang up on them.
People always want to know what to expect from an agent, but what do you expect from your authors?
I want my authors to be as blunt as humanly possible. There's nothing worse to me than suddenly springing something on me, whether it's, "But my dream was to be published by someone else," or "I really thought I would get more money," or "I always expected that you'd be in touch more often during the submission process." Agents, by and large, have very thick skins. We can handle most anything an author can throw at us. But if things are held back, or feelings spared, there's no way we can go back in time to undo and redo anything. If you took that $30K deal, you can't tell me that you only wanted to do the book for $50K. It's too late. I don't want to know two years down the line that you never liked the cover of your first book. Also, the relationship between agent and client is a very personal one, and it needs to be established from the ground up every time. I don't have the same relationship with each and every one of my clients by any shred of the imagination. Different people need different things. I want to be kept entirely in the loop as to what an author is going through and needs from me and is expecting, etc.
Black Friday is coming up (or just happened as is the case), what do you want for Christmas, or better yet, what would make you fly off the handle? That one item that would gross you out to the point that you'd have to seek out the nearest Santa impersonator for a square groin kick?
What I want for Christmas:
A #1 NYT bestseller
A seven figure deal
Cold hard cash
An endless supply of Diet Coke, that nectar of the gods
What I don't want for Christmas:
Another DA VINCI CODE knockoff
The deluxe edition of Showgirls on DVD
...Ohhh. Poor Nomi...any last words for our League of Reluctant Adults readers?
I could close on some shiny, happy sentiment about how I believe the cream rises to the top, and great fiction will always get published as long as you stay determined, and so on and so on. But all that kind of optimism makes my skin itch.
Me, too, Jim. Me, too. Thanks for stopping by.
When we started this journal, I volunteered for Fridays thinking that would be easy to remember. What I didn't realize was that by the time Friday hit, everyone had already said everything clever.
Blahblahblah thankful for family, friends, book-career, blah blah.
So I'm going to derail a bit (as usual) and talk about, instead, the industry websites that *I* am thankful for:
Agent Turnaround Times - This little livejournal community was started by a good friend of mine, Jodi Meadows. It's a database of agent names and the turnaround-time feedback that other people have experienced. There's a few others out in the marketplace that do the same (Forward Motion's agent tracking thread comes to mind) but this one is the easiest to read.
The Rejecter - A blog run by an agent's assistant. She's the person you have to get past to get your work seen by the agent, and some of her observations are extremely keen. Plus, I like her wit.
Bookends LLC - Jessica Faust runs this blog, and she doesn't advertise about her clients ad-nauseum. She just talks about a lot of publishing items, queries, and what's hot on the market and what she'd like to see. A great read.
QueryTracker.net 's Who Reps Who - I can't speak to the actual Querytracker tool itself, but I find the 'Who Reps Who' database fascinating. Want to see who reps your favorite author? Look up their name and the agent will be listed. Invaluable if you're agent-searching and think that fans of Neil Gaiman would love your book, but you don't know who reps Neil Gaiman.
Verla Kay's Message Boards - Mostly for children's authors and YA, but there's a big section on agent/publisher/magazine responses and one for agent news. Great stuff.
Agent Query - If you haven't figured out agent query yet, nothing I say will be able to help you. :)
Publisher's Lunch - Yes, Publisher's Marketplace is expensive, but the lunch is FREE and once a week they email a smattering of deals out. It's interesting to see who buys what. And if you can spring for the full package, so much the better.
Editorial Ass - Moonrat blogs anonymously about life as an underpaid editor in NY, and Robert the Publisher. I think Moonrat is utterly charming, and her tidbits about the industry fascinating (and sometimes horrifying).
Karen Fox - Karen Fox has an amazing website. Not only does she list all the romance deals posted to Publisher's Marketplace, but she also has a running list of what sort of agency is looking for what, and what publishers (and editors) you should send your projects to. A must-read for romance writers.
Melinda Goodin - Melinda's website features a 'Locus Sales Spreadsheet' that categorizes every SINGLE sale that Locus Magazine has announced for the past couple of years. You can sort by agent, publisher, editor, etc. A must-read for fantasy authors.
Absolute Write Forums - I faithfully visit this board a few times a day (okay, several). The two most helpful boards here? Bewares and Background Checks, and Ask the Agent.
Dear Author - The 'J's of Dear Author review a wide variety of books (not just romance) and also keep readers up to date on e-readers, bestseller lists, and other topics related to publishing. I love this site.
I could go on and on, since my reading list is a mile long. I still haven't covered Tess Gerritsen's blog, or Mrs. Giggles, or 70 Days of Sweat, or Romancing the Blog...but I thought I'd leave this before your eyes cross. *g*
Happy Thanksgiving, all!
I am thankful for my husband and children. For being loved despite my many faults. I know I'm not an easy person to live with and we have ups and downs. I don't always say the right things or do the right things, but I always want to. I love you very much. You make me want to come home.
I am thankful for my job, which, although trying at times, permits me to provide for Gordon and myself and our kids. We have enough and I still remember when we didn't. I remember when debts seemed insurmountable and I felt trapped, and poor, and angry, because life was crumbling, and no matter what we didn't, we couldn't hold the pieces together. We clawed our way out - it was Gordon mostly, he was the one who joined the Army, all I had to do was follow. But I don't think I'll ever forget. I am so very grateful to be able to cook dinner in a warm house and not worry about how the next dollar will be earned.
I am thankful for my friends, all of you who come to hang out with me here and comment on superglued steaks and make funnies about snippets. I'm grateful for the opportunity to keep in touch by reading your journals.
I am thankful for everyone who read our books. Thank you for giving us the gift of your time.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
...Is At Hand!
It's my understanding that at some of these so-called Thanksgiving dinners, families gather to give thanks publicly for the important events and people of the previous year--not mine, of course, we're heathens and far too busy huffing gas, shooting craps and burying the dead hookers to be bothered with turkeys, mushy stuffing and gratefulness. But it sounds like a bit of fun so I'll humor the masses with my little list.
This year, I'm thankful for...
1. My book deal, duh? Possibly the single most important event of my life (next to my wedding day, and that day back in 1968 when my mother squeezed me out on a metal table and then went back to reading her book).
2. The Grindhouse guys (Tarentino, but mostly Rodriguez) for dishing up the most entertaining theatrical presentation since I crammed into the back of a Pontiac Bonneville to watch the Logan's Run/Star Wars double feature at a drive-in that now serves as a swap meet for black market purses and fake Kangol hats.
3. Gillian Flynn (Sharp Objects) and Liz Williams (Snake Agent) for giving me two of the most awesome reads in a long time, almost as awesome as the wording in my book contract. Did I mention my book contract? I have one. It's real. I'm grateful.
4. Tiffany "New York" Pollard for providing my wife and me weekly entertainment in the form of hyper confrontational diva attitude. Filthy, politically-incorrect and pouty as Janice from the Muppet Show, "New York" better not find a man this time either, I'm counting on a third season.
5. My League Family. Sure we're a quintet of dangerous, demented deviants, but we act from a place of love and that should be worth something.
and last, but not least,
6. My friends and family, both online and off, without you why would I write a word?
The moment that you've all been waiting for...
The HAPPY HOUR OF THE DAMNED ARC contest winners are...
I bet they're thankful. The rest of you will have to wait for the next ARC contest (that's right kids the plain blue covered books are plentiful and I'll be making another announcement soon). But for now, Cheryl and Jen email me your addresses and I'll get those books off to you after Black Friday.
Oh....Black Friday. The one day where it's perfectly acceptable to elbow the geriatric for the last pair of electric boot warmers. Who doesn't enjoy a little retail combat at 5:oo in the morning. It's totally surreal. I'm there and I'll be grateful for some handi-wipes to clean the blood off my knuckles.
We're still having Thanksgiving, of course. We managed to buy some outrageously expensive cans of Libby pumpkin at Selfridge's when we were there last month, so I can make pies. My Mom mailed us a can of french-fried onions, so I can make green bean casserole. Tomorrow I'll buy a turkey, and Thursday we'll do Our Thing. So I'm still having Thanskgiving, just...not. No parades. No football (grumble grumble). No Thanksgiving episodes of tv shows (although we do have "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" on DVD.) No quiet streets filled with the scent of roasting turkey. Christmas decorations have been up in the stores for weeks here already.
But I can still force myself to be thankful for some things, despite being thousands of miles away from my family and friends (I'm sorry, I'm getting a cold so I'm maudlin):
1. I am thankful that I can go shopping on Friday if need be without facing terrible crowds.
2. I am thankful that I can go shopping on Thursday, actually, if I feel like it.
3. I am thankful that my fingers have not yet broken off from overuse, like they do in my nightmares.
4. I am thankful that I have such good friends who still care about me even though I abandoned them all and left the country, and that they even send me things like cheap, good quality clothes for the children (impossible to find here) and Oreo cookies even though by rights they should be pointing and laughing at me.
5. I am thankful that I've met so many awesome people online, and that I get to be a Reluctant Adult.
6. I am thankful for bourbon. And gin. And beer. And that the holiday season means I can drink during the day.
7. I am thankful that after all these years, people actually pay me to write things. That should probably be number one but I am too achy and dizzy to fix it.
8. I am thankful that the hubs will be home from Thursday-Tuesday so I can hopefully sleep off this cold.
9. I am thankful to be human, and not an insect. Seriously. Aren't you glad you're not a bug?
10. I am thankful for central heating, running water, and flushing toilets. And cars. I love driving.
Okay, now I'm really digging. So off I go. But mostly, I am thankful for all of you--the readers who make everything worthwhile, who support me even though you don't know me, who will be willing to overlook this miserable little post and remember that sometimes I am actually funny when I'm not sick and feeling sorry for myself for being stranded in the middle of nowhere instead of home getting ready to see all my friends and make them pie, who buy my books or who will buy them, who make me smile every day in grateful disbelief that people actually care what I have to say about anything.
So Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and pay no attention to that little blonde girl sobbing in the corner--she's just being dramatic.
1. Although you know me as the caustic one of our Fab Five, I'm gonna get all sappy for a minute. First and foremost, I'm truly thankful for my one-month old bride. Not that I married a one-month old... just that I've been married about a month... see why I need an editor? Your congratulations on that while I was busy skipping out on my LRA duties that week were touching.
2. I'm thankful for my book deal. A lot has changed for me since Ace offered to take the first two books in my series, and outside of my wedding, this has been the biggest change in my life this year. I can't even come up with something funny to say about it because I can barely keep from pinching myself to see if it's all real. And thanks to the restraining order, I'm not allowed to pinch anyone else. There...see? I had to make a joke and ruin it all.
3. How could I not be thankful for my fellow Leaguers? Honestly, to be among this great a group of fellow fantasists is a true honor. I think they gave me the Monday slot for our blogs so they could spend the week putting out whatever fires I start here, but I love them with the fierce kind of love that only exists between a Wookiee named Chewie and a man named Han. I sure hope none of the LRA say anything that will force me to rip their arms off...
4. Morningstar Farms Mini-Corndogs- I'm trying to find a way to product place them in all my books so that hopefully they'll start sponsoring me and sending me assloads of them for free. My books will eventually be like a car at NASCAR, sponsorships everywhere, and I'll sit at home on my mountain of bacon, corn dogs, PEZ, Chai tea lattes, and Chik-fil-A. (A man can dream, can't he?)
5. That sultry temptress Bea Arthur. She knows why. *wink*
6. The writing community. Be it fan, fellow writer, or one of my heroes, I've been blessed by being taken in open armed by everyone who is a part of the writing community. We're a filthy, sick twisted bunch, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Unless there was a hot tub involved, in which case I have several options stocked up in my imagination as to how that could pan out.
7. Writing panels- I've discovered I have a big mouth and I like to use it to either dispense my limited wisdom or put my foot in it. Either way, I'm a happy boy, but I found out this year that I really do enjoy talking writing with others, and that my unique position of also being on the publisher side of publishing give me a unique insight to offer when I get to panel. That, and there's a lot of drinking and cursing.
8. I'm extremely thankful of that fan out there who desperately wants to knit me Jane's hat from Firefly. I know you exist! You must! Besides, I can't have Patrick Rothfuss being the only author out there whose fans are cool enough to make him one!
9. Joss Whedon. 'Nuff said.
10. I'm thankful for all our readers (hi gram!) who purchase our books, especially Dead To Me (2/26/08), because without you, writing them is a little less fun. I'm humbled by your exquisite taste in reading and moreso by your insistence on buying multiple copies of each of our works. To paraphrase one crazed Scientologist, "You complete us". Thanks for coming to and being part of our experience at the League!
1. Tell us about Night Life. (See? Told you this would be fun! Muahaha.)
Night Life is a noir fantasy about Luna Wilder, homicide detective and werewolf extraordinaire, who gets the biggest case of her career dumped into her lap via a dead prostitute. Luna must solve a series of ritual killings and avoid becoming the last one herself, and also save her city from the clutches of a rogue demon who wants to make it his personal Playground of Evil.
That's my elevator synopsis...really, the book is about accepting your flaws and doing the best you can to live with them, the power of family and staying strong even when you're afraid, defeated and against impossible odds. And blood, sex and murdered hookers, but that goes without saying. It started as a response to the urban fantasy I was reading, and becoming increasingly dissatisfied with because of the dearth of real, flawed, well-rounded characters, but it got away from me and now it's a series with three books written and hopefully more to come.
2. What is your favorite thing about writing? Least favorite?
My favorite thing is definitely my worldbuilding. I love to play God. As for least favorite...writing the raw draft of a book is both wonderful and awful for me. When it goes well, it goes really well and I love the book and want to marry it and have many apple-cheeked children with it. When it's going badly and I'm on deadline, it's akin to extreme mental torture. Fortunately, it goes well more often than it goes badly.
3. You recently did a great post on your blog (also available on Caitlin's livejournal) about the author/agent relationship. Are you planning to do more?
I have this weird phobia about posting advice, because honestly? I'm a newbie to this publishing thing, but I'm also opinionated as hell. As long as there's injustice and misinformation in the industry, I'll be there...posting on the blog. AdviceGal, away!
4. What was the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you? Share it with our six readers.
I once sent an IM about a co-worker to that co-worker, instead of to the intended recipient. (Hey, it wasn't my fault! They had practically the same name!) It was, um, sort of unflattering and there was no way I could weasel out of it. But I tried, after I got through dying on the inside.
5. Who's sexier, the current incarnation of Dr. Who, or Spike?
Oh, my. Two or three years ago I would have said Spike, but now I just have to go with the Doctor. I have a mad, crazy love for David Tennant and his TARDIS. Seriously, I probably should seek professional help. I even dressed as a lady Doctor for Halloween.
6. If you could be either a vampire, a werewolf, or a zombie, which would you pick? Would your answer change if you had to be a cannibalistic zombie?
Oh, definitely a werewolf. There's a reason I write books about them... The hair would be annoying, though. I'd have to pay for those laser removal treatments, and the whole go-crazy-and-eat-your-loved-ones is a drawback, but I still find the idea appealing.
7. Don't you think the holidays are just too commercial these days?
Absolutely, but don't let that deter you from preordering NIGHT LIFE. (Note: you can preorder it here!)
8. Wouldn't it be awesome if you had a big boat, and we could all go sailing on it? Seriously, that would be fun, right?
I love being on the water (I grew up on an island off Massachusetts) but I've watched way too many episodes of I Shouldn't Be Alive to think that putting a bunch of writers on a boat and sailing off is a good idea. Wait, could I name the boat Love Boat? My answer might change.
9. What other projects can we expect to see from you in the future?
My lovely agent, Rachel Vater, is currently shopping a series about magic, punk rock and secret cities set in London. Those same characters are in my anthology story for MY BIG FAT SUPERNATURAL HONEYMOON, if you want a sneak peek.
10. Will you still be speaking to me after this?
Why? What did you do?! Hah, of course I will. It's been fun!
You can find Caitlin on the web at her website or her livejournal. Thanks so much for visiting, Caitlin, and for tolerating my questions!
Thing is, you have to realize whether or not you're ready for a critique on your novel. Here's a quick quiz to help you out.
Your friend, Bob the Published Author, shows interest in your current novel. He wants to read it. You:
A) Faint out of terror
B) Tell him to please not tell you if he hates it and send it on. And spend the next six weeks rocking in the corner of your writing room.
C) Shove it into his email without giving it a second look and say "Be brutal, baby!"
If you had to pause and think about any of the answers except for C, perhaps you're not really READY to have your stuff critiqued. And that's okay.
Let me tell you a story. This story will be about er, an author we'll call Bill Jyles. Sure. Bill was in the middle of writing his first novel, a 600-page romantic ripoff of Outlander. With dinosaurs and Puritans. Bill Jyles was very proud of this novel, and so when Bill heard about one of his friends that just got accepted by an agent (which made this friend VERY important in Bill's eyes) and the friend offered to read Bill's pages.
The friend was not kind to Bill's pages. The friend said that Bill's book sucked. The friend said that Bill's main character was an asshole, and unlikeable, and the motivation sucked, and he couldn't keep reading.
Bill was crushed. Determined, but crushed. Bill asked the friend what specifically was wrong, and the friend (being a nice person) pointed out all kinds of things that puzzled Bill. Things that Bill was intending on fixing on the next draft anyhow. So why is that such a stopping point, Bill wondered. But the friend was vehement in the hatred of this novel, and it ruined Bill's love for this book.
Bill decided to try and write some short stories. Bill joined a group - let's call them WOW - that were professionals that helped each other with critiques. You post critiques, you get critiques back.
Bill posted three or four stories in rapid succession (after he earned the points, of course), and waited for the applause and adoration to come back. The first friend was obviously stuck on the fact that the manuscript wasn't edited, so someone else should see Bill's brilliance.
Actually, maybe not. The reviews that came in said that the stories were a mess. Bill was terribly derivative. Unoriginal. Flawed. His stories were all over the place. A hideous clusterfuck of nouns and adverbs, but not a real story. Heck no! There was no plot! No point! No redeeming moral value! They suxxored!
And you know what? They did. Bill was a noob writer. Bill didn't know any better. But Bill wanted praise! He didn't want honest critiques. And you know what happened to Bill when he got real critiques?
He stopped writing. For about a year. All that happiness and budding career writing? Smooshed.
Bill's friend meant well. The people on the critique site? Meant well. They encouraged Bill, but all Bill saw was the criticism.
I...I mean, BILL wasn't ready for critiques.
Bill eventually got back into the swing of things. He started writing again (though short stories were forever ruined for him) and Bill wrote a few more novels. But Bill got smarter. This time, Bill revised before someone read it. In fact, Bill revised so many times that he was sick of the novel and couldn't see anything else wrong with it. So Bill sent it to a trusted friend. "Read this and tell me where it sucks!"
And the friend did. The friend was mighty cruel, because, admittedly, Bill was still learning. But.
When the friend pointed out, "Bill, your character sucks. Look at how selfish he is." Instead of Bill screaming and running to the corner to suck on his thumb in woe and pity, Bill re-read. And a light went off. "YES!" Bill cried. "MY CHARACTER DOES SUCK! AND NOW I KNOW HOW TO FIX IT!"
Bill was now sold on critique groups.
However, Bill learned a few lessons in the meantime. And here's what he learned.
1) You don't send it out until it's done and ready. Really done. Really ready. Like you've looked at it a hundred times and you can't tell what's wrong with it at all. Two or three drafts is Bill's minimum. NO ONE SEES THE FIRST DRAFT because they won't see past it.
2) You're sending it out, asking people to tell you what's wrong with it. They're GOING to find something wrong with it. Trust me. If you parked someone in front of a Van Gogh and asked them to critique it, they'd find something wrong with it. It's human nature, and honestly? It's what you want.
3) Every critiquer is different. Some people have brains like a steel trap and can point out where you've erred in your timeline and how many minutes are in the day and Car X was travelling at twenty two miles per hour, and it takes 30 miles to get to this city so he couldn't possibly have gotten to the train station in under Y amount of minutes. Some people, on the other hand, will be more abstract. I didn't like this character's feelings. I didn't want to root for him. This is all good information. You need multiple critiques to get multiple angles, sometimes.
4) You're not going to take everyone's advice. They're looking at it from their perspective as a reader/writer. Yours might be different. This is ok too.
So there you go. Learn from Bill's mistakes. After all, it's your book you're sending out into the world. There's no wrong/right way to handle how it gets edited, so whether you wait one year to send it to critiquers - or four, just ask yourself the basic question.
Do I want my book shredded and picked apart?
If your answer is not "Woohoo!!" then rethink. And send out in a few months, instead of tomorrow.
And if you really want an "Attaboy" rather than advice? Send it to your mom (this is okay too).
I've been the member of OWW for years. I highly recommend it. But there are some drawbacks to kicking your work out there to be reviewed.
Having your work critiqued can shorten the writing apprenticeship for years. But here is another side of it. Critique is addictive. Extremely addictive. It's like writer crack*. You can train yourself to like receiving critique and critiquing others so much, you will stop producing when the critiques dry up. That's the kiss of death. You must produce copy. You don't write, you don't eat.**
There is another negative: critique of an early work can cause writer to alter the work, veering from the original vision and not always in a good way. Leigh Brackett, for instance, refused to show the manuscripts even to her husband until they were completed.
You have to figure out what kind of writer you are. Are you easily swayed by praise or discouragement? Do you know what you're aiming to achieve with your story? Can you kick it out there, take criticism, and distill useful information?
Relatively early in my "career"***, I received feedback from a professional writer for whom I have greatest respect. And made a deliberate decision to ignore it. It was probably one of the better decisions I had made and possibly one of the hardest. I didn't do it because I thought her points weren't valid. I did it because my vision for the book differed from hers.
That is another very useful side effect of critique: you learn that you shouldn't try to please everyone. Each reader brings their unique personality to the story and what they get out of it will not necessarily be what you wrote. The more skilled is the writer, the smaller is the difference between what he meant to put down on paper and what his audience reads.
But again, critique can be extremely useful.
Let me show you some critique of my kissy scene. This was done by a professional writer, who generously donated her time to make my latest proposal much better.
"And if I say no?"
"I will probably beg," he said. "I was really hoping for yes." - Comment - Now there's sexy for you, g
"I don't want to see you beg. So I say yes. You have my royal permi-..."
Morgan leaned to her and his mouth covered her. His lips were hot and soft, and he kissed her so gently, it took her breath away. His touch was tentative, probing, and she opened her lips and let him into her mouth. His tongue brushed the edge of her teeth. She closed her eyes and just as she melted into the kiss, he withdrew. - Comment - It's a good start…either to kissing or to a dental cleaning. Put emotion in there, more talking. Where are their hands? Is he touching her neck? How does that make her feel?
She lost herself to him, intoxicated by his taste, seduced by his want, by the strength in his arms and longing in his eyes, and when they broke apart, she knew she had to get out of the car, because her mind and body had turned into an aching, needy whole, yearning to feel him, to taste his skin, to feel his weight on her and his hard length inside her. - Comment - Lots of telling...
This is what I'm looking for in a critique - honesty. Critique like that is aimed at helping me produce a better product. It's to the point, unapologetic, and it tells me simply, "Look. Problem here. Problem here. Over here too." This is what I am looking for. Your mileage may and will vary.
So in conclusion my tips:
1) Don't follow critique blindly
2) Put your ego on a shelf for the time being
3) If more than two people stumble in a particular spot, don't explain how brilliant you are. Fix it.
* hush, Anton, not the anatomical crack. Heinies have nothing to do with it.
** For most peoples, it's not that dire, but the point is the same. Critiquing isn't writing.
*** Very loose term here...:p The whole story is on my lj
Now on to critique, and in lieu of a lecture on how to find a group, which is what I'd originally planned, I'll just tell you about my own search.
Back when I was just tinkering around with words and writing short stories, the only people that read them were the very ones least likely to give me an honest critique; friends and family but never my wife, oddly enough, hers was always a critical eye--I think she knew I was serious before I did.
My first step toward a professional review of my work was a fiction writing class at a local community college. I'd taken creative writing classes in the past but since then my life had taken a turn toward social services and stuck there for over a decade. The class itself turned out to be a critique group rather than any structured lesson. The professor was a career counselor the school had conned into filling a seat, as happens in smaller institutions. Luckily for me, their were quite a few good writers in the class, two of whom had published some shorts and poetry.
The class taught me a lot about constructive criticism versus personal attack. This one woman--who rarely brought anything to share--would make a derogatory comment to the effect of: "That belongs in the trash can" or "you should have flushed that one down." Super helpful. I learned to disregard her, because the counselor/teacher never did a thing to keep the bitch in line. The others in the group were very precise in their critique and balanced the positive with the areas that needed work and suggestions for correcting them. Good peeps. And my writing improved during that time.
But, as is the thing with classes, they end.
I started searching on the internet, I dismissed the idea of online writing groups simply because I need the face to face (this can't be surprising, as my work was entirely interactive). I tried out a large writing group at our local Borders and was not happy. It seemed to be all about back-patting, heavy on the readings, slim on critique, plus there were thirty people there. Not for me.
I became discouraged, and while there seemed to be groups at every major chain store, I was concerned that they'd all be the same. So I pulled out the old class email list, and made a suggestion. Let's meet up.
I had three takers and we met at a local coffee shop. The owner's wife happened to be a mystery writer, she joined. Later, I took a workshop from the awesome Jessica Morrell, developmental editor extraordinaire, and met a couple of sci-fi fantasy writers. Our group is seven strong now. We meet weekly to call each other on our bullshit and offer awesome suggestions and drink coffee and take a little bit of the isolation out of this work. We're all genre writers but different enough to add something unusual to each other's fiction. I couldn't be happier, and we don't have any bashers. Well. Just that one time, and it was dealt with.
I guess the moral is, it never hurts to ask. Check out your local bookstore groups, maybe you won't like it, but there might be someone you connect with. Recruit! Ask around, Craigslist is another resource, college writing departments, libraries.
There's always online, too. I've met really great people since all this started and if things hadn't progressed with The South Sound Algonquins (that's us), then I would have certainly asked and offered to critique the interneters.
Critiquing is one of the most important things you'll do as a writer. I don't just mean finding yourself a crit partner and handling their work while they handle yours. Heh heh. Because although crit partners are important, and having another eye to check your work over is valuable, I'm not entirely certain it's better than actually doing critiques yourself.
See, you're too close to your own story. You know exactly what everyone is thinking and feeling, you know what they're going to do next. So when you read it yourself, your mind absorbs all that unwritten information along with what's actually there. This is why everyone who's just starting out thinks they are the greatest writer in the world.
You will never see the mistakes in your story and writing until you start seeing them elsewhere. This is why critting other people is so important.
You'll find a piece that doesn't read right, and you'll analyze it. Perhaps they have ten sentences in a row that follow this structure: "Verbing the noun, she verbed the noun." (Obviously there would be actual verbs and nouns in the story. This is the Mad Libs version of critting.) The sentence itself may be fine; "Opening the cabinet, she grabbed the peanut butter." It's not a great sentence. You should be able to think of several other ways to say it without doing that comma thing and implying that all action takes place simultaneously. But it's not awful as it stands, really, and can be useful in certain places, used very sparingly (and when the action in question really is simultaneous).
But picture it ten times in a row. "Opening the door, she took out the peanut butter. Grabbing the knife, she dipped it in the jar. Picking up the bread, she..."
You might not notice this in your own work. But you'll notice it in someone else's, and it will skitter up your spine like a ball of tinfoil and set your teeth on edge, and so you will learn to look for it in your own.
There are a lot of things nobody teaches you about writing. Even books like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, which is one of the few books I've found really valuable, don't tell you everything. Like how to structure a story. How to hold information back and let it spill out in drips and drabs. What sorts of similes and metaphors work and which don't, which are cliche. How bad it is when sentence structure is off or when too many pronouns are used so you don't know who's doing what to whom and where.
A lot of this you should know simply because you read a lot of books (don't you? Because if you don't you have no business trying to write some of your own, sorry to say.) But if you read good books, you don't get a chance to see bad ones. I personally learn a lot more--or at least did in the beginning--from bad prose.
Not to mention the most valuable lesson, I think, which is being able to read a piece and know that, while it may be very good, something is missing. The dialogue doesn't sparkle, or the voice isn't compelling. This is the biggest bugaboo, the thing that keeps technically good writers from leaving the slush pile. In time you'll be able to recognize it, and see how you can avoid it in your own writing. You'll realize when someone is being too safe, or when they could cut out sections of dialogue and make conversations shorter and snappier. You'll see how if they'd just punched up their opening you would have been enraptured enough to forgive that paragraph of necessary exposition on page two, but as it is they're just not grabbing you.
And you'll learn another valuable lesson, which Anton mentoned yesterday: that critters really are trying to help, that they're not trying to be mean, and that when you put in the time and effort to try and help someone improve and they turn around and slap you for it, it feels lousy. So in giving criticism you learn how to take it, which is pretty hard to do.
And I'm sorry this post isn't the greatest. My six-year-old is home sick and refuses to stop yelling and singing no matter what I do, and I can tune out a LOT but not endless tuneless repititions of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" sung at the top of six-year-old lungs.
For me, writing doesn't happen in a vacuum, despite folks like Anne Rice supposedly shunning any editorial of her work these days. Being fairly new to the published side of the game, I can't imagine writing a complete book without getting some kind of feedback from other writers around me (I'm not very bright). My grandma's praise can only go so far and frankly, I'm a little suspect of her critical eye.
So how to find people to give you criticism that's actually going to help your work?
From my experience, some of the best criticism I have worked with has come from joining a writer's workshop where their feedback and insight were constant throughout the process of writing Dead To Me.
Here's some of my insights:
1) I chose to join a non-genre workshop. Why? For me, good writing is good writing no matter what type of tale. I've read enough fantasy to know the tropes and such of the genre, and I felt I would benefit more by having a mixed critique group coming from a variety of genres. The multitude of opinions from those different angles made for a richer book out of me in the end.
2) Don't get defensive. I've watched people defend their work to the death before even really letting the critic finish or letting the criticism sink in. Yes, your book is your precious little baby, but if you want yer baby to grow up and wear big boy writer pants, listen. You don't have to act on what they're saying. Some of the criticism may be shit (consider the source and if you respect the type of writing they do) but give what they have to say due diligence.
3) Back patting sessions. The sign of a bad workshop is one where everyone simply strokes everyone else's ego. The odds of everyone being so genius that they have nothing critical to say are slim. You're not going to get anything helpful from this other than a false sense of accomplishment. Run away, terribly fast. Conversely, don't get caught up in a workshop where the criticism comes in the form of constant lambasting. You want criticism...the constructive kind.
4) Give as good as you get. Workshops are a symbiotic relationship by their nature. Don't expect everyone to give you great criticism if you're not going to return the favor. That's just rude. You might join one not knowing how to give good critique at first, but by listening and learning, it won't be long before you'll find that you do have something to contribute.
5) A lot of criticism given comes from each writer's personal process, which means it might be great advice, but not necessarily something that's going to work for your book.
6) There's little room for ego in a critique group. Don't get defensive, don't argue, keep any histrionics in check. Your fellow writers aren't personally attacking you , they're trying to help you tell a better story (at least in a good workshop environment). You might disagree with what they are saying, but take what they say home with you and sleep on in. Don't waste the workshop's time by raging against the writerly machine.
I could go on, but then what would my fellow Leaguers be left with for the week? Probably just their Pikachu/Venture Brothers slash tales...
Jaime Mendola has a BA in English from
When she's not exploring promotional opportunities for authors, Jaime's unknowingly drafting hockey players with head injuries to her fantasy hockey team. Born in
A lot of writers come to us here at the League to learn just what the hell goes on in the secret non-writerly portion of seeing a book go to press. One area I'd love to demystify a bit is the world of Advertising and Promotion. I think it's a bit of a gray area for most of our readers, all three of them. So tell me: what is the difference between what Advertising and Promotions does to promote a book versus what a Publicity Department does?
Let me start with what Publicity does - they contact radio shows, television shows, newspapers, and magazines to see if they're interested in interviewing the author/writing a review of the book in question. They also organize author tours and make sure that the author is getting press. They basically facilitate relationships between authors and the media and hope that the media will, in turn, promote the book and give it good press.
What does an Advertising and Promotions department do? We use MONEY to try to accomplish our goals. We PAY for magazine advertisements, radio advertisements, television advertisements. But we also DESIGN these ads ourselves (or use an outside ad agency and then approve their designs) and therefore can control the content of what runs. Publicity may solicit a review from a major magazine by sending a book their way and calling them to see if they had a chance to pick it up, etc., and that major magazine may, in turn, run a horribly scathing review of the book that gives it nothing but bad press. But our ads will always give glowing assessments - which is probably why a book buyer will pick up a book based on a review and never pay attention to an ad. Sigh.
But we also create other forms of promotional items that go into bookstores and reach the consumer - displays, shelf-talkers - and we create promotions that will get the books into the stores in the first place. The catalogs and cover proofs that Advertising and Promotions create are used by the sales force to convince bookstores that they want to stock up on the book.
So let's say Publicity has sent a book to People magazine and People calls it a "fresh take on relationships." We'll put that quote in our catalogs, on our displays, on our bookmarks and postcards, even in an ad that we run in an issue of another magazine, just so readers and bookstores/bookbuyers alike will know that People, a trusted source who was NOT paid to review our book, did in fact find it worthwhile.What is your favorite flavor of PEZ? I prefer lemon myself. I found this soap, coconut verbena, and the verbena smells so much like PEZ I have to constantly fight the urge to eat the soap.
Strawberry - no contest. In fact, I'm not really a fan of lemon PEZ, so I'll be sure to share with you the next time I purchase an assorted multi-pack.
There's a Yankee candle that smells exactly like lemon PEZ, and while it's not my favorite flavor, you better believe me when I say I bought that candle and have held it to my nose for hours on end. It gives me the sugar shakes just thinking about that candle.Outside of me lurking down the hall and constantly pestering you for both day job-related catalogues and author-related stuff for my own selfish needs, do you get to interact much with other authors? What type of input do they have about how they are promoted?Editors and publicists are the ones who generally maintain relationships with authors. If an author wants a promotional item created, we'll generally hear about it from our coworkers and not the authors themselves - which is unfortunate, because I would love to tell a few authors how I feel about the hairstyles they're rockin' in their author photos. And THAT is why I'm not a publicist or an editor.
Every so often an opportunity will arise for me to work with an author directly. For example, I helped one of our Young Adult authors with the revamping of her myspace page. And next week, I'll be babysitting Nora Roberts grandkids. It just might be the highlight of my career.
Before Nora Roberts started writing paranormal books, wouldn’t you have said I was the Nora Roberts of the paranormal writing world? Be honest!
UNFORTUNATELY FOR ME, I have yet to read any of your work! Although I must say, the catalog copy and the postcard copy for your new title, Dead to Me, have me quite intrigued. But would I call you the Nora Robers of the paranormal writing world without any actual knowledge of your skills? Definitely. Without a doubt. No contest.
Maybe it's just me, but for years I felt that publishers didn’t quite know what to make of this new fangled interwebs or what to do with it. Can you talk about how the Internet has affected advertising books?
In so many ways! For one thing, now we can throw money away by advertising online! But this internet you speak of has also allowed for a more organic approach to marketing. By having our authors blog we can create additional content for readers, which can definitely drive sales. Author websites/myspace pages/facebook pages also help with author exposure and create new sales opportunities, since these pages can link directly to the publisher's site - where you can buy the book - or another online venue like Amazon.com. (This was not an Amazon plug, by the way. I remain impartial when it comes to booksellers.)
I think a key thing to keep in mind is that the lack of an online presence can actually HARM your book. So many people are online and choosing to get their information from websites, and not having your own site - or advertising on a billboard instead of buying a banner ad - could stop you from gaining ridiculous exposure. So in advertising a book, we need to alert readers of the book, but we also need to alert readers of an author's website so that they can find out more.
I've seen authors push themselves in a million directions to promote their books. Bookmarks, postcards, tote bags, coffee mugs, chocolates with their covers printed on them... effective strategy or not?
It depends - who are you giving these promotional items to? Do you know a zillion people who will carry your tote bag or mug and increase exposure, or are you a recluse who will probably keep these items under your bed for five years? Also, everyone loves to get an additional item, but be honest with yourself. When was the last time you bought a book because you received a chocolate with that book's cover on it at some convention? Probably doesn't happen. But if that promo item has some good content - perhaps an intriguing synopsis - and it gets into the right hands, a book might be sold! It's all about who you know and how you can exploit them, in my opinion. And at the end of the day, you need a good product or no one will care.
Let's assume for a second that an author isn't Nora, Clancy, Feehan or me... What would you tell authors to do to help themselves in the promotion of their books?
GET OUT THERE! Go to bookstores, offer your services for signings or lectures and make sure your book is there to sell! Find websites where your core audience might lurk and blog about your book. Blog about it on your site. Blog about it on your mom's dentist's bestfriend's brother's site. In my old age I'm discovering that everything - from getting a good job to finding a good apartment - can come down to who you know. So find those people in your life who know TONS of people - who have ridiculously large social networks - and ask them to tell their friends about your book. You'd be amazed at how word of mouth can be your best marketing tool. Read The Tipping Point and you'll know what I'm talking about in terms of how powerful these people can be. And I guess my best advice for authors who aren't blockbuster bestsellers would be to keep writing good books. Eventually, your words on the page will really speak for themselves.
Thank you, Jaime! You heard it here first, folks! People who haven't read Dead To Me love it!
1) If you use a pseudonym, people will be BOUND AND DETERMINED to find out your real name. I have no idea why. Maybe it comes across as some sort of challenge. Who knows. But please don't tell me if you do find out my real name. You will just frighten me.
2) Everything you say on your blog becomes a platform. If you don't like red shoes, and you say so, the friends of the red shoe brigade will come out in droves to defend. Everything - even on your 'private' (ha ha, yeah right) journal must be scrutinized.
3) The real work only begins once you get the offer.
4) Promotion takes a helluva lot of time. There's LJ, MySpace, Facebook, industry blogs, email loops, newsletters, webpages...
5) And money. RWA, SFWA, Conferences, swag, websites...
6) Everything tied to NY publishing happens at a snail's pace. Which is good, really, because if it happened faster, I think they'd have to hospitalize me.
7) Editors are super-cool people that have an absolutely freakish love of books. I always thought they'd be some stingy jerks looking to keep a new writer out, but all the editors I have talked to so far are absolutely lovely and more fanatical about books than me.
8) It kind of IS like being in the cool club at high school. And other writers are so friggin nice, too.
9) Everyone is nice, actually. I have yet to meet an asshat.
10) You have to pick your hill to die on. If that means that you will have mantitty on your cover or a title like "Love's Labor Lost", then by golly, you will. Because it's really not that important in the scheme of things. Your book. Still being published. Still awesome.
11) Agents really do a lot more than just phone up editors and say "Want to buy this book?" Seriously. I thought that was all they did until I actually got a contract. Silly me.
12) You now have an Image. You should conform to this Image because you are now a Product. Do not stray from the Image because you do not want to confuse the Audience.
13) Did I mention your book is now a product? It is. It's not your baby. It's got more in common with a can of Coors Light than your child.
14) Getting a contract can fry your creativity temporarily. This is still ok. You'll work your way out of it.
15) Deadlines DO whoosh by. Frighteningly so. I thought people were joking. Ha ha. Not funny.
16) Your parents will be proud to tell everyone "My daughter writes books about vampire sex!" Parents are the greatest fans of all. I love mine.
17) People look at you differently once you get the Mighty Contract. Some people will think your opinion has weight now (it doesn't). Some people will think you have changed into an authorbeast (you haven't) and everything's gone to your head (trust me, it hasn't). You have changed, a little. Your writing priorities and scope just got shuffled over to a totally different (and sometimes bewildering) arena.
18) Your book is still a product. Still. So if your editor calls you and says "I really like the sequel, but marketing thinks that your were-billy-goat book will sell more copies if we change him to a vampire that sounds like a duck," then you'd better be prepared to start quacking. Because guess what? It's their product now. You sold it. If you want complete control over your product, NY is not for you. (For the record, my editor has made very small - but wonderful - suggestions about my book. But I have heard stories.)
19) Love your book, love your genre - even if marketing picks your genre for you. Read it, research it, and love it. Because your next book is going to be in this genre too. And probably the next. And the next. So make sure you love what you're writing.
20) It's ok to have professional jealousy. Really. Think about it like your dayjob, except you are *all* doing the same job. Someone runs down the hall and squeals "OMG I just got a 20k a year payraise!" And everyone cheers! And...then you look at your paystub. You didn't get a raise this year. You do the same job. Jealousy? Sure. Bound to happen. But she might get fired tomorrow for losing the big account, and you'll still be slow and steady you. You can envy other people's careers, but in the end, be happy with what you have. You're still employed, after all!
21) Still the best job in the world. Wouldn't trade a thing.
Stacia said everything I pretty much had to say on this subject. So my post will be very short: if you want to succeed as a writer, take time to have fun.
Take pleasure in your friends' successes. Even if they write better than you, sell more than you, or reviewed better than you. Everyone gets a bite of a little professional jealousy now and then, and that's fine. We're all human. But don't let jealousy consume you. It's not healthy.
Take time to smell the roses outside. It a big huge world and writing isn't the only thing in it. Go out. Have fun. Walk on the beach. Have coffee with friends. Volunteer. So many of us define ourselves by what we do that we forget that there is more to our identity.
Take time to help friends who need it. I can't tell you how much it means to me to be able to cry on my friends' shoulders or share gossip, or just be plain stupid together. It makes all the difference in the world.
I think that if you take time to be a better person, it will in the long run pay off in many ways. And I think that in small part, it will help with your writing. Your work will be fuller and richer. People will read your blog because you will be interesting, and you will make those connections Anton mentioned. And you'll have good karma.
Can;t beat good karma.
Hey Jackie, the new book is in stores this week. You must be trippin', right?
If you define "trippin' " as stressing out and getting little sleep, absolutely! I'm psyched, truly -- there's nothing like seeing your name on a book, even if its about OJ postulating how he would kill you (if he were to do that sort of thing). But it's also stressful. That's because I'm addicted to Amazon rankings and Ingram numbers. I swear, those are crack for writers. Just say no!
Now, I haven't read Road--I'm just not into books, really--what would you like people to know about this one?
Naughty boy. Your loss, man. Inside its pages, I break the code to the NYS lottery and teach people how to pick winning numbers.
Well, not really.
In THE ROAD TO HELL, former succubus Jezebel, now the mortal Jesse Harris, must return to Hell to save the lives of those she loves. If she'd known love was this tough, she never would have turned her back on Lust. (More sex, more strippers, more demons than in HELL'S BELLES. More to love!)
Jezebel's a succubus and a stripper. Tell us all about your personal experience with either of those occupations. Don't be shy.
Hey, a gal's got to work her way through college somehow...
How did you get into mixing the paranormal with throbbing veiny love?
That's the best sort of love, you know. And it's just how the story went, you know? I wrote about a succubus -- she's going to have sex. And think about sex. And want to have sex. If I'd written about a demon of gluttony, it would be all about the food.
What or who inspires you to write such shameful dirtiness?
My mother, of course. It's all for Mom. (Hi, Mom!) Now, some might say that I live to embarrass her. And they would be right.
Actually, my mom is all sorts of awesome. I did a reading at an erotic reading series called In the Flesh, and Mom and a bunch of her friends were in the audience. When it was my turn at the mike, I introduced her to the audience, and she got a round of applause. Then I read the big demon nookie scene from HELL'S BELLES. And as I got to the climax, I paused, then said into the mike: "Having fun yet, Mom?" I never knew a face could turn so red. Gawd, I love my mother.
Do you have any paranormal experiences you'd like to share? Any ghosts in the closet hanging next to all those bones?
Short of questionable ouija board activities when I was a teenager, I can't say as I've had any definitive paranormal experiences. But I am willing to learn! I'm not offering up myself for possession or anything else as invasive as that. (Hey, I read THE HARROWING. Awesome book by Alexandra Sokoloff. Possession? Just say no. Really.) But if there are any supernatural entities looking to schmooze with a mortal author over a cup of coffee or glass of wine, I'm game. (However, they would have to bring their own blood of innocents; all I'd have to offer would be half and half).
A ton of aspiring writers will be reading this post, what advice do you have for them?
Lots. First: never be daunted. Write the story, get it down, don't self-censor. Just write, you know? Almost everyone says they want to write a book; very few actually complete the damn thing. You can find the time. Get crackin'!
Second: get a critique partner, or a writing group. A good crit partner and honest beta readers are worth their weight in unlimited Amex cards. And all the time and effort you put into editing/reviewing someone else's work will definitely make editing your own work a lot easier. Win win, baby.
Third: after you write it, revise it, and get it out there for consideration...start something else. I spent 17 years -- yes, years -- rewriting the same damn story. Finally, with triple-digit rejection letters, I got it through my very thick head that I needed to move on. Don't waste 17 years tweaking something. Give up the ghost and write more.
Last: as Joe Konrath once told me, if you want your business to be writing, you have to treat your writing like a business. And that means you have to be a professional. Learn how to write a killer query letter. Research agents. Buy a copy of YOUR NOVEL PROPOSAL: FROM CREATION TO CONTRACT by Blythe Camenson and Marshall Cook and write the evil synopsis from hell. Stop thinking of your work as your baby and treat it as your project...and get ready to sell yourself. Be an opportunistic whore, and be proud of it. (That would look good on a tee shirt, no? "Proud to be an opportunistic whore!")
What's next for Jackie Kessler? I've heard rumors about a Hell's Belles musical, have I not?
Damn that Whedon. He told me he'd keep mum about that. Sigh. Can't trust anyone these days...
The next two HELL books -- well, a novella and a novel -- hit the shelves in 2008. First, A HELL OF A TIME will appear in the Kensington anthology ETERNAL LOVER, along with the uber talented Richelle Mead and the lovely Hannah Howell and Lynsay Sands. That's in April 2008. And then in August 2008, the incubus Daunuan gets his own book in HOTTER THAN HELL. I write as a sympathetic male demonic narrator. Me, happily outside of my comfort zone! Actually, HOT is the best thing I've ever written. If I do say so myself. :)
You're getting your writing pep talk from a cave-like hotel room near Times Square and I'm a tad claustrophobic, if that tells you anything. The topic is helping yourself as a writer and I'm not talking about getting enough rest or balancing diet and exercise. I'm talking about being...
You've got your manuscript, and you've edited the shit out of it. Every line is free of adverbs (unless you're writing romance), you've replaced the dialogue attributions with beats of actions (where appropriate), the plot is dense as cheesecake, rather than that other holey metaphor and your characters are fatty and fleshed out without a hint of Mary Sueness. It can't help but sell, right?
Wrong. *ahem* This is going to sound harsh. Brace yourself.
Familiarize yourself with rejection. Think of it as a hug from the agents and editors to whom you send your manuscript. Especially if they personalize the rejection, take that advice as gold. Don't question it. You don't know anything. You're book is not a precious flower. Your ideas are regurgitated. These are facts. The sheer amount of manuscripts that flood the publishing houses assure that.
So...what can you do?
1. Make a decision. Are you writing for yourself or others? Is this a hobby or a career? That last one was a trick, career writing is a long way off for most writers. Figure on needing a real job. The decision you're going to need to make is whether you're serious.
2. Get a writing group/critique partner. If you are serious about this writing stuff, get yourself a writer's group where people don't hold back and call you on your bullshit. Groups are awesome. If you're only getting critical feedback from the people who love you, then you have no right to be shocked when the form rejections come in.
3. Go to readings/signings. Talk to your favorite authors. Most of them will be more than happy to answer your newbie questions. Plus, if you're going to see authors in a specific genre, you'll start to meet other aspiring writers (prospective group members, eh?).
4. Go to a writer's conference. Not only can you network at these "pitch parties" there are panels galore and classes to help you understand the ins and outs of the publishing business. And it is a BUSINESS. You're book is not art, it is product.
5. Ready, set, READ! And not just books on writing. Read the best of your genre and other genres. Read a lot! Every time you turn on the TV, you could be training your brain to understand the story structure, characterization and plotting of authors who are successful.
And I'm spent....
**Tosses laptop to ground. Handler squirts water on sweaty face**