books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, January 25, 2015

How to Sizzle up your Fiction with Compelling Characters Readers Can't Forget


by Ruth Harris


Good guy/gal or bad guy/gal, the super spy, the nutcase, the grunt who saves his battalion, the alcoholic teacher who can’t save herself but rescues her class from a typhoon, the jihadist with a heart of gold, the whore with a heart of coal, the psychotic, psychopathic, and just plain psychic are the writer’s best friend.

The unforgettable character: he or she (or maybe even it) will energize your book, grab your reader, and jet-propel your plot.

Where do you start looking and where do you find the initial spark of inspiration? The answer is: all around you. 

The passive-aggressive employer, the tyrannical secretary, the not-exactly-honest businessman, the bully who tormented you in mid-school, the mean girl who spread nasty rumors about your best friend. 

Let your imagination go wild


Creating the “perfect” villain can be a form of delicious payback. 

Creating the larger-than-life hero or the dreamboat romantic lead can put all your secret fantasies to work.

But what if you don’t know anyone who belongs in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders) ? What if no one you know appears on a do-not-fly list? What if the brainiac whose algo saves the world wasn’t in your seventh grade math class? What if you don’t live next door to the guy who killed his wife and fed her body through a wood chopper? What if the woman who poisoned her husband with crocodile-bile-laced coffee isn’t in your exercise class?

Google and the internet provide endless sources of inspiration. Personality disorders, murders plain and fancy, angels and devils are lined up waiting to be chosen. They are on forums, they tweet, they share, they comment, they spew their crazed selves on FB. So do Medal of Honor winners, rescuers of abandoned pets, the devoted medics at Doctors Without Borders and the fearless journalists at Journalists Without Borders.

Books, television and the movies are filled with unforgettable characters, and are an unending source of inspiration as we watch or turn the pages with bated breath, waiting to see what amazing feat or dastardly deed they will do next.

  • In Breaking Bad, a high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer turns to a life of crime to secure his family's financial future before he dies.
  • Jane Tennison, the DI in television’s Prime Suspect is a “woman of a certain age.” Her love life is on the gritty side, she drinks too much, the men she works with give her a hard time, but she is brilliant and always solves the crime.
  • Tony Soprano, a beleaguered New Jersey crime boss, must deal with two families, his own—and the criminal “family” he heads.
  • Carrie Mathison, the bi-polar CIA agent in Homeland, is on and off her meds and has sex with the suspected terrorist she is supposed to track down.
  • Tom Riley, a sociopath of uncertain sexuality in Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Riley, lies, deceives, and murders without conscience.
  • Mrs. Danvers, the creepy housekeeper with no first name in Rebecca, is dedicated to her dead employer, the first Mrs. Maxim de Winter. She is intimidating, manipulative and willing to drive the second Mrs. DeWinter to suicide.
  • Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, an ex-military policeman, is a hero with no fixed address and almost no possessions except a foldable toothbrush and expired passport.
  • M, as played by Judy Dench, is the head of MI6 and James Bond’s boss. She is blunt, fearless, and does not flinch from ordering 007 to kill when necessary.
  • Rasputin, a failed monk and mystic, was a favorite of the last Czar of Russia and, swept up in the Russian revolution, met a brutal end.
  • Glenn Close, the murderous seductress in Fatal Attraction is psychopathically determined to get what she wants—another woman’s husband.
  • Hannibal Lecter, the twisted psychiatrist in the Silence Of The Lambswas known as Hannibal the Cannibal, a tribute to his culinary propensities.

Don’t overlook the animal kingdom in your search for inspiration for the memorable character.


Comics also contribute their share of outsize heroes and villains.

  • Brainy and brawny Wonder Woman has her Lasso of Truth and her magic weapons.
  • Mild-mannered Clark Kent aka Superman who, uh, you know.
  • Assassin and bounty-hunter Elektra.
  • Bad guys Dr. Doom and Joker.
  • Martial artist and computer genius, Batgirl fights the bad guys—and wins.
The memorable character will do the shocking, the unexpected and, as a consequence, will give your story an immediate jolt of energy. 

They live in the “wrong” neighborhood or, like Jack Reacher, have no permanent address at all. They break rules, heads and maybe knees. They drink too much, squander their money and reputations, have sex at the “wrong” time with the “wrong” partners. 

Their willingness to flout convention, break the mold, and break laws gives you the ability to create wow! plot twists and never-saw-it-coming endings.

A Caveat 


But remember: no matter how lurid your character or his outrageous his or her behavior, you must also make your characters believable. Villains can’t be all bad and heroes need to have their flaws. Filling out a character questionnaire will help anchor your character.

Writing a character profile will also help.

Novelist, screenwriter, and game designer, Chuck Wendig spells out 25 essentials for creating a great character.

Got a great hero? Then you need an equally great villain.

Lindsey Barrett, short story writer and novelist, writing teacher, conference speaker, and member of the National Book Critics Circle, shares tips on crafting memorable characters.

The joy of creating the memorable character is that it’s fun. Lots of fun. Go wild. Go insane. Break every rule and every law, written and unwritten. 

Go ahead. It’s safe here in writers’ world.

What about you, Scriveners? Where do you find your most memorable characters? Do you wreak revenge in your books on toxic bosses, abusive exes and that guy who cut you of on the 101 on-ramp? (I have to admit to killing off some fictionalized toxic people in my life.) What about your heroes? Do they come from real life? Who are your favorite fictional heroes/villains? Have you ever written about a heroic animal? 

BOOK OF THE WEEK


A Kiss at Kihali: sweet romance set against the backdrop of African animal rescue
A must-read for animal lovers.

Available at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon CAKoboNOOK, iTunes






Beautiful and inspirational, A KISS AT KIHALI draws on the power of human-animal relationships, the heroic accomplishments of African animal orphanages, and the people, foreign and Kenyan, drawn to careers involving the care and conservation of wild animals. Filled with drama and danger that lead to a happy ending, A KISS AT KIHALI will appeal to readers who love tender romance and who have personally experienced the intense, mystical bond between humans and animals.

"A must-read for anyone who cares about animals and the environment, because what we do to them, we do to ourselves”... bestselling author Sibel Hodge

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


VIGNETTE WRITERShere's a contest for you! The Vine Leaves Vignette Collection Contest. The prize is for a collection of vignettes and poetry up to 20,000 words. Fee $25.  Prize is $500, publication by Vine Leaves Press (paperback and eBook), 20 copies of the paperback, worldwide distribution, and promotion through the Vine Leaves and staff websites. It will be judged by an editor from Simon and Schuster. Deadline February 28, 2015.

The Playboy College Fiction Contest Prize is $3000 plus publication in Playboy Magazine. You must be enrolled in college to be eligible. Stories up to 5000 words. Deadline February13th, 2015 $5 entry fee for non-subscribers.

Saraband Books prize for a book of poetry or literary fiction. Prize is $2000 and publication. The entry fee is $27. For fiction, submit a manuscript of 150 to 250 pages of stories, novellas, or a short novel For poetry, submit a manuscript of at least 48 pages.  Deadline February 13th, 2015

THE MEADOW NOVELLA PRIZE $15 ENTRY FEE. The winner of the contest will receive $500 and publication in the annual print edition of the journal. Submissions should be between 18,000 and 35,000 words.  Deadline February 1, 2015.

Vestal Review Condensed Classics Anthology Call for submissions to an anthology of world classics condensed to 500 words or fewer. Submissions are still open for the new anthology edited by Mark Budman titled "Condensed to Flash: World Classics." Find specifics here and Scroll down to "Condensed to Flash" and check out the sub guidelines. The payment: $15 and a digital copy for an original story and $5 and a digital copy for a reprint. The deadline: January 31, 2015

Unpublished Literary Fiction Authors looking for a Traditional Career! Tinder Press, a division of Hachette, is going to be open to UNAGENTED SUBMISSIONS for two weeks in March. More information at Tinder Press.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

6 Mistakes that Can Sidetrack New Writers

 by Anne R. Allen



Ruth and I like to say we made all the writing and publishing mistakes so you don't have to. I figure that personally I've collected nearly the full set of authorial faux pas since I embarked on a writing career.

Here's a list of some of the things I wish I hadn't done when I was starting out.

I'm not saying these are always "mistakes" or that they will inevitably lead to disaster, but they did slow me down on my path to a career as an author.

1) Begging friends, family and co-workers to read your work


When we start writing, what we want most is to be read, so we often rush off to friends and family and implore them to take a look as soon as we've got those first chapters on paper. I admit I did. (And if any of my first readers see this post, I apologize. I know I was probably obnoxious and needy about it.)

But you'll often find loved ones can show a strange reluctance to be your first readers. (If they don't, be grateful, but realize the results may not be what you hope.) And if they say no, accept it. They're not being unkind.

They may be afraid they won't know what to say.

That's because they probably won't, unless they're in the writing business themselves.

They could end up swelling your head with over-the-top praise for your splendiferous adjectives, spritely adverbs and uniquely creative dialogue tags.

On the other hand, they might criticize excellent beginning efforts and squelch your fledgling muse from a fear of not being "honest."

Here's my cautionary tale: about a decade ago, my WIP was having problems with flow, so I gave it to a friend who had praised my published work. I thought he might be able to pinpoint what wasn't working.

Unfortunately, as a non-writer, my kind friend had no idea what “rough draft” meant. After he finished the typo-strewn manuscript, he phoned immediately, telling me to toss the book because it was a “complete mess that nobody would ever want to read.”

I tried to get him to tell me exactly what he didn't like, but he kept ranting, giving no specifics. After he shouted, "show, don't tell" about ten times, I have to admit I hung up on him. (Years later I realized I'd asked him at a very bad time in his life. He'd just lost a beloved job and my career was on the rise. His own dreams were in shatters, so he had no energy to put into mine.)

I shelved the book. I figured whatever was wrong, it must be pretty fundamental.

Years later, when I opened the manuscript again, I realized the book wasn't that bad. I'd let one uninformed person's opinion kill a project I'd spent years of my life creating. I did a quick polish and sent it to my publisher. The editor suggested a new opening chapter and a handful of tweaks that fixed the problems.

It became GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY, the first book in my bestselling Camilla Randall mystery-comedy series.

But the friendship died. And since then, I've never let a non-writer see a rough draft of any of my work.

This is why I recommend that all new writers join a critique group or find beta readers to exchange reads of new work. For more on how to get feedback, see Jami Gold's post on beta readers.

2) Trying to please everybody.


The right group or connection can provide you with the support and advice your loved ones can't give. But remember they'll all have different opinions. In the end, it's your book, so don't change anything just to please somebody else.

I do recommend groups for new writers. Working in a vacuum can waste lots of valuable time. Whether you meet in person or online, writing groups can provide invaluable information and support. They can give sympathy through the rough patches and help celebrate your successes. They can also provide a network that might be all-important to your career.

Kristen Lamb's "WANA tribe" (We Are Not Alone) is a great online community where writers can find mutual support. Another is Alex J. Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group. CritiqueCircle.com also offers many different groups in a variety of genres, with the extra benefit of critiques. There are also great writers groups on Facebook and Google Plus and in forums all over the Web.

National organizations with local chapters like RWA, SCBWI, and Sisters in Crime can also provide up-to-date industry information as well as support. Some also offer online and in-person critique groups.

But one caveat:  if the organization does involve critiques, remember these groups do not have all the answers, and amateur writing groups can often result in the blind leading the blind.

I wrote about why to ignore most of the advice from your critique group here on the blog in August of 2014.

If you're participating in a critique group, it's wise to invest in a couple of good writing books or a vetted, solid writing course as well. Also read blogs like this one by veteran authors and agents.

Remember to take everything you hear in an amateur group with a grain of salt.

Here's how I got a reality check about group critiques: when my first was book accepted by a small press in England, my editor sent it back bleeding with red-pencilled edits. It didn't take me long to realize that every single issue he had with the book was something I'd added at the request of critique groups.

Trying to please everybody in my writing groups can lead to bad habits. Here are a few:

      Repeating yourself


Groups generally ask to be reminded who the characters are and what their relationship is to each other. They also want a recap of the plot and subplots at the beginning of each chapter.

This does not mean you should put that stuff in your book.

All those "remind me" comments stem from the fact these groups only meet once or twice a month, not because anything is wrong with your manuscript.

Because of the logistics of reading a book over a long period of time, I ended up larding my story with ridiculous repetitions. Thank goodness I had a good editor.

      Homogenized, boring storylines


I'd also removed some scenes because they offended one or two readers' political or personal beliefs. Unfortunately, eliminating strong opinions left my characters with no motivation for their actions.

Often naive critiquers can't tell the difference between a character's beliefs and those of the author. A woman wearing big Germanic sandals once stomped out of a critique session when I was reading because my fashionista character made fun of Birkenstocks.

She was too busy being offended to notice that I was wearing Birkenstocks at the time. Some people thrive on being offended. It gives them a kind of high. They will look for any excuse to chase that rush. Don't let it influence your writing.

Making your characters agree with everybody in the group can leave you with something that's more like a Hallmark card than a novel.

      Bad pacing and too much description


Because of "helpful" suggestions from my groups, I'd also put in too much description because some of my readers were poets who loved detailing minutia in a way that had no place in  a thriller.

All those details bogged down the story and gave it a saggy middle that would have lost half my readers. 

In trying to please everybody, I had sabotaged my own story.


Remember everybody has an agenda

The romance writer will tell you to put in more steamy scenes. The thriller writer will want more heart-pounding action. The believer in alien abduction will want big-eyed gray persons in every scene.

These people are telling you about themselves, not what your book needs.

Remember the people who are most strident in demanding that you do it "their way" are probably the least competent to give advice. That's called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Scientists have proved the most ignorant people are generally the most sure of themselves.

Think Cliff the postman on Cheers and his "little known facts." Are you going to let somebody like that rewrite your WIP? I almost did.

3) Cart before horse thinking: worrying about publishing and marketing before you master your craft.


There was no social media when I was starting out, but I did have tons of anxiety about being sent on a book tour, because I have issues with agoraphobia.

I'm ashamed to say I obsessed about this stuff before I'd even finished my first novel.

I think even more writers today are thinking about book-selling instead of book-writing long before they have to.

I heard from a writer recently who had already paid a vanity press a huge amount of money to publish his book, but he'd never had the manuscript read by anybody. He wanted to know where he could find beta readers. Arrggh! He had the process completely backwards.

Learn to write before you try to find a publisher! You need to have a manuscript (or two) polished, critiqued, edited and polished again before you even think about publishing. 

I also met a young man recently who was obsessed with marketing. He told me he had a website, X number of followers on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram and Tumblr.

He asked me...did I think he had a big enough platform to start writing his first story?

Poor guy. He had never written ONE WORD of fiction, but he'd spent a year building a platform to sell it.

This is like putting all your money into renting a store before you have any idea what you want to sell, and no money left to buy the inventory.

If you aren't compelled to write stories every day of your life, fiction is probably not your passion. If you like blogging, then blog. But don't use it for selling non-existent fiction.

There's nothing magic about writing fiction. Most professionals will tell you it's a lousy way to make money. Some people feel compelled to write it, and some people don't. This guy didn't. He might make a great social media marketer, though. And it's generally a much more lucrative profession.

On the other hand, if you're tearing away on your WIP and you don't want to stop to mess with social media, don't.

Keep writing.

You don't need to worry about social media or publishers until you've got at least a couple of books in the hopper, some published short work, and you're ready to start a writing business, either indie or traditional.


4) Expecting to make money right away.



Oh, yeah. This was me. After I got an agent for my first novel, I quit my day job and expected to be rolling in money by the end of the year. 

You guessed it: Did. Not. Happen.

The agent shopped it around, failed to sell it and dropped me. When I got the bad news, I hadn't even finished a first draft of a second novel.

I was so devastated, I went back to work and didn't write another word for several years.

I's easy to get discouraged when you've been slogging away on a book for a year and then realize revising it may take another six months. You'll probably start querying the rough draft and get nothing but rejections.

"But I've been at this for so long and I don't have a penny to show for it," you say.

Here's the thing: it turns out a year is nothing. Try ten. At least put in your 10,000 Malcolm Gladwell hours. Very few authors have ever made money on a first novel. You need at least two in the hopper before anything earth-shaking is going to happen. And even then, you'll probably have to keep your day job. Most published fiction authors (both traditional and indie) don't earn enough money to pay all the bills.

Write because you love itbecause you can't help yourselfnot because you're counting on becoming the next J.K. Rowling.

If you need money, try something else. Like picking up cans for recycling. Seriously. You'll make more money than you will with the average first novel. Until you have at least five titles, you're not likely to make substantial money, whether you're traditionally published or indie.  Yes, it's been done, but those authors are the exception to the rule. Many of the big-earner indies like Russell Blake and H.M. Ward have fifty or sixty books out there.

5) Writing Novels Exclusively


Yup. This was me. Once I decided I wanted to have a writing career, I dove right into writing novels. I left short stories and poetry behind. People told me they were for amateurs. (And in those days, nobody wrote novellas because they were considered "unpublishable.")

That's because in the early 90s, most magazines had stopped publishing fiction. The only way to publish was to spend a lot of time researching the small, low-circulation literary magazines. Which of course could only afford to pay in copies.

The only way to find these magazines was to buy a pricey copy of Writer's Market along with the Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses. The bottom line didn't look good to me. I figured why should I spend more to buy the directories than I'd ever make getting short stories published? Later I did subscribe to them and started placing a few stories, but by then I had already published my first novel.

I was short-sighted. If I'd had more publishing credits and contest wins, I would have found a publisher for my longer fiction faster.

I'd also now be sitting on a goldmine, since short stories, novelettes and novellas are perfect for Amazon's new Kindle Unlimited program, and many other online venues. See more about the value of short fiction in my article for Writer's Digest And here's a post on how to structure a novella by by Paul Alan Fahey.

And note that I always include short story publishing opportunities and contests at the end of this blog.

6) Not reading the bestsellers in your genre


I hate to hear new writers say they don't read bestsellers because:

A) "They're all crap." Which is usually followed by statements like, "I can learn everything I need to know by reading the classics. I've read George Elliot, Virginia Woolf, Faulkner, Fitzgerald,..and every word Kurt Vonnegut ever wrote. You seriously expect me to learn from 50 Shades of Gray and that Duck Dynasty guy?"

B) "I'll be too influenced by them." Lots of writers say this. They'll go on to say, "I don't want to lose my voice. I might start writing like Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Margaret Atwood, or George R. R. Martin."

And you know why it bothers me so much? Because I used to say that stuff too.

But I finally figured out that writing is a business. You need to know what the marketplace is looking for. As brilliant as the novels of Virginia Woolf are, they are not bestsellers right now. And even if you are the reincarnation of George Elliot, you're probably not going to attract a lot of attention in todays marketplace. You need to learn how to write for contemporary readers.

No, you don't have to read 50 Shades of Duck Dynasty.

But if you're a romance writer, you need to read Nora Roberts, and if you're a horror writer, you'd better have some Stephen King in your library. Anybody writing women's literary fiction who hasn't read Margaret Atwood is going to be at a major disadvantage. And if you write epic fantasy without any knowledge of George R. R. Martin—you're going to be reinventing the wheel.

And so what if I had started writing like Roberts, King, Atwood or Martin? I should have been so lucky. Seriously. A few echoes of the greats in our work is not going to be a problem.

The great painters all started by copying the classic works that came before them. Picasso copied El Greco and Goya, and you see lots of references to their work in his. As he said, "Good artists copy. Great artists's steal.  

If I'd read more contemporaries and fewer classics when I was starting out, I'd have had a much better idea of what might sell. My first novel, THE BEST REVENGE, which was published later as the prequel to the Camilla Randall Mysteries, was partly inspired by the novel Camilla, A Picture of Youth, written by Mrs. Fanny Burney in 1796.

I was even clueless enough to mention that in my early queries.

Yup. I did that. I don't think it impressed any agents.

I would have done better to say the book was also inspired by an unflattering interview in the New York Times of debutante Cornelia Guest.

I also spent a lot of time reading and rereading my favorite classic mystery authors like Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham and Dorothy L. Sayers.

I would have saved myself a lot of time and grief if I'd glanced at the bestseller list and picked up some Janet Evanovich, Elmore Leonard, or Carl Hiaasen earlier in my career.

I'm sure most of you aren't as clueless as I was when I started writing. In those pre-Internet days, we were all pretty much working in a vacuum. Until I started going to writers' conferences, I did not have any idea what the publishing world was about. Now you have all the information you need at your fingertips.

The e-age has brought changes to publishing that seem chaotic and daunting, but things really are getting better for writers!

And remember that when you're making mistakes, you're learning. I'll leave you with this quote from Neil Gaiman:

"I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something."

What about you Scriveners? Have you done any of these things? Did they derail your writing? What do you think was the biggest mistake you made in your early career? Do you have other mistakes to add to this list?

NEWS: You can read an interview with me on Reedsy, talking about how blogging can help your career. (Reedsy is a new start-up that provides vetted listings of editors, cover artists, and other author-service providers.)


BOOK OF THE WEEK


We are offering the ebook of Ghostwriters in the Sky for 99c for the first time ever! It's a spoof of writers conferences, full of funny situations most writers will identify with.





It's #1 in the Camilla Randall comedy-mysteries: a wild comic romp set at writers’ conference in the wine-and-cowboy town of Santa Ynez, California. When a ghostwriter’s plot to blackmail celebrities with faked evidence leads to murder, Camilla must team up with a cross-dressing dominatrix to stop the killerwho may be a ghostfrom striking again. 
Meanwhile, a hot LA cop named Maverick Jesus Zukowski just may steal her heart.


Here's a review from award-winning author Sandy Nathan 

Ghost Writers is set in a writers' conference in Santa Ynez Valley, where I've lived for twenty years...This book is hysterically funny AND accurately depicts the Valley. Anne Allen gets it right, down to the dollar bills stuck on the ceiling of the Maverick Saloon. It was so fun to read as she called out one Valley landmark after another. Allen got the local denizens right, too, the crazy characters that roam our streets.

Speaking of which, Ms. Allen's literary characters are pretty crazy/zany by themselves. I love Camilla Randall, her ditzy, former debutante heroine, and all the rest. The action gets pretty frenetic when dead bodies start showing up. I heartily recommend this book..."

Ghostwriters in the Sky is available in e-book at all the Amazons iTunesKoboInktera, and at Barnes and Noble for NOOK. Also in  PAPERBACK for only $10.46

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


VIGNETTE WRITERShere's a contest for you! The Vine Leaves Vignette Collection Contest. The prize is for a collection of vignettes and poetry up to 20,000 words. Fee $25.  Prize is $500, publication by Vine Leaves Press (paperback and eBook), 20 copies of the paperback, worldwide distribution, and promotion through the Vine Leaves and staff websites. It will be judged by an editor from Simon and Schuster. Deadline February 28, 2015.

The Playboy College Fiction Contest Prize is $3000 plus publication in Playboy Magazine. You must be enrolled in college to be eligible. Stories up to 5000 words. Deadline February13th, 2015 $5 entry fee for non-subscribers.

Saraband Books prize for a book of poetry or literary fiction. Prize is $2000 and publication. The entry fee is $27. For fiction, submit a manuscript of 150 to 250 pages of stories, novellas, or a short novel For poetry, submit a manuscript of at least 48 pages.  Deadline February 13th, 2015

THE MEADOW NOVELLA PRIZE $15 ENTRY FEE. The winner of the contest will receive $500 and publication in the annual print edition of the journal. Submissions should be between 18,000 and 35,000 words.  Deadline February 1, 2015.

Vestal Review Condensed Classics Anthology Call for submissions to an anthology of world classics condensed to 500 words or fewer. Submissions are still open for the new anthology edited by Mark Budman titled "Condensed to Flash: World Classics." Find specifics here and Scroll down to "Condensed to Flash" and check out the sub guidelines. The payment: $15 and a digital copy for an original story and $5 and a digital copy for a reprint. The deadline: January 31, 2015.

The M.M. Bennetts Prize for Historical fiction. $10 Entry fee. $500 prize for the best historical novel published in 2014. To be announced at the Historical Novel Society Conference in June in Deadline January 31st, 2015

Do you have books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited? There's now a Bookbub type newsletter exclusively for KU books, called Kindle Unlimited Daily Discovery newsletter. My new book, WHY GRANDMA BOUGHT THAT CAR is listed today. Listings cost under $10. Subscriptions are free, and if you're enrolled in KU (all you can read for $10 a month!) this looks like a great way to find new free books.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Why You Don't Need a Literary Agent (but You Might Want One)

by Agent Laurie McLean, Fuse Literary

Although Laurie McLean is not open to general queries, she will be accepting queries from readers who mention this post! You can find her guidelines at Fuse Literary Agency, and her contact information at her blog, Agent Savant.

UPDATE: last week I posted about some high profile agents and other industry professionals who are saying self-published books are no longer a reliable bridge to traditional publishing.  But not all agents feel that way! Here's what Laurie McLean has to say: 

"Fuse is a renegade. I just sold a self-pubbed fantasy trilogy for six figures. And I've got two other self-pubbed authors who are garnering a lot of big trad pub interest, so I'm not willing to agree that the gravy train has left the station. Of course awards, intense marketing and fan clubs and other "extras" these authors have helped a lot."  Thanks, Laurie, for your optimism and hopeful news!...Anne 


WHY YOU DON'T NEED A LITERARY AGENT

by Agent Laurie McLean


Publishing has been going through tumultuous times of late. Chaos reigns. But that doesn't scare me. I like chaos. Because when things are crazy it means there are opportunities galore for those willing to dive in and stir things up. And I like change as much as I like reading—which is a lot.

You see, publishing used to be very hierarchical and now it’s a much more level playing field. It used to be like this:

Author àAgent àPublisher àReader

But now it can be like this:

Author àReader

That should scare the bejeebers out of agents and publishers everywhere. Might even scare a few authors if they have some sense. Let’s recap:

Phase One: the Kindle Revolution


When Amazon’s Kindle e-reading device launched in 2007, followed quickly by the twin self-service publishing juggernauts Smashwords and KDP in 2008, my dormant high-tech antennae sprang back into action so fast I got whiplash! 

For 20 years before I became an agent I had been in high tech marketing. I ran a PR agency that promoted emerging technology companies. To say that I had seen tech transform industries first hand is a gross understatement.

And now it was happening again in book publishing.

The Kindle succeeded because Amazon had the marketing muscle and pricing flexibility to make a market for ebooks for the first time.

Plus its Kindle Store put millions of books at reader fingertips. It was the ultimate in convenience and instant availability. And the low price points, with many free books (imagine!), made ebooks affordable for everyone.

I don't know about you, but in 2008-2010 I read dozens more books per year than I had previously because these devices made it fun. And the first "book" I sold in 2011 was an app—a testament to the experimental nature of dynamic, changeable text.

Once writers tried out Smashwords and KDP and experienced the automation of formatting and distribution, plus the freedom to experiment with cover art, pricing, edits, and more, it was clear that publishing had changed forever…and this change was happening so rapidly, success stories were cropping up faster than pop-up holiday stores.

Phase Two: The Rise of Social Media


Then came social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Blogger, Linked-In, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and so many more. The revolution was not only being televised, it was being broadcast all over the World Wide Web!

As this second phase emerged, social media (especially blogging) became a friendly and familiar way to promote books. Now all bets were off. Writers could be at home typing away in their pajamas, while presenting their professional author brand front and center to the waiting world.

Readers could tell writers exactly what they thought without having to wait for a book signing tour to come to town. And there was something for everyone from caffeine junkies (Twitter) to serious nonfiction networkers (Linked-In).

Phase Three: The Self-Publishing Team and the Hybrid Author


Then the third wave hit. Writers who self-published a lot of books began to notice the importance of having their own publishing team. Independent editors, cover designers, interior book designers, formatters, marketers, bookkeepers, lawyers, business consultants, researchers and more began to form a cottage industry.

Kickstarter and Indiegogo gave writers a way to pay themselves their own advance and hire these ancillary professionals. I have clients who have successfully crowdfunded an adult picture book, a steampunk anthology, a graphic novel and an award-winning science fiction book.

The term Hybrid Author began to be used for writers who were thinking outside the covers of a book to reimagine their work in different media and using both traditional and self publishing techniques depending upon the project. 

In fact, since this is a January guest blog, I’d like to make the bold prediction that we’ll all be Hybrid Authors in 5 years or less as different paths are taken to achieve each publishing goal.

So Do You Need an Agent?


But let’s get back to my original premise. Let’s talk about why you, as an author in 2015, do not need an agent.

First, it might be helpful to understand what an agent does.

At the most basic level, a literary agent is an author’s business partner. An agent locates a publisher interested in buying an author’s writing and then negotiates a deal. But a literary agent is so much more than that. An agent is:

  • A scout who constantly researches what publishers are looking for
  • An advocate for an author and his or her work
  • A midwife who assists with the birth of a writing project
  • A reminder who keeps the author on track if things begin to slip
  • An editor for that last push before submission
  • A critic who will tell authors what they need to hear in order to improve
  • A matchmaker who knows the exact editors for an author’s type of writing
  • A negotiator who will fight to get the best deal for an author
  • A mediator who can step in between author and publisher to fix problems
  • A reality check if an author gets out of sync with the real world
  • A liaison between the publishing community and the author
  • A cheerleader for an author’s work or style
  • A focal point for subsidiary, foreign and dramatic rights
  • A mentor who will assist in developing an author’s career
  • A rainmaker who can get additional writing work for an author
  • A career coach for all aspects of your writing future
  • An educator about changes in the publishing industry
  • A manager of the business side of your writing life

So do you need one? Not necessarily.

If you self-publish, no self-respecting agent should ever take a penny of what you earn. Period. If your agent is not contributing to a project, they do not deserve compensation.

If you desire help with your cover design, want questions answered about editing on any level, need formatting advice, or seek wisdom about social media marketing, legal issues or other professional areas, you should either pay a flat fee per service rendered or if an agent offers to do this for a percentage of sales, that should be YOUR CHOICE!

With self-publishing, you might hire an agent to sell all the subsidiary rights that you now own. In fact, I’ll make another prediction that soon we'll see agents who only specialize in selling subsidiary rights for successful self-published authors. And why not?

You can make a lot of money from foreign translations, movies and television licenses, and audiobooks. Since you own all these rights, it makes sense to team up with someone who can sell them for you. If you know how to do this yourself, go for it. Most writers don’t. It’s a full time job.

Plus, if you want to sell to a Big Five publisher, well, for now, you’re still going to need an agent. But there’s another way agents can be helpful.

Back in the ancient past, say 2009, publishing pundits were screaming “conflict of interest” at agents who dared to offer assisted self-publishing as one of their services. Or at agencies who created a publishing arm to their business. I always thought that was ridiculous. I always try to get the best deals for my clients’ books. 

But if I couldn't sell something because editors didn't see what I saw in a particular manuscript or writing style, why should that book or author be shelved? Plus, I had a lot of midlist authors who suddenly found themselves without a publisher. Were they just supposed to fold up their tents and vanish in the night? Not if I could help it.

Agents are the business experts in the publishing equation and are well-suited to be publishers. We know the entire process from story creation through to book distribution. And agents are great at networking and marketing. We have studied the arcane knowledge. We have personalities that can be beneficial.

Some agents are fabulous self-publishing guides, having learned the process themselves in the early days while continuing to keep up with the latest trends. Some agents are talented editors because that was the job they had in traditional publishing before leaving New York. And some agents are critically needed specialists on topics such as books-to-film, subrights sales, foreign deals, etc.

So you don’t need an agent in this dawn of a new age in publishing. You are perfectly capable of writing, publishing and selling every single book you write.

You no longer need an agent to be a REAL AUTHOR!

But you might want one.

And can I just pontificate a bit more here before we call it quits? Stop calling yourself a writer. If you've got a book out there for sale, you are an author. You don't need to jump through any more hoops. When people ask you what you do, you should, without hesitation or grimace, say, "I am an author." You don’t need anyone else's validation on that point.

In conclusion:


1. You don't need an agent to self-publish your books. You also don't need an agent to contact editors directly at conferences, or about digital-first imprints, or on work-for-hire projects.

2. If you want a good business partner, consider putting an agent on your team. Don't treat them like gods. Interview them like you would a high-level consultant.

3. Don't let the traditionalists pigeonhole you. Go out there and get your stories told.




Offices in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Vancouver

Laurie McLean is a veteran agent and the founder of Fuse Literary Agency . She specializes in adult genre fiction (romance, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, thrillers, suspense, horror, etc.) plus middle-grade and young adult children’s books. She does not handle non-fiction, or commercial, literary or women’s fiction, nor does she handle children’s picture books or graphic novels. Prior to founding Fuse Literary, Laurie was also the Dean of San Francisco Writers University and on the management team of the San Francisco Writers Conference.

What about you, Scriveners? Do you have an agent? Do you feel you'd benefit from having one? Do you have any questions for Laurie? She was planning to respond to all comments today, but because of the Golden Gate Bridge closure, she'll have to be travelling a lot more miles today than she anticipated. But she will stop by later to answer questions. And do note, she's accepting queries from our readers in the above genres

NEWS: I'm sure one of the things Laurie would tell you is that a query is more compelling if you have publication credits, and nothing is better for getting credits than the good old short story. My piece from November's Writer's Digest on why "Short is the New Long: 9 Reasons to Write Short Fiction" is now free to read at the Writer's Digest blog. I always include some opportunities to submit short work to journals and contests in the "OPPORTUNITY ALERTS" below.


BOOK OF THE WEEK



The KILLER SIX PACK: only 99cfor six novels! 

Six Award-Winning Bestselling Authors bring you a Six Pack of Sleuths DEATH BY SARCASM by Dan Ames writing as Dani Amore MIAMI MUMMIES by Barbara Silkstone MY PERFECT WEDDING by Sibel HodgeSADIE’S GUIDE TO CATCHING KILLERS by Zané Sachs (the demented alter-ego of author, Suzanne Tyrpak) BEING LIGHT by Helen SmithFOOD OF LOVE, by Anne R. Allen



Six Pack of Sleuths is available from:


all the Amazons



OPPORTUNITY ALERTS



VIGNETTE WRITERS, here's a contest for you! The Vine Leaves Vignette Collection Contest. The prize is for a collection of vignettes and poetry up to 20,000 words. Fee $25. Prize is $500, publication by Vine Leaves Press (paperback and eBook), 20 copies of the paperback, worldwide distribution, and promotion through the Vine Leaves and staff websites. It will be judged by an editor from Simon and Schuster. Deadline February 28, 2015.

THE MEADOW NOVELLA PRIZE $15 ENTRY FEE. The winner of the contest will receive $500 and publication in the annual print edition of the journal. Submissions should be between 18,000 and 35,000 words. Deadline February 1, 2015.

Vestal Review Condensed Classics Anthology Call for submissions to an anthology of world classics condensed to 500 words or fewer. Submissions are still open for the new anthology edited by Mark Budman titled "Condensed to Flash: World Classics." Find specifics here and Scroll down to "Condensed to Flash" and check out the sub guidelines. You get paid: $15 and a digital copy for an original story and $5 and a digital copy for a reprint. The deadline: January 31, 2015.

The M.M. Bennetts Prize for Historical fiction. $10 Entry fee. $500 prize for the best historical novel published in 2014. To be announced at the Historical Novel Society Conference in June. Deadline January 31st, 2015

Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition. First prize $3000. Top 25 will be published. Entry Fee $25. 1500 words or less. Deadline January 16th, 2015.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Why the Self-Published Ebook is No Longer the "New Query"


by Anne R. Allen

A few years ago, soon after the debut of the Kindle e-reader, the world was buzzing with talk of self-published "Kindle Millionaires" like Amanda Hocking and John Locke, and big publishers were beating a path to the doors of all the newly successful self-published ebook writers.

Even modestly successful self-publishers were being approached by agents with offers of representation. Agents were actually urging authors to self-publish, as in this quote from agent Jenny Bent from Sept 7, 2011, which I gleefully quoted on this blog.

"Unpublished authors, do you have a great book but can't find an agent? There's no excuse not to get that book out there independently and prove to yourself and to the world that there is an audience for your writing."

Soon after, as Ms. Bent said in an interview a few years later, an "industry" grew up of agents and publishers who approached Amazon bestsellers and offered them contracts. Some were more ethical than others, but many did get lucrative deals for their formerly self-pubbed clients.

That year, at the peak of "the EBook Revolution," Random House bought a self-pubbed book that became one of the bestsellers of all time, the notorious Fifty Shades of Grey

But four years is a long, long time in publishing years.

Since then, a number of things have altered the publishing landscape (yet again).

Update: When I wrote this post, I forgot that 90% of people never read to the end of a blogpost. There are many hopeful things at the end of this blogpost.

But now I'll add some here:

This is not the end of the indie revolution. Far from it. This is still a great time to be a self-published writer. If you WANT to be a self-published writer. The landscape is changing, but it has always been changing. Tomorrow a brand new retailer may spring up that offers us better deals and more money. I just heard from one today. Anything can happen.

But if you're hoping for a Big Five contract, self-publishers are not as welcomed as they were four years ago. And big, expensive self-publishing packages offered by vanity presses owned by the Big Five are not leading to many lucrative contracts.

If you're hoping for a contract from Amazon imprints, things may be different. I understand they are still offering deals to top selling indies. Amazon Imprints won't get you in bookstores, and may not impress your Great Aunt Susie as much as an offer from Random Penguin, but they will give you amazing perks and some of their authors are getting rich.

Here are some of the reasons self-publishers are no longer as appealing to the Big Five as they were in the early days of the "Kindle Revolution".

1) Many of the authors who made those big deals did not earn out their advances.


As agent Janet Reid says:

"If you dig beyond headlines and snakeoil blogs, you'll discover that a lot of the people who "got discovered" by self-pubbing have not gone on to stellar print careers."

The Big Five usually charge a whole lot more for the same ebook, so sales often plummet once a book goes from indie to trad. An ebook that zoomed to the top of the charts at $3.99 often comes to a screeching halt at $12.99.

Also, agents usually take a book out of circulation from the moment the deal is inked until a year or more later, in which time the book loses all momentum. If people do recall the title when it resurfaces, they'll remember it as old news.

2) Ebooks provide higher profits than print, and the ebook market for your title may be tapped out.


An ebook doesn't have to be printed, shipped or displayed in brick and mortar bookstores, and electrons don't cost a thing. That means the profit to be made with an ebook is a much higher percentage than for a hard copy.

An indie title that has sold millions in ebook form has probably raked in the biggest profits already.

Even if sales can be expected to be brisk in print, the bottom line isn't big enough to be worth the trouble for most publishers. Executives at the Big Five are loathe to put money into a print run for a book whose profits have peaked.

As agent Kristin Nelson said in November, "a St. Martin’s editor was willing to go on record to explain exactly why her house will no longer buy indie authors who have self-published ebooks that have gone on to be wildly successful. St. Martin’s claims their data shows that the ebook sales have already tapped out the market."

This hasn't always proved true, as in the case of Nelson's client Hugh Howey and his Sci-Fi novel Wool, which went on to sell millions in hard copy after his phenomenal self-publishing debut. But Howey is the exception rather than the rule.

Since super-agent Nelson is well known for getting some of the biggest traditional deals for former self-publishers, her words have weight. If she no longer can get the Big Five to look at self-pubbed titles, it's unlikely that other agents will be willing to try.

3) Some chain bookstores refuse to promote formerly self-published books


Nelson also says bookstores often refuse to promote former indies, even with an enticing "co-op" deal (that's when publishers pay to rent the real estate in the front of a store to promote certain titles. )

Kristin Nelson was  quoted in the Digital Reader, saying, "…even if a publisher buys a successful indie title intending to publish a trade paperback edition, and even if they’re willing to pay bookstore co-op, booksellers are reluctant to grant that title the physical retail space. They are simply turning down the co-op offer."

I don't know exactly why this is, but I have some theories.

By "chain bookstores" she may have meant Barnes and Noble specifically. B & N is a rival of Amazon, and they may see giving space to former indies as promoting Amazon, since indies generally make the majority of their sales on Amazon.

Or she may have been referring to the reputation indies have for producing unvetted work, including illegal, hardcore erotica.

After the big mess with illegal self-pubbed erotica making it into some of the big UK bookstores via Kobo in 2013, Kobo removed a huge number of indie books (both small press and self-pubbed.) Many of these books (like mine) didn't have a bit of sexual content, but Kobo's executives saw all small presses and self-publishers as suspect. (Kobo did eventually restore the majority of titles, but they took their time.)

UK bookstore chains like W.H. Smith and Waterstone's refused to carry any indie books after the scandal. I hear they are starting to restore a handful of very popular indie titles, but the big UK chains seem to continue to fear that indies will flood their websites with nasty stuff about getting it on with Bigfoot. 

4) E-readers are full. People are more selective about what they download, even if it's free.


In those heady days of 2008-2011, anybody could make a book free on Amazon and it could hit the bestseller lists without a bit of promotion. In fact, at the beginning, there was no freebie bestseller list. An unknown self-pubbed ebook like Elisa Lorello's Faking It could be "sold" as free in 2008 and make it to #1 in the whole Kindle store. (And Amazon soon scarfed it up for their own imprint.)

But even after the introduction of the "Free" list, it wasn't hard to make "bestseller" status. My first freebie put me in the top 1000 in literature and fiction, and I didn't even know about it. My publisher just put it free for a couple of days and there it was.

That was because e-readers were new and picking up new ebooks for them was fun. But now a lot of people (including me) have 200+ books on our Kindles, so we think twice about downloading new books, even if they're free.

As author/publisher Bob Mayer told the New York Times, "If you’re not an author with a slavish fan following, you’re in a lot of trouble. Everyone already has a ton of things on their Kindle they haven’t opened."


5) Amazon is no longer the indie playground it used to be


Amazon's algorithms no longer treat indies as equals with the same "also-boughts" and advantages they give their own growing list of imprints, so becoming a bestseller is a whole lot harder if you self-publish or go with a small press.

The Zon also requires that you stay exclusive with them in order to offer freebie runs and countdowns, plus the borrows everybody used to get with Amazon Prime. Plus borrows pay a lot less than they used to since Kindle Unlimited debuted last summer.

In fact, the Kindle Unlimited program has been mostly a disaster for authors. Borrows only get a payout if at least 10% of the book is read, and the payout amount decreases by the month.

Amazon has also started to offer big bonuses to the superstars at the top of their bestseller lists. Most of the stars are with Amazon imprints and other trad. publishers, so that hurts indie authors as well. The superstars get big monthly checks from the K.U. pot, so the pot shrinks for everybody else. Amazon has become a zero-sum game where a handful of winners take all. Even former megasellers like H.M. Ward have seen their incomes plummet by 75%.

As Mark Coker said on his blog in November:

"The gravy train of exponential sales growth is over. Indies have hit a brick wall and are scrambling to make sense of it. In recent weeks, for example, I’ve heard a number of indie authors report that their sales at Amazon dropped significantly since…Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited."

Why? Partly because Kindle Unlimited draws the readers who buy the most books and decreases the amount of money they spend. For a flat fee, they can read all the books they want. So somebody who used to spend thousands a year on books now only spends $10 a month.

Also, people in the program are more likely to choose expensive trad-pubbed books over the 99c-$4.99 indie book because it looks like more of a bargain.

For more on how K.U. has ended the "indie honeymoon" with Amazon, see Porter Anderson's piece at FutureBook , David Streitfeld's piece from last Sunday's New York Times and another on Friday, as well as Mike Shatzkin's Dec. 31st post in the Shatzkin Files.

All the big name authors' books available at bargain prices have had a huge impact, too, as Russell Blake said on his blog in December:

"The tried and true gambit most indies have been using, which is selling based on price, at .99 or $2.99 or $3.99 or $4.99, likely won’t work particularly well anymore. Because when you can buy Gone Girl for $2.99 and Connolly’s latest at $3.99, why would most readers buy your book at or around the same price?"

Another thing Amazon has removed recently is the nice button that allowed you to share your purchase on Twitter, FB, etc. Clicking on a button that said, "I just bought [title] by [author]" was a simple way for a reader to endorse a book. Now it's gone. One more way that Amazon is becoming less author-friendly.

6) Most of the "tried and true" techniques for marketing indie books are no longer effective


a) Trad-pub has taken over Bookbub. The bargain book newsletter which used to be the most effective marketing tool for indies is now often dominated by Amazon imprints and Big Five backlist titles at bargain basement prices. The prices for advertising in a Bookbub mailing have also gone through the roof, and it's so popular, very few books make the cut.

b) Freebies don't mean much anymore. One of the best marketing techniques for indies was the free book. But now that Kindles are full, most people aren't excited about getting another free book. As reviewer Ed Cyzewski said on his blog recently, "If you’re promoting a book, you need to keep this in mind: A FREE BOOK IS NO LONGER A TREAT." (Ed's caps.)

c) Social media has been spammed to death. Facebook has become pretty much useless for authors, since FB only shows your posts to about a tenth of your followers unless you pay extra. Plus so many writers post endless streams of Twitter spam that nobody pays attention to any of it. Some writers say they make sales through Pinterest, but even those are fading.

You Can Still Have a Career as an Author-preneur


I don't mean to discourage anybody who genuinely wants to self-publish. Many self-publishers are still doing well and much prefer having control of their own careers.

Self-publishing is here to stay.

It's also growing and changing. Ebook sales have stalled at about 25% of the market, but indies are finding better ways to distribute their paper books. A few months ago, indie superstar Barbara Freethy signed her own deal with the #1 US distributor Ingram to provide hard copies of her books for bookstores without going through a publisher

As Porter Anderson wrote at Thought Catalog, "If Ingram can translate what it’s doing for the big-selling Freethy into practical, actionable avenues to bookshops for more modestly producing self-publishers, a considerable shift might be in the offing."

Other indies are also doing well. Romance superstar Marie Force has made the NYT bestseller list 6 times with indie titles, and Brenna Aubrey, who turned down a six figure deal with trad publishing last year has had phenomenal success this year. It still does happen, especially for romance writers!

As Mark Coker said "If you publish for the right reasons and you adopt best practices that make your books more available and more desirable to readers, your future is as bright as your imagination."

But ebooks are no longer a novelty and the Amazon gravy train has left the station. Authors who want to make it as indies will have to use patience, well-placed advertising, and smart platform-building. Facebook and Twitter are no longer enough.

They will also do better with frequent launches of shorter books than a handful of long ones.

Most important: indies have to make their products available at as many retail sites as possible.  Even though K.U.'s policies hurt most authors, other subscription services like Scribd and Oyster pay full royalties for all borrows.

Authors will thrive if they think outside the Amazon box.

For a great overview of the post-K.U. ebook outlook, Jason Matthews has a thoughtful post at The Book Designer. And here's another from indie guru Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who reminds us that "the publishing business is about ups and downs, not a slowly upward trending line."

But if your ultimate goal is a Big 5 contract...


Self-publishing is not the best path for authors who hope to have a "hybrid" career with the Big 5. If you want some of your titles to be traditionally published, you'll be better off going with the trads first, which means starting by querying agents.

Some YA agents say they still do check Wattpad for superstars with an eye to signing them as clients. But Wattpad is a social network where people give away chapters of their books for free, not a self-publishing platform.

I recently read a blogpost by a self-publisher who used self-publishing as a kind of apprenticeship. She unpublished everything when she felt she was good enough to publish traditionally.

But in today's climate, I urge people like her who want a trad. career NOT to self-publish. Go the traditional route from the beginning. Don't put money into expensive cover design and marketing when you don't have a product that can compete with trad-pubbled titles. It's especially unwise to throw amateur work on Amazon with a homemade cover and no editing if you're hoping for a real writing career someday. Those things can lurk in dark corners of the Interwebz and come back to haunt you.

Put that energy into workshops and conferences and classes. The publishing business is for professionals, whether you self-publish or go traditional. Become one.

Mild self-publishing success will not work in your favor with agents. You need to first have a mega-seller, then query with another book (not in the same series.) Even then, agents will not be as interested as they were four years ago.

The new query is the old query. If you want a traditional or hybrid career, learn to write at a top-notch professional level, create a great book, and start the agent hunt anew. The best places to start hunting are QueryTracker and AgentQuery. The QueryShark archives can help you polish up that query.

If you're still on the fence about whether to self-publish or go the traditional route, here's a handy infographic to help you decide.

Next week:  we'll have a guest post from Agent Laurie McLean of Fuse Literary Agency talking about all the latest news in the agent business.

And as a special favor, Laurie McLean will accept queries from readers of this blog, even though she is closed to queries from the general public.


So what about you, Scriveners? If you're self-published, have you found that K.U. is cutting into your bottom line? If not, can you share your success story with us? Or are you pre-published and still hoping for that Big Five contract? Have you felt pressured to self-publish? Are you planning to query agents with your current work?


BOOK OF THE WEEK


I have a new book! 

It's a collection of eight stories and eight verses, formerly only available in anthologies and hard to find literary journals. Some are award winners. All are kinda funny. 
Only 99c. 



I love the fun cover by designer Keri Knutson


99c on Amazon


Humorous portraits of rebellious women at various stages of their lives. From aging Betty Jo, who feels so invisible she contemplates robbing a bank, to neglected 10-year-old Maude, who turns to a fantasy Elvis for the love she's denied by her patrician family, to a bloodthirsty, Valley-Girl version of Madam Defarge, these women—young and old—are all rebelling against the stereotypes and traditional roles that hold them back. 

Which is, of course, why Grandma bought that car


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


VIGNETTE WRITERShere's a contest for you! The Vine Leaves Vignette Collection Contest. The prize is for a collection of vignettes and poetry up to 20,000 words. Fee $25.  Prize is $500, publication by Vine Leaves Press (paperback and eBook), 20 copies of the paperback, worldwide distribution, and promotion through the Vine Leaves and staff websites. It will be judged by an editor from Simon and Schuster. Deadline February 28, 2015.

THE MEADOW NOVELLA PRIZE $15 ENTRY FEE. The winner of the contest will receive $500 and publication in the annual print edition of the journal. Submissions should be between 18,000 and 35,000 words.  Deadline February 1, 2015.

Vestal Review Condensed Classics Anthology Call for submissions to an anthology of world classics condensed to 500 words or fewer. Submissions are still open for the new anthology edited by Mark Budman titled "Condensed to Flash: World Classics." Find specifics here and Scroll down to "Condensed to Flash" and check out the sub guidelines. The payment: $15 and a digital copy for an original story and $5 and a digital copy for a reprint. The deadline: January 31, 2015.

The M.M. Bennetts Prize for Historical fiction. $10 Entry fee. $500 prize for the best historical novel published in 2014. To be announced at the Historical Novel Society Conference in June in Deadline January 31st, 2015

Writer's Digest Short Short Story CompetitionFirst prize $3000. Top 25 will be published. Entry Fee $25. 1500 words or less. Deadline January 16th, 2015.

THE GOVER PRIZE FOR SHORT-SHORT STORIES from Best New Writing$5 Entry Fee
Prize is $250 and publication in Best New Writing to the best short fiction and creative nonfiction. Entries are limited to 500 words or less. Gover Prize winner and finalists will be published in the upcoming BNW edition. Deadline January 10th, 2015


Sunday, December 28, 2014

What Did You Care About Most in 2014? Our Top Writing Stories.


by Ruth Harris


As Anne and I looked back at the blog for the past year, a portrait emerged highlighting the themes and subjects that interested you most. We were intrigued by these clues about what was on our readers’ minds in 2014 and thought you’d be interested, too. So here are the topics that rang your bells.

Feedback


As writers we care about how our readers respond so getting feedback is high on our lists. A series of three posts addressed this important issue from three different points of view:

  • Anne delved into the function of crit groups and offered guidelines about what advice to heed and what to ignore.
  • Editing is life. The blue tie? Or the yellow one? Peter or Paul? Or Mary? Ruth, a former editor, shared the secret of every successful writer, editors and editing
  • Jami Gold made valuable suggestions about how and where to find beta readers and how to hone your own skills as a beta reader.

Beginnings and endings


  • Great first chapters, made even more important because of the “Look Inside” feature, seal the deal and impel the reader hit the buy button. Ergo: first chapters matter. A lot. Anne talked about how not to begin your book (and turn off your prospective reader). 
  • Now that you’ve written a grabby, impossible-to-resist first chapter, what next? Chapter endings keep the pages turning. Jessica Bell gave must-heed advice about the key to a great chapter ending

Do’s and Don’ts


  • Twitter Is big, confusing, fun, and scary and you have only 160 characters to make your point. Here’s Molly Greene’s stellar advice about how to behave (and how not to) on twitter.
  • Aiming too high? Aiming too low? Stuck with a lousy deal? Anne wrote about the dumb things she did and what you can do so you don’t make the same mistakes. Pay attention!
  • Tipping off that you’re a clueless newbie? Turning off readers and agents? You don’t want to do that either, do you? Here’s Anne’s guide to beginner’s mistakes—the mistakes you don’t want to make. 

The no-outline outline, the killer blurb and writing for the 21st Century


  • There are plotters and there are pantsers but what about those of us somewhere in the middle? Nathan Bransford boils it down to 3 great tips that will get you from that first vague idea to an actual, usable plan that will get your book (and you) off to the right start.
  • Blurbs are so important that today even the Bible has one. They are a little bit art, a little bit craft, a little bit commercial poetry, so how the $^%# do you write one? Ruth, a blurb writer in a former life, shares some tips.
  • Styles change in art, music, fashion. And in books, too. Sketch, don’t paint. Unbury your dialogue. The magic of white space. Anne offers valuable insight into writing for the 21st Century reader.

Genre, categories and keywords


  • Romance with a side of horror? Happens in real life—oy!—but not such a hot idea in fiction. Cozy mystery with a side of blood and gore? Only if you want readers coming after you with shoulder-fired missiles. Genres come with rules that create guidelines for writers—and set up expectations in readers. Here’s Ruth’s round-up of genres with links to expert advice about how to write them. 
  • Readers know what they like and what they want. Categories and keywords help them find what they’re looking for and smart writers know how to use them effectively. Ruth delved into the mysteries of BISAC and BIC, of categories and keywords with lots of advice from the category and keywords gurus.

Coming attractions...from Anne


We've had such enthusiastic responses to our guest bloggers this year, we've invited some more great guests for 2015: 

January: Agent Laurie McLean of Fuse Literary Agency on "Why You Don't Need a Literary Agent" (but why you might WANT one.)

This is an absolute MUST READ for anybody who is querying right now. Even though Laurie is closed to queries, SHE WILL ACCEPT QUERIES FROM READERS OF THIS BLOG.

Also in January: an interview with Walter Reuben, the winner of the L.A. Film Critics' Award for Best Indie Film for 2014. His film, The David Whiting Story, addresses the same mysterious Hollywood death as my novel The Gatsby Game. But what's most important is that a Boomer who followed his dream--and not the rules--achieved amazing success with a first film. Walter is an amazing inspiration to all new writers out there, no matter what their age. 

February: Melodie Campbell, Canada's Queen of Comedy and president of Crime Writers of Canada will be back for another of her hilarious how-tos.

March: Super-editor Jodie Renner on How to Write Award-Winning Short Fiction.

April: Robin Houghton, author of the great book Blogging for Writers with some Insider's Blogging Tips.

We also hope to have a visit from radio talk show host Dave Congalton with tips for authors on how to be a good radio guest. 

We're also hoping to have some of our great guests from last year back again.

Coming up from Ruth: She's been researching the newest approaches to creativity and productivity and she's planning a post I know will help and inspire us all.

Coming up from Anne: 

  • How Kindle Unlimited has changed indie publishing and why we need to think outside the Amazon box.
  • Has the Indie Bubble Burst?
  • How new changes to social media affect authors. 
  • Authors as marketers: why a lot of marketing advice doesn't apply to selling books.
  • Should you follow the trend and return to newsletters and drop social media?
  • Why quality, not quantity, is what still matters.  
  • Why blogging is more important for authors than ever. In spite of what you may hear.
  • Why customer reviews are becoming less relevant. 
  • How to save money and time by ignoring people who are exploiting authors. 
  • Tips for entering (and winning) contests.
  • How to decide if your book will do better with trad. or indie publishing in today's market.

Both of us wish all of you great reviews and happy readers, sentences that flow and books to be proud of. We look forward to seeing you in 2015 and, until then, wish you the very best of New Years!

BOOK OF THE WEEK


CHANEL and GATSBY: A Comic two-fer. Only 99c!
Hollywood and Manhattan: it's Bi-Coastal Comedy!

Available at NOOKKoboAmazon USAmazon UKAmazon CA



The Chanel Caper

JAMES BOND MEETS NORA EPHRON. OR IS IT THE OTHER WAY AROUND?

Blake Weston is a smart, savvy, no BS, 56-year-old Nora Ephron-like New Yorker. Her DH, Ralph Marino, is a très James Bond ex-cop & head of security for a large international corporation. At a tense time in their relationship, Blake & Ralph are forced to work together to solve a murder in Shanghai & break up an international piracy ring.

A totally fabulous, LMAO adventure with some of the best one-liners I've ever read!!! Ruth's wit is just a hoot, and her characters have the best sassy mouths in the biz!!!...bestselling author D.D. Scott

The Gatsby Game

A POSSIBLE SOLUTION TO A 40-YEAR OLD UNSOLVED HOLLYWOOD MYSTERY

When Nicky Conway meets Fitzgerald-quoting Alistair at a Princeton mixer, she falls for his retro, Jazz-Age charm. But she discovers he’s a con man obsessed with his own “Daisy”—British actress Delia Kent. After Alistair manipulates Nicky into nannying for Delia’s daughter on the set of a Hollywood film, Delia finds Alistair dead in her motel room. Local police can’t decide if it’s accident, suicide—or murder, in which case, Nicky is the prime suspect.

"For anyone who likes their books to be witty, with great characters, an atmosphere which it is a delight to experience, and a fast moving plot, this book is one you definitely shouldn't miss." ...Gerry McCullough of Gerry's Books

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


VIGNETTE WRITERShere's a contest for you! The Vine Leaves Vignette Collection Contest. The prize is for a collection of vignettes and poetry up to 20,000 words. Fee $25.  Prize is $500, publication by Vine Leaves Press (paperback and eBook), 20 copies of the paperback, worldwide distribution, and promotion through the Vine Leaves and staff websites. It will be judged by an editor from Simon and Schuster. Deadline February 28, 2015.

THE MEADOW NOVELLA PRIZE $15 ENTRY FEE. The winner of the contest will receive $500 and publication in the annual print edition of the journal. Submissions should be between 18,000 and 35,000 words.  Deadline February 1, 2015.

The M.M. Bennetts Prize for Historical fiction. $10 Entry fee. $500 prize for the best historical novel published in 2014. To be announced at the Historical Novel Society Conference in June in Deadline January 31st, 2015

Writer's Digest Short Short Story CompetitionFirst prize $3000. Top 25 will be published. Entry Fee $25. 1500 words or less. Deadline January 16th, 2015.

THE GOVER PRIZE FOR SHORT-SHORT STORIES from Best New Writing. $5 Entry Fee. The prize is $250 and publication in Best New Writing to the best short fiction and creative nonfiction. Entries are limited to 500 words or less. Gover Prize winner and finalists will be published in the upcoming BNW edition. Deadline January 10th, 2015

WALKER PERCY PRIZE IN SHORT FICTION $15 ENTRY FEE. Winner receives $1,000 and publication in New Orleans Review. All finalists considered for publication. Enter previously unpublished original stories up to 7,500 words. Deadline December 31st

Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Contest $24 entry fee. Prizes of $1600, $800, $400 and $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round. Professional feedback provided for all entries! Any genre: up to 3000 words. Deadline December 31st.