Friday, June 30, 2006

Agents

A lot of writers ask whether it's useful to get an agent. The final answer has to be up to you, but there is one basic question: Do you have the time to shop your book around, or is it more important to you to use what free time you have in writing? This is especially important for those who have a "day job" in addition to their fledgling writing careers. You can't spend all your precious free time researching the right target publishers and sending out submissions ... and still get your writing done.

Agents, at least in the romance genre in the U.S., generally take a 15% commission on domestic sales, and 20% on foreign or subsidiary rights. You should never pay an upfront fee to an agent. They receive their payment only after you have made a sale. Usually, the agent receives the check directly from the publishers, takes his/her cut, and passes the remainder on to you over a time frame specified in your contract. Sometimes, an agent will charge for copying, postage, and other office costs (also outlined in the contract), but should never charge a reading fee.

Agents know the market. They are more likely to know the best home for your book, and will usually have a good relationship with the editors at many publishing houses. A good agent will be consistent in his/her efforts to market your book, and keep you updated on its progress. An agent can be (and ideally, should be) your biggest cheerleader - as excited about your work as you are.

You can submit directly to editors, and sell without an agent, but an agent will help your work bypass the slush pile and get it in front of an editor sooner. An agent can also act as your coach, advising you on aspects of your work that may need to be changed or improved to make the work more saleable. He or she can help you plan your career and make the most of your talents.

Agents do this and more. That's a lot of work, and you might be glad to have an extra person on your writing team to handle it. But the writing part is up to you, so be sure you still have time for it even if you go agent-free. For more information, including a list of questions to ask prospective agents, see the Association of
Authors' Representatives, Inc.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Blogging vs. Writing

What I'm about to tell you is going to reek with irony, considering the page you're reading, but here goes nothing.

Don't spend a lot of time blogging when you're a writer.

(You can laugh now.)

Now that we've gotten our mirth out of the way, let's qualify that statement. Sure, you can blog, and still be an author. It's free P.R., for one thing, and might help or amuse some folks out there, and what's life without some amusement? But remember, the more time you spend blogging, the less time you're actually writing. And if you want to finish your opus, blogging isn't going to help you do it. Nor will spending all day reading others' blogs. The key is moderation. A ten-minute blog entry probably won't bite into a very big chunk of your writing time. But spending hours doing so will definitely prevent The End from getting any closer. If you've got the willpower to tell yourself "Get off the 'Net and start writing, slacker!" then by all means, give up a little time for blogging, or reading one. Which reminds me, if you're reading this, I should probably send you scurrying back to your opus. Shoo!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Writer's Must-Have List

There's an iron-clad list of things you'll need as a writer:

1) A sense of humor. Face it, some things in this business are too ironic not to be funny.

2) Thick skin. Some people will not, I repeat, not, like your work. This business is made up of people from all walks of life. That's a whole lot of differing opinions. And that is just what they are - opinions. Remember that, and take it for what it is. Don't take it personally.

3) The willingness to change your work. Be honest - if you get three or more unrelated people pointing out the same snag in your work, they might be right. You can explain your plot point all you want in person or over snail/E-mail, but you won't get that chance when someone's reading your work and you aren't around to hold their hand. Try to step back and take another look at your manuscript, and see if you can understand where your editor/agent/critique partner got stuck. The willingness to change is what makes us better writers.

4) Down time. Everyone needs a little break now and then. Spend it with your family, or go out for drinks with your critique group. Believe me, there's no restaurant livelier than one containing a table full of writers out for a good time.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Vision

What is vision?

"Vision" is a term swiped from the art world - hey, writing's an art form, too! It stands for the direction in which you see your work going, or the effect you want to convey to the reader. What do you want to say with your manuscript? What do you want to stay with the reader once she closes your book? What impact should it have?

Tall order? Yep. But pretty easy to fill, as long as you are consistent in your plot and in your characters' motivations. Your reader will follow right along with you, as long as you're clear about your vision from start to finish. That means sticking to it, even if someone else disagrees with it (and there's a big difference between a disagreement over writing mechanics and your underlying vision - good to remember). Only you can tell your story, and only you should.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Voice

What is voice?

"Voice" is the seal that marks your manuscript uniquely yours. You can also call it "style," because it's infused with your own unique personality. No one else writes quite like you, and no one ever will. If you have a strong voice, your writing will shine. The dialogue, action, plot, and pacing come together in a confident blend that stands out from the pack. A strong voice sells books. It gives the reader a special connection to your story, as if it's being told by a person, rather than through ink and paper.

How do I get "voice?"

Aye, there's the rub. You can't "get" it - only improve it. You already have voice - it's as much a part of you as the way you talk or act. What you need to work on is craft. Streamlining your work, and polishing your writing skills, will help your voice shine through. A reader won't see the mechanics of the work, then, but the way you tell the story. If they like your voice, they'll seek out more of your work. (If they don't, don't be offended. Opinions vary widely, and your voice may not be the type that reader can connect with. But someone will!) The more you improve your craft, the better your voice will get.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Critique Groups

One of the best things you can do for your manuscript is to join a critique group that really cares about your work. A dedicated fellow writer will not only understand the mechanics of a good manuscript, but they may also have suggestions about plot and pacing that might not have occurred to you. The caveat is, of course, not to edit so much that you lose your own voice and vision for your work ... but that's a topic for another day.

It's especially great if you find another writer who understands your vision for your work and wants to help you get the most out of it. They can tell you where they laugh, where they cry, what alternate wording might work better, and best of all, support you when you're feeling down. A built-in circle of friends who understand the madness of being a writer - and sympathize! Not to mention, they're not family, so they're not going to be too careful if there are things they don't like or understand about your work. They'll tell you - unlike Mom, who might be more worried about your feelings. :)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Morning Off

As important as it is to keep working on your craft (and if you have a "day job," it's even more difficult to squeeze in time to do so), it's also important to know when to pause and take a break. Writers also refer to this as "refilling the well." This lets you kick back and relax while your subconscious mind takes a break from the effort of writing. It is, after all, a taxing occupation on the ol' noggin.

I had a morning off today, and spent some quality time with the Dear Husband having breakfast. It was wonderful to be able to put aside the have-to-do's for a while and just enjoy the free time. Now I can get back to work recharged and ready to tackle the writing again.

Take some time, even a couple of hours, and allow yourself to do nothing. You'll feel refreshed, and that looming deadline or waiting manuscript will look a whole lot less daunting when you return to it.

Just don't forget to return to it. ;)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Hey, Thanks!

I recently finaled in a contest, and this week I received my first-round scores back. This is a good time to remind new authors of the importance of "Thank You" notes. Not only is it nice to send a thank you note to judges, agents or editors who have taken the time to review your work (even if they don't snap up your opus on first sight!), but those folks are more likely to recall an author who remembers those little niceties the next time around.

Keep a stack of them on hand. They're pretty cheap if you get the big packs, and it only takes a little time out of your day to practice the kindness it takes to write one. Savvy?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Whoa, Subtext!

So, the Dear Husband and I were watching Disney's "Tarzan" last night - I admit it, I'm a Disney junkie and watch my favorites every so often even though I am (ahem) an adult. While the movie takes rather a large departure from the original book, I still find it a good story in itself.

Well, it got to the scene where Tarzan and Jane meet, and he does that whole bit where he takes her glove off and puts his palm against hers. I found myself pointing out to the DH, "You know, for a Disney cartoon, this is probably the steamiest scene they've ever done!" DH, of course, had no idea what I was talking about.

What I am referring to is subtext - the things your characters don't say or do. Subtext can pack a bigger wallop than your actual dialogue or action, if you do it right. Disney, in recent years, has become something of a master at it, which is the reason people of very disparate ages can watch the same film and still enjoy it. A five-year-old may not catch what happened in that glove scene (and your hubby might not, either), but boy, a grown woman does. Watch that scene again, and pay attention to body language - the most important tool in a writer's subtext arsenal. You'll see what I mean.

It isn't so much what a character says or does, but how that's the key to adding layers to your work. Those are the books that end up on a reader's keeper shelf - the ones that you can read, and read again, and find a new layer every time. Pay attention to your characters' body language, especially if you are writing a romance, and your scene features the hero and heroine. It's important, too, when your H/H are facing the villain. Subtext conveys reams of information about how your characters react to one another, particularly in times of crisis. So go on - layer in that subtext and shoot for the keeper shelf.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sleep? What's that?

One of the things I hear writers complain frequently about is lack of sleep. When your family has functions going on (BTW, Happy belated Father's Day to all you dads out there), your house needs cleaning, and your writing bug bites at one A.M., when are you expected to get that nap in? And of course, when you do sleep, you can always look forward to the cat pouncing on your head in the wee hours.

Sadly, writing is the item that usually gets back-burnered in favor of the other ones (though really, your family should come first, shouldn't they? Ahem.). But there is a solution. You can train your muse to come calling at reasonable hours.

If you sit at your computer at the same time every day - and write, even if it stinks - eventually your muse is going to get the hint that she'd better be around at that time of day. And your writing will get better. And you might actually get some shuteye when you should.

Trust me. The dust bunnies will be there when you finish.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Hello-o-o-o Out There!

Hello, world! I'm Nicki Greenwood, aspiring romance author. I've been writing, oh, since I could pick up a pencil, and within the past few years have been attempting to break into print in the romance genre. I thought blogging my efforts might be a nifty way to help other aspiring writers. So far, I have a lovely stack of rejection letters (some with way cool personalized notes from the editor/agent), and some very promising contest feedback. Recently, I finaled in a contest with my first manuscript, which tickles me pink.

Which just goes to show - if you want to be a writer that bad - DO IT! If you keep at it, and keep honing your craft, you will succeed. You can't become published if you don't keep trying to grow as a writer. Finish that manuscript and send it in!