#rt11…Another fantastic conference

Last year, I really believed the Columbus, Ohio Romantic Times convention was the best ever. There was a wonderful atmosphere, the hotel was fantastic (both in venue and in staff) and the events themselves stellar. But I honestly believe this year was just as great, if not better.

Now, to be honest, I was…more than incredibly busy (if I showed you a picture of my calendar, it would show time blocked out from 8am to midnight each day) and I didn’t get to enjoy some of the conference events as much as I would have liked. I’ve vowed not to book myself quite so much next year, so I can enjoy more of the workshops and events (I am super bummed I didn’t get to see Dean Koontz speak, for instance).

But I could still get a sense of the energy and tone of the conference, from the panels and workshops I was involved in, and it was…amazing.

Wednesday night, we had dinner with some reader bloggers, and it was one of the best dinners I’ve had at any conference I’ve ever attended. What do you get when you bring together people who love books? Conversation about books. Dinner went from 6:30p to 10:30p and we never. shut. up. We talked about books for four hours straight! It was wonderful and energizing and just…utterly fabulous. I didn’t get a picture but there were a few others who did, and you can see one here on Lori’s blog. Thanks so much to Barbara, Lori, Tracy, Renee, Katie, Amber, and Sarah for a memorable evening. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I’m not going to talk about every single meal I had and with who, though they were all fun and full of great conversation (and yes, some gossip), but I also got to meet with a few agents individually. Poor Kevan Lyon, who let me harangue her about something (not really, it was in fun), Kim and Jessica from BookEnds, who were so gracious in letting me pick their brains on a personal matter. And Laura Bradford, who I’m so grateful continues to have meals with me at conferences, even when I’m a harbinger of gloom. All of those ladies, and the other agents I met with, were just as smart as you might imagine from their Twitter and blog accounts.

So most of my week was absorbed with meetings and meals and panels and workshops. I went from one thing to another. On Wednesday, I gave a workshop and found I had an LA Times reporter in my audience. He wrote what I think is a positive article on romance here (and though I’m not attributed, I would be the one who gave the “sage” advice). It’s hard not to be nervous when there’s a reporter in the audience, but he seemed genuinely interested in the material, and asked some great questions at the end.

But on Saturday, my day slowed down. After a leisurely breakfast with a longtime industry friend I adore, I headed up to the Book Fair to take pictures. And take pictures I did. You can see my entire photo album here (sorry, no captions right now) but here’s my favorite picture…my meeting with Catherine Coulter.

I silently squeed and let my inner fangirl loose for a minute while meeting her. She was everything you’d expect: gracious, charming, funny and personable. Also, she was wearing really cute shoes, which made me like her even more.

After that, I ran around and took pictures of many, many authors (did I introduce you to the online album of my pictures?) but I have to admit to having another moment when I took pictures of, and spoke with, the Days of Our Lives actors that were present. Though I don’t watch it anymore, I have fond memories of DoOL growing up, and I always will. It was amazing to see actress Suzanne Rogers and think “Oh my God. It’s Maggie.” She looks exactly like I remember her looking twenty years ago, as do the actors who play Doug and Julie Williams (they are also married IRL).

Last, from the booksigning, I have to share this picture of Patrick Rothfuss, who I met for the first time at the conference, and found to be an interesting guy to speak with. I bought his un-children’s book (un-children’s is my term) The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle. It’s a bit subversive, the story is delightful and the illustrations killer. I later gave the book to Megan Hart, because I thought she and her family would appreciate it. If you get a chance, you should check it out. It’s pretty fun.

I also took pictures of the Mr. Romance contestants at the Book Fair. Later that day, Sarah convinced me that I had to go to the Mr. Romance competition (instead of napping or living on the sofa in the bar, either of which I would have happily done). I love the Mr. Romance competition not so much because of the competitors (sorry guys!) but for the audience reaction. Entertaining. This year, Sean McDermott sang. Lucky for you guys? I got video.(oh, and it should be said, he was a total pro and such a good sport when the sound system failed the first time he started singing. Major props to him for that).Um…warning…there is pelvic thrusting in this video.

Sean McDermott

And here’s one of my favorite pictures from the Mr. Romance competition (I was taking from my iPhone, so couldn’t zoom) of the eventual Mr. Romance 2011 in a toga, and one of a very tired competitor (Shane) taken after the competition. These guys really worked hard over the week. (thanks to Megan for the correction on my picture order)

The last order of the night was the Carina Press cocktail party, where we gave away an iPad2, had fruit, champagne and cake pops, and forced attendees to interact with out authors. It was pretty fantastic 😛

And then it was time to cut loose at the last party of the week, the Harlequin Party. There was dancing! And I got to dance for the first time all week. It was pretty clear to me that I wasn’t the only one feeling a bit of relief at the end of the week, the Mr. Romance competitors seemed to feel less pressured than they had all week.

 

All in all it was a great conference. Next year, it’s in Chicago, one of my favorite places to visit, so I’m determined not to overschedule myself, to actually take some time to enjoy both the city and the conference.

Transition: From editor to author…

No, I’m not quitting my day job. If you’ve hung around here for awhile, you may have seen me talk about my self-editing workshop, Before You Hit Send, or may have heard some of the authors who’ve taken it talk about it. Well, after giving the online version for a year and a half, and having participants ask me about PDF versions, I’ve realized the next natural incarnation of this is a book. I’ve been planning it for awhile, already have a lot of extra material not in the workshop ready (or planned) for the book. But what I don’t have, is a publisher.

See, Carina doesn’t do nonfiction, and Harlequin does a broader scale of nonfiction for women, and my project definitely falls in the niche category. I believe there’s a market for it, and that I have a pre-existing platform. And I have the material, 2/3 of a manuscript and um, lots of time to work on the project (sarcasm, people!) So, naturally the next step is to find a publisher. I thought it might be interesting for some of you authors out there to hear someone from within the industry running through the exact same process you do.

Step 1: I have the book… Now what?

Here are some of the questions I’ve been asking myself… Should I get an agent, someone who specifically deals with nonfiction projects? I don’t even know if an agent would take me on for one, very niche project, but an agent who specializes in nonfiction would definitely know more about the publishers I need to approach than I would, since I live mostly in the fiction world.

Or…should I do my research and find a list of publishers who have published this type of book before, and send them a query and proposal?

And..if I do that, do I utilize my contacts so I don’t go through the normal slush pile process, or do I go through the regular submissions process?

Should I self-publish? I have a platform and a brand, and the percentages are lovely… For what it’s worth, I ruled this out almost immediately, though after serious consideration. I don’t have the time or the energy to do all of the things myself a publisher can do for me: a qualified editor, cover art, formatting–especially formatting for a nonfic project–sales venues, etc. I’m someone who needs and wants a publisher, and not just because I essentially AM a publisher but because I just can’t even contemplate doing it myself. It makes me want to curl into a small ball and sob.

Or maybe I should just slap it all together into a PDF and give it away to those people who take my course, and not worry about publishing it:?

So there you go, some pretty normal, “I have a book, now what should I do” questions. Maybe it doesn’t make you feel better to know that someone in the industry goes through the same process you do, but we all know…publishing is hard! There’ are no easy answers. And what’s the right answer for me won’t necessarily be the right answer for you. That makes it even harder, doesn’t it?

 

 

Getting “The Call”

I’m going to give you permission for something, not that you need MY permission, but it might make you feel better to know that editors and agents really do understand…

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When you get The Call, whether it’s your very first or your tenth, it’s okay if you take a moment or five to be incoherent. If your emotions get the best of you, and you feel a little teary, or you want to be excited and babble and make absolutely no sense, it’s okay. We won’t hold it against you. Editors and agents know this is a big moment for a lot of authors, and we usually plan for this and follow-up with an email detailing the conversation. And even if we don’t, it’s okay to email later to tell us you were so overwhelmed with excitement, you missed some of the details, and would we just explain again. Honestly, we get it. This is huge for you, so take a moment to bask in it.

The only thing I ask is that you not make me listen to you throwing up because you’re so overcome (no, that’s never happened, I just wanted to add that caveat).

The “read” necklace

You may remember I was on The Marilyn Denis Show a few weeks back. After many of you watched the online video, I had a tremendous number of comments on the necklace I was wearing, wondering where you could get one. If you didn’t see the video and are wondering about my necklace, here’s a picture:

If you’ve been following me long enough, you probably know I’m a huge fan of Etsy, so it’s probably no surprise that I bought this necklace (I actually bought several of them) on Etsy a few months back. The seller is sweetfairyboutique and she has a number of necklaces crafted of the same material, so you should check out her shop, but the READ necklace can be found specifically here for the seriously dirt cheap price of $8.50.

I mentioned I bought a few of these (I gifted them to friends) and the seller was kind enough to gift me a few more when I told her I had worn her necklace on the show and wanted to give her an opportunity to get them into her shop before I linked to them. I’ve now seen them in every color and they are all beautiful, but I think the blue is my new favorite. But I’m still glad I had the red to wear on the show, because I think it stood out and really sent my message along! Read more books! (especially Carina Press and Harlequin books, of course)

If you’re an author, an artist, or otherwise a creative person, you may also be interested in the necklaces that read CREATE. I have this one, in script, to give away in a future contest but you can also get them in the same block font as the READ necklace. They look beautiful in script and I can’t recommend these necklaces enough for the low price!

And I promise, should I ever be fortunate enough to appear on TV again, you’ll get to experience more of my reading-related Etsy jewelry. I have more!

Playing Favorites

Every other week or so, we get a newsletter from Brianna’s swim team. Often, the newsletters are short and contain only a line or two of information, but they always come with an article about swim team and young athletes. I’ve started making sure I read the articles, because they’re always full of great info for a new swim parent. When I read this article a few months back, it resonated with me, not just with the idea of athletes, but in terms of how the publisher/editor/author relationship often works as well.

It doesn’t mean that editors and publishers are looking for authors who are the most “well-behaved” or the nicest. We want those who are hard working, dedicated to their craft, motivated to sell and promote and always thinking about what comes next, what can be improved, changed, added or otherwise done to future works to make them stronger and more attractive to fans and future readers. We’re looking for focused authors who don’t just do edits just enough to answer the question or write the book just to meet the deadlines or contractual obligations, but who want to do the best edits possible and write the best book possible.

Of course, I think most authors know all this, but I think this article, though directed at athletes, does a great job of explaining just what it might mean when there’s an appearance of playing favorites.

Playing Favorites

By John Leonard

One day a few years ago, a club board member accused me of “having favorites” on our club team. Several other parent board members nodded their heads in agreement The implication was that this was a terrible sin. When I was a younger coach, I thought it was terrible also. And he was right. I did have favorites. My favorites were those athletes who most fervently did what I asked of them. Those that did, I gave more attention to. I talked to them more. I spent more time teaching them. I also expected more of them.

The implication that he was making was that my favorites got better than the others because they were my favorites, and that was somehow unfair. He mistook cause for effect.

The fact is, that the athletes who came to me ready to learn, ready to listen, ready to act on what they learned and try it my way — even if it was more challenging and more difficult than they imagined — were ready to get more out of our program. And they were my favorites.

As a coach, I have only one thing to offer to an athlete. That is, my attention. Which means that I attend to their needs. The reward for good behavior should be attention . . . attending to their needs. The consequence of inattention, lack of effort, unwillingness or unreadiness to learn or just plain offensive or disruptive behavior is my inattention to that athlete.

How could it be other than this? If you have three children, and you spend all of your time and energy working with the one that is badly behaved, what does that tell your other two children? It tells them that to capture your attention, they should behave badly. What we reward, is what we get.

As a coach, I want athletes who are eager to learn, eager to experiment to improve, and eager to work hard. I want athletes who come to me to help develop their skills both mental and physical, and are willing to accept what I have to offer. Otherwise, why have they come to me? And I am going to reward that athlete with my attention. In so doing, I encourage others to become like the athlete above. If I spent my time with the unwilling, the slothful, the disruptive, I would only be encouraging that behavior.

The link I want to forge is between attention and excellence. Excellence in the sense of achieving all that is possible, and desired. My way of forging that, is to provide my attention to those who “attend” to me. This does, of course, result in increased performance for those that do so. I am a professional coach, and when I pay attention to a person, that person is going to improve. Over time, this makes it appear that my “favorites” are the better swimmers. Not so at all. The better swimmers are those that pay attention, and thus become my favorites.

What the above mentioned board member didn’t realize is that you must have favorites if anyone is to develop in a positive fashion. The coach’s job is to reward those who exhibit positive developmental behaviors. Those are my “favorites,” and they should be.

When contest judges disagree

On Twitter this weekend, Viv (@VivWestlake) asked me:

Curious @ your opinion: When contest responses are polarized, how does writer know what to change/edit? 2 judges love & 2 hate.

There’s no simple answer to this so I didn’t try to respond on Twitter. The truth is, contests can be an excellent source of feedback for authors, but they can also do a terrible disservice to authors as well. Why a disservice? An author who wins a contest may think this means their book is ready for publication, doesn’t need more editing, or is the best of the best. But as most editors and agents who’ve ever judged contests can tell you…sometimes picking a winner is not always about picking the best of the best, but the one that’s least badly written (that was a little painful to type but I’ve talked about it before here as did Jessica Faust of BookEnds nearly 3! years ago* ). Not all contests get a lot of entries, and not all get a lot of quality entries, so a contest win can instill a false sense of…complacency…on some occasions.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of reputable contests where competition is fierce, but there are a lot of contests in general, so which one you enter, and win, does make a difference.

So what should you do with contest feedback? First, when you enter you should pay attention to who’s judging. If you don’t respect the judges, whether it’s their experience, background, professional reputation, etc., how valuable with that win–and any associated requests and feedback be to you? I would say that what you do with the feedback is much going to depend on who gave the feedback and your opinion of their overall skills.

One thing to remember–something I say in every pass letter–publishing is a subjective business. And writing is both an incredibly simple thing (write a good book) and an incredibly complicated thing (here are all the rules to follow and things to know about the craft of writing and here all all the things you have to include to make the book good). Because it’s simple, sometimes your feedback will be simple like “I loved this, I couldn’t put it down, you have a compelling voice”. Because it’s complicated, sometimes your feedback will be just as confusing and complicated. Not the least of which is because writers often misinterpret and misunderstand the “rules” they’ve learned. So your feedback might look like “your writing is too passive, you have too much infodump, your dialogue is stilted and your conflict isn’t apparent”.

Of course, there are some things that aren’t quite as subjective; if two judges told you that you had typos and grammar errors in your writing, but two judges marked you as perfect, I wouldn’t be quick to dismiss the judges that told you there were errors. Get someone who’s good at that sort of thing to take a look. Then again, you’d be surprised just how often people see “editing errors” that aren’t errors at all. But that’s a post for another day…

On the other hand, if two judges tell you that your writing is too choppy while two judges loved your “voice” then you’re just stuck in the middle of subjective hell. Welcome. This is where you (and I think Viv) have to wonder…what the heck do I do now? You listen to the people whose opinions you trust. Maybe it’s 1 of the 4 judges. Maybe it’s none of the judges at all, but 2 of your critique partners and a beta reader.

Do you dismiss the feedback out of hand? Well, if you do, just make sure it’s not because your writing ego is getting in the way (admit it, you know it happens).

Do you give weight to the feedback? Maybe, if you trust the knowledge and opinion of the person giving it.

A few other things: this is made harder if the feedback is anonymous. If you’re getting the same feedback from multiple sources (multiple = more than one) then you might want to think on it a little more carefully. And if you’re questioning contest feedback, it’s time to start asking yourself if you’re entering contests you trust (though it’s totally possible to get bad feedback even from contests, and judges, you trust). I’d probably also be remiss if I didn’t mention that contest wins can be an excellent opportunity to get in front of the editor/agent judges whose eye it might otherwise be difficult to catch in a pile of slush queries.

And that’s my long non-answer to Viv’s question. Bet it will be awhile before she asks another!

*Agent Nathan Bransford also had an excellent post on contests last December.

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