Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Reviews in Romance Land

Once again, Maureen is tackling a subject about which she has more opinions than knowledge, but I can't help myself.

From what I can discern, because newspapers and literary review journals have never, ever, taken the romance genre seriously enough to review any of the books, except very grudgingly and with much disdain, the genre, up until the past five to ten years, hasn't been subject to the same kind of critical scrutiny as has, say, literary fiction.

RT magazine (and maybe others?) filled in the gap that this snobbery created, but they're generally known to be gentle in their reviews, never issuing the kind of blistering criticism that so often hits books reviewed by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, the NYT and other major newspapers, or even Library Journal. Yes, RT likes some books more than others and a great review there is a big deal, but they rarely tear books to shreds.

Then the internet, and particularly the one-button-publishing of blogs, came along and changed everything. Several new sites emerged to specialize in reviewing romance. Today there are many.

And from what I can tell, the vast majority of these review sites are also pretty soft on the books. Gentle. Perhaps it's because we're 99.9% women. Perhaps it's because the genre already takes such a beating in the public eye, that the reviewers figure criticizing a romance novel is tantamount to criticizing the genre they love. But for whatever reasons, reviewers on many of these sites seem to like virtually everything they read, or at least only review the ones that they like. Or find benign things to say about the ones they don't.

That's fine, if that's what they choose to do. Everyone who has a blog, or magazine, or newsletter or column, or other venue to express their opinions, is free to do so. As an aspiring author, I've chosen to avoid reviewing books, full stop, rarely do it, because I don't want friends to think that because I didn't review their book, I didn't like it. (Okay, I've actually chosen to avoid reviewing books because I'm lazy. And have no aspirations to be a book reviewer. Not my thing. Except maybe while drinking with Molly and Sinead.)

But what I don't understand, or agree with, is the backlash against a few review sites, most notably the ones which are hard on books they don't like, (like Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and Mrs. Giggles) -- the sites where reviewers speak their opinions clearly and honestly and often with humor.

Why all the hate for these sites, as if they're doing something evil or mean? Why accuse them of attacking authors when they're simply describing why they did not enjoy a some authors' books? (Perhaps it's the humor people object too? Don't know.) And it doesn't take more than a moment on theses sites to know they LOVE the genre and LOVE some books in it. Just not every one.

Writing is very a personal process, but publishing decidedly is not. Nor is reviewing. It's not personal. Reviewers are not attacking you if they don't like your book.

As Smart Bitch Sarah said, when she visited our blog a few weeks ago and we asked her and Candy about the controversy their blog sometimes generates:
“...saying I disagree with you” very rarely means “I don’t like you,” nor does it mean “You’re wrong and I’m right.” “I disagree” are not words upon which to detonate massive bombs and shit. ... “I didn’t enjoy your book” does not mean “I deplore the fact that you’re breathing.”
Almost all writers endure tons of rejection and criticism on their way to becoming published authors. I don't get why authors can't take a little criticism after they are published. Sure, it's slightly more public than the criticism they've likely had to that point, but that's because their book is now public -- a good thing.

I've discussed this with a few people before, and was aware that there was a school of thought amongst certain romance authors that some romance review websites were "too mean", but I was appalled this week, to read Michelle Buonfiglio's transcript of an address she gave at an academic conference on romance, held at Princeton. The thesis of her address seemed to be that open honest discussion of the genre was only okay if it was "nice". Not only did she suggest that academics might look to blogs to do research on the genre (ridiculous enough in itself) but that they should only look at HER blog, because everyone posting there was nice (as opposed to her competitors' sites that were mean.

Her arguments fed into so many stereotypes about the romance genre, and the women who write and read it, that it made me embarrassed to be associated with the genre. I'm not even going to link to the transcript of her talk... but will link to the Sarah Wendell's smart response. She linked to the address if you're interested.

And here's what I think.

I don't believe in mean for the sake of being mean. Not at all. But criticism makes us stronger. Criticism makes us better. And even if we're incapable of learning from it, criticism is part of the entertainment business. Anyone who produces work intended to entertain the public -- whether they be writers or musicians or actors or poets or supermodels -- is subject to public scrutiny of their work. Putting your shit out there, means risking some people telling you it doesn't smell as nice as you think it does. Comes with the territory. If you don't want to get a negative review? Don't publish your books.

Will I jump for joy when I get a horrible review some day? No. I'm not that emotionally evolved. I'll probably crumple up into a little ball and cry, and then go get drunk with my friends to talk about how wrong the review was, maybe burn the reviewer in effigy. But then I'll get over it and either thank the reviewer for taking the time to look at my work, and/or I'll try not to think about it ever again. Even if I can't erase it from my mind, I'll know it's part of the business, suck it up, and move on.

And I'll act like a grown up and simply be glad at least someone read and mentioned my book.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Effortless takes a lot of work...

As Molly mentioned, I am taking a break from paranormals, which after reading too many in a row, have now all started to blend together, and become boring.

So, I'm reading historicals and putting a list of contemps together to buy. The latest historical I've read is the Elizabeth Hoyt, To Seduce a Sinner.. and while this isn't the best of her books, I practically devoured it, read it in two days, front to back and really enjoyed it.
So much I'm buying the next one, which just came out and looks amazing.

But what struck me about the book was how effortlessly it read. Smooth, scenes flowing well into each other and there seemed to be a real sense of confidence on the page, as if she knew she could take her time with the small scenes, because they'd be fascinating regardless.
A different experience from the paranormals I've read recently, which have felt anything but effortless, where I could almost see the author behind the scenes, working on their plot points, trying to add suspense and surprise, and adding new elements to make their books different from the other paranormals on the market. Molly covered this in her post.

And I know that the effortless book takes a stupid amount of work, polishing, removing repetition, ensuring the characters are always moving forward, and when it works, it really works. And right now, I'm seeing the effortless most in historicals, where the authors have had to step up to be noticed in what has been a declining, but just mostly overcrowded, field.

I still don't know where the effortless happens. Is it in author confidence, the fifth edit, the first draft, I just know when I read it. It's the next puzzle I'm trying to figure out.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

To Market, to market, to sell a fat book

This week, I asked both Molly and Sinead: "If you were me, what would you write next?"

They both know me. They both know the industry. They both read a lot. They've both seen virtually everything I've ever written. Who better (other than my agent) to have an opinion on such a topic?

And I got two different answers, but together those answers melded into something profound and clear and useful. Exactly what I wanted/needed to hear.

My conclusion: I have to stop thinking so much about the market and just write the shit out of whatever idea feels shiniest to me right now. If it's the shiniest one -- to me -- I'll be able to write more shit in. Wait. That's not what I meant!!! ;-)

That said, I think some of the best advice I've heard about writing popular fiction (particularly genre fiction) is to write with one eye on the market. To figure out what elements of popular books/movies/TV/culture you can incorporate into your work, etc. etc. and still make it fresh. And nothing makes me more crazy than wanna-be-writers who complain that the industry is too close-minded, when said writer doesn't get requests on the query for her novel about her elderly aunt's adventures in needlepoint, written from her cat's point of view.

But all that "keep an eye on the market" advice aside: I think I had a small epiphany a couple of days ago, (that I shall probably reverse in another couple of days--cause that's what I do.) And it has to do with my personality type more than anything.

Confession: I'm highly analytical. My strongest traits on the Myers Briggs thingy are N and P. I almost always see two sides (sometimes four) to any particular problem or issue, I don't always come to conclusions in a linear fashion, and unless pressed by some kind of urgency, I hate making decisions. I can make them. But don't see the point if I can put it off for further analysis. ;-)

But what this means is: worrying about the market, about what's selling now, about what might be the next big thing, about what would be the smartest genre or sub-genre to aim for, about which genre best fits my particular strengths and weaknesses as a writer, is not necessarily a smart thing. For me.

My endless analyzing leads to nothing but frustration and second guessing. Which then leads to depression and anxiety inviting crazy over for tea.

(My apologies to Molly for plagiarizing that last bit. It's an homage to this post, where she talked about professional jealousy inviting crazy over for a BBQ.)

Ultimately, so much about this business ends up being about luck, and trying to control luck can lead to insanity.

The magic get published equation: Talent, Persistence, Luck

We can only hope to control two of those, at best.* And while, when we start a new novel, we can make an educated guess, about what's likely to happen in the market in 9-months to a year, (first date when we can realistically hope to be on submission, assuming we need to write the whole damn book -- add a year to that if you need to find an agent), or 2 - 3 years from now, (first date we can realistically hope to hit bookstores) -- the best we can do is guess. Whether our guess, an arrow shot high and hard into the stratosphere, hits the two-or-three-or-more-years-out bulls eye is highly dependent on luck.

*Caveats to above statements:
I suppose you can't strictly control talent, either... but you can learn how to make the most of your talent. Really, that magic equation should substitute skill for talent...
Also, you can influence luck by taking opportunities and putting lots of great work out there, but I think that's as much related to persistence as luck...
Did I mention I tend to be overly analytical?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Paranormal Beef

We've read a lot of great paranormal romance around here and even though Sinead is on paranormal romance hiatus and Maureen is loving urban fantasy - I'm still reading paranormal. But, I'm beginning to not love it. I think the subgenre is jumping the shark for me because recently, every paranormal romance I pick up - messes up the romance.

All these subgenres - paranormal, romantic suspense, romantic comedy, historical etc...etc... work for me and millions of other avid romance fans because the machinations of the subgenre make the romance better. More poignant, more exciting.

The alpha males and danger of paranormal romance, make the romance taste better. The internal conflict that the characters have to get over to be in love is made worse by the fact that they are a demon, or a demon hunter or whatever...

But suddenly it seems like not only are there too many of these kinds of details muddying up the world, but what the characters have to do to truly be in love comes as a huge surprise in the third act. Instead of just overcoming all the internal stuff - which is what we all love romance for- they also have to kill the demon and embrace their vampire side and mate in a pool of fire - but we didn't know that from the outset. It's like the writer changes the rules of the world, or didn't tell us all the rules, or becuse of all the external plot drama they've put in the book - a simple I love you doesn't work anymore -- and I hate that. I really hate that.

If the big premise of the book requires a huge suspension of disbelief - then the romance needs to be simple. Ward, Liu, Cole - simple romances. Really simple. And I think that's why it works - that, of course, and the characters. But when everyone starts jumping on the sub genre bandwagon, they get so distracted by the shiny elements - the things they can do with plot and external conflict and world building, forgetting that in the end, it's still always about characters and it's still always about romance.

Friday, April 17, 2009

And the Winner is......

Alison Heittman!!!!

Based on my random number generator, you are the winner of a copy of BEYOND HEAVING BOSOMS: THE SMART BITCHES' GUIDE TO ROMANCE NOVELS generously donated by the Smart Bitches themselves.


E-mail me at maureen @ and we'll make sure you get your book!

Thanks to everyone for stopping by the blog this week. And thanks to the Smart Bitches for giving such great interview. Way better than Billy Bob Thorton who ran from Canada mid tour with his tail between his legs after giving really bad interview. Just saying.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Smart Bitches stop in for a chat

Today, we are pleased as punch, tickled pink, squeeing with delight, (pick the cliché of your choice), to welcome Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan, of the popular romance review blog, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, to Drunk Writer Talk. They're here to celebrate the release of their book BEYOND HEAVING BOSOMS: THE SMART BITCHES' GUIDE TO ROMANCE NOVELS that hits the shelves tomorrow -- April 14, 2009.

DWT: Candy and Sarah, thanks for stopping by. Before we get started, what can we get you to drink?

Candy: I'm allergic to alcohol, sadly enough, so a tall glass of cold water is awesome for me.

Sarah: Wine. Love wine. Not so much a fan of hard liquor but red, white, rose and even green? Bring it on.

DWT: Hey, we don't discriminate against non-drinkers (green wine drinkers, maybe). A water and wine coming up.
What sparked you to start a romance review site?

Candy: Honestly? There weren't enough romance review sites out there that were uncensored. I'm not just talking honest, because sites like The Romance Reader and All About Romance existed, and they were fair and honest, but there was this air of constraint and politeness. I wanted a site where I was free to talk the way I normally do, which includes creative profanity (usually for the sake of comedy), and where I could air my unvarnished opinions without fear of offending an editor or website owner. And it turned out that Sarah was in favor of the same thing, too, so lo, Smart Bitches was born.

Sarah: See above re: cussing, and unvarnished opinion. Plus, the two of us approach romances from very different perspectives, and our writing styles are very different. On top of that, we crack each other up like holy cow. It ended up being a kind of perfect storm of fun.

DWT: It's a perfect storm of fun reading, too. Did you anticipate the popularity of your site? The book deal?

Candy: Hell, no. And HELL, NO. It always astounds me that we became as popular as we did, as fast as we did, because neither Sarah nor I advertised. Behold the power of word-of-mouth! We figured we'd be a two-bit blog with a small audience consisting of a couple of friends and family members, but six months after we'd started, we were smack dab in the middle of this insanely active, smart, funny community.

Sarah: NEVER did I think it would be as big as it is. Never. Not a chance. I remember it was me, Candy, her friend in Singapore and my husband reading in the first month. Then, word spread – mostly from the cover snark and the reviews using creative cussing a la Candy.

DWT: We're not averse to creative cussing, here, either. ;-) At times, your site has been a lightning rod for controversy. Do you ever find you need to rein in the comments or get people back on track?

Candy: I'm really hesitant to rein in comments unless people really start to go over the line, because I really think that fostering healthy debate means people should be allowed the space to be assholes. Mostly, however, I think our commenters do a great job of self-policing. For a site known for being bitchy, our commenters are some of the most polite and reasonable around.

Sarah: Our commenters value the community as much as we do, and often they shut down the more obnoxious and awful attacks before I even get to the keyboard to say a word about it. We definitely have contentious debates but most of the time, there are two major points of which I am most proud. One: saying “I disagree with you” very rarely means “I don’t like you,” nor does it mean “You’re wrong and I’m right.” “I disagree” are not words upon which to detonate massive bombs and shit. Two: “I didn’t enjoy your book” does not mean “I deplore the fact that you’re breathing.” There are plenty of people who do the exact opposite of what I recommend – they love what I don’t like, and they don’t like what I adore. I’m as full of shit as anybody. I stick up for my opinion but unless it’s truly, awfully egregiously shitful, I don’t discount your right to your own opinion.

DWT: So, speaking of opinions, here's a more in-depth topic. Clinch covers: for or against?

Candy: By and large, I'm against them, because they're so hard to do well, and they send entirely the wrong message about the genre. They scream: "HEY LOOK AT THE OILED TITTY ISN'T IT GREAT GET YOUR BODICES RIPPED AND PRESSED UP AGAINST THE OILED TITTY RIGHT HERE FOLKS." I do have a sneaking personal fondness for them, though—they're so bad, they're kind of good. I love them the way I love bad reality TV, or schlocky horror movies.

Sarah: Depends. Sometimes, they’re creative and evocative and visually stunning. But that doesn’t change the fact that, as Candy said, it’s shorthand for ROMANCE AHOY AND SEXXING INSIDE, MATEYS. It’s become a conundrum: do the clinch covers sell because they represent romance, or is romance so often represented by the clinch that it can’t help but sell?

DWT: Ah! The chicken and egg question--only with arched backs, bosoms and man-titty. What are your favorite romances of all time?

Candy: The Windflower by Laura London (a.k.a. Sharon and Tom Curtis), because it's a very traditional romance done really, really well—it's a coming-of-age story for the heroine, and she's kidnapped by pirates, oh noes, but never fear, she charms every damn thing she comes in contact with, up to and including the pet pig on the ship. But the authors never let you lose sight that Merry, despite being a bit Mary Sue-ish, is also this awkward, dorky girl in a difficult situation. A few other notable titles are Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase, To Love and to Cherish by Patricia Gaffney (I have a bit of a Thing about forbidden sex with the hot young pastor, and Anne is an agnostic, which makes it all even more fun) and The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale. As for contemporaries, Jennifer Crusie's solo work reigns supreme in my heart and on my bookshelf—I've read everything she's published so far, and only a couple of titles aren't on my keeper shelves.

Sarah: Bitten by Kelley Armstrong is absorbing and I can’t go near it without reading six or seven chapters. The Duke and I by Julia Quinn. I love Daphne because she’s smart and used to men and aware of their foibles having more male siblings than Celine Dion, and I love that the courtship is both angsty and funny, lighthearted and serious – and has some hilariously funny scenes. Born in Ice by Nora Roberts. I love that the heroine is good at making a home welcoming – a skill and art not nearly as appreciated as it should be, and that the hero doesn’t like people and is a curmudgeon. And since I started reading Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series, I’ve found myself yearning to kick more ass than I ought to. The heroines are strong and carry sharp wits and even sharper weapons, and Cole’s narratives explore evil and power and aggression and strength in new and terribly subversive ways. And I’m unable to touch Instant Attraction by Jill Shalvis without reading more of it. It’s like Crazy Glue, that book.

DWT: Fabulous choices. I have a feeling your choices will spark some comment discussion. Also Kelley Armstrong is a friend here at DWT. (Although whether or not she'd admit in public to knowing us isn't clear.) What are your favorite movies and TV shows?

Candy: I love Pushing Daisies. Love love love. Love the premise, love the characters (I just about died when they revealed Emerson Cod loves to knit), love the storylines, love the camerawork and the gorgeous color saturation, love Chuck's wardrobe. Also: I want to hug Lee Pace, then lick him all over. I mean, damn. As for movies: Wes Anderson before he became kind of a parody of himself has a special place in my heart, because his movies focus on these incredibly brilliant, awkward, quirky characters.

Sarah: Movies: All incarnations of Pride & Prejudice. TV: Bones. Love the sexually unambiguous heroine and the smoldering attraction between the protagonists. I love the shifting definition of “intelligent” and “smart” and the manner in which the characters all care for one another. And this might make me a 60 year old on my Barcalounger, but I absolutely love NCIS. There’s a colleague of mine at my office with whom I have very, very little in common except a rabid crush on Mark Harmon. He brings all the girls to the yard.

DWT: I love, love, loved Pushing Daisies, too. (Not to mention P&P, and Mark Harmon...) What changes—good or bad—have you seen in the romance genre recently? What, if anything, are you hoping to see more of? Less of?

Candy: Y'know, in the past two years, I've had pretty much zero time left for leisure reading. I mean this quite literally. Between law school, the book and trying to maintain a healthy social life so I don't become too much of a hermit, my reading rate has plummeted. So I can't really speak about new trends. Although that's an incredibly boring answer, so let's see if I can make something up that's kind of convincing…. less demon tentacle rape, and more romance novels featuring gay, bisexual and generally queer characters. DOH, wait, that was only partially made-up.

Sarah: Jane from and I spoke about this in one of our early podcasts, but the lack of secure economy and profit in publishing means that we seem to be seeing more of the same repeated tropes and plots, with very little risk – which is why it’s so amazing when I see heroines doing it differently, like Maya Banks’ heroine in her May ’09 Silhouette The Tycoons Rebel Bride. She’s the sexual aggressor? RWOR. I love subversive heroines like Claudia Dain’s anchor character in the Courtesan Chronicles. I love explorations of what it really meant to be female in English history, like in Carolyn Jewel’s Scandal. I love, as I mentioned, Kresley Cole’s heroines who can and will be evil when the situation calls for it. That said, my cup of awesome is not nearly that of everyone else, so I fear the awesome subversion of expectations of female archetypes will be fewer and farther between. But I can still hope.

DWT: We love heroines who aren't so "perfect", too. What romance device(s) would you like to see die a painful death?

Candy: There's this tendency in genre fiction to use certain characteristics that serve as shorthand for how incredibly evil or virtuous or sexy a character must be. Some of the more popular uses in romance include homosexuality or a love of kinky sex in villains, or virginity in a heroine, or hypertrophied, shouty masculinity in a hero. I think over-reliance on this sort of shorthand is lazy, and it creates facile, uninteresting fiction. I'm much more interested in fiction that dares to take well-known tropes and forms, then inverts them or does something unexpected with them—or, if it uses the familiar forms, then does it really, really well.

Sarah: Shorthand blows. I would also like to see less reliance on the “I’m the hero; that’s why” and “I’m the heroine, that’s why” complacency. It’s related to shorthand but not quite the same, and shows up when motivation isn’t quite as clear as one might think, and the reader has to navigate nebulous plotslines by resting on the idea that the individual is the hero and therefore must have a shining glowy moral core of sternest golden strength. SHOW me the strength. Don’t just presume I know it because he’s the hero, that’s why.

DWT: Thanks so much for stopping by to chat! I'm hoping my copy of BEYOND HEAVING BOSOMS arrives today. Or tomorrow. It better.

Finally, some great news! Sarah and Candy are giving away a copy of their book to one random commenter! Let us know your answer to any of the above questions to enter the contest!

Thanks again to Candy and Sarah and here's hoping your book will bring some new smart-bitch readers to the romance genre!

**Update** D'oh! I just realized I failed to put a deadline for the contest... Leave a comment before midnight Wednesday April 15, 2009 to be eligible to win! Winner will be announced round about Friday. Drunk writers and smart bitches ineligible. Okay, you can still win if you're drunk... But Molly, Sinead and I can't win :-(

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Rant on #queryfail and #agentfail brouhaha

This is all kind of old news by now. I mean, The Guardian has even done a story, but somehow I can’t keep myself from wanting to comment.

If you twitter, or if you read writer blogs, you’ve probably heard about #queryfail and #agentfail.

For those of you who aren’t twits, (and really, seriously, the moniker is fitting -- twitter is a huge time suck--fun--but a time suck), twitter is basically micro-blogging. Posts of 140 characters or less. If you add a tag, like #queryfail within your 140 chars, then people can search on that tag and see all the posts using that tag in one long list.

So, in early March, an agent, Colleen Lindsay, had the brainstorm to do a #queryfail day, where she invited other agents to make short posts about things they’ve seen in query letters that made them an obvious rejection.

And the examples were pretty bad. Almost without exception they were things that anyone who’s done ten minutes of research about query letters would know not to do.

Some random examples:
Do not start your query by saying, "I suspect you're inundated with (certain genre), so forgive me for sending you another one.." #queryfail

Why send us a proposal for a television series when we clearly don't represent that sort of thing? #queryfail

“I have designed a unique cover for my book.” Unrealistic expectations #queryfail

Asks me to be patient with their 300,000 word novel because it really picks up steam after the first 50k words? #queryfail

Insists on calling me to tell me about their book because it's too difficult to describe in writing. Uh.... #queryfail

Tell me that God told you I would be the perfect agent for you? #queryfail

Tell me you have an idea for a novel and want to get my opinion of it before you start writing it? #queryfail

And then the backlash started. Crazy backlash. Some writers went berserk. “Agents are so mean.” “They don’t realize how hard we work on our novels.” “How can they publicly deride people like this.” “How come they have time to twitter but they don't have time to respond to my query/read my submission?”

Crazy. Ca-ra-zee.

First, it was all anonymous. Where was the public derision? Second, it was meant to be educational, not mean.* Don’t aspiring writers realize info like this, straight from the agents’ mouths is gold? Third, agents are human, not machines. And they have more things on their plates than just you. The world does not revolve around you. Do you get angry that they take time out of their days to eat and pee, too?

*Okay, it was a little bit about venting and agent bonding/networking, too, but where’s the harm in that?

I glanced at #queryfail a few times the day it was happening, kind of shrugged, ‘cause it was all stuff I’d heard before and I'm not currently seeking an agent… But then I could not believe when I started to see blog posts and tweets about backlash. Apparently, the agents who participated got hate mail and horrible things said about them not so anonymously** such that they felt the need to defend themselves against a barrage of negativity calling them things like insensitive, unprofessional and cruel.

** by not-so-anonymous, I mean one-sided anonymous. The opposite to how the agents handled it. Hateful, personal jabs posted anonymously, but naming the agents.

I was kind of appalled. Okay, I was a lot appalled. ;-)

Then, a few weeks later, agent Jessica Faust decided: why not give the writers a voice? But instead of doing it on twitter, where posts are limited to 140 characters, she invited writers to post comments on her blog venting their pet peeves about agents.

And that’s where things started to get ugly. Oh, the vitriol. And I only read the first 30 comments or so. Last time I looked, it was up to 304.

A few comments were from authors who have or have had agents and wanted to complain about things that they'd experienced, but the vast majority were from aspiring authors who'd been unable to land representation.

I get that it’s frustrating to find an agent. Been there, done that. Have watched friends do it multiple times. It’s a tough, ego-destroying process.

But I also firmly, *firmly* believe that if you have a great idea for a book that’s timely and fits into a recognizable genre, if you do your research about who to query and how to write a great query letter… You’ll get requests for pages. At least from a sampling of the queries you send out.

That said, I do believe the query process is a bit of a roulette wheel. Writing/reading/publishing is subjective, agents are human, plus they all have their own pet peeves. I’ve seen lots of examples on panels or on blogs of one agent citing one thing as a reason for rejecting that was the exact thing that caught another agent’s eye… Sub-ject-ive. But it’s not *that* hard to get requests if you've done your homework. Trust me.

Then, after you get requests, your work speaks for itself. Either it’s great or it isn’t. Either it’s that particular agent’s taste, or it isn’t. Either the agent thinks he/she knows editors who might love it, or he/she doesn’t. It’s that freaking simple. There’s no conspiracy. There’s no purposeful desire to be cruel. There’s no master plan to keep the best, most interesting work away from readers. Yes it’s subjective. Yes the system's not perfect. But it’s the way it works and if you want to play in the game, you need to know and accept the rules.

And if your writing is strong and polished. If your idea has commercial appeal (publishing is a business!!!), then I can virtually guarantee you’ll get some positive responses to your pages--even if it's only a personalized rejection the agent took time out of her day to write.

If one agent rejects your work? Don’t despair. Sub-ject-ive. If ten reject? Same thing. But if 50+ reject? Then it’s time to take another look at your work.

Ask yourself:
  • Is it really well-written? Polished. Sparkling.
  • Have you studied your craft or did you just expect to know everything about writing a novel by osmosis? (I know how to be a novelist, I’ve read books and wrote some short-stories and essays in school. Oh, yeah? Well, I know how to be a doctor, I watch House and took biology.)
  • Is your storytelling tight, well-paced, exciting, different?
  • Have you read enough in your genre (and outside your genre) to know your work isn’t cliché or derivative?
  • Do you have a strong voice?
Until you can honestly answer yes (or at least I think so) to all these questions (and more), unless you've questioned your skills, recognized some of your weaknesses and improved, you’re not ready. You need to work harder. No one said writing or getting published was going to be easy. And lord knows we at DWT know that landing the agent is only the first hurdle to leap...

So here's my message to the angry commenters on the #agentfail blog:

Dear angry writer:

You wrote a book. Congratulations. Seriously. It’s a big accomplishment. Huge. But it doesn’t mean what you’ve written is publishable.

Just because you’ve poured all your hopes, dreams, money, time into writing and submitting your opus, doesn’t mean enough people will want to read it to justify an agent or publisher putting *their* hopes, dreams, money and time into trying to get it into booksellers’ and ultimately readers’ hands.

If agents are consistently ignoring you, ask yourself the above questions. Then no matter what your answers, continue to work on your craft. Get better. Don’t rant and rage and spit venom.

Get a grip.

And read this essay I stumbled upon today, or a gazillion other great essays and articles easily available (google, anyone?) about what it takes to be a published writer. And then if you still want to have a career in mainstream publishing, put on your big-girl pants and grow up.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Plot and Character Happy Together....So Happy Together

I wish. Oh! How I wish I could just make my plot and character walk through a movie musical montage - holding hands, skipping through the surf, enjoying candlelight and other delights. Instead, I have two toddlers in the back seat of a car - strapped in, tired, bored with one toy between them.

Mine! No mine! I'm not going to be your friend! I'm not going to be YOUR friend!

Not working together, barely speaking all the way to the end.

I totally get that your characters drive your plot -- plot with characters along for a ride is bad for business -- look at Season Three of Lost, Season Two of Friday Night Lights. But sometimes, isn't that just the way things work? And work best?

I really hope that I've put enough time in up front, showing the reader that yes, these are the kinds of characters who get into these kinds of problems. And no, sometimes they don't make the best decisions. And now that I'm in the home stretch all the birds are coming home to roost and these two people have some explaining to do?

I've revealed all this character, shown all this growth but the only thing that can really put this stuff to the test is plot. Big upheaval. Wreck the ant hill and watch them run around like crazy?

That works. Right?

Friday, April 03, 2009

What to write?

Maureen and I are both in the same boat. We’re both trying to figure out what to write next.

And again, the question that seems to plague both of us is, write a book without really thinking about the market, or write a book tailored to the market.

This, for so many reasons, is not a simple question. If I were thinking of writing for a Harlequin series line, I wouldn’t stray too far outside the lines, instead I’d focus on making sure I understood the line and worked to make the writing as sharp as possible.

But for single title it’s less clear. Publishers are asking for stories that are different, with a great hook. There are factors that definitely contribute to a sale. I’d say in historical, and paranormal, having a high level of sensuality is important. A happy ending is a given, and from there, it’s really tough to pin down.
I think as a writer trying to break into single title, it means I need to take risks with my characters and plotting. A couple of new authors have recently blogged that they sold their first book once they put aside their internal editor, and the comments of contest judges/critique partners and wrote complex people that weren’t necessarily immediately likeable, or the standard we have seen in previous romances.
They broke a rule of some kind and it worked for them. But, it’s a risk and as someone who would like to sell, I wish the answer were more straightforward.

But, and we Drunk writers, have talked about this a few times, there are no guarantees of a sale regardless, so no choice is ever easy. So what do I write next? No clue still, but I know I’ll be happiest writing a book that grips my imagination, and makes me sweat while I work out all the plot points and try and make the characters multi-dimensional.

I’ll write the book and worry about the market later. Like I have with my previous five books..

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

April Fool's Day

Are there some things you simply can't joke about?

I like a good practical joke as much as the next guy (gal) and so realizing that my day to post on DWT was April 1st, I was rubbing my hands together, trying to figure out a great fake post.

Problem was, when I really started to think about things I could post that were even vaguely writing related, the only topics I came up with were things I couldn't bring myself to joke about...

For example, announcing that Sinead or I had finally landed our first freaking contracts with big NY publishers! Or that Molly had landed a huge single title contract!

Or, to go the other direction, that one or all of us had decided to throw in the towel and never write again. :-(

Joking about these things aren't funny to me right now.

So then I started thinking about new genres we might have decided to write in... and couldn't come up with a joke there, either, because for me right now, nothing is off limits. Yes, I'm a genre whore. I'll try anything.

Am I so sensitive about this publishing process right now that I've lost my sense of humor? Or are there some things you just shouldn't make practical jokes about?

In other news, we've all decided to give up booze.

April Fool!

Have a great April Fools Day. Hope you don't get sucked in to too many scams. ;-)
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