GENREALITY

Archive for February, 2009



Saturday, February 28th, 2009 by Jason Pinter
Sim Book

Somebody once told me–apologies for forgetting who–that the longest-running series are the ones with the least character development. I thought about this recently, as I remembered back a meeting with my publisher to discuss plans for my second book, THE GUILTY, as well as long-term plans for future books in my Henry Parker series. One of the things we discussed was “World Building.” Specifically the importance of creating a universe that is constantly evolving, while staying true to the rules the authors has established. While world building is most commonly associated with fantasy and science fiction, it’s an incredibly important aspect for any series, especially a budding one, where the hope is to both entice new readers while sating fans who’ve been there from the beginning. As an author, it goes against creative impulse to begin every book with a “previously on…” in order to let new readers (or forgetful old ones) catch up, yet you have to approach almost every book with the hopes of drawing from both wells.

My fifth novel, THE DARKNESS, is complete, and the fourth, THE FURY, has been in the can for a few months. In these two books I continued the stories of several main and supporting characters from my first three, while adding a few new characters and major subplots into the fray. I’m about to start work on THE INVITED, the sith in the series, and am trying to accomplish the same thing while continuing to make Henry’s story different yet familiar enough to draw in new fans while satisfying long time reader. Only now I have five books worth of characters and stories to draw from. It opens up my characters’ worlds to more possibilities, but also narrows what I can do with them. I’ve set certain rules, established behavioral patterns, and these must be adhered to.

Several years ago I attended the Romantic Times Booklovers convention, and I recall Jim Butcher stating on a panel that when sitting down to write STORM FRONT, he had the Harry Dresden series plotted out through twenty books. Right now I have my series plotted through six, with ideas for seven percolating. I don’t know, at this point, how many books the series will encompass. Part of it depends on readers. I have seven under contract, and if readers are still hungry for more beyond that and my sales figures support it, chances are there will be more. Certainly at some point I’d like to write something non-series, but as long as there are stories to tell with these characters I’m all for keeping them going. But for how long?

Many authors have written crime series that have gone on for well over ten years, sometimes more and, if anything, are more popular than ever (Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum come to mind). These authors still receive strong reviews for their work, regularly top the bestseller lists, and the books stay fresh. But with so many books in a series, how much character development can there be?

The characters in THE FURY an THE DARKNESS wear their scars, both mental and physical, from the first three books in the series. Yet at some point, in a crime series, if the characters wear their scars on their sleeves to a wholly realistic degree, they’d either be dead or going insane, maybe both. Perhaps Lee Child’s Jack Reacher can get away with this, partly because he’s a badass mofo, but he’s a badass to such a degree that scars (physical, at least) are expected. For characters who are cops, reporters, bounty hunters, or hold any one of numerous other dangerous professions, at some point the odds would catch up to them. If the author establishes that a forensic anthropologist or sports agent can be in fatal danger in every book, the reader accepts that as part of the universe. But that means they accept there is something slightly implausible about that universe as a whole, since I doubt many FAs get their degrees with the expectations of being menaced by murderous psychopaths. For the most part readers are willing to accept these credulity strains, provided the author is conistent within the universe they’ve created.

So as an author, how much development do you need to stay true to the character? And how much can you ignore certain implausibilities to create a consistent universe?

P.S. remember to enter the giveaway contest!!!

Friday, February 27th, 2009 by LViehl
Sample Me Please

One of the ladies in my neighborhood has recently started selling Avon, and dropped off a couple of catalogs for me to look through. I haven’t used Avon products in years, but while we were talking my neighbor must have noticed how chapped my face and hands are, because she gave me some samples of skin cream.

The stuff I always use hasn’t been working very well this winter, so I tried them out. Both were so great I promptly put in an order for full-size versions, plus a couple of things I found while browsing through the catalog to see what else was in the product line.

Would I have ordered the products if I hadn’t tried them first? Probably not. For one thing, I’m cheap, and I don’t like spending money on something that may or may not work for me. The pictures in the catalog are pretty, but I can’t rub them on my dry skin to see what they’ll do.

I also liked the samples of the cologne from the Mark catalog (Avon’s line of products for youngsters) my neighbor gave me for my daughter to test. My girl is a young teen, and while I don’t mind her wearing a little makeup or cologne, I don’t want her walking around looking like a hooker or smelling like an opium den. Having access to the samples allowed her to see if she liked them and me a little parental preview (and we also ordered a bottle of one of the sample colognes we both liked.)

I’ve been an advocate of giving free books and stories to readers for a long time, and it really works the same way the Avon lady’s free samples do. If a reader gets a free read and loves it, they’re going to buy more by that author. If they don’t, there’s no sale, but no resentment, either. Now that we’re all tightening up our budgets and trying not to overspend, the opportunity to try out something for free before we buy is more important than ever.

Giving people something to read for free is one of the greatest pleasures I have as a professional writer. To me every book is someone’s gift to the world, so each time I have a giveaway, it’s like holding my own holiday and playing Publishing Santa.

Today I have a book tote filled with six books to give away; one unsigned novel from every member of Genreality plus a signed copy of my latest release:

A Long, Hard Ride by Alison Kent
Heretic: The Templar Chronicles by Joe Nassise
The Stolen by Jason Pinter
Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand by Carrie Vaughn
Stay the Night by Lynn Viehl
Primal Male by Sasha White

If you’d like the chance to win this bag of Genreality free samples, in comments to this post name the last free story or novel that you enjoyed (or if you can’t think of one, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Saturday, February 28, 2009. I’ll draw one name at random from everyone who participates, and send the winner the bag, the books, and a surprise. Btw, this giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, so our friends overseas, please join in.

Thursday, February 26th, 2009 by Sasha White
Inspiration

Almost every interview I’ve done has asked about my inspiration in some way. Where do your ideas come from? What inspires you? I usally sneak by with a glib answer like “I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”My imagination.” or “Everywhere.”

The honest answer is I Don’t Know – usually.

Sometimes a song, will inspire me, or a person I meet, or even another book. Yeah, I know, authors aren’t really supposed to admit that reading other books can inspire them, not in the way I’m about too. Carrie touched on it briefly yesterday when she said she’s watched the second Pirates of the Carribean, and thought, “I can do it better.” Well, I read a lot, and when I’m done, sometimes I think, “I can do it better.” That’s not to say everyone agrees with me, or even that I can do it better. But that story I just read sparked something inside me, and that’s one of the ways I can get inspired.

It’s important to realize that inspiration and ideas are different things too. It may sound silly to say that, but I think many people think they are interchangeable terms. For me, inspiration is what gives birth to the ideas. Eighty-five percent of the time, my inspiration comes from within. I can’t say exactly where though. It’s just there. A spark buried deep within me, waiting to float to the surface and be molded into an idea, and a story. Inspiration can be ellusive, and it’s not something an author can always rely on. This is where the creative aspects of being an author meet the business aspects. Any professional writer will agree that you can’t always wait around for inspiration to strike. You have to find ways to create, even when uninspired, because it is your job.

Inspiration is great when it happens, but you can’t depend on it.

This is where ideas can come in handy. They are everywhere! Read the newspaper, people watch at the mall, use something that happened to you as a springboard. The idea of a blind date gone awry got me started on my novella THE DEVIL INSIDE, and inspiration didn’t strike until around the third chapter. When it did hit though, the rest of the story flowed like magic for me.

The idea for Wicked came about because the main character, Karl, who was a throw away character in Bound, also showed up in Trouble. He was a ‘lifestyle’ Dom, and I’d never writen a true BDSM story before that, so I figured why not? Sometimes my story ideas come to me from the idea of a character, and sometimes it’s a plot. And sometimes, since I write erotic, it’s from a type of sexual fantasy.

Because when I first started to write fiction, I wrote short stories, I often started with the sexual aspect. What type of story did I want to write? Vanilla, Male domination, Female Domination, voyuerism, threesome…the options are many. Then I’d either decide on a character from who’s POV I wanted to tell the story, and that woud set the tone. Or sometimes I’d start with tone (soft and sensual, kinky and edgy, or raw and raunchy) and then build character and setting around that.

Being inspired can feel magical. The ideas are plentiful, floating around in your head just waiting for you to grab one and run with it. I give glib answers to the question of what inspires me, and where do my story ideas come from because for me, there is no easy answer – and because part of me is afraid that if I disect it too much, if I dig too deep, the magic will disappear.

Silly? Who knows, but not analyzing it too much works well for me. What works well for you?

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009 by Carrie Vaughn
Think Like a Pirate

I’m reading lots of books on pirates right now, because I’m writing a novel with pirates in it.  How cool is that?  Did I mention I love my job?  I think I was watching the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie when I thought, I could do this so much better.  It’s amazing how many of my stories start that way.  One of the ways of making it better is actually reading some books about eighteenth century pirates.

Research is another one of those things that everyone does differently, I think.  I’ve encountered two main theories:  do lots and lots of research, read everything you can, talk to people, learn a subject inside and out, then write the book.  Or, write the book, figure out what you need to know, then look up that specific information. (This method helps you avoid the pitfall of inserting a lecture on the origins of gunpowder into your otherwise fast-paced genetically engineered dinosaur thriller.  I’m looking at you, Crichton.)  Both methods have drawbacks — if you try to learn everything about a subject before you start writing, you may never start writing.  But if you don’t do enough research before you start writing, you may miss out on the information that takes your story in amazing new directions.  Or you may start working on an idea that couldn’t actually happen.

As with so many things, a middle road is usually best.  I read a couple of books before I started, which gave me lots of ideas that have worked their way into the plot.  For example, before modern shipbuilding methods hit the scene, crews had to careen their ships a few times a year — run them aground and tip them over so they could clean all the barnacles, worms, and slime off the hulls.  Otherwise, the hulls would rot out.  What a great scene!  I had no idea!  But after reading a couple of books, I was so excited to get started I just did, even though I had so much more to learn.  (Like how would they have treated a broken leg?  How did they carry water on the ships?  What kind of ship are they sailing?  I had no idea there were so many different kinds of ships plying the waters of the Caribbean in the eighteenth century!  Sloops, pinks, brigantines, schooners, galleons…)

Like Lynn, I tend to put a bunch of bracketed notes in my first drafts, like what famous pirates were at the Bahamas and when, what a ship’s surgeon’s training would have been, what the captain’s quarters would have looked like, how the prisoners on a slave ship were chained, and so on.  It’s not worth stopping the flow of writing to look up that information when it doesn’t change the story.  That’s not research so much as fact checking.

I never think I do enough research.  I’m sure I don’t.  But see, I don’t have to know a topic inside and out in order to write a book.  I only have to convince the reader that I do.

We’re told to write what we know.  So why is it worth it trying to become an instant expert in a subject we don’t know?  Because not every expert can write a rip-roaring novel about their subject.  Some can (giving rise to whole shelves full of medical mysteries, lawyer mysteries, military-based techno thrillers, and so on).  But a historian specializing in eighteenth century piracy is probably going to spend most of his or her time writing nonfiction about pirates.  Which leaves it to writers like me to absorb all that nonfiction and make an adventure of it.

Obligatory plagiarism notice.  It should go without saying, but there’ve been too many instances where it needed to be said:  research does not mean inserting your source material word for word into your novel.  It should go without saying because interrupting the narrative flow to deliver a lecture on sailing techniques would be dead boring.  Unless you’re Herman Melville, who got away with a lot of exposition because he really did sail on nineteenth century whaling ships.  The thing to do is read lots of books.  Then put the books away and write what you know.

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009 by Joe Nassise
Editorial Kudos

I’m going to cue off Lynn’s post about editors last week to talk a little bit about one of mine.

You see, I’ve been working on a book for the last year entitled EYES TO SEE.  It’s the story of Jeremiah Hunt, a man who gives up his sight in order to see through the eyes of the ghosts who surround us all in an effort to find the daughter who disappeared from his home months before.

I’ve really enjoyed working on this book, but it has been a long haul.  The initial writing effort wasn’t too bad; a few months or so.  But then came the hard part.

Revisions.

You see, my editor at Droemer-Knaur read the completed manuscript and sent me his usual editorial letter.  I greatly enjoy working with him – he is one of those rare individuals that can inspire you to push for greater heights even when you don’t believe it’s possible and usual, that’s what he did with this one.

I think it was his third sentence that stopped me short – “This is good, Joe, quite good.  But that’s not what I want from you at this point in your career.  EYES is your fourth book for us and it deserves to be great.”

Tim was right – EYES did deserve to be great.  After coming out strongly in Germany with my first three titles (Der Ketzer, Der Engel, and Die Schatten) it was time to push the envelope a little.  So with a short sigh of resignation, and an understanding that I had a fair degree of work ahead of me, I kept reading.

And reading.

And reading.

Tim editorial letter took up some ten pages and it was one of the best editorial letters I had ever received.  He went through my manuscript with a fine tooth comb, showing me both where I had risen to brilliance and where I had tripped over my own two feet.  He made suggestions, but not orders, and left it to me to figure out how I could take what was a strong B to B+ effort and turn it into an A.  The fact that he did it all so completely when English is his second language still amazes me.

As you can guess, several months of work followed.  I tore that manuscript apart, striving to be worthy of the trust he had in my effort and abilities.  I cut almost 45% of the original book, shored up the main plot and rewrote it back to its original length, and then added another 33,000 words on top of that.   Just before Christmas I turned it in a second time.

Only to be hit with another round of revisions in late January.

Thankfully, these were much shorter – just minor details that needed to be checked and a few short changes here and there.  I’m putting the finishing touches on those this week, in fact.  But what has really struck me in thinking about it all this week is the simple truth that EYES is now a far stronger book than it was when I turned it in the first time.  In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that it is likely the best thing I’ve written since I started doing so eight years ago.

And there is absolutely no doubt that I couldn’t have gotten there without the help of my editor.

As writers we often grumble and groan when it comes to editors – after all, they hold the keys to getting our stuff published.  But I think it is only fair to give praise where praise is due.

My hat’s off to Tim and all the other editors out there who care as much about their work as he does.

Monday, February 23rd, 2009 by Alison Kent
The Economy, Train Wrecks, and Acts of God

I have a book on the shelves this week. I hope. A LONG, HARD RIDE is a March release from Harlequin Blaze, shipping now from B&N and eHarlequin, and available in my local Wal-Mart but not, at last check, in the grocery and drug stores further into town. One of my blog readers reported seeing it in her B&N in California, while a reader in Oregon hadn’t spotted it yet, A Long, Hard Ride by Alison Kent, Harlequin Blaze, March '09and a reader in North Carolina (I think?) was able to find and buy it.

Yes, I have a book due on the shelves the month Anderson News suspends its operations. Anderson stocks many non-chain bookstore outlets with books and magazines and shares Wal-Mart duties with Levy Merchandising. Publishers Weekly reported last week that publishers were working to reclaim their stock and find other methods of distribution. A fellow Blaze author talked to the line’s editorial assistant and was told Harlequin was doing the same.

Last summer, my first five Kensington Brava SG-5 trade paperbacks were re-released in a Wal-Mart exclusive mass market edition. Did that mean the books were available in every Wal-Mart store? Nope. The merchandisers were given a certain number of copies for their area, but were not held to distributing them equally among locations. Some readers wrote to report they couldn’t find the books anywhere (yes, they looked in more than one place), while my local Wal-Mart was stocked with six copies of AT RISK in June, six copies of IN DANGER in July, and six copies of DEEP TROUBLE in August.

We write and we polish and we revise, and our publishers package our work to sell, and then . . . it’s up to distributors to get our books into readers’ hands. Over that, we have no control. And it sucks. One of my recent Amazon orders was delayed due to storms; the weather kept the flights grounded, though the books did arrive a couple of days later rather than weeks as I was expecting. When I saw the FedEx cargo plane burning on the ground in Lubbock, Texas in January, I wondered if anything I’d ordered had gone up in flames.

Suzanne Brockmann credits a train wreck with her initial success. Boxes and boxes of books on their way to stores were destroyed, and well, Suz tells it better on her site:

The story I heard was that all of the Harlequin/Silhouette books were shipped to the West Coast of the USA on a train. (I picture the Little Engine that Could, bravely carrying boxcars of romance novels to California with a cheery smile on his brave little face…) And in early May, 1996, the happy train that carried the first shipment of books to the West Coast was hit (literally) by a freak storm. This storm was so powerful it actually derailed the train, pushing it off the tracks and into a reservoir. (As I recount this tale, I’m struck by the absurdity of this. However, I will continue. Whatever the details, the truth remains that a train (probably one without a smiley face on the front) carrying the first shipment of H/S books was derailed and the cargo (i.e. books) destroyed.

So, you know in those author/publisher contracts when they say things like “Act of God?” Well, this was considered an Act of God, those books were considered lost, and, kids, they weren’t ever replaced. (Which was a serious blow to the authors of those books, you can be sure!)

Now, by the time the second batch of H/S books made their way to the West Coast (and I’m talking about the entire West Coast. Not just California. But more like West of the Mississippi…) all those avid series romance readers were desperate for SOMEthing to read — especially the fans of longer contemporary romances, such as SuperRomances and Special Editions. And, alleluia, here was the shipment of Silhouette Intimate Moments. And, included in that shipment was a nifty little book with the rather unusual title of PRINCE JOE (and an interesting cover, too) by an as-yet-unknown new author named Suzanne Brockmann.

So, yeah. I’m supposed to have a book on the shelves . . . and it’s not just any book. This year, Harlequin celebrates their 60th anniversary, and each line is doing something as a tribute. March is Blaze’s month, and A LONG, HARD RIDE launches the From 0 – 60 miniseries which is our contribution. My book is the first of the three.

As part of the push, a snippet of my story went out in the back of every single February category romance published across all the lines; I bought Margot Early’s 02/09 Superromance THE THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE just so I could see the excerpt for myself. The piece I wrote originally was deemed too steamy (you can read it here) and so I had to come up with a tamer scene – and even then, what made it into all those other books is not how the scene actually reads. Still, hundreds of thousands of readers who may have never read me before, got a sneak peek of my work. Unfortunately, if they like what they read enough to buy the book, they might not be able to find it. And that sucks.

Did I mention A LONG, HARD RIDE is one of Romantic Times’ TOP PICKS for March? Reviewer Page Traynor says, “This very sexy, emotional story has strong and wonderful characters who make it a memorable read.” There are readers who take the page of TOP PICKS to their local bookstore as a shopping list. And now they may not find the March books at all.

I did everything right. I wrote a book that is actually one of my personal favorites, and about which blogger Laurie Damron says, “I truly think this may be the best Blaze I’ve read to date.” Harlequin did everything right, even excerpting my story in the February books. And yet due to circumstances beyond my control, my sales numbers may tank and I can only hope they aren’t held against me down the road at contract time because it can happen.

And to thank you for listening to me whine about the vagaries of the biz, here’s a safe for work GenReality exclusive excerpt – enjoy!

Read the rest of this entry

Saturday, February 21st, 2009 by Jason Pinter
The Reality of Agents

I thought I’d take a cue from Lynn’s post and offer some advice on literary agents. I wrote this for my blog this week, but I thought it worth reposting for any aspiring authors looking for hard, practical advice on getting an agent.

During this month’s “Love is Murder” conference in Chicago, I sat on a panel with several editors from different publishing houses. I was assigned this panel, presumably, because I spent several years as an editor, dealt with many authors and agents, and was able to offer some thoughts about editing, agents and how to get published. I wasn’t surprised to hear that many people in the audience had much to learn about this process, yet I was surprised to hear some of my fellow panelists offering thoughts that were totally counterproductive when it comes to landing an agent. So in an effort to demystify a process that is often shrouded in darkness, here is a list of practical things you should–and should not–do when trying to get a literary agent:
–Always follow an agency’s submission guidelines. This was a point contested by one of my LIM panelists. His reasoning? Bucking the guidelines will get you a quicker response. Of course that response for him, and for you, has been and will always be ‘No’. If an agency’s submission guidelines say not to email submissions, DO NOT email submissions. If they ask for double-spaced, 12-point font, send it in that format (even if you wrote it in single-spaced 10 point). Look at it like this: agencies receive literally thousands of submissions every year. By stating right off the bat you think you’re above the rules, you’re telling the agent you’re going to be a pain in the butt. Not exactly the way you want to start a professional relationship, and an easy way to find yourself in the rejection pile, albeit quicker.
–Wait until the allotted time period ends before checking in. If the agency’s guidelines say to wait 4-6 weeks for a response, feel free to send a (polite) follow up after that window expires. 
–DO NOT slag other authors in your query letter. Telling an agent how much more talented you are than Bestselling Author X is really just telling the agent how much of a bigger head you have than Next Submission in the Pile.
–It’s fine, and even expected, for you to compare your work to other authors. Not in a derogatory sense (see previous item), but in a way that gives the agent a sense of who your audience is and how they might pitch it. Good: “I write layered mysteries in the vein of George Pelecanos.” Bad: “I write layered mysteries in the vein of George Pelecanos, only better.”
–You’re the only one who cares what your mother thinks. I’ve read enough queries over the years to fairly ascertain that 100% of all mothers and fathers think their child’s book is fantastic. Telling an agent this in your query letter does not speak to the quality of your manuscript.
–Write your query letter like good jacket copy. It shouldn’t reveal too much, and it should leave the agent wanting to read more.
–Only include information in your query bio that pertains directly to the book itself. If you’re writing a non-fiction proposal, include your credentials and make the case as to why you are the right person to write this particular book. If you’re writing a novel, include any writing awards, advance quotes from notable authors, or story publications. What not to include: your resume.
–Unless the guidelines request it, never paste your manuscript/proposal in the body of an email. You know that friend who send you emails that seemingly go on forever and have you hitting the ‘scroll down’ key for hours? Well, multiply that by a thousand.
–You may be “the next great New York Times bestselling author,” but that’s dependent on factors well beyond you, me, your agent and often even your publisher to decide. Let your work speak for itself, and hope for the best.
–Don’t sign up with the first agent who offers you representation just so you can say you have an agent, just like you wouldn’t hire the very first employee to send you a resume. Take your time. Make sure this agent is the right one. Look the agent up on their website, or see their sales at publishersmarketplace.com. If your agent does not have any sales to a reputable publisher, let’s just say the odds are not in your favor to be the first.
–If an agent offers you representation, you have every right to ask them for a list of recent sales. If they deny your request, think long and hard about why. Would you hire an employee who refused to offer any references?
–Don’t waste your time by throwing your manuscript at the wall and hoping that it sticks. By sending out random queries to every agency in the book without researching what each agent represents, you’re going to end up wasting a fistful of dough sending your cookbook proposal to agents who only represent literary fiction.
–Do not pay any fees to the agent upfront. Period. If the agent asks for money, they are not a real agent. Agents get paid on how much your work earns. You make money, then they make money.
–Research agents. There is far too much information out there for any author to be in the dark when searching for representation. Check out the aforementioned Publishers Marketplace. Other resources include Publishers WeeklyLiterary Marketplace, and of course Google. If an agent offers to represent you, Google the crap out of him/her.
–Don’t go chapter by chapter through Writers Market guides submitting to the ‘A’ section first, then ‘B’ then ‘C’ then so on. Compile a list, say your top 25 agents, and query them accordingly. Don’t waste your time or money querying Apex Literary Agency (not a real agency) which hasn’t sold a book since 1997.
–Blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, Flickring and Friendraising is all well and good, but if it takes time away from your manuscript that is bad, bad, bad.
–Finishing a first draft is the easy part, it’s how you revise that makes you a writer. Sending a first draft of your manuscript to an agent is like going on a first date without having showered in three days. Clean yourself up. Anybody can spit out 80,000 words, it’s choosing the right 80,000 in the right order that will get you published.
–You might think submitting your manuscript on green paper written in red ink tied in a bow is pretty, but I can guarantee you the agent will not.