I love skiing, but I hate being cold. That may seem like an untenable conflict, but it’s actually not. You see, I have spent considerable time and energy (not to mention money) creating the perfect layering philosophy.
For you novelists out there, you’ll appreciate how this philosophy aligns with writing strategies:
Double layers. To stay warm in single, and low double digits temperatures, make sure every body part is covered with three or even four layers. Camisole, shirt, sweater and jacket on top and socks, leggings, long underwear and ski pants on the bottom.
For writing, I equate double layers to the symbolism you should weave through your writing. By adding repeating themes or elements, you can give your reader a jolt of pleasure when they recognize a pattern–it’s like finding a prize on a treasure hunt. In Dare to Love, Nivea’s favorite flower was the forget-me-not. I used it to represent her hope that Dare would not cast her aside, and it provided a nice tangible element that ties them together throughout. Nivea’s wedding dress is blue and Dare gives her a handkerchief embroidered with the delicate flower.
Make sure all your layers are smooth. When wearing so many layers of clothing, it’s hard to bring everything together smoothly. But there is nothing worse than stepping out on the slope and realizing you have a big wrinkle in your sock, right under your left heel. And it’s driving you crazy. But you’d have to take off six layers of clothes in the freezing cold, to smooth it out. So, while you’re dressing, make sure everything is comfortable before adding another layer.
Writers – figure out your pacing. Your readers want a satisfying conclusion. But they don’t want the ending to feel rushed. Build the attraction, draw out the conflict and then develop a satisfying resolution. Readers want the hero and heroine to overcome challenges, but deserve each other in the end.
Tuck everything in. Shirt tucked inside leggings, gator tucked into jacket, glove liners tucked into sleeves. The cold will creep into the smallest openings and drive you nuts.
Writers – don’t leave the reader hanging. If you mention a person/place/situation, make sure there’s a reason. If your heroine references a crazy Aunt Doris in chapter two, be sure she pops up in chapter 17 to offer unexpectedly sage advice or to diffuse a tense situation. Readers don’t appreciate dead ends…unless they serve as a teaser for your next novel.
Fill your pockets – On the mountain, you are at the mercy of mother nature. The cold will make your lips freeze, your nose run, your eyes tear. You’ll get hungry, thirsty and tired. But you will also see amazing sights you’ll want to share with your friends. This is where the ski pockets come in. My jacket currently contains: a mask (Covid!), chapstick, tissues, ski pass, money (hot chocolate with Kahlua is da’bomb!), hand/foot warmers, trail map, cell phone, a PB&J sandwich (because ski food is expensive!) and a small flask (ditto). If you’re aptly prepared, you can ski all day!
Writers – get the tools you need. There are a number of great books to help you–Stephen King’s book On Writing is my favorite. Find a writing chapter, support group, or writers conference where you can learn the finer points of writing dialogue, researching, copy editing, creating a plot board, etc. and hopefully, the best resource–a critique partner. No matter how smoothly the story sounds in your head, it is most likely not translating as seamlessly on paper. Creating a support network of writers will help boost you up when times get tough, cheer you on when you have doubts and celebrate when you finally achieve your dreams. Gather these tools and your writing career can last a lifetime!
I was brewing a cup of tea on Wednesday, a few days before Halloween. Once the water started boiling, the tea kettle screamed and my cat was startled out of a deep sleep. His terrified reaction gave me an idea for a short story. Grabbing my laptop, I jotted down the following story, that I thought would be an appropriate post for Halloween.
I hope you enjoy it.
The Tormenting Tea kettle
Clarise awoke to the screeching of a tea kettle once again.
That had terrified her for the first week or so, but now proved to be merely tiresome, considering she’d been trapped in her house, alone, for nearly three months. And she didn’t own a tea kettle.
Nevertheless, at 5:47 every morning, she was yanked out of Morpheus’ arms by the high-pitched whine in her kitchen.
The first time this had happened, she’d shot out of her bed and raced down the hall to see what the hell was making that sound. As soon as she crossed the threshold to the kitchen, the screeching stopped. Heart pounding, feet freezing, nerves tingling, the hair all over her body standing on edge, she jerked to a stop on the linoleum while frantically searching for the source of the noise.
Scanning the room, she found everything in its proper place, burners on the stove turned off, and absolutely nothing on its cast iron grates.
“Must have been a nightmare,” Clarise mumbled to herself. “But it seemed so real.” Wrapping her arms around her to ward off the morning chill, she turned back toward her bedroom. After every few steps she would cast a quick glance into the kitchen. Silly, certainly, since there was nothing there, but she couldn’t help herself.
Once she reached the bedroom, there seemed to be no point in returning to bed. She was wide awake now. She glanced at her phone on the nightstand to check the day’s weather. Cloudy with a high of 42 degrees. A typical March day. So, she pulled on a sweater, jeans and thick socks, pulled her hair into a messy ponytail and headed into her home office to check emails.
The next morning, a Sunday, at 5:47 a.m., a whistling tea kettle jerked her awake again. As had happened the day before, Clarise raced to the kitchen, and the sound stopped. What were the odds of having the same nightmare two days in a row? Pretty slim, Clarise reasoned. There must be another explanation.
She walked into the kitchen and examined every inch of the room. She opened her microwave, searched the pantry and every cabinet. But since she wasn’t a tea drinker, and she lived alone in the house, she found no kettle.
I need to stop having that extra glass of wine before bed, she thought. It’s making me a bit batty. Or maybe I’ve been cooped up inside too long.
Covid was raging and since she had an autoimmune disease, she’d decided to isolate herself as much as possible. She’d bought enough supplies to last an Alaskan winter, stocked up on propane for her generator in case of an emergency and set up a lovely office in the spare bedroom so she could easily work from home.
Maybe she’d been working too hard. Many a time, she’d look up from her computer only to realize she’d worked straight through lunchtime. And often didn’t stop for dinner until her stomach was grumbling.
Yeah, that must be it. So, instead of tackling her latest computer project, she decided to put on her grubbiest jeans, a flannel shirt and her faded college sweatshirt and head outside to ready the garden for spring.
She’d spent hours weeding the beds, sweeping leaves from her rear patio, repairing a loose step on her front porch and removing the remnants of summer flowers from her decorative planters. Exhausted but satisfied with her progress, she’d headed inside as the sun dipped below the tree line. Once she’d washed up, she’d heated up a hearty stew for dinner and crawled into bed—looking forward to a long, well-deserved slumber.
Monday, 5:47. Tweeeeeeeeet.
What is happening?! Clarise sat up, tired and cranky. Where is that sound coming from? It must not be the kitchen. She grabbed her phone to see if it was making that infernal noise.
She slowly swung her feet to the floor, put on slippers and her robe and skulked around her bedroom. She checked her windows. Opened her closet. Pressed her ears against the wall hoping that maybe the noise was a result of a weird problem with her plumbing.
Nope. The sound was clearly coming from her kitchen.
Grabbing her walking stick from the closet, she crept down the hall, as silently as possible, hoping to sneak up on whoever was harassing her. But as soon as she got to the doorway, silence.
This is insane. And a little frightening. Was someone deliberately tormenting her? Or playing an outlandish prank? By why? And why now? She’d lived in this house for three years. It was a small ranch house set back on nearly two acres of land, so she rarely saw her neighbors, but she was pleasant when she’d encountered them. She didn’t have any stalker ex-boyfriends or crazy coworkers that she knew of. Who could be doing this?
Determined to solve the mystery, she spent the rest of the day laying traps. She sprayed water all around her house, turning the gravel path and surrounding gardens to mud. Then she locked all her doors and windows and sprinkled flour in front of them. That way, if something or someone got into the house, she’d be able to footsteps or signs of a creepy ghost gown dragging across her floor. As a final precaution, she turned off the valve to her kitchen faucet. No faucet, no boiling water, no whistle. Problem solved.
Tuesday, 5:47 a.m. Tweeeeeeeeet!
On went the slippers and robe, walking stick in hand, Clarise raced down the hall, excited and anxious to discover some telltale clues from her cleverly laid traps. She found…nothing. No kettle, no footsteps and even more surprisingly, no flour.
FUCK! What the bloody hell was going on? Who was doing this? WHAT was doing this? And why? Was she losing her mind? Sure, she’d been cooped up in her house for two months—but a few months alone wasn’t much of a struggle. She enjoyed the quiet.
Or at least she had until the universe decided to set a 5:47 wake-up call every morning.
Clarise shot upright in bed, but this time didn’t leave its comfy confines. Instead, she buried her head under the pillow, determined to wait it out. Maybe it would automatically turn off after a minute or two and she didn’t realize it because she’d just happened to enter the kitchen at that exact time.
But no, the whistle kept blowing. Without warning, tears dripped onto her mattress. The sound was piercing her skull and after four very long minutes, Clarise gave up and tromped into the kitchen to encounter blessed silence. She wiped her eyes, took a very large breath…and SCREAMED in frustration!
WHYYYYYYYYYYYYY? What do you want from me? STOP IT. STOP IT! She screamed until her throat was raw. Then choked back a hysterical giggle when she realized a cup of tea might soothe her vocal chords.
She collapsed into her kitchen chair and finally gave in to the great gulping tears of frustration she’d been holding back all week.
Once she’d cried herself dry, she got up, splashed cold water on her face and decided to make the best of it. She went about her normal day, tucked herself into bed a little earlier than usual to counteract the inexplicably early wake-up call and rose at 5:47 a.m. to shuffle into the kitchen.
This went on for a few weeks. Annoying, but tolerable.
Then one day, Clarise, decided to take advantage of a warm, sunny day, working in her yard from breakfast till mid afternoon. She cut back mounds of unruly bushes and hauled them to the back of her property where she composted yard waste. When she’d finally finished, she dragged herself into the house. Standing in the shower, she realized just how exhausting the day’s work had been. The warm water soothed her aching limbs while it lulled her into a near coma state. Exiting the shower, she managed to dry off and run a brush through her hair before collapsing on her bed.
I’ll just lay here a few minutes and then get up to make something to eat, she thought.
“Clarise. Clarise! Wake up, hon. This has gone on long enough.”
Clarise felt a firm hand on her arm. It was shaking her brusquely. She moaned and tried to turn away, but the hand gripping prevented the maneuver.
“Clarise! Open your eyes, honey.” The woman’s voice sounded equal parts worried and annoyed.
Clarise thought she recognized the voice but couldn’t imagine why her mail carrier would be in her bedroom. This must be another weird dream. So, she yanked her arm in an attempt to remove the hand confining her and go back to sleep.
It didn’t work. The grip grew firmer. And the shaking returned.
“My daughter said you should be fine by now. The swelling has gone down and the bruises are a lovely shade of yellow. Hardly noticeable.”
Bruises? Swelling? Clarise didn’t know what to make of that. Maybe opening her eyes and taking a peek around wouldn’t be such a bad idea. She cracked them open a tiniest smidge.
“Oh! There you are. Welcome back!” The hand lifted from her arm and the woman clapped excitedly.
Clarise open her eyes wider and inched up against the pillows to get a better look at her surroundings. She was not, in fact, in her bedroom. She was lying in a large four-poster bed, covered with a pastel blue quilt. Afternoon light shown on the faded wallpaper illuminating gold trellises entwined by blue morning glories. Standing next to the bedside, backlit by the window, was Pauline. Her letter carrier.
Bloody hell. What was going on now? Clarise raised her freed hand and ran it across her forehead before raking it through her hair. It was full of tangles. As if she hadn’t brushed it in days. She pushed herself up to a fully seated position. “Pauline,” she croaked out, her voice oddly scratchy, “ Where am I?”
Pauline smiled and sat down on the bed. “Well, dear, you’re in my house.”
“You’re…” She shook her head, trying to shake her marbles back into alignment, “you’re house? Why? And how did I get here?” She felt like Alice landing at the bottom of the rabbit’s hole.
Pauline patted her hand, answering in a soothing tone. “You had an accident, sweetie. I was making my rounds last month and you had a delivery that was too large for your mailbox. When I drove up your driveway to hand deliver it, I found you lying on your front porch.”
“Oh my God. What happened to me?”
“Best as I can tell, you must have tripped somehow and banged your head on one of those giant ceramic planters where you plant those beautiful red geraniums. I found a hammer and nails scattered around, so I think you’d been fixing something at the time.”
She paused when Clarise moaned a little, remembering she’d relived fixing the front step while unconscious. “Then what happened?”
“I tried to wake you but you were knocked out cold. I know the hospitals were all overwhelmed with Covid, so I called my daughter—she’s a doctor, you know—and she said to bring you here and she’d keep an eye on you. Turns out you had a concussion and needed yourself a little rest.”
“How long have I been out?”
“Well, today is Wednesday, so nine days. Which sounds like a long time, but my daughter said your vitals were good, you mumbled in your sleep occasionally and even yelled something one morning about “no water, no whistle.” I have no idea what that meant, but it showed you had brain function, which was a good sign.”
Clarise sank back into the pillows. She closed her eyes, trying to make sense of it all. So, the last few weeks had just been a dream. The whistle must have been a weird reaction to her addled brain. She could come up with no other explanation.
Pauline rose from the bed, saying, “You just lay here and rest. I’ll bring you up some food. You haven’t had a good meal in over a week. Does a grilled cheese sandwich sound good?”
Clarise opened her eyes and smiled at her kindly caretaker. “That would be delicious, thanks.”
Once Pauline reached the doorway, she turned and said, “You can stay here until tomorrow when my daughter will come check on you. If she clears you, you can go home. Alright?”
“Perfect. Thank you so much.”
Clarise heard Pauline bustling around in her kitchen and it wasn’t long before she reentered the room with a tray, carrying a sandwich, glass of milk and even a cookie. Clarisse quickly gulped down the food and thanked her host again. Worn out, she turned off the bedside light and quickly fell back to sleep.
Thursday 5:47 a.m. Tweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet
“Tea’s ready, Clarise,” Pauline called from the kitchen. “Would you like a cup?”
I don’t mean do you have occasional, manageable stress. But the relentless feeling of being overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated, depressed or even flat-out angry?
Yeah, me too.
But, much like Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, Emily and Amelia Nagoski are here to tell you “Its not your fault. No. Really. It’s not your fault.” And that 20-second hug Robin gave Matt Damon? That’s actually part of the solution.
The Nagoskis have published a book called “Burnout: the secret to unlocking the stress cycle” and it is a health-changing life-saver. Literally. We’ve all heard that stress is bad for you health. In fact the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently recognized burnout as a syndrome.
But Emily, a PHD in Health Behavior, explains that the platitudes about relaxing with bubble baths, coloring books and green smoothies aren’t enough. They do not get to the root of the problem which is – Live is hard, messy and exhausting. Emotionally exhausting.
She recognizes that you have stressors in your life – some that you may be able to remove, but many you can’t. So you need to strategies to manage how you physiologically react to that stress. And that’s what this book does. Each chapter has a strategy with a Spark Notes type summary at the end, and a worksheet (so you can play along at home!)
Here are the things I found the most helpful:
Kill the Lion
Stress is your body’s natural reaction to a dangerous situation. You’re being chased by a lion. Either you get eaten (end of problem) or you run away. Your adrenaline spikes, you either kill the lion or you run fast enough to evade him and you feel relief. Problem solved.
Nowadays, the lion follows you home, lurking in your bushes All. The. Time. Your adrenaline’s spiked but there’s no relief. You need to kill the lion – metaphorically–since the lion is likely your boss or spouse or child or seemingly everyone who crosses your path.
Human Giver Syndrome
You want to help people. It’s who you are. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of your well-being. And it is, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this. These are going to be things you’ve heard a million times, but the Nagoski’s make it sound doable. And once you know why it works, it’s much easier to justify building them into your schedule.
Sleep more – it’s important and you need to make it a priority–and they tell you how.
Exercise – you don’t have to strive for that impractical 60 mins/day, 5 days/week nonsense unless you want to. But moving your body helps clear your brain and mentally Kills Your Lion. When you’re feeling stressed, take a walk, do yoga stretches, something. It helps.
Make a human connection – Talk to a friend or coworker. Share your stress with someone who understands. Or my favorite solution which harkens back to my Good Will Hunting reference–share a 20-second hug with a loved one. It allows you to press pause in your life and feel valued.
The Madwoman in your Attic
I wasn’t sure this chapter was relevant to me. Until I sat down, had a nice heart-to-heart with her and then let her rampage in her dusty room, breaking things like an enraged toddler while I relaxed downstairs with a lovely Chardonnay. And I had the best night’s sleep in months!
Let me explain.
Most women–and maybe a few men–have that voice in your head that tells you all the ways you’re failing. Sure, you (pick whatever’s appropriate) went to work, addressed 15 crises, picked up snacks for your kid’s sports team, cooked a healthy dinner, paid bills, did laundry, called your mom, listened to your husband/child/friend’s complaints about their lives, brushed and flossed and went to bed. But then the madwoman in your attic pops in to remind you that you didn’t give the dog his heartmedicine or lose 5 pounds or you were mean to the sales clerk. See, failure.
The Nagoskis are referencing Rochester’s wife in Jane Eyre. Was she really crazy or was she a perfectly normal woman trapped in the insufferable cage of patriarchy (ugh) and Rochester just locked her up there for his own peace of mind?
Because women weren’t supposed to have their own dreams and desires and expectations, they were put on this earth to make others happy, look pretty, be kind, patient, organized and never ever get angry. See, madness!
Yet those unrealistic expectations still haunt us today. We are expected to be perfect–either internally, or by external forces like family, friends, the media, the world–and the madwoman in your attic is keeping track of all the ways you’ve let them down. Those thoughts are what turns your daily life from productive problem solving to relentless stress.
You need to talk to her, ask her why she keeps nagging you to be better. In some things, she’s right. So give her permission to rage about the unfairness of life, unrealistic expectations and failure of others to give you what you want. And while she’s throwing plates and slashing pillows, lay there calmly and figure out what you can fix, how you can perhaps move the needle in the right direction for a longer range solution.
She’ll eventually complete the stress cycle, kill her lions and fall into sleep. Hopefully you will too. And you’ll emerge rested and ready to face the day.
Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with the Nagaskis or their publisher. I am simply a fan of both of Emily’s books BURNOUT and COME AS YOU ARE. She offers women engaging and practical advice that is grounded in science.
Seriously, they are life-changing. You should read them and then buy them for friends and family-
I finished my next contemporary romance novella last week and spent Easter weekend submitting it to a half-dozen lucky publishers. You may remember from an earlier blog post just how taxing book submissions can be (ha ha, since I sent them April 15/16).
The hero, Sean, isn’t a massive, successful, tough, Vin Diesel Alpha male. He’s more of a laid back, charming, Matthew McConaughey screw-up. He lives life on his own terms, doesn’t bother anyone, doesn’t rely on anyone, has gorgeous green eyes and is happily cruising through life.
I wanted to add a little diversity to my book, but I’m about as diverse as a box of tissues. What do I know about the complexities of life experienced by people of color, gender fluidity, refugees of war-torn nations and the like. Nothing! Not. A. Thing. But I did grow up in North Jersey. And 30 years later, the nasally twang of my friends’ Jewish mothers still infects my brain. Not necessarily in a bad way…but it’s there nonetheless. So, I decided my heroine, Gabby, would not only struggle dealing with her life choices, but the anticipated reactions of her Jewish mother.
Stephen King’s On Writingbook encourages authors to weave symbolism into their writing. I embraced that sentiment and added a few elements into Counting on Him. To mirror the book’s title, numbers are prevalent. Sean counts the floors in the slowly ascending elevator. Gabby counts the weeks before she has to make a decision.
To build tension through the book, the summer temperatures grow more and more oppressive–until the story culminates in a massive cathartic thunderstorm.
I loved the Gilmore Girls and desperately wanted to live in Stars Hollow, so I gave Roselle a similar small town vibe. The coffee shop has a bell over the door and a big bay window. The town hosts a Community Service Fair in the park. It’s quaint and charming and I can’t wait to revisit it in my next book.
Number 5–The book’s ending is to die for! Sean finds his motivation, Gabby gets her perfect man and they live happily ever after. Isn’t that all any of us want?
SO, now I just have to sit back and wait to hear the accolades from my potential publishers. FYI – I give points for quick responses.
Tick tock, people. There’s a whole world out there, eager to read my book. 🙂
Starting March 5, the Valley Forge Romance Writers is accepting submissions to their The Sheila Contest.
Participation is open to all romance writers (unpublished, self-published and published) interesting in submitting an unpublished manuscript in the following categories: historical, erotic, romantic suspense, single title or paranormal/fantasy/futuristic.
Entrants enjoy two benefits. During the scoring process, judges provide beneficial feedback regarding 20 writing elements (dialogue, descriptions, grammar, etc.). Many past applicants have used these insights to improve–and subsequently find a publisher for–their story.
Top scoring manuscripts are judged by a professional agent or editor, and the winners receive a certificate and have their names published in RWR magazine
It’s a great deal, so get moving! The deadline is April 8, 2017.
Contest Name: The Sheila Contest
Sponsor: Valley Forge Romance Writers (Chapter of RWA)
Fee: $25 for VFRW members, $30 for non-members
Opens for Entries: March 5, 2017
Deadline: April 8, 2017
Eligibility: Participation is open to all romance writers who are unpublished, self-published, and published. Entry must be the author’s original unpublished work and not under contract.
Entry:First 20 pages of manuscript and up to 5 page unjudged synopsis.
First Round Judges: Three (3) qualified, trained judges, including General, PRO and PAN members. Judges are strongly encouraged to comment directly on the entry as well as overall comments on the scoresheets.
Categories and Final Judges:
Single Title: Patricia Nelson, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
Historical: Keren Reed, Loose ID
Erotic: Tera Cuskaden, Cuskaden Editorial and Publishing Services
Romantic Suspense: Deb Werksman, Sourcebooks
Fantasy/Futuristic/Paranormal: Nicole Resciniti, The Seymour Agency.
Best of the Best – 1st place winners from the final round will move on to the Best of the Best round, judged by Best Selling Authors and Booksellers:
Kate Welsh – New York Times & USA Today Best Selling Author
Mariah Stewart – New York Times & USA Today Best Selling Author
Terri Brisbin – USA Today Best Selling Author
Joan Silvestro – Indie Bookseller – Book Trader
Grand Prize for Best of the Best: $100
Top Prizes: Certificates, and the 1st through 4th place winners will be printed in RWR Magazine.
Last week I submitted my manuscript to prospective publishers, and two days later, I went to my college homecoming. In a bizarre twist, the alumni lacrosse team descended upon our tailgate. One of the attendees brought a green pick-up truck.
Why is this bizarre? Take a look at this snippet from chapter 3 of my upcoming novella Catching a Pixie:
The north field was packed with cars, but I managed to spot my brother gathered around a grill with his lacrosse teammates.
Typical guys, they were all in T-shirts and jeans, not a sweatshirt in the bunch. Meanwhile, I was still bundled up in a coat and mittens—thankfully, since the beer I was holding would have turned my fingers numb.
We waved at him before settling into a pair of blue canvas chairs a few spots over. We’d only been there a few minutes before Gabby turned to me and said, “That guy is totally checking you out.”
I whipped around. “Where?”
Keeping her hand near her lap, she pointed across the way. “Down there. See Sean by the grill? There’s a tall guy to his left, sitting on the bed of the green pickup truck.”
I glanced over. Hmm, cute. Well built, nice smile, not bad. But also, not looking at me. “No he’s not.”
She shrugged. “Well, he was.” A minute later she nudged me again. “Linds, he is definitely checking you out.”
I peeked over again and this time he was looking. Our eyes met and he flashed me a smile. Squee!
It looks like my imagination isn’t just vivid, it’s incredibly accurate as well. There were blue chairs as well, but they were farther down the row…where Lindsay and Gabby would have been sitting.
AND there was a younger player with curly brown hair and long eyelashes who was the mirror image of Sean–the hero of my next book Counting on Him!
I would have loved to have gotten his photo, but wasn’t sure how to start that conversation. “Hey, I’m a romance writer old enough to be your mother. You look just like the sexy hero in my book. Do you mind if I take your picture and post it on my blog?” Yeah that wouldn’t have been at all creepy. :0
I am struggling to decide whether or not to keep torturing myself finding a publisher.
My current manuscript is 40,000 words, which doesn’t fit in with most submission guidelines. Plus, it’s a romance novella that doesn’t bash you over the head with conflict in the first five pages. I have been repeatedly reminded this violates the ironclad GMC model of romance writing.
But maybe there is a market out there for readers who don’t want to be force-fed drama. They’d rather see a relationship build at a realistic pace, before plummeting into heartbreak and despair. Just because it doesn’t match the standard publisher’s formula, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t see the light of day.
A.G. Young’s blog raises some other valid points as to why I might want to go the self-pub route.
So today we’re talking about if you should Self Publish or Traditionally Publish that baby you have been working on for months or years. This of course is no easy question to answer, and also very highly personal to each writer. So I am going to discuss my opinion on the matter. And a little forewarning, because of the topic of this post, this is going to be a long one.
Before you can answer this main question, you must answer a few others first. Let’s see what those are.
I’m new to publishing and didn’t realize there was a whole strategy and network to obtaining book reviews. This blogpost, written by a reviewer, outlines the how to’s and how-not to’s for authors, helping them find, submit and communicate with this key audience.
Here’s the second Respect the Reviewer article I’ve written (the first can be read here). This is for all authors out there. While some tips might be obvious others you may not have thought of, either way I hope some of these tips will help you find a reviewer and go about contacting them the right way. 🙂
All authors know the importance of getting book reviews. Not only can a good book review encourage others to buy your book but if you get enough of them your book will be listed higher on amazon (or so the rumour goes). But how can authors go about contacting reviewers? And what’s the right or wrong thing to say and do when asking and waiting for a review?
I’ve been reviewing books for some time now and take this ‘job’ very seriously. I recognise the need to give an informative and honest…
I recently participated as a judge for a romance writers contest. Entrants provided the first 20 pages of their unpublished novel. To evaluate the submissions, judges were provided a scoring sheet with twenty characteristics to evaluate.
That really drives home the challenge of writing a good novel. For novices out there…or even experienced writers who may need a refresher, I thought I’d summarize a few of the characteristics that seem to trip us up.
1. Showing, not telling
You’ll hear this a lot, and it takes some time to master this concept. Good writers work details about their characters’ backstories into their scenes seamlessly, without a “data dump” of narrative text.
Learn to weave the description of the location, characters, and time period into the story like you’re seasoning food. Sprinkle a little here, a little there, and let the reader discover what they need at a natural pace.
Gabby couldn’t believe David wanted to talk to her. She’d broken up with him because he’d been so controlling. Sure he seemed like the perfect guy, handsome, smart, confident, and Jewish, which was something her mother insisted upon. But he always thought he was right, disregarding her opinions. It drove her crazy.
He’d been surprised when she ended it. And now he was telling her he wanted to get back together. That he was sorry. She didn’t know how she felt about that.
Revised using dialogue:
“I’ve been thinking about you.” David reached for her hand and rubbed his thumb over her knuckles. “I hate the way we ended.”
He locked eyes with hers. They were the color of the Mediterranean Sea, warm and blue. It was what first drew her to him. Her chest tightened. She wasn’t ready for this conversation.
But he was. Flashing her an apologetic smile, he said, “I know it was my fault. I always think I’m right.” He shrugged. “But I’m the only son of a Jewish mother. I can do no wrong.”
Gabby couldn’t hold back a smile. She’d met his mom. It was totally true.
“Why didn’t you tell me you found me controlling?”
She pulled her hand away and wrapped her arms around her stomach. “I didn’t realize it myself. Then, once I noticed, it drove me crazy. I couldn’t let you control my life.”
2. Settings set the mood
Use the setting as another character in your book. Include descriptions of the sounds, scents, lighting, etc. to convey a mood–the ominous hum of computers in a deserted office, a salty ocean breeze reinvigorating a tired soul, or the soft inky blue of twilight bringing the end to a perfect day.
Weather can be a very effective tool, adding emotion to a scene – rain pounding against the window when depressed or the searing heat of the summer sun making an anxious situation even hotter.
The only sound Gabby heard was her sneakers pounding along the trail, echoing the refrain in her head, “Now what? Now what?” As sweat dripped into her eyes, she swiped at her forehead, dragging her a hand through her unruly hair. Stupid humidity. Stupid sweat. Stupid Sean.
Be strategic when developing your characters as well. Convey their personality through your descriptions of their clothes, car, home, job and accessories. Instead of writing “David was determined to be successful and always dressed to impress.” convey that through his description.
David pulled up in his Audi. Naturally, he angled it to take up two parking spots. Climbing out of his car, he pulled off his Montblanc sunglasses and tucked them into the pocket of his crisp lime-green Hugo polo. Everything David owned had a logo.
3. Writing natural-sounding dialogue
There are three things to remember when writing dialogue. People talk in short bursts, they frequently interrupt the speaker, and they usually stick to one subject in each statement. I’ll explain.
“Joe, I know you said you’d pick up my car for me, but the repair shop called and said you didn’t show up. So now I have to catch a ride with Sally tomorrow. What happened? And why didn’t you clean up your breakfast dishes? You know I hate when you leave them in the sink.”
Add action tags and Joe’s reaction to make conversation more natural
“Joe, I know you said you’d pick up my car for me, but the repair shop called and said you didn’t show up.” Gabby threw her purse on the counter and glared at him. “Now I have to catch a ride with Sally tomorrow. What happened?”
Joe didn’t look up from his laptop. “I forgot,” he mumbled.
That made Gabby even more angry. Didn’t he care at all? Obviously not, she fumed, noticing the sink was still filled with dirty dishes. Storming over to him, she flicked the laptop closed. “And why didn’t you clean up your breakfast dishes? You know I hate when you leave them in the sink.”
I hope these tips help.
It’s amazing how easy it is to spot these unwieldy examples in someone else’s writing, while being totally oblivious of them in your own work.
Don’t be afraid to let others read your work. Tell them what to look for, so they know the type of critique you are asking from them.
I’m a romance writer. Most people seem to think that’s a fun and frivolous habit.
Sure, writing a “real” book is hard, but romance novels are written by flighty, slightly perverted women who live in silly dream worlds. We sit down, pick out a pair of ridiculous names for our wildly attractive couple and tap out a fantasy.
And because romance novels “are all the same”, we can submit our work to any publisher we choose, and bam, two months later, have a racy cover sitting on our coffee table.
This is a crazy cut-throat business. And it is a business. Each publisher has very specific requirements, requiring an author to carefully identify the imprints that most closely align with their story. (I found this trope list with over 50 variations! So much for all being alike.)
Once we’ve picked our publishers, we have to twist our writing into very specific pretzels to meet their submission guidelines. This requires an amazing amount of organization, making sure each publisher gets the three or four uniquely crafted pieces they’ve requested. For example, when I submitted Catching a Pixie this weekend, I had to develop a:
200-word summary of book
full synopsis, including ending
query letter listing the trope the book will satisfy
first 3 chapters
1000 words capturing the best scene
social media experience
summary of future books in the series
Imagine trying to condense 37,000 words down to 200. Or picking one scene that conveys the heart of the book, the emotion, the humor, the creativity, while still making sense when it is read completely out of context. Gah!
Hopefully, I got all the right pieces to all the right places. And it dazzles the publishers so much that they start a bidding war and I wind up making millions!
But I’ll settle for one email, saying “Hey, we’d like to work with you. Give us a call.” Then I can jump into the rest of the 397 steps to getting published.
Frivolous habit? Definitely not. But fun? ABSOLUTELY!