Getting published is HARD work

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.

HA!

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:

  • crazed writer4-sentence blurb
  • 200-word summary of book
  • 2-page synopsis
  • full synopsis, including ending
  • query letter listing the trope the book will satisfy
  • first 3 chapters
  • 1000 words capturing the best scene
  • full manuscript
  • marketing plan
  • social media experience
  • publishing history
  • 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!

Romance Writers -Contest Opening

vfrw Finalist BadgeNow Open!

The Valley Forge Romance Writers (VFRW) 2016 The Sheila Contest opened for entries March 13, 2016. VFRW is a local chapter of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) and they and their internationally-recognized The Shelia Contest abide by the regulations and philosophy set forth at the national level.

Participation is open to all romance writers who are unpublished, self-published, and published. Entries must be the author’s original unpublished work and not under contract. Submissions will be accepted in the following categories: Single Title, Historical, Erotic, Romantic Suspense and Fantasy/Futuristic/Paranormal.

Fee 
$25 for VFRW members, $30 for non-members

Important Dates

  • Opens for Entries: March 13, 2016
  • Deadline: April 16, 2016
  • Notification of category winners: June 18

Entry 
You will be asked to submit the first 20 pages of manuscript and an up-to-5-page synopsis, for a total of 25 pages.

Initial entries will be judged by three (3) qualified, trained judges, including: General, PRO* and PAN* members. The top five (5) entries in their categories will be forwarded for a final round of judging by the following publishing professionals:

Categories and Final Judges: 

  • Single Title: Junessa Viloria, Penguin Random House
  • Historical: Stephany Evans, Fine Print Literary Management
  • Erotic: Sara Megibow, KT Literary
  • Romantic Suspense: Alicia Condon, Kensington Publishing
  • Fantasy/Futuristic/Paranormal: Nicole Resciniti, The Seymour Agency

Top Prizes: The 1st through 4th place winners will receive certificates and have their names printed in Romance Writers Report (RWR) Magazine.

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:

  • Madeline Hunter – 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 – Hamilton Book Trader
  • Heather Soligo – Traditional Bookseller – Barnes & Nobles, Christiana Mall

Grand Prize for Best of the Best: $100
(*RWA designations)

For more details and submission guidelines, visit the VFRW The Shelia Contest page. 

WOMEN:You’re normal

Do you feel sex is dirty/messy/boring/overrated? Do you have a ‘low sex drive’? Do you feel ‘broken’?

Stop it. You’re not. It isn’t. You’re fine.

Read Come as You Are, and you’ll know why. Dr. Emily Nagoski, a sex educator for twenty years, says everyone is normal (I’m guessing there’s a few disturbed outliers, but you’re probably not one of them, so keep reading.) Her book, based on well-researched, meticulously documented studies not only explains the reasons women have such anxiety about sex, but how they can make it better.

Picture this. It’s the end of a long stressful day and you can’t wait to go to bed. To sleep. But your partner has that look in their eye and you know what that means. You groan (maybe internally, but maybe not) and wonder why don’t you have desire any more. And your partner wonders why you don’t love them any more.

Are you broken?

Nope. Chances are you’ve been “chased by a lion” all day and your body can’t turn off that mental and physical strain. It’s normal. But you can change the way you view sex, react to sex, to make it seem less like a chore and more like a gift.

Dr. Nagoski’s research identifies myths that lead to women considering themselves broken (these are my interpretations of her work and any misrepresentation is my own fault):

  • Myth #1: You should experience spontaneous desire- no matter what your day has been like. If you love your partner and they want sex, your body should automatically flare with interest. In reality, while 75% of men have this ability/reaction/whatever, only about 15% of women have spontaneous desire. The rest are on a slow burn. They need the right mix of “Accelerators and Brakes” as Dr. N calls them.Accelerators are the positive things in your life that get you turned on – it may be sights, sounds, smells, touches, behaviors. And the brakes are what stifles those urges – stress, exhaustion, kids, anger, resentment, sounds, smells, touches, the temperature, your body image, religion, trauma, your upbringing—the list is extensive. The tricky part is learning how to ‘turn on the ons and turn off the offs.’ Everybody’s are different and everybody’s matter. Don’t beat yourself up because having the TV on distracts you. Just turn it off and enjoy the home entertainment.

 

  • Myth #2: Vaginal orgasms are the norm…if you can’t have one, you’re doing it wrong. Only 30% of women have vaginal orgasms, whereas 70% sometimes or NEVER do. It’s actually more normal to have clitoral orgasms. Dr. N explains,”We have all the same parts, just organized differently.” So you not having one is not because your man isn’t big enough or thick enough or goes to slow or too fast, it’s because that’s just the way you are made. It’s fine. Who cares! Take your pleasure however you can.

 

  • Myth #3: After a stressful day, just toss back a glass of wine, and BAM, your sex drive will pop on. Nope, probably not. When experiencing a stressful situation, whether chronic or episodic, your body requires you to finish a cycle to dissipate the stress. This may mean exercise, yoga, talking, meditation, a massage or just breathing until you begin to relax. Then you can consider working on your accelerator. Without completing your stress cycle, you’ll be all brakes.

 

  • Myth #4: There will be a female Viagra that solves all our problems. Viagra fixes a physical problem. For most women, the issue is more mental. If you’re embarrassed by your body, angry at your partner, frustrated by your career, overwhelmed by your children, a pill won’t be able to force desire.

Great, so now what do you do?

Fortunately the fabulous Dr. N. includes worksheets so you can figure out your accelerators, brakes, stressors, hang-ups, moral inhibitors, etc. and address them. Chances are, if you can show your man that giving you a foot massage or letting you take a bath while he does the dishes can lead to orgasm for both of you, he’ll be up for the challenge.

Read the book. You’ll enjoy it. It’s educational, entertaining, enlightening and surprisingly funny. Once you read it, share it with your friends. Hell, share it with your enemies–maybe they’ll stop being such crotchety piss-ants.

If you find any value at all, share it with the world. That’s what I’m doing.

 

This is an unsolicited review. Sorry to sound like such a fan-girl, but really, it’s a good book.

 

Tips from a romance writer’s conference

We’re here to help

Dog says You're AwesomeI attended Put Your Heart in a Book, the New Jersey Romance Writer’s conference last weekend. It’s probably my fifth time, and it felt like I was coming home. If anyone out there is looking for quality writing advice in a manageable sized setting, be sure to check it out.

Let me share some of the important lessons I learned.

  1. Romance writers are one of the most supportive group of people you’ll ever meet

It’s truly remarkable how willing all the attendees–from novice writers to multi-published authors–are to offer tips to each other, compare publisher stories, discuss social media opinions and share self publishing success and failures.

This doesn’t even cover the emotional support you’ll receive. Most every romance author has survived some sort of trauma–physical abuse, loss of a loved one, loss of jobs, serious injury, you name it. Yet they’ve kept writing, kept swinging for the fences and eventually, they have found success.

If you are struggling, and it’s affecting your work or your self worth, just say so. Someone will come over, put their arm around you, share words of inspiration or a comforting piece of chocolate (there is always plenty of chocolate) and you’ll leave with the most important tool for writing. Hope.

 

2. Ways to spark imaginative writing

Kathleen Long (USA Today best selling author) held a session, “Fire up your process with creative storytelling techniques.” She advocates getting outside of your writing to help your story bubble up from within. Focusing too hard, can cause blockages. Channel ideas through these techniques:

Collages – Take a stack of magazines and cut out pictures, words, colors and any other elements that speak to you. Create a collage. Use it to help define your characters or settings. Your subconscious will frequently pinpoint details, conflicts or quirks that you may not have identified. One author shared that she had used taro cards with similar results.

Speech bubbles – draw your character and ask it a question. Then write their answer as a speech bubble. What are they feeling? How do they view the world? What do they want us to know?

Writing prompts– Sometimes your creativity gets stuck. Words won’t flow. Everything you write sounds stupid. You may need to think about something totally unrelated to your current project. Pick a writing prompt and just let loose (like write 500 words about your pet, but include the words clock, pencil and burgundy)

Then there’s non-writing strategies to clear your head:

Color in a coloring book– embrace your inner child and lower your stress through the simple, act of coloring. Use a fancy adult book or a dollar store kid version. Whatever floats your boat.

Take a walk– Get up from your desk and move. Walk, run, yoga, whatever helps clear your mind and silence the demons.

Listen – I mentioned my zen-listening  idea, and the attendees agreed that sitting quietly and experiencing sounds around us could be inspirational.

 

3. Look at the world through a different lens

Young adult author Nisha Sharma had us participate in an interesting exercise. We watched clips from Bollywood movies with strong romantic elements. Because the couples are not allowed to overtly display intimacy (no kissing, and certainly no sex!), and they are speaking another language, the clips emphasized the physical characteristics that built tension.

This helped illustrate how to tap into the essence of your characters to bring their romance, and your writing, to life. I now have a wonderfully rich library of action tags to choose from:

Eyes: sidelong glance to mask interest, lower lashes when caught staring, flicker of a glance to coyly remind them of your interest, and outright staring when you know they aren’t looking.

Hands: gentle touches on the arm, shoulder or hip, reach towards someone and quickly pull away, tuck hair behind ear, put hands behind your back to prevent touching or to enticingly stick out your chest, help them put on their coat or smooth down a lapel and let fingers linger.

Mouth: lick, purse or bite your lips, a sharp inhale when they get too close, a slow exhale after a very satisfying exchange, grit teeth when jealous, mouth drops when first spotting your love.

Behaviors: Talk to a friend/relative and get distracted when the object of your affection walks by. Tilt head or hip when talking, lean in, smother a giggle, offer to pass something then hold onto it or mess with someone else and share a secret laugh/smile about it with lover.

 

There were dozens of other sessions sharing equally valuable tips…but these were the most poignant for me. I hope they help you find some inspiration.

Happy writing!

 

 

 

 

Novelrank – another cool author’s tool

untitled“So, how’s your book selling?”

Any author will tell you, that sentence can drive you crazy. Know why?

Because we have no bloody idea how it’s selling. At least I didn’t. My book came out December 1 and my publisher said I wouldn’t get initial sales figures until February.

FEBRUARY! That means over two months of uncertainty, panic, self-doubt and frustration. I begged and pleaded but they wouldn’t give me so much as a hint. As a data-fiend, this was unacceptable to me. During one of my rants, a writer friend told me about Novelrank.com. I signed up immediately.

You click on the link, register your book, and voila! They show how many books you’ve sold on Amazon in US, CA and UK. It also provides sales rank and reviews. I have no idea how accurate their data is (I won’t be able to tell until I get actual sales figures…in FEBRUARY), but it’s nice to have some gauge.

The downside is, they only track from the date you register. Since I didn’t learn about Novelrank until a few weeks after my book launched, I couldn’t track my initial figures. And they only track Amazon, not Barnes & Noble, iBooks or anyone else. But still.

Super cool. Thanks Novelrank!

 

Update (March 23, 2015):

I was finally able to get a rough estimate on my book sales from my publisher…on March 20!

It turns out, Dare to Love has been selling pretty well.

While I expected to strong-arm about 100 copies to friends and family, my publisher said I’ve sold around 650 (all book channels, Dec. 1 – Jan 31). Novel Rank credited me with about 300 sales (Amazon only, Dec. 16 – Jan 31). So, I’m thinking it’s a pretty good tool.Screenshot (5)