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Live and Learn: Reflections on My Year in Publishing
Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Happy New Year!

It’s that time of year again; time for reflection, time for acknowledging our accomplishments and perhaps admitting we didn’t do quite all we wanted to do in 2008. But that’s okay, because there’s always next year…fresh, untouched and mysterious.


But before we can plunge into that virgin territory, it’s only right to look back. Life is about learning, after all, and how else do we learn but from experience?

2008 represented a major learning curve for me in regard to my publishing career. It was a year for finding my stride, experimenting a bit with what I’m capable of and what not. I found out what it was like to release my first New York published book. How was it different than releasing an e-book? One of the differences was that it exposed me to a whole different set of advertising opportunities, reader networks and people in general. There is a lot of overlap between readers of e-books and print books, but the traditional print market also has some readers, bloggers, book store owners, book clubs, etc. that I’ve never ran into before in the e-market. It’s been really rewarding to meet so many interesting, kind, knowledgeable, and involved people.

For the first time in 2008, I had deadlines. I experienced what it was like to work on a book when the contract was already signed, versus writing a book with the aim of selling the finished product. I wrote three books, several proposals and might just squeeze in a short before the end of the year. I’ve written more in the past, but I have to forgive myself, because there were so many other things I had to learn in regard to promotion and marketing. In 2008, I felt the thrill of being told that my NY publishing debut, WICKED BURN had made both the Borders and Barnes and Nobles bestseller lists. It was twice as wonderful, because as a new author, I had no expectations in regard to lists. I guess I was lucky, because my ignorance kept me from worrying about it one way or another.

I met and became closer to so many wonderful fellow authors—other souls finding their way down this exhilarating, often murky path of publishing. I was inspired by their stories (see my blog, So You Want to be a Writer?) I met new readers and writers on my chat loop, Total Exposure, and I grew closer to several people who have been around for a few years now. I learned that virtual friendships can be just as rewarding and wonderful as in the flesh friendships.

I also learned that I’ve handled stress better in my life. I’ve always considered myself a relatively easy-going person, so there were a few times during the weeks before WICKED BURN released when I didn’t recognize myself as I fretted about whether I was doing things “˜right’ as far as promotion…whether I’d done enough. I learned a ton, but I could have done without some of the self-imposed anxiety.

Oh well…live and learn.

Did you live as fully as you wanted this year? What lessons will you take with into that lovely untouched territory of 2009?

The Winner of a Cultured Pearl Necklace is:
Saturday, December 20th, 2008

Mary Ricksen. Congratulations, Mary!

So many of you gave rich responses that I really appreciated. Thanks for teaching me several things about pearls, as well.

Do You Believe in the Magic of Romance? Comment and Win a Copy of Wicked Burn
Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Does true romance really exist? Or is it just the stuff and nonsense of romance novels?

I do believe in romance, or I wouldn’t write romance novels. Having said that, I have to admit there are a few qualifications that go along with that attestation. A romance is a story where people connect in a way that’s beyond that of the common-place and casual. I think we dream about making that profound connection with another person. It brings us out of ourselves; let’s us see the world in a whole new way. It seems to me that’s what readers want in a romance—to vicariously experience that moment of intense connection, to feel alive, to see oneself as unique and beautiful through the eyes of another.

But is romance escapism? Wouldn’t it be better to see the world for what it is—a place where war and famine exists, where people daily take advantage, lie and steal from one another? As a child, we slowly learn the lesson that “˜life isn’t fair.’ What’s more, life can be ugly, cold and harsh. By the time we’re adults, we’re wary about being seen as a pushover…someone who’s foolish enough to believe in dreams. We know from firsthand experience that if a political candidate should mention the word “˜dream’ in their speech, they’ll be attacked by their hard-nosed opponent as being weak or unsubstantial.

But it’s mainly because life can be harsh (or routine and boring) that the romance novel has its appeal. Almost everyone knows the thrill of going to a movie theatre and escaping for a few hours to a place of excitement, romance and adventure.

Of course, there’s always the risk that a person mistakes the “˜escape’ for “˜reality.’ This is one of the main criticisms about the romance novel. Sure, most of us recognize the fantasy elements…but what about the person who actually expects a knight in shining armor or an alpha (or two) with smoking pistols in their pocket to come strutting through their bedroom door?

What if she’s unable to see the cute, hopeful guy who’s into her big-time because she’s waiting for some amalgamation of every romance hero she’s ever read?

For me, this isn’t much of an argument against romance novels. It does happen, and it’s unfortunate. But I can’t help but notice that people watch Clint Eastwood, Angelina Jolie or Harrison Ford incessantly, and rarely do they become convinced they’re a bad-ass who is going to save the world. That’s because the action-adventure hero is as much a fantasy as the romantic hero (and of course, these two roles blend together nicely.) It’s a “˜type,’ a myth that we as human beings recognize as easily as the warrior-hero or the brave, beautiful princess.

So back to my original question, “Does romance really exist?” I know that it does—just like other virtues, such as heroism, courage and altruism really exist. It’s an ideal, one that we should strive for in our relationships; not just passively wait for like a princess in a tower.

Romance is also a feeling. Sure, it’s something that happens between two people, but it’s also a person’s actions or a place that evokes a feeling of heightened awareness of oneself…the infinite possibilities of life. There’s a certain glamour to romance…a sense of something higher. It doesn’t have to be huge to be romantic. I have a scene in my upcoming Berkley time travel called DARING TIME where the early twentieth century heroine dances by herself, imagining being in her lover’s arms. It’s set in a lovely old ballroom and her satin, ermine-bordered dress swishes along the polished wood floor. That’s romance to me.

Romance lives. Sometimes it might even look and feel like a romance-novel-romance. Oftentimes, it’s as diverse, quirky, or quiet as the people who are romancing. Bolder, idealized romances in novels don’t take away from the beauty of that. Everyone has the ability to be the hero and heroine of their own life, to inject the dream into everyday existence…even if it is in some small, personal way.

So what do you think? Does romance exist in your life?

If it doesn’t…could it?

So You Want To Be A Writer?
Friday, October 3rd, 2008

Whether you’ve had the question floating around in your brain, are in the process of pounding out your first book, or have already won multiple publishing contracts and taken your efforts to the bank many times over, this article is for you. The debutantes will appreciate the words of wisdom, but the pros just might find some good reminders that resonate, as well.

I asked several authors to answer one question: “If you could give one piece of advice to a new writer, what would it be?”

After I sifted through the replies, I realized most of the quotes fell into two general categories. Either the author advised about the writing craft—the everyday practicalities of getting those words down on paper—or they commented on the complicated landscape of maintaining emotional and psychological well-being in what can be a soul-scarring profession.

Perhaps the most common advice related to the theme of getting going and doing it. “Just write,” says Fiona Jayde, author for Changeling Press, Red Sage and Cobblestone. “It’s easier to fix a bad page than a blank page.” Cynthia Eden, multi-published author for Kensington Brava agrees, and adds a golden piece of advice regarding perhaps the hardest time to generate those words. “Write each day, even if it’s just a few paragraphs. And when a rejection comes, grit your teeth and write more.”

Being a writer and being a paid author are two different things, of course, and for the latter, you need product. Shelli Stevens, who writes for Kensington, Samhain, and Cobblestone Press says, “Actually finish a book. Don’t start a book, write a few paragraphs and move onto something you just realized is way better. So many people have a bunch of a half written books and have never completed an entire manuscript. Finish the book, at least to even know that you can do it.”

National bestselling author Ann Aguirre agrees that a completed manuscript in hand is paramount. “Write the book. Don’t stop to reread. Don’t tinker along the way. Don’t worry about it being perfect in the first go. That’s not the point. The point is to finish.”
Would-be authors can get caught up in the anxieties of marketing, or enter the advertising arena prematurely. Dorchester author Elisabeth Naughton advises to stay focused on the prime objective. “Writers write, that’s what we do,” says Naughton. “Everything else comes from that—sales, books, signings, lists. You can’t reach any of those goals unless you write the book first.”

Most of us think of writing as a constructive, building-up process, but multi-published author Megan Hart, reminds us of the inevitable opposite of any creation: the need for occasional ruthless deconstruction. “Not every word you write will be gold. Don’t be too afraid or too proud to slash and burn your manuscript,” Hart sagely advises.

So what’s to get a person through this not-so-glamorous, sweaty-sounding-business of writing a completed manuscript? One thing, according to author of over thirty novels and novellas, Lauren Dane: perseverance. “Rejection happens to all of us so you need to pick yourself up and write the next manuscript. You can’t sell it if you don’t write it.”

Staying healthy and happy during this sometimes tortuous process was something frequently commented upon by authors. “Get a critique partner,” author Beth Williamson advises, “someone who will be honest and can journey along the same road with you.” Juliana Stone, who has been contracted by Avon Publishing, agrees that it’s crucial to have someone with whom you can share the triumphs and defeats of the writing profession. “Actively seek out like minded individuals,” Stone says. “Writing is often a lonely profession, but the added warmth of a voice that understands what it means to sacrifice family time, work time, friend time… in order to write…that’s priceless.”

Nobody wants to angst all the time. A writer needs to enjoy what they’re doing. Award winning author Denise Agnew says that loving what you do is a key ingredient to success. “Make certain that you have a core understanding of what it is you want to write, what resonates with you. What types of books do you love to read and really blow your skirt up? That’s probably what you’ll want to write, too. Too many authors take completely to heart the idea of “study the market” to the point they are always chasing trends. Discover what you’re really good at and make certain that is at the very heart of everything you write. This way you don’t lose yourself while chasing what you think you “ought” to be writing.”

Award winning Lacey Savage would agree with Agnew’s assessment that you must be inspired by what you’re writing. “Read, read, read!” Savage enthuses. “Always read with a notebook by your side, and take copious notes. Figure out what gives you that butterfly feeling in the pit of your stomach, and make a note of it. When you come across a boring passage, or you’re tempted to put the book down, make a note of that, too. Other authors are amazing teachers–whether they know it or not. Learn from their words. All of them. The good ones, the not-so-good ones, the so-bad-I-can’t-believe-this-got-published ones. They all have something to teach you, if you’re willing to learn.”

Two talented women offered valuable wisdom in regard an inevitable fact of author life: comparison to other writers and their careers. “Everyone’s journey to publication is different. Don’t compare yourself to others because you have no idea what that other person had to do to get there,” says Vivi Anna, who writes the Valorian Chronicles series for Nocturne. “Put a leash on the green-eyed monster,” national bestseller Anya Bast advises. “Know that there will always be someone who is selling better than you, getting better reviews than you, making better deals than you. Another author’s success doesn’t mean you can’t also be successful.”

How do you keep your creative flame burning and not let it flicker out amidst the harsh winds of a blank page, marketing demands, rejection, and comparison to other writers? “Take the time to not write,” Berkley author Jess Granger says. “I know that sounds counter intuitive, but everyone has to recharge their batteries somehow. Figure out what sparks your creativity in the first place, and don’t neglect that hobby or activity.”

Veteran Vonna Harper offered solid, bankable words of wisdom to the ingénue. “Approach writing as a business. It’s a strange marriage of creativity and practicality. When you’re writing, wear your writer hat, but the moment you stop working on the manuscript, put on your business hat.”

As for my own words of advice, dear person who is considering this awesome, anxiety-provoking, and unbelievably exciting profession? Well, it’s hard to follow on the coat-tails of these talented women, but here goes: If you step into the arena, be prepared for some wicked battles—not only with your keyboard, but the monsters of your own insecurities.

Having said that, enjoy. You’re entering the ride of a lifetime.

This blog entry will also appear in the Samhellion, the Samhain Publishing newsletter.


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