Saturday, May 28, 2011

How I Got Published

Like a lot of people out there, I always meant to write a book. Or several. A best-selling trilogy, perhaps, followed by an epic family saga in many volumes. Before long, I realized that books don’t just happen, you have to sit down and write them. I tried. I kept some of my early writing under the bed. I wrote it on bits of old notepaper and scuffed pads of A4. I dreaded the thought of anyone finding it, or, heaven forbid, reading it. 
Eventually, though, I realized I wasn’t writing for myself anymore. I wasn’t sure what type of readers might like to read my stuff (in fact I wasn’t sure what sort of ‘stuff’ I wrote), but I knew I wanted readers. I needed readers. And since my characters always fell in love, I decided I must be writing romance. As the mist began to clear, I started looking for a publisher. This is the short version of how I found one:

Wanted to write a book
Wrote a non-fiction book
On the third submission, I got picked up by a university press – hurray!
University press got ‘restructured’ - didn’t want my book anymore.
Finished a novel for a competition.
Got bad scores.
Wrote another novel.
Self-published it, against all the advice. 
Was told I might as well have flushed it down the toilet. (NB The person who said that has recently seen the chain of bookstores he worked for go into receivership.)
Started another novel.
Pitched the novel to an agent, and she liked it – hurray!
A year later. The agent is still thinking about it.
Got a cheque for twenty-six dollars in royalties.
Decided there had to be a better way to use my talent.
(Yes, I still believed I had some).
Started submitting to slush piles.
Started to get some ‘encouraging’ rejections. Who wants those?
Felt increasingly impatient about the long wait times with big publishing houses.
House burnt down (mine, not the publishing house – though I was tempted).
Moved to a rental property while my house was being rebuilt.
Wrote a lot, to take my mind off it.
Submitted a novella to Embrace Books, UK.
Got a letter saying it was probably too short.
Submitted an opening chapter to ‘So You Think You Can Write’ run by Harlequin.
They liked it and asked for more.
Wrote like the wind for six weeks.
Six months later, they are still thinking about it.
In the meantime ...
I was accepted by Embrace Books and signed a contract – hurray!
Jane Holland at Embrace Books became ‘my editor’. I still love that phrase.
Did revisions on the novella to make it longer (and better).
‘Scandal at the Farmhouse’ became one of the launch titles for Embrace.
Started writing another book …

UPDATE added October 3rd 2011:
As many of you know, since writing this, I've gone indie. I resisted the idea for a while - because I loved 'being published' and having the support of a good editor. I began to consider the idea seriously when I found that my self-pubbed e-book was selling three times as well as my published title. That 99 cent price tag really helps a new writer to find a readership - people are a lot more willing to try out an unknown author when the price is right.

Then, the decision point came when disaster struck and Salt Publishing decided to close its romance imprint - Embrace Books - after just six months. I'm happy to report that many Embrace authors are now with other publishers and/or selling like hot cakes on their own. I went indie. My novella The Lady and the Locksmith has had over four thousand downloads. Sales of my other books continue to rise and rise - and I have only been doing this for four months. Can't wait to see what happens with my YA series.

If you are contemplating going indie and want to talk to me, don't hesitate to get in touch. It is a hugely exciting time for authors!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Three grammar goofs you can easily fix

Most of you probably don't need help with your grammar. Many of the people who read this blog are great writers already and don't need me to explain the basics. Even so, it's amazing how often people ask me about how I proofread my own work and how I get my writing 'so clean' (ahem, they don't mean there isn't any sex, any book with 'Scandal' in the title has to have something of that nature ...)

Anyway, one of my proofreading 'secrets' is that I use software that reads my work out loud, and I pick up LOADS of mistakes that way. There are various programs out there, with voices and accents from all over the place. I use TextAloud, and it's great. I pick up so many repeated words and awkward phrases that way - stuff I would never, ever see if I was reading it myself. But then there are those thorny grammar issues that catch us all out from time to time. Things that the spellchecker and TextAloud would miss. Today I'll deal with three of the nasty little suckers:

1.Do I use loose or lose?
If your knickers are too loose, you might lose them. 
If your morals are loose, you may lose your dignity
I'm sure you can think of lots more - who knows, we could start a twitter trend!

2. Do I use it’s or its?
It’s replaces it is in a sentence.
It’s a contraction and it’s painless and easy to use (no epidurals required).
It’s my kind of book.
Similarly, he’s replaces he is
He’s my kind of man.
She’s my best friend.
Looks easy, but phrases like ‘My parents’ house’ still trip us up. The trick is to turn the phrase round: the house of my parents. There are two of them. The apostrophe comes after the whole word: parents.
My aunt’s house. The house of my aunt. This is fine if there’s only one aunt. More aunts in the same house and you’ll need to move the apostrophe. Okay?

Its belongs to a different set of words: His, hers, its.
The book has lost its cover. (Try putting ‘it is’ in there. Doesn’t work.)
My husband has lost his marbles.
My boyfriend is human, but hers is a vampire.
Not an apostrophe in sight. Do not give in to the urge to add some. It's not like salt.
3. I was brought up in a London overspill town, and everyone at my school said  things like ‘You could’ve told me my shirt was hanging out’. The result was that when we tried writing down this lovely phrase, we often put ‘could of’ instead of ‘could have’ because that’s how we spoke. People who went to posh schools where languid young men said things like ‘you could have told me my flies were undone’ are much less likely to make this awful blunder. But now that you’ve read this, you will have learned your lesson! You will never write could of, should of, or would of again. You’ll sound like a proper toff and no mistake. Orright, mister!

I hope some of this helps. More grammar goofs coming soon. Oh, and feel free to let me know if I have made grammatical errors in this post - it's more than likely!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book Trailers - the good, the bad, and the highly cost effective

     Book trailers are very fashionable. Authors make them, fans make them, and just occasionally, publishers make them. They come in a variety of styles. There are minimalist book trailers that pan across a single image, while the bare bones of the story appear in brief lines of text on the screen. There are lush, big-budget book trailers with live actors and special effects. There are fan-made trailers with medieval fantasy costumes and real horses in them (oh, I envy authors with fans like that!) and there are simple, cost effective trailers made with stock photos and royalty free music.
     To me, the idea of doing a book trailer was very seductive – it seemed like an irresistible opportunity to see my story come to life, on the screen instead of on the page. But it has been pointed out that book trailers may not have that much impact on sales. After all, in order to find and watch a book trailer, you have to visit the author’s web site or know the name of the book anyway – in which case you may well have already made the crucial decision about whether or not to buy the book. But that isn't stopping people from making them. They are everywhere. Jodi Picoult has a book trailer, Stephen King has a book trailer, Julia Quinn has a book trailer. Cody Young NEEDED a book trailer. So I made one:

     I filmed it myself – you can tell, right? Then I decided that was too brief and too homemade so I hired some drama school actors and a guy who had worked for TVNZ and we came up with a second one. You be the judge of which one is better – but with the benefit of hindsight, brief was best. The ideal length seems to be somewhere between thirty seconds and one and a half minutes, and this one is a little longer than that: 

     Did you spot the continuity error? (Clue: long hair, short hair). We had a great time making this one, and I don’t resent the cost at all.  Did it sell books? Yes, it did - but here's the big confession - it takes about a hundred views to get a sale - so it's not nearly as effective as good reviews and word of mouth - both of which have turned out to be much better (and cheaper) forms of advertising. If you want to minimize the cost, you can put together a perfectly acceptable book trailer FOR FREE using a selection of still photos and short pieces of text. Many people use a simple application like Windows Movie Maker – it may already be installed on your computer. I used  a version of Sony Vegas to edit mine and really enjoyed it, though I have to warn you it takes hours. You emerge blinking into the light after about a week, with only a minute of usable footage to show for it. Overall, one of the best things about making book trailers is that it’s a chance to exercise your creativity and a great opportunity for laughs. Take a look at our bloopers (outtakes) and you’ll see what I mean. 

So if you are thinking of making one:-
Watch a lot of other book trailers first, and decide on a style you like. 
Keep your trailer short (yes, really short) and don’t spend a fortune.
If you use actors – do all the filming on one day – then you won’t lose your leading lady half way through the filming.
Get all the help you can for free – media students, film school dropouts, geeky friends and relatives are great sources of talent.
Don’t upload it under the heading ‘book trailer’, as zillions of others have done.
Have fun, and think of it as a ‘fashion statement’ rather than a fail-safe method for boosting sales.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

You googled THAT?

As a historical romance writer – I google some very unusual topics: Edwardian underpants, Medieval remedies for spots, the lyrics of Hitler Youth songs, calendar’s with Mormon missionaries on them (yes, they do exist), and seventeenth century beauty lotions (made of eggs and bacon - talk about egg on your face).    
     You name it, I’ve googled it. This habit, which I regard as perfectly normal and ‘all part of the job’ of a fiction writer, sometimes leaves me with some explaining to do. My husband, my children, and my elderly mother all use my laptop from time to time, and they have often expressed astonishment at some of the topics I’ve been researching.
      I suppose I ought to have a password or something – so I can keep my bizarre search history to myself – but why should I? I’m a perfectly well-adjusted fiction writer (if there is such a thing). It’s my job and I’m proud of it. I can deal with raised eyebrows and ribald remarks – no problem at all. In my story American Smile, I even added a scene where the hero has to explain to his girlfriend why he’s been googling some interesting topics, and it was great fun to write.  There’s nothing like a bit of flaming embarrassment in a romance novel. But since it is very common these days to share access to a computer, and not everyone wants their search history available for all to see, I did some digging and came up with this at Yahoo Answers.
      I’d love to know how other people deal with this issue. Are you an uninhibited internet surfer or do you use special undercover tactics? 

By the way - I've just got a lovely review of Scandal at the Farmhouse from a fellow writer just yesterday - you can read the full text here. I get top marks for my historical details - so maybe all that internet research is paying off!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ten vital ingredients for a romance novel?

These are the things I like to find in a good romance novel. Take a look and see how they compare to YOUR top ten:

  1. A sexy hero
  2. A heroine I can relate to. Of course she’s pretty, but she’s not aggravatingly perfect (like the head girl at my old school, or the person my mother-in-law wishes her son had married instead of me).
  3. A first meeting that makes me smile, and characters that make me laugh.
  4. A gorgeous kiss scene. A first kiss I can almost feel. Oh yeah!
  5. A great story. They don’t just meet and live happily ever after. I want drama.
  6. A love scene. Not just a sex scene. A love scene.
  7. A surprise twist – keep that story coming.
  8. A reason to keep fighting for each other, even when all seems lost.
  9. A clever solution. Clever, yes, completely implausible, no.
  10. A happy ending. No miserable poetic partings for me, thanks. I want the couple to sort out their troubles and throw themselves into each other's arms. Any tears shed should be tears of happiness or sheer relief.
How did I do? Did I miss anything? I’d love to hear your ideas and comments. 
By the way - check out the FIVE HEART review I just got, over at Reading Romances.