Wednesday, June 18, 2014

I thought of it First!

It was 2005 when I decided that I wanted to move my writing from a hobby into a career.  Having penned so many stories that never saw the light of day, I thought I owed it to myself, and the family I spent so much time ignoring, to give it a shot.

When I first started out, I was so green that I didn’t even know what a synopsis was. And forget writing an effective query. My early query letters might as well be titled ‘Throw me in the slush pile’, which brings me to another thing I didn’t know. I had no idea what a slush pile was. I knew there were queries being rejected but it wasn’t until I entered the world of professional writing that I learned those passed over queries had a name and that name was the slush pile.

For all the things I didn’t know, there was one thing I did know. I knew I wanted to be a professional writer. I had dreams of publishing with a well-known publisher who would be so blown away by my awesome writing that I’d be offered a six figure deal. I imagined myself going into the now defunct Borders and seeing my books sitting proudly on the shelves. Hey, since it was my dream, I went for broke!

I knew I wanted to be a writer and I knew the business wasn’t an easy one to break into. I knew I stood a better chance at success if I found an agent to represent me. I had a story written and I knew I wanted to share it with the world. Chalk that up to the extent of things I knew all those years ago.

 It wasn’t long into my endeavors that I learned everyone wants to be a writer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll tell someone I’m a writer and suddenly he either knows someone who’s trying to be a writer or he’s the one trying to break into the biz. With so many people trying to make their mark in the publishing industry, agents and editors are overwhelmed with query letters. This leads to many vague rejections. I still have a folder stuffed full of form letters declaring the project ‘isn’t right for us’.

Once in a while, I did get more personalized responses but few were an actual critique of my work. There is one that I can remember quite well.  The agent told me that she really liked my writing style and I wrote characters that people could relate to and wanted to see succeed, but she couldn’t offer me a contract. The problem? My male and female leads were only twenty-two years old. They were too young for the novel to be considered a contemporary romance and far too old for the young adult genre.  They just didn’t fit in anywhere.

I couldn’t believe this was one of the reasons my novel was being rejected. It felt like such a slap in the face. My talent was being recognized but my stories didn’t fit into the traditional market so no one was willing to take a chance on them because my characters weren’t the right age. I suppose I could have just changed their ages, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to showcase the struggles facing true young adults who are just breaking away from their parents’ nest. To do that, I struck out on my own.

Flash forward to 2012 and guess what happens. There is now a ‘hot, new’ genre in fiction’; the new adult genre. The characters are usually college aged and confronted with the issues that come with being on their own for the first time.

When I first learned about the new adult genre I was both bitter and vindicated. I think I remember saying something to the effect of ‘I had that idea seven years ago; everyone should have listened to me then.’ Ironically, I no longer write new adult books. Most of my novels are adult contemporary romance though I do pen the occasional young adult novel.

Two years later, new adult books are everywhere and all I can think every time I see one is ‘I thought of it first!’ Too bad I didn’t find an agent willing to take a gamble. I could have been a trendsetter. Oh well, at least I can say I was ahead of my time.   

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Why I love my 3.5 Star Review

Two weeks ago, I released This Time, an adult contemporary romance novel and the first of four in the Time for Love series. Normally, when I release a new book, I do little promotion. I make a few mentions on my Twitter feed and post something on my personal Face Book page.  This Time, pun intended, I decided I was going to take a more aggressive approach to marketing my work.

One of the new things I did, and something I’ve never done before, is contact romance novel reviewers to ask if they would be interested in reviewing my book.  In the past, I’ve always relied on customers to post reviews. I’ve never sought out the opinion of a reviewer. I’m sure you can imagine what a daunting prospect this is.

Soliciting reviews is a lot like querying an agent. Most of them have different submission requirements which mean there’s a substantial investment of time on my part. Though it can and does seem tedious at times, I remember the bigger picture. Reviews can increase exposure to my work which can increase sales. Not to mention, since I’m asking this favor of the reviewer, and she too is going to invest time in reading and reviewing my work, the least I can do is follow the specifications for submitting the book.

One thing I was also surprised to find in my quest for reviews was how often reviewers had to post author etiquette. The biggest concern most reviewers expressed was negative and sometimes vicious feedback from offended authors. Considering how much of an author’s heart and soul goes into her work, I can understand the hair trigger negative response. That said, that doesn’t mean I agree with an angry author taking her hurt feelings out on an honest reviewer but more on that later.

A number of my review requests have gone unanswered, but it’s early in the game so I’m not worried. However, a few have yielded positive results. The first review is in and it’s garnered 3.5 out of 5 possible stars.

As the title of this post indicates, I’m not only okay with the 3.5 stars, but I love it. Not because it was 3.5 stars but because of the body of the review. The star rating system is only half of the review. The other half is the reviewer comments, which is what I focus on.

In the case of this, my first professionally sought out review, the reviewer found things to both like and dislike with the story and diligently pointed out both. At the top of her things to dislike was the negative body image of the female protagonist who is a plus sized woman. At the top of her things to like was the relationship between the male lead and his family.

If I felt so inclined, I could defend the portrayal of the female protagonist’s feelings with a litany of reasons. I could, but I’m not going to for a few reasons.

First, I’m a firm believer in taking the good with the bad. When I asked for my work to be reviewed, I was gambling. There was a fifty-fifty chance the reviewer would dislike the work or something in it. By asking her to read it, I accepted those odds.

Second, the reviewer invested time and effort in reading and analyzing my work and then sharing her thoughts with others. Whether I like or dislike her opinion is not only an insult to her endeavors, but it’s irrelevant. One of the most interesting things about the publishing industry is that no two opinions are identical. Two people may have opposite reactions to a story but that doesn’t make either of them good, bad or right.

Third, picking a fight with the reviewer, or even publicly contradicting her opinion could have a negative impact on my image. Not only could it cost me future reviews with other interested reviewers (no one likes a diva), but it could cost me readers who might see me as whiny and unable to take criticism. 

Fourth, this review isn't my first, last and only review for this work. As a matter of fact, there is a 5 star review on the very same site as this 3.5 star review is posted. With any luck, there will be more reviews to come. When I think about it, this actually ties in with my second point.

Finally, the most important of all, the review was one-hundred percent focused on the story. There was no mention of any errors with grammar, punctuation, spelling or other mechanics. Since I’m not only the author but also the editor, this is a huge win for me. I spend just as much time editing my stories as I do writing them, and I do that because I want the reader to be able to get lost in the story not get lost because of the story. The fact that this review did not single out any editing errors tells me that I accomplished that goal. 

So, the review is in. It's not a 5 star review, but I love it all the same. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

In Case You Missed It

If you’re a returning reader of this blog, chances are good you already know I’m a writer. I’ve written everything from magazine articles to stories posted online to full length novels, one of which I’m proud to say was the winner of the Reader View’s Literary Award for best romantic fiction novel.

Last year, I decided to venture into the world of e-publishing. Considering how long I rebelled against something I saw as a passing fad and not the trend it’s become, this was quite a shock to some of my friends, family and fans.

A number of things played into my decision, the biggest being that e-readers are here to stay whether I like it or not. As I have often said about other things, the train was coming down the tracks. I had a choice. Either get on the train or get mowed down. I opted to get on the train, starting with the release of my first young adult novel, Like You Mean It.

When I released Like You Mean It, the story had already been available on Wattpad for more than a year. It was for that reason that I opted to make the story a free download. It didn’t seem right to start charging readers for something I previously offered them for free, though I know of some authors who do that. Since it was a free novel that was basically a re-release, I didn’t put much promotion behind it. I mentioned it on my Twitter feed and my personal Face Book page as well as my Wattpad page, but that was about it.

Last week, I released my first contemporary romance novel that’s available in electronic format only. This Time, the first in a four book series, is actually a spinoff of Like You Mean It. All the players are there, but fans are given a more intimate look into the mind of Justin Jacobs, who was one of the most popular characters in Like You Mean It.

This time, all puns intended, I’m putting more effort into my promotion. I’ve solicited requests for reviews, started a Face Book fan page, purchased social media ad space and am going to be embarking on a book blog tour. Whether or not this will increase my fan base remains to be seen, but I’m going for it. After all the work I’ve put into this novel, as well as the other three books in the series, I think it deserves a little more attention than I’ve given others in the past.

So, in case you missed it, my first contemporary romance novel is here. If you loved Like You Mean It and want to see what happens next, if you’re a contemporary romance fan, or if you just believe in supporting indie authors, and can spare ninety-nine cents, I hope you’ll check out This Time. All you have to do is click this link: