Monday, October 29, 2012

Shameless Self Promotion

Warning!  For the next two months I will be engaging in shameless self-promotion via a wonderful virtual book tour arranged by Goddess Fish Promotions.  It begins with a Super Book Blast for one day.  It officially starts tomorrow when 43 bloggers will post information about Healing Notes.  I have to admit, I feel like the trumpets are blaring and I should be dressed in my best Cinderella outfit and walking down the stairs to meet my prince.

For a girl who was raised to never tout her own accomplishments it is both scary and exciting to be putting myself out there a gazillion times.  However uncomfortable it makes me feel, I've learned that it is the best way for readers to find out my book exists. It's hard to get noticed among the over 300,000 books published each year. Even though my family thinks I'm the best writer in the world, I also want to get my stories read by thousands of people who don't know me.

As any good girl who was taught to always please others first, I assuage my guilt for bragging about the release by offering prizes to blog followers. Some would call this bribery. I prefer to use the politically correct corporate word "incentives."  Anyway, whatever you call it, you get a chance for swag or actual moolah for dropping by and saying Hi.  At each step along the way I will be offering the following prizes.
  1. An autographed cover flat of Healing Notes will be awarded to one randomly drawn commenter at each stop. 
  2. An entry for a $25 gift card to the online bookseller of your choice will be put in the pot for one randomly selected grand prize winner at the end of the tour.  Drawing for the Book Blast tour will be made on Friday. 
So, how do you up your chances to win? The more times you stop and comment, the more chances you get.  The way the grand prize is figured is if you stop and comment at all 43 Book Blast blogs then you will be entered 43 times.  Believe me the lottery has nothing on these odds. :)

Wonder where all these marvelous 43 blogs are located?  Go to my website where I have them listed with links to each site.  Easy to navigate to each blog and say "Hi Maggie, I'm here just for the prize. Have fun on your tour." Of course, feel free to vary your comments from the above.

If somehow you see this blog too late and don't get on the action tomorrow or the next day, do not give up. I will be the promoting queen several times over the next two months. Yes, you will get tired of me, but please be patient and just laugh. Okay?

After the book blast tomorrow it will get even more interesting. The first two weeks of November, bloggers will actually be reviewing my book (gulp!).  Yes, they will be providing honest, unpaid reviews of Healing Notes. So, you can start lining up on Team Amazing Book or Team Crap Book following each review.  I figure, it's all good feedback. (Okay, not really, but I have to say that because crying in public is so not my cup of tea.)

The final leg of this shameless self-promotion will be interviews and guest posts every Monday from mid-November through the end of January.  By then my hope is that if you haven't been convinced that this is the book for you, you will buy it anyway just to stop me from promoting it anymore.

So, let's see how long you can last. Want to end the pain early? Buy early. Yes, I have been reduced to threats at this point.

Geesh, I am so not following the marketers guide to good salesmanship here. I better shut up before I create blog stalkers with virtual paint guns.

 Happy blog commenting!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Joining Goddess Fish Virtual Book Tours as Host

I've been so impressed with how Goddess Fish is handling my own virtual book tour, that I've decided to also host other authors on occasion.  I love learning more about new book releases are and I love talking to other authors.  After all, I can't produce a book of my own every month to keep my readers busy. I also think that hosting other authors will be a nice change from writing only about what's going on with me.

The other wonderful part of hosting with Goddess Fish is that my readers will get even more chances to meet new authors, learn about their books, and win cool swag, books, and gift cards as the tour  passes through my blog.

If you are not familiar with virtual book tours, they can take many forms. Sometimes, I'll just be posting information about a new book along with an excerpt and an author bio. Other times, I'll actually review the book and post my review here and in other outlets. Finally, for some authors I'll also do interviews so you can get to know them a little better.  The tours tend to have several blog stops, so you can follow an author you like to other reader blogs and learn even more while getting more chances to enter contests.

I've added a calendar near the top of the left column to show both my own tour and signing events, as well as my hosting events with other authors. I suspect my hosting events to begin in mid-November, so be sure to check back frequently and see who is dropping by.

For my reviews, I've decided to use a rainbow and pot of gold metaphor.  After all, when a book hits all my cookies, I truly believe the author deserves to make oodles of money on it. :)

Below are my five review icons and an explanation of each rating.

The book never really got started for me. Several problems turned me off from the beginning.
I was drawn in at the beginning but then it fell apart by the halfway point or earlier.
A book with lots of good characteristics, but also some flaws that made it less enjoyable.
A solid story that I would definitely recommend to friends.
A book that hits the jackpot and I recommend it to all readers in the genre without reservation.
Top Pick! This book transcends genre expectations. I want everyone to read it. I hope it sells millions!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Contest Judges Pay it Forward and Are Rewarded

In my last post, I talked about why aspiring authors would enter contests.  In this post, I am talking about why published authors would spend their valuable writing time judging a contest.

RWA Chapters around the world run a variety of contests. Most of them do this for two reasons: 1) to raise money for their chapter in order to provide better workshops, retreats, speakers; and 2) to provide a mechanisms to mentor writers, both in and outside of their chapter, in their craft and career. All chapters have published and unpublished writers as part of their membership.  All chapters tend to struggle with keeping their published writers involved, and particularly with getting them to judge contests.

There are many reasons for this, but the primary reason is that once published the writer has different time constraints. She now has deadlines she must meet. Frequently, she is writing her next book while promoting the previous one. Where before being published, the writer had the ability to rearrange her schedule and let a deadline slip a week or two or decide not to keep up with her blog for a month, now her career and possible future book's success depend on her being disciplined and on time.  This makes many published writers decline to participate in judging.

I always participate in judging at least my chapter's Golden Rose contest. I frequently also judge either the Rita or the Golden Heart for RWA, and on occasion judge for another chapter's contest.  I have the same restraints on my time as other writers do, but I've made a determination that what I get from judging is worth my time commitment.

Craft Reminders.  No matter how much I write or how much better I get with each book, I know I'm not perfect and I always have room for improvement. By judging other manuscripts, I am reminded of all those niggly craft items that make a great book: structure, scene and sequel, character development, description that moves the story forward, tension, body language, dialog, emotion, and many others. Each book is different. Though there are things most beginning writers get wrong, there are also things that advanced writers forget--myself included--or don't focus on.  Also, whenever I judge an amazingly crafted manuscript (and I have seen many), it also gives me that little kick-in-the-butt that says "The competition is fierce. Buckle down and make your next book better."

Genre Trends.  The more I'm focusing on writing, the less opportunity I have to read.  Even though I read about 100 novels a year, it is never enough.  Also, most of those books were written two to four years ago (sometimes more) and so not reflective of what is going to be published next year or in two years.  By judging contests I'm seeing what is popular right now, what stories are intriguing up and coming writers, and how much genre-bending or cross-genre writing is occurring. This is exciting to me.  Even if I'm judging a novel that has significant craft problems, almost always the premise is interesting and unique.  It fires my imagination to see these unique premises. It helps me to think outside of whatever boxes I've created for myself.

Mentoring.  It is rare, if ever, that a published author made it on her own.  I know I was mentored by lots of people. I was mentored by contest judges, by critique partners, by workshop leaders, and by other published authors.  It is only right to pay it forward.

As a writer advances in her craft and her career, she needs mentoring again and again.  One can only take in and apply so much information. When I started out, there were probably at least 15 things I could improve.  My brain could only handle working on about three of them.  Once I got those down, I needed reminding about the other 12 and again chose three or four I could handle working on.  Even as a published author I still need mentoring on craft and business.  I suspect it never ends.  Mentoring is at the core of RWA's bylaws and our chapter.

Rewards Outweigh Time Lost. For me, the rewards mentioned above outweigh the time expended to judge a contest or two.  Not only do I get extrinsic rewards through important reminders to improve my own work, but I also know I've touched and I hope helped at least 12 or more writers who are struggling to get their first novel published. That intrinsic reward makes it the most worthwhile for me. When I see a manuscript I judged become published, I take special pride in that. Maybe something I said made a difference. Maybe some note of encouragement

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Why Enter Writing Contests?

My romance writer's chapter, Rose City Romance Writers, recently completed our Golden Rose Contest.  Finalists have been announced and will have their manuscripts sent on to agents and editors who have agreed to be final round judges.  In the 8 years I've been a member of the chapter, I've always judged in this contest. Many years I've also been some type of coordinator for the contest, usually a category coordinator. I can honestly say that both entering and judging are important milestones in an author's career. Today I'm talking about why an aspiring author should enter writing contests. The next blog will cover why anyone would want to judge a contest.

Before I was published, I also entered my manuscripts in the Golden Rose contest and in other RWA chapter contests.  The feedback I received from contests, along with being a part of good critique groups and attending workshops, was invaluable to my learning process and to finally getting a publishing contract.  Was all the feedback spectacular? No.  But enough of it was meaningful to make a difference in my understanding of my writing, my process, and how to improve.

I'm constantly surprised by the number of writers who tell me they have NEVER shown their novel chapters to anyone before submitting to an agent or editor. Then they are shocked when they get a rejection. Some writers choose this path because they honestly believe they know everything, particularly if they studied writing or journalism in school or have published in local papers. Others don't share their writing because they are truly afraid that someone they care about or admire will tell them it's crap.  If someone tells you your writing is worthless, don't believe them and don't give up. Find someone else to read for you.  NO WRITING IS WORTHLESS!  All writers begin somewhere and with the willingness to learn, you can improve quickly.

You absolutely MUST share your work to get objective feedback.  Only rarely can you count on your mother, sister, friend, or spouse to provide this to you--even if that person is a writer. The reality is that someone who knows you well and loves you will always give you the benefit of the doubt when looking at your book. A contest judge not only doesn't know you, but isn't even allowed to see your name. Melissa Donavon on her Writing Forward blog gives some priceless advice about gracefully accepting critique.

Contests do cost money, ranging from $15-$35 depending on the number of pages you submit, and let's face it most writers don't have a lot of extra dollars to spread around. The primary reason to enter contests is to get an unbiased view of your work from people who don't know you, people who are writing and reading in your genre.  If you are a romance writer, you have a large choice of RWA Chapter-sponsored contests to enter.  These contests judge query letters, synopses, the first ten pages, first chapters, and up to 50 pages.  Where you are in your writing process and where you feel most vulnerable should be a guide to which contest(s) to enter. Personally, I like the 50 pages and synopsis contests because it gives your book more of an opportunity to display your approach, style, and to overcome initial first chapter difficulties.  However, fewer pages are more prevalent in contest opportunities, and it is true that most novels are judged by agents and editors within the first five to ten pages. So, it is definitely important to get those exactly right in order to entice someone to read further.

Most chapter contests include both published and unpublished judges. Good chapter contests make sure all the judges receive some training in order to get some semblance of inter-rater reliability.  My experience with RWA chapter contests has been that chapters take judging and mentoring very seriously. I think it would be hard to enter a contest and have a completely horrific experience.

I've heard people say: "Why should I care what an unpublished judge says about my writing?"  I've learned just as much from unpublished writers as published writers when in comes to craft. You never know who is a talented teacher.  Though published judges have a certain knowledge of how they write and what worked best to help them sell, not all of them are great at identifying what's working and what's not working in someone else's manuscript. Having coordinated the Golden Rose in the past, I can tell you that some unpublished judges are amazing in their ability to identify and articulate problems and solutions.   In other words, listen to ALL feedback and then see which ones ring true for you. Also look for consistencies in statements across judges and act on them.  If two or more judges say similar things about your writing, it is likely that is an area for improvement. Most contests make sure that at least one published author judges each manuscript.

If you are entering contests ONLY to make it to the finals and get that read by an editor or agent, I would tell you that is not enough reason to enter. The percentage of final round judges requesting a manuscript is about the same as the percentage if you send it to them directly. The percentage of final round judges who then acquire the manuscript (or agree to represent you) after the request is also about the same percentage if you send it to them directly. In other words, if you are going to ignore feedback and spend money for a chance to get in front of the final judges, then you are wasting your money. Simply send it to them directly.  However, if you truly want to learn what is good and what needs improvement in your writing, and be reinforced that your writing is good enough to make it to the finals, then it is worthwhile. $35 is a small price to pay for two or three good people to provide direct feedback on a manuscript.

Do people ever sell from a contest? Yes. Do people ever get representation from a contest? Yes. Rose City Romance Writer Jessa Slade found her agent when she won the Golden Rose contest, and a year later sold her first book. She now has six books published and others under contract. However, Jessa's experience is not the norm, and when a contest garners a sold book to an editor or representation by an agent it is usually not the first contest that author has entered. The writer has learned from writing many manuscripts, from engaging regularly with feedback from contests and/or workshops, and from building a thick skin in relationship to accepting critiques of their work.

Like all learning, writing a good novel is a process. Some people go through that process very quickly.  Others take longer. Even though I'd successfully sold fiction short stories in SF and Romance to several literary and commercial magazines, and later published three non-fiction books at a major NY publisher, it still took me writing eight novels and six years to sell my first novel. Yes, I could write decent prose and had a good sense of story, but I had to learn more about the nuances of writing the novel and what commercial fiction requires. I had to learn about structure and description and tension and character arc and so many other things that were different for writing a good novel. In addition to the regular butt-in-the-chair-hands-on-the-keyboard discipline, it was critique groups and contest entries and lots of rewriting that garnered my first sale. As well as a well-earned thick skin for rejection letters. It wasn't until I was regularly able to final in contests and occasionally win that I then began getting more traction with submissions. But even after winning contests in 2007 and 2008, it was still late 2010 before I sold my first novel and 2011 before my first book came out.

Multi-published historical romance writer, Delilah Marvelle, shared with me that she had written over 30 novels before selling her first book. She admitted that she wrote fast and moved on, but also didn't take the time to seek good critique and learn from those early attempts. It wasn't until later when she buckled down and focused on craft and story structure that she began to write novels that could sell. Now she has 10 novels published and three more scheduled for release.

 Kristina McMorris, contest queen extraordinare and happy published author of two books with more on the way, also learned from entering contests and developing a thick skin for rejection. Here's Kristina's take on revision. "I can’t tell you how grateful I am that the first draft of my debut, Letters from Home, didn’t sell to a publisher. Looking back, I like to think I always had a worthy premise (i.e. a personal tale I wanted to put on paper), but through revision after revision, I learned how to tell that story better, ultimately with great care and consideration for its intended audience." After learning more about her craft, and editing and rewriting, Kristina began to final regularly in contests, including twice in the Golden Heart--RWA's national contest for unpublished romance writers. Even with contest finals and wins, and having agent representation (it was her third agent that finally sold the book), it took her a total of three years to sell her first book, Letters from Home. Now her second book, Bridge of Scarlett Leaves is also out and she is scheduling more amazing women's fiction for her readers.

Happy writing! With hard work, listening to critiques, getting feedback from contests in your genre, and editing as you improve your craft, these success stories could be yours too.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Romance Comes in Many Flavors

I spent all day yesterday at Wordstock. It is the premier literary event in Portland, Oregon.  I have to admit that in the past only a few romance writers opted to have a booth and meet readers.  Why? Because the focus of this festival has traditionally been on "literature" or as one reader told me when she happened by our romance booth "I only read serious books."  I'm not sure what all she considers "serious." I believe the topics I cover in my romance novels are frequently serious. I cover topics of freedom, finding personal power, overcoming both physical and psychological wounds, and determining how to tell the difference between right and wrong when it is very grey.

I'm a cross genre reader. I read both fiction and non-fiction--from prize winning works and NYT bestsellers to books that have very small distributions. I've read novels that are sold as "literary novels."  I also read mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, and romance.  For me, I read anything that looks interesting to me--anything that I believe will tell a compelling story and teach me something.  Sometimes I learn how a man came from poor roots and became President of the United States. Other times I learn how a woman overcame an abusive relationship, found her own power, and created a worldwide company.  Even in reading a good mystery or a thriller, I frequently learn things: how undercover military operations are conducted, how police catch a killer, and cautionary tales of how a world in the near future deteriorated and could be our world if we aren't careful. When I read romance I can also learn many of those things above, but I also learn how people navigate relationships and intimacy. It is those relationships that grab me every time.

Interestingly, many books have a story of love and commitment as part of them.  Let's face it without love in our life it is darn difficult to wake up in the morning and move forward.  Many bestselling novels and bestselling movies have a love relationship at the core. It is that relationship that gives the hero or heroine of the story the ability to be heroic, and it is that relationship that comforts them when things go wrong.  That is why I choose to write romance.

More than ever before, novels have become cross-genre.  Though publishers and marketers feel the need to classify our reading into nice neat categories, the reality is that books don't fit neatly all the time.  For example, within the romance genre there is science-fiction romance, fantasy romance, mystery romance, suspense/thriller romance, women's fiction with a romantic core, the traditional series romances that our mothers and grandmothers read, and yes even "literary" romance.  And many cross variations of each. A shape-shifter romance, with paranormal elements but written in contemporary Portland with a mystery to resolve is classified as what? It fits fantasy, paranormal, contemporary, mystery and romance. To steal an ad line, "It's not your mother's romance novel anymore."

The reason I was at Wordstock, along with other romance writers is that the committee had taken notice of the NYT bestseller 50 Shades of Gray by E.L. James. Like most press about the book, it has been described as Erotica and the committee decided to take advantage of its popularity and have a special "erotic" area set aside for authors of those novels.  That is where the Rose City Romance Writers also were housed.

Though I had a great time and each of us writers had the opportunity to educate lots of potential readers, there's a problem for me personally in being put in the "erotica" section.  That is that I don't want to see all romance categorized as erotica.  We already have the problem of overcoming terms like "bodice rippers" from the 60's and 70's, or "mommy porn" in the current era. Yes, some romance novels do fit the erotica category. On the other end of the romance spectrum, there are also inspirational romance novels which have no sex at all.  The vast majority of romance novels fit somewhere along that continuum from no sex to erotica, with most being right in the middle--sex between two consenting adults that are in a committed relationship and usually (but not always) end up married or on the way to the altar by the end of the book.  Oh, and the actual sex in the book is about 10% to 20% of all the pages and varies in description from implicit imagery to explicit language depending on the writer and the sub-genre.

The readers who came by our table were also on different ends of the spectrum. We had a number of readers who read erotica regularly and came to our table expecting all of our books to fit that genre.  We had some readers come by the table who don't read erotica and don't want to read it ever. The only reason they stopped at our table was because we lured them in with free Hershey chocolate bars and Hershey kisses. That gave us an opportunity to show the continuum of books available.  We also had an equal number of readers who stopped by the table (again to get free chocolate) and said they never read romance because they remember X book that their mother or grandmother read (usually a Harlequin romance from the 1970's involving a sheikh, a prince, or a millionaire ) and they didn't find it very realistic. Again we had an opportunity to show them the plethora of options available now.

Perhaps all genre fiction suffers from this "typecasting" problem. However, it seems that romance gets extra misunderstanding. Some feminists would say that's because it is a genre written by women and for women, and involves women's sexuality which has always been controlled by men. I think that is one part of it, but not all of it. After all, it was primarily women who stopped at our table, and it was those women who had misunderstandings about the genre. Young and old, middle-aged and professionals. A woman pastor came by the table and made a very astute observation. She said (I'm paraphrasing here) she wished there was a genre of romance that was erotic but also had a spiritual message--in other words Christian erotic romance.  She knew that "people in the pews" were reading hot, sexy books but no one ever talked about it. Her comment really made me think about why I don't have a more spiritual message in my books, or why Inspirational romance authors are not empowered to write any sex in their books.

Now that I have four books out, I know my personal message is similar in every book I write. It is that everyone is wounded in some way, everyone is looking for acceptance, and that love is the way to overcome woundedness and to find acceptance. Each book I write is about a character with a different type of wound--some physical, some psychological, but in the end they really are all spiritual wounds.  The wounds have impacted their spirit and caused them to make decisions in life that are not ones that are beneficial. It is in finding love or experiencing love and accepting it that the characters also find their wholeness and are able to do other things in their life that are important. Love is difficult. Love requires disassembling. Love requires commitment. But love DOES conquer all. I truly believe that.

I agree with the pastor. I think there is a market for spiritual erotic romance. I don't know if I can write it, but I know someone can. Maybe she can. Maybe some of the inspirational romance authors can take a stab at it.  I know I personally believe that the ability to love and to be loved is a spiritual journey.  The most difficult part of believing in a God or accepting God's love requires a similar journey as being in a committed intimate relationship. It requires disassembling. It requires commitment. It requires faith and trust. It requires belief that the love will always be there.Yup, very difficult. But worth it.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Joy of Grown Children

This week my husband and I are enjoying the visit of our grown children.  For those of you who follow my posts, you know that one of the wonderful things about marrying my husband 12 years ago was inheriting two amazing sons.  When we married, they were in high school. They are now both grown, in great careers, and have selected wonderful life partners.  We have the pleasure of showing the beauty of Oregon to the two new women in the family, and our sons have the pleasure of revisiting a place they haven't seen for a few years.  Please excuse me while I do a little "proud parent" blathering here.

The oldest has married a woman he met in college while in ROTC. He chose Marines. She chose Navy.   He has now graduated from law school and will be starting his job at a law firm in D.C. the end of this month. After five years of living through various deployments and separations, they finally both married in 2010.

The youngest son began college thinking he would like to be an athletic trainer. He's always loved sports--football and baseball specifically.  However, after a year in the program he changed his study to Criminal Justice and it was absolutely the right choice for him. He felt challenged by the curriculum and did well in his studies. He is now a federal police officer at the Capital in Washington, D.C.  This past summer he became engaged to a wonderful young woman who works for the State Department.

Of course, I can't take any credit for these two sons outside of loving them.  Their great character, work ethic, and confidence are a part of the amazing job my husband and their mother did with raising them.  You see, in spite of a divorce when both boys were very young, the parents decided that no matter what their own differences they would always put the welfare of the boys first.

However, I can enjoy their company and still be very proud of their accomplishments. In romance writing terms, they are the best combination of alpha heroes and beta heroes. Both chose professions that put their life on the line, and would still do so for the ones they love. Yet they aren't completely alpha (in that caveman like quality that dictates every move), in that they both chose very strong women to marry--women who are completely capable of taking care of themselves but have chosen to be with them in spite of sometimes troubling alpha characteristics.  I believe the reason these strong women chose them is also for their beta characteristics--listening, reasoning, compromising, and supporting the women's choices, whether outside careers, stay-at-mom or some combination.

The best part for me? Not ever having birthed children, I look forward to being a grandmother who has all the privileges of watching little ones grow without the responsibility. I also look forward to seeing how these four young people navigate long term marriages and what amazing things all four of them accomplish as they get older.

Life is good. The sun is shining bright, and the abundance of Oregon beauty beckons us to get outside and experience it.