2013 and 2014 GOLDEN HEART® Finalist

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

On Never Giving Up

photo by d.drenth

I recently attended the Ozarks Romance Writers 25th annual writing conference, and multi-published awesome author Rob Thurman was there, participating in an agent-author panel and leading critique groups.

She talked about her own road to publication, which I found really inspiring. Robyn had completed her first manuscript and knew she wanted a literary agent. So she sent her query letter to every agent in the book. Literally.

She queried hundreds of agents and then editors at all the publishing houses. Nobody was interested. I think most writers would quit after that many no’s. But Robyn didn’t quit. She just changed the name of her book, changed her own name so no one would realize she was re-sending the same manuscript. And she re-sent the same manuscript. To everyone. Every publisher, every agent. And one said yes.

Now she has a great relationship with her agent and is a best-selling author with three book series published and a new novel about to be released (I got the read the excerpt of All-Seeing Eye, and it’s great). That first well-traveled, much-rejected book? It became the first in a SEVEN part series. Robyn’s story gives me courage to believe in my book and never give up. Hope it does the same for you. Keep writing and good luck!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How Long Before the Gong?

I’ve been telling you about a lot of firsts lately: first pitch meeting, first critique group-- all part of my first writing conference-- the Ozarks Romance Writers. Toward the end of the day, they put on a Query Letter Gong show. What a great idea! I missed Chuck Woolery, with his cheesy grin and mini-fro, but it was loads of fun and extremely helpful.

Here’s how it worked: anonymous query letters were put up on a projector screen for all to see while a speaker read them aloud and the two agents and one editor in attendance listened and read with gongs at the ready. Actually, they were tambourines (gongs were hard to come by in the Springfield area) The idea is that the experts would hit the gong/tambourine at the point in the query where they would normally stop reading. They were pretty kind. They only gonged a couple of  the letters. They did talk about the shortcomings of ALL the letters and what could be done to improve them.

Did I submit my own query? Yes I did. Did they put it up on the screen first? Of course they did. Was my heart pounding out of my chest as it was being read? Why yes, it was.

They never did shake the tambourine at it, but the expert panelists did analyze my letter, and I took notes as fast as I could with that little heart problem. My sister attended the conference with me and she took notes too, just in case that heart-out-of-the-chest-thing impeded my note-taking ability. What they all seemed to agree on was this: it was a solid query letter, but too long. Which is great.

I knew I needed to cut something out of it, but I had no idea which part to cut. So here’s the awesome thing- the agents specifically pointed out the unnecessary paragraph-- for me and the rest of the conference to see. Yay! I think writing query letters is so hard, and this really helped me. One of the agents also suggested using more suspenseful language to clearly indicate the suspense in the novel. So... they mentioned what was good about it and pointed out what needed work. What more could I ask?

As painful as it is to write query letters, and as much as I wish I could skip that step on the road to publication, I can see why they’re an effective tool for agents; those little one-page letters really did give me a clear feeling about whether I’d like to read each book.

Thank you to the members of Ozarks Romance Writers for your warm welcome and a great conference. Thank you to everyone who talked to me there and shared their experiences and expertise. And special thanks to Cecily White, who chaired the conference and whose debut novel Angel Academy is coming next year from Entangled Publishing. Her generosity and hospitality blew me away, and I can NOT wait to buy and read her first published book! Thanks to you for reading about it. Next time I'll share an interesting story that best-selling author Rob Thurman told me about Never Giving Up.  Until then...  keep writing and good luck!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Conference Critique Groups- Must Do or Don't?

I talked Monday about my first pitch meetings last week at my first ever writing conference. It was a weekend of firsts-- I was also lucky to participate in a small group critique session with four other YA authors and multi-published awesome author Rob Thurman.

Each of us read aloud five pages of a manuscript we’d brought with us while the others followed along on (and marked up) their copies. Then Robyn gave us her take on the strong and weak points of the writing that she saw, and the others in the group weighed in. I basically kept my mouth shut because it was my first critique group, and I assumed I didn’t know what I was doing. I have to say everyone was pretty good- maybe that’s common at conferences. You only get people there who basically know what they’re doing? Not sure. First time.

Robyn is the kind of person who says exactly what she thinks-- not rudely, but honestly and without much sugar-coating. It was really interesting to listen to her critiques of the others. I agreed with almost every point she made (except for love triangles- she doesn’t like them- I do). I volunteered to go last (chicken) and it was a little bit nerve-wrecking, but I knew that it was for my own good. I was shocked to hear Robyn say afterward that she really liked my excerpt (loved it, actually) and had nothing negative to say except that the guy in the scene seemed so ideal that she couldn’t see why the main (female) character wasn’t jumping at the chance to be with him. Not bad. We were almost out of time, so maybe she would have been more critical with more time to elaborate (next time I’ll be braver and volunteer earlier. Or not.).

The others handed me their copies of my excerpt with their suggestions marked, and I had a chance to read them later. There were some really supportive comments and some suggested changes and word substitutions which I was thrilled to consider. I feel bad now that I didn’t really do the same on their excerpts. As the lame rookie in the group I really hesitated to tell anyone they should do anything differently. Next time I will, because I’ve learned that it really helps. If you’re like me, you look for mainly support from your closest family and friends, but from other writers, critiques are really valuable. Especially writers in your own genre. It’s that other set of informed eyes, catching things you’ve missed because you’re so close to the subject.

There was a lot to like about the Ozarks Romance Writers 25th annual conference. Some really good authors/speakers addressing different aspect of the craft and the business: Jennifer Brown, Leigh Michaels, Steven Law. The two agents in attendance, Cori Deyoe and Lucienne Diver spoke about the agent-author relationship and took questions from attendees. There was a nice lunch, awesome swag bags, and…. get ready for it… a Query Letter Gong Show. Ever wanted to know what will make an agent or editor stop reading your query letter? I’ll tell you about that next time. Until then, keep writing, and good luck!

Monday, July 2, 2012

First Writing Conference- Pitch Meetings

photo by tomi tapio

I attended my first Writers' conference this weekend in Springfield, Missouri, organized by the Ozarks Romance Authors. I might not have considered traveling from Rhode Island for the conference, but a member called to let me know I was a finalist in their writing contest in the YA division, and she invited me personally to attend. That meant a lot to me. My sister also lives in a nearby town, so I was in!

I remember a time not too long ago, when the whole idea of attending a writing conference terrified me. I knew they were a good idea for any writer serious about making it a career, and I certainly am, but I was worried that I'd be too lost-- wandering around not knowing what to do or say. I was especially afraid of pitching to agents.

Now I can say that I never have to do that for the first time ever again. Like most things we fear in life, it wasn't as bad as I expected. Well, I was pretty bad-- at least at the first pitch meeting. I was scheduled to meet with both agents who attended, thanks to an awesome new author friend, Cecily White, the conference chairperson.

I anchored the news on television for 12 years, so you might not think I'd be nervous speaking across a table in a small room to just one woman. I was. When I first started reporting on tv, I was so keyed-up I had to throw up before going on the air live. Every time. I once threw up in front of the governor of Mississippi one minute before a live interview. Breath mint anyone?

No, I didn't literally throw up everywhere during my first pitch meeting, but figuratively, I kind of did. I found myself talking on and on about things I hadn't even meant to mention and forgetting entirely about important things I should have said about my book. I've read in agent blogs that pitch meetings are not the end of the world-- a single one will not make or break your career as an author, and most agents end up requesting pages no matter how much you fall apart. But still, when you're talking about your own little creation, that you want so much to someday reach your target audience and perhaps even make money in the process, the nerves are there.

I lived through it, and she did indeed ask to see my first 30 pages, but I know I did a poor job of selling it to her, and I didn't perceive a lot of enthusiasm on her part. Thank goodness I had another pitch session an hour later. Even with just one under my belt, it was so much easier.  This time when I entered the room, the agent smiled at me, I smiled at her, and we proceeded to have a semi-normal conversation. I was able to talk about the most important parts of my book, my hook, what sets the story apart from everything else out there. She asked questions, nodded and smiled, laughed at the appropriate places. She asked questions for which I actually had good answers. When our time was up, she said  the book sounded really interesting and she'd love to see the first fifty pages and synopsis. I'll be sending that to her this week. I know it may not lead to an agent-client relationship with her-- she has to not only love my ideas, but also my writing, and she has to feel that mine is a book she can sell. But based on our meeting ( I really liked her personally) and what I know of her from the agent-author panel I watched later in the day, I think we'd work well together, and I feel hopeful.

It was a long day. A GOOD long day and there's so much more to talk about. In my next post, I'll tell you about the YA group critique session (my first of course) I took part in. It was led by an awesome multi-published author who says exactly what she thinks. In the meantime, keep writing- and good luck!