Monday, July 24, 2006
The big boys in NY pay advances--sometimes, significant advances (okay, to me, a significant advance is anything in excess of $3,000--I have low expectations). It means the publishers believe they will sell enough books to get back that advance and then, hopefully, make a profit. Even at $3,000 for an advance, that's a significant amount of belief.
Smaller presses don't need to believe in you that much because they generally don't give you much of an--if any--advance. On the bright side, this means they are willing to take a chance on something different. On the dark side, this means some works are published which probably would not have gotten published except by a vanity publisher in the days before the Internet made e-books possible. This has lead to a situation where folks often pooh-pooh the quality of e-books because they think they are only written by people who didn't write well enough to make it in NY. I'm not sure what to say about this, because I have purchased some e-books which were not so good. But then again, there are others which are good. It's a very mixed bag out there.
Just like in the "regular" paperback or hardcover arena. Only I do think the bad e-books are maybe a little worse than the bad paperbacks I have read, but this is purely subjective. When it comes right down to it, bad is bad no matter what format it comes in. And there are e-books which contain stories you can no longer get in a bookstore, and that counts for something.
I'd like to believe the books I wrote and will be selling through Cerridwen could not get published because they fit in traditional Regency territory which the mainstream publishers say is no longer profitable and have declined to publish any longer. I also think what I write doesn't fit squarely "between the lines" because there are strong elements of mystery, suspense, and black humor. In my stories, I let the characters dictate what they will and won't do, and I don't attempt to twist the story or characters to shoe-horn in the apparently obligatory s-e-x scene. I'm not about to make them take a break and have s-e-x while the madman is standing outside the bedroom door with a hatchet. Embarrassing though it may be, in that situation, the madman comes on in and they either flee naked or get chopped to bits, depending upon the speed with which they can run. Needless to say, it has made my characters a little wary about dropping their drawers during any apparent lulls. Trust is a big issue for them. I don't know why.
This means my stuff is not hot, and apparently, not marketable. Don't get me wrong, I actually have a paranormal with a s-e-x scene that fit quite naturally (although it may not be hot enough!) and I have a couple of other manuscripts in the contemporary suspense arena which have s-e-x, and in fact, one of them which I have tentatively entitled Ride the Wave actually starts out with a s-e-x scene (and I'm thinking that this make actually make THIS manuscript unmarketable--go figure), so it's not like I won't write it. My problem is, I have to write the story my characters order me to write. It seems like when I read other HOT books, there is no story, or the characters and the story have been twisted to give room for what in my mind is a relatively trivial activity, to the point where the story is just a weak, trickling stream meandering around the large boulders of s-e-x, but...I'm drifting off into a rant here...
What I actually started to blog about was the RWA conference. Conferences generally leave me feeling completely depressed and despondent because I get to meet all these great writers who are actually published, and in the back of my mind, I'm thinking--these people are so far ahead of me, and so much better than me, that I'm crazy to think I'll ever publish anything. I'm the most unlucky person on the planet and most published writers will tell you: you have to have luck. And talent. What if you don't have either? What if you really are a hack? What if you just like to write? What if you just like to write a good story, but nobody wants a good story without certain elements in it, anymore?
Anyway, this year, I'm trying not to let the conference feed into my worries about being in the lowest caste of the publishing world by getting my Regencies e-published. Or this fantasy manuscript I'm also considering submitting to them for e-publishing, just because.
So...does that make me a hack writer?
No-strictly speaking--a hack writer would be one of those PUBLISHED writers who have s-e-x in every other scene because that is what is hot right now and it sells, regardless of the integrity of the story they are writing. They write to the market and basically don't concern themselves with artistic integrity.
Therefore, I'm using the wrong term, it's not hack, it's bad writer. Bad writer, bad, bad (get off that computer right now!)
(Am I a bad writer because I'm publishing through an e-publisher? I have a published friend, who sold the first book she ever wrote, as soon as she finished it, who firmly believes only bad writers are e-published. What do I say back to the Golden One who is young, beautiful, and published by a good, NY publisher? How do you explain to someone who published the first thing she ever wrote, how it feels to write story after story, many of which are requested and actually come back with happy-editor comments, but with "No, sorry, we don't publish traditional Regencies anymore" kinds of remarks?)
Now that I've dampened everyone's mood, back to the conference, and depression. For me, the worst feeling sets in when all the buzz and hype is about making your books hotter and more sensual--because I just want to write a good story and where are all the workshops and buzz about characterization, plotting, and grammar? Is it possible anymore to expect to write a book that doesn't go into laborious detail about every shining drop of sweat oozing from every pore as your two main characters roll around between the hot, wrinkled sheets? Am I crazy? Behind the times? Stupid? Frigid? All that between-the-sheets stuff fascinated me between the ages of about 12-21, but after I got a regular boyfriend, I didn't need to know all the gory details anymore. I liked the tension, but I preferred the door closed in a book because it left more room for the story to unfold--and it was the story that fascinated me. "It" wasn't the main thrust of the story (except when I read Anais Nin, maybe, or something specifically written for the purpose of titillation--where I had no expectation of a "story".) And that's the problem--it's a matter of expectation.
I think I'm crazy and stupid to refine on this, but I'm trying to psychologically prepare myself for the barrage when I go to the conference. The bad thing is that all the talk about it "puts my back up" to the point where I start refusing to put it into my stories even if the characters *want* to have it in there, just because it pisses me off that it is all anyone seems to talk about anymore. It really pisses me off that I start thinking editors won't even look at a book if it isn't hot. I'd like to think this isn't true, but...there is a lot of evidence to the contrary. Again, it's that darn expectation: their's and mine.
Does anyone else find that pretty abysmal and depressing?
Can't we talk about something else for a change? Really. I mean, what ever happened to the craft of writing?
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Got an email today from a (my?) potential editor at Cerridwen Press, asking me if I had a timeline for when my revised manuscript would be winging its way back to them. Thankfully, I had already finished the edits and squirted it off to my agent for submission to Cerridwen, so I was able to answer..."Pretty darn soon, Ms. Editor" with the appropriate cc: to my agent. My agent extracted all the relevant information from me (that is, a copy of the revision letter) and now...we play the waiting game.
And I can't sleep.
Do I dare hope that this will finally get published? Have I jinxed it by talking about it? By searching for information on marketing? By thinking about the next 4 manuscripts which I could send to them "pretty darn soon," and if I do, would they laugh in my face and say, "Yes, this first one was okay, but these others..." shiver delicately, "We don't think so."
Because I have a dirty little secret. Yes, I write Regencies which could be construed as traditional Regencies, except, they are really more like Regency suspense. And therein lies the rub. Georgette Heyer got away with it in books like These Old Shades but somehow, folks have forgotten that not all Regencies were sweet, drawing room confections when the genre first started out. Many were actually action-adventure or Regency suspense. It is my contention that the traditional Regency all but died out because the only thing editors bought were chock full of tooth-numbing sweetness without the bite of adventure and mystery which leavened so many of Heyer's works. I believe if the genre is to make a comeback with Cerridwen, they must offer the entire, original toothsome array of taffy-sweet, to sweet-with-nuts, to those with the bittersweet bite of adventure and mystery subplots.
I sincerely hope Cerridwen plans on doing just that, and that I'm just needlessly worrying.
But I'm nervous and it's keeping me up at night. I want to believe I can start making plans - planning a marketing strategy - modifying my web site with cool information about the books coming out, but until I start signing contract(s) it seems premature. Especially since I just don't know how they will react to the rest of my stuff.
My first manuscript which they are interested in has a wee bit of darkness (and in the revisions, I took out most of it). The next ones have murder (occurs off-stage) and some fights. Nothing you wouldn't find in a cozy mystery or one of Heyer's books. And yet I'm afraid they are going to say, um, Ms. Author, these aren't sweet enough.
I've also realized in working through the revisions that what I thought of as writing "light and frothy Regency fun" is only fun in a Kill Bill sort of way. I admit it, I think the movie Kill Bill is hilarious in a zany-sick, action-packed sort of way. I realize now that my sense of humor is the Twilight Zone / Night Gallery / Dawn of the Dead kind of humor and it may not translate too well in the world of books. It's black humor, dark humor, macabre & sarcastic humor, the "laugh in the face of death because you're not going to get another chance" humor. It's a lying on the ground, bleeding to death, trying to hold your guts in while you ask, "Can I get a do-over?" humor.
Well, until I sell A Smuggled Rose and get that second sale, which I hope will be One Honest Man, I won't know how small Cerridwen's box is going to be. I'm hoping it will be a large, roomy box. If they take One Honest Man, they'll take I Bid One American and The Bricklayer's Helper because they are similar in terms of action/adventure/suspense elements. And if they take those, I can finish Grave Mistakes and offer that to them.
Then, I just have the problem of the much more serious The Vital Principle and The Left-Handed Wife where the romance is the subplot and the mystery is the main plot, and they are not...well...very sweet. There are a lot of elements which will make some people uncomfortable. A few of the characters act in despicable and really not-very-nice ways. A murder or two occur very much on-stage, although there is no blood spilled, per se.
Sometimes I think I am not a very nice person, myself. But then again, I view my writing as a sort of therapy. After talking to egregiously stupid people all day on my real job, I have to have some way to take out my frustration in a wholesome and even humorous way. Okay, so I kill a few characters, sometimes in rather gruesome ways, and the other characters stand around and make jokes about it.
Is that really so bad?
Sunday, July 16, 2006
I am walking on air. Even if I ultimately don't sell "A Smuggled Rose" to Cerridwen, I am so relived because I finally have the right agent. I have been terrified that she would sneer at me for submitting an old manuscript to an e-publisher. Like Rodney Dangerfield, "they--e-publishers--don't get no respect" and I was afraid she would laugh at me. She actually took it seriously that I had a traditional Regency manuscript that Cerridwen might want to publish, pending revisions, and she asked that I send it to her to submit to them. Yippee!
I am so happy. While I don't expect to make the "big bucks" I think it is a definite stepping stone, and it is a way for me to get stories published that don't quite fit the modern mold. This whole Regency thing sort of knocked me for a loop because I remember reading Georgette Heyer, and the stories I loved most were her "Regency action/adventure stories". I never anticipated that writing suspense/action/mystery stories set in the Regency would be such a hard sell. This may be premature and Cerridwen may say they don't want my stories because of the suspense/action/murder aspects, but I am hoping that they realize that the traditional Regency is more than just a "sweet story".
For those of you who are writing things slightly different, buck up. It may be hard to sell them, and it may take years (as it has taken me--and I still haven't actually SOLD anything yet) but I have learned that you can't make a story something it is not.
People had mistakenly assumed, because I write "sweet" Regencies (stories set in early 19th century without explicit s-e-x scenes) that I'm some sort of religious nut who is against sex. Not so. You see, for me, the deciding factor is whether the characters wish to have sex while not married, or wish to wait--at least until they are engaged. So far, my characters have not been inclined to jump into bed with someone who they are not sure they actually trust. As long as that conflict between them means something, the heroine's are not willing to risk it--not to mention they simply don't have the opportunity when people are kidnapping or otherwise mucking about with them. I have written several contemporary things which actually start out with people jumping into bed with one another because that is true to the characters--they are risk-takers and in today's world, this is not going to ruin their lives.
Being true to the characters is also why revisions to make my Regencies into torrid, sensual love stories generally don't work. The characters wouldn't normally do this, and anyone reading it picks up on that, unless they are not "getting" the characters, at all.
So I am relieved to find an editor who actually just wants me to write stories with integrity and not add a lot of gratuitous junk that doesn't fit, just because it sells.
The downside, of course, is that this may not sell. We shall see. If A Smuggled Rose sells, however, I plan to spend obscene amounts in marketing to make it as much of a success as possible.
I'm hoping to hear word this week on whether Cerridwen likes the revisions, but it may take longer. Who knows? At least I have finally have some hope...
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
What a roller-coaster ride this writing shtick is. No wonder my poor husband keeps quietly praying I will give it up and save him from all the emotional turmoil and bleed-over will-I-ever-publish angst into what used to be a relatively quiet, normal life.
Many of you who follow my blog--hmm, are there many who follow this blog?--maybe it should just be--the few (or one) of you who read my ramblings know that I've been struggling to get published through one of the big, NY houses. I've had two agents--I'm still with my second agent and I hope to stay with her--and have gone through much turmoil trying to turn my dreck into gold.
Anyway, in my last blog, I mentioned alternative publishers, such as e-publishers. I have some manuscripts which are good--they are what initially snagged my first agent--but they are traditional Regency romance stories (or a few are horror-romances, go figure) and unfortunately, that is a genre which NY publishers have finally closed the book on. Okay, sure, there is Avalon which produces hard cover books for the library trade, and Mills & Boon/Harlequin, which produces historicals (not really traditional Regency, though) but that's about it.
But I had these good manuscripts. What to do, what to do.
My first agent (who shall remain nameless) had me "darken" and add sensual elements, including a love scene, to the best of my traditional Regencies, in hopes of selling it as a historical. It didn't sell, and I gave up on that manuscript and got my second/current agent with a different Regency-set mystery/romance. I love mysteries and feel this might still work out. So does my current agent. So far, not so good, but I still have hope...
Deep in my heart, however, I still loved this one story in particular--the one my previous agent had me bastardize by darkening it and adding sensual elements. It never sold, although she submitted it, so I finally wrote it off and archived it.
In the meantime, one of the very reputable e-publishers is now opening up to mainstream titles AND traditional Regencies. Well, I decided to submit this story to them, thinking it wouldn't necessarily fit in the traditional Regencies anymore, but they might take it as a historical, since they are producing mainstream titles in a lot of different genres.
Two months after I submitted it, I got a request for a full. I sent it toward the end of the week and the very next week they said: we would like this for our traditional Regency line but you would need to take out all the dark stuff and the sex scene.
My blog-readers will know how I have agonized in the past over revisions, but this is one time when "to thine own story be true" really does have meaning. I was/am THRILLED to do these revisions. I am ripping out all the stuff my first agent had me change/add, and going back to my original vision for the story. I LOVE these revisions. It is so easy and it makes me so happy to do them. Yes, I'm a little sad that this manuscript will not make it into print--it will be e-published for downloading, but the most important thing to me has always been to tell a story to someone else and this allows me to do that. And I love, love, love this editor. She is so-ooo nice--I can't believe how gratifying it is to find someone who gets me and understands the story I was trying to write. I mean she picked out things that had always bothered me but that I included in my efforts to satisfy my previous agent. I am so happy to remove those elements--you really have no idea.
Of course, she's not my editor yet--I have to finish the revisions and send it back and hope she will like the changes and send a real contract--but I am so sure I can do this, because it is what the story was supposed to be. It's what it was before I mucked about with it.
Mucking about wasn't so bad, though, because through that process, I improved the writing tremendously, so although I have to now cut out a lot (thankfully), what remains is MUCH better than my old, original first draft.
But this "mucking about business" is why you, as a writer, must decide what you can and cannot do with your story, because in my previous life with my previous agent, I was so desperate to publish that I was willing to make any changes necessary to accomplish that. I didn't really care what the changes were. If she had told me to add alien rabbits with green whiskers, I would have figured out a way to do it (I read a lot of science fiction so maybe that wasn't a good example, because I really could think of a way to include alien rabbits). Unfortunately, you can't turn one sort of manuscript into another with a great deal of success, and that is the pain of writing stories--such as traditional Regency romances--which are simply not published any longer.
Full circle back to why I mentioned e-publishers last week. They are a golden opportunity for writers--good writers, not schlock writers--to publish things which simply are no longer published in NY. Or maybe were never published. Old genres, such as traditional Regencies, may fall out of favor but I know there are still audiences for these stories. Why else would Georgette Heyer's wonderful stories--which actually created the entire traditional Regency genre--still be sold? Why would I hanker for a really good, eerie haunted house story, a la "The Haunting of Hill House," except with a happy ending and a romance (yet another genre which may not even exist, but should). If I hanker for such a thing, surely others do, too...
So, I have had a small taste of almost-success and it has validated my belief that e-publishers fill a niche and can be an avenue for something different. I hope I can finish my revisions and send the manuscript back and this lovely lady likes it. At least I know the story reached another human being, and she appreciated the things in in that were important to appreciate. She got me.
I'm not stupid, though. I know my big, NY-published friend doesn't believe in e-publishers, and most NY-published writers firmly believe that e-published writers are e-published because their stories weren't good enough to receive the capital investment required to be NY-published, but...well...so what? Fine. Be that way. The fact of the matter is, there are some niche genres which NY publishers will not publish regardless of how good the manuscript is. The story doesn't fit into their marketing scheme, and that's fine. I understand that, and I know that being e-published will not get me to the NY Times Bestseller list. But it will let me tell my story, the way the story should be told without a lot of extraneous elements, and at this point, that is more important to me. (I'm not talking about writing quality--in my specific case, remember this story netted me an agent--I'm talking about a manuscript without explicit sex and where the explicit sex added nothing to the story--but where the absence made it a "traditional Regency" and therefore unsellable to NY publishers who no longer publish traditional Regencies.)
For those interested in the minutiae, the temporary working title is: A Smuggled Rose. It used to be: Perchance to Dream, but that didn't have anything to do with the story, really, as my editor-to-be astutely pointed out. If the revisions go well, and the provisional contract turns into a real contract, I will post that success and anything I learn through this process.
If anyone else has a traditional Regency romance, horror-romance, or any other genre the NY publishing guys won't touch, I highly encourage you to resist turning your work into something it was never meant to be and try an e-publisher. You might not get rich and famous, or be on the NY Times Bestseller list. You might not even get bumped up to the next tax bracket, and in fact, you might not make enough to buy that new washer/dryer you need, but at least you will be able to tell your story the way it was meant to be told.
And after all, isn't that the point?
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Most of us, me included, want the next New York Times Bestseller like Allison Brennan, a new author who took the publishing industry by storm with three books slam, bam in a row. (Although she did have a number of manuscripts written--and rejected--before taking the industry by storm--so all you unpublished authors take heart and keep writing.) We want to be published by a traditional, brick-and-mortar New York publishing company because that standard has some meaning which no one can deny. It means your writing and your story are finally both good enough to make it into print--because it's a business and for a company to invest thousands of dollars in a new author, they need to have a pretty good idea that they are going to be able to actually sell that author's work. So it really is a standard we all hope to achieve. It is the dream of every writer.
And yet, only a very small percentage of writers ever make it into print with one of the traditional companies--including writers who have finished several manuscripts.
I wanted to make that point, because it's actually not the point of this article. I don't think writers who simply haven't worked hard enough at their craft to get published should read any further. This isn't about writing shlock and getting it published, just so you can "be published". This is for writers who are working hard at improving their craft. That may even have an agent and won some writing contracts, but who have just failed to catch an editor's attention--not because the work or story isn't good--but because they include some unusual element or because they chose not to include some element that simply did not fit into the framework of the story they were telling.
Right now, my agent is reviewing a manuscript before (I hope) attempting to sell it. My original concept for the story was a light-comedic mystery set in the late Regency period (1817) in England. There was also a romantic element. Well, no one wanted yet another historical mystery and certainly not a light one and somehow it got all twisted up and is now a historical romance with a slight mystery element.
But wait! If it's a romance, you HAVE TO HAVE S-E-X. That's right--now-a-days, there can be no historical romances without it, regardless of how much you protest that romance can actually be done without it. Not that I'm against it--I like "it" very much--but it didn't fit my story. And I tend not to read books (which is why I no longer read historical romances, because they've forgotten the romance part) with a lot of s-e-x because the author spends so much time priming the characters (longing glances and that sort of thing) for the s-e-x, then there's time spent on the actual s-e-x, and then all the time spent recovering from the s-e-x, and getting back to whatever story might exist, that I'm always left wondering: Where's the story? When are we going to get back to the story? If there's more than one s-e-x scene, about 90% of the story is priming, s-e-x, after-s-e-x, regretting the s-e-x, then re-priming to do it again, so there is correspondingly less time spent on any sort of an actual story. Unless, of course, that IS the story.
And I get really, really irritated with it because it's always the same pattern.
1) Priming - longing glances, great butts, thighs, whatever. Sheesh.
3) REGRET - why did I do that? Does he actually love me? He never said he loved me - omigod, what an idiot I am, I should-never-have-done-this. [If you can find one book that doesn't have this pattern, you will be doing very good.] The REGRET is there, because they have to have some reason/way to keep the woman and man apart until the end, and if they are already bonding and having s-e-x, then what is keeping them apart? It's gotta be regret/misunderstanding/fear-of-being-dumped-again. Double-sheesh.
4) Repeat until conflict is resolved. The end.
Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not against romance or s-e-x in books. My actual point is that there can be stories that don't fit this pattern.
Authors who write stories that, for example, are set in the Regency period and have a "romance" element, may run into difficulties selling the manuscript if the characters don't indulge in s-e-x. If this is an element that does not fit well within the framework of your story, you are at a decision point.
Are you willing to rewrite your story and twist your characters enough to fit the patterns expected by the publishing establishment?
I'm not proud - I HAVE rewritten my story to include the expected elements. I am waiting to hear if that makes a difference. However, I am also well aware that in doing what I did, I drastically changed my story and I'm a little less enthusiastic about it now. It is no longer what I set out to write.
So, if this rewrite was unsuccessful and it does not make any difference, than I have another decision point.
This is where non-traditional publishers may come into the mix. If my agent decides the story has run as far as it can go, then I will drop the idea of selling a line of historical mysteries with a romantic element to traditional publishers. I have four of them, and after doing a lot of soul searching, I have decided I really am not enthralled by the idea of trying to shoe-horn s-e-x into them because it changes the entire story. It reduces the room for the mystery because of the time it takes to do this things I mentioned above (priming, s-e-x, regret, etc). And it takes the joy out of the stories for me to twist them into something they are not. Of course, if my agent manages to sell the one I just finished editing, than I shall be more than happy to twist the others into anything necessary to sell them, too. Don't get me wrong. I want to be published--traditionally. I'll do whatever it takes.
We are looking, however, at what happens when a you realize you're heading in a different direction because you are so desperate to be published. Don't write stories you would not, yourself, read by choice just to fit a market. If your stories are good and your writing is flawless, but some elements just don't fit comfortably within the current marketplace, now may be the time to look at non-traditional publishing.
Not vanity publishing where you pay someone to produce your book. Under certain circumstances (family cookbooks, family histories, things like that) a vanity publisher is the way to go. But if you have written a work of fiction and it's good, but it doesn't fit comfortably in the framework used by brick-and-mortar publishers, you might try an e-publisher.
I, myself, have been rejected by three e-publishers because, guess what, they also have their elements they want to see--mostly s-e-x. Let's face it, if your story is about something other than that, but you think it has some sort of a romance or romantic element in it, you are going to have a really, really hard time selling it to ANY publisher. Most e-publishers make the majority of their money on erotica and/or very, very hot books. They publish the occasional book without that, but we're talking statistics now, and the fact of the matter is, most e-publishers are even more into "hot" than traditional publishers, although the gap is closing rapidly as traditional publishers start new lines of erotica and very hot stuff.
Nonetheless, you may still find that e-publishing offers you a way into the market when your work does not precisely fit these guidelines. Maybe. It hasn't worked for me (my three rejections all said the same thing--not sensual/hot enough) however I'm mentioning it because a lot of writers are creating manuscripts that are amazing works of imagination and creativity, and which deserve to be read, but do not fit into the categories used to define books in the publishing industry.
If your work is good, really good, then I encourage you to look at alternate methods of publication. The e-publishing industry is growing and over time, it may lose some of its current rigidity and be open to taking chances on creative work that offers something different, something unique. Because there is very little cost involved in producing an e-book, they may be more open to moving away from their "erotica/hot/sensual" roots. They may begin to offer more slots for alternative fiction that isn't quite so steamy. I do see some exploration into other categories of fiction beginning, although it still has a lot of the original, very sensual element in all categories, so far. I would say that this is set by the customer base, but as the world gets more "digital" this too may expand and it may offer other avenues for writers to explore.
For those of us who never fit well into traditional boxes, and who in fact have a real problem being told what to write (I am not always successful at suppressing my desire to say not just 'no' but 'hell, no and leave me alone'), this may be another way to get our stories out there. This is not to say we can't be flexible and accept criticism and new ideas - you must always be open to that - but you must also recognize that each story has a set of critical components which you cannot change without morphing the story itself. You must be ready to decide what you can, and cannot, change without losing the integrity of your story's vision.
I hope we will begin to see a little more freedom out there as the publishing industry expands to incorporate e-publishing and other non-traditional venues. All we can do is wait and see...and keep on writing.