Archive for the ‘publishing’ Category

I can hardly believe it was almost a year and a half ago that I first learned NAL would be publishing my debut novel LITTLE GALE GUMBO on October 4th, 2011. That date seemed a million days away. Now a million days has dwindled down to seven.

Having not had the experience of a book release before now, I’m not sure how the fever/fervor rates just yet–but I do know that I’ve been busy and I know you all have too. My blog subscriptions arrive in my inbox to taunt me of all your adventures and discoveries and I want you all to know I will be back to your wonderful blogs soon to catch up.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few tidbits here.

LITTLE GALE GUMBO got a very kind (and starred!) review from Library Journal. Thank you, Ms. Donohue!

To escape an abusive relationship, Camille Bergeron fled her beloved New Orleans in 1977 with her two teenage daughters, Dahlia and Josie, winding up on Little Gale Island off the coast of Maine—a place as geographically and culturally distant from their home as possible. Opening a Creole restaurant, the Bergerons soon win over the locals, becoming as much a part of the island’s culture as lobster fishing. Most important for Camille, she wins the heart of Ben Haskell, their landlord, who becomes a stable fixture in their lives. Yet Camille’s daughters remain scarred by the chaos of their early childhood. Dahlia vows she will never let a man hurt her as her father hurt her mother, and Josie maintains her idealism and romanticism despite the challenges of adulthood. When their father arrives on the island, bringing trouble with him, Dahlia and Josie, along with Ben’s son, Matthew, must come to terms with their pasts.
Verdict A debut like this doesn’t come along often—this is women’s fiction to be savored, just like a bowl of Camille’s delicious gumbo. And like gumbo, it’s the blend of ingredients that makes the difference. Marks’s combination of strong female characters, New Orleans culture, and light suspense is a winner.—Nanette Donohue, Champaign P.L., IL

If you haven’t been over to the Debutante Ball, stop on by this week–the subject is Banned Books Week and we’d love to hear from you. Today, my post explains how I didn’t know a bloody thing about the dreadful practice of book banning until I saw the movie Footloose in 1984.

I finally set up a website which will have more goodies in the days/weeks to come but I’d love to hear your thoughts in the meantime. I also added an excerpt from the book so you can get a “taste” of GUMBO, as it were.

Okay, so that’s enough about me right now. I’d really love to hear what you all have been up to, what projects, writing/reading/and otherwise, are landing or exiting your plate.

The floor is yours…

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Author blurbs.

We’ve all seen them on books, and maybe once or twice we’ve even been inspired to buy from a debut author because someone we love loved what they wrote.

Well, I’m about to become one of those debut authors looking for love.

Since LITTLE GALE GUMBO is on its way to production and talk of cover art is in the works, the next step in this journey is getting author blurbs, and I will admit, the prospect has me excited and nervous and, well, mulling over some inappropriate thoughts.

Two words: banana bread.

I’ll confess I’ve never considered the inclusion of gifts before on this road to publication–but how could I not now? When I already feel so fortunate to be on this journey, and then I get to hope that one of the authors I have loved for so long, who have been inspiration for me for the last 20+ years of my writing and submitting, that one of those authors will not only be willing to READ my book but also say something nice about it!? Tell me, how can I just ASK for that, empty-handed? How can I not deliver that request with a lifetime supply of banana bread? A sampler box of Zapp’s? A keg of egg nog? (Note to self: ask homebrewing hubby if such a thing is possible and get busy.)

OR…I suppose, I could just ask, with the utmost courtesy and professionalism, with humility, with gratitude, and maybe even a few loaves of reverence, like lots of debuting authors have done before me, and hope that maybe, just maybe, one day I’ll be fortunate enough to return the favor to someone else.

In the meantime, I can learn from others who’ve been doing it much longer and who have lots of great advice on the subject. This guest post from Nathan Bransford’s blog is tops. Thank you, Lauren Baratz-Logsted.

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It was so great to open the big blogosphere envelope this morning and read the fabulous news of a fellow blogger’s book deal–congratulations, Teresa!

My own publishing journey is likely gearing up for another burst of activity in the next few weeks as LITTLE GALE GUMBO is now on its way to production and I will see it again only to make any small needed changes (Thanks for asking, Karen!).

In the meantime, I am, as my posts have indicated, busy writing/editing/hoarding words on book number 2, all the while knowing that LGG’s release date of October 2011 SEEMS like a long way away, but there is much to be done to fill in the weeks between now and then (most of which will not involve copious amounts of homemade egg nog, surprisingly).

What always amazes me in the process of writing is how utterly dualistic the experience can be–like a love affair, it seems to know only extremes in the beginning–some days are: Weeee! I was BORN to write this book–we were made for each other! Then just as quickly, the next day comes: I don’t know who this book is! I can’t believe I ever loved this book–what was I THINKING?! Then the next day, you’re back in crazy mad love, the earlier hour’s crushing doubt washed blissfully away…

Exhausting, isn’t it? And then, oh and then…one day, the two ends of the spectrum seem to move closer together and there’s less of the doubt, less of the angst, and more of the joy, the confidence, the delight in the flow of your work, and that delight grows and grows and…Yeah, it’s awesome.

So—where are all of you in your literary love affairs at the moment?

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Lately there have been a lot of posts about self-promotion and the marketing responsibilities of the author before, during and after garnering a book deal. It’s a concept that’s thrilling, that’s exciting, and that’s, well, very, very daunting.

But is it true?

Should we really be worrying about establishing a website/blog even before we have an agent? A book deal? Readers?

I think we should–and here’s one reason why:

Do everything you can to light your reader's way to you--and keep them coming back.

As part of the materials I am responsible for delivering to my publisher, I was asked to fill out an author Q& A. I was not entirely surprised to find that several of the questions involved my own plans/ideas for marketing. Did I have a website/blog/both? Did I know of any specialty markets that might be suitable to my book, or have any ideas for publicity angles that could enhance my book’s appeal/broaden my audience?

I’ll be the first to admit, these are questions that I might have previously assumed were designed for the author of a non-fiction book with the all-important platform. Now it’s certainly possible that the publisher uses this same form for their non-fiction authors, but I think the better point is that ALL authors of ALL genres should be dressing their hat racks with marketing caps and wearing them frequently.

I recently read an article about Erica Bauermeister’s success in cross-marketing with her successful novel, The School of Essential Ingredients, wherein she explained how accessing cooking blogs and cooking schools proved to be a wonderful way to connect with readers, since her book has a cooking-based plot.

There’s no question that the subject matter of food is perhaps a more straight-forward subject to cross-market with than others, but in this day and age, I have to believe that every subject has an opportunity to draw an untapped audience. The point is establishing your web voice (now that you’ve spent years establishing your writing voice, right?) and shouting it from the rooftops.

Will not having a website/blog before you query agents put you at a disadvantage? Based on my experience, no. I began my blog within days after my offer, but I am glad I did. Most of all because I am delighted to be in the company of so many other writers and readers who enjoy sharing their passion for stories (and, oh yes, food and drink and all-around merriment) as much as I do.

So what does everyone think about all this author-as-marketer business? Excited? Terrified? Undecided?

Dear readers, do you “follow” your favorite authors on Twitter or “friend them” on Facebook, or do you find that whole business on the windy side of foolish?

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Last night my writing critique group got together for the first time (we’re an on-line group) and one of the topics of the evening was to establish goals for the next year, specifically what we hoped to glean from the group for ourselves as writers. The answers were diverse and when I said that I had never belonged previously a writing critique group, all were shocked. One of our members said that he was particularly surprised because he was always under the impression that writers require feedback from a community in order to grow and sustain their writing. I have to admit, I always thought the opposite of writing. For me it has always been a truly solitary experience.

Now don’t misunderstand, I very much love talking about the craft with others, VERY MUCH, but in terms of working on my craft, I always considered the evolution an intensely individual experience. And until our host had posed that perspective, I had never thought of it otherwise. I gleaned instruction by reading the works of other authors, reading articles written by editors and authors on shaping everything from plot to dialog. I read and I wrote. I read and I wrote. But until I submitted a deeply revised manuscript to an agent in a query, I rarely showed.

What about all of you? What do you want from a writer’s group? Mentors on your craft, or friends with whom you can share the joys and frustrations of writing, or maybe even both?

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(This post is for junebugger–thanks for asking, June!)

When I first started writing romance novels in the early 90’s, I was still in college and didn’t know anything about trying to get published, only that I wanted to. Very much. So I sought the advice of books (please note the distinct lack of references to internet for these first few paragraphs) and found a listing of houses that accepted unsolicited manuscripts, though I don’t think they even called them that then; it was so common to send something in without representation.

I quickly amassed a collection of personalized rejections from Avon, Harlequin, Silhouette and others. I kept every last one and suggest everyone do the same (digitally or in hard-copy), particularly those responses that offer even a whisper of advice.

More romance manuscripts followed (Victorian, Vikings, Antebellum!) as did more rejections, bu more and more the responses were offering personalized critiques (I know! Can you imagine!?)–sometimes even full page line edits or the request to send the next manuscript.

But after several more years of writing romances and still not finding representation, I decided to switch gears and wrote a horror story about a female executive who is bitten by a wolf on vacation and subsequently finds her world turned upside down when she realizes she’s turning into a…Yes. That.

I queried the manuscript, sending it out to agents, some familiar and some not (it was a different genre, after all) and within a few weeks, I received a phone call from an agent who was very interested in the book and wanted to meet. (I was living in NYC at the time –otherwise, we surely would have simply talked on the phone as most do now). At the meeting, she had complimentary things to say about my writing, but was concerned about the plotting of the novel. We agreed that I would revise the story with an eye towards representation. It was a tremendous opportunity and this agent was incredibly generous and so lovely to work with. When the story still didn’t come together after another draft, she offered me the chance to propose a series of storylines to her which I did, but when life stepped in a few months later and I had to leave the city for personal reasons, my writing took a backseat. This agent was beyond gracious and I will be forever grateful for her.

In the years that followed, I wrote sporadically but didn’t complete a manuscript. I kept notes on story ideas and even jotted down a few proposals. I moved a fair amount and finally landed in New Orleans in the summer of 2002 to get my masters in Historic Preservation at Tulane’s School of Architecture. There I fell in love–first with the city and then with my husband Ian a few months later. Ian encouraged me to get back into my writing and I began a new novel about a shrimper’s wife who finds herself unwittingly involved in the disappearance of a graduate student on the eve of a catastrophic hurricane. That was the summer of 2005. Katrina made landfall two months later.

When Ian and I left New Orleans (we stayed through the storm with four dogs) and made our way to Maine to stay with my family, writing was the last thing on my mind. Yet as we began to put the pieces of our world back together, I found myself drawn to the story I’d started and finished my manuscript within a year. I queried widely and received a few requests for fulls but still no offer of representation came.

Two years later, after a move to Indiana where my husband had accepted a job teaching biology at a boarding school, I wrote a manuscript about four faculty wives (hmm, wonder where that inspiration came from…?) who find themselves at crossroads in their lives. It caught the interest of an agent and, after a few revisions, he agreed to represent it. (The project, not me–an important distinction I would learn later on.) We reworked the manuscript for THE CRYING ROOM, he submitted it to many editors but ultimately, no takers. I assumed we would revise it and send it out for another round of submissions, but he declined. I was crushed, but grateful for the experience and his expertise.

Eager to get back on the horse (not so dissimilar to rebound dating after being, well, dumped), I fired off a novel that was essentially a piece of women’s fiction with a male protagonist. In STILL, MARTIN, my rumpled, far-too-sensitive-for-his-own-good hero heads off to Europe to take his honeymoon after his fiancee leaves him the night before their wedding. (If you think that sounds ill-advised and unconvincing, yeah, you’re not alone.)

So after some soul (and genre) searching, I realized my writing heart was in women’s fiction, where it had always been, so I set about writing what would become LITTLE GALE GUMBO.

Now before this novel, I’d had the good fortune to connect with a wonderful agent who worked at a large agency. Ever since responding to a query of mine years before, she’d agreed to see my follow up manuscripts, and even granted me a second look after a revision of one, but the projects had never been right. So when I asked her if she would consider LITTLE GALE GUMBO, this agent was as generous as always. After reading it, she said she saw great potential but that she simply couldn’t take on another client at that time, but (and this is one of those GOOD “buts” in a query response) she knew another agent who was looking for women’s fiction projects named Rebecca Gradinger. She had already forwarded the book to her, and Rebecca was intrigued. I was beyond thrilled.

Rebecca called a few days later. She and I clicked at once. I loved her sense about the book, her ideas for revising it and making it stronger, so I agreed to do a substantial revision, again with an eye toward representation. Within a few months, I had a new draft and Rebecca and I made it official. Best of all, Rebecca said she wanted to help me build my writing career, that the offer for representation wasn’t just for LITTLE GALE GUMBO, but for future books.

We tweaked and tweaked until we had a draft we both felt tremendously good about, a draft that had little resemblance to the manuscript I’d first discussed with her almost a year and a half before. Rebecca sent the book out. Then, just months away from my fortieth birthday, NAL made an offer for a two book deal for LITTLE GALE GUMBO.

(Now if I could just make two decent batches of pralines in a row.)

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Did anyone see their new nest? It must have been built by a Dodo!

It’s a simple fact: We’re all critics, and we’re all critiqued.

I’m not just talking about critiques of our writing. I’m talking about reviews of our fashion choices, our parenting, our politics, our partners; everything that we are, everything we do, is fodder for critique.

And we all do it. Come on now, admit it. The woman in the shiny Lexus SUV who almost took out your limping 1997 CRV because she was texting through a busy parking lot this morning? Yeah, you bet I critiqued her.

Of course we’re all entitled to our opinions. Absolutely. It makes us who we are and makes the world a thrillingly diverse place. But at what point does criticism cross a line between disagreement and unwarranted disdain?

I think you all know where I’m going with this. Think Amazon reviews.

Now I should admit I have never written one, and when I read them, it is usually after the fact, if I’m curious as to whether another reader shared my admiration or confusion over a book’s plot point, ending choice, etc. But what boggles my mind is the excessive amount of unproductive criticism that is out there for books. (It’s out there for just about everything, I know, but I’ll keep this relevant to writing for now.)

For example, I’ve read Amazon reader reviews that suggested Pat Conroy can’t write. Now come on, stop it. Just stop it. I mean, seriously, who can write that with a straight face? You can say Conroy’s stories are often built on tough subject matter that you don’t enjoy reading about, or that his characters are sometimes fiercely unlikable and make choices that infuriate you. But I’m sorry–you simply cannot say the man can’t write. Now admittedly, I’m biased. I’m a huge fan. I think his prose is heartbreakingly beautiful. But telling me and the rest of the reading public that an established author can’t write is not only not true, it’s not helpful.

So of course this realization has made me consider how I’ll take my own share of disgruntled readers to my debut novel when it comes out next year. Will I be tough enough to take the reviews with the necessary grains of salt (on the rim of my consolatory margarita?), or will I find myself wracked with self-doubt? It’s easy to blow off harsh criticism of another writer’s work–but what about when it’s mine?

I remember very vividly as a young girl that the very whisper of criticism sent me down the rabbit hole of despair. No matter how gentle or how faint. No matter if delivered with a no-bake cookie or a glowing smile. I. Was. Crushed.

Then, something happened. I grew up and began to take criticism..well, well.

Maybe it was my college art professor who took one look at my still life of a paper bag and declared to the rest of the class that my highlighting resembled “pigeon shit”. Okay, I thought. So it looked like pigeon shit. I didn’t sputter a defense, I didn’t wilt. I nodded, I might have even smiled. It was a review. There’d be a lifetime of them. Better get used to them if I wanted to put my work out there.

And I did, repeatedly. Query after query of work. And I won’t lie and say the rejections didn’t sting, or that it got easier to kick myself out of my own pity party when everyone else had gone home, but for those of us who put ourselves out there, for that date, that job, that manuscript, we don’t have a choice.

Nowadays I crave reviews of my writing. When my editor has notes on a draft, I can’t wait to hear them. I mean it. I see every review, every constructive piece of criticism as an opportunity to grow as a writer. And I love it. I really, really do.

So tell me how tough you think you are when it comes to criticism of your work? Have you ever written a harsh review of a book? What was the first time you realized constructive criticism could actually be GOOD for a person?

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When I first began querying agents and editors in the 90’s (Yes, it’s true–years ago, in certain genres, you could submit unsolicited manuscripts to publishing houses, AND, even more amazing, expect and receive lovely, personalized responses!), I was writing romance novels and I used something called the Romance Writer’s Pink Pages in my quest for publication. It quickly became my handbook, my bible. I highlighted the heck out of it, folded over page corners two and three times, scribbled in the margins and underlined, underlined, underlined.

By the time I had finished my fifth manuscript, I had almost memorized the exhaustive list of agents and editors that filled its petal pink pages. I had amassed (and still proudly own) many, many replies, almost all of which were typed or hand-written on letterhead. Some were for partial requests, more were gentle rejections, some even from a few incredibly generous agents who gave me pages (that’s not a typo) of notes, even though they didn’t plan to offer representation.

But with the dawn of email, the game changed a bit. Well, at least the field did, but not the rules. Whether writing to an agent using a typewriter and a SASE, or sending off an email, the basics of query-writing have remained the same  through the years and the changing technology. And out of all the query-writing tips that so many other agents, editors and writers have put more eloquently than I will have here, these five have stood out the strongest for me.

1. Keep the query simple. In the old days of hard-copy, it was obvious if your query ran longer than a page, but some might think that email allows for more wiggle-room. Don’t let it. A page is a suitable length for a query and forces you to keep your pitch short and tidy. Always include word count and genre, and cut to the chase as cleanly and fast as you can. You want to entice your reader right away. This isn’t a first date. Feel free to open the closet and let the skeletons fall out as quickly as possible.

Wicked cute picture of tiny frog found nestled in a lily, isn't it? Too bad it has absolutely nothing to do with this post.

2. Make the query about the book. An agent isn’t particularly interested in how old you are, where you live, or how many instruments you play. Unless any of those facts are needed to give credibility to your story’s pitch, leave them out. For now, your product is your book. Focus on that.

3. Know your recipient. There’s no question that the internet makes it easier to learn about an agent’s tastes, and yet we read over and over about how agents are inundated with queries for genres they don’t represent. There’s no reason for it. Maybe you think your novel is so amazing that it will be the one to change an agent’s tastes. Doubtful. In the old days, you might not have dreamed of wasting a stamp on a “what the hey” pitch, but with email, a click is free. But before you click away, keep in mind that agents remember pitches, and why take the chance of looking uniformed when you might actually end up writing a novel that does fit within that agent’s tastes down the road?

4. Keep track of your submissions. And I don’t just mean a checklist, I mean notes. If you plan to write and submit more than one book, always keep a record of which agents requested a partial or full. It is perfectly acceptable, and highly encouraged, to make mention of this in another query for a different book; ie, You kindly reviewed my last manuscript, LOVING LOBSTER, and now I’d like to offer my most recent novel, THE LAST CRAB, for your consideration. Agents have good, good memories, and will usually remember work they wanted to see more of.

5. Be courteous. Agents and editors are as crazy busy as the rest of us. Always take the space to thank them for their consideration and be patient for their reply. Out of office replies are not an invitation to converse further. And as much as we are disappointed by a no, it’s never good form to follow up a rejection with a request for why the agent didn’t want to offer representation. Move on. Query on.

Now your turn: What tip or tips for query-writing have served you the best over the years?

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So, you finally heard back from the agent who has had your partial or your full. You open the email/letter with your heart in your throat. Your eyes dash over the response, catching every other word, hoping to glean the real message as quickly as possible. When you do, your brow furrows. It’s not a no, but…well, it’s not a yes, either.

So what is it?
It’s the mysterious revise and resubmit request.

When I read junebugger’s post today, I was reminded of this often-frustrating but usually-encouraging happening in the world of writing and publishing. So what to do when an agent requests a revision of your manuscript and then offers a second look?
Better yet, what to think?

Let’s look first at the second question: What to think? The first answer is think good thoughts. Agents are busier than ever these days, and inundated with more material than ever. They aren’t offering you ways to possibly improve your manuscript as well as the chance to reconsider it just to be nice.  They are doing it because they genuinely believe there is potential in your work.

So if they believe there’s potential, why not just offer representation outright? Well, an agent-writer relationship is just that: a relationship. Your agent has to know that she/he can work with you, not just your written words. Are you easy to work with? Will you respond professionally, in your dealings with the agent, with potential editors/publishers, with the reading public? Can you meet deadlines? And maybe most of all, how well do you take reviews of your manuscript and subsequent requests for changes?

So when you get that wonderful offer to revise and resubmit, don’t despair. Sure, we all want the offer for representation–that’s the goal–but keep in mind the road to representation (and the road to publication in general) is winding and bumpy and never, ever straight. It’s not a yes, but it’s not a no, either.

So if  the agent’s recommendations for your manuscript make sense to you and are ones you are comfortable making, then by all means, revise and resubmit. And even if the results still don’t garner the offer, always remember that most agents have remarkable memories for material and writers who piqued their interest. A courteous and professional exchange goes a long way down that winding, bumpy road.

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We all know that the drill for manuscript formatting for submitting to agents and editors. There is a correct font (Times New Roman) and a correct size (12). We know about reasonable margins, and double-spaced pages.

But what about the more nebulous formatting issues of a novel? When I was writing LITTLE GALE GUMBO, a story that moves between the past and the present, I struggled with how to distinguish the chapters and scenes. Should I number my chapters, or just leave them without headings? Should I divide my book into parts, and if so, should I label them? Or what about the chapters that move from past to present–how should I title them, with dates and place, or neither? I didn’t want my readers to find themselves confused, but I also didn’t want to burden them with too much information–it’s a novel, not a screenplay, right?

Confounded, I thumbed through favorite novels as references, and discovered a variety of solutions, but it seemed there was little consistency in them. Like many things in writing, it seems rules can’t always apply. But there’s no question that these seemingly minor points of a novel are as crucial to the tone and pacing of the book as any other.

So for those of you who found yourselves flummoxed by how to separate and/or label the pieces of your story, what solutions did you come up with? And what did you use as reference/inspiration?

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