To Con or Not To Con

If you’re a writer and you take your art seriously, you want to do whatever you can do to learn or improve your craft. Let’s face it, there are a gazillion writers who publish uncrafted novels which aren’t ready for consumption, and, unfortunately, they usually sell three copies to friends and family. If you want the greatest possibility to be a successful (however you define that for yourself) author, you have to put your best possible product out there. The book must (usually) fit within the standards of the genre (because it has to be marketed by someone, and booksellers need to know where to put it on a shelf), and absolutely must be as polished as possible. Then, and only then should it be pitched (if the author wants to go the traditional publishing route), or be considered for self-publishing (NOTE: if self-publishing there are many more steps that you need to undertake before you click the submit button).

These are craft issues. Most fiction writers don’t have an MFA and it isn’t necessary to obtain a degree of any kind to be a writer. Writing the story is an artist’s passion, or a hobby for some who improve their craft on weekends. And sometimes it is just an idea that someone has who has always wanted to write a book. Regardless, it is necessary to get some educational foundation of the craft of writing. Some writers are able to get that much-needed foundation from books and can use those books to help them create the solid structure necessary on which to hang their plot and characters. There are some very good books that explain how each character needs their own goals and motivations, and how stories are built on conflict. It is possible to learn how to write dialogue, how to create a scene, and how to create just about every aspect of the novel from the pages of writing craft books. It takes time to read all of these books (I’ve not seen one book that teaches it all), and consistent dedication for the writer to translate from what they have read in the book to what they will write on the page.

There is another route. You could  go to a writers conference. But, do be ready to be immersed in all things writing while surrounded by a jillion other excited people soaking up that same information. I personally find writers conferences a great way to soak in information AND make great connections with other writers. It is also a great opportunity to get quality feedback on your work in progress. I also admit to needing a nap afterword.

Do not take it for granted that all writers conferences are the same. They vary based on price and content, as well as quality. Also, be aware that a convention isn’t the same as a conference and you will need due diligence to find the best fit for you. I have been to my fair share of writers conferences and have been both wowed and ho-hummed. And I admit that I am biased, but I do truly believe that the best writers conference in the United States is Colorado Gold, which is hosted by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Colorado Gold has workshops for writers of all levels (beginner, intermediate, and professional) and a wide array of topics on craft and business. Because RMFW is a non-profit educational organization, the conference is very affordable, especially when compared to some other for-profit conferences. It is also a really great group of people who are passionate about helping everyone learn and be successful. If you can only afford one conference this year, I recommend that you attend Colorado Gold.

There are myriad other conferences if you can’t get to Denver in September. One of the best resources I’ve found for finding quality conferences is the AWP directory which has a searchable comprehensive list of writers conferences as well as writing programs and retreats. There is still no guarantee each listing will be the right conference for you, but with a little effort you should be able to research your choice and make an educated decision.

Whether you choose to improve your craft by reading books or you choose to go to a writers conference, do something to improve your skill and your craft so you can be the polished artist that you want to be.

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Interview with Award Winning Author Desiree Holt

Desiree Holt is a force of nature. She has written over 170 traditionally published novels since 2006, she is a tireless supporter of other writers, and is insatiably charming. I am privileged to have had opportunity to work with her on past projects, and delighted to have this opportunity to interview her today.

Hi Desiree!

Thanks so much for hosting me on your blog today. I am really looking forward to Colorado Gold and meeting every one attending. And honored to be a presenter.

You have done just about every job imaginable. Tell me about your decision to become a writer.

Writing was always my passion, I think because I have always been a reader and wanted to create my own stories. My friends have always told me I have an overactive imagination. (Grin!). I scribbled in notebooks for years before computers were born, but I wasn’t able to devote the time to it until I retired. Then it was kind of like my brain exploded!

You started writing in 2006. Since then you’ve traditionally published over 170 novels. That is something like seventeen novels a year. HOW DO YOU DO THAT?

I am blessed with the quirky ability to write fast. A story takes shape in my brain (which, by the way, NEVER sleeps), and I can’t seem to get the words down fast enough. I never lack for ideas. Also, I write about eight hours a day.

Tell me about your writing process. Are you a plotter or a panster?

I used t be just a pantser because my stories are character-driven. I create the characters first from ideas that have sparked in my brain. Then I play the What If game. What If my heroine did such and such and my hero popped into the picture? What if my hero did such and such and stumbled over the heroine. That kind of thing. But as my writing has progressed two things have made me alter that. First of all, I often have more than one project going at a time. Secondly, I do a lot of series and the only way I can keep things straight is to have at least a bare outline of a plot to follow. Of course, as I get into the story my characters talk to me and we often take major detours.

So you always come up with the characters first?

Characters first. People fascinate me and I always try to imagine stories for them. And as I progress through the story, they talk to me, often taking me on journeys I never expected.

How did you go about learning the craft when you first started writing?

I had no idea how little I actually knew until I joined a writers group and ultimately a critique group. At least half of them were published authors and I am ever grateful for their guidance and input. I also entered a lot of writing contests through RWA and soaked up all the feedback.

What do you feel is the most important craft element for aspiring writers to master?

Discipline and determination. If you really want to be a writer you cannot let disappointment discourage you. The second is to learn the basics of a story: goal/motivation/conflict. Stick to it until you can make it work.

How many manuscripts had you completed before you sold your first book?

I had five full length manuscripts completed before I made my first sale after 137 rejections. See what I mean about not getting discouraged?

What is the best advice you can give someone wanting to publish?

Write and keep writing, and do everything you can to learn about what makes a saleable manuscript. The market is so different today than it was when I started and with the explosion of self-pubbing there are so many choices for readers. Join writers groups. Talk to people. Learn what makes the industry tick today.

What is the easiest thing and the most difficult thing for you when it comes to writing.

The easiest is creating my characters. The hardest is writing that first chapter. It sets the tone for the story and grabs the reader so I work hard to get it just right.

What is the most surprising thing you learned about the publishing industry over the years?

Wow. Hard to say.

How much marketing do you do for your books? What kind of marketing has given you the best results?

I do a fair amount of marketing along with what my publishers do. I am very big on social media, which has produced great results for me. But of course like anything else you have to have a plan. I am lucky that I have a personal assistant who does a lot of it for me. I do some advertising, along with what my publishers do. And I take full advantage of a very enthusiastic street team.

Which book that you have written is your favorite?

Hmmm. Actually, I have three favorites that I can’t seem to choose between. All completely different. First is a novella, Once Upon a Wedding that has a great twist to it. Second is a novella called Hard Lovin’, based on a 16th century Scottish air and brought forward into modern day Texas. It is being re-released at the end of May with new material and a hot new cover. My Naked Cowboys series because it’s set in a town like the one where I live. And finally my rock star series, because it takes me back to the years I spent in the music business. But I think my new favorite will be my football series, Game On, because I am the world’s most obsessed football fan.

What do you read? Any favorite authors?

I mostly read romance, romantic suspense and thrillers. I have so many favorite authors it’s hard to choose who to name but for romance Marie Force, Carly Phillips, Robyn Carr. For romantic suspense/suspense probably Tess Gerritsen, J. D. Robb (Nora Roberts), Debra Webb. Beyond that John Lescroart, Brad Thor, John Sandford, Jeffrey Deaver, Lisa Jackson.

Desiree, thanks for your time! I know you are a busy lady!

 

Desiree Holt

Referred to by USA Today (interview) as the Nora Roberts of erotic romance, Desiree Holt is the world’s oldest living published erotic romance author with over 170 published works. A graduate of the University of Michigan with double majors in English and History, her earlier careers include agent and manager in the music industry, public television, associate vice president of university advancement, public relations, and economic development.

She is three times a finalist for an EPIC E-Book Award (and a winner in 2014), a nominee for a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, winner of the first 5 Heart Sweetheart of the Year Award at The Romance Studio as well as twice a CAPA Award winner for best BDSM book of the year, and winner of the Holt Medallion for Excellence in Romance Literature.

She has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning and in The Village Voice, The Daily Beast,USA Today, The (London) Daily Mail, The New Delhi Times, The Huffington Post and numerous other national and international publications. She is also the Authors After Dark 2014 Author of the Year.

“Desiree Holt is the most amazing erotica author of our time and each story is more fulfilling then the last.” (Romance Junkies)

Huffington Post Article

US News and World Report Article

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Call for Submissions

Literary Wanderlust seeks to publish an anthology of short stories (maximum 2,500 words per story) from both emerging and established writers. Submit original unpublished works.

The theme is food and sex. The need for food and sex is encoded in our DNA. Eating is not just a sensory reaction to taste but a necessity for life. Sex is not just a physical exercise but an urgency of the soul. When the two collide with joyous abandon the results are inexplicable ecstasy. Food play should be an integral part of the story.

Deadline: May 30, 2015. Send to: submissions@literarywanderlust.com

 

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Editing and Other Adventures: semicolon

I’ve had many submissions in the slush pile this week. Several submissions were inundated with the overabundant and erroneous usage of the semicolon. For clarity’s sake, let me state that I am not specifically semicolon adverse, though I do believe the usage is somewhat archaic in modern writing, especially in mass market fiction. My primary issue with the semicolon is I acquire books for publishing houses that frown upon semicolon usage as part of house style. The manuscript and the publisher have to be a good fit, and part of that process is recognizing the amount of work required to make the manuscript polished and ready to go to press. Wrong semicolon usage indicates sloppy writing, which indicates a greater amount of editing time, which indicates a greater cost to get the book to market, which indicates a greater potential for rejection. Sometimes publishing realities are hard.

First off, this is a semicolon    ;

Semicolons are used to link two separate thoughts or ideas which are similar. Each thought or idea should be its own complete sentence. I underlined the word “complete” because semicolons do not link sentence fragments  or link independent clauses to dependent clauses.

Here are some examples:

CORRECT:  John ate lunch; the lunch was great.

CORRECT:  John’s lunch was made with several spices; the fish was sprinkled with tarragon.

INCORRECT:  John ate lunch; Sarah is coming over.  (unrelated thoughts or ideas)

INCORRECT:  I like to eat lunch out on the patio; and I can’t stand to eat in the kitchen.

It might be helpful to read your sentence out loud so you can hear it. If you say, “And I can’t stand to eat in the kitchen,” you ideally would be able to hear that this is not a complete sentence. It has that extra “and,” making the above example incorrect. You probably should delete the “and.”  You really should.

Some writers use semicolons to adjust the flow of their writing to create a specific pace. Using a period in place of the semicolon would result in short, choppy sentences and would alter the pace or flow of the text. This is fine. If used correctly, and minimally, a semicolon can be a very effective pause that keeps the pace of a novel moving. But, if the semicolon would be better replaced by a comma or period, then consider using a comma or period.

It also might be helpful, especially if you are a serial semicoloner, to do a search [CTRL+F] for the semicolon. The search feature will give you the total number of semicolons in your document. If you have only a few, then the semicolon use is much less of a concern. But, say you have more than a few. Say you have 50 in a 250 page manuscript. Say you have 25. In that case let me encourage you to look at each and every semicolon. Make sure the usage is correct if you are going to keep any of them. If you do have 25 or 50 let me encourage you not to keep the majority them. Let me also encourage you to consider making these revision changes before you click on the submit button and send your manuscript off to an agent, editor, or publisher. The more polished your manuscript, the easier it is to get to market.

 

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Editing and Other Adventures: hyphens

I’ve been out of the blogosphere for a year or so finishing up a degree in publishing, being inundated with editing projects, and starting Literary Wanderlust, a traditional (print and digital) publishing house. The excuse for my absence is only that these projects and classes took so much time, focus, and effort that I could do little else. I am pleased to have crossed the hurdles I set for myself, and I joyfully look forward to new literary adventures. I hope you will join me as I meander through the myriad topics that that both writers and editors explore, and also as I make effort to return to a regular blogging routine. I’ve missed you!

I have read, content edited, proofed, formatted, accepted, and rejected many manuscripts over the last year, and I consistently see the same issues and errors on the pages submitted to me. I thought I would address these issues in a series of blog posts written to keep some of the grammar fresh in my mind and also to help my fellow writers polish their work.  I promise you, it matters that your manuscript is as perfect as you can make it before you send it off to that agent or editor, and especially before you independently publish.

Punctuation may seem like an unimportant issue for a writer to contend with, but I have personally watched with amazement as a publishing house turned down a manuscript ONLY because it would take too much time and effort to fix the punctuation and formatting issues. The publishing house deemed the manuscript not worth the expense to polish it. It was a fairly decent story, so the rejection was dismal. Publishing has changed, and publishers no longer have the staff or budget to make some projects feasible. It is a sad fact of life.

So let’s talk about hyphens.

Hyphens are not interchangeable with dashes.

Hyphens do not have a space around them.

The purpose of a hyphen is to joins words or to separate syllables of a single word.

Here are some examples:

INCORRECT:            This is a low—budget job.

INCORRECT:            This is a low – budget job.

CORRECT:                 This is a low-budget job.

The first example is actually an em dash, which is three times as long as a hyphen and is used for other purposes.

The second example is a hyphen that has spaces around it. No spaces. Nope. None.

The third example shows the correct usage of the hyphen, which combines the two adjectives that modify the noun.

So, one step at a time, one punctuation mark at a time, and soon we all will be perfect grammarians. Well, I will still have to look things up, but you will be a perfect grammarian! But, if in doubt, always look it up. I personally like the Chicago Manual of Style and Grammar Girl and use both resources often. I find both of these sites easy to use and helpful when editing and writing. Or if all else fails, do a Google search.

When you discover that you have used the hyphen, or any punctuation or spelling incorrectly in your work, you can do a find and replace text. I often use Alt codes to replace misused punctuation because the Alt codes ensures that I am using the same character throughout the manuscript. Alt+45 is the code for the hyphen. I click on Find, then type a space, Alt+45, space, and then click on Replace and type Alt+45. This trick removes all the spaces around the hyphen. You can also use the Find and Replace to change your em dashes to hyphens if necessary.

I hope this little journey into hyphens was helpful. Now go forth and write!

 

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hyphenated non-hyphenated image

 

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Social Media Advertising for Publishers and Independent Authors

Advertising on social media helps you to build your audience and also gives your products more exposure. With the huge amount content published each year, it can be difficult for your audience to discover your products among the myriad other products fighting for their attention.

As you build your brand, you also build your credibility and reputation online. The increased exposure draws more individuals to your website so you sell your products. Also, because of the available statistics on some social media platforms, you can quickly determine which marketing techniques and social media platforms work best for your particular audience.

It is important however, to weigh the possible increase in website traffic and brand building with the time and financial commitments required to successfully achieve these goals. If you are not consistent with managing your social media accounts you will not improve your bottom line, and will expend a great amount of time without benefit.

Before you consider which social media platform is best for your company or products, it is important to consider your marketing budget. The small business administration recommends a marketing budget of 7-8% of your overall budget allocated toward marketing. This allocation should be split between developmental costs including website and blogs, and promotional costs which are actual costs for advertising.  Independent authors should carefully consider these costs in their publishing budget and include them along with professional editing costs, a obtaining a professionally created book cover. independent authors should absolutely consider themselves as a business

If you chose to promote your business using social media, it is  imperative that you create a social media strategy and commit to a regular social media posting schedule for best results.

Facebook is an online social networking site that allows individuals to keep up to date on the events of their friends’ daily lives, and allows companies to develop a strong following of fans.

The first step in advertising on Facebook is to build your page. Use your logo or other unique cover photo and begin posting information that your audience will find relevant or interesting. Post regularly and on a consistent basis to keep your information available to your followers.

While there is no exact amount of material that should be posted each day, or each week, it is important to note that typically if you post fewer than two posts per week you will not engage your audience enough for them to maintain a social media connection with  you, and you will lose engagement. The ideal number of posts per week is between five and ten times. This requires a significant time commitment and the ability to come up with interesting and relevant posts and topics of discussion.

The next step is to connect to your fans and potential fans with ads. It is recommended that you create multiple ads to help build your audience. Use available targeting options so that you are showing your ads only to people who would be interested in your product through targeted marketing. As data becomes available you will be able to see which version of your ads work best. It is important to carefully design your ad since they will show up on the walls of your target audience.

The cost of advertising on Facebook is flexible. You have the option of choosing a daily or total overall budget, as well as a cost per click option where you will only pay for the clicks or impressions you receive, up to the maximum amount you set as your budget. You also have the ability to view the cost of your ads in real time from Facebook’s ads manager. This can be a low cost, effective way to advertise.

Vine is a mobile app owned by Twitter that enables users to create and post short looping video clips. These short (six second) looping videos are viewable on Twitter’s timeline or can be embedded into a web page. Posting short video clips on Vine can potentially create interest in your products and drive traffic to your website. These posts also link back to your website and improve your search rankings.

There are some downsides to Vine. For example, it can’t access your Facebook friends so it can’t automatically connect you to those followers who area also on Vine. Vine also has no social sharing buttons, and there is no way to share directly to other popular social networks like Tumblr. Vine may be useful for your bottom line, but be selective about what social media sites you are using to ensure you get the biggest bang for your marketing time and budget. Creating a social media platform for marketing is a substantial time commitment.

YouTube is a video sharing website and there are a couple ways to use YouTube for advertising. You can create your own channel and upload relevant videos about your products, or interviews about your products, or create creative and interesting videos that you believe people will like, but these may not be specifically designed as advertising. Your goal is to create dynamic videos that people will like in order to drive traffic to your website. These videos can help you build a following, especially as people subscribe to your channel. YouTube videos do have the potential of going viral but there is no secret formula to make this happen. All you can do is make the best possible video.

The other way to advertise on YouTube is to create actual video advertising specifically designed for one of  your products. Once the video is created, you upload it to YouTube, then create a Google AdWords account since YouTube video ads are powered by Google. YouTube then targets your ad by placing with other videos that are being watched by your targeted audience. You only pay a fee when people watch your video so you don’t waste money advertising to people who aren’t interested. The pricing policy is the same as Google AdWords.

You do have the ability to target your audience since YouTube tracks their users with Google (and we all know that Google know everything about you; what you like to eat, what you read, what you watch on TV, if you want to go on a diet, etc…). You can specify that you want to reach men aged 18-34 in Boston who enjoy travel and only those individuals who match that criteria will see your advertisement. This targeted marketing potentially may boost sales and drive traffic to your website.

Instagram is a photo sharing site that also allows you to share photos with Flickr, Facebook and Twitter. However, Instagram is not yet ready to expand their advertising to allow additional marketing. There may be better platform options available to you that you may wish to consider.

Pinterest is like an online bulletin board. You add items, images, text, which help you collect ideas on specific projects. Many people use Pinterest when they are browsing online and don’t want to forget what they have seen. Pinterest allows you to pin these items to your bulletin board. People can follow your account and you can follow theirs.

Pinterest is currently experimenting with promoting pins, but this concept of advertising is not yet available. This means that Pinterest’s main purpose for advertising is to promote your brand and product by getting followers rather than using targeted marketing. You would need to create an account and pin information about your company and products to your account. This is a way to drive customers to your website and hopefully make a sale.  Pinterest is another social media option available which will allow new customers to discover your products.

Twitter is a social media networking and microblogging site that allows users to send and read short 140-character text messages, pictures, links, and videos.  There are a few ways to use Twitter. You can regularly send out interesting tweets about your products. If people find your tweets interesting they may follow you to receive regular updates. This potentially could drive traffic to your website and generate sales.

Another way to advertise on Twitter is to sign up for Twitter Ads. You create an account, set a budget, and only pay when people follow your promoted account or retweet, reply, favorite or click on your promoted tweets. Twitter then tweets your ads to a targeted audience based on metadata.  There are some marketing campaigns that have been successful, but keep in mind that gathering followers, and consistently tweeting to keep those followers requires a regular schedule and time commitment.

There are apps that tie your social media accounts together, and these allows you to generate one piece of social media but post in multiple locations. These kinds of apps are helpful for saving time when managing your social media calendar. If you wish to begin a social media advertising campaign, I would recommend you do some research to locate the best app for you.

Social media is a reflection of your company so you need to ensure that your brand is accurately portrayed. You will need to create a social media marketing strategy that takes into account your marketing budget and the amount of time and staffing necessary to maintain a regular online presence.

Create new, consistent, and high-quality content to keep your company fresh and in the minds of your customers and potential customers. Use social media to increase the number of times your products are exposed. People generally need to see your brand and product multiple times before they develop an emotional connection.  Cultivate a loyal following by posting engaging content so that your fans can interact with your company. Your social media presence places you as an industry expert. Share your expertise as this establishes trust between you and your fans. Don’t tell your fans you are an expert. Let your content prove it to them.

Remember that the purpose of social media, and the goal of using social media, is to develop relationships. People want to do business with other people. Social media allows you to humanize your brand and gets potential customers interested, engaged and connected with you. Be authentic with your content. Be yourself.  Be professional. Be nice.

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Pitch Opportunity

I am taking pitches from Monday, February 24th through Wednesday February 26th for Champagne Books over at Savvy Authors.

Champagne Book Group is currently seeking wonderfully told stories in the following genres:

  • Contemporary romance (with higher levels of sensuality and erotic)
  • Historical romance-specifically Highland/Scottish, medieval, cowboy/western
  • Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance (including science fiction romance)
  • Erotic romance (m/m, ménage, BDSM, alternative lifestyles)
  • Young Adult & New Adult
  • Mystery/Suspense/Thrillers (romance and non-romance)
  • Horror

At this point, we are not currently seeing science fiction or fantasy unless it has a romance.

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