Tuesday, September 26, 2006

On Pronouns

What I've been reading: Envy and Richochet by Sandra Brown

What I'm working on: Chapter 13, and a re-read of Rescued Hearts after an agent requested a full this morning.

Can the work ever be done enough? Today it's all about pronouns versus proper names. Pronouns are 'invisible', or so 'they' say, but somehow a paragraph full of "he" or "she" seems to scream for a "Ryan" or "Frankie." After a contest judge circled all the "Ryans" on my entry, I went back to 'real' books on my shelf to see how the names on spines handled it in third person pov books. So much for listening to critique partners who say, "you used 'he' seventeen times on this page."

Today I'll be doing searches and replaces on my proper names. Given that the manuscript is 100,000 words, this entry is done.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

On Secondary Characters

What I've read since last time: The Intern Affair by Roxanne St. Claire; The Garden of Eden by Faye Kellerman; Ladies' Man by Suzanne Brockmann

What I'm reading: Under Orders by Dick Francis

What I'm working on: More critiques and Chapter 12

I've kept to my writing goal of 1000 words a day, which is easier when you don't have too much 'other' stuff to do--like work at your job. Right now, secondary characters are my focus. How much is needed? At what point does a reader expect the secondary character to move into a larger role? If they're going to appear in only one scene, how much do you flesh them out. I have a lot of fun when I write these sorts of scenes, but someone asked if it was really 'worth it' to put a minor character in a wheelchair. I hadn't given it much thought -- to be honest, I was tired of looking for fresh words to use to show her getting from her desk to the fax machine in the office, and I decided there was no reason she couldn't do her job from a wheelchair. To me, it was no more significant that giving a few words about her hair/eye/skin color, physical build -- the little snapshots that help a reader see the scene.

Then there's the 'how long' to make the interaction. My hero has a reputation as a charmer. If he knows the woman, he's going to do his standard schmoozing. So, now I'm up to about a page of things that add color, but the point of the scene is to get the faxes into Dalton's hand. Could I have written it so he simply walks in, goes to the fax machine and gets them? Sure. But then I look at the 'don't make things easy' approach. So I toss a 'guardian of the fax machine' into the room. Which leads to the banter between them, the little rituals they have to go through, and pretty soon I have another half page of "stuff." I tell myself the character might come back later (I'm not a plotter) or maybe I'll be able to use her in the next book.

And then there's the character who preliminary readers want to see more of. I'm dealing with that--because I like her a lot, too. I hadn't planned to bring her into the story again, but she had too big a scene to ignore. Even I can see the investment in getting to know her and so I'm dreaming up ways to get Grace back into the story without digressing or having the dreaded, "Grace! Imagine meeting you here." coincidence thing.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Release Date

According to the e-mail waiting in my Inbox this morning (love the time difference between Florida and Australia!), "Finding Sarah" has a projected release date of February 15th -- a late Valentine! That does make it all seem real.

More details at my website.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

On Contests - 3

What I'm reading: The Blue Edge of Midnight by Jonathon King; Everything Changes by Jonathan Tropper

What I'm working on: Chapter 10, Scene 2. Dalton's reaction to 'the kiss'

Contests, part 3

You've entered, and with luck, have your manuscripts in front of you, full of helpful notations and score sheets with lots of comments. A lot of luck! It's probably never going to happen in that kind of detail.

I recently got feedback from a 'big name' RWA contest that prides itself on feedback. Two judges. NO marks on the manuscript other than a few circled typos. One wrote a grand total of 101 words of feedback on the manuscript, and 38 on the synopsis. The other wrote NOTHING about the manuscript and typed a full page about the synopsis. And given all the comments were for things to add, and it was already longer than what agents are asking to see with partials, I don't know how useful it was.

Without judges, contests can't happen. No matter how much a coordinator (and the entrants) want to see all kinds of helpful feedback, one can't impose a lot of demands on the judges, or they'll simply decline to participate. And despite their best intentions when they volunteered, sometimes other priorities sneak into the mix--maybe they're on a last-minute deadline if they're published, or maybe there are family or work-related crises and your pages, where you've sweated over every single word and comma, are given a cursory read. If you're entering a contests to have everyone tell you how great your work is, you're wasting your time and money.

As the recipient of the feedback, you have to remind yourself that each reader is just that -- a single reader. Each will bring her own likes, dislikes and biases to the read, no matter how they pride themselves on total impartiality. They will also have different opinions of what each score represents, so even when several judges have wonderful things to say, it's possible one considers an "8" wonderful, and another hands out "10s" unless the work looks like a third grader wrote it.

Be realistic. You've gone to a movie everyone raved about and wondered what the fuss was about. You've picked up books you can't get into, and they're selling. Same goes for your manuscript.

Take what you think makes sense. Don't obsess. Okay, if the scores aren't what you expected, it's all right to stomp around the house, cry a little and hit the chocolate stash. Put the pages aside. Come back in a few days and compare them, both the manuscript pages and the score sheets. Do all the judges have a similar comment about a particular scene or passage? If so, pay attention. Do they totally disagree? That's actually a good thing, because you get to decide which is right. Stephen King said, "Tie goes to the author." The important thing is to THINK about all the comments. It's fine to dismiss them if they don't make sense to you.

Remember. Agents and editors bring their own likes, dislikes and biases to the read. And, they've got that other factor going -- they know what they can sell, and bottom line, publishing is a business. No matter how wonderful your story might be, if it doesn't fit their needs, it's a rejection.

I find that quite often, a comment that has me wondering what the heck the reader could possible be thinking ends up with me realizing there was something "off" about that passage, although for an entirely different reason. Revision is a re-vision. Look at your work with new eyes.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Brief Detour

A brief detour from discussing contests. In the course of 3 days, I got first round edits, second round edits, cover art request forms, blurb forms, dedication forms, excerpt forms … all the things that go along with writing. Things I hadn't given a lot of thought. Like having to track changes, accepting or rejecting deletions and insertions, making comments, deleting comments. A simple switch from quotes to italics was a three-step process to say I agreed. And then there were all the trademark searches. That was a new one. I did discover a company name I made up actually existed, though, so I changed it.

My editor's in Australia, so we are rarely able to communicate back and forth at the same time. I was nervous about opening the first edit files, having no idea what to expect. Lots of changes? Or what might have been worse – no changes. I knew the story couldn't be perfect. Many of her changes were formatting. A few were because she speaks Aussie and I speak American, and there are some things that make perfect sense to an American reader that seem wrong down under—and vice versa. A few were amazing catches. I've rewritten the story so many times, made so many cuts (it was 143,000 words in its first POS draft stage, and is about 89,000 now) but I knew the story so well that I didn't notice where I'd cut out bits where Colleen told Randy she would call her brother. Or that I forgot to give Sarah a washcloth, but had her use it. Everything turned around so fast, between being put on the production spreadsheet and going to final edits, that it amazed me anyone could do that meticulous a read. Kudos to Helen for her eagle eyes and brain that can hang onto an entire novel.

Since Cerridwen is sticking with Finding Sarah as the title, I had to write a 200 word max blurb bringing out the mystery/suspense angle. Then, to select the excerpt that would hook without giving away too much of the plot. Opening pages? First time h/h see each other? Inciting incident? I think it took longer to decide which section to use than to write the words in the first place.

Cover art – something to make it look like a mystery/suspense. I'd heard great things about Cerridwen involving authors in the process, and their 2 page form brought that home. Of course, the Art Department has the last word, but they now know what my h/h look like, what images I think are important, what other covers I like, what elements I don't like.

It's all very exciting, and they're telling me that if things run smoothly, line edits and cover might be done by mid-November.

You can read a little more on my website. Click on "coming soon."

Back to contests next time.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

On Contests - 2

What I'm reading: Summer at Willow Lake by Susan Wiggs, plus a lot of critique work

What I'm writing: Chapter 10.

First bit of great news: My Cerridwen editor tells me that my novel is on her production spreadsheet, so it's actually going to happen. I have a two page form to fill out just on cover design. Heck, I'm still not happy with the title, and I thought they were usually changed anyway, so I didn't really think about it. But "Finding Sarah" sounds awfully 'Harlequin Category" to me—not like the mystery/suspense it really is. And that brings up the same Mystery vs. Suspense issue I was talking about. I have to fill in something on a 'genre' line, and I'm not sure if it'd be marketed better as mystery/suspense or romantic suspense.

Next bit: I got a request for a partial on Rescued Hearts from an agent. They prefer electronic submissions, so it's out the "door."

More contest discussion.

As a coordinator, I know how hard it is to get judges. And if you require a training meeting, you'll lose a bunch of prospective judges who don't have time, or don't live near enough to warrant the trip. Multi-published authors don't feel the need for more 'training' – and I'd agree. The real problem is trying to get everyone to agree on what's a 10 and what's a 2. I always assign judges randomly, so it's possible an entrant hits a panel of high scorers, or low scorers.

Some have 2 judges. Most seem to have 3 (which I prefer). Sometimes contests drop the low score. Others average them. Some have "discrepancy judging" so if you've got one significantly low score, a new reader steps in. Of course, this is an ego-stroke for the entrant, since who's to say the low score is the "wrong" one? But it does give extra feedback, which gives the entrant more bang for her buck.

If I had my druthers, I'd want 5 judges, with high and low scores dropped. Given the difficulty of finding qualified judges to begin with, this is wishful thinking. In an ideal contest, all the judges would be screened with sample pages, and you could try to arrive at some consensus for what a 'fair' score is. That's even more wishful thinking. All anyone has to do is look at the Golden Heart scores – even finalists will have a range of scores for the same work. I had two high and two low for my entry. Which were "right?" Who knows?

Next time: Dealing with those score sheets as an entrant.

Friday, September 01, 2006

On Contests

What I'm reading: I've been going through the freebies from RWA Nationals. Trouble in High Heels by Christina Dodd, and The Marriage Trap by Elizabeth Thornton. I try to avoid my own genre when I'm writing to avoid having the other author's voice bleed through.

What I'm writing: Breaking my own rule and going backward to edit. I'm getting mixed signals from one of my characters, and we're going to have to sit down and decide what her real role is in this book.

Today's topic was inspired by finding out that Rescued Hearts has finaled in another contest. That also eases the 'one point short' pain of the previous one. So, now I'm two-for-five with this manuscript. I've got one last contest out there, but these will be my last, since I signed a contract with an RWA recognized publisher and won't be eligible for most contests anymore. Not necessarily a bad thing!

In honor of my third Wild Rose Press short story release, I'm having my own little 'contest' on my website. This contest is nothing like the real topic for today's post. But check out my website. You can win a free download of one of my stories.

Contests are a fund-raising staple of so many RWA chapters. As a frequent entrant, a judge and a coordinator, I've learned a lot.

Why enter?

If you're just starting, it's a way to get feedback from fresh eyes, and since judges remain anonymous, they might be more honest than your critique group. Critique groups can be great, but they have their own limitations, especially if you've worked and reworked the manuscript. Also, if you're new, there's a good chance the judges will know more about the craft and point out things you need to work on.

Once you're a few steps farther along the writing path, becoming a finalist gets your pages onto the desk of an editor or agent, without having to write a query letter or sit in a slush pile. And, you're likely to get actual feedback rather than the "sorry, this isn't right for me" boilerplate.

Sometimes, you'll get money. I didn't ever realize the Suzannah had a cash award for first place until I won. I felt like a 'real' writer!

So, you're going to enter. What do you look at?

If you think you're ready for the big time, look at the final round judges. Contests can carve big holes out of your budget, and if you final you want to make sure your work is in front of someone who can acquire it, or send it to someone who can if the judge is in a house or agency that shares.

Next: Look long and hard at the score sheets. This is what the judges have to use to mark your manuscript. You can have a great story, but if it doesn't fit the questions, you're not going to score well. You're only sending up to 30 pages, usually less. Be sure the score sheet doesn't make a judge give you points for things that aren't going to show up until chapter 17. One of my pet peeves is any score sheet that deals with secondary characters. They're just not going to be fleshed out in chapter one.

On that note—is it a one size fits all score sheet? Look for those with special sections for each category. Hero and heroine might not both be on the page in chapter 1 for single title. There might not be a hero in Strong Romantic Elements, or Chick Lit. Make sure you won't be penalized before you start.

After that, it's pretty much up to you to decide on the remaining factors. Cost. There's postage and printing to consider. How many judges? Three is better than two, simply because it's easier to judge feedback with that 'tie-breaking' opinion. Contest reputation. Have a lot of entrants had their work requested by agents and editors? Gone on to be published? If you plan to parlay your finals and wins into writing credits in your query letter, the bigger contests carry more weight.

Enough for today. Next time: You've sent your entry. Now what?