March’s Featured Speaker: Mallory Braus

MalloryBrausNext month’s featured speaker will be Mallory Braus.

The topic will be What to Expect When You’re Expecting…Edits. Just like every story is unique, the edits constructed for each story will vary. Editors must adapt to the story needs — craft, story, prose/narration,etc — but also to the author’s needs — varying from debut authors to multi-published authors. Mallory will discuss the basics of what every author should expect from the editorial process.

Mark your calendar and we’ll see you at Bridges Academy on Sunday, March 16th! Doors open at 10am, and the meeting runs from 10:30am-12pm.

Mallory Braus graduated from UCLA in 2009 with a BA in English. From there, she became a freelance editor for Carina Press. She works with the stories she loves, authors she adores, and consider herself a sort of Indiana Jones—searching for treasure in the book world, and in the comfort of her office, safe from actual snakes and plane crashes.

Mallory has always had a passion for reading. But she never considered that the books she loved could lead to a future career. Until one fateful day she was offered an internship with a fabulous literary agent. A position as  intern for editor Rose Hilliard at St. Martin’s Press soon followed. She graduated from UCLA in 2009 with a BA in English. After a brief stay in New York, in which she discovered that city life did not agree with her, she returned to California and accepted a position as freelance editor for Carina Press. She also works as an independent freelance content editor and consultant. She feels so blessed to have found a job that lets her work with her one true love — stories.

Mallory will read just about anything — except horror. She’s especially on the look out for historical romance, mystery, sci-fi, urban fantasy, speculative fiction, and dark paranormals. More than anything, she loves character driven stories. Make her believe in your characters — give them real depth and vulnerabilities and quirks — and she’ll be putty in your hands.

You can follow her on Twitter @MalloryBraus or visit her website at mallorybraus.com

February’s Featured Speaker: Jennifer Haymore

JenniferHaymore2Next month, our featured speaker will be LARA’s own Jennifer Haymore.

The topic will be Writing Short(er).

Join us at Bridges Academy on Sunday, February 16th!

USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Haymore is the author of sexy historical and contemporary romance.

You can find Jennifer in Southern California trying to talk her husband into yet another trip to England, helping her three children with homework while brainstorming a new five-minute dinner menu, or crouched in a corner of the local bookstore writing her next novel.

January’s Featured Speakers: Susan and Harry Squires

At this month’s meeting, our featured speakers will be Susan and Harry Squires.

Did you ever wonder why one day you get stuck while on another day your writing flows easily? Does it sometimes seem like your brain is actually fighting you?  Well, maybe it is. Recent insights into the structure of the human brain and how the parts work together (or don’t) provide powerful techniques to free your creativity and jump-start your writing.

The Squires will help you learn how to use these techniques not only in your writing, but in the rest of your life as well. Bring your current work in progress, and they’ll show you how to solve problems (including writer’s block), make your characters and plots deeper and more resonant, and create a book that keeps your reader turning pages.

Join us on Sunday, January 19th!

SusanSquiresSusan Squires published seventeen books with Dorchester and St. Martin’s Press, and has self-published four. Her books have appeared on the NYT Bestseller list. Her first novel, Danegeld, was a Golden Heart winner. Body Electric was named by Publisher’s Weekly one of the most influential mass market books of 2002. No More Lies was a Rita finalist. Her books have frequently garnered 4 ½ star reviews and Top Pick from Romantic Times BookReview, and starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, which also named One With the Shadows a Best Book of the Year.

HarrySquiresHarry Squires published his first novel, What Rough Beast, as H. R. Knight with Leisure Books. A paranormal mystery with romantic elements, it garnered enthusiastic reviews not only from horror venues but also from romance reviewers. He also writes for Wine Adventure Magazine and Front and Finish. Harry was a corporate trainer with an insurance company for many years. He’s coached extensively on techniques of learning and unleashing the creativity of the brain.

Both Harry and Susan are members of Romance Writers of America.

Confessions of a Penitent Plotter: Finding the Bones of Your Book

Hello. My name is Leuca and I am a “pantser”. I can’t help it. Words just blast their way onto the page and I let them roar, full of energy, with no idea what will happen next. In short, I SPEW. What Nora Roberts calls, politely, a “discovery draft”. The emotions are pure; words are fresh. In this first effusion of story, characters build their dimensions organically, like blossoms unfolding. To me, my process is a thing of beauty.

Until – wham-o – it bogs down with a thud! Those lovely characters jerk to a stop, stare at one another and blurt: “What the #%*$ are you doing in my story?”

It’s time to haul in CRAFT, my handy toolkit of character tips and structure rules. Collected from many sources, I adapted them to a template I use to plot: Storytracker. Last fall I wrote a column about it and, to those of you who requested a download, I hope it’s propelling your protagonists into a happy-ever-after. If you don’t have a tool, here’s a guide to the elements.

Like most pantsers, I start with two characters, a setting and a thorny reason they are going to hate one another. I have a notion where they’ll wind up and three calamitous scenes that drive them off course. That’s it.

For a few days, I let the characters take root in my mind and begin to chatter, first to me and then to secondary characters they conjure up as buddies or foes. As soon as my protagonists meet and bicker, it’s time. If I don’t relocate them from my brain to a page, they’ll take over my brain. Thus, I write.

Halfway through my first book, I came to the stomach-churning reality that my characters had stolen my story and were wrestling me further and further from where I’d planned. Since they were doing an interesting job of creating lyrical twists, I let them have at it, but I devised a control mechanism to monitor rhythm and structure.

The Storytracker was born: an Excel spreadsheet that tracks character dimensions, plot points and, ultimately, points-of-view, scene-by-scene.

First, I build the cauldron: SETTING. Borrowing from Robert McKee, I choose LOCATION, DURA-TION, PERIOD and – the aspect often overlooked – political, socio-economic MILIEU. After all, even a simple “secret baby” plot is different set in an Iowa cornfield than in the gritty South Bronx.

Then, I inject fun: What kind of steamy hot water can I plunge these two really nice people into that will force them to spring up, sputtering, in mortal opposition to one another? Characters only reveal their true selves when forced to make an awesome choice – either between the lesser of two evils, or, if you’re a comic, two equally delicious possibilities. I need to force four choices to have a story.

TURNING POINTS

1. The Inciting Incident – “Cute Meet”. This sets up the whole story – opportunity knocks big-time within the first 20-30 pages. It happens in brilliant “shows” – no back-story prologue; no omniscient “tells”; no musings from the heroine’s troubled inner voice. Al-though it can happen randomly or by design, it must be the worst – or best – thing that could possibly happen; it forces an immediate reaction that changes everything.

The incident commits the heroine to an urgent objective goal, one crucial enough to drive 100,000 words. Since you have crafted a hero she hates at first glance, it prompts her to swallow her pride or revulsion to achieve it. There’s still no romance. The tricky thing about the cute meet is that it must kindle a suppressed longing she won’t ac-knowledge, even to herself.

2. Foiled Pursuit. Act one finale, 25-30% through the book. Our job as romance writers is to make the journey to that heart’s inner longings painful and tortuous for the soon-to-be lovers. If romance came easy, what would it be worth?

Every “turning point” is a reversal that drives the characters further from the objective goal and deeper toward the longing. In the foiled pursuit, outside forces – nature or secondary characters – intervene and do something unexpected. Again, the characters make a seemingly impossible choice. Make this big – something each would have said at the beginning, “I could never do that!”

3. Point of No Return. Act two finale, 60-70% of the book. This is the horrible soul-searching moment when the heroine realizes she has exposed her heart’s deepest wound; she’s vulnerable. Right away, she swears to do anything to cover up the longing, but that will drive her even further from the objective goal. The heroine (and/or hero) runs away, literally or figuratively.

4. Climax or “Black Moment”. Act three finale, at the 90% point. This is the darkest hour where the heroine makes the heart-wrenching choice between playing it safe and risking her comfortable space to win her greatest desire – the hidden longing. Often, the objective goal becomes irrelevant when the choice is made.

5. Resolution: Aristotle wrote that endings must be “inevitable” and “unexpected”, delivering what the reader hoped for on Page One, but twisted. Resolution may be unnecessary be-cause the climax was conclusive, but if you need to deal with a dangling goal or sub-plot, keep it short.

November is time for the National Novel in a Month challenge (www.nanowrimo.org). Start plotting using whatever tool works for you. Six weeks and counting.

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Leuca Stone is a long-time writer, first-time novelist whose new book is TIMBER FALLS about a beautiful scientist and a shape-shifting wolf.

BOOK REVIEW: “GMC – Goal, Motivation & Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction” by Debra Dixon

I‘ve been thinking a lot about contests lately, judging and being judged, and the driving comment is always: What‘s the GMC? GMC is so important it accounts for twenty-five per-cent on most score sheets. That it is that important is testament to a little, thirteen year old book: “GMC” by Deb Dixon.

Her message has become the Romance Writer‘s Mantra – beef up the GMC. Many new writers assume that juicy beefcake coupled with a sweet “meet” ground a good novel, but not true. Without GMC – goal, motivation and conflict – a story fizzles in chapter one. It needs the sizzle of goals thwarted by conflict to give it propulsion – and they must backed by big, wrap-your-mind around motivations.

What is GMC? In a nutshell: “A character wants X be-cause Y but Z. XYZ = GMC. This basic fact of story structure has been known and taught in Creative Writing classes for generations, but it took an award winning romance writer to deliver the message with a sock-it-to-me punch that made her sisters in genre sit up and take notice. Today, some carry everywhere like Bibles and my own copy is well-thumbed and highlighted in as many colors as Joseph‘s coat.

Dixon‘s book started with a series of workshops. As a result, it is written as colloquially as a classroom chat. Her advice “from a soapbox” is clear, concise, and easy-to-follow, tailored for writers of romance. Her basic thesis is that if you give each protagonist heavy-weight goals with “larger than life” reasons to achieve them, you‘ll have characters readers care about. Put those goals into dire conflict with a second protagonist, and your plot “becomes inevitable”. The book will write itself, scene after scene rising out of the conflicts between them.

We‘ve heard the premise many times. What make‘s Dixon‘s chatty little book compelling is that she tests our assumptions about when goals are good enough by giving us a step-by-step cookbook for assessing GMC, using familiar films for reference. A précis doesn‘t do her justice, but as a teaser, here is some of Dixon‘s advice:

1. GOAL. On page one, establish a main character‘s external goal and motivation ~ make the reader worry about whether or not the goal can be achieved. Make the goal urgent and important, so vital the character will “act against his own best interest and endure any hardship”, but the goal must be within the realm of possibility for the world you‘ve created.

2. GOALS: Internal/External. An external goal is practical and tangible – getting a job, going home; it has nothing to do with emotional fulfillment. The internal goal is intangible and seldom expressed aloud; it leaks into the story more slowly. Often, the internal goal arises from a wound and it may be redemption, acceptance, justice, love. Internal and external goals are often in conflict, but the two main character‘s individual goals must be. Try charting the characters‘ goals against one another. Do they clash? If not, there‘s no plot.

3. MOTIVATION. Behind every goal is a giant “because” – larger than life. External ones must be “simple, strong and focused”. Internal motivations are more fundamental – “garden variety” – they should resonate with any reader.

4. CONFLICT. This is the big “but” that stands in the way of a goal‘s resolution. Conflicts are zero-sum games where one character loses and another wins. That is, until the final “turning point” where the external goal drives the character into the “black moment” and a compromise involving the internal goals bring him out of it.

As a bonus, the book includes exercises to practice on your own or in critique groups: compiling the GMC chart, brain-storming to fine-tune plot, using “show don’t tell” in scene development, and practicing the “twenty-five words or less” handle for query letters.

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 Leuca Stone is a long-time writer, first-time novelist whose new book is TIMBER FALLS about a beautiful scientist and a shape-shifting wolf. 

Marketing 101: First, Establish Your Brand

For twenty years, I was a marketing executive. Today, I teach marketing. The first principle remains the same: Who are you? In market-speak: What‘s your brand identity. Your message will be clearly understood only when it is wrapped in a brand.

What is brand? Expressed in a simple, focused statement – no more than three or four words – it is the sum of attributes, or unique selling points. Brand defines a product‘s personality; it establishes the product‘s credibility; it signals a set of buyer expectations the product will meet. In short, brand is a promise to be kept.

As a person, you are many things. As a writer, you are a product. And, from today forward, think of your writing self as your brand.

Let‘s look at some popular romance writers and what they stand for:

  • Nora Roberts Fast-paced passion in special settings
  • Jayne Ann Krentz Sizzling mysteries with a twist
  • Karen Rose Chilling, sexy modern suspense
  • Debbie Macomber Sweet, community-based, mature

Each of these writers is commercially successful, in large measure, because she has established a trusted brand. Readers know exactly what to expect when they pull a book off the shelf. When a branded writer violates an established brand promise, she often changes her name. Think of Nora Roberts writing sci-fi mysteries as JD Robb, or Jayne Anne Krentz, writing historicals as Amanda Quick.

So who are you? What‘s your brand promise? Let‘s look at a few brand dimensions in romance (See the Table Below):

GENRE Category Single Title Suspense Comedy Paranormal
PERIOD Chick Lit Contemp. Historical – Regency Historical – All Else Future
SETTING Other-world Rural Suburban Urban Glamour
TONE Light – Comic Light – Not Comic Medium – Good Girl Medium – Sharp/ Biting Dark
PACE (Ratio -Dialogue: Narrative) Classic: Up to 50% 50 – 64% 65 – 74% 75 – 84% Thriller: 85 – 95%
HEAT Inspirational Sweet Sensual Sexy Erotic
TARGET Young Adult Millennials – college Gen Y: 25 – 34 Gen X: 35 – 46 Boomers +

Pick one attribute from each row and you have the basics of your brand. It will look something like this: “Moderately paced, good girl contemporaries with rural country roots and sensual elements, targeting Gen X”. That fits Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Contrast that with Laurell K. Hamilton: “Fast-paced, dark and sexy contemporary urban paranormals targeting millennials.”

Your brand map is good start. Here‘s the secret to making it great. Add your differentiator? Hundreds of writers share your matrix. Your “voice” makes you stand out. A composite of factors – attitudes, moral values, thought patterns, language, rhythm – a writer‘s voice comes across in print and is unique as a fingerprint. Ask a friend or critique partner to describe your voice, then add its dimensions to your brand map.

Can you create a “tagline” from what you have? The shorter the better – Campbell‘s Soup: “mmm-mmm good”; M&M‘s: “melt in your mouth, not in your hand”. Play around with this until you have something you like. Market-test it on strangers and listen to their reactions. Once you‘ve got your tagline, you‘ll never stumble through the answer to, “What‘s your work like?”

In marketing, choosing a name comes after the brand identity is established. What‘s your name? Does the name you write under convey your brand attributes? For personal or professional reasons, do you need to adopt an alternative?

If you do, make sure you love it and it‘s a good brand-fit. You want to see this in print Since I‘m superstitious, I checked several options with a numerologist before settling on mine, but feel free to fly solo.

In the words of a fine agent, Jessica Faust of Bookends, use your name – always – and make it your pen name. Mention this name whenever you meet a stranger and repeat it during your conversation. Hand the person your business card.

You don‘t have one? Drop what you‘re doing and click on over to www.vistaprint.com or www.123print.com. You can have 100 beautiful cards delivered by next week for less than $10. Customize them with your own photo or logo, or choose from hundreds of design options.

Your next basic step is an email address with your pen name. If you‘re using another – and I‘m embarrassed to admit I am – set up a new one now and route your professional writing mail to it. Change your email signature line to include:

  • your pen name
  • any other name people know – at least until they get used to the change
  • any relevant degrees and awards: MFA, RITA finalist, national columnist
  • your carefully-crafted tagline
  • your blogspot, if you have one
  • your latest publication, if you have one

How do you do this?

On Outlook: Look under Tools at Mail Options

On Yahoo: From Options on the main mail page, Mail Options – Signature.

Congratulations! You are now a professional writer with a clear sense of direction. In future columns on marketing, I‘ll talk about the web and social networking, in-person networking and public relations, tools and tchotchkes, and expanding your brand.

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Leuca Stone is a long-time writer, first-time novelist whose new book is TIMBER FALLS about a beautiful scientist and a shape-shifting wolf.

BOOK REVIEW: “STORY: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screen Writing” by Robert McKee

Robert McKee. The man is a legend. Opinionated – even potty-mouthed – this guy fills auditoriums in New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo and London, three or four times a year, at $595 a pop. The weekend I went, I sat between a TV star scribbling notes and a young couple from Australia who were sleeping on a web-friend’s floor to be there.

And, the man delivers. Spewing ideas out his mouth like shotgun spray, McKee packs more important story concepts into three, too-short days than a full MFA. He’s a product of Hollywood – story analyst, screenwriter, now big-budget script doctor – McKee imparts profound insights about story structure and conflict that suit novel-writing as well as film.

His book doesn’t pack the punch of his lectures, but at a mere $24.95, it’s ½ of 1% the investment and everything’s here, in the same form. I suspect the book is a direct adaptation, since his mid-sentence digressions are all in print, set off by dashes. McKee has so many ideas to impart that he speed-speaks. The resultant printed pages are crammed with good things to know.

Here are a few:

“Spine of the Story”. The unifying force that holds the story together and builds it through the character’s choices made under ever-increasing pressure. The choices reveal the character’s true goal. In most romance, the character’s unconscious longing for a mate forms the spine. In the film, “Working Girl”, the spine wasn’t getting the great job; it was getting the great guy. The function of story structure is to progressively increase pressure on the character until the true goal is revealed, conceded and achieved.

Turning Points. Every book or film needs at least four memorable scenes – the inciting incident and a climax at the end of each act: turning points, forced decisions that reverse course. Choices must present a dilemma between things important, but of similar weight. A choice between good and evil is no choice.

McKee asks, “What is the worst thing that can hap-pen?” . “No, the really worst thing? Make the characters squirm – we’ll love them for it.”

In talking about turning points, McKee introduces his most provocative – and difficult – concept: “The Principle of Antagonism”. Start with a story’s “primary value”. Here’s an interesting one: RICH. What’s the opposite? POOR. What’s between the two – more negative, but not opposed. MIDDLE CLASS. Now, at the end of the line, lies a powerful value McKee calls “Negation of the Negation”: something “not just quantitatively, but qualitatively worse”. What is qualitatively worse? Poor is passive. Amping it up implies action. How about RICH FEIGNING POVERTY? Or, in a less ironic mode, RICH GIVING IT ALL AWAY?

McKee suggests deepening a story by forcing a path through all four values. Ending on the negation is satisfying for two reasons – the character is acting, not reacting; and the value loops back to the pre-existing value of the beginning but with a wicked twist.

Conflict: It’s truism – story moves forward through conflict. To be richly satisfying, it needs multiple dimensions. To McKee, genre fiction exists at the level of complication – one dimension:

Internal Conflict Stream of Conscious-ness Inter-personal Conflict Soap Opera Extra-personal Conflict Action-Adventure; Farce Two “hallmarks of complicated tales are large casts and multiple sets. To deepen the work, add another level; better, show all three.

During his lecture, McKee recalled the trial of Plato during which the ancient philosopher argued that all the storytellers should be banished from Athens as dangers to society, for within the emotions of their art, they concealed subversive ideology.

To McKee, that might just be a good thing. He sees our responsibility as authors to simply tell the truth – a Platonic Truth, the essence or emotional core of the story. His book shares with us the tools to do it well.

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Leuca Stone is a long-time writer, first-time novelist whose new book is TIMBER FALLS about a beautiful scientist and a shape-shifting wolf.

PROcolumn—Stop PROcrastinating—PROduce

It‘s tempting to rest on green laurels once you pick up that first rose for reaching PRO. When I first typed, “The End”, after 120,000 words, I felt a whoosh of release as I exhaled at last, and I fairly flew to the post office to mail off my opus. “I‘m a writer!” I cried into the wind.

Oh, puh-leeze. One simple little form letter rejection and I was back to the drawing board, refining and rewriting; refining and rewriting. The tome I wrote is pared down to a mere 97,000 words, lean and clean and spit-polished. It‘s been sitting on my desk, gathering coffee stains, as I‘ve mulled over how to make it that last little bit better.

Then, last year, I discovered St. Expedite, a dusty icon tucked in the darkest corner of an old neighborhood church in New Orleans, one dedicated for centuries to helping the hopeless. A ten-foot high bronze statue of St. Jude, their patron saint, stands in the courtyard and the church itself is dedicated to the virgin of Guadalupe, patroness of the poor. These I know, but who was this carved Roman soldier, wood dank with mold? I checked out his symbols. He was holding aloft – what? It looked like a sword held by the blade so its handle formed a cross with Latin inscribed: HODIE – today.

My tour guide laughed at my obvious puzzlement and said, “Do you have any idea who that is?”

I had no clue.

He suppressed a delighted guffaw: “St. Expedite”.

I gave him a baleful stare: “Right”.

“No, really.”

It turns out that sometime in the late 1840‘s a wealthy Cajun ordered four statues carved in France as a gift to the church. What with the civil war and embargoes, the boxes didn‘t arrive for another thirty years, by which point the old man had no recollection of what he‘d bought. There were four pine boxes. Three were neatly labeled on the side: Joseph, Lucy, Guadalupe. The fourth had no saint‘s name. The priests pried off the top and lifted out an almost life-size painted statue.

Who was it? They had no more clue than I.

The monsignor wrote to France. The cryptic reply the maker sent back? “We sent what you ordered.”

The priests hauled out the shipping box and looked again. There was only one word printed: “Expedite”.

And so it came to pass that a young soldier stamping on a dove whose banner reads CRAS (tomorrow) is venerated as the saint who gets things done. Fast.

Today, there are four of these statues scattered around the world, all carved at about the same time and opened with as much confusion. In the churches where they stand, their offering boxes are overflowing
and dozens of prayer notes are tucked between the ankles of the made-up saint.

No Expedite exists in the Catholic canon, but I don‘t care.

I dropped a crumpled bill in the box and took away a tiny metal disc with his likeness. For me, he has become my patron saint of To-do Now, a positive spirit driving me onward to write and submit; write and submit; write and submit.

Whenever I reach up to the thin silver chain around my neck and I finger the etchings on little medal, I feel emboldened to affirm, “This year, a contract – and another book, complete.

How about you? I have a box of St. Expedite medals to share with committed PRO‘s who need a spiritual boost – or, just a bit of old-fashioned, superstitious luck. It can‘t hurt to have a saint on your side – look what it brought a football team this week!

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Leuca Stone is a long-time writer, first-time novelist whose new book is TIMBER FALLS about a beautiful scientist and a shape-shifting wolf.

Words For Our Times

This article was written by Jody Brightman and published in the LARA Confidential in 2009.

This month, Erica asked for volunteers to interview editors and agents about the impact of these recessionary times on the business of Romance. Most people I approached skirted or spun. Either they told me there “really wasn’t anything to say”, or romance is doing well – readers like to escape when times are tough. That said, two editors reported that although romance was selling, growth was slowing down. It was impossible to gather hard data and I wasn’t able to glean much for attribution. That is, until I traveled to the New England Chapter Writers Conference in Framingham, Massachusetts.

They were cornered. And, some were clearly frightened. Not by the hundreds of eager writers looking for publication, but by prospects of pink slips. I didn’t press and I won’t name names, but here are a few things I heard from agents and editors whose names you’d recognize.

Both agents and editors averred that it’s time to seek solace in a good agent, if you can get one. With editors moving through revolving doors or whisking off into the ozone, an agent is often the only fixed point in a writer’s universe. But, choose carefully. The downturn spun ugly for agents on the edge, so check references and eschew the friendly face for a tough negotiator with a proven track-record and lots of allies in the New York publishing world.

Agents and editors also advised that it’s a good time for fresh, new voices and distinctly different points of view. A new author who mixes genres has a real shot at publication when publishers are pruning marginal sellers of weakening genres from their lists. Even biggies like Harlequin are consolidating lines and planning no new ones until the economy recovers. That said, category sales are relatively strong since it’s an attractive price point for the buyer. Single-titles are finding fewer buyers, especially from unknown authors.

Harlequin reports that well-known authors who ventured into single-title are coming back and writing short-form series novels for HQN. Further, Dorchester and Ellora’s Cave mentioned writers who’ve gone back to day jobs.

As one editor pointed out with a wry smile, book publishing is an inherently inefficient industry, and the economy is forcing it to stream-line. Retail distribution channels have been dwindling for a decade with Borders barely hanging on and many independents disappearing. Even market leaders, like Barnes and Noble and Walmart, have been cutting inventory, maintaining only 6-8 week stocks instead of the 10-week they took last year. Not only that. They are buying only brand names unless the publishers pony up co-op funds to launch new authors with shelf space and in-store merchandising. Instead, most publishers are reserving those marketing dollars to bolster sales of established authors and they look to their new authors for lots more self-promotion. The economy will only magnify this trend.

There was only one market estimate mentioned by anyone and it was vague. ― Ten percent or more of writers who barely sold-through on their advances last year will be dropped from the lists of traditional book publishers. If these writers are lucky, or have good agents, they may find themselves on e-pub lists or print-on-demand.

This brings me to a bright spot. Risks are so low on e-publication, it is still growing 20-30%, depending on the publisher – and Kindle and the Sony e-Reader are boosting the download effect. E-publisher editors cannot review manuscripts fast enough to meet demand. That said, e-publishers are also beginning to be much more selective. The results can be seen in the Golden Heart finalists where e-pubbed authors have done well this year and in pickups of backlist authors by the more prominent e-publishers. Even hardcover publishers are getting into the act. They are being courted by Amazon and Sony to deliver formatted versions of their better-selling books in e-format simultaneous with print. Since online marketing support is a fraction of the cost of brick-and-mortar merchandising, print publishers admit they would be foolish to ignore the web.

The bottom-line is that the market is contracting and publishers are increasingly risk-averse. They’re taking fewer chances on newcomers and advances are shrinking, along with print runs. On the upside, e-publication is still growing and, better yet, gaining in reputation. There is now, and always will be, room for good writers ~ and, if you write in a voice that’s distinctive and in a genre that’s a twist on traditional, now might be a very good time to shop it. Especially, if it’s category length. Good luck – and write on!

“…It’s time to seek solace in a good agent, if you can get one.”

This Year, Don’t Resolve. Dissolve

 This post was written by Jody Brightman and published in the LARA Confidential in December of 2009.  

Giving the issue of New Year‘s resolutions some thought as that last, ugly year came to a close, I reached an epiphany. On New Year‘s Day, many of us take time out from chips and football to write a list of things we absolutely resolve to accomplish in the coming year. If we can even find last year‘s list, we‘d be embarrassed to realize we haven‘t done half – or often, even one, of the items. Don‘t feel bad, I heard on NPR that 9 out of 10 Americans have broken at least one of their resolutions by the third week in January.

I decided the problem must be semantic. What is a “resolution”, but a do-over? The word implies that we have already solved the problem, in that we have an answer – that‘s the definition of solve, yet we keep coming back to a resolve it. Remember the definition of “stupid”? Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different outcome? I slapped my palm to my forehead and resolved to find a better word.

My old buddy Webster produced a better definition of resolution: “dissolving doubt”. Now, that conveys conviction!

So this year, I will dissolve all doubt in my mind, and in the minds of those who watch my stumbles. I did a little scientific research on what it takes for resolutions to stick. Here‘s what I found:

1) Get religion. For writers of inspirational fiction, there‘s good news. According to the New York Times (12/30/08), psychologists at the University of Miami determined that the devout dissolve doubt far better and faster than non-believers – about 8 times better. Is it any surprise that two of the most prolific, bestselling romance writers credit some part of their success to religion? Nora Roberts claims she‘s driven by her Catholic upbringing and memories of nuns‘ discipline. In fact, she keeps a wind-up Nunzilla on her desk. Debbie Macomber prays every day and writes in her gratitude journal, keeping faith at the forefront of her work. The Miami scientists say the reason this works is that the devout imbue their goals with an “aura of sacredness”. You don‘t need to be a churchgoer to have faith, and no religion or spiritual practice has cornered the market on goal-realization. But, this statistic is a light-bulb reminding me that a goal is a sacred obligation, to my-self.

2) Forget the baby steps advice – start big! When you succeed at one simple, big thing with immediately recognizable, positive results, the odds are good you‘ll try something else and succeed at that too. For example, a friend of mine was a classic yo-yo dieter. She tried every fad, lost 5 or 10 pounds, and gained it all back when she quit dieting. Last year, she got tough and made only one commitment: no extra sugar in her drinks. She felt better almost immediately and lost twenty pounds.

3) Fake it till you make it. Seriously, this creative visualization stuff works. When you finish that manuscript you just love and you‘re wrapping a fat rubber band around it, prep-ping it for submission, imagine a glorious full-color book cover – be specific, and lock the image in your mind for at least 7 seconds. Do that often enough and my metaphysical friends promise me results. I‘m doing it every night before I go to sleep and I‘ll let you know how it works out.

4) Don’t set a goal you can’t control. How many of you set a goal of getting published? That‘s terrific – and keep doing everything you can to get closer to that goal, but —. Don‘t believe for one minute that you‘ve failed if it hasn‘t happened (yet). Stick to the things you can control.

5) You can’t go it alone. This is where LARA comes in, and all our wonderful RWA courses, blogs, critique partners and Yahoo-groups. Members of RWA are the most generous professionals I‘ve ever met, in any industry, anywhere in the world. We are, indeed, a sisterhood. If we voice our commitments to each other, odds are good that we will all beat the national averages.

So here’s my list:

1. Lose the twenty pounds that sitting around typing settled on my butt. And, I found a romance writers‘ blog to help: http://musetracks.wordpress.com/2009/01/04/fit-for-rt-nationalsfor-life-get-started/. I‘m also using Weight Watchers‘ e-tools for tracking what I eat, but then I‘m a belt-and-suspenders type.
2. Dedicate Monday and Tuesday to the business end of writing, and Wednesday through Saturday to the pen. Submit two queries or stories a week and finish a third book by nationals.
3. Give church a chance.
4. Read more – lots more – and love more, and play more. All in the name of tax-deductible research. Happy New Year!