Saturday, December 22, 2007

Favourite Things of 2007

It's been a terrific year and I'm grateful for all the good things that have come my way. Here's just a few of my favourite things, events, etc.

* Signing with Writers House literary agency in New York. Eighteen months of querying sure paid off.

* My wonderful critique partners, who've all had a hand in polishing my work and propping me up whenever I needed it. Thank you, Janette, Stephanie, Annie and Anna!

* Seeing debut books by friends and acquaintances hit the bookstores. I bought 'em all. Congrats to Annie West, Anna Campbell, Christine Wells, Sara Hantz, Amanda Ashby, Tina Ferraro, Kelly Parra, Elizabeth Scott, Paula Roe, Robyn Grady, Stephanie Hale. (Thanks for the dedications, Annie and Anna - way cool!)

* Kinokuniya bookstore in Sydney.

* San Churro chocolateria.

* Bizarre exercise equipment bought over the Internet by my coworker Ann H. She gets them delivered to our office. The best was the iGallop, which is meant to simulate horse riding. You'd think it'd resemble a rocking horse, right? Well, it has four legs, but that's where the similarity ends. It's like something out of Futurama. And it isn't something you can fold up and store under the bed. You'll laugh so much when riding that thing, your stomach muscles will get toned in no time.

* YouTube

* Most vivid reading experience: Reading Stephenie Meyer's 'Twilight' whilst recovering from wisdom tooth extractions. Honestly, there was so much blood I felt like a vampire.

* Exotic tea. I've visited T2 almost every week. Who says tea's boring? Best blends include choc chip chai, rose petals mixed with vanilla tea, genmaicha, red fancy fruit, creme brulee, and Turkish apple (which is fabulous as an iced tea with mint and chopped apple).

* The book that blew me away: 'Speak' by Laurie Halse Anderson. I'm in awe of her work.

* Spirituality. I learned there are four patron saints for writers: Saint Lucy of Syracuse, Saint Francis de Sales, Saint John the Apostle, Saint Paul the Apostle.

* Reaching the finals in RWAustralia's Selling Synopsis and First Kiss competitions, and in the YA category of Spacecoast Authors of Romance's Launching a Star comp.

* Most of all, my husband, family, friends and cats. Awwww.

What made you happy in 2007?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Shop, Girl

There might be tinsel and fairy lights clinging from rafters to floorboards, spray-on snow frosting windowpanes, and Kylie Minogue's version of Santa Baby playing over P.A.s in 20 shops, but Christmas shopping is never pretty.

Most writers are terrific eavesdroppers. Here are snatches of conversations I overheard while shoulder-to-shoulder with the shopping troops over the weekend:

* 20-something girl fumes, "I can't believe [name omitted to protect his identity] bought me a present. Now I have to buy him one."

* Woman in an eight-level department store wails, "There's so much crap in here! Ooh, but that dress would look great on me."

* "You should buy your presents early on in the year. I finished my shopping in August," says Mother Superior to Death-Stare Daughter.

* "There's plenty of time to shop," says optimistic teenager.

* "Why do I have to buy stuff for so many people?" laments girl to her three glowering friends.

* "Does anyone make perfume that doesn't stink?" harried-looking male asks his blank-faced companion. (Much more agreeable quotes by famous people about fragrances can be found here.)

They weren't the only ones having meltdowns in the shops yesterday. I was in a homewares shop, sniffing chocolate-scented candles. I tried to get a closer whiff, not realising that the box I picked up was a platform for a large ceramic candle-holder. So this delicate ceramic piece, along with 10 other boxes, somersaulted to the floor and smashed into a million little pieces. Fortunately, I only had to pay for half the damage. But I can't ever go back there again. Nor can I return to the boutique where I tried on a slinky silk dress and couldn't get it off. A sales assistant had to come into the dressing room and yank it over my head.

Shopping disasters, anyone?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hey, hey, it's Anna Campbell Day!

Rising romance star (and one of my brill CPs) Anna Campbell celebrates the release of her second Regency Noir novel, Untouched , today. She's running a workshop on drama at Sandra's Goings On right now. Post a comment and you could win a copy of Anna's new book.

And if that's not enough, pop over to the message board at Romance Novel TV, where you can ask Anna about anything to do with writing and Tim Tams. Trust me, she's an expert on both subjects.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Amazon Adventure--the sequel

My uber cool CP Stephanie Kuehnert's first book, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, has just hit Amazon. Hooray! You can pre-order here. Joey is an intense, absorbing read about a girl whose connection with punk music ties her to the mother she never knew.

Oh, and check out Stephanie's posts on this blog for MTV Books authors and readers. Fellow posters include Jennifer Echols, whose books I adore, and Caridad Ferrer.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Getting Drafted

I'm letting revisions on an ms rest for a while, so now it's time to get stuck into writing a new book. Whenever I start an ms, I seem to forget the rules about first drafts, and they are:

* Even if you're not a plotter, write yourself a few notes on what the book is about and who the main characters are.

* Don't bust a brain cell trying to find that perfect word or phrase. (Which is what I'm doing now as I write this post). Step away from the thesaurus; embellish later.

* Now is not the time to edit. First drafts are meant to be messy.

* If you get to a difficult part that needs intensive research, make a note of it and continue writing the story. You can always fact-check later on.

* You can write just dialogue or just exposition. Flesh the scenes out in your next pass.

If you have more advice on first drafts or would like to share your M.O., I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Amazon Adventure

A couple of brand-new YA authors are celebrating the appearances of their first books on Amazon. Teri Brown's Read My Lips is about a deaf girl whose lip-reading ability paves her way into the popular crowd at her new school. Preorder the book here. My day job involves captioning TV for the Deaf and hearing impaired, so I'm really looking forward to reading Teri's book.

Take the Reins by 20-year-old Jessica Burkhart is set to debut in September 2008 (the Amazon date is actually incorrect). It's the first in a tween series set in a high-brow boarding school. Being horse-mad, I know I'll love the equestrian backdrop.

Congratulations, ladies! May the sales start rolling in.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Weekly reported on thriller writer Ken Follett's extraordinary deals for his upcoming trilogy, The Century. The series generated a huge buzz at the Frankfurt Book Fair earlier this year. Now it has been revealed Follett's agent, Amy Berkower of Writers House, negotiated $50 million worth of advances from domestic and foreign publishers.

You read that correctly. 50 mill. If that's not thrilling, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Musical Youth

I'd been warned about the dangers of YouTube--how distracting, how addictive, how side-splitting it is--but did I listen? No. Today I've spent hours digging up "one more song" from my formative years. But I swear I'll restrain myself...right after I compile a list of my top five songs featured in '80s movies.

Melt With You - Modern English (Valley Girl, 1983):

Don't You Forget About Me - Simple Minds (The Breakfast Club, 1985):

In Your Eyes - Peter Gabriel (Say Anything, 1989):

The Time of My Life - Bill Medley, Jennifer Warnes (Dirty Dancing, 1987):

We Got the Beat - The Go-Go's (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1982)

Okay, I've talked myself into adding one more...
Xanadu - Olivia Newton-John (Xanadu, 1980)

Rush, Rush

Paula Abdul wanted Keanu Reeves to rush, rush to her, just as much as I'd like a publishing deal to hurry, hurry to me:

However, my agent's fab assistant, Beth, wisely urged me not to rush revisions on my ms. She's right. I'll take all the time I need to do the best I can with the book. I'm not under contract (yet--there's always hope!) and I don't have a deadline.

So, forget Paula. I'm taking Beth's and the Supremes's advice:

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Losing the Plot

I'm tearing my hair out over subplots right now. Since highlights at Toni & Guy don't come cheap these days, I thought I'd count to 10 and do some research to get myself out of this mess.

First of all, what is a subplot? Well, it's a mini storyline that runs alongside the main plot. While it shouldn't outshine the main story, a subplot is a story in itself and serves to reveal more about the protagonist. It can add depth and realism to characters. Subplots are generally introduced early in the book and they're resolved before the climax of the main plot.

I'll use Christine Wells's historical debut, Scandal's Daughter, as an example of expert subplot wrangling. At the heart of the novel is the main plot: a romance between Gemma, whose mother has a reputation to rival certain Hollywood starlets, and her childhood friend, Sebastian, an earl who's allergic to marriage. Gemma would like nothing more than to take charge of her beloved grandfather's estate. Unfortunately, it's not a task for a woman (It's the year 1814, you see.) Gemma doesn't know it, but grandad Hugo is dying and he wishes to see her to marry well. He believes Sebastian is The One for Gemma. Sebastian, meanwhile, has sworn off marriage as he knows it would've pleased his dead but detested father. So he promises to instead find a good match for Gemma. But as the story unfolds, it seems the only man fit to marry Gemma is Sebastian himself, an option neither wants to consider at first. Gemma craves a peaceful, rural life, and hedonistic Sebastian doesn't fit into that paradigm.

One of the subplots tracks Gemma's awkward relationship with her notorious but misunderstood mother. Rumours and innuendo underpin Gemma's shaky position in society. Another subplot is the on-again/off-again courtship between Sebastian's sister and her beau. This was handled in a fun and flirtatious manner that contrasted with Gemma's own romantic woes. There are a few more subplots that provide additional conflict/complications, each with a purpose and each intersecting with either Gemma or Sebastian, or both. By the closing chapters, you'll see how seemingly unrelated details in the subplots gradually lock together and go toward solving the main conflict.

A few points to consider when developing your subplot/s:

* Secondary characters are as important as main characters (MCs). Explore each character's goals, motivation and conflict. You don't have to incorporate all of these details in the manuscript, but it helps to know your characters well.

* Subplots can involve the MC and a secondary character, or they can be about two secondary characters. But find a way for the subplots to intersect.

* If the main story is a romance, you might like to take on a subplot involving the heroine's career/family/greatest fear, etc, etc.

* Don't allow the subplot to overtake the main plot. If the secondary plot is elbowing the main one off the stage, maybe you need to rethink the book's direction.

* Desperately seeking a connection? Find a theme or motif that carries through all the plotlines. Jenny Crusie and Bob Mayer have more on this here.

* Donald Maass says the subplot shouldn't have the same storyline as the main plot (MP). Others emphasise it should still relate to the MP.

* How many subplots can a book have? If it's a short category romance, you probably don't have room to have for anything other than the main conflict. Longer novels can have four or five or more, but I really don't have a firm figure on that. Just don't go for the world record for greatest number of subplots and you should be fine. If in doubt, cut the subplot if it doesn't serve a purpose to the MP.

* A subplot can show a different side to your characters. You might have a hero whose steely gaze alone could cut down a sequoia, but that same man turns into a softy who never misses his niece's ballet recital.

* By the same token, a subplot can be used to add interest or to clarify the main story.

* A subplot, like a MP, has a beginning, middle and end. Its turning points can affect those of the MP. The difference is subplots have shorter story arcs.

Am I repeating myself? Okay, it's time to go, then.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Lashing Out

Recently I heard about someone who'd received a rejection from a literary agent. The agent had given the author advice on how to get her work up to scratch. This advice--I don't know whether it was warranted or not--didn't go down well. In fact, the author sent a blistering, bridge-burning reply.


Some rejections kill. The good R's are those that tell you where you've gone wrong. You're a professional. Don't reach for the poison pen (or keyboard) to tell the agent or editor they're in the wrong business if they can't see how fabulous your book is. You just might give yourself another handicap in getting out of the slush pile. It's a tough biz. Kvetch to your friends in private. Fantasize all you want about "getting back" at The Agent Who Hurt Your Feelings, but don't act on it. If you must correspond with the agent at all after a rejection, a simple thank you will do. Then move on.

People in publishing talk. You don't want to be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Argue a point after a rejection and chances are your next query to that agent or agency will be trashed. Is getting the final word really worth the trouble?

To prove there are hundreds of other agents to query, check out this terrific new resource called Lit Match. It's a huge database of US, UK, Canadian and Australian agents and you can also register to keep track of your submissions.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Which Grease Character Are You?

My brilliant CP Stephanie Kuehnert and I were talking about Grease and which characters we wanted to be. Steph identified with Rizzo, the tough-talkin' broad with a golden heart. When I was five, I wanted to be Sandy, post-makeover. Never mind the fact my parents would never let me wear a black lycra cat suit then (that I did much later in life--and only once).

Who did you want to be? Frenchy, the dithering lost soul? Kenickie, who knew only two things: girls and cars? Danny, who could dance, sing, and pollute waterways simply by washing his oil-slicked hair? Sandy, before she turned from wholesome hick into a chain-smoking vamp?

(Okay, I'll admit it--I wanted to be good Sandy just as much as I wanted to be bad Sandy. And if you're ever in a karaoke bar with me, you'd better pray Hopelessly Devoted to You isn't on the playlist.)

The dance-off is my fave scene in the whole movie...

...and I love this scene too.

When bad perms happen to good people.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Just the Facts, Ma'am

In my day job, fact-checking is paramount. You've gotta be a nit-picker if you want to make it there. So it makes me itchy when I find errors in published material, like a magazine.

If one particular mag's astrologer wasn't so spookily accurate, I'd stop buying it every week. More and more howlers are slipping through. Last issue, there was the headline "Unchartered waters" instead of "uncharted" and they'd spelled The Who's Pete Townshend's name without an "H". They're using hyphens where they shouldn't ("high-school student") and solidifying compounds where a hyphen is vital for clarity ("topranking"). I know - it's a travesty.

In his blog, Style & Substance, the Wall Street Journal's Paul Martin challenges readers to spot the paper's daily flubs. I could spend hours of my two-week holiday here, but I really should get a life.

Monday, October 1, 2007

More on the Nudge

Editorial Anonymous has stepped up to fill the stilettos Miss Snark left behind. She's (I assume she's a she) a children's book editor who's happy to take publishing questions. In this post she encourages writers to politely nudge editors every three months if necessary.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Oh, de toilette!

Take a close look at this wedding dress.

It's made not from silk organza or antique French lace. Non, metres and metres of crisp ivory...toilet paper make up this design. Yep, why spend $6,000 on a dress you'll wear once when you can whip up a disposable gown with a $4.99 jumbo pack of Sorbent? All that's missing is a bouquet of cardboard toilet roll cores. I wonder if she's using one of those fragrance blocks as her "something blue." I think it's an amazing dress but I'm just not sold on the fabric.

One thing I am completely head over heels for is a magical new chocolate cafe called San Churro. Today I had the dainty churros with a milk chocolate dipping sauce. Next time, I'm going for the chocolate tapas plate. The cafe is roughly equal distance between my home and office, so I will be haunting it often. My workmates and I have decided we must do a comparative study on Sydney's chocolaterias. Which cafe franchise is best - Lindt, Max Brenner or newcomer San Churro?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Revision Rescue

A few of my writer friends are currently in revision hell. They've locked themselves away, they're feeding on scraps of chocolate, muttering scary words terms "looming deadline" and "contractual obligations." Good luck, gals! (Now, get back to work, you lot.)

I've trawled the Net, looking for quick revision hints:
* Power-Revision Techniques - learn how to add muscle to weak sentences.

* Allen & Unwin's Writing Centre - includes an extract from Kate Grenville's The Writing Book.

* Holly Lisle's One-Pass Manuscript Revision. People have mentioned Holly's method works best on a top-notch first draft (is there really such a thing?). But she has fantastic tips on strengthening an ms. The article's worth a look, as are her revision aftermath pics.

* And, ahem, some unknown, unpublished chick's blog post about revision.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Cyber Crimes

Ever been caught talking about someone behind their back, only to find that person was standing behind you listening to the whole rant? Imagine the cyber equivalent, say bagging out your boss in an email and accidentally sending the email to everyone in your company address book. That one email could then be spammed to the entire universe by the day's end.

Or featured in a book.

UK author Chas Newkey-Burden has compiled a whole book full of embarrassing e-correspondence.

I'm no stranger to email and blogging disasters, as some of you know. I wrote an email intended for my sister but it somehow ended up in the inbox of an agent I'd once e-queried. It almost made me want to disconnect from not only broadband but from the world in general. But I can now talk about this "learning experience" without becoming violently ill.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Nudge, Nudge

What's the etiquette on prompting agents for a reply if you haven't received an answer to your query? Do you write them a nudge note? Well, most agents will specify a response time on their website/agent listing, so use that as a guide. Some of them will say something to the effect of "Don't call us. We'll call you." Keep writing and querying others in the meantime.

Miss Snark, in her own, inimitable way, gave great advice on this topic. She hates the nudge, but I wonder if she could have resisted this little gem.

Random Writing Tip #2

Random Writing Tip #2 - Patience, young grasshopper
So, what can the not-so-patient writer do whilst waiting for an agent or editor's acceptance?

• Get busy working on the next project.
• Enter writing competitions.
• Volunteer as a contest judge - as well as helping others, you'll learn from them as well.
• Take an online course. Have a look at Writer's Digest’s classes or the affordable workshops by Earthly Charms.
• Enjoy the successes of other writers rather than steeping yourself in jealousy.
• Read widely – both inside and outside of your genre.
• Stop worrying about things you can't control, like how long it'll take for someone to review your book. Just get on with your job.
• Everyone says you have a great imagination. Give yourself a few minutes each day to dream about hitting the big time.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Random Writing Tip #1

I’m not claiming to be an expert, but from time to time I’ll share tips that work for me.

Random Writing Tip #1 - Competition deadlines
I forgot to enter an RWAus comp. Entries were due last Friday. I even had an ms ready, but my wisdom tooth crisis blotted out my memory. (The jury's out on whether the extraction of molars increases or depletes mental capacity - in my case it seems to be the latter.)

If you're forgetful like me, you need bells, whistles and flashing neon lights to keep on top of things. Set your computer's alarm on Outlook, iCal or similar to prod you two weeks before a competition's due-in date.

More hints to come...

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone

Actually, Emily, the heroine of Stephanie Kuehnert's first book wants to be your Joey Ramone. Here's the blurb:

I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE is book about mothers and daughters and about punk rock. Emily Black learned to play guitar even before she learned to tied her shoes. After all, music is a huge part of her life. Just months after Emily is born, her mother Louisa leaves Emily with her father Michael unable to cope with having a child. Michael tells Emily that Louisa went to follow the rise of the punk scene around the country. Emily grows up listening to Louisa's old records and practicing like crazy. She's determined to be a musician who can rock better/faster/harder than the best of them. Because if she is the music, then Louisa will come find her. She'll be drawn to Emily. Right?

I can hear the soundtrack already. I'm so excited for Stephanie that I might have to be sedated.

Stephanie, who just happens to be one of my generous crit partners, is doing a reading this Wednesday, September 5, at Sheffield's in Chicago from 7pm. Go along and see her if you're in the area. I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE will be a June 2008 release through MTV Books.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

What My Paper Shredder Taught Me

Within five minutes of plugging in my schmick new paper shredder, I found myself grappling with a tremendous, clumpy jam to end all jams. I don’t know how it happened. Even though the shredder can withstand eight sheets of paper at a time, I fed it five. The instruction manual read, “In the UNLIKELY event of a jam, select reverse.” Very funny. Reverse gear did not help. Ditto for thumping, jerking and wailing. One thing I was not going to do was give up, because I wanted to see the job through. Plus, I loathe taking things back to the store when they don’t work.

Two solid hours and a tub of chocolate mousse later (I’m on a soft-food diet whilst recovering from wisdom tooth extraction), I cleared the machine, using essential writer’s tools like blunt scissors and a jumbo paperclip. I’m back to shredding copies of my first [appalling] ms into neat ribbons.

This seemingly insignificant victory made me think about persistence in the publishing world. When you put your best work out there for submission and get rejections in return, it can bite into your confidence. My good friend and critter Anna Campbell has an article in this month’s RWA Romance Writers Report about writing for the long haul. She interviewed a number of authors who spent ten years or more trying to get published. Anna herself landed a deal 27 years after finishing her first manuscript. She and countless other pubbed authors did not give up. Common threads between these writers? Talent, hard work, a great story, a little bit of luck and a lot of persistence.

Long before Madonna branched out into children’s books, she said, “If you can’t say ‘I’ll die if I don’t do it,’ you shouldn’t do it.” And that’s what I think about when people tell me they’d like to write/publish a book but [insert 1,000 excuses here]. You’ve got to have that drive to keep going. Do not select reverse or neutral. Just think, the more rejections you get, the better you’ll feel when you actually do get a deal, right?

In other news...
The lovely Sara Hantz is celebrating the release of her first book with a blog party. Yay! Post a comment and you could win stuff.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Too Tired to Title This

‘Tis the morning after the Romance Writers of Australia annual conference and I’m functioning on borrowed brain cells. This time I was far more relaxed than last year, when I had to pitch to Miriam Kriss, but no less excited for my buddies Fiona Lowe, Sharon Arkell, Tracey O’Hara, Rachel Robinson and Allison Withers who were up for awards.

We spent all of Friday with the incomparable Jenny Crusie. She’s every bit as warm, funny and entertaining in life as she is in print. And she even signed my copy of Anyone But You with the inscription “To dear Vanessa, who is a great writer.” Gosh, she’s so smart. How did she know? (I’m kidding – she forced all of us to chant, “I am a great writer,” out loud all weekend.)

Anne Stuart, whose genteel exterior belies a twisted* mind, talked about dark matter of the literary variety: heroes and heroines who maim and murder. If your heroine must commit a crime, make her goals, motivation and conflict clear, said Anne. Give the reader a reason to empathise with the protagonist. Psycho killers are generally boring because often they kill without emotion or reason.

From Allison Rushby I learnt about applying the three-act play/film structure to novel writing. One of my crit crew members, Janette, found it useful to identify the three acts of her ms and major turning points, and then base her editor pitch on it. (P.S. Worked like a charm.)

Dynamic duo Annie West and Anna Campbell unleashed alpha heroes on us. They cleared up a lot of misconceptions about the definition of an alpha male. Very nice of them to use visual aids, like pics of Indiana Jones and James Bond (the latest model) too. In short, a real alpha male can take many forms but he’s never a bully or brute.

Okay, now I have to go cultivate some more brain cells. Tell me, what have you learnt from a conference or workshop?

* Anne Stuart even describes herself as twisted, but she’s really very sweet.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Never Work with Vegetables and Animals

Special congratulations to four of my writer friends, Christine Wells, Paula Roe, Kate Mulvany and Amanda Ashby, who've all received amazing reviews for their work in the past week.

Christine Wells's historical debut, Scandal's Daughter (Berkley) won four well-deserved stars in the Romantic Times.

"Richly etched and multilayered" is how the Romantic Times described Paula Roe's characters in Forgotten Marriage ( Silhoutte Desire). Paula scored four and a half stars for her debut. Don't you think her coverboy looks just like Martin Henderson?

The Sydney Morning Herald had this to say about playwright and actress Kate on her play The Seed: "Kate Mulvany went to a very candid place inside her heart to tell her family's story. At this stage in her career, Mulvany is often described as an emerging playwright. The Seed suggests she's close to fully fledged."

And finally, Publishers Weekly says Amanda's You Had Me at Halo (NAL) is "The Lovely Bones meets Bridget Jones. It's a fun, witty traipse through the afterlife."

So put these books on your, MUST-be-read list. Kate's play finishes its run at the Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney on August 12.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Cowboys Herding Cats

Everyone knows you can't lead a cat to water. Unless you're a cowboy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Heart of Darkness

Are you a frequent Googler? Concerned about energy usage? Well, set your home page to It's the same old Google, only the background is black. It takes more power to display a white page than a black one.

Smarty-pants Doogie Houser used a blue background in Word when writing his electronic diaries. It was quite irritating to look at. I wonder if he did it to earn carbon credits.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sowing the Seeds of Success

(Corny title, I know... )

My uber talented colleague Kate Mulvany won the 2004 Philip Parsons Young Playwright’s Award with The Seed, and tonight the play opens at Sydney's Belvoir Street Theatre. She also stars in this drama about the effects of war, based on her family history. If you're in town, please go along and check it out. I'm so excited for Kate. She was with me when my agent offered representation. As a writer, she knew just how much the offer meant to me. We jumped around and screamed for ages (after we double-checked the email to make sure I read it right the first time).

Congrats, Kate! Thanks for your support. Break a leg.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Goodness Gracious!

While cruising my favourite blogs for pitching tips, I read this exchange in the comments trail of a recent Pubrants post. An anonymous poster criticised the Publishers Marketplace blurb for YA author Kelly Parra’s Graffiti Girl. Expressing an opinion is fine. But what I found memorable was Kelly’s gracious response. It would’ve been all too easy to shoot back with a scorching reply. Instead, she killed 'em with kindness. I think that says a lot about her and how to win fans and influence bloggers.

In other news...
Writing victory of the week: finished a YA ms. Hooray!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Today's headlines...

Congratulations to Amanda Ashby, who just signed a two-book YA deal with Puffin. Amanda's debut novel, You Had Me at Halo (who could resist that title, eh?) comes out in August. Hooray, Amanda!

Another author celebrating tonight is Alexandra Adornetto. At 15, I believe she's the youngest published writer in Australia. Isn't that amazing? Her book, The Shadow Thief will be released on July 1.

Well done, ladies! Happy sales to you.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Eight Random Facts

That dastardly romance bandit Anna Campbell tagged me and I've been trying to think up eight random things about me that won't send anyone to sleep. I'm sure this list is the blog equivalent to Valium, but here goes anyway...

1. When I was a kid I once scared the heck out of my sister, with whom I shared a bedroom, by sleep-talking in Spanish. And that's weird, 'cause I can't speak Spanish when I'm awake (but I do know what El Pollo Loco means).

2. I'm fascinated by ghosts and write about them but I'm not keen on the idea of actually meeting one.

3. I was one of the tallest girls in Grade 7. Now I'm the shortest person in my group of friends.

4. I am the sudoku champion of my household.

5. I can never pick just one favourite thing.

6. I got married in Savannah, Georgia, which is about 9,444 miles (or 15,197 kilometres) from where I live. Apparently a ghost was there too but I was too nervous to notice.

7. Many years ago, in a nightclub, a high-profile football player once accused me of throwing ice at him. (A friend later said to me, "Are you sure he wasn't saying 'You've got nice eyes' and not 'Did you throw ice?'")

8. It has taken me 30 days to come up with this list.

I now pronounce Philip, Stephanie Hale, Elizabeth Scott, Tracey O'Hara, Joanna Challis, Tina Ferraro, Elle Royce and Simone Elkeles tagged! You can post your random facts here, on your own blog, or to really mess with people, post on some random blog.

Four non-random rules about the Eight Random Facts game:
1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
3. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Excuse Me, Haven't I Seen This Plot Before?

Picture this: A proud moment. You’ve just spent months (maybe years, maybe weeks if you’re disciplined) writing a whole entire novel. Your characters are so real they could be made of flesh and bone. The story zings in all the right places. There’s an action-packed beginning, the middle is sinewy and not one bit saggy, and the ending – well, you’ve outdone Stephen King, haven’t you?

Then you go to a bookstore and treat yourself. The first tome you pick up is in the same genre as yours and has an enticing title. Its cover is to die for. But when you read the blurb, you want to die for a whole 'nother reason. Why? Because this published book, with its snappy name and shiny cover, is exactly like the one you’ve just finished writing. Same setting, same plot, same everything.

How does this happen? Is it a product of collective unconsciousness? (Great time-waster here.) Where the heck are you going to find an original idea?

I’ll leave the how’s and the why’s to scientists and philosophers. What you, the writer, need to focus on is your own book. It may seem like the end of the world, but don’t panic. Unless you plagiarised whole sections word-for-word (and you wouldn't have done that), you really shouldn’t throw your hands up and abandon the project.

What will set your story apart from that Doppelganger? I’m sure you’ll find lots of things, starting with:
a. Your voice. It comes from within. Sure, you can mimic someone else’s voice, but it won’t ring true.

b. Main characters and bit players. Maybe they’re motivated by different things; maybe they’re more tortured or more emotionally stable; maybe your heroine’s tall and the other book’s heroine is short. You get the idea.

c. The basic plot maybe similar to yours, but it’s likely you’ll see twists in other directions.

So your book has a fraternal twin. Where to from here? Choose your own adventure:
a. Scrap your book. (Not recommended – I’m just throwing options around here.)

b. Tweak, revise, polish. Remember, you have the advantage of creating a stronger hook.

c. Do nothing (that includes wallowing in depression) because you’re convinced your book is similar...but different.

d. Put your manuscript away to marinate and start on something new.

e. Vow never to read again, that way you won’t be influenced by others. (Er...also not recommended.)

f. Google that elusive factory where new ideas for books are invented daily by a crack team. Or is it a team on crack? I think they have a MySpace page...

g. Read widely, keep developing your skills and style, quit comparing yourself to other writers.

h. A combination of the above.

So, fellow writers, has this happened to you? How did you deal with it?

Friday, June 8, 2007

YA Author Interview - Sara Hantz

At school, my fellow Antipodean Sara Hantz was the girl most likely to get sent to the principal's office for disrupting class. Now she's the girl most likely to create a stir when her debut YA novel, The Second Virginity of Suzy Green (Flux), storms the bookshelves on September 1.

In between writing her next book, running a motel in beautiful New Zealand and vetting potential pool boys, Sara sat down to answer a few burning questions.

Tell us about your protagonist, Suzy Green.
Suzy is a typical fun-loving teen, whose life spirals out of control after the tragic death of her sister, Rosie, for which she blames herself. After one major incident she comes to her senses and decides, misguidedly, to emulate high achieving Rosie so she can ease the pain of her parents’ loss. When she starts her new school she reinvents herself, including joining the virginity club (for which she isn’t qualified), which has some amusing and poignant consequences.

What inspired the plot?
This is a tricky question because there wasn’t any one thing that inspired me. I had a title in mind, which I loved - Virgin on the Ridiculous - and I wanted to write something around that (as you can see it’s not the title I ended up with, but that’s okay because I love the new title even more). I remember brainstorming with one of my crit partners and she told me about virginity clubs and I researched them on the net and came up with the idea of someone lying about being a virgin so they could join. And the rest of the story sort of evolved through my planning.

Describe your writing process.
Little and often. I have a very low attention span and am easily distracted. So, I open my manuscript up first thing in the morning and dip in and out of it during the day. Some times I get more done than others, depending on how busy the motel is and how sidetracked I get on the internet.

I’d love to know more about your Call story.
I’d been writing chick-lit and hen-lit for a couple of years, when in November 2005 I decided to try a teen-lit. After writing three chapters I did what you’re not meant to do and started to send it to agents, to test the water. Ooops!!! That’ll teach me. The story seemed to hit the right nerve because straightaway five agents asked for the full manuscript and six for partials. I sent the partials and said to those requesting the full that it still needed some tweaking (aka writing) and I’d send when ready. In only a few days one of the agents had read the partial and asked for the full.

I managed to finish the full by January and send to all those who requested it… most of them asked for it by email which was an added bonus… and 10 days later the agent I mentioned above phoned and offered representation. I said yes pretty much straight away. By February I’d done some revisions for my agent and she sent it out to lots of publishers. Andrew, the editor from Flux, phoned asking if I’d be prepared to do some revisions. I said yes (obviously!!!) and he sent me a very detailed letter. I did them. He was happy and then asked me to do some more, saying if they were okay he’d take it to the Acquisitions Committee. He took it to the committee and they offered me a contract. The actual ‘call’ was staged. First, my agent emailed asking for me to let her know a time I’d be available for a chat on the phone. So I sort of knew they’d offered. So I didn’t scream or burst into tears because I’d already prepared myself.

How has your life changed since you signed that first contract with Flux?
Well, now I get up at midday, have a long soak in a bath full of bubbles, then my chef will prepare a light lunch and I’ll go to my office and write. I’ll write for maybe an hour and then go for a massage, after which I’ll sunbathe by the pool reading. The pool-boy will be on hand at all times to pander to my every need… no, not those sort of needs!! I mean peeling grapes and dropping them gently into my mouth.

What??? You don’t believe me. Okay… Not a lot has changed, except I have both an agent and editor to work with, and when given a deadline I must meet it. It’s also great to have such fabulous editorial input. My books are a thousand times better than they were originally because of their help.

What do you know about publishing now that you wish someone had told you earlier?
That publishing moves at a snail’s pace. Two days in publishing time is like two weeks for the rest of us. I’m slowly learning to be patient… but it’s very hard for someone who’s made impatience an art form.

Your book debuts in September – how are you going to celebrate its release?
Being stuck in NZ I won’t be able to stalk all the high street stores looking for it, and placing it to its best advantage. So, I guess I’ll be with my family drinking a toast to its success. I’m hoping to enlist friends in the US to go on a hunt for it and send me photos.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on a book called Dating The Megan Russell Way, which is about a teenage girl who sells psychic dating advice to pay off a huge debt.

What’s the best part about being a writer?
Being able to make things up! I spent many years in academia, having to research and write papers on some very dry and boring issues. Writing is like a breath of fresh air. Oh yes, and being able to wear track pants every day. Now that really is heaven!

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors who might be struggling with agent/editor rejections?
Hang on in there. Very often rejections don’t mean you have no talent, just that your manuscript isn’t right for them at that particular time. I believe there’s an element of luck involved in all sales. Take The Second Virginity of Suzy Green as an example. It landed on the editor’s desk just as he was thinking about broadening their offering to include books set overseas from a different culture. Right place, right time!

Great answers, Sara. Thanks so much!

The Second Virginity of Suzy Green is available for pre-order now at Fishpond and Amazon.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Plymouth Independent Film Festival

Tired of seeing the same old blockbusters at your local cinema? Most major cities have an annual film festival where you can discover new film-making talent, namely my good friend Brinsley Marlay. His short film, Briefings, is in competition at the Plymouth Independent Film Festival, Massachusetts (July 18 - 22). The taut and suspenseful plot is punctuated beautifully by a haunting score. (Okay, I'm a little biased - my husband did an amazing job with sound design and he composed the score.)

Congratulations, Brinsley and Mr. Authorness! Best of luck.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Why Writing Is So Darn Hard

My biggest problem isn't writer's block or procrastination.
No, it's a two-kilo feline named Possum. Here she is, asleep at the wheel again.

What are your obstacles to writing? Are they animal, mineral, physical or spiritual barriers? (Apologies to Joan Armatrading)

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Olde Brisbane Town

My sister dug up this great ('50s? '60s?) photo of Queen Street, Brisbane. On the right you can see the old Regent Entertainment Centre, which still operates as a cinema. I worked there for nine years. The best part about going to work was stepping into the magnificent foyer:

(photo from

Plenty of history there, like bullet holes in the ceiling from a police chase. Director Baz Luhrmann stood at the side of the staircase and signed my Romeo + Juliet poster. In the garish neon Candy Bar (thankfully not in shot), I made millions of choctop ice-creams, approximately two tonnes of popcorn, and poured an ocean's worth of Coke. Most importantly, it's where I met my real-life hero. Ah, memories!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

So Hot Right Now

It's actually rather cool here, but the title of the post relates to an article I wrote for Romance Writers of Australia. I interviewed authors Niki Burnham, Tina Ferraro, Juli Heaton and Allison Rushby on what YA fiction is. Agent Michael Bourret and Flux editor Andrew Karre gave me some insider info on what's selling right now.

Go have a look at the RWAus site.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Agent Matchmaking Part II – with Nephele Tempest of The Knight Agency

We're told "dream" agents don't exist (though nightmare agents are out there, apparently). So I won't say Nephele Tempest of The Knight Agency is a dream agent. But with her track record, you'd be pretty darn lucky to have her representing your work. Nephele's clients include Gemma Halliday and Shannon K. Butcher. She generously gave her time to answer questions about her modus operandi.

1. Tell us about the first project you sold.

The first project I sold was a two-book deal for a paranormal romance series by author Nalini Singh, to Berkley Sensation, an imprint of the Penguin Group. It ended up selling in an auction, which was rather exciting, and also a little crazy since, obviously, I had never orchestrated one before. I ended getting up very early that morning, because of the time difference with New York, and drinking a lot of coffee. Nalini was living in Japan at the time (she currently lives in New Zealand), which made it that much stranger, going back and forth with the difference offers. God bless e-mail. It was a heady feeling, though, when we finally hammered out the deal. The books are both available now: SLAVE TO SENSATION and VISIONS OF HEAT.

2. What types of books do you represent?

I represent a pretty wide range of books, though I do stick to fiction. Currently, I'm representing commercial literary fiction, women's fiction, romance, young adult, and sf/f.

3. Are you actively seeking new clients?

Yes! I've been an agent for about two and a half years now, and currently have around fifteen clients, so there's definitely room for more. Submissions guidelines are available at our web site: The Knight Agency.

4. What kinds of projects are editors begging to see right now?

It's an ever-changing market, and I try to encourage my clients to write the book they want to write, and not worry so much about what editors are looking for specifically. By the time you write the book, the editors will be looking for something else. Concentrate on honing your craft, and writing something with a very strong, unique voice and a solid sense of place. But, that said, urban fantasy is big still, in romance, YA, and straight up fantasy. Children's editors are always looking for books with good male protagonists that appeal to both the reluctant boy readers and the die-hard girl readers. Literary historical novels, of the sort that include actual historical figures along with fictional ones (think THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL by Philippa Gregory) are still doing well.

5. On average, how many new clients do you take on each year?

This really varies. When I was starting out, and had lots of time, I made much more headway with my submissions and took on clients more quickly--maybe 6 or 7 a year. Now, I'm probably in the range of 2 to 4 a year, as I'm spending more time actually working for my existing clients and less time reading submissions.

6. What’s your average response time for queries, partials and fulls?

I don't see too much in the way of queries, as we have someone screening them for the entire agency, but we generally get back to people within a week or two. On partials, I aim for within a month, but that varies depending on how busy I am with existing clients. Full manuscripts, again, I'm far more behind than I would like. I aim for within 3-4 months, but I'm cleaning up things that are older than that this week. I do tend to read submissions in waves; when things are a bit calmer, I take a couple of days and read through manuscript after manuscript to get back up to date.

7. Do you provide your clients with editorial feedback?

Definitely. I think it's important, since I'm the last set of eyes to go over everything before the manuscript goes to an editor. When we're shopping a project, I will give fairly detailed notes, particularly regarding any plot holes or inconsistencies in character development, and I'll proofread. We'll go back and forth until I think the manuscript is ready to go out. But I also try to read all of my clients' manuscripts before they get turned in on deadline, assuming there's time before they're due to the editors.

8. What hurts a writer’s chances of getting an agent?

A lot of time, sad to say, it's attitude. Sloppy queries, not following guidelines, being rude. I can't tell you how many e-mails I get saying, "I know that you don't take such and such, but if you would just read this…" They're so busy telling me they know better, that they forget that they shouldn't want an agent who doesn't represent the kind of book they write.

But on a more general level, I see a lot of partials or even full manuscripts for great ideas where the work just isn't quite there yet--it needs another couple of rewrites. And sometimes, if I am really interested in the concept, I'll ask to see it again after those rewrites, but more often, I'll just reject with a note stating it's not sufficiently polished. If those writers just move on to the next agent and don't rethink their work, they're going to stay stuck at that plateau.

9. How does it feel to be on your side of the table during a conference pitch?

Honestly, I hate conference pitches. I understand the appeal, and I do love meeting writers, but ultimately, the pitch tells me little more than what the story is about, and how nervous the writer is to be sitting there. I still need to see something written to get an idea of the person's talent. I'd rather they raffle off a half dozen critiques with me instead, and then set up some sort of round robin Q&A, where a group of writers each get a few minutes to ask me about the agency and my working style. It would be more practical and more useful in the long run.

10. With the rest of your Knight Agency colleagues based in Georgia, what are the advantages of working in your own branch in L.A.?

Actually, the biggest advantage to being alone in L.A. is that I don't have any distractions. I'm a chatter box, and if I were in the office with the rest of the gang, I have a feeling I'd get a lot less accomplished. Practically speaking, I do get the chance to meet producers and other film industry people living in Los Angeles, which makes it easy to set up meetings and to share our projects with people who might be interested in the film or television rights. The film industry is very different from the publishing industry--much slower moving, and far more about who you know and catching the right person at the right time--so that access is great.

Thanks so much for your time, Nephele!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Agent Matchmaking – with Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown Ltd.

(I'm sorry about the broken links! I'm trying to fix 'em.)

The search for a literary agent who’s right for you starts here. Meet San Francisco-based Nathan Bransford of the well-respected Curtis Brown Ltd literary agency. His clients include Rebecca S. Ramsay and Brad Geagley. He’s professional, smart, gracious, responds to queries promptly, knows the market, and he just might be your perfect agent match. (Just don’t accidentally send him private emails that were meant for your sister.)

1. What was the first project you sold and to which publishing house?

The very first book deal I handled was a reprint deal for four of John Preston's books, which I sold to Cleis Press. Preston was a pioneer in gay fiction. Curtis Brown had represented him until his untimely death, and continues to represent his works on behalf of his estate. Young agents are often given the responsibility of handling reprint deals, and this is the first one that came my way.

2. Please list the types of projects you specialize in.

I am a bit of a generalist, and I'm interested in a wide variety of genres, including literary fiction, commercial fiction (including mysteries, suspense, science fiction and historical fiction), narrative nonfiction, sports, politics, current events, pop culture and, if that's not broad enough, I also include a caveat for anything else I happen to like.

3. On average, how many new clients do you take on each year?

I'm a young agent and am actively building my list, but I am also very selective about who I take on, so this complex formula results in two or three new clients a year.

4. What's your average response time for queries, partials and fulls?

I almost always respond to queries within a day, sometimes quicker. Partials usually take me a week or two, and fulls can take between two and three weeks.

5. Tell us about the wackiest query you've ever received? If you haven't been lucky enough to get such a query, how about the best query ever?

I have definitely my share of wacky queries, although I'd hate to make fun of an aspiring writer so I'll dodge that question and go for the "best" one instead. The best one I received was from an LA Times bestselling writer, and let's just say when I saw "LA Times bestseller" in the subject line I was extremely excited. I was even more excited when I opened up the email and saw that his work was right up my alley.

6. Are you in favor of lower advances/higher royalties?

This depends a great deal on the particular project and publisher, so I don't know that I have a standard opinion on this one.

7. How often do you keep in touch with your clients?

It depends on the needs of the clients. I'm always available when my clients need to reach me, but how often I speak with them depends on whether there are submissions or negotiations underway, or if things are quiet.

8. Have you ever taken on an author whose work you adore, even though you know there's no market for their book...yet?

No, I only take on clients with projects I think I can sell.

9. You have a soft spot for clients who...

Are as professional as they are talented. Luckily all of my clients fit this description.

10. You shriek when authors...

I shriek when aspiring authors don't take the time to research the agents they are querying. There is a wealth of information online, and you would be very surprised at the number of authors who don't take the time to Google the agents they are querying and personalize their query letters.

11. I don't have time to........, but I'll roll up my sleeves and do it if.....

I don't have time to read all of the manuscripts on my desk and in my inbox, but I'll roll up my sleeves and do it if I work a few twelve-plus hour days.

Thank you for your time, Nathan!

If Nathan sounds like a good (professional) match for you, please head to his MySpace profile for details on how to query him. I recommend reading his witty, insightful blog first, which you’ll find here.

Okay, I'm at a complete loss. Blogger wins again. Try these:

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Email Scream-mail

It's official - I should be banned from using email. Or at the very least give every email I compose a quadruple check before hitting that benign yet evil 'send' button.

I used to laugh at the PC platform and its "Are you sure you want to--?" alert messages. Not anymore. If it's going to stop me from sending personal emails meant for my sister to other people (ie. an agent I once queried), then maybe I should have some kind of warning installed on Yahoo mail. Like, "Are you sure you want to send that snarky email?" or "You know, you come across like a real loser in that message. Are you sure you want to send it?"

Please humor me and tell me I'm not the only one who stuffs up royally in cyberspace.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Mayday: New YAs You Need to Read

May 2007 YA releases I’ll be getting my hands on:

Niki Burnham, GODDESS GAMES (Simon & Schuster Books
for Young Readers)
Debby Garfinkle, THE BAND: TRADING GUYS (Berkley)
Debby Garfinkle, STUCK IN THE ‘70s (Putnam). Two releases! How amazing is that?
Shannon Greenland, THE SPECIALISTS: MODEL SPY (Puffin)
Alyson Noel, KISS & BLOG (St. Martin’s Griffin)
Kelly Parra, GRAFFITI GIRL (MTV Books)
Serena Robar, DATING4DEMONS (Berkley Jam).
Elizabeth Scott, fellow Writers House client, BLOOM (Simon Pulse).

Thanks, Juli Heaton, for providing this update. Juli’s own first release, Stirring Up Trouble (Puffin) is due out in 2008's northern summer. I cannot wait!

Once More, With Feeling

Annie West, a wonderful author friend and fellow chocolate fiend, sent me a hardback copy of her upcoming Mills & Boon release, For the Sheikh's Pleasure. Annie's gesture felt even more special when I looked inside the cover and found she'd dedicated the book to me! What a gal!

Now, before you say, "I don't read romance," pick up the new breed of category romance novels and judge them for yourself. Check out Harlequin and Mills & Boon. If you're into TV's Grey's Anatomy, I prescribe a dose of Fiona Lowe's medical romances. She writes true-to-life medical emergency scenes and heart-tugging romance that'll give you palpitations.

As a reader, it's impossible not to get lost in the world Annie West creates for her characters. There's nothing better than an escape hatch from everyday drudgery. From a technical point of view, I think the sheer emotion Annie pours into her stories makes her work so absorbing. You feel what the heroine feels. You get to know her so well it's hard to walk away once you reach the end of the book. It isn't easy to elicit a reaction like that from a reader. Writers in any genre need to make their audience care about the protagonists, fall for them, even. I don't know exactly how Annie does it, but I suspect it has a lot to do with talent rather than the Lindt chockies I ply her with.

Other Books on My Teetering TBR/Halfway-Through Pile:
The Surgeon's Chosen Wife by Fiona Lowe (Harlequin)
Atlantis Rising by Alyssa Day (Berkley Sensation)
Victoria and the Rogue a historical YA by Meg Cabot (Macmillan)
Dairy Queen a YA by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Animal Attraction a YA romantic comedy by Jamie Ponti (Simon Pulse)
Fairest by Gail Carson Levine (HarperCollins)
Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty (Pan Macmillan Australia). Thanks for giving me this book, Janette H!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Getting to Know You

While Miss Snark advises her devoted Snarkings to query widely when looking for that special agent, she also recommends you research, research, research before you draft that "Dear Agent" letter.

Don't be one of those people who queries a literary agent just because you like the agency's moniker or they have a nice website. (Although, I do love the name Harvey Klinger. Fortunately it's a great agency that reps YA.) They've got to be more than just a pretty facade.

If you've written the mother of all fantasies, don't query a crime-lovin' agent just because they sold one fantasy novel in 1989. The reason they may have had that sale is because a client who normally writes crime saddled them with their one and only 1,000-page fantasy novel and by some fluke it struck gold.

You want to find out what projects the agent would climb Everest in stilettos for. Or more specifically, you want an agent who knows the market and loves your genre. You want to know how they operate and who their clients are. So how do you know what an agent wants if you don't exactly get invited to all the good publishing parties?

There are some terrific resources on the Net to help you find a good match these days. And I don't mean AgentQuery, AAR, Absolute Write, Preditors & Editors, Publishers Marketplace, agent blogs, writer blogs, etc, all give you vital clues. But also sniff out interviews, where you'll get more than the usual brief bullet points on what an agent likes/dislikes.

I found these great interviews by Googling agents' names + the word interview. Thanks go to the people who actually conducted and posted these interviews. Take a good look around their sites for more useful info.

Michael Neff's interview with Maya Rock of Writers House.

Gawker's interview with Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, New York.

Alma Fullerton's interview with Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown, San Francisco.

K.L. Goings's interview with Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown, New York. (Yes, there are two Gingers at CB, and they're both lovely.

Stephanie Rowe's interview with Irene Goodman of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.

Gena Showalter's interview with Nephele Tempest of The Knight Agency. (Bless you, Ms. Showalter, for giving the pronunciation of Nephele! I'd always wondered...)

The Luxury of Being Underpublished

O brave apprentice authors take heart: The grass isn't always greener on the other side of the writing fence. As much as I'd love nothing more than to be a multipublished author, getting a dream contract isn't going to solve all my problems. In fact, a publishing deal can herald the start of even bigger insecurities.

Don't believe me? Have a peek over the pickets, where my published neighbours live.

1. A typical unpublished author might spend decades coming up with an original plot and lovable characters. They agonise over every syllable, erase excess adverbs or adjectives, wonder ad nauseam if the bad guy should be drawn and quartered or simply vanquished to a bleak parallel universe.

A typical author under contract might have a couple of months to deliver a polished manuscript. People other than immediate family and pets are depending on them. Any delays mean altering the timetable for marketing, artwork, printing and distribution. They worry they'll never get another contract.

2. A typical unpublished author might enter a writing competition to help her write to a deadline.

A typical author with a two-book deal might submit their second novel to an editor. For various reasons, the manuscript isn't up to scratch. The editor wants a complete revision. Turnaround time: two weeks. They worry they'll never get another contract and that they'll never write a book as brilliant as the first one.

3. A typical unpublished author might enter a writing competition [isn't cut & paste fabulous?] to get unbiased feedback because, frankly, loved ones adore anything they write, even if it's awful. Entrants are anonymous. Judges' comments range from encouraging to indifferent to soul-destroying.

A typical author sees the bound product of their very own blood, sweat and ink released unto the public. The Internet becomes the Enemy as critics and readers flood Amazon with the verdict: Typical Author's Book Sucks. They worry they'll never get another contract, that they'll never write a decent book let alone a brilliant one, that the most savage critic will find out where they live and personally throw rotten tomatoes at them.

I could go on and on.

At the 2006 Romance Writers of Australia conference, not-so-typical authors Trish Morey and Lillian Darcy spoke with nostalgia over their pre-published days. Although grateful for her published status, Morey lamented over not having more time to tweak and retweak her work. And we all gasped when Darcy confided she'd been published too soon. She would love to go back and rework her first book now that she's a better, more experienced writer.

So dream of publication , by all means, but steel yourself against the sharp pinch of reality.

Revising Your Novel in Seven (Rambling) Steps

When you finish a manuscript, first you must cheer, cry, turn cartwheels and/or eat a pound of chocolate. Celebrate it any way you want, because it's a massive achievement. The next step is to submit the book to a publisher or agent, right? No, very, very wrong.

• Step away from the book. (Oh, okay, you can read it for fun, but then you have to leave it alone.)

• Allow the book to marinate for no less than one week. Some authors don't even peek at their mss for an entire year. There are certain luxuries to being unpublished. If you're not expected to have the polished ms on an editor's desk ASAP, you can take as much time as you want before revising. Just don't do it too soon.

Why wait? When you've just written the book, you're still inside the characters' heads. You're head over heels in love with your work and can't see the flaws. You really don't know what you're missing – like a gap in the plot, for instance. When you can no longer anticipate what's going to happen in every scene of the book, then it's safe to go back inside the pages.

• Now, if you're a pantser and don't write an outline before you write, read the book and briefly summarize each chapter or scene. I recommend you do this step even if you're a plotter. Not only will this help you get a bare-bones synopsis down, it'll show you where you might've killed off Aunt Dora twice, etc. Identify scenes that need more emotion, less narrative, more dialogue, continuity and pacing tweaks, for example.

Observe how the story "hangs" overall. Is there enough conflict? Are the characters likeable and interesting? At which points did you skim the words or let your mind wander? It takes practice to see the imperfections in your own work, but put aside your ego and this gets easier.

• In my case, I had to ditch a ludicrous subplot and clean up the debris associated with that. This left my manuscript considerably shorter. Before despair set in, I did a little brainstorming and wrote a new synopsis, expanding on other parts of the story. Then I was able to jump back into the story and make the necessary changes.

• On the next pass, address issues like awkward phrasing, redundant speech tags, repetitions (make use of your thesaurus at this point rather than at first draft stage), spelling mishaps, typos, punctuation, paragraphing, and verify names of real people, places and products, etc. Check your use (or overuse) of adverbs and adjectives. If you ever get published, your copy editor will love you.

Try to have each chapter start and end with a hook. It doesn't have to be explosive, just intriguing enough to keep the reader eager to turn the pages.

• By now you'll be thoroughly sick of your book. Pass it on to your critique partner. I also have my two amazing teen readers give me a reality check too.

While you're waiting for the verdict, work on a knockout synopsis and query letter. You'll need a blurb for your query, no longer than 250 words. Cover all possible requests and write synopses of varying lengths - one, two, three, and up to five pages. I've no idea why, but no-one has ever requested four pages. Not that I'm complaining. The shorter the synopsis, the better, if you ask me. If you're outside the US, order international stamps for your SSAEs from USPS now.

• Fix any problems flagged by your crit partners. Read the book again. If you're sure the book is the best it can possibly be, check your ms's formatting (one-inch margins, 12-point Times New Roman or Courier font), take a big breath and submit it.

There's some debate about the value of entering writing competitions. My view is that you'll get an unbiased opinion of your work, it toughens you up for inevitable rejection and you might win some pocket money. Even better, the final round of most RWA comps are judged by an editor or agent, giving you an opportunity to leap over the slush pile.

Quick fixes:
Slow pace – ditch routine tasks that have no bearing on the story (making coffee, uneventful car journeys, shopping for Lindt Bunnies...); subplots or characters that go nowhere.

Unsympathetic hero/heroine – show them doing something that requires strength of character, something readers can relate to. Like rescuing helpless cats from cruel owners, or single-handedly saving the planet from blood-sucking aliens.

Cookie-cutter villainsMost people aren't all evil or all saintly. Give the bad guy some human qualities too. By the same token, give your protagonists a shortcoming, preferably one that could come back to bite them (a fear of snakes, for example.)

So this method of revision worked for me. What are your revision tips?

Friday, April 6, 2007

Who Am I and What Am I Doing Here?

I'm not sure why I'm here yet. But hop across to MySpace until I figure it out.