Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Shortchanging Yourself and Your eBook

by Darke Conteur

The other day, I found a novel I wanted to read. I found the author through an online article, and even though it wasn’t in a genre I normally read, the blurb really got my attention. This author had a few novels self-published through Amazon, and when I did a check to see where else she might have published, I couldn’t find any. Needless to say, I was more than disappointed. I have the Kindle app on my laptop, but I was given a Kobo for Christmas. I haven’t used my Kindle app since.

It made me wonder about this new lending library thing Amazon is doing and whether it’s a good thing or not. Personally, I think it’s detrimental to a self-published author’s career to publish their book with only one company. One of the keys to sales is word of mouth, and it’s hard to get the word out if you’re only on a few sites. Even if those sites represent a large portion of the eBook-buying industry.

I know a few writers who published on two sites only—Amazon and Smashwords. Smashwords creates several files, many that support the more popular readers, but if I purchase an e-file, I have to transfer the file to an SD card, then to my reader. It would be easier if I could download the novel from the Kobo website library to my reader, and isn’t one of the big selling points of digital books that it's easy for the reader to get them?

I thought about my little book. I have it on Amazon and Smashwords. Smashwords will distribute your eBook to Kobo, iBookstore, B&N, and several others IF your formatting and everything qualifies you for their Premium Catalogue. There are a couple more stringent hoops to jump through with the format, but that's part of why Smashwords is so popular, because it allows you to get into those stores with one stop. The biggest drawback for me is formatting. It's a lot of work, but in the end, isn't it worth it to have your book in as many different outlets as possible?

Thanks to R.C. for the information on Smashwords. :)

Darke Conteur: author of stories from the dark side. Blogs Here, Twitters Here, & plays Facebook games Here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Freedom to Read

by Jemi Fraser

February 26 - March 3, 2012 is Freedom to Read week in Canada. This is similar to Banned Book week in the US and probably similar weeks all over the world. I feel strongly about allowing people the freedom to choose what to read. My students read independently each and every day. They choose their own books from my rather enormous classroom library or bring in their own books. They always choose well. I talked more about this here.

I was one of those lucky kids. My parents were fabulous. They encouraged us to do our best no matter what the task and encouraged us to make our own choices from an early age. Those choices included reading material.

I'd devoured the kids' section in the library before I finished grade 6. Sadly, YA didn't exist back then. I ventured into the adult section. Was I too young? Did I read things that were above my head and inappropriate? I don't think so. I learned things, but nothing overwhelmed me or made me feel uncomfortable.

One of those adult series I read was James Herriot's Vet series (also known as All Creatures Great and Small). If you haven't read them, Herriot was a English veterinarian who visited local farms and dealt with, well, just about everything. Herriot's books are full of vet stories, humour, relationships and life. Adult life. I learned a lot. :)

I also started reading Agatha Christie's books in grade 6. And Tolkien's. I read about death. Evil. Murder. Greed. Lust. Corruption.

Along with honour. Truth. Loyalty. Logic. Love. Perseverance. Integrity. Teamwork. Courage.

I learned good defeats evil and that love, all kinds of love, is powerful.

So, yeah, I support Freedom to Read.

What was the first adult book you read? Did it affect you? Positively or negatively?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of romantic mysteries. She blogs and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Have I Got an Idea for You

by Matt Sinclair

Somewhere between rinse and repeat it happened: The idea! What idea? Wait, was it the one for the blog post, for that troubling scene in my manuscript, or that money-maker that just needs a little tweaking. Damn! What idea just went down the drain?

Ideas will come and go, and no matter how many pads of paper you have lying around or digital audio recorders that seem to pick up more ghostly electronic voice phenomena than cogent story ideas, you just don't seem to catch all of them.

You're a writer. Don't sweat it.

Don't sweat it, he says? Easy for him to say!

Yes, it is. My first editor had a bumper sticker on her wall: Deadlines amuse me. Of course, deadlines need to be met, and they are, but they may not always be met with the excellence you expect when the date is assigned. The best way to alleviate that problem, in my opinion, is to keep writing.

When you write every day, your mind seems to change. I don't know exactly why, but I liken it to the way bodies undergo natural transformations when they exercise regularly. When you write every day, whether it's on your fiction or on a newspaper article or on a blog post, or as you zip through Facebook to share what's up with some of your friends, your brain makes associations. These are the stuff that dreams are made. And ideas.

Remember the scene from the movie Ghost when Whoopi Goldberg's character realized she actually could hear the voices of spirits? After that, every spook in Manhattan came to her shop to talk to the living. It was driving her batty. So too with writing. You'll have so many ideas you don't know what to do with them all. Try as you might, you can't possibly write everything down. Do what you can.

More importantly, find time to think about them. What are these ideas? Is this one just a scene? Is it just a clever wordplay that might fit with a character you first wrote about in high school? Is it something that actually holds the power of a novel? I remember the first time I realized I had just imagined a novel. I literally stopped on the sidewalk. (And just now, as soon as I wrote the word 'sidewalk,' I realized I had to tell my wife something that one of my daughters did the other day. ... see how this happens?)

So I say again: Don't sweat coming up with ideas. Don't worry about what you're going to write. Just write. (Ok, now I have that image from The Shining ... All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.... These word association things can get really annoying!)

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, recently published a short story anthology called Spring Fevers, which is available through Smashwords and soon to be available for Kindle. It includes stories by fellow FTWA writers, including Cat Woods, J. Lea Lopez, Mindy McGinnis, and R.S. Mellette. He also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

An SAT with Our Own Sophie Perinot

by Mindy McGinnis

Today is an exciting day for me here at From the Write Angle as I get to pick the brain of our own Sophie Perinot. On my personal blog, Writer, Writer Pants on Fire, I do a series of interviews titled the SAT (Successful Author Talk) in which my participants tell us about their writing process, agent hunt, and publication journey. Sophie is spilling it here on FTWA today, and she graciously agreed to pull double duty and tell us about her submission process as well. The SHIT (Submission Hell, It's True) is posted over on Writer, Writer.

Sophie Perinot writes historical fiction. Ms. Perinot has both a BA in History and a law degree. She left the practice of law to pursue artistic interests, including writing. As someone who studied French abroad and a devotee of Alexandre Dumas, French history was a logical starting point. Her debut novel, The Sister Queens, will be released by NAL on March 6th 2012. Set in 13th century France and England, The Sister Queens weaves the captivating story of medieval sisters, Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence, who both became queens - their lifelong friendship, their rivalry, and their reigns

Writing Process:
BBC: Are you a Planner or Pantster?

SP: I am a procrastinator. No wait, that wasn’t on the list. I am a hybrid.

As a writer of historical fiction research is a huge part of what I do, and what is research if not a type of plot-planning? In order to research effectively I need to know upfront who I am writing about, what time period he/she is living in, what historical figures he/she will come in contact with, and what historical events are germane to my plot. That means thinking ahead and planning the general narrative arc of my books.

When it comes to actually composing my manuscript however, I am a bit of a Pantster. By the time I sit down to write I’ve steeped myself in my research notes with a goal of absorbing as many details as I can so that as I am writing scenes and dialogue the historical elements flow right out with my words and integrate themselves into the story. I do not use any sort of detailed plot outline. I have a timeline, sure. I know what my plot climax is. I have some definite ideas about how I am going to get there. But once my characters come to life they like to take charge. They very often say and do things I don’t expect—even things that are in opposition to what I had planned for them.

BBC: How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

I haven’t written enough novels to have a “typical” timeframe yet. I can say I am not a quick-first-draft person (you know the type who—miraculously from my point of view—opens the floodgates and has a completed first draft in a month or two). On the other hand, I get the impression I do far fewer rounds of edits than a lot of writers. So I guess my style could be dubbed “ponderous perfectionist.” It may take me a while to finish a draft but my first draft is not something I wouldn’t be embarrassed to show my agent.

BBC: Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?

SP: One at a time. And I need a break between projects. I have to purge the characters from one book from my head and find the voices of my new characters. Besides, I don’t want to inadvertently muddle my history. For example, The Sister Queens is set in the 13th century but my current wip is set in the 16th century. If I tried to work on both at once the odds of someone eating, riding, saying, or wearing something inappropriate would go way up (farthingales in the 13th century – I think not!)

BBC: Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

SP: I cheated with my first book. I didn’t sit down and write it (and I do think that blank computer screen would have been intimidating). I dictated it (yes the whole thing) into a hand held tape recorder. I honestly think that made the whole process less frightening. I was just telling a story. God knows I love to talk.

When I started The Sister Queens I also began by dictating. But I soon realized that my schedule for finishing the manuscript really didn’t allow time to record and then transcribe the entire book. So I transcribed what I had and then went on from there. That was an adjustment.

No matter how many books we have under our belts or how we string together the words that become those books we all have terrifying moments. You know the ones I mean—when the ideas just don’t come. I have to remind myself that they will, probably at the least opportune time (like while I am in the shower). When they do (when a scene comes to me suddenly, all shiny and nearly fully formed), I will do just about anything to get it down before it escapes. I once pulled to the side of the road and wrote a scene a Starbucks napkin because that was all I could find in my car.

BBC: How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?

SP: None. I know that’s not what people (and by people I mean writers) want to hear but it’s the truth. But folks should bear in mind that while the first manuscript I queried secured my wonderful agent it did not sell. So it is trunked now, and my second manuscript is ready to launch as The Sister Queens.

BBC: Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?

SP: Quit, no. Shelved, yes. Timing is a huge part of this business. You need to have the right manuscript at the right time. I had to accept that my first manuscript really wasn’t “debut novel” material, but I still hope to see it resurrected later in my career.

Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
BBC: Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?

SP: I want to say up front that no agents were hurt in the making of my debut, lol. But seriously, my agent is Jacques de Spoelberch a long-time industry veteran, and a true gentleman (something we writers of historical fiction particularly appreciate). I attracted his interest with an old-fashioned, printed on paper (good paper) snail-mail query. I can still remember getting the note from Jacques requesting my full (also by snail mail). After he read it, we were fortunate to be able have lunch together in the city and discuss his reactions to and ideas for my work. It was kismet. By the end of the meal I had representation.

BBC: How long did you query before landing your agent?

SP: I sent 57 queries. The first couple of rounds were actually wasted (though I didn’t know that at the time) because my letter was flawed.

BBC: Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

SP: When you think your query (or your manuscript for that matter) is ready it’s probably not. Don’t let your enthusiasm for your manuscript and your excitement over actually finishing it drive the boat – patience, self-control and discipline are your friends. Let everything sit. Get feedback. Let that feedback percolate. I am a big fan of AgentQueryConnect as a source of both writer-to-writer support and query critiques.

And while you are polishing that letter and otherwise preparing to query, use the time to learn about the business of publishing so that later -- when the happy day arrives and you have an agent and a book contract – the facts of life (e.g. authors need to be involved in marketing and promotion) and even simple definitions (do you know the difference between line and copy edits? Do you know what it means to “earn out”) won’t stop you in your tracks. If you haven’t taken the time to learn about the business than you shouldn’t be querying, no matter how ready your query letter is.

On Being Published:
BBC: How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?

SP: I won’t have the chance to see The Sister Queens for sale in the “real world” for a few weeks, but judging by how I felt (and acted) when it was first listed for pre-order in the virtual world I predict I will be overwhelmed and l likely do something stupid (like race around the local Barnes and Noble holding a copy while chirping “I wrote this.”) God I hope not.

BBC: How much input do you have on cover art?

SP: I’ve blogged on this. Bottom line, if you want to publish with a major house you have to stop thinking of your book as solely yours. Working with a major house is a collaboration. You get the final say on some issues but not, unless you are a veteran writer and NYT bestseller, your cover.
I am NOT saying that good publishers don’t seek author input on their cover. My editor asked me for examples of existing covers that I loved as well as examples of covers I didn’t like. She encouraged me to explain why I felt as I did. She also asked me to collect images from art imbued with the feeling I wanted my cover to have, and to submit descriptions and pictures of what my 13th century sisters might have worn.

I am also NOT complaining about the state of things. I am not sure my having complete/sole control over my cover would have been a good thing. Covers aren’t just “ooo pretty,” they are sales tools, and the truth is I am not in a position to predict what will catch the eye of the average book buyer. I am not trained to do that. The folks in my publisher’s art and design departments, on the other hand, ARE in a position to predict what will make a reader reach out and lift The Sister Queens off a table full of books all looking for a home. They have been designing covers for years. That’s why design departments and not authors get the final say over what book covers looks like, and why that fact doesn’t bother me in the least.

BBC: What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?

SP: Lots of things have surprised me, pleasantly. For example:

• As I began querying I kept hearing, “you can’t find an agent without connections,” and “publishers aren’t buying books from unknown authors anymore.” Then I got an agent (without connections) and sold a book (without being a celebrity). And it’s not because I am an exception or I am so great – I currently know more than two dozen debut authors with books coming out in the next twelve to eighteen months and expect to hear good news from several more writer friends soon. The fact is, you need to be a realist if you want to be a writer but there is no room for pessimism. Deals do happen, so get busy.

• I also heard, “publishers don’t edit anymore,” and then I was acquired by my marvelous editor and she gave me so much valuable input. I honestly believe The Sister Queens is much improved as a result of our collaboration.

• I’ve also been surprised how willing and eager the veteran author community is to embrace newbies. Authors who I consider household-names in my genre have gone out of their way to offer me advice on the publication process. They’ve let me ask them really stupid questions. And they have publically supported my book. The collegiality among writers is one of the great perks of this business.

Social Networking and Marketing:
BBC: How much of your own marketing do you? Do you have a blog / site / Twitter?

SP: The days of the recluse writer (or at least the successful recluse author) are over. You can insist your job as an author is just to write the best book possible and let the chips fall where they may, but there is a good chance you aren’t going to like where those chips land. Now I accept absolutely that being good at writing and being a brilliant promoter are different skill sets. I also accept that some good writers are not good at promoting and some mediocre writers excel at it. But there is absolutely no point in deploring the realities of the situation – authors have to participate in the marketing and promotion of their books. The best advice I got from veteran author friends? Don’t try to do everything (you do need time to write more books). Rather, do what you enjoy (if you love to blog, do it) and leave what you don’t (hate facebook? Then stay off it).

Personally, I am a bit of an extrovert so I have a personal blog and also participate in our fantastic group blog here at From the Write Angle. I also tweet, have an author page on facebook and another facebook page specifically for The Sister Queens.

BBC: When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?

SP: I know “platform” is a word with big buzz these days (I wish my novel had that much buzz) but honestly – here comes the sacrilegious part – I believe it always has been and continues to be much more important in non-fiction than fiction.

I do think it is important to extend yourself and actively become a “value added” part of social media communities. But from my point of view that is not the same as building a platform, it’s just old-fashioned networking gone digital. You should be networking the minute you start writing. And you need to make sure you are genuine in your efforts – that you are connecting with people, supporting people, contributing to dialogue, not just shilling a product.

BBC: Do you think social media helps build your readership?

SP: Absolutely. The Sister Queens has already (pre-release) been featured on a number of historical fiction blogs and made some “most looked forward to in 2012” lists. I can’t imagine that would have happened without twitter, facebook, gracious bloggers, etc. Heck, in the pre-social media era it is hard for me to imagine that anyone outside a fifty-mile radius of where I live (with the exception of family and friends on my Christmas card list) would even know my book existed until it showed up on a shelf somewhere. Yet right this minute, right on this blog, someone is learning about my novel for the first time by reading this post.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Good for the Whole Family

by R.S. Mellette

While the publishing world argues over what's Middle Grade, what's Young Adult, and what's New Adult—as witnessed by J. Lea Lopez here recently—I'm asking; whatever happened to "good for the whole family?"

Target marketing has been around long enough that most people think it's the only way it's ever been, but if you take a longer view of commercial art, you'll see that excluding the majority of your potential audience is a brand new concept. Yes, I said "excluding." If you write for, or edit for, or make acquisitions for, or shelf for, one specific age group, then you are limiting your audience. And by "brand new" I mean since the turn of the previous century.

Before radio, movies, television and the internet split audiences into tiny chunks, there were basically two markets: kids and adults. Even at the beginning of these technologies, artists had to create work that would satisfy whoever might receive the signal from the air. Going back even further, when books were expensive to print and buy, one book had to entertain the entire family.

How did they achieve what modern day marketing and acquisitions executives see as the rare and illusive "crossover"? Let's take a look.

Look at Dumas's Count of Monte Cristo and Three Musketeers series. Look at Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped and Treasure Island. Look at anything by Shakespeare, Dickens, or Twain. Each of these cases, and many more, contain certain elements editors and acquisition execs, and store owners should look for:

  • Characters of various ages, or the entire life of a character, not just kids
  • Sex is left to what anyone might witness in public
  • Age groups are targeted by beats within the story, not the entire work

Take a closer look at Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Today we'd call that a YA Romance, or a chick flick, but Shakespeare couldn't afford that luxury. Most of London would at some point or another come to see his plays—old, young, rich, poor, men, women, educated, uneducated, sophisticated, and unruly. He had to keep them all happy or the crowd might riot. If he didn't keep royalty happy, he might lose his head. So he starts with a prologue that says, yes, this is a romance, so ladies settle in for exactly what you're expecting. Then the men come on and proceed to tell crude jokes about how small their enemies' privates are, and Romeo talks about the woman he slept with the night before—though, you'd have to have  knowledge of the carnal type yourself to know what he's talking about. Throughout the story Shakespeare switches from action to romance, from poetry to punnery. He gives each member of his audience something to look forward to.

Now let's look at the book that shall not be named. The crossover so big that it changed the way best-seller lists are calculated. The Harry Potter series.

  • Characters of various ages: CHECK
  • Sex is left to what might be witnessed in public: CHECK
  • Age groups are targeted by beats: CHECK

This isn't rocket science, folks.

Something else that should be considered in marketing for the whole family. Aristotle said that Art should Entertain and Educate. By creating a single work for all ages, not only is your marketing inclusive rather than exclusive, but young minds get a peek into what might lay ahead of them in life. Those of us that are older, are reminded of what was important in our youth, and should probably be important to us again today.

So, if you own a bookstore, set up a BOOKS THE FAMILY CAN READ TOGETHER shelf and see what happens.

If you're an editor, push those YA books that you like as an adult on your acquisitions executives.

If you're in acquisitions, think about including readers, not excluding them.

If you're an agent, keep pushing, we'll get there.

If you're a writer, keep writing, we'll get there.

R.S. Mellette is an experienced screenwriter, actor, director, and novelist. You can find him at the Dances With Blogs film festival blog, and on Twitter.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Five Ways to Create Memorable, Multi-Layered Characters

by Jean Oram

As the newest member on the From the Write Angle block, I’m going to start a series of five quick tips (Five For Friday) covering everything from writing technique, to getting motivated, to creating a platform for your work.

Let’s get started!

First off, take a good, long, hard look at your characters.

Are they layered? Are they multi-dimensional? Are they the kind of character that becomes so real they can walk right off the page and cozy up in the memories of your readers?

And the big question: Can your characters sell your stories or are they holding you back, getting you rejected, and you don’t even know it?

For me, the characters in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible were so real that at times I had to remind myself that they were not in fact real, and that they were simply made up. Fiction. These characters and their depth is something I strive for in my own work.

Let’s take a peek at how we can make our own characters so real we forget we made them up. And for a splash of fun, we'll use Cosmo Kramer from the old hit show Seinfeld as an example.

Five Easy Ways to Create Characters That Will Knock Your Readers Socks Off, Dazzle Agents, Woo Editors, and Won’t Be Soon Forgotten:

  1. Imagine what their living accommodations look like.

    This may seem silly, but imaging where your characters live (apartment, mansion, at home with their parents) can tell you a lot about them. This might include financial status, marital status, ethnic background, and more. So will imagining what their home looks like. Clutter, crafts, bright colours and take-out menus all over the fridge can tell you a lot about their personality and habits. You don’t always have to show these things in your story, but knowing them while you write can help you convey effective tidbits about your character.

    As well, when creating a setting, slipping small details such as dead plants or surfboards into our character's home can give our readers a quick shot into that character's life. The bonus as a writer is that we can quickly convey a lot without using that 'evil' device called telling.

    Kramer: We never really see Kramer's apartment unless he is quirking it up with a talk show set or washing and prepping vegetables while showering. And he’s always eating at Jerry’s. What do these two small things tell you about Kramer?

  2. Give your main character (and your secondary characters) minor quirks.

    You don’t have to use your chosen quirks all the time, in fact, if you use too many it can become difficult to relate to that character. Use only one or two quirks a handful of times in a story to create another layer of believability to each character. Bonus: Using quirks can give your readers another spot to tag into your character as it makes them feel as though they 'know' this character.

    Kramer: This guy has quirks out the ying-yang. But his most notable ones are probably the way he enters Jerry’s apartment, the weird spaz-out almost-fall-over thing he does and his crazy hair. His quirks are who he is. He's one giant quirk (this is rare in that it works). If Kramer were to suddenly start sauntering into Jerry's apartment like a 'normal' person, what would you be lead to believe?

  3. Make sure your character has values and beliefs.

    If your characters are going to be real, they need values and beliefs. What means a lot to your characters? What do they believe in? Do they value a heirloom? Money? Spending time with friends? Fair trade coffee? Who are these individuals? Do they believe in karma? Allow their values and beliefs to drive their interactions.

    Kramer: This dude has a lot of beliefs. One is that wearing a ribbon is meaningless for creating awareness, but doing a charity walk is not. How does this have an effect on his interactions? Well, in a charity walk he gets into fisticuffs over not wearing a ribbon.

  4. What is your character's education level/career and how do they feel about it?

    Education, whether we want it to or not, can say a lot about us. It can affect the way we think, talk, even the things we think are funny.

    Kramer: This dude doesn't appear to hold a steady job. He didn't complete high school, but has a GED. This fits Kramer, doesn’t it? Could you see Kramer any other way? Could you see him at an office job day after day or sitting in advanced university classes? He wouldn’t be the Kramer we know and love, would he? (If you want another example, think of the characters in the show My Name is Earl.)

  5. Everyone's got inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies.

    We expect a mechanic to be into things like cruise nights, fixing things, vintage cars, and girls in bikinis. On the other hand, we don’t expect a hairdresser with fancy hair and expensive nails to shimmy herself under her Honda and change the oil, do we? But little inconsistencies (provided there is some reason and it isn’t just tossed in) can add important layers to your character as well as a history that extends before our story starts.

    Everyone has inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies, why not your characters?

    Kramer: He has a seizure when he hears Mary Hart of Entertainment Tonight. Enough said.

After taking a look at Kramer, is there any doubt why in 1999, TV Guide placed him in their top 50 best TV characters of all time? (He ranked 35.) And he was ‘just’ a secondary character.

Now that you have these five handy tips to turn your characters into genuine human beings, it’s time for you to take a look at your characters from the write angle. Is there a way you can add these five elements to make your characters that much more real, add another layer to your story, and sell it? What else can you do to add layers to your story's people? (Oh, heck, pets too! Talk about a ton of fun!) Go take a look and let me know what you think.

P.S. If you are looking for more resources on building great characters try Linda Seger’s book, Creating Memorable Characters.

Jean Oram is an agented nonfiction writer who also writes fiction. You can also find her on her blog and on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

In Support of New Adult Fiction

by J. Lea Lopez

Back in 2009, St. Martin's Press held a contest for a new category of fiction: New Adult. They coined the term themselves to describe fiction with protagonists slightly older than YA (age 18-26) and that would appeal to adults. There was some good response to the contest, but there were critics as well. Still are, of course. I know not all of the Write Angle crew feels NA is viable or necessary, but I think it could be a great thing. If you haven't heard of New Adult as a category, don't fret. It's not widely used or promoted just yet, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth pursuing. Hopefully I can provide some clarification and information for you to make your own decision on this emerging category.

First, let's be clear about one thing: New Adult (like YA) is not a genre. It's a category. Just as you can have YA or adult fantasy, romance, or any other genre, you would also have NA fantasy, romance, etc. With that out of the way, let's look at some other questions surrounding the NA concept.

Isn't it condescending?

I came across a blog post that asked this very question recently. In my mind, this is an easy no. Some people seem to think a New Adult categorization is somehow prescriptive, telling twenty-somethings this is what they ought to be reading, and nothing else. It's not, just as YA isn't telling teens they should be reading Sarah Dessen and not Tami Hoag. Plenty of adults enjoy reading YA, and plenty of teens enjoy adult novels. The NA category is descriptive. It allows readers and writers to identify some general characteristics of a book before they ever pick it up. Proponents of NA aren't suggesting we start carding all book buyers and only let them purchase books in their prescribed age category.

Why aren't "new adults" reading [insert list of Classics here] like I did at that age?

I've seen this argument both in YA and NA discussions of what's good or appropriate for certain age groups to read. If there's a condescending or prescriptive attitude in the discussion of NA's validity, this is it. Of course there are plenty of wonderful classic novels that encompass the spirit of what it is to be a new adult. That doesn't negate the need for more, though, does it? And it does nothing to address an audience who may want more contemporary settings, characters, and plots. Plus, I don't know about you all, but the classics (like Catcher in the Rye) were usually the subject of English class assignments and discussions, which means I wasn't going near them with a ten-foot pole when it came time for pleasure reading in high school. I've since revisited some of them now that I'm out of school.

Is it just YA: The College Years?

In talking about the New Adult category with some of the Write Angle Crew, as well as reading through blog posts and comments from other writers and agents, it seems that many people have a very narrow view of what NA is, could, or should be. The thought behind creating a New Adult category has to do with much more than just the age of the protagonist, though that is an obvious indicator. Check out this post from St. Martin's Press editorial assistant, JJ, for more on how the age of the protagonist, voice, and scope of a novel differ between YA, NA and adult fiction. She pinpoints it better than I ever could. Here are a couple of quotes that encompass the general idea:
What makes YA compelling as a read is its immediacy; a young person cannot write of him/herself from any perspective aside from “now” and “later”. With a YA voice, the past is less present, the present looms like a storm, and the future ever just out of reach. With an adult voice, there is a sense that the future has come to pass, the past is present, and the present encompasses all that has been and all that will be.
And later she states:
We, the “new adults”, have some perspective on our lives, but scope? We’re not old enough, we’re not experienced enough, we’re simply not grown-up enough. Our lives have immediacy, just as a teenager’s does, but we also possess the wisdom to understand that this immediacy cannot last for long. It’s a curious place in life [...]. The “quarter-life crisis”, if you will.
So, no. NA is not simply about kids in college, though that would certainly be a portion of the material.

The market isn't strong for NA because college-goers are too busy to read outside of academia.

Really? I suppose it's true for many, but I doubt for all. Maybe not even the majority. I can't say for certain. I know I didn't read as much during the school year, but during winter break I'd read a couple books, and over the summers I'd read as many books as I could find. Personally, my reading for pleasure peaked in late middle school and the first half of high school. Not so much because I didn't have time, but because I had a hard time finding things that interested me. Once I reached a certain age and maturity/reading level, I wasn't sure where to find books I could identify with. I devoured Dean Koontz and his backlist, and I love him to this day, but I was at a loss when it came to more literary stories that spoke to me. Even now, over the past few years, I haven't been reading as much as I used to because while Jodi Picoult and Nicholas Sparks are fine, I'm not always able to identify with the divorcee, or the widow, or the mother of two, and other kinds of protagonists that often populate contemporary women's fiction. My other option, then, is Chick Lit, which fulfills my need for a protagonist closer to my age, but I still find many of them unrelatable on other levels.

Literary agent Sarah LaPolla uses this argument as one of her reasons why NA isn't a viable market (yet) in a post from October 2011. She says:
There's a reason "The College Years" of high school TV shows fail. There's just not enough people who care. The original teen audience can't relate, the adults out of college think of it as too young, and the actual target audience is too busy being in college, working, or starting families to watch TV or read for fun.
Sure, we "new adults" are busy, but not too busy for entertainment. As for the TV show analogy, I think there are many other reasons why those types of shows usually tank (like the fact that it's often exactly the same stories as high school, except on a college campus) and it doesn't exactly translate to the New Adult category of literature.

There's no universal "new adult" experience.

Again from LaPolla's blog post:
It's true that not everyone goes to the same type of high school, or even goes to high school, but everyone goes through puberty. Everyone feels what it's like to not understand any of your emotions or why they are suddenly happening all at once or why hugging your parents is much more embarrassing than it was the year before.

With New Adult, there is no universal experience. Within the genre, there are too many niche markets to consider, which makes it that much harder to place. Not everyone goes to college or makes the same choices when entering adulthood. Even within the group who goes to college, the experiences differ in ways that are much more polarizing than going to different high schools. No matter what kind of high school you went to, we were all forced to take the same general courses or participate in the same extracurricular activities.
First, I think she simplifies the universal experience and emotional appeal in YA. There are home-schooled teens who don't know the "typical" high school experience. And while we all take the same types of general education courses, the last time I checked extracurricular activities weren't forced, and included a lot of variety for those who did participate. There are teens who excel in school, some who don't do well, and some who drop out and (maybe) get their GED. Of course we all went through puberty and there are certain emotions and phases many of us went through, but we all still experienced and coped with them differently. There's a rich and varied experience even within what some would see as the "universal" appeal of YA, and yet this same variation is seen as a negative when it comes to NA.

Variety is really the whole point here. There's variety in both YA and adult literature, and as a supporter for a New Adult category, what I'm rallying for is even more of it. Why? Because even with all the options out there, I feel like there's still a gap, and it happens to be a gap in an area I'd very much like to read.

Is it just a matter of shelving and marketing support?

I don't know, to be honest. Would you go to a section in the book store marked "New Adult"? I might. Others may not, for whatever reason. Maybe it needs a different name (especially because in a Google search I was prematurely excited to see lots of results for new adult fiction from public library websites, only to realize they were talking about new releases in adult fiction). There's obviously the conundrum of "if there's no shelf for it in the bookstore, publishers won't acquire it, so agents won't rep it."

From the perspective of traditional publishing, I agree with Sarah LaPolla's assessment that the New Adult category will come into its own eventually, but it will take time, the same way it took time for YA to be accepted and recognized. As a reader, I don't necessarily buy into the idea that it's not currently a viable market. From my experience in retail clothing sales, I know it's possible for there to be a ready and willing set of consumers for a non-existent product. Take plus size clothing as an example. For a long time there were next to no options for plus size women to find fashionable clothing, despite the overwhelming number of consumers who would've gladly spent their money on such a product if only someone was making it. Now that the plus size clothing market is booming, it's difficult to fathom that anyone would've ever thought it wasn't a viable market.

How can consumers communicate to product/service providers (whether it's a clothing company or the publishing industry) that they want a certain product if that product doesn't currently exist? And how can retailers measure sales lost to the consumer who never even walks in the door because they already know the retailer isn't selling what they want? It has to start somewhere. Perhaps this is one area where indie authors and eBooks, mostly unrestricted by bookstore shelf labels, can help pave the way and demonstrate the market for New Adult literature. However it happens, I fully support the idea of a New Adult category. What about you?

What do you think "New Adult" as a category? Would you read it? Do you write it?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Making the Most of Your Writing Time

by Calista Taylor

Unless you're lucky enough to be making a living from your writing, you're likely scraping together your writing time between work, kids, and a dozen other obligations. For me, writing time is precious, yet it's too easy to squander it with distractions and a lack of direction.

Luckily, it doesn't take much to make the most of your writing time. Here are a few things that I find helpful.
  • Plan out your writing for the day. Even though I'm a pantser and don't plan out my manuscript, I do find it helpful if I take a few minutes to plot out the scenes I'll be writing that day.
  • Eliminate interruptions. Turn off your internet, so you're not tempted to constantly check your email, Twitter feed, Facebook page. Turn off the TV. Pick a time of day when you're most likely to be left alone to write, whether it be before everyone gets up for the day, or when everyone's asleep.
  • Set a word goal. Just like with NaNo, having a goal for your daily word count can help keep you motivated. It doesn't need to be anything insane for it to help—even if it's 500 words a day. Just make it something you can work towards and is doable for you.
  • Set up a "writing nook". Whether this is an office or just your own spot on the sofa, make sure your nook has everything you'll need to keep you focused on work. A comfortable seat always helps, as does an area where interruptions will be kept to minimum.
  • Create a story board. In your writing nook or on your computer, try and keep a story board of images that will immediately pull you into your story. This will help cut down on the time you spend "warming up" to your story, so you can easily get back into the scene you were working on. Pinterest is a great new site that allows you to easily "pin" images to virtual boards.
  • Keep writing. If you come to a section of your manuscript where you'll need to research something, or you've come to a scene that isn't quite working, mark the area so you can come back to it, and keep moving forward with the next scene. Most research can wait a day, and oftentimes the solution to a problematic scene will become apparent once you've moved further into your story.
I hope these tips help you make the most of your precious time. Do you have any tips that keep you focused and allow you to make the most of your writing time?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Welcome to the Team: Jean Oram

It's hard to believe it's been almost a year since we started From the Write Angle. Back when we first started brainstorming, there was one person we all knew we'd love to have on the team, but time constraints wouldn't allow her to participate.

Times change, and we're thrilled to welcome Jean Oram to the FTWA team!

Jean is the Super Moderator over at AgentQuery Connect (seriously, her title is Super Mod). She's the only green person in the chatroom, but has been at AQ since 2007, making her the most experienced "greenie" ever. She'll never admit it, but she really is "super"—super-friendly, super-helpful, and super-skilled.

When it comes to writing, Jean believes it should be fun. If it isn't, stop doing it or find a way to make it fun. She loves writing because it's different every time you sit down and there are so many things to learn. There is always a way to improve your work.

We're all looking forward to Jean's first post a week from today, launching a monthly Five for Friday series.

To learn more about Jean (and the rest of us here at FTWA), check out the About the Team page.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Humility is Sexy

by R.C. Lewis

Disclaimer: I'm not a literary agent. I don't really know what they think, beyond the thoughts they put out there on their blogs and Twitter feeds. (I do not listen to the haters who think agents are an elitist clan of devil spawn who take joy in crushing the dreams of aspiring writers.)

But I think they would agree with the title of this post. Let me explain why.

First, you have to understand humility. Contrary to popular belief, it isn't beating up on yourself. It isn't saying your writing is crap, especially right after someone has complimented it. It is not a lack of confidence. I grew up with this simple definition:


You can definitely believe you know a few things while acknowledging there's room to know more. I have a student who epitomizes this. With all her accomplishments, she could easily have the biggest head on campus. Yet bragging would never occur to her. She does what she does, no big deal, but if you compliment her, she'll thank you.

She doesn't tell you all the reasons why your compliment is misplaced.

So, why do I suspect agents find humility sexy? I'm sure they want confident writers who believe in their ability (well, most of the time—we all have moments of doubt) and don't have to be talked down from the ledge every other day. Confidence is not the opposite of humility—arrogance is.

We've all seen arrogant aspiring writers (and, er, some published writers, too). The ones who lash out at anyone who dares criticize their masterpiece. Who insist it's your fault for being dense if you can't keep track of their fifteen different narrators. Who don't care if you tell them word counts much over 100k make publishing pros twitchy—not a single word can be cut from their 450k-word debut thriller. Who say they will never change X about their novel (title, character's name, their vision of printing the whole thing in Comic Sans) no matter what a publisher says.

It ain't sexy.

(Okay, those were extreme examples, but even when you scale them back, I'm thinking they're not too attractive.)

Humble writers do their research on the publishing industry and don't blame 'the system' for all their problems. They handle critique like a pro, not giving in to every beta reader's whim, but being open to possible improvement. They'll aspire for greatness, knowing there will always be more to learn, and never claiming they've already arrived and why haven't you acknowledged it yet?!

Is there anything that helps you find the balance, neither tearing yourself down nor puffing yourself up? Taking the stings of critique and the occasional right-hook of an agent rejection without letting them destroy you? Taking compliments and accolades without thinking you've arrived at the top?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Standards and Practices

by R.S. Mellette

When I was a student at North Carolina School of the Arts, Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy came to speak to our class. If you don't know who they are, go ahead and click on their names. I'll wait.

Impressive, huh?

On stage, Ms. Tandy originated the role of Blanche DuBois in A Street Car Named Desire, the play that changed acting forever. When asked about it, she didn't have much to say, but Mr. Cronyn did. His story affected my work greatly and I'd like to re-tell it here. I hope he doesn't mind.

He told us about an early dress rehearsal he was invited to. After the production Tennessee Williams asked, "What did you think?"

"It's great! Maybe a little long, but great."

From across the stage, director Elia Kazan threw his script at Cronyn and said, "You cut it."

At this point, I'd like to pause in his story to tell you a bit of mine. I went straight from their talk to my dorm room, got my copy of Streetcar and spent the whole night doing what Cronyn did. I tried to cut it. If you would like the full impact of this lesson, I suggest you do the same. Get the stage play and try to cut out what's not necessary.

Back to Mr. Cronyn's story.

He spent all night working on the script and cut maybe five minutes—which is nothing. The actors could do that themselves by just picking up their cues. "It is uncuttable," he told us.

I came to the same conclusion and, since I dabbled in writing at the time, decided that would be a good standard. With everything I write I try to make each sentence necessary. In Streetcar, every beat in act one has a resonance in act two. The subtle shades of each subplot define the other story elements around them. Mess with one, and you destroy them all.

Of course, I'm sure Mr. Williams went through many drafts to get to that point. Stories aren't born perfect, and few ever grow to be, but with that goal in mind I approach everything I write.

Sure, a good editor will find where I've fallen down, but when they say, "Add something," or, "Cut this," I check it against my inner Hume Cronyn. Is this an improvement? Does it make it better?

If not, and if the editor is with a publishing house, then life becomes difficult ... but that's the subject of another blog.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Playbook for Self-Promotion: The Full Court Press

by Mindy McGinnis

Last month I talked to you about my little basketball players, the self-effacing ones who would rather apologize than box someone out. Some writers aren't comfortable being aggressive about promoting themselves, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. For tips on promotion for introverts, check out my earlier post, as well as fellow contributer J. Lea Lopez's advice.

Today I want to talk to you about the full court press of self-promotion, getting up in their faces and waving your arms around so they can't NOT see you. Keep in mind, even when you choose to take the more aggressive approach, moderation is key. If you send 250 tweets in one day that are all links to your blog / book / or headshot of you looking *really* attractive, the only thing you're going to do is irritate people. You're like the chick who screams, "Ball, Ball, Ball, Ball," when she's trying to stop the offense from throwing in-bounds. It might draw attention to her, but she also looks like an ass.

Moderation is key, my friends. In all things. For more tips on how not to be an ass, check out fellow FTWA'er Pete Morin's PSA on Spam.

That being said—I'm going to talk to you like a coach now, so be prepared to get your feathers ruffled in the locker room, and remember that the aim is to make you a better player, not insult you personally. The standard excuses are in italics, my retort in bold, then follows a parenthetical reason why I'm quite possibly wrong. I had a coach once who made no bones about when a loss was on his head rather than ours, and I've always respected that.

1) Blog. Just do it. What if I don't have any followers and it looks like I'm unpopular? If you're scared of rejection, this isn't the industry for you. What would I blog about? Are you a writer or aren't you?

(How I could be wrong—if you truly think you would suck at blogging, don't do it. A non-existent blog is better than a half-assed one that is only updated a few times a year, with the only intent of the post being to make sure the blog has been updated that year.)

2) Tweet. Just do it. Excuses and retorts same as above.

(How I could be wrong—if you're positive the only tweets you have to share with the world are the aforementioned 250 posts a day with self-aggrandizing links, yeah don't do that.)

3) Facebook Author Page. Just do it. But I don't know how to use Facebook! Learn. I don't have anything to say! Use Networked Blogs to auto-feed your blog posts there, it's something at least, and not hard to do.

(How I could be wrong—Er ... uh, don't go looking for a Mindy McGinnis FB author page just yet.)

4) Join author groups, crit sessions and networks. Just do it. But I don't like other human beings! Get over it. I don't like to talk in public! Figure out how.

(How I could be wrong—if you're going to clam up or emit a stream of "Uh's..." and "Likes..." then don't do it, or at least, take some classes on public speaking.)

5) Make connections. Just do it. Go into your local indie bookstores and introduce yourself to someone who makes decisions there, offer to do classes on writing for free, open to the general public. Get your face and name out there. Email book bloggers who are open to reviews and ask if you can send them a copy. (Always ask first, or you may be giving away a free copy of your book to someone who isn't interested.) You mean, walk up to people and say, "Hi, I wrote a book?" Uh, yeah. I mean just like that. With a little more polish, though.

(How I could be wrong—choose wisely. A large bookstore with frequent appearances by writers whose names are familiar might not be interested in helping out a fledgling. Don't ever push yourself on anyone; if a blogger or bookstore owner isn't interested, accept it with grace. Have the aforementioned business card on hand so you can deliver a polite one or two-liner, then exit. They don't want you hovering over them expecting an answer on the spot. Let them look into who you are and what you're offering on their time.)

Remember, even the best full-court press is broken occasionally, so there will be fouls and out-of-bounds calls. Just keep looking down court and don't be afraid to take a shot—you'll always miss 100% of the field goals you don't attempt.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Connect the Dots for a Successful Public Presentation

by Cat Woods

Fast Fact: Public speaking is not high school speech class.

Evidence: Me

During my demonstration speech (you know, the one where you can't even hang on to your note cards because you have to SHOW how something is done?), I crushed the eggshell I was supposed to decorate.

After another I shook so badly, I couldn't walk back to my seat in a straight line.  If a cop had been present, I'd have landed a DWI for sure.

As far as I was concerned, the word speech should have been reserved for tenth grade English and diagramming sentences.  Since that time, however, I've presented at social organizations, professional organizations and Young Writers' Conferences.  I've found myself at the front of the room in libraries, schools and churches.

The moral of this story: If I can speak in public, so can you.  It's as simple as connecting the dots.
  1. Connect with your topic.  You're a writer.  You're passionate about the process, the business, literacy, your book, your genre, your audience, etc....  Whatever you are speaking about, make sure you are engaged in the topic.  You must first believe before you can ask others to do the same. 
  2. Connect with yourself. Before entering a room, take a deep breath. Give yourself a pep talk. You are smart, funny, warm and compassionate. You know this topic like the road map of veins on the top of your hand.  Stand confidently, no matter how uncertain you feel.  And for heaven's sake, wear clothes you like.  If your new suit is stiff, you'll be stiff. 
  3. Connect with your audience.  Right off the bat, you must personalize your presence with the guests in the room.  Smilethe kind that reaches your eyes and not just turns the corners of your mouth.  Maintain solid eye contact.  Make each individual in your audience feel as if you notice them and are personally thrilled that s/he is here.  Your audience's comfort level has a direct impact on your comfort level.  Breaking the ice is your job. 
  4. Connect your audience to your topic.  This could be the single most important connection you make in a presentation.  To keep audience members from memorizing the vein patterns on the backs of their hands, you must engage them immediately and make them feel as if they have a stake in the presentation.  Give them a reason to be there and a reason to listen.  Make it personal.
  5. Connect with the energy and use it to guide your presentation.  Watch your audience for cues on when to elaborate or when to gloss over something.  Presentations are not about you.  They are personal experiences between your audience and your topic.  You are the messenger. 
So, how do we connect the dots in a way that draws a cohesive picture and would garner A's from our English teachers of high school past?

We must do a little research.  We must know our audience and the reason behind our presentations.  We must have clear goals.  We must care so deeply about our topics that we can allow our presentations to meander within the confines of our expectations.

Last week I spoke to a fourth grade class.  January was the teacher's month to help her students make a real world connection between what they learn in school and how this knowledge is necessary and applicable into adulthood.

In more ways than one, I connected the dots.
  1. My Topic.  Hello!  English, grammar, characterization, yada yada yada.  Easy peasy.  But I took it one step further.  I figured out how writers use each and every subject in school. 
  2. Myself.  I got out of my jammies for once and actually did my hair.  I wore the appropriate--adult, but not boring--clothes and tapped into my inner fourth grade kid.  Humor. 
  3. My Audience.  They're kids.  That's easy.  A smile.  A raised eyebrow.  A little wave to the shy girl who so wants to be noticed but will never tell you that.  A conspiratorial wink to the class clown when the teacher gives him a hard look and a subsequent finger to the lips to let him know we share a secret and we're in this togetherquietly.  It's easier than you think to play a room as long as you know your audience.  Once, when talking to the local Kiwanis chapter, I connected to my audience via the strongest presence in the room.  I told them I was woefully unprepared to speak to such a prestigious group of professionals, but when the judge asks, "What are you doing for lunch?" and follows your "Nothing" with, "Well, you're busy now," you have no choice but to say yes.  Even if you only had one hour to prepare.  It worked because every business professional has felt pressure from above.  This icebreaker connected us on a very real level.
  4. My Audience to My Topic. The teacher wanted me to talk about parts of speech.  The kids wanted to hear anything but that.  I met in the middle and asked if they'd ever had to write a paper for their teacher.  I asked if it looked like it had been shot with a red pen when they got it back.  Then I showed them my working binder of a manuscript with all the red lines and notations and scribbles and stickies and told them they were just like me.  With that simple prop, I showed them that we were on the same level: imperfect, yet ambitious (a very fourth grade trait).  That alleviated all the angst they were feeling and nudged their curiosity about the process.  Seriously, how does a mess like my binder end up in the library?
  5. The Energy.  I explained how a writer writes, read them a short story I'd written and answered questions.  When questions slowed, I hit them with a bomb.  "What subject in school does a writer never need to use?"  Math.  Of course.  It's so brain-opposite from the written word that it's obvious even to the youngest readers.  I then walked them through the various ways writers might get paid.  By the word, the page or the completed project.  They had to figure out which would be the better deal for the story I had read them.  A whole new round of questions followed based on this new tangent.  At the end of my presentation, a student raised his hand and said, "So, a writer really needs to know a lot about a lot of things."  Bingo!  The kids were happy, the teacher was happy and I was happy.
I'm gearing up for another presentation in a few weeks.  This one is for a women's group with members on the more experienced side of life.  I know they like to read.  I also know they don't have a clue what it takes to get those books on the bookshelf for them to enjoy.  My topic will be different, as will the way I present.  I'll dress differently and research different questions.  The only thing that will remain the same is my connection. 

I have never walked out of a presentation drained.  Instead, I'm energized and focused.  I feel renewed excitement, motivation and connection toward whatever topic I spoke about.  The minute that changes, is the minute I pack up my microphone and store it in the attic with the remnants of my shattered eggshell.

How about you?  How does public speaking make you feel?  If you're an experienced presenter, please share your tips with those just starting out.  If you've never given a public presentation beyond your high school speech class, tell us why not.  Do certain topics or audiences seem more appealing than others?  More terrifying? 

Curious minds want to know.