Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Small Press Success!

Stephen Brayton is an editor at Echelon press. He is also their Short Story Marketing Director and has two novels pending publication. I considered questioning that he really was involved with all aspects of publishing (writing, publishing, marketing) but he’s also a Fifth Degree Black Belt Taekwondo instructor so instead I respectfully asked how he got in that position and what it’s like to wear all those hats. Here’s what Stephen had to say, and I suggest you pay attention.

So, last year, around this time, I was thinking of where next to because three out of the four agents I had spoken with at the Killer Nashville writers' conference had sent me rejections. When I brought up the latest emails, there was a message from Echelon Press. I had pitched to Mary Welk and, with a little help from my friends and family, put together the required submission. After I read the email from the senior editor, I stopped myself from hitting the print button to add to the pile of rejections because my brain had registered something different. This was NOT a rejection. So, I read it again, and then a third time because the brain caught something else. Not only did Echelon want Night Shadows, but they also accepted Beta for e-book publication.

A year later, I'm still riding high because the release date for the first book is fast approaching and I'm in marketing mode. Since last October, I've acquired two new hats for Echelon. Author, of course, but also Short Story Marketing Director (December) and editor (April).

Hindsight is 20/20, so if I could have pursued serious editing years ago... Well, since April, I have learned so much.

I recently interviewed Echelon's senior editor for a future blog. She affirmed my thoughts on editing. Writers write. When they think they have a decent story, they do re-writes. Edit and edit again. They pick apart the story, polish action scenes, and fix clunkers. Still, that's not enough.

Writers get so familiar with their own stories, they miss words, punctuation, grammar, and content even when reading aloud. It takes another set of eyes to pick up on these mistakes.

Some writers use professional editors. Some find friends to read the story and comment/critique/edit. Writers' critique groups are great for this. By learning the rules of editing and reading and recognizing other people’s mistakes, I can go back to my stories and realize, a little better, how many errors need correcting. My own writing can only be improved.

One example: Echelon Press is avoiding tag lines after interrogatories and exclamations. “Where are you going?” she asked. “To the market!” he shouted. The question is obvious with the existence of the question mark so there is no need to tell the reader somebody just asked. Similarly, the mood of the scene should relate the friction or the tension to elicit an exclamation point without adding the fact he raised his voice. When I was working with my editor on Night Shadows, I had to step up a level with my creativity to avoid these. Just recently, I grabbed Beta, the second book, from the 'ready to edit' file and went through it again, hopefully saving some future editor some headaches.

An amusing part of editing is now when I read my favorite authors, I pick up mistakes in THEIR books. When Mary sent back first edits on Night Shadows, she pointed out the number of instances of semicolon and hyphens (which should have been EN dashes) and told me to fix these. There were too many.

Ironically, at the same time I was starting to read a new mystery and in the first twenty pages, the author used more semicolons and EN dashes than I did in half my book. You wouldn't believe how much I howled.

That's the nature of the beast, though. Writing is difficult. Editing is difficult. Anything worth doing well and appreciating is difficult. I am so glad, however, to have the opportunity to be published and to edit and thereby assist others. I know I learn from them and I hope the benefits are mutual.

You can follow Stephen Brayton’s career more closely at http://www.stephenbrayton.com 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How to become a Speed Writer

LM Preston is a writer with a mission.  Yes, her young adult stories are thrilling and exciting, but beyond that they subtly teach kids that they have the power to overcome anything.  Writing stories for and about kids that overcome the impossible is a noble goal, but of course first you have to WRITE.  Here she reminds us of an annual event that can help you get moving at the keyboard.

Nano (National Novel Writing Month) from November 1st-30th. It’s the writing frenzy where you kick out a large number of words to hopefully finish a novel in record time. Many people start the challenge and end up with a sizeable number of pages by the end. Some are inspired to start writing for the first time. Others are inspired to finish something for the first time. Some, like me, find that writing at breakneck speed produces a lower quality of work that doesn’t reflect what is normally produced when writing within your own timing. Truth is, my natural timing is four months from start to finish. I tried to increase my speed and did it without much trouble. It increased by 3 weeks, and for me, that cooking time for a novel fits just right.

There are ways to make speed writing more effective. The overall goal, is to produce more in a shorter period of time. If you keep this up, who knows, speed writing may become a habit.

Prepare for it

When you set out to write a novel in a short period of time, outlining is your friend. Take a week to write a detailed outline of the story. It will help to work out most of the kinks before you even sit down to write. Create character profiles of the main characters and review outline before the start of your writing marathon.

Plan it

If you are going to focus on spitting out as many words as possible a day, then plan it. Block out your writing time for the month. Figure out when you are most productive. Is it in the morning, at night or midday? Make a rule – no sleep unless you have kicked out a minimum of a certain amount of words. Make sure you schedule extra time for working out of corners or temporary writer’s blocks. Make your schedule somewhat flexible so that you don’t get burned out and give up.

Write it

With a printout of your outline next to you and a bullet list of your character profile – start the race. Follow your outline. If you want to go rogue, go ahead, write until the roadblock. If you reach a road block – write anything, take some time off to think on it, then re-work your outline and get back to it. Whatever you do – don’t stop writing. Remember, you will always have to edit it.

Don’t look back

Whatever you do, don’t read over what you’ve written until you are finished. That is an easy way to get distracted. Remember, you’ll have to edit the thing many times before your piece of art is perfected. Just write forward, don’t make corrections, don’t read over it, just push forward and write.

Learn more about LM Preston and her work at http://www.lmpreston.com

Friday, October 8, 2010

Strengh -- and Promotion -- in Numbers

You would be hard put to find a more talented OR more charming collection of mystery authors than the ladies who contribute to the Cozy Chicks blog.  The blog is always a fun and interesting read but I was curious as to why these women of mystery decided to band together in this way.  I received a wonderful answer from Maggie Sefton - New York Times Bestselling author of the Berkley Prime Crime Knitting Mysteries - and am happy to share it with you.

Austin asked if I’d comment on why I chose to join a joint mystery blog like the Cozy Chicks and what benefits I’d noticed.  Having been a novelist since the mid-90s (first pubbed in historical western romance in the mid-90s), I’ve learned that there is definitely strength in numbers.  We all know about the advantages of joining large genre-specific groups like Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Novelists, Inc.  But today’s market is different in that we’ve splintered the mystery genre in all directions.  We’ve still got the long-popular cozy amateur sleuth mysteries, detectives, true crime, and thrillers, but now we’ve also got “crossovers” like paranormal in all its fascinating forms---urban fantasy to legions of vampires, werewolves, and other menacing creatures from the Dark Side.  Romantic Suspense, a genre all its own, has spawned newer mysteries with a lot more going on between hero and heroine than solving the crime. 
I find all of this variety healthy and stimulating to me as a novelist.  But it does lead to a traffic jam of new mysteries coming out every month and competing for the reader’s attention.
How to make your mystery stand out so readers will find it?  That’s the problem not only for newbie authors but for us who’ve been in this writing game a looooong time.
That’s why the joint author blogs suddenly popped onto the scene.  I first paid serious attention to the joint blogs in 2005 when my first Berkley Prime Crime Kelly Flynn Mystery, KNIT ONE, KILL TWO, was released.  Hitting four national bestseller lists the first week definitely helped the series get noticed, but every author knows that CONTINUED sales are the key to success.  Especially long term success, and that’s what I was working for. 
So. . .in the spring of 2006, at a Malice Domestic mystery conference in the Washington, DC area, two other pubbed mystery authors and I first started Cozy Chicks and decided to use the webname:  www.cozychicksblog.com.  Michelle Scott (Berkley Prime Crime Wine Lovers Mysteries), Karen MacInerney (Midnight Ink Grey Whale Inn Mysteries), and I agreed we needed to ask four other published mystery authors to join us so we’d each be contributing one day a week.  We figured we’d keep the blog fresh that way and hopefully attract readers---not only to the blog but to our books as well.
And, boy. . .has it worked.  The Cozy Chicks Blog has grown steadily in daily readership since then despite the inevitable changes in members that happen in group efforts.  The blog has enabled us to have another great promotional outlet for our individual releases in addition to our own websites.  AND. . .we help each other out with promotion by passing out each other’s bookmarks & promo items at our own individual book signings and appearances.  That increases our individual promotional reach seven-fold.  Each of us lives in separate areas of the country, and we each attend a lot of regional conferences the rest of us cannot.  Those travel dollars only stretch so far, so these “Multiplier Effect” activities are invaluable.
This past January, we decided to broaden our scope even more and joined another mystery author joint group that had recently formed---Cozy Promo.  There are 25 mystery authors in this email loop and again---we all help each other with promotion by handing out bookmarks, etc at our own events.  That Multiplier Effect got a heckuva lot more powerful with 25 authors working it.  
Plus, having all those eyes and ears out there on the Web means there’re more people finding interesting articles or book news that would be of interest to the entire group. 
And this June, the Cozy Promo group started a new blog all its own, with a twist---www.killercharacters.com.  Killer Characters is where our characters do the posting---as themselves---not us.  In fact, our characters are known to chase their authors off some of the postings.  If you’ve ever wondered if we authors suffer from split personality disorders---well, you get to see it front and center on Killer Characters.  Kelly Flynn first posted on June 8th, so if you’re curious about Kelly, who she is and why she’s poking into murders in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado, check out Killer Characters.
Those promotional efforts not only help us bring existing characters to the readers’ attention, but they’re also invaluable when we’re introducing a new series with new characters, as I am.
I’ve sold a second mystery series which will be published in August or September 2012.  The Molly Malone Mysteries take place in my old hometown, Washington, DC.  There are good guys, bad guys, and politicians all mixed in with mystery and some intrigue.  It’s not cozy, but I’m hoping readers will give Molly Malone a try anyway.  And I’m definitely planning to use Cozy Chicks and Cozy Promo to help me get the word out in 2012 that “there’s a new girl in town.”   

The eighth novel in Maggie's Knitting Mystery series, SKEIN OF THE CRIME, was Barnes & Noble #5 Bestselling Hardcover Mystery after its release in June and is still on their Bestseller list.  Learn more about Maggie Sefton's work and the rest of the Cozy Chicks at http://www.maggiesefton.com    

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Insanity has Never Been so Sexy

TL James is the author of the speculative family saga, The MPire Trilogy.  James’ storyline showcases her love of research, biblical studies and literary classics from Chaucer to ancient mythology.  But since this is a character-driven saga I asked James to tell us about one of her main characters and how she writes him so well.  Her response gives us some insight into her books... and HER, as a writer.

An insane person is usually scary but Malcolm Haulm gives insanity a hint of sexual appeal. When I created this character for The MPire Saga, I removed all boundaries, reasoning, restrictions and social consciousness. Malcolm possesses a reserved animalistic demeanor - on a constant prowl. He attacks everything and everyone in sight, but his fondness of you is based on you surviving his attacks.

Malcolm Xavier is a twin and second sibling to three brothers and two sisters. As a child, he advanced in all his studies with a strong aptitude for math and music. He surpassed his oldest twin, Mallory-Paul. He was slated to take his twin’s position and lead his generation until his terrible accident at the age of seventeen.

Before joining the Family Business, he worked on Wall Street and he was noted being one of the creators of the NASDAQ. He owned a million dollar hotel where he lived on the top two floors. He was well traveled, played in a jazz band and spoke 17 languages. He had his choice of wine, women, clothes and toys. Nothing stood in the way of Malcolm getting want he wanted. If he desired it, it was his… no questions asked. And that often included lives.

Malcolm married his guardian angel, Felecia. He never wanted kids; however the board pressured him to do so. He attempted to stray from the paper bull request by staying in New York, but his efforts proved pointless. From unwanted and adversarial help from his twin brother, Felicia bore three boys.

Although he fathered only one child, Mallory Towneson, during the marriage with Felicia, he raised all four of the boys as his own. During three boys’ childhood and with the constant help from Felicia, he kept his insanity intact and closely controlled. It wasn’t until Mallory’s birth, and consequentially Felicia’s death during childbirth, did Malcolm’s bizarre behavior reared its ugly head.

Fourteen years later when Mallory returned home, Malcolm behavior erupted again. With the mood-swing pendulum swinging from super sweet loving father to violence aggressor, his erratic behavior proved to be detrimental to his existence.

How did I create him?

After I created the main character, Mallory T. Haulm, I went back over his characteristic and crafted a dark mirror image of him thus creating his father, Malcolm. They both have a love for finance and music. Their taste in designer clothes, exotic toys and beautiful women were identical. Some of their life experiences were similar, such as forced marriage and conception of child outside of the marriage bond. However, the few differences that they had, defined their character. Mallory had never deliberately intends to harm people. In fact, Mallory has to be backed in a corner before he retaliates. Malcolm, on the other hand, has no conscience or compassion. He would often inflict pain on others as easily as taking a breath.

Learn more about the MPire novels at http://www.authortljames.com/.