5 Questions to Ask before Querying

WRITERS IN THE STORM

WRITERS IN THE STORM

Today, I’m over at the fabulous Writers in the Storm blog with Are You Ready to Query?

I’ve come to enjoy pitching my story to agents. Not because I’ve landed a seven-book, multi-million-dollar deal, but because I relish the opportunity to talk about my book and learn how to better present my story. The feedback I’ve received has helped me hone the answer to “Am I ready to query?” Here are five questions you should ask before sending out a query. Read More.

ROW80 Update

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I edited both, and I’m waiting on a critique partner’s comments on one. Realistically, these releases will happen after the first of the year.

2. Read 12 books. Read The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater, which puts me at 10 books. And I’m really trying to read Mansfield Park, one of the few Jane Austen novels I haven’t read, but I am dragging through it. I’ve even thought about skipping the book and watching whatever BBC series there is on the story. Is that lame?

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. I completed Immersion, and I’m still plugging through edits on Sharing Hunter. Make really good progress! Oh, and I entered the Golden Heart contest, which opened up on December 2.

Now how’s your week been? What have you been up to?

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The Beauty of a Book Cover

Yes, it’s the story inside the book cover that matters. But we book lovers also know how a beautiful cover can beckon a potential reader to give a novel a shot.

That’s one reason why I hired a professional cover designer to create my short story covers, like this one:

My Sister's Demon book cover

And here are some of my favorite book covers for books I’ve read in 2014:

Favorite Book Covers 2014

Aren’t they pretty?!

Given how helpful a quality cover can be in bringing in a reader, I wanted to share with you the annual contest my local Romance Writers of America (RWA) chapter hosts. Here’s the information provided to me with permission to post:

Since 2005, Houston Bay Area RWA has been proving that you CAN Judge A Book By Its Cover. JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER CONTEST 2014 is open for entries.

Your covers will be judged by booksellers around the world, and the winning cover in each category will be featured in a full-page color ad on the inside front cover of the April 2015 Romance Writers Report.

Again this year, we will also feature the Reader’s Choice Winners from each category on our website. Hundreds of thousands of votes were cast for the JABBIC 2013 covers during the Reader’s Choice voting!

IF YOUR BOOK IS SELF-PUBLISHED, YOU WILL BE ABLE TO GIVE CREDIT WHERE CREDIT’S DUE (YOUR COVER ARTIST OR YOURSELF).

Entry Deadline: Entries must be received by January 15, 2015

Entry Fee: $15

Eligibility: Published in 2014

Enter: The cover of your book or novella published by a traditional house, self-published, ePublisher, or POD during 2014

Entry Format: Electronic files (JPG or GIF) only

Categories: Contemporary Series, Single Title/Mainstream, Historical, Romantic Suspense, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Paranormal, Sexiest Cover, Young Adult and Inspirational

Judges: Booksellers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia

Top Prize: Winners will be featured in a full-page color ad on the inside front cover of the April 2015 Romance Writers Report

FMI, entry form and rules, visit our contest website.

Even if you don’t have something to offer, make sure you participate in the Reader’s Choice awards. I’ll make sure to plug that here when voting opens.

Now what are your favorite covers for books you’ve read in 2014? If you’re a published author, what cover of your own is a favorite? And how was your week?

♦   ♦   ♦

ROW80 Update

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I have edited two stories, and one is in the capable hands of a critique partner.

2. Read 12 books. Read another nonfiction title, plus The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. That takes me up to nine.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. I completed Immersion and (yay!) made edits this past week on Sharing Hunter.

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If Dickens Tweeted

Sometime ago, I started a category of posts called If ___ Tweeted, in which I share what people would have tweeted. For instance, what would Winston Churchill, Leonardo Da Vinci, or Alfred Hitchcock say if they’d had access to Twitter? I can guess, by gathering quotations of 120 characters or less.

Now being a bit of a Scrooge myself until about two weeks before Christmas, I’ve been thinking I might need to re-read, or re-watch, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. And since his name comes up so often around the holiday season, I wondered what Dickens would say . . . if he tweeted. (And as it turns out, several are perfect for the holiday season!)

Dickens Fake Tweet

 

  1. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. #BlackFriday
  2. There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.
  3. The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.
  4. A multitude of people, and yet a solitude! #introvertatthemall
  5. But charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.
  6. No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it to anyone else.
  7. I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.
  8. In a utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales should be respected.
  9. There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour.
  10. It’s a mad world. Mad as Bedlam, boy! #standingintheSantaline
  11. A day wasted on others is not wasted on one’s self.
  12. No one who can read, ever looks at a book, even unopened on a shelf, like one who cannot.
  13. He would make a lovely corpse. #elfonshelfcreepsmeout
  14. Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.
  15. What greater gift than the love of a cat?
  16. Every traveller has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering. #holidaytrip
  17. I hope that real love and truth are stronger in the end than any evil or misfortune in the world.
  18. Ask no questions, and you’ll be told no lies. #nopeekingbeforeChristmas
  19. For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.
  20. God bless us, every one!

Sources: BrainyQuote; Wikiquote; Mental Floss; Victorian Web; Quote Investigator; Charles Dickens Info; Goodreads

Which quote is your favorite? And what other quotes from Charles Dickens do you enjoy?

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10 Gifts for the Bookish and the Writerly

Christmas is creeping up on us! Here in the United States, many begin browsing or purchasing holiday gifts soon after they devour the Thanksgiving turkey and pies. As for myself, I stay home on “Black Friday,” happy to avoid the crowds and the madness. In fact, I do much of my holiday shopping online.

So once again, I have combed the Internet looking for gift ideas for the bookish and the writerly on your present list. If you’re wondering what to buy for someone who fits that bill, or if you’re putting together your own wish list for family and friends, check out some of these fabulous and fun gifts!

Book Dishware. When you love books, you just can’t get enough of them — or even the reminder of them. So why not eat off book-shaped plates and platters? Gone Reading offers a variety of crisp white dinnerware for the book lover in your life.

Book shaped dinnerware

My favorite? The cup and saucer. Perfect for a lazy afternoon of reading and sipping tea.

Tea Cup & Saucer

BabyLit Books. Despite their title, I believe these books are for ages 0 to 99. BabyLit board books teach early learning concepts such as counting, language, and opposites through the use of classic literature references.

Baby Lit Books

 

For instance, Alice in Wonderland teaches colors like this:

Baby Lit Inside

 ~ ♥ ♥ ♥ ~

Book Mark Pads. Is it just me, or do others constantly lose their bookmarks? I’m forever hunting around for a bookmark, even though I know I must have several around here somewhere. How about a whole pad of bookmarks? With 25 sheets to a pad, it’s okay to lose one; just get another.

Book Mark Pads

Phone Skin. After using Android cell phones for years, I finally got an iPhone this past fall. And soon after, I started shopping for covers. Decal Girl had many choices, such as these:

iPhone cases

Or you could grab a book cover case from Out of Print Clothing:

Book Cover phone cases

Themed Jewelry. Your book lover or writer might want to wear their passion, in the form of jewelry. I suggest heading to Etsy.com and running a search for handmade jewelry that fits your recipient’s interest and taste. But here’s a lovely necklace I found from ALikelyStory, for the writer in your life:

Wordsmith necklace with pen pendant

Mouse Pad. Zazzle.com has a veritable plethora of book-themed mouse pads, with everything from quotes to reading scenes to add-your-own-book-cover. Here’s a sample:

Mouse Pads

If you’d rather go personalized, check out the options at LillianVernon.com.

Mouse Pads

Crime Scene Tape Leggings. If you read or write mystery or crime novels, you might adore the crime scene tape leggings from PrettyGuide.com. Of course, whether you have the figure to pull off that look is entirely up to you.

Leggings

Steering Wheel Laptop Desk. If only that writer could get some words down while waiting in the parking lot for her kid’s activity to finish or while sitting in the car during lunch break . . .  How about a laptop desk for your car? Zone Tech makes just such a thing.

Laptop desk for car

Office Supply Gift Card. Not surprisingly, the bookish and writerly tend to adore office supplies. We can spend hours perusing office organization products, computer accessories, and desk trimmings. Being let loose with a gift card in an office supply store sounds awesome to many of us.

Gift cards to Office Max, Office Depot, and Staples

Writer-on-Deadline Gift Basket. Yep, you have to put this together yourself, but trust me, this would be wonderful for writers who are under the time crunch of NaNoWriMo, contract deadlines, or self-publishing goals. Here’s one I put together and a list of items you could include:

Writer's Deadline Gift Basket

  • Tea bags – mix up the caffeinated and decaffeinated, for the writer to use as needed
  • Writer encouragement mug – a glimpse at the cup might reinvigorate the writing
  • Snacks – to keep up energy and strength
  • Coffee, soda, or energy drinks – for that extra push
  • Multivitamins or immunity booster (like Airborne) – to keep the immune system strong
  • Composition book – for jotting down scenes, character issues, edits
  • Do Not Disturb sign – to remind the writer’s household not to interrupt the magic (you can find the one I used here)
  • Post-it notes – for marking up the manuscript in the editing stage
  • Highlighters – same as the post-its
  • Pizza delivery gift card – for those times when supper preparation needs to give way to word count
  • Back massager/relaxer – hunching over the computer can give a writer backaches
  • Champagne/wine & glasses – to celebrate when the deadline is met!

For previous years’ gift lists, check out the following posts:

Gifts for the Grammar Geek
Gifts for the Word Lover
Gifts for the Book Reader
Gifts for the Writer
10 Holiday Gifts for Readers and Writers

ROW80 Update

This may be my worst ROW80 yet! I’ve been MIA on my blog for a couple of weeks and involved in a side project that has taken me away from my goals. Still, here’s where I am:

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I actually edited a story and sent another one to a critique partner for feedback.

2. Read 12 books. Since checking in, I’ve read There Goes the Groom by Rita Herron, City of Glass and City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare, and a nonfiction title. That takes me up to seven.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. I did Immersion, but I still need to do a lot more editing on my WIP.

What gift ideas do you have for the reader or writer in your life? What would add to my writer-on-deadline gift basket? And how was your week?

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Memorable Spy Gadgets: What Would You Want?

My fabulous friends and authors Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes have just published a terrific novella called The Spy Bride, which is part of a Risky Brides collection.

In honor of their release, I got to thinking about some of the memorable spy gadgets from TV and film. Here are some of my faves:

Maxwell Smart’s Shoe Phone

Maxwell Smart holding shoe phone, from Get Smart

Sure, in the days of cell phones, transmitting messages over a shoe might seem silly. Plus, this baby would be caught in two seconds in a TSA security line. But when Get Smart aired in 1965, a portable phone was a swank idea. And hiding it in your shoe seemed pretty spy-cool. These days, I’d probably be happier if the bottom of my shoe had a different gadget, like maybe a Roomba so I could clean my floor just by walking around.

Men in Black Neuralyzer.

Men In Black, Agent J holding neuralyzer

This handy-dandy device erases memories with a flash, which can then be replaced by a different version of events. While useful for hiding the existence of aliens from the common citizenry, I think a lot of people would love to have this gadget to erase the memories of others in their lives who might not have seen their best side and could use a new perspective.

John Steed’s Umbrella.

John Steed & umbrella from The Avengers

John Steed, of the British spy series The Avengers, was known for carrying an umbrella which he used as a weapon. If needed, the umbrella contained a saber he could pull out in a pinch. Currently, my umbrella only protects me from rain, but I could come up with a few handy tools I’d love to tuck into an umbrella.

Mission Impossible Self-Destructing Tape.

Mission Impossible -- smoking tape player

Who can forget the way missions were delivered in the Mission Impossible series, and films following? An agent picks up the recorded message, listens to the instructions, and then hears, “This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck…” Yes, I know we don’t have tapes or players like this anymore, but the notion of self-destructing gadgetry is an appealing one. As a parent, some days I’d like to have a “should you not get off this video game and do your homework in the next ten seconds, your cell phone will self-destruct.” (Yeah, I’m fun like that! ;))

Chuck’s Intersect.

Intersect computer from Chuck

The Intersect from Chuck stores all the intelligence data the United States government possesses and recognizes patterns that help catch the bad guys. Unfortunately, this big pile of data gets shoved into the brain of one unsuspecting geek named Chuck. But this would be very handy for an agent, don’t you think? Or even for your daily life, to be able to shove everything you know or should know onto a drive, stick it in your brain, and access it at will? That sounds like a gadget I could use.

James Bond’s Aston Martin.

Aston Martin in Q's lab

The first car to be equipped with gadgets in a James Bond film was this beauty, the Aston Martin from Goldfinger. It had GPS, machine guns, smoke screen, tire slashers, and more — all the things I need to get around in my Houston traffic. (Kidding…just kidding!) But hey, a bunch of cool spy stuff in your car? And not just any car, but an Aston Martin? Yes, please.

So there are a few of my favorites. Hope you’ll share some of yours in the comments!

And now for a quick ROW80 Update! A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80) is the writing challenge that knows you have a life:

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I did some editing this week and worked on blurbs as well.

2. Read 12 books. Read The Best Medicine by Tracy Brogan. That brings me up to three.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. Attended a couple of weeks back and just got back comments from a valuable critique partner.

Also, I recently learned that I placed 2nd in the YA category for the New Jersey Romance Writers Put Your Heart in a Book contest! Congratulations to the other winners, Jessica Ruddick and Ann LaBar.

Now what are your favorite fictional spy gadgets? And how was your week?

Risky Brides book coverEight novellas.

Great authors.

Wonderful price.

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

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Immersion Master Class…Or What 5 Days at the Top of a Mountain in Colorado Did for My Manuscript

From October 9 through 13, I attended an Immersion Master Class hosted by Margie Lawson. Immersion is an intensive workshop during which you receive general writing coaching and specific help with your manuscript.

So what did I get out of my trip to the Rocky Mountains for this writing workshop? Here are five takeaways:

1. Receiving terrific writing instruction. Writing coach Margie Lawson offers some wonderful craft classes online and through her lecture packets. However, some teaching is specific to Immersion.

Margie Lawson and Me (oh, and Calypso)

Margie Lawson and Me (oh, and Calypso)

This was my second Immersion class, and this round reinforced what I’d learned before and added new craft knowledge. Margie not only explains principles of good prose, but provides examples so you can see how other excellent authors wield these useful tools.

2. Spending time with fabulous writers. Our writing group came from here, there, and yonder. With writers from Colorado, Texas, California, D.C., and Montreal, it was an eclectic group. Yet we bonded like a trial-by-fire sisterhood. Those who’ve attended workshops and conferences know the benefit of hanging out with other writers who share their experiences and wisdom, not to mention their laughter and chocolate.

My Lovely Fellow Immersioners

My Lovely Fellow Immersioners

Oh, and I roomed with the marvelous Jenny Hansen. That was an extra punch of fabulousness.

Jenny Hansen and Me

Jenny Hansen and Me

3. Seeing my progress. The commentary from Margie and fellow Immersioners made it clear I’ve improved my writing skills. Having Immersion experiences one and a half years apart made it easier to see how far I’ve come. It’s a bit like the kid who grows bit-by-bit, but you only recognize just how tall they’ve gotten when you scratch that pencil-mark onto the growth chart and compare it to last year’s mark below.

Sometimes it’s worth stopping and celebrating how much further down the road you are. Especially since it can be easy to get frustrated that you’re not yet writing like your novelist hero or hitting the bestseller lists or even waving your three-book contract around to your family (“See? It’s not just a hobby!”). I had the pleasure of feeling I really have “come a long way, baby!”

4. Learning my weaknesses. Before we get too worked up about my progress, this workshop also highlighted where I still need work. I’ve come a long way, but I haven’t arrived.

An edited ("Margie-ized") page from Immersion

An edited (“Margie-ized”) page from Immersion

Of course, no author arrives entirely, since there’s always something one can improve. But I know where my focus needs to turn, which writing skills require more of my attention and effort. As I edit, I’ll be looking for those problem areas and applying new skills to fixing them. If I struggle with an issue, I also know to request specific feedback from a critique partner (e.g., “Did anything in this chapter sound stilted to you?”).

5. Falling in love (again) with my story. There’s nothing quite like reading a chapter you wrote and getting all tingly-excited about your story. As I worked on scenes in the Immersion class and polished them up, I read passages I loved, reintroduced myself to characters who engage me, and stoked my desire to share this story with a young adult audience. I fell in love…again.

Ultimately, every word, every scene, every character needs to be something the author really, truly likes — such that she’s bouncing in her boots to share it with readers. And with a few more tweaks to this book, I’ll be raring to go.

While I’m partial to Margie’s excellent writing coaching, I know there are other wonderful workshops available, both in person and online. Writers can look for workshops, retreats, “boot camps,” and intensives that meet their needs. I believe such endeavors are a good investment for a writing career.

ROW80

Speaking of good endeavors, I’m back on track with A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Given my trip to the Colorado and the hard drive crash I experienced on my last night there, I haven’t made as much progress as I’d hoped. Unfortunately, I spent much of last week getting a new hard drive, reloading programs, and working with my tech guy to get back my files. Fortunately, all my data seems to be there. But here’s the scoop for last week:

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I met a wonderful writer at Immersion who also likes a bit of snark on the page, and she will be taking a look at one of my shorts to give feedback before I publish. I know this isn’t exactly progress on my part, but I feel good about her being able to help me edit well.

2. Read 12 books. I read The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig and Nothing Sweeter by Laura Drake. Two down, ten to go.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. During the workshop, I made some great changes to my young adult novel and got a much better sense of where my weaknesses still are. I’m ready to tackle the edits head-on this week and look forward to having a pretty, polished manuscript very soon.

So what workshops, retreats, or online courses do you recommend? And how was your week?

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Critiquing vs. Brainstorming

As soon as I connected to other writers, I started hearing about the importance of having your writing critiqued. Whether it’s critique partners or a critique group or a professional editor, quality feedback can lift your writing to another level. Since authors want their books read by others, we should welcome helpful comments that hone our writing skills and push us to pen better novels.

While I don’t have a specific critique group, I have relied on critique partners. It can take some time to find the right fit, but once you do, the results are wonderful! I can’t speak highly enough about those who have helped me better craft my stories and my words.

But I’ve recently had the pleasure of an activity that has possibly helped me even more: brainstorming.

Three people brainstorming, light bulb overhead

Hey, let’s brainstorm!

First, a multi-published author friend of mine put together a monthly brainstorming group. Rather than reading scenes or chapters aloud and critiquing one another, we each have an opportunity to share a plot or characterization issue, a draft query or synopsis we need help with, or even a passage that’s got us stumped. You can even throw out a novel premise to see if it has legs or wings, and thus counts as worth the trouble to write. Whatever your issue, you present it to the group, and then for maybe 15 minutes the rest of the group brainstorms ideas to deal with the problem.

With several people in the group, and the synergy of the discussion, many suggestions fly around. Even if some of them aren’t usable in the end, I’ve had some incredible gems come from this process. The brainstormers also tend to ask hard questions that lead me to obvious solutions or even the discovery of other problems (which I need to know about now, before I publish). I’ve quickly become very attached to attending this group, because it’s so helpful and, quite honestly, fun. What’s more fun for a bunch of writers than getting around a table and talking about our stories?

Another avenue for brainstorming has been one-on-one chats with friends. I’ve recently had the pleasure of tapping the brilliant minds of fellow authors Melinda VanLone and Diana Beebe when I got stuck on a scene or contemplating a story premise. Their what if… comments have been illuminating. Even if I end up figuring out a solution myself, the conversation gets my mind focused and flowing.

Face-to-face, I’ve also been writing with a couple of groups at cafés and coffee shops. I love pausing in a frustrating place in a scene, looking up at another writer and asking a question, and voilà! problem solved. Even a minute or two of brainstorming has sometimes cracked a puzzle better than me ruminating over the issue for half an hour. That’s time well-spent.

Brainstorming has been a big boon to my writing lately. I highly recommend it.

ROW80

And speaking of time well-spent, A Round of Words in 80 Days begins this week. Very quickly, here are my goals for Round 4:

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I’m planning to release A Little Fairy Dust and Living with Ghosts before the end of the year.

2. Read 12 books. This is a good number for me to aim for, and I enjoy sharing what I’ve read here.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. Starting at the end of this week, I’ll be hanging out for a few days with a few fellow writers and coach extraordinaire, Margie Lawson. I’m taking my Sharing Hunter manuscript to see what more I can do to make it sparkle.

I wonder how many other authors are using brainstorming rather than, or in addition to, critiquing. Do others have formalized brainstorming groups? Do you have brainstorming partners? Does your critique group use brainstorming in some way?

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