Category: Author Advice

Because Neil Gaiman knows more stuff than I do…

Olde City New Blood BadgeWe’re getting into that busy time of year at Chez Staab. Prince of Power releases in January. The Olde City New Blood Con is coming up in February (wanna come and meet me in sunny Florida? I’m giving away one free admission, here, and my M/M author buddy Mary Calmes is giving away a set of her Warder books, too!). And THEN, Lee and Alexia’s book is due March first… Ohyeah, then there are some holiday type things going on in there somewhere. Plus, yanno, parenting three kids (oh, my!). So while I try to update my blog weekly (I think I used to anyway), I am not so great when I am busy, and I am about to get a little insane. If this here blog gets a little stale, apologize in advance.

In the meantime. I get asked a lot for author advice, and I hope what I have to say is useful. Sometimes, I may not have time to give an in-depth reply though, and while adding an “author resource” page to my web site is on my to-do list, I am not sure when it will make it to my “done” list. So if you haven’t seen it, check out the Neil Gaiman commencement address, because it’s got some great tidbits and he knows way, WAY more stuff than I do. If you HAVE seen it already, watch it again. It’s that good.

Best-selling author Caridad Pineiro has a fabulous author resources page, you can find it here. She, too, knows way more stuff than I do. She will also be at the Olde City Con in February. So, see? You should come. We’ll both be at RT in May, as well. Oh! Also the proceeds for her current release are going to be given to the Jersey Shore cleanup between now and March–entertain yourself AND help a good cause! Check out the Prince’s Gamble at Amazon and B&N.

My lesson in “$h**t happens.”

So I’m still pretty behind the ball these days, but I wanted to take a moment to stress a point that was stressed to me before I got my first writing contract: prepare as much as you possibly can, because once you have deadlines, sh**t WILL go wrong to keep you from meeting them.

All the seasoned writers who gave me that warning? You folks were right. Boy, were you ever.

Because even though people told me–lots of people–I didn’t quite grasp it. So here’s the deal. KING of DARKNESS comes out in mass-market paperback in February and I am super-mega thrilled, but there’s been a lot of hurry up and wait in the process. All the way back in January of 2011 I signed the contract with Sourcebooks, and it wasn’t until…I want to say late May that I finally had a lovely talk with my editor (Deb Werksman, who I just LOVE) and she told me very nicely that she felt I needed to re-conceptualize a fairly juicy chunk of the novel. Ideally, in about 3 weeks.


But, “Okay, no sweat,” I said. It seemed tight, but doable. I am the at-home parent to 3 kids, but those kids were in preschool part-time, and hubby would help if he could on the weekends. We had a sitter who came a few hours a week. So we’d work it out. Well, then our air conditioning died, so for a week I got nothing done because it was too hot to stay in the house, and the kids couldn’t sleep. Then, the preschool was closed for a school holiday. The babysitter got food poisoning, so there went my childcare help during the weekdays for awhile. Hubby had some work issues that ate up the weekends. Ugh! Oh, yeah, and I was rear-ended by a Lexus SUV while driving my friend’s Honda Civic and then sitting to type was painful due to getting banged up in the fender-bender. I mean–seriously?? If it could go wrong in those three weeks, it did.

But I did make my deadline. Not easily, and not without losing a lot of sleep. Not without swallowing a lot of ibuprofen. But I searched every nook and cranny I could for people who could help me watch the kids, and when my babysitter was back on her feet after my manuscript was in, I paid her to come watch my kids so I could SLEEP. I thanked my lucky stars that Amazon delivered coffee straight to my door. A LOT of coffee.

And I prayed that I could still deliver a good book, despite all the insanity.

So what else could I have done, in retrospect? I would have lined up some backup babysitters, for one thing. Maybe asked the preschool if they had any extra enrollment days once I knew what the deadline was going to be. There might not have been much, but there *were* things in retrospect that I could have done to be more proactive. Ah. Well.

So…planning, folks. It’ll save ya a lot of anguish.

I’ll know for next time. Though God willing it’s not another car accident. Or the central air.


Query Letters and Hair Pulling by Kristin Molnar

First of all, I’d like to thank Elisabeth for having me guest blog.  This is my first guest blog appearance, so I’m feeling all professional today.  My name is Kristin Molnar and write mostly dark paranormal romance.  What’s not to love about sexy vampires?  Though I do tend to throw in a bit of murder and mayhem too.

I am in the query letter stage of trying to get published.  It feels like I spend most of my day slumped over the computer, researching agents.  No one wants the same thing.  One agent wants nothing but my query letter.  That’s easy, I can do that.  Another wants query, synopsis, sample chapter, a bio, and rights to my firstborn child (not really but sometimes it feels that way).  And yet another wants a synopsis and a bio.  I have spent countless hours making charts to keep track of who wants what and what I’ve sent who.  My charts are organized, but my head still wants to explode when I look at them.  I think I’ve sent out over fifteen query letters.  Not that many, in the scheme of things, but it feels like a lot.  I’ve received a few rejections, some of them form some of them personalized.  I’m not so much discouraged by the rejections as I am the sheer amount of information needed to keep going.

There are books, blogs, workshops, facebook pages, and twitter accounts dedicated to agents and query letters.  Not a single one of them will tell you the same thing.  I’m starting to feel like I’m playing Russian Roulette with agents.  Spin the wheel, cross my fingers, and hope my query ends up on the right person’s desk while their in just the perfect mood to hear about my novel.  Agents are busy, busy people, and somehow I have to come up with one hell of a pitch in 250 words or less.  Some days it feels impossible.  Then I check my email, and I see that someone else in RWA or FF&P (Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter) has gotten an offer from an agent or publisher.  I might be a little bit jealous, but mostly it reminds me that this really can be done.  By busting my hump, writing like a tempest, and doing my research, I can get there too.  

Every day I feel lucky to know what it is that I want to do with my life.  I might not be selling anything yet, but at least I know.  Some people go their entire lives and don’t even get that far.  As writer’s we are gifted and cursed.  We have to let these stories out, and then we have to work even harder to get it out there for the reader.

Kristin Molnar

Twitter: @KLMolnar

Big Guys with Guns (deep point of view and yes, I DO have a staring problem)

Long before I started writing books. I was the type of person who liked to observe others (ever have someone turn and ask nastily in middle school if you have a starting problem?? that happened to me a LOT). I liked to catalog their features and movements, even to make guesses about their personalities. An offshoot of this during my days in the rave scene was when I enjoyed trying to determine what the DJ might be like in bed based on their track selections. *blush* Not that I got to find out…

Moving on…

So in one of my former lives I worked with a lot of guys who carried guns. There were some big, alpha, burly…yummy guys who wore suit jackets in all kinds of weather – probably to cover their shoulder holsters. And it lead me to wonder: they can’t all be the hard-asses they seem to be right, I’m betting they have their vulnerabilities, and their creamy, squishy centers just like the rest of us.

I actually named the hero of King of Darkness, Thad, after a former client. He had the whole alpha male thing down, but  there was a very heavy dose of the whole boyish and handsome thing going on. He was not, to me, your standard caveman stereotype by a long shot. He was flirtatious, intelligent, charming. And I knew that he knew his way around a semi-automatic handgun. Probably lots of kinds of guns. It was hot.

So the point in all of this, is that whole observing/staring (all right, sometimes also eavesdropping – we can’t help ourselves when you talk that loud) is kind of like field research for us writers. Looking at a person and trying to determine what they are like on the inside is often how we flesh out our characters. When writing a character’s point of view, really getting into their heads is important. Even more important, is getting there realistically. Your average male character isn’t going to know the difference between Manolo’s and Louboutin’s, for example. If he does know these things, WHY does he know them?

For me it is a constantly evolving skill, the ability to show all facets of a character so that they are believable, and understandable. So you can say “Ah, he’s not just a jerk, he’s in pain because his wife left him to follow a hunky cowboy in the bull-riding circuit!”

The goal, ultimately, is to understand your characters so well that the reader can get as intimate and cozy with them as the writer. I LOVE when I am reading a novel and my heart breaks right along with the hero when he finds out that his best friend is dying.

The ability to write deep point of view like this is something I don’t think you can spend too much time honing. I’ve actually taken two workshops on deep POV, one by Carrie Lofty and I’m in the midst of one now by Jill Elizabeth Nelson. When I finished Carrie’s online workshop I sat down and overhauled my WIP in a MAJOR way, and I couldn’t believe the things she mentioned that I could do better. This was with a manuscript that I had already polished quite a bit and thought was pretty darn close to finished. I could have paid ten times what the course cost (thank God I didn’t have to), her little tips improved my writing that much. Carrie is also just flat-out awesome, smart, and super nice. She has a list of the online workshops she teaches, including the POV one, on her web site here.

Already I can see that Jill’s workshop will be just as helpful and effective, because there are SO many balls to juggle in your head with deep POV and Jill covers the material in a totally different way. We’re only a week in but already I am learning more new things. Jill doesn’t seem to have an online class listing on her web site but you can contact her to find out more.

To sum up all this rambling, I stare because for me it is a creativity exercise. I can take what I observe and use it later to help describe actions and motions that convey feeling even more effectively. And, because I just like to observe for the sake of my own curiosity. Sometimes I just zone out. And because, yes, I do have a staring problem. Sorry guys.

Writing Workshops – The Good, The Bad, and How to Ditch Dead Bodies

When I started on this journey to become a published romance writer, I shied away from writing workshops. I read a fantastic book on writing by Elizabeth Berg (Read it!), in which she suggested that while writing classes and workshops were helpful, they could also undermine one’s confidence. I figured, that made sense, and I have you know, “low self-esteem” like many of us do, so I avoided any and all writing workshops.

But then…

I was prowling around the RWA Web Site one day and checking out the vast array of resources that were available to help one’s writing career. One of said resources was a yahoo group devoted to announcing workshops. I figured what the hey, can’t hurt to check it out, right? Turns out, WRITERS are good at coming up with catchy names for the workshops they teach that make ’em sound super interesting to take!

…so I took one…and I liked it.

My “first time” was with mystery author Wendy Lyn Watson who has a fantastic series of novels in the works that manage, quite fantastically, to combine murder and ice cream. The first, I SCREAM, YOU SCREAM, is available now, and it’s freaking hilarious. There are some limitations that I have to acknowledge having as a writer, and the inability to use the word “gazongas” as effortlessly as she does in a sentence, is one of them. It makes me sad.

Wendy’s Workshop, on the other hand actually made me quite happy. It was called “Write Naked” and it turned out to be a really good first workshop to take because it was all about finding your voice as a writer. Too many times I will read a novel and LOVE the writers voice so much I find myself trying to channel their writing style. Problem is, it’s a little like finding that author’s home and trying to fit into their pants. In one way or another, it’s going to land you in some trouble.

I have taken the following other workshops thus far, all of them were well worth the time and money:
– Mauled Men, Drowned Dames and Crispy Critters; a Body Disposal Primer for Writers by Jeanne Adams. If you ever have to kill a character and want to make sure you do it right, this is the workshop for you!

– The Warrior Writer by Bob Mayer. This was one of my favorites because his approach is so unique, he is a former Green Beret and brings that experience into his teaching. He focuses more on strategy than art, which is very important. He also has an excellent book out called Who Dares Wins that is a worthwhile read.

– Effective use of POV by Carrie Lofty. This workshop, REALLY helped me to improve the overall quality of my writing. If you want to write deep point of view, this is a fantastic workshop. She really gets into the psychology of your characters and how to make sure they aren’t seeing/experiencing things that aren’t realistic. For example, men aren’t just women with penises. This was a HUGE mistake that I made many times over in my writing. I mean I knew that, but I didn’t KNOW it, you know?

– Loglines, Queries, and Synopsis by Elle James and Delilah Devlin. I found this workshop to be quite painful, but in a good way. None of us want (none of us who are sane, anyway) to write all the other stuff that is required to help us sell our books. They have a great formula that they have put together though, and this is a very worthwhile workshop.

– Pitch Perfect by Kerri Nelson. Kerri also does private online tutoring for creating pitches, synopsis, etc and I can say that her pitch method is DEFINITELY effective because I just got a request for a full manuscript after using the pitch I developed in her workshop!! My old pitch was just God awful, so I can’t thank Kerri enough.

– Marketing for Introverts by Tina Gallagher. As Bob Mayer points out, the writer personality type is the exact opposite of the promoter personality type, and to get your name out there, you’ve got to promote. Tina tells you exactly where to go and what to do!!

So these workshops are great, what’s BAD about them?? Now maybe it’s just me, but I found it EXTREMELY easy to get overwhelmed. I made the rookie mistake of signing up for every damn workshop that looked interesting and there are lots of ’em. Like I said before, writers are good at making their courses look interesting. Thing is, I have found that as a stay at home mom with two kids still in diapers, finding the time to write, maintain my blog and web site, etc. already is a struggle for me. Add in a couple of workshops (many of which have actual ASSIGNMENTS) is quite hard. Then there’s the fact that these workshops are offered by a variety of RWA subchapters, so when you’re tooling around on the interweb signing up work workshops willy-nilly, you can run into some problems. For example, I am signed up for four in August. FOUR.

Previously I determined that two is about all I can handle at a time. I just forgot which ones I had already signed up for.

Also, I was notified by a very polite treasurer with the Low Country RWA subchapter (they have a fantastic course offering btw) that I signed up for the same workshop twice. Twice. As in, I signed up for two workshops twice accidentally. Probably this won’t happen to you, unless you have been running on 4 hours of sleep a night like I do.

So don’t pull a ME and get in over your head with the workshops, be judicious in determining which ones are most important to you, and writing workshops are, in my view, a fabulous way to enhance your craft, your understanding of the industry, and of course your career.

Oh, and join the RWA, because they are your best bet for finding out about workshops, either via their yahoo distribution list or in the back of their Romance Writers Report.