Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rita Finalist!

This Tuesday I got the call that THE TYCOON'S SECRET DAUGHTER was a finalist in the short contemporary category for the 2013 RITA.

I can't even tell you how exciting this is for me...especially since I almost didn't enter this book into the Rita contest.

So when the call came I burst into tears. I'm sure the RWA board member who called me thinks I'm insane. But this book was very special to me in that it dealt with a very difficult, very real subject: Alcoholism.

I didn't want to treat it lightly or dismiss the pain of those dealing with the alcoholism of a loved one. So I worked really hard. And it's amazing to have the book get this kind of recognition.

So I thank everyone who read and liked this book...from the bottom of my heart.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Was the worksho you last attended too much like beginner stuff?

Unless you're a NYT bestseller, in which case you don't want to tamper with perfection, you should never judge a workshop as having too much "beginner" information.


Well, the obvious answer is there may be beginners in the room and they might be eager for information you shun. :)

But...Here's a little something you might not realize. One "tidbit" of "beginner" information (that somehow slid past you when you were a beginner) might be the very tidbit that's keeping you from being published...and that one tiny tidbit might be in the workshop you just judged having too much "beginner" information.

If you're published, but not getting anywhere in your career, that might also be true.

Now...before you e-stone me...LOL...Hear me out. (And also remember that I'm a nice person who truly has your best interests at heart!)

Let's take the case of a friend of mine (back in the days before email) who constantly got her big, bulky manuscripts returned with the one small comment...Your book is episodic.

How did this get by her wonderful critique group? They never read her entire book, only the beautiful, beautiful chapters that won her praise and raves. Yet when I (and the editors) read her book, we always felt adrift. Her beautiful chapters didn't connect. Sure, by the end of the book, you "saw" the story...but it was like connect the dots. Chapter one might have been better off being next to Chapter 7 and Chapter 4 might have connected to Chapter 10.

The fix for episodic writing is very simple. Use the Action/Reaction/Decision formula. When I say that, lots of you groan because you've been using this forever...But is there one of you out there who has been getting the "episodic" rejection who suddenly sees she doesn't start her book with action and follow up with a reaction which results in a decision which results in new action?

I'll bet there is. Actually, I'll bet there are more of you than one.

I'll also bet there are authors who have written 400-page category romances and submitted them as single titles. They believe they have a single title because of length...but what separates a category romance from a single title is the depth of story...and the addition of a bigger, broader story, usually in the form of the external conflict.

That's beginner stuff. It's also something that lots of speakers don't talk about in workshops because they're afraid of having people walk out because "they already know all that" and if they walk out they will miss the other more important stuff we plan to teach. So lots of workshop presenters skip over beginner stuff...much to a lot of your detriment.

And to me, that's sad. It's awful to have 80% of the knowledge you need, to be pronounced good by your friends and critique partners and maybe even to be published ... only to just sort of miss the boat in terms of connecting to readers.

And how do I know so much about this...Because 20 years ago, that was me.

What? Twenty years ago, you'd written at least 10 books! How could you have missed some of the basics?

Because you never know what you don't know.

At book 10, when my editor told me I wasn't growing as a writer, I set out on a decades-long journey to learn everything I could about storytelling. And I've learned a lot! Because even though I'd already written ten books, I had missed a lot. Even after I'd written 20, I was still learning. And thirty. And forty. Even now I still study techniques for making "words" disappear so your readers only see story.

So, the next time you find yourself thinking, "This is a beginner's workshop. I should leave..." Pause. Ask yourself: Do I really know everything I need to know? Am I published? Are my sales kicking ass...or are they just average? Could I be missing a "tidbit"?

It should be none of our goal to be average. We should always want to be the best. Yet, we miss the chance to take our stories over the moon because we don't know what we don't know.

You're never too old, too smart, too experienced to learn something.

Happy Monday!

susan meier

Monday, March 18, 2013

Still in California

Here I am...still in California. Though I was a bit iffy about making a Monday departure day, yesterday was so much fun I'm glad I stayed the extra day!

So I'm behind! LOL

To say the least.

So...What news do I bring from the conference?

I guess that's kind of hard to say. It's not really news that editors are looking for "super good" books. Anybody who's been in the industry for more than a year knows that editors have the same goal you put out great books in order to achieve great sales.

I think what made this seem "newsy" is that lots of authors had the mistaken impression that ebook quality wasn't quite as high as print books. Not true. ebook are a viable competitor with print and a market in their own right. Cream rises to the top. Your "book that was rejected by NY" made fit an epublisher because it's wonderful and the print pub editors somehow missed it. But don't think your "junk" will find a home in e...Send your best work.

Editors were sort of firm (unhappily firm to this author) about authors having to self-promote. I agree. Actually, I do a lot of self-promotion. I think I began self-promoting long before other category authors, so you don't have to tell me to self-promote! I am on board with that! LOL But...

Publishers can't forget that they have bigger ##s when it comes to newsletter subscribers and facebook likes/friends. They still have a little more clout than we we still need their help. :)

Lots of authors very generously shared crafting information. A dude from Amazon ran through the basics of how an author can use Amazon effectively. :) Good stuff.

Both lunch speakers were wonderful. Inspirational. And let's face it ... with more choices, come more chances for overwhelm. A little inspiration goes a long way in this biz. So I thank them both.

And I leave you with a challenge for the week...

There are a lot of pitfalls in this industry. There are disappointments. So think through why you write. Why do you want to tell the stories you're working on? Do you have goals that will carry you through the tough times? How about a vision for who you want to be as an author?

That's what I'll be working on in the planeride back to PA...Who do I want to be 5 years from now? What do I want to accomplish...and Why? There's nothing like a good "why" to motivate me into action...

Hey, wait! The same is true for characters. Whys motivate. Hum. Chew on that for awhile! LOL

So this week do a little bit of thinking about yourself. Where you fit. Why you want to fit there. Be ready to motivate yourself through good times and bad!

Happy Monday


Monday, March 11, 2013

Editing when you're in a hurry

Last year I got the rights back to four of my books. My first four books.

The good news is...I can self-publish them. The bad news is...the writing is abysmal in far more places and ways than I feel comfortable admitting. LOL

I've consoled myself with thinking I've learned something in 25 years.

Anyway, I don't want to spend a lot of time on these books so I have a sort of system.

1.  When in doubt, take it out.

 I have a very solid storyline. But I have a lot of places where I head hopped. Apparently in the late eighties that was okay -- maybe even encouraged! LOL I tried to figure out a way to keep at least "some" of the cute things each of the characters thought, and use them in a later scene, but one day I said the hell with it. And I approached each scene with the knowledge that you get one POV...keep one...trash the other. Don't try to keep it, save it or put it somewhere else. Hit delete.

That was a major time saver!

2. Any time you see the word "felt" you may be looking at a "tell" not a show.

She felt the wind pummel her. Really? Couldn't the wind just pummel her?

3. Make it immediate, clear, visual

I meandered into a lot of scenes with paragraphs of description. I cut those paragraphs in favor of starting off with the hero or heroine saying something and describing their surroundings through character movement. "He strolled up to the mahogany bar and caught the mug of beer the bartender slid to him," easily replaced one paragraph of the hero describing the bar as he walks in the door.

4. Take out long passages of backstory...

And you'll be surprised. Sometimes you can take them out and realize you didn't need them. But if some explanation is required do it in short bursts of only the information needed by the reader in this moment!

And that's it so far. I'm only about 1/2 way through the book. Who knows what lurks in the second half! LOL

Happy Monday


Monday, March 4, 2013

The First Five Pages Part 3, Backstory

Backstory. Shakes head.  We can't have a discussion of the first five pages without talking about backstory.

Everybody hates the thought of squeezing backstory into the first chapter. Or anywhere. Nobody likes long passages of narrative explanation. And conversations about backstory sometimes sound as much like info dumps as the narrative explanations do.


So how DO you get backstory in?

The best way to get in backstory is to have a scene that illustrates it.

What? A whole scene for backstory? Really? How can a scene illustrate something that happened in the past?

It's okay. This is a concept that was difficult for me at first too. It's hard to imagine a scene that illustrates backstory because backstory is the past. Or, worse, backstory is usually something the hero/heroine won't talk about or wants to forget.

But you can do it. You just have to think really hard. LOL And you also have to make sure your backstory scene moves the plot forward.

For instance, I'm writing a book wherein the hero and heroine inherit a grocery store together. (Yay! Yes, I'm finally writing it.) The first scene of the book is the hero and heroine meeting in the lawyer's office. They are enemies with a past. I could have written a two-page explanation of how his grandfather bought her father's store for way less money than it was worth and he left her best friend at the altar. Instead, I wrote the scene where the will is read. From the way they treat each other, it's clear they hate each other. The "why" (backstory) is almost given in an argument. They dislike each other so much they can't help getting in a dig or two. But the lawyer doesn't want to hear it. He is there to give them the terms of the will. Period. So we get snippets of "why" in his thoughts.

Damn his grandfather for making him work with her! He hated her and her mom with all the passion he could muster. Not because they'd accused his grandfather of cheating them. But because their gossip had made his life even more of a hell than it already was.

Snippets are SHORT and, in this case, those snippets are provided in thoughts drowning in emotion. Not only do we know she and her mom accused his grandfather of cheating them, but also we just learned his life was a living hell. And we weren't bored with narrative explanations. We got four lines dripping with anger and frustration that help us to empathize with him -- all wrapped up in a scene that moves the plot.

The great Alice Orr, editor, agent and author, once gave a talk wherein she explained that backstory should be sprinkled in like seasoning. Only when needed and only in the right amount.

So that's the sprinkle version. Short bursts in thoughts that connect to the character's emotions so that readers can connect to him or her too, played out in a scene that causes the character to REACT -- to have those emotions -- even as it moves the plot.

The second way to get in backstory is through confrontation.

The wonderful editors at Harlequin Romance (Mills and Boon in London) taught me early on never to substitute the explanation of backstory for a good old-fashioned confrontation.

The lawyer in my first scene wouldn't tolerate my hero and heroine fighting in his office. LOL But the first time they are alone, their emotions boil over.

He pointed at her. "Stay away from me."

"Fine by me but it's going to be awfully difficult to run a business together without talking."

He squeezed his eyes shut. He was officially in hell, working with the best friend of the woman who'd accused him of fathering her child, forcing him out of town when he left her at the altar. Forget about the great Hyatt/O'Riley grocery store feud. He was hated for more important things. Things that stirred up more gossip. And she was at the center of that lie. "Fine. We'll talk about celery and lettuce, stocking shelves and scheduling employees, but everything else is off limits."

She rounded on him so quickly he stopped dead in his tracks. "Like I care about anything else going on in your life. Your name might be Donovan but you're still a Hyatt. I'd cross the street before I'd come within six inches of you, but your grandfather obviously wants a chance to make amends for what he did to my dad and I'm not too proud to take it."

AND don't we find out a lot about both characters in THAT little passage. Again, backstory is peppered into his thoughts. But better backstory comes out in their fight. They don't like each other. They aren't afraid to push each other's buttons. Each wants to set down ground rules. But she's also a scrapper. And she's not too proud to take his grandfather's "apology" of a sort for "stealing" the store from her drunk father. She's got the upper hand and she knows it.  She's getting half her family business back. He's getting the glorious opportunity to work with her. LOL

And I've totally avoided long narrative passages of backstory.

So basically that's the two ways of getting backstory into your book. First, in short NECESSARY bursts of information woven into true emotion. Second, in a scene/argument about their backstory. Something that is a REAL SCENE, not a fake scene that gives you an opportunity to get information to the reader that will still "read" like an info dump. But a necessary step to move the plot.

The argument I wrote above is part of the "Logical Next Step" of the opening of the plot. They inherit the store, they go to the store immediately after the will reading to more or less check things out and the resultant argument flows naturally.

And maybe those are two good words to remember about backstory. FLOWS NATURALLY. If your bit of backstory doesn't flow naturally into the piece you're writing, maybe it doesn't belong there.

Happy Monday