Wednesday, August 20, 2014

RIDING THE WRITING ROLLER COASTER #8

What If Your Genre Isn't Selling?

The other day, a friend of mine emailed about a paranormal project she was thinking about starting. “Problem is,” she said. “They say the paranormal market is glutted.  Maybe I’m better off working on something else.”

I gave her the standard answer.  “Work on the project that gets your passion going. Worry about the market later.”  

BUT, afterwards, I got to thinking - What do you do when your genre stops being popular?  Over the years, I’ve seen trends come and go, and with them, writers’ careers.  What’s hot today can cool in a second.  (Chick lit anyone?)  For all we know, all those cowboys, vampires and billionaire doms will be sitting on the bargain shelf next year.

The smart author never forgets how ephemeral publishing can be, and has some kind of a contingency plan, whether it’s writing in multiple genres, a breakout project she works on weekends, or simply a plan of action should she find herself suddenly out of contract.  And, even then, there’s no guarantee your reinvention will work.

Contingency planning isn’t so easy if you’re still struggling to sell that first book.  On one hand, it can take two, three, four (or ten) stories before you develop a strong, unique voice. (Heck, I’ve published over a dozen romances and only truly found my voice this past year.)  On the other hand, you could be, like my friend, developing a voice in a genre that agents and editors are increasingly rejecting.  In that case, it’s tempting – so very, very tempting – to jump ship and write what’s selling.

As much as I know you want to sell, I don’t recommend doing so.  Here are three reasons why.
  1. That voice thing.  Like I said in the above paragraph, developing a unique voice takes time.  Yes, you can develop your voice writing different genres, but in my opinion, it takes longer. Why? Because different genres have different styles.  For example, how are you going to hone that edgy romantic suspense voice if you suddenly decide to write historical?  If you are going to jump, at least pick genres that are somewhat related – for example, romantic suspense and thrillers.  Or YA suspense and mainstream suspense.  Save the drastic change for when you have to reinvent yourself.
  2. Editors’ decisions to focus on a particular genre (or subgenre) are driven by marketing and profits.  Likewise, agents’ decisions regarding representation are based on whether they can sell your book to an editor.  Like I told my friend, when they say the market is glutted, or a certain kind of book isn’t selling, what they really mean is that the books aren’t profitable enough by the publishing houses’ standards.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t readers.  As self-publishing has proven, there are plenty of devoted readers in every genre.  Publish it and they will come.
  3. Trends change. Wasn’t that long ago, the publishing world proclaimed straight contemporary romances dead.  Then along came Susan Mallery, Robin Carr, Jill Shalvis and others. Wait long enough and the type of book you’re writing will be back in vogue.  Or, if you need a counter argument – by the time you finish your manuscript, there’s a good chance the trend you’re chasing has peaked.

In the end, good story telling transcends market trends.  When editors stand up at conferences and say “give us a good story” they aren’t kidding.  Your voice, your passion, your words – those are the things that will get you published.  Not copying what’s hot now.  Besides, who wants to be a copycat?  Focus on trend chasing and as soon as the genre goes out of fashion, you’ll be back to square one. Focus on storytelling, however, and you’re building the foundation for a long and lasting career.

Every month, I mention how the writing world is like a roller coaster – up one minute and down the next.  This discussion is just another example.  So getting back to my original question: What do you do when your genre is out of fashion?  Relax and be yourself.  Writing your story, your way is the one thing in this industry in your control.  You might as well do it right. 

An author of sweet romances, Barbara Wallace knows what it's like to take a other, more trendy styles of romance.  She keeps at it, however, taking solace in the fact that there are plenty of readers out there for everyone.  Her latest story, THE MILLIONAIRE'S REDEMPTION, is currently being serialized on Harlequin.com.  She hopes you'll check out the story.    

Friday, August 15, 2014

MUST WATCH FRIDAY: Good Will Hunting

Harlequin author Heidi Rice revisits her favourite Robin Williams film, to celebrate the career of the much-loved actor/comedian who died far too soon earlier this week.

When the news broke on Tuesday morning that actor/comedian Robin Williams had been found dead at his home, I'm sure just about all of us could recall a role he played that we loved. Twitter and Facebook were soon awash with favourite clips or quotes from Dead Poets' Society or Mrs Doubtfire, people were Instagraming photos of Aladdin hugging the Genie and generally there was an outpouring of public sadness at the passing of such a well-liked and talented individual. Because, frankly folks he was one of those entertainers that the public couldn't help but love. Of course the shock and circumstances of his death probably added to the huge response, but I'd like to believe that it was mostly down to his formidible talent.

That's not to say he didn't make some stinkers, too, of course he did (hasn't every performer?), but I still wanted to do a little PHS tribute this Friday to my favourite movie of his. Weirdly it isn't one of his comedies. I did enjoy those, but for me, Good Will Hunting is one of those films that just keeps on giving and it's the scenes which Matt Damon's Will shares with Williams that are the bedrock of this drama.

The script written by Damon and his pal Ben Affleck launched the two of them in Hollywood and tells the story of a surly, blue-collar kid who works as a janitor but is actually a maths genius. His genius comes to light when he is doing the night shifts at MIT and starts solving the problems professor Stellan Skarsgard leaves on the board overnight just for the hell of it. Skarsgard wants to use the boy's genius, but quickly realises that Damon has some severe problems with authority. Enter Robin Williams as the rumpled, mild-mannered psychiatrist Sean Maguire, who Skarsgard enlists to give Damon some much needed therapy to make him more manageable. But of course Maguire isn't interested in using Will, he's actually a principled, thoughtful therapist who want to help Will for Will and as such, soon realises that Will's problems in relationships, his surly, sulky attitude stems from something terribly traumatic in his childhood. And as their sessions continue, Maguire begins to wonder if  maybe, just maybe, he can help Will overcome these traumas. Or at least confront them, so they won't continue to scar his future as they have scarred his past.

This is not a role anyone would have expected to see Williams in - given his talent for manic stand-up comedy. Sean Maquire is the polar opposite of Williams' on-screen persona. But beneath Maguire's apparently mild-mannered surface is a man who has some demons of his own that he has had to overcome - and that's where Williams' sharp snarky persona gives the character a wonderful edge making it entirely believable that Will might finally respond to him.... So as Maguire forms a real and genuinely strong and supportive friendship with Will - and uncovers and helps him to confront the hideous abuse he has suffered as a child -  we begin to fall in love with them both and with the movie.

Williams won an Oscar for his work here (in one of those rare occassions when they actually gave the Oscar to the right person!) Here's just one clip of him in the movie, that brings a tear to my eye every time I see it. Because Will is not a likeable person, he's difficult, tough, troubled and taciturn. But Maguire sees past that to the terrified child that is cowering beneath.



So now, tell me what  your favourite Robin Williams role is?

Heidi is currently working on an exciting new project that she will hopefully be able to brag about soon. Until then she has a new Cosmo Red Hot Read coming on in October called 10 Rules to Sex-Up a Blind Date. No prizes for guessing what that one's about! Chat to her on Twitter (@HeidiRomRice), Facebook and on her blog.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Confessions of a Sophomore Author – Part VIII -- How I fell in love with Texas in Seven Days


I recently attended the RWA Conference in San Antonio, Texas. It was an exciting conference for me because it was my first as a published author. Although RWA has always been exciting for me. This was the fifth I’d attended, and it’s always inspiring!

This year was exciting for me as well because I was getting the chance to room with my critique partner, fellow Presents writer and bestie, Victoria Parker, who I don’t get to see nearly enough because of our across the ocean addresses! 



We arrived early on the Sunday before the conference to spend some time exploring San Antonio. From my arrival, I knew the seventh-largest city in the U.S. was going to be special. I had my cab driver’s life story by the time we reached the hotel, knew the ages of his children, where they went to college and all the shenanigans they’d gotten up to as kids. And yes, this is me the woman with twenty questions always, but I didn’t  have to work this one at all. This was typical of everyone I met in San Antonio. Lovely, gracious, with wonderful southern manners.

After spending Monday exploring the city in the ninety, one-hundred degree heat, we headed out for dinner with the lovely Dani Collins (who I’d had the pleasure of meeting once before) and Presents writer, Sri Pammi, who I’d never met in person. Sri was just as wonderful as she is in the ‘online’ world and we all spent the evening laughing and catching up. I kept thinking what a fortunate thing to be able to do – to spend time with fellow writers like this. Apparently we capped off the evening with a discussion of smexy times which was followed with rapt attention by the Fertilizer convention men in the bar, although we didn’t realize it until we’d had a bit too much fun!

 After another day sightseeing on Tuesday (did I mention we found the pool?) most people started to arrive. It was so much fun to see the hotel transform from a sea of men to a sea of women. It was also pretty special to put on my speaker and PAN ribbons.

On Thursday we attended the lunch for Presents authors at the lovely Spanish restaurant Las Ramblas. It was amazing to meet many of the writers I’d only talked to online, many of which I’d been reading for years. So cool. Thursday night was the Amazon soiree, then we were off to a pizza party in one of the Presents writer’s rooms. It was great to get to know fellow authors in a more informal setting. I was lucky enough to end up beside Michelle Conder on the king-sized bed. She’s one of those people you feel lucky to have met. In fact, all the Presents writers were great – warm, welcoming and funny.

On Friday, Harlequin author Donna Alward and myself, as well as Harper Impulse authors Lynn Marie Hulsman and Sun Chara did our workshop called a Global Affair. We talked all about our paths to publication, gave our thoughts on what made the difference in the journey and also talked about marketing our books in a global market. It was another full circle moment for me because Sun and I had finaled in So You Think You Can Write together and are part of the Harlequin community. It was so great to finally meet her.

Friday night was the Harlequin party. It was an all-night, dance-a-thon with red Harlequin-branded socks to put on when your shoes came off. And they did come off! Michelle Conder even gave me the green light to order the amazing cowboy boots she had on because I loved them that much. 



Saturday was full of more great workshops. As an unpublished author I soaked these up for the amazingly valuable information they were and this year was no exception. I  couldn’t make it to them all, but I do recommend downloading Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ workshop on Great Characters: The Good, the Bad, the Believable and Sarah MacLean’s wonderful workshop: Mastering the Art of Great Conflict, one of the best workshops I’ve ever been to on conflict.

Saturday night were the RITAs which award the best books of the year.  Host, NYT Bestseller Simone Elkeles made me laugh and cry in equal amounts with her great stories and it was so inspiring to watch writers have their dreams come true being recognized by their fellow authors and readers.

Then it was Sunday and I was totally out of gas and headed home. It made me teary I won’t see my CP for months. But we’ll find a way to get together. We have to because laughing until I cry is now a prerequisite in my life.

My biggest lesson from my time in Texas is the same one I’ve learnt every time I get together with a group of fellow writers. Being with other authors is soul-affirming. That contact, that fun, that sharing of what we all love so much, it refills the well. It makes me want to get right back to the keyboard, which I did working on a new book.

So that’s it! A busy, awesome week. If you’re ever thinking about attending RWA – do it! From the workshops to the networking to the support, it’s played such a big role in my journey!

I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve been to RWA, or if you’re thinking of going!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Figuring It Out: All Work and NO Play…

That’s right! All work and no play makes Jennifer a dull girl. And a tired one. ;-)

Sometimes the best thing to do is NOTHING. Yes, you read that right. Do nothing, at least writing-wise.

With social media, it’s so easy to see what everyone else is doing. Every day someone has wonderful, exciting news about a new accomplishment and it’s so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of excitement. 

But then I look at where I am and what I’m doing and I start to think that I’m not doing enough. There’s this little voice in my head that says I should be working harder, faster and turning out more books quicker.

And it isn’t just the outside sources that add to the pressure, it’s the internal. I have a lot of characters all fighting to have their tales told but when all is said and done, I can really only write one story at a time. So then I want to start pushing myself to write faster and write more often.

Week after week and month after month of working seven days a week, the energy starts to fade and the creative well starts to empty. The work gets slower and slower. What is to be done then?

It’s time to stop working and indulge in a little playtime. ;-)



I just fulfilled my latest Harlequin contract and submitted my duet two months ahead of deadline.  *cue cheering* Why was it early you might ask? Not because I normally write so fast. But rather I had a goal. I wanted some downtime this summer. And the only way to fit it into my schedule was to get ahead of my schedule.

And let me tell you the downtime feels great. Am I writing? Yeah, sure. Some. But I don’t push myself and I don’t write every day. I have other priorities right now. :-)

So what in the world have I been doing? Enjoying life. I’ve spent some time in the kitchen baking some delicious recipes with fresh blueberries and some other recipes with chocolate. Mmm… I’ve been cooking too and not just the basics but the bigger meals that take more time. And when I’m not in the kitchen, I’ve been doing my needlework while watching some television. Things I don’t normally have time to do.
And you know what, I’m getting anxious to get back to writing.

I have a number of projects currently under consideration with my editor. And a special one that I’m waiting for more info about, but I probably won’t hear about any of those things until the end of the month. So what am I going to do between now and then? Play. :-)


In actuality there are still administrative things such as preparing for the upcoming Christmas release, A PRINCESS BY CHRISTMAS. It will be releasing in October which is only a matter of weeks away. And I’m very excited about it.

A royal kiss under the mistletoe... 

Prince Alexandro Castanovo arrives in snowy New York intent on protecting his royal family from scandal. And when Reese Harding—down-to-earth and heart-stoppingly beautiful—finds room for him at her inn, it seems like the perfect twist of fate. 

Not long ago Reese's world came crumbling down, shaking her foundations. But this enigmatic stranger intrigues her! She's learned to be wary of secrets…but when she discovers Alex's true identity, might there be enough magic in the air to make this regular American girl a princess by Christmas…?


But it’s the downtime that’s recharging my creative batteries and getting me excited about writing again. So remember to take some time for yourself to kick back and enjoy life a little. You don’t want to hit burn out status, especially if you love your job as much as I do. ;-)


Currently available:

Jax and Cleo reunite under the bright lights of Vegas. They’ve come a long way from their childhood friendship in Small Town, Wyoming. Jax is a reformed bad boy but trouble still has a way of finding him. Follow their journey in THE RETURN OF THE REBEL. 

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Writer's Wednesday:Character hierarchy and why it is important

PHS editor and Harlequin Historical author Michelle Styles discusses the hierarchy of characters and why an author should pay attention to it!

There is  a hierarchy of characters in a book. Some like the main characters are very well drawn. Other minor characters may or may not be well drawn. It depends on if the author intends to use a minor character as a major character in another story. Sometimes, characters demand this but then the author discovers what she thought she knew about them isn’t necessarily accurate. Using former minor characters as major ones can be fraught with peril as I have learnt as the back story etc might not be adequate. One way around this is what Georgette Heyer did which was to write *new* characters who had many of the traits of the old secondaries. For example the hero of These Old Shades was a take on the villain in The Black Moth. They are to all intents and purposes the same character but Heyer gave them slightly different names. This allowed her to juggle the back story a bit.
 After minor characters, there are place-holding  and walk-on characters. Every good author, like every good director should know how to make walk-ons and place-holders vanish. Another way to put it is how to create the illusion of a crowd.   But sometimes it can be unclear who are the leads and who are the minor characters. This is particularly the case in the first  chapter of a book. In the beginning, the reader considers all characters to be equal. If you spend time on a character in the first scene, the reader expects that character to be important in some way to the story, even if they are not the lead. Thus if you name check a lot of characters in the first scene, it may prove confusing to the reader. After the first few scenes, the reader has begun to figure out which characters are important or not and the hierarchy becomes  more established.
There are ways to tell who the lead characters are –  lead characters make choices rather than have choices made for them (ie they are proactive) and they command the action of the story. The focus of the story is on the lead characters.  The lead characters command the reader’s sympathy (ie the reader cares about what is going to happen to them) They keep reappearing (they don’t do a cameo in their own story). Finally a lead character will often (but not always have a point of view). 

 If you find that a minor character is starting to take over, you can adjust the volume of that character. There are many reasons why a reader might love a character and some of these are out of the author’s control (ie the character appears to resemble them) but the author can make sure that  the reader does know who the lead characters are.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty, and intimate historical romance for Harlequin. Her next book Saved by the Viking Warrior is published on 19 August 2014.  You can learn more about Michelle and her books on www.michellestyles.co.uk 

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Kate's Kitchen: Goulash

I know that it’s really hot in the Northern hemisphere, and goulash is more of a winter recipe… but it’s also really nice in summer (and my excuse is that it was the first Czech meal I ate in Prague last week…). And it's a brilliant deadline meal as it practically makes itself!

Ingredients (for four)

  • 500g braising steak 
  • 2 onions, peeled and sliced 
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed 
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and diced 
  • 1 orange pepper, seeded and diced 
  • 1 tbs paprika 
  • 1 stock cube dissolved in 350ml water 
  • 400g tin chopped tomatoes in juice 
  • 1 tbs olive oil 


Method:
Heat the oil in a large pan. Brown the steak, then add the onions and garlic and cook until soft.

Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a simmer and transfer to an oven-proof casserole dish.

Cook for about 2 hours, until the beef is tender and the sauce has reduced.

Serve with rice or potato pancakes.

Kate’s latest release is Crown Prince, Pregnant Bride. You can find out more about the book, and Kate, on her website (http://www.katehardy.com/) and her blog (http://katehardy.blogspot.com/) - or find her on Facebook

Monday, August 04, 2014

Male on Monday:Tyr Skavanga

 Harlequin Presents author Susan Stephens shares the inspiration behind her latest hero.


It is with the greatest pleasure that I give you my inspiration for Tyr Skavanga -
No wonder HIS FORBIDDEN DIAMOND took so long to write! Can you blame me for being in no rush to finish the book?

 To read about all the couples in my SKAVANGA DIAMOND series, as well as the  inspiration behind the books,



I hate saying goodbye to a series because I get to know and love the characters, and become entwined in their lives, and HIS FORBIDDEN DIAMOND was the 4th and final book in my recent SKAVANGA DIAMOND series.

THE ONLY WOMAN HE CAN'T have...

Former soldier and diamond dynasty heir Tyr Skavanga has finally returned to the cold north. Haunted by the terrors of war, he's cut himself off and hardened his heart. But now one person has managed to defy his defences, and she's the last person he expected.

...IS THE ONLY WOMAN HE WANTS!

THe exotically beautiful, innocent Princess Jasmina of Kareshi is strictly off-limits. Like Tyr, she has a reputation to protect, but denying their electrifying connection could prove to be the toughest challenge they have ever faced...



To read about all the couples in my SKAVANGA DIAMOND series, as well as the 
inspiration behind the books, go to: http://www.susanstephens.com/skavanga/index.html





My next series entitled HOT BRAZILIAN NIGHTS sees a return to the brutal world of gaucho polo with Chico Fernandez, Tiago Santos,  Lucas Marcelos, and Ethan Quinn. Set in Brazil and anywhere else they feel like creating havoc, these 4 bad boys from team THUNDERBOLT! will be unleashed on the world in 2015.

Meanwhile, enjoy Tyr - I did!



With my warmest wishes,
Susan