Save or Delete?

Day two of the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood’s Winter Writing Festival! I’m trying to re-write the first 50 pages of my current book. I’ve written and trashed three versions of the first four opening pages already. Maybe it’s just time to cut my losses and move on to another part of the book that needs attention. Believe me, there are a lot of other trouble spots to choose from!

“Pat me now or I’ll delete your whole book!”

Save

“Just joking, Mum. That last paragraph was, um…interesting. I’ll press ‘save’.”

By the way, did you know my cats have a blog? Who knows how they manage to find time to work on it. Astonishing, really. Anyway, they’d love to get a cyber pat  — I promise they won’t bite, scratch or hiss at you, and there’s no need to take allergy medication. You may be overwhelmed by their cuteness, though. I don’t think there’s a cure for that. Head to P & P Furball Factory and see what the cats are up to today.

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Winter Wonderland

Some of you know I’m actually in the Southern Hemisphere, where it’s the middle of summer and it’s so hot that people’s flip-flops are melting. (We call those things thongs here.) But on the northern end of the planet, it’s the middle of winter, and we at the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood are about to kick off our third annual Winter Writing Festival — on January 10 (US time), in fact.

Join us for 50 days of writing, revising, plotting demises and happily-ever-afters — whatever needs to be done to get our manuscripts in shape. Set your own goal, work at your own pace, and you could win prizes (books, gift cards, chockies, etc) for your trouble. We also run a chat room and hold sprints, so you’re not doing this on your own. Register at the dedicated RSSWWF site. Everything you need to know about how the festival works can be found here.

It was 41C (107F) yesterday. My cat wasn’t totally impressed by the ice cube I tried to feed her.
I think she wanted me to build her an igloo instead.

Time For My Annual Blog Post!

I’m in L.A. right now, having just attended Romance Writers of America’s annual conference, which this year was held at Disneyland the Anaheim Marriott.

I had two missions. The first — attend as many YA-oriented workshops as possible (and I’ll share some general stuff about the market in a moment). And the second — pitch my latest book to an editor without throwing up. You’ll be glad to know I succeeded at both.

As well as the official business, there was plenty of fun to be had. A cocktail-making workshop run by a renowned mixologist was declared by many as “the best workshop ever”. We were served three vodka cocktails within about thirty minutes. Cocktails have something to do with writing novels — I wish I could tell you exactly what the connection is, but my memory’s a bit foggy on that for some reason.

Several friends were up for RITA and Golden Heart awards. My lovely sparkly agency-mate Pintip Dunn was nominated for Best Unpublished Young Adult Manuscript. Fellow Aussie Fiona Lowe won a RITA for Best Contemporary Single Title Romance — and was the first Carina Press (digital-first imprint) to do so. Another fellow Aussie and all-round fabulous gal, Joanne Lockyer was a GH finalist for Best Regency Historical Romance. Brisbane buddy Christina Brooke was a Regency RITA nominee. Tammy Baumann, who along with Shea Berkley showered me with spicy New Mexican treats, won a Golden Heart. No less than SIX of my Ruby-Slippered Sisters were nominated: Sally Eggert (GH), Elisa Beatty (GH – winner, and also gets my award for most amusing acceptance speech), Liz Bemis (GH – winner!), Kim Law (GH), Elizabeth Essex (RITA), and Darynda Jones (two RITA nominations, one win for Best First Book).

I gathered quite a chunk of intelligence on YA from various workshops run by authors Tera Lynn Childs, Sophie Jordan, Regina Scott, Marissa Doyle, agents Emily Sylvan Kim, Kevan Lyon, Laurie McLean, Lucienne Diver, Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, and editors Alicia Condon and Whitney Ross.

I’ll just run through some general things:

  • Editors and agents indicated they wanted to see more contemporary stories. Stephanie Perkins’s ‘Anna and the French Kiss’, which I adored, is a great example of this.
  • Agent Emily Sylvan Kim says MG/upper MG is hot and it’s a good fit for those who don’t write too dark. Says editors aren’t looking for paranormal right now. They want high-concept, big-world contemporaries.
  • Harlequin is extending their digital-first program to YA books.
  • Romance is a natural fit for YA, however, it’s usually a subplot.
  • Whitney Ross and Kevon Lyon really want to see a well done YA version of Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’. (Note that Whitney doesn’t take unsolicited submissions, but if you have an agent and you have a YA Outlander ready to go, submit it!)
  • Social media is a plus for unpublished authors. Agent Kevan Lyon reported that editors do ask if a potential author has a web presence. You don’t have to be active on every social media platform — pick what suits you best.
  • YA writers should try to access the teen within. Listen to teens in their natural habitat (ie. Eavesdrop in a non-creepy way next time you’re standing in line at Disneyland, for example.)
  • On writing a YA series/trilogy, Tera and Sophie said the first book in a trilogy will always be the biggest seller. People don’t generally buy the second and third books and not the first. You need a character big enough to sustain the series; high stakes and high pressure.
  • On the subject of dark stories, Marissa Doyle says teens use books to explore books to explore darker themes in a safe way. In other words, living vicariously through books, reading about characters experiencing things they wouldn’t necessarily attempt themselves.
  • Regina Scott writes ‘cheerier’ books but says they’re harder to sell. She also said in YA there are no rules (like happily ever after) as long as the character grows.
  • Voice and theme are important (coming of age, fitting in/belonging). Don’t chase trends.
  • YA editors are very hands-on. Fifteen-page revision letters are the norm, and they’re often followed by more. But they do list every little thing including house style conflicts. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to make changes in plot, character, POV, though.
  • Releases follow the literary model — one book per year. Minimum of one year to eighteen months between acceptance and publication. It’s common for release dates to change.
  • YA books spend more time on the bookstores shelves (years rather than months), and they’re often re-issued with cover updates. Covers are a big deal for YA readers. They want covers that accurately reflect the book.
  • The YA e-book segment is growing slowly. Teens are hindered by credit card and reader device access, plus they tend to prefer physical books.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Off to San Francisco tomorrow to see Chris Isaak and Duran Duran, and fill up on as much clam chowder with my dad as humanly possible.

Did you learn anything interesting at Nationals this year that you’d like to share?

Kim MacCarron, Pintip Dunn, me in the GH awards aftermath.

Fiona Lowe with her RITA award.

Tammy Baumann with a nice bit of jewellery to add to her collection.

Me hogging Darynda Jones’s RITA award for Best First Book, the brilliant ‘First Grave on the Right’. We were passing it around for good luck.

I Can Has Another Holiday?

I’m back from New York City and L.A., just in time for the launch of I Can Has Cheezburger’s 2012 daily calendar. My two cats feature in this most “awsum” publication. I’m a tad miffed that my cats got published with almost zero effort. All they had to do was look kewt. You can purchase the calendar through Amazon. Learn LOLcat-speak with this translator. (No purchase necessary for that.)

So…New York and the Romance Writers of America conference were nothing short of amazing. Thank you to the lovely people who showed up at our Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood workshop, The Road to Novel Completion. I hope you had as much fun as we did. For conference highlights, check out the RSS’s daily recaps:

  • Arrival Day with Anne Barton (who not only WON a Golden Heart, but also landed a book deal during conference!!!)
  • Day 1 with me (who had a fashion faux pas involving blue cake icing)
  • Day 2 with Hope Ramsay (fabulous Grand Central Publishing author who became a grandmother during conference)
  • Day 3 with Sara Ramsey (who was also a GH nominee this year and is probably having a very cool time in Germany right now)

Post-conference, I celebrated Fourth of July in true American style with NY native Jen McAndrews and my Brazilian friend Gabriela Lessa. Fireworks and fine diner food. Perfect. I stayed in a beautiful boutique hotel on West 44th Street. I’m convinced it’s haunted, but then I do have a very fertile imagination. On my way downtown to Greenwich Village, I spent a shamefully long time shopping at discount chainstores Marshall’s and TJ Maxx. (Actually, I’m not that ashamed — I came home with some amazing bargains and one not-so-cheap Italian leather handbag, but a heavily discounted one nonetheless.) I spotted Aussie designer Wayne Cooper’s clothes on some of the racks.

I officially became addicted to Broadway. I saw four shows, forsaking meals in order to do so. Wicked – wonderful. (Thank you to Kim MacCarron for making that possible.) How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – Daniel Radcliffe; joyous. Catch Me If You CanAaron Tveit as Frank Abagnale Jr — great voice, great costumes and set design. Memphis – I’ll be honest and say it was my least favourite show, but I *adored* the ’50s dresses. The music was written by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan. The beginning of one song, to my ears, was slightly Bon Jovi-esque but otherwise faithful to the era.

A trip to the States would not be complete without some form of star-spotting. We bumped into Jim Parsons of Big Bang Theory fame as he exited the John Golden Theatre. My sister is gonna be sooooo jealous when I show her the video I took…of the back of Jim’s head. Earlier on my trip, my dear friend Tina Ferraro and I had a close encounter with Topher Grace in West Hollywood. He dined next to us at a chi-chi cafe on the Sunset Strip wearing mirrored aviator glasses and a sunburnt face.

I left with a few regrets — not stopping for a salty caramel ice-cream in Greenwich Village, not visiting the Guggenheim, not getting better close-up shots of the Chrysler Building’s foyer (I was kind of chased away by a vagrant), not having quite enough hot dogs.

Times Square -- obviously not for those who want some peace and quiet

Kim MacCarron and a conveniently placed Empire State Building

The Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood workshop. L-R: Liz Talley, me, Jennifer Bray-Weber, Tamara Hogan, Autumn Jordon, Anne Marie Becker

Harlequin SuperRomance author Liz Talley. Isn't she SuperGorgeous? She kept us in line moderating the workshop.

The Pond - Central Park

Macarons at a chocolate shop opposite the Simon and Schuster building. (I will return for you, macarons!!!)

The view from the Metropolitan Museum's rooftop garden. Jen McAndrews very kindly treated me to the extraordinary Alexander McQueen exhibit.

Grand Central Station, where Jen and I experienced the miracle of the whispering gallery. We each stood in corners diagonally opposite each other, about five metres apart, and whispered to the wall. Remarkably, we could hear each other say, "Can you hear me???"

Jen, Gabi, and the Empire State Building

The Chrysler Building - as I mentioned ad nauseam to Kim, my favourite Art Deco building.

Bah humbug to the rude man who mocked me as I snapped this photo of "the pointy building."

Erica O'Rourke (whose excellent book TORN is out now, just a year after winning the Golden Heart!), me and Kim.

Bryant Park -- moments before I was chased away by a gardener with a leaf blower.

Everything Must Go!

We’re heading into the final week of Brenda Novak‘s annual auction in aid of diabetes research. There are many amazing goodies on offer, including:

To date, Brenda’s auction has raised over $1 million, but much more is needed to help find a cure for diabetes. Donations to the cause can also be made — click here.

Happy bidding!

Codename: Amanda Brice!

My talented and clever friend AMANDA BRICE is here and we’re pirouetting over the release of her brand-spanking-new YA novel, CODENAME: DANCER. Heroine Dani is centre-stage in a reality TV show but soon finds herself embroiled in a sabotage plot…and she’s the prime suspect. I loved the story’s fast pace, and there’s plenty of fancy dance action to go around. Gemma Halliday says it’s “a must-read for every girl who ever danced — or wanted to!” Amanda very gracefully stepped away from the barre to answer my questions today.

1. Amanda, you’re one of those amazing people I look at and think, “How does she do it?” You’re a mum, a wife, a Ruby-Slippered Sister, a writer, and an attorney in Washington, DC. What’s your secret? And are you going to patent it? 🙂

LOL, I’m not sure I’d describe myself in as glowing terms as you are, but hey, I’ll take it! And now that you mention it, yeah, actually I am pretty busy. I’m tired just reading that list! But I’ve always found that I do best when I’m running around like a crazy girl. It’s when I have a ton of downtime that I get twitchy and don’t quite know what to do with myself.

2. Like your heroine, Dani, you’re a dancer. (See the evidence here, folks!) Apart from providing the backbone for Codename: Dancer, how has ballet enriched your writing life?

Dance has always been a part of my life. It sounds cheesy, but it’s in my blood. I don’t think I could ever not dance. Not only is it a wonderful creative outlet, but it also instilled a sense of discipline and confidence. And being a performer taught me that I could be any different character that I wanted, which helps when I’m trying to really get into the head of my heroine.

3. Dani faces some pretty daunting threats to life and limb. If you could whisper in her ear, what advice would you give to keep Dani on her toes, so to speak?

Honestly, I’d tell her to butt out and stop snooping! Sure, she only gets involved because strange things are happening all around her, but it’s her nosiness that escalates the situation. But of course, we wouldn’t have a story if she listened, would we? Like any self-respecting humorous mystery/romantic comedy/chick lit YA author, I like to torture my heroines. LOL.

4. What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book?

This was the first YA I ever wrote, so I wasn’t certain whether I could do it. I was more than twice Dani’s age! But I guess I never grew up, because it turned out that I was able to channel my inner teen pretty effectively. I ended up writing the first draft in just 6 weeks….but then it was time for the revision stage. And um, it took longer than just 6 weeks. LOL

5. Codename: Dancer was a Golden Heart finalist in 2009. Tell us about its journey to publication.

After I finaled in 2009, my former agent shopped Codename: Dancer widely, and we actually had a lot of positive feedback from editors. They loved the premise, loved the writing, loved the characters, loved the voice. It even made it to the final acquisitions meetings at a couple of publishing houses. Sounds great, right? Only problem was that marketing didn’t know how to characterize it. The YA imprints all said it was Middle Grade, but the Middle Grade imprints all said it was YA. And since traditionally published books can only be shelved in one place in a bookstore, ultimately they passed.

In reality, it’s kind of both. I consider it “Younger YA” and I think there’s a whole segment of kids out there in the roughly 11-14-year-old age group who aren’t being served by the current classifications. They’re ready for something meatier and hipper than MG, which they consider to be too babyish for them. (And let’s face it. It is.) But they’re not quite ready for the more mature emotional themes of, say, Twilight.

So I decided to take a chance and do it on my own. The publishing houses deemed this a niche book, but I can afford to market it to a niche readership. That’s the beauty of indie-publishing. In a virtual bookstore, I can cross-shelve it and I’m not tied to what bookstore buyers say.

6. Who should consider indie/self-publishing, and what do authors need to be aware of when striking out on their own?

I think if you have a niche book, indie-publishing is perfect for you. Or anything out-of-the-box. I do love NY, and I hope to have a traditional contract one day, but sometimes the definitions are a little too rigid. And I can understand their reluctance to take a chance, because that’s their risk on the line if a book doesn’t sell out its advance.

But I don’t think you should simply bang out a book and put it up on Kindle. Ultimately it’s your professional reputation at risk, so just like a traditionally-published book, you must put forward the absolute best product possible. And that’s the problem. The best thing about self-publishing is that anyone can do it. The worst thing about self-publishing is that anyone can do it.

I hope I don’t sound elitist, but unfortunately, there are a lot of self-published books out there that never should have been published. It’s not that they’re not good books, or their authors aren’t good writers — they’re just not ready. But there are also a lot of really excellent self-published books, and the revolution of the last year has shown that it’s a viable career choice.

So I guess my advice is that if you’ve gotten excellent feedback on your manuscript (and not from your mom!) and you think that NY is not quite right for it for whatever reason, then indie-publishing might be for you. But please do yourself a favor and give it as close to a traditionally-published experience as is possible.

Invest in a professional cover. Hire an editor (or at least utilize multiple critique partners and beta readers…as well as a qualified proofreader). Teach yourself formatting or hire a freelancer. Set a “launch date” and build up buzz ahead of time by giving away copies in contests and undergoing a blog tour. Send it to published authors in your genre for a cover quote. And send it to reviewers. Call on your networks. Were you in a sorority in college? Ask them to feature your book in their alumni magazine. Is there a particular hobby or activity featured in your book? Contact the various magazines or organizations for that activity and ask if they would help you promote. You never know unless you ask!

But remember that for every Amanda Hocking or Victorine Lieske, there are hundreds or even thousands of indies who will struggle. And it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Even the indies who have hit the NY Times list in the recent months started off selling just a handful of copies. On average, it takes 6 months or more for a self-published author to find a readership.

7. What projects do you have waiting in the wings?

I’m working hard on a Codename sequel, which I’m calling Pointe of No Return. I hope to release this one in late fall, probably November. I already have the cover, and I love it just as much as the first one. I heart my cover artist so much! (Shout out to the uber-talented Amy Lynch of Pens & Needles.)

I’m also writing a cozy mystery featuring a very pregnant heroine. (This one’s aimed at adults, not teens.) I’m having a lot of fun writing it and it’s cracking me up. (Hopefully other people will find it as funny as I do.) My goal is to hit up NY with this book. We shall see!

Amanda, I have no doubt NY is yours for the taking! Thanks so much for performing today’s blog pas de deux with moi.

Amanda is generously giving away an e-copy of her debut book, Codename: Dancer. For your chance to win, leave a comment and tell us what your favourite dance movie is. Amanda’s also happy to answer any questions you might have — she promises not to charge by the hour. The winner will be announced on the auspicious date of Friday, May 13.

And the Nominees Are…

Excitement plus in the romance writing world today! RWA gradually released the 2011 nominations for the RITA and Golden Heart Award and it set off a frenzy at the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood. Our Jamie Michele kept up a live blog as the finalists were notified and announced.

HUGE congratulations to all the finalists, including some very special people I know: Sharon Fisher (GH), Shoshana Brown (GH), Sara Ramsey (GH), Shelley Coriell (GH — I’m seeing a very cool pattern here with the ‘S’ names!), Anne Barton (GH), Gwynlyn Mackenzie (GH), Laurie Kellogg (GH), Lindsey Brookes (GH), Laurie DeSalvo (GH), and Simone Elkeles (RITA). Enjoy the ride, ladies! Can’t wait to cheer you all on at the July ceremony in New York!

Going by the small sample of entries I judged, it was a tough competition! For those of you who entered but didn’t final (or were disqualified due to postal kerfuffles!), congratulations to you, too! It takes a lot of work and courage to enter a full manuscript in what is known as the most prestigious contest for romance novels. I know it’s disappointing to miss out — many deserving people didn’t final — but pick yourself up, be happy for those who made it, and go work your tail off for the 2012 contest. Better yet, concentrate your energies on polishing and submitting to editors or agents. The fight to get published isn’t over yet! Mark March 29 on your calendar. At the Ruby-Slippered site, we’ll be commiserating with those who didn’t make it, handing out much-needed hugs and chocolate.

Now, I’m off to the beach to work on rewrites…and I’m considering changing my name to Sanessa — LOL!

Book # 6 – Finished!

I spent a looonnngggg time thinking about it, talking about it, procrastinating over it, writing it, but now my superhero cheerleaders from outerspace book is finished! It’s my sixth book (and fifth YA). I don’t think writing gets any easier, do you? The cheerleaders will spend some time recuperating and then I’ll tackle the interesting part—revision.

In other news, I’m very excited about my friend and agency sistah Sharon Fisher‘s transformation into a published author! As part of a two-book deal, Tor Books (Macmillan) will publish her GHOST PLANET, a romantic sci-fi novel. The book was a finalist in the 2009 and 2010 Golden Heart and it’s fabulous to see it win the ultimate prize. Congratulations, Sharon!!!!!

This Thursday, March 17 (Friday afternoon Aus time), I’ll be blogging at the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood about that old manuscript you have lurking under your bed. I’ve got some ideas about what you can do with it besides using it as a dust-bunny trap.

Start Spreading the News

Da da da-da, da da da-da-da…

In precisely 137 days I’ll be packing my motion sickness medication and heading off to New York. Mmm, I can smell the hot dogs and hear those honking taxis already!

Not only will I be attending Romance Writers of America’s 31st annual conference, I’ll be presenting a workshop alongside four of my talented Ruby-Slippered Sisters: Autumn Jordon, Anne Marie Becker, Tammy Hogan and Jenn Bray-Weber. We’re going to share our know-how on finishing a novel amid life, death and other catastrophes. It’s going to be fun, interactive workshop with giveaways galore–if you’ve signed up for the conference, we’d love you to join us.

This is the foggy, blurry picture I took of the Chrysler and Empire State buildings in spring 2005. I'm hoping I get a better shot next time around.

In other workshop news, my very elegant friend Annie West will be discussing ‘Sex, Love and Passion: The Appeal of the Romance Novel’ at the Ultimo Library in Sydney this Friday, February 11. Visit her website for more details on Annie’s library appearance and her USA Today bestselling books. Ooh, and buy her latest release, Protected by the Princeit’s a stunner.

Writing in a Winter Wonderland

Join us for the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood‘s first annual Winter Writing Festival! It starts January 10 and runs through to the end of February. If you’re struggling to get started on a book, to finish a book, or edit a book, this is a great opportunity to get your mojo back. We’re offering some fabu incentives to help you get through it all – book giveaways, critiques and gift cards.

Where do you sign up? Click here and register now!