Monday, December 31, 2007

What's at stake?

Last week, I mentioned I wanted to discuss Donald Maas's Writing the Breakout Novel. I'm reading it as part of my never-ending effort to further improve my craft.

I haven't finished Maas's book yet. So much to do, so little time. You all know what I'm talking about. But one of the things that struck a cord with me is his reference to constantly raising the stakes.

It's an obvious question. What's at stake? What does your heroine/hero have to lose? Upping the stakes at each turn increases the tension and suspense. Let's take a look at this technique, starting with Angela's The Company You Keep, the first book in her Kendra Clayton mystery series.

In The Company You Keep, Kendra wants to find out who killed her best friend's boyfriend. So what? What's at stake, you ask? Kendra's best friend is at stake. The police like her for the murder. Angela raises the stakes several more times, but I don't want to give too much away.

We'll move on to my recent release, On Fire. What's at stake? The heroine's career is at stake. Along the way, I raised the stakes to public safety by adding a serial arsonist and made it personal by introducing you to one of the victims. Then I raised the stakes a couple more times, including framing the hero for the crimes.

In my debut romantic suspense, You Belong to Me, I raised the stakes several times as well. First, by placing the hero on the brink of financial ruin, then endangering the project that's supposed to rebuild his company, and a couple of other things that would give away too much if I mentioned them.

You may remember I'm a copious plotter. I've added asking, "So what?" when I outline my plots now, just to make sure I don't forget to raise the stakes. In your latest book or work in progress, what's at stake?

Happy 2008, everyone! I wish us all great publishing success.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Writing goals

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season.

I'm taking the week between Christmas and New Year's Day off to jumpstart a few projects. My goal is to outline my current story ideas so, with the new year, I can start writing them.

What are your writing goals for the New Year? Or, like me, do you prefer to plan six months at a time? If so, what would you like to accomplish by June? I'll start us off.

While writing the contemporary romances for which I'm contracted, my goal is to complete the proposal for the romantic suspense trilogy I've mentioned. I want to always have at least one project making the rounds with publishers.

I'm also going to spend more time studying the craft of writing. To that end, I'm reading Donald Maas's Writing the Breakout Novel. Have you read it? I hope to discuss it with you next week.

And, of course, it's always important to study the industry. What are editors looking for now? Which editors are moving to which publishing houses? What lines are launching? Closing? Cutting back? Are any publishers in financial trouble? It's important to know what's going on with the people and companies in the industry so you can target your submissions accordingly.

So, what are your writing goals for 2008, or at least the first six months?

And merry Christmas, everyone!


Thursday, December 20, 2007



It’s finally arrived, the day that you’ve been waiting for: you’ve got the release date for your book and soon, very soon, it will be on the shelves. So what now, start on the next book, wait for your royalties, wait for your publisher to start setting up the nationwide book tour, tv, radio print ads, reviews etc. etc. Now, welcome to the real world. First, waiting is something that should never do, whether it’s waiting for your publisher to do something or simply waiting for your royalties. This phase of your journey is about being active, getting out there, telling everyone about your book and essentially being shameless in your self-promotion. Because the unfortunate reality, is that except in rare cases, a publisher will spend limited if any significant dollars on promoting a first time author. Because of the cut backs in publishing and the consolidation of the industry it’s become as hit driven as Hollywood. They lavish promotional dollars on tent pole projects and generally have limited resources left for others. So what do you do? It’s up to you to be your own PR agent.

Your promotion is in two phases: the first which we’ll talk about this week, is to concentrate on working with your publisher to see what if anything they’ll do. This is key since certain types of publicity, only they can do. Essentially you have to promote your book to your own publisher. This may sound odd since after all they are the one publishing your book. However, your book is not the only one that is coming out on their list, so you want to make sure that someone focuses on your book. First, determine what if anything, your publisher will do for you and stay on them, be proactive in contacting them and making sure that they follow through. At a minimum, your publisher should: (1) submit your book for reviews to magazines (such as Essence, Ebony), local newspapers, on line reviews and (2) submit your book to major book clubs , depending upon the genre of your book, there are book clubs that have tens of thousands of members in some cases and where if your book is accepted this can mean substantial sales.

To clarify, these are not the book clubs where a few friends get together, but rather the book of the month type of clubs controlled by the major publishers, where members pay a fixed amount to receive a choice of certain books each month. In most cases only the publisher can submit a book to these book clubs so very early on, you should do the research and find out which book clubs would be a possibility for your book. One such book club is Black Expressions, this book club is owned by one of the major publishers and is very influential in getting black books out to their readership (3) Submit your book to on line book clubs such as Barnes& and Again, only your publisher can submit to these book clubs but if your book is selected this can be invaluable PR and sales (4) if your publisher has a booth at BEA (the major book sellers convention, held each year in different cities, 2008 it will be in Los Angeles) see if they will invite you to have a signing at their booth. While these are not book that will be sold, a signing at BEA can nevertheless be important exposure because most professionals in the book industry (including librarians, academics and others) attend the convention.

Many of these suggestions are things that I unfortunately found out about after my book was published and so was not able to fully take advantage of them. But I pass these ideas on to you so that when your book comes out, you can be aware of these opportunities before the book is on the shelves and you can really profit from them. Next week, we’ll talk more about promotion and about some of the things that you can and should do.

If you’re interested in more information about my book A DEAD MAN SPEAKS, check out my website at or you can email me at


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

In The News

Lots of interesting book and author stuff in the news lately. Check it out!

Goodbye Easy. Hello Leonid?

Author Walter Mosley inks a deal with Riverhead for new mystery series featuring Leonid McGill, an African-American private investigator in New York ( first introduced in his short story Karma).

Essence Literary Awards/Library Campaign

Essence Magazine will honor African-American writers and help public libraries by launching two overlapping initiatives this winter: the Essence Literary Awards and the Save Our Libraries campaign.

Buyers Aware: Inside the Black Book Market

In Publishers Weekly, author Felicia Pride talks to seven book buyers about African-American book buying.

The Brown Bookshelf

5 authors and illustrators have joined together to form The Brown Bookshelf to highlight the best voices in African-American children’s literature.

Life Imitates Art

Remember the Shawshank Redemption? Well, these guys obviously do.

Have a great Holiday!


Monday, December 17, 2007

Are we there yet?

Last week, I mentioned I was waiting for my editor's feedback on my second contemporary romance synopsis. The first one had been rejected, even after the revision.

I received my editor's feedback mid-week, and she requested revisions for this second synopsis.

Now I won't lie. I'm a little frustrated because I'm not moving forward. (Hey, I'm human.) This journey is taking longer than I anticipated. I hear the question, "Are we there yet?" playing in my mind. However, I also realize, succumbing to frustration isn't going to get the story accepted or the book written.

My editor listed the elements she wanted me to add. When I got home from my day job, I took a closer look at my synopsis and was dismayed to realize the elements my editor requested - subplots and secondary characters - were already in the synopsis. I obviously hadn't brought out those points well enough. In a way, this was a relief. I didn't have to reconstruct the story; I just needed to flesh it out. A much easier fix.

The lesson I learned from this experience is try to remember your editor isn't in your head. Give as much detail regarding plots, subplots, secondary characters, etc., as possible. I'll remember this lesson as I work on my romantic suspense trilogy.


Friday, December 14, 2007


That phrase just popped into my mind when trying to come up with a way to describe the relationship between a writer and his editor. You love your editor, but there are times when you could throttle him. Sometimes what he says is soooo right on the money; at other times, it makes you wonder, "Am I hearing right? You're telling me to change that? Why, it's the one thing I can't change. It's the heart of the story."

Last week, I urged you to listen to your editor, to be open and receptive. I did not advise you, however, to suspend your sense of critical judgment. In other words, listen but always realize that the decision as to how and when to "obey," the freedom, and the responsibility, of selecting which changes to make -- or not make -- remains with you, the author.

Let's just take a step back and look at the word in quotes: obey. The fact is, a writer's decision to follow, neglect or outright reject his or her editor's suggestions should never be thought of in terms of obedience. A good editor cares about you and your work, and views your working relationship as that of a partnership, not as one of commander and commanded.

And sometimes, oh every once in a while, an editor will insist on some obtuse change that makes sense to him, but in fact is short-sighted and downright whimsical, like altering the age or ethnicity of a character simply because your current setup doesn't agree with his preconceived notions about a certain age or ethnic group. What do you do? First you ask for an explanation. Then you consider it.

Does the change, for example, pander to certain chauvinist or mildly racist notions? It could be something very simple or subtle. Your editor says he doesn't hold with certain ideas, but believes "the public" does and that a certain change would "make your manuscript more appealing and marketable." He urges you to "be realistic." You think about it. You make a decision. If that decision is a no, then feel calm about saying it, and be prepared to explain it.

A request for a change that reaffirms prejudices is easy to scope out and, I hope for you, easy to reject. But what about those changes that really seem to be harmless?

It's important to remember that a change to any turn or twist of a manuscript could cause ripples like a pebble dropped into a pond. With mysteries, especially, a writer should be careful. The structure of a mystery novel can be likened to a house of cards. Fiddle with one card and the whole thing might collapse. Take the following instance: Your editor has made a suggestion and it seems to be quite helpful. It concerns some little turn of phrase or the physical location of a scene or even whether the scene is at all necessary. The scene is so brief. Why not take it out? We need to cut 10,000 words. Why not start there? The suggestion seems both logical and harmless.

But your inner gut tightens and some small voice tells you to hold on. Something about the phrasing or the location or the very brevity of the scene itself is significant. What could it be? You don't remember. It's been months since you worked on that particular bit of plotting, and you've started work on another manuscript since then. You're appalled to find that you've actually forgotten or even blanked out parts of your own book.

So you sit down and think about it, and it comes to you. Yes ... that's why you put that there, arranged matters in just that way. Following the editor's "innocuous" suggestion would've resulted in an inconsistency that would've emerged later, at some critical moment, undermining the logical and emotional wrenching ending you worked so hard to create.

You gather your courage and tell your editor that you think it better not to make the change. You outline your reasons and you're surprised to find that he thinks that his reasons outweigh yours. Hmm ... What to do?

(1) Discuss it some more.

(2) Tell the editor to go take a flying leap. (But do it much more politely, of course.)

But seriously, if the editor is a book doctor you've hired, then simply tell him, "Nope. I don't think so," (pay the bill) and go on your merry way. Matters become a bit more complicated if it's an agent or an editor within your publishing house who wants you to make some oddball change. Writers often feel themselves powerless against such gatekeepers and power brokers.

My advice: If it's an agent, whether it's one you're with or one you're thinking about working with, then consider the larger ramifications of the disagreement. Maybe you two are not a good match, or are no longer a good one. Maybe it's time to get different representation.

But you love your agent, you say, and don't want to change? Then think about shopping the particular manuscript without her or through someone else. No matter how much you like your agent, you have to understand and accept that an agent is unlikely to do a good job of selling your manuscript if she doesn't believe in it.

What if it's a big, important agent you're desperate to please? The agent has a reputation for getting six-figure deals and this is your chance, your one chance, to join the big league! Well, you can make the change against your better judgment and sneakily hope to undo it once the agent has found you a major publisher. It wouldn't be my way, and I wouldn't recommend it, but it is one way and some folks would feel no scruples about doing it in order to survive.

If it's an editor at a publishing house with whom you're in disagreement, then you might talk things over with your agent. In the classic setup, your agent acts as mediator. He or she can smooth out wrinkles and keep matters rolling along.

The worst thing you can do is to keep mum. If an editor makes a suggestion that truly sticks in your craw, say something. Editors and agents read fast. They reads stacks and stacks of manuscripts and they don't always read them thoroughly. They'll miss things described in terms bigger than life smack dab in the middle of page 21 for goodness sakes and tell you with a straight face that the information just wasn't there.

In the end, you're responsible for your story's content. And it's on you to know it better than anyone else, your editor included. His or her suggestions are always worth listening to because whether right or wrong, they indicate areas of possible misunderstanding. Furthermore, the editor's solution might not be the right one, but it could urge you in the right direction.

My last comment: Don't fear the editorial process. Engage in it! Embrace it! You're finally not alone. You've slogged your way through this manuscript, dedicating months, maybe years of your life to it, spending hours in self-enforced solitude. Now, finally, someone takes it seriously enough to read it, praise it, critique it and tell you how to make it better. View this as your time in the sun! And enjoy it!

Until next week then. Best wishes for the holiday season!

- Persia

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Expect The Unexpected

I guess this must be the season to not make too many plans and to never get too comfortable in your own obscurity. I’d started to put together a marketing plan for book four in my mystery series, which I assumed would be released next summer, when I got word from my editor last week that the release of book 4 has been pushed back to 2009.

My publisher, Kimani Press/Sepia, has cut back on the number of books they are publishing per month, which I had noticed. If you go to the Kimani/Sepia website, you’ll see there've been no new releases since October. The entire publishing schedule has been rearranged. I won’t lie. I was a little bummed when I heard the news. It will be strange not to have a new book out next year. Although, I’m fairly certain Diva’s Last Curtain Call will be re-released in mass market paperback sometime next year. But on the bright side it will give me time to finish up book 5 and my standalone mystery.

And speaking of the unexpected, last week I was invited to be a guest on Dayton, Ohio’s Fox 45/ABC 22 Morning News show. I was on last Friday. It was a brief blink-and-you’ll-miss-it interview of a couple of minutes, but it was an excellent opportunity to talk about my books and writing. I still have no idea how they found out about me, since I’m far far from being a household name, and I never approached them about being a guest. But it doesn’t matter. This is the kind of promo opportunity you don’t question, especially when it falls in your lap. You just go for and don’t think twice about it.

But let me tell you, seeing yourself on TV is a shocker. Anyone who knows me or has seen a picture of me knows I’m not a size 0. I’d never been on TV before but I’d always heard the camera adds at least ten pounds. That was an understatement. TV is not kind to curvy gals like myself. Long story short, I looked like Jabba the Hutt’s little sister. Not a good look, people! YMCA here I come. And don't go trying to find the interview online. It's not there. Thank God!


Monday, December 10, 2007


I finished the synopsis for my contemporary romance. I don't remember whether I mentioned the first contemporary romance idea was rejected. I came up with another idea and finished the synopsis last night. What a relief! It felt like a load was lifted from my shoulders.

But, as we all know, there's never any time to rest. At least not when you're starting your career. As soon as you've finished one project, you've got to move on to the next.

(I did take time to do a little celebratory dance around my living room, though. Quite fun.)

While I'm waiting for my editor's feedback on the contemporary, I'm going to work on the romantic suspense trilogy idea I've been kicking around. Based on my experience with the Fire trilogy that never was, I want to shop this series as a set. Lesson learned.

Well, I'd better get moving. No rest for the wicked.


Friday, December 07, 2007


I'm very happy to be joining the Crime Sistahs. Like Angela, Pamela, Gammy, Patricia and Lisa, I write about murder and mayhem, with my stories set in the glittering 1920s. My latest book, DARKNESS AND THE DEVIL BEHIND ME, features a society reporter who covers a young woman's disappearance and the million-dollar heist that occurred after it. Visit my website to learn more.

In addition to writing, I also edit fiction for up and coming authors at Gentle Pen Editorial Services, and so for my debut column on Crime Sistahs, I'd like to don my editor's hat and write from the point of view of someone who works with authors and tries to help them strengthen their story presentation.


What editor hasn't heard that cry? It's usually delivered by an irate author at the tail end of a conversation about areas in which the author's manuscript needs serious revamping. When I tell an author that his or her manuscript is unfocused, for example, and the response is that I "just didn't get it," I'm tempted to respond, "No, I didn't, because it just wasn't there." But since it's Gentle Pen Editorial Services, I press my lips together and smile.

Yes, you might have the misfortune of having an inept or ignorant editor, someone with such a narrow breadth of taste, interests, knowledge or experience that he or she really is incapable of understanding what you're writing about. That does happen. But it could be that your editor is right. In short, if your editor didn't "get it," then Dear Reader might not either. Even when your editor is wrong, he or she has given you valuable information about where your manuscript could be misinterpreted or falls short in credibility.

What provokes the author's cry? It's usually when I've conveyed that there's a fundamental problem with the initial concept, or mentioned an underdeveloped or unfocused plot, or unmotivated or stagnant characters. Or I might have said that the concept was strong, but the execution weak. Somewhere, on the journey from mind to paper, the images, the pathos that so gripped the writer's imagination and made the story vibrant have become faded or blurred. They've lost their crispness, their edge.

Sometimes, the "don't get it" cry follows criticism not about the entire manuscript, but a specific scene. The editor really didn't "get it," and it was because the author left out relevant information that he or she assumed was common knowledge. In such instances, both sides need to sit down and figure out what details -- sometimes, it's only two or three -- must be inserted.

There are times, of course, when an editor's question really does seem to reveal dazzling, inexplicable ignorance. Never mind. It's worth your while as a writer to listen.

In one of my books, for example, there's a horrific lynch scene. My sleuth/hero witnesses it. Worse, the victim is someone he cares about. One of my readers wanted to know why my sleuth didn't intervene and "save" the friend. That my hero would "just stand by" and let his friend die wouldn't do, this reader said. Well, I was incensed. To intervene would mean death, I responded. If the character died, then of course, the book died with him. Privately, I muttered, "How can she even ask that? Doesn't everybody know what lynch mobs were like? Why would anyone suggest that I have my character intervene?" (This reader, as it happens, had partly grown up in England, and probably didn't know the history of lynching.) I dismissed the criticism with an "Oh, but she just doesn't get it!"

But then I thought about it. The fact is, heroes are heroes because they rise to the occasion. They don't listen to common sense. They are, in fact, uncommon. So ... maybe she was right. My hero couldn't follow the common sense path. He had to be heroic. But how to implement that logically? How to make sure he survived? I thought about it and a solution did come, and I daresay the story was better for it.

More recently, a writer approached me about her work, saying that she was having a lot of negative feedback about the heavy use of dialect. She'd indicated the dialect through the use of misspellings, odd punctuation, etc. She said that people in her writing workshop "just didn't get it." Of course, they didn't, she said. They were very different from the characters in her book. Why should she listen to them?

Hmmmm ... I read an excerpt and promptly told her I agreed with her readers. I also told her that the best stories, the ones we remember, rise above restrictions of class, race, gender, religion and nationality. They speak to the human condition. She should strive to tell a story that everyone would "get" because it spoke to their hearts, and not to sabotage that effort by use of systematic errors in her copy. She was a very talented writer and understood.

In summary, your editor could be dumb or ignorant or both. He or she could be a frustrated writer who is simply power-tripping and just loves to tear apart other writers' talented work. But it's more likely that he or she really does love books, really does want to be supportive, and has a width and breadth of knowledge that makes him or her a good test subject.

So please, if you're tempted to simply dismiss an editor's comment out of hand, don't. Pause, take a deep breath, and listen. You're very likely to hear something quite worthwhile.

Next week, I'll talk about when to listen, but not necessarily obey ...

In the meantime, thanks for bearing with me through this long entry! I look forward to filing again next week.

- Persia

Thursday, December 06, 2007



Now that you’ve got the deal, you should be able to relax and just wait to see your book in the book stores! Unfortunately, not quite. This is where the second part of the major re-writing begins, the editorial process. This is when your publisher takes what you are convinced is a completed manuscript and starts shaping it according to their vision of what will make it more marketable for their readers.

Editors usually have very specific ideas of the types of books that will sell to their readership. Clearly they believe that your book is one of those, otherwise they wouldn’t have given you a book deal. But often much to the chagrin of the author, this doesn’t preclude often extensive editorial changes. In many cases this is helpful and in fact does make the book better, in other cases, the author feels as if their work is being compromised by an overly aggressive “red pen.” My feelings on the editorial process are to assume that the comments are given with the desire to make the manuscript as good as it can be, but by the same token, to decide what you will agree to and what you cannot. It’s usually a balancing process where you have to compromise but where you also must determine which comments, if any, go to the heart of your book, and if accepted could severely compromise your vision.

Usually you will go through several rounds of editorial comments before your book is completed and ready for the copy editors. Copy editing is a critical part of the editorial process and ensures that your book has all of the proper grammatical and other editing and stylistic changes. Often, with a smaller press the author does essentially a lot of the copy editing, but it is preferable to have it professionally done. It’s very difficult to copy edit your own work because you are so close to it. Overall the editorial process can be gratifying as you see your book shaped into something even greater than you had imagined or frustrating as you see your vision chipped away, but either way it is a critical part of getting your book out there.

Next week we’ll talk about marketing your book and some of the things that authors can do to get the widest possible audience. For more information on my book A DEAD MAN SPEAKS, check out my website, or you can email me at

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hello, All,
Letting you know I’m b-a-a-ack! Where have I been? In book hell, trying to finish up my suspense thriller. Well, I did it, I’m done. I titled it Dead Stop--found out there’s a film with that same title. Boo. Which just means there’s nothing new in the universe, especially titles.

FYI I’ll be blogging on Sundays and will be slinging tidbits around relating to all things theatrical, ‘cuz that’s my special interest. Will be doing film reviews, interviews, and keeping an eye out on the book option market, and noting who's selling what. Would welcome additional tidbits!

In the meantime, read below and laugh. This compilation of Worst Analogies appeared on the yahoo listserv of fellow writers, all graduates of my alma mater, Seton Hill University and its graduate Writing Popular Fiction Program.


~ He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the
East River.

~ Even in his last years, Grandpappy had a mind like a steel trap, only
one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

~ The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil,
this plan just might work.

~ The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating
for a while.

~ He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but
a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or

~ McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty Bag filled
with vegetable soup.

~ Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides
gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

~ She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was
room-temperature Canadian beef.

~ She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes
just before it throws up.

~ The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg
behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

~ He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as
if she were a garbage truck backing up.

~ She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.

~ It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to
the wall.

~ The brick wall was the color of a brick-red Crayola crayon.

~ I felt a nameless dread. Well, there probably is a long German name
for it, like Geschpooklichkeit or something, but I don't speak German.
Anyway, it's a dread that nobody knows the name for, like those little
square plastic gizmos that close your bread bags. I don't know the name for
those either.

~ He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.

~ The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you
fry them in hot grease.

~ The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after the Dr.
on a Dr Pepper can.

~ He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a
guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those
boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high
schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those
boxes with a pinhole in it.

~ The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a
bowling ball wouldn't.

~ From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie,
surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and "Jeopardy"
comes on at 7 p.m. instead of 7:30.

~ Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.

~ Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the

~ Her date was pleasant enough, but she knew that if her life was a
movie this guy would be buried in the credits as something like "Second Tall

~ Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the
grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left
Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19
p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

~ John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had
also never met.

Hope your holidays are happy.

Gammy L. Singer

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Continuing Education

One thing I always tell aspiring writers who seek my advice about getting published, is to learn as much as they can about the publishing business, which is pretty solid advice. But, what I should really be telling them is that no matter how much they learn about the publishing biz, there’s always more to learn along the way.

Here three things you usually don’t find out until after you’re published.

1. Not all authors are created equal.

There are three main levels of authors in the world of publishing, and for the record, I’m not referring to talent. I'm referring to sales. At the bottom of the heap you have debut authors who've yet to make a name for themselves, at the top of the heap you have what are referred to as top tier authors a.k.a the ones who's books sell like hotcakes and who get big royalty checks and attention, in the middle you have midlist authors, which accounts for 99.9% of all authors, myself included. Being a midlist author just means your books sell consistently but you’ve yet to reach top tier blockbuster sales status.

2. You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink.

Most authors have to do their own book promotion. Some are more successful at it than others. I once heard about an author who spent over $30,000 promoting a book without much luck. I’ve heard of publishers spending big bucks on promotion for a book they’ve deemed the next big thing only to have it flop. No one really knows what works when it come to book promotion. It’s usually not one thing but a combination of many things. Just do what you can comfortably afford to do because the rest is really up to chance.

3. Beware of the Green Eyed Monster.

One of the most self-defeating things authors can do is to compare themselves to other authors. Every author’s situation is different. For example, author A and author B both write in the same genre and have books that came out the same time. Author B is jealous of author A because A got a bigger advance, massive publisher support, and has sold 25,000 copies, while B got a much smaller advance, minimal publisher support, and has only sold 8,500 copies. But what B doesn’t know is that A’s print run( how many books printed upfront by the publisher) was 150,000 copies. B’s print run was only 10,000 copies. In the publishing world, selling 8,500 copies out of a 10,000 copy print run is considered a success, while selling only 25, 000 copies out of 150,000 copy print run is considered a big flop. Guess who’s career is in jeopardy? And it’s not author B. Don’t be so worried about how well you think another author is doing. You may not know the whole story and the time you waste worrying could be time spent writing.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Untold stories

I heard from my editor last week. You may recall she's contracted me for two more books, this time contemporary romances. I sent her a synopsis for a story, but she requested a change that would impact the plot so greatly that I shelved that story and started a new one. I'd really grown to like the first story idea, although I admit I like this new one even better.

The story idea rejections I'm accumulating makes me wonder about the number of untold stories floating around out there. Counting my ideas alone, we have the two sequels to On Fire, my September 2007 romantic suspense; the first contemporary idea, which my editor just rejected; the sequel to You Belong to Me, my November 2006 romantic suspense; an epic fantasy trilogy; and my island mystery series, which is generating rejections as we speak.

It's not my intention to throw a pity party. Honestly. I know it may sound that way, but that's not my intention. I'm truly fascinated by the fact that we may have millions of orphaned story ideas hovering around us.

I'm obviously incredibly naive. All this time I thought, as writers, we'd come up with ideas and, as long as we told the story well, it would find a home. But this experience has shown me, the market has much more to do with the stories I sell than I originally thought.


Thursday, November 29, 2007



For the past six weeks we’ve been talking about the step by step process of coming up with the idea for your book, outlining it, and getting it out there. That whole process probably took anywhere from nine months to several years. Now we’re going to jump ahead even further---the moment when you get that call from your agent or a publisher that they’re interested in your book. It’s a heady moment, one that you’ve been dreaming of and finally it’s happened. So what next? Ready to start celebrating, planning the book parties, the tours etc. etc. But wait, now you start the second part of the process, closing your book deal and the sometimes challenging editorial process.

This week we’re going to focus on the unglamorous but extremely important process of getting that deal closed. The first thing that you want to do is to make sure that you are represented in your negotiations with the publisher. If you have a skilled and experienced agent he or she can usually handle the negotiations. If not, I would highly recommend hiring a lawyer, but not just any lawyer, but one who focuses on the publishing industry and knows what to ask for and how to negotiate these types of contracts. Some people think that all lawyers are the same, but like doctors, most attorneys specialize in one specific area. Just as you wouldn’t want to hire an orthopedic surgeon for an eye problem, you don’t want to go to a lawyer specializing in commercial litigation to close a publishing deal. So when you’re interviewing lawyers ask them who their clients are and how many deals like this they’ve done. If you’re the first, I’d steer clear, because you may end up spending a lot of money on someone who has no expertise in this area. If you don’t know anyone, I’d suggest calling your local Bar Association to see if they can give you a referral to an attorney specializing in representing authors with publishers.

Even after you’ve engaged someone to represent you, (whether it’s your lawyer or an agent) you still need to manage the process and make sure that certain basic things are in your contract. First, you should of course try and get as high an advance as possible, but realistically for most first time fiction authors there will probably be little if any flexibility there. If you’re writing a non-fiction book, you may be luckier and get a more substantial advance with the understanding that much of that will be used for research, travel or other items associated with writing the book. Second, you want as much as possible to get a clear idea of what type of marketing the publisher is willing to do for your book. One thing that you should insist on which doesn’t cost them anything is submitting your book to reviewers, preferably magazines and newspapers. I would specify as much as possible certain publications that you want your book submitted to, like Essence Magazine (if you’re an African American writer), Ebony magazine, your local newspaper, The New York Times (depending upon the genre of your book), USA Today and Publishers Weekly.

It’s very important to get your book reviewed and generally only the publisher can submit it for review. Similarly, you should ask that they submit your book to the various online reviewers and book clubs run by the major chains, ie Borders and Barnes & Noble. They are probably not going to submit to anything that will cost them money, but the larger chains don’t charge and only your publisher can submit to them. For many of the other on-line book reviewers you can submit your book yourself. Third, you want them to commit in the contract what the print run will be. So that when you sell out you’ll know how many books that is and what your royalties should be. A note on royalties: make sure that you understand the royalty structure and in particular make sure that there is a commitment in the contract of when royalty statements will be issued as well as the ability to audit the publisher in case you want to verify what your royalties should be. Your attorney should know which of the other so called boiler plate provisions can be negotiated and which can’t. But the items that I’ve mentioned above should be areas where you can get these types of commitments in writing.

Next week we’ll be discussing the editorial process, the next step in the shaping of your book for publication. If you would like more information on my book A DEAD MAN SPEAKS check out my website or you can email me at


Monday, November 26, 2007

Pantzers and Plotters

I wish I could sit in front of a computer and just write.

I know an author who can finish a full-length manuscript in less than a month. Characters, plots, subplots, revisions, everything in less than a month. And her books are wonderful, as her numerous trips to various best-seller lists attest. She's been writing for decades. Even after I've been writing for decades - in four years, I'll be able to make that claim - I won't be able to finish a 100,000-word manuscript in less than a month.

The author I referenced is a pantzer, a writer who can comfortably sit at the computer and let the story come to her. I'm the polar opposite; I'm a plotter with myriad tools and rituals I have to complete before I can start a manuscript. My main characters' goal/motivation/conflict grids, 20 Things That Have To Happen in this Story list, Hero's Journey chart and scene-by-scene chapter outline. Tedious, most possibly overkill, but I developed this ritual from self-defense. You see, I panic if I don't know where my story's going.

These exercises also serve as a sort of pre-revision stage. The other day, I realized something I want to occur in chapter nine scene three would have to be foreshadowed in chapter three scene one. I console myself that it's better to discover something like that in an outline rather than having to go back 90-some pages to fix the chapters.

Which one are you? A pantzer or a plotter?


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Writer is a Writer is an Artist??

By Charlotte Morris (Guest Blogger)

Okay, conventional wisdom tells us that an aspiring writer’s ultimate goal is to write a great literary masterpiece, or at the very least, a published novel. Well, apparently somebody forgot to tell Jackie Ormes all about that.

And who is Jackie Ormes?

Mrs. Ormes just happens to be one of the most acclaimed writers/artists in American history. Her most notable body of work was the Torchy Brown comic strip series. Torchy Brown was the first comic strip to feature an African-American female as the lead character. It first appeared in the Pittsburgh Courier in 1937. Ormes also created another popular comic strip entitled, “Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger. Her Patty-Jo character was made into a doll in 1947, and even today, it remains high on many doll collectors’ lists.

A book that chronicles this talented artist’s life is scheduled for release in 2008. But for now, to find out more about Jackie Ormes, check out the links listed below:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hatin’ on Harlequin

I had a wonderful time signing at the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort. I sold a decent amount of books, got to meet lots of people, and had a great time gabbing with author Annie Jones, who was my table mate. The fair was very well organized and the volunteers were fabulous. I was looking forward to getting a peek at Robin Givens, who was also supposed to be signing at the fair that day but she was a no show.

The one negative thing that happened that day was an encounter that I had with a fellow author who was also signing at the book fair. This author was taking a break and walking around to the other tables looking at all the books. When she came to my table, she said hello and asked me how I was doing and if I’d sold many books. We were casually chatting, and she had picked up one of my books, when she suddenly asked me who my publisher was. I told her Harlequin, at which point she promptly replied with undisguised distaste, “Oh, I don’t read those books.” Wondering if she had some kind of an aversion to romance novels, since everyone thinks all Harlequin publishes is romance, I told her it was a mystery novel, to which she replied, “It doesn’t matter. All their books follow the same formula.” She put my book down and left me sitting there with my mouth hanging open in shock.

I have to admit to being a little sheltered as an author. I don’t do a lot of book signings or attend many book fairs or conventions. I’ve encounter some negativity from readers who don’t enjoy mysteries, or only read serious literary fiction, or non-fiction. But, I’ve yet to encounter this kind of a snotty attitude from another author and about my publisher no less. It really pissed me off. I couldn’t believe this woman made assumptions about my books and writing based on who my publisher is. I know that certain genres really get a bad rap, but I had no idea people were turning up their noses at books published by certain companies. I told this story to another Harlequin author and she laughed and said that this is nothing new. She’s been dealing with Harlequin bias for years.

As an author it’s hard enough finding an audience for your work, but discovering that there are people who won’t even give you a chance because they have pre-conceived ideas about your publisher is infuriating, frustrating, and downright depressing. So, my questions for my fellow authors and readers is: What turns you off as a reader? Are there certain genres you refuse to read. Do have a bias against a certain publishers books? Have there been books you won’t touch because of the cover art? Seriously, I’d really like to know.

PS: And just in case you were wondering, I had a fabulous time in Vegas too. I especially loved this place! I highly recommend their buffet.

I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving!

Angela, who for the record has never been made to follow any kind of a formula.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Your writing island

Put your butt in the chair. That's the most popular mantra in the writing community. After all, you can't shop a manuscript you haven't written. Whether you're pre-published, newly published or multi-published, writing is a job and demands the same commitment and discipline as more traditional careers.

But when it comes time to put your butt in the chair, inevitably every chore in your life screams for attention. Laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, cleaning. If you succumb to those screams, any pages you'd planned to write gets washed away with the laundry.

The only way to ward off these conflicts of your writing interest is to create a writing island. A time and space devoted to your writing. Pick an hour - any hour - and commit to not letting anything or anyone distract you at that time. Start the laundry before your writing island hour. You can finish the laundry - and do the dishes - once your hour is over.

Imagine going to your writing island during your lunch hour. Take 20 minutes or so to eat lunch while working at your desk. Then, from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., find someplace where co-workers won't be tempted to interrupt so you can write. Or, in the evening, tape the show you just can't miss and write instead. You can stay up late Friday or watch it Saturday morning.

Stick to your schedule. Over a couple of weeks, your actions will become a habit. Over a couple of months, your habit will become a way of life.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Veterans Day

I confess. I'm one of those people who live for the weekends. Although I feel as if I'm wishing my life away when I wake up and count the days until Saturday - glorious Saturday! - arrives.

I especially look forward to three-day weekends. The third day allows for extra writing hours - plotting, drafting, revising, whatever stage of production I'm in.

But please know I do value the meaning behind those "extra days," such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day. I take time to reflect and appreciate the courage of the people being honored that day.

Today and every day, to our veterans and their families, thank you for your sacrifices in service to our country.


Thursday, November 08, 2007



For anyone who’s just joined us, this post is about getting your first book out there. Over the past four weeks we’ve gone from coming up with that big idea that propels your book from your head to the page, to writing, re-writing and finally getting it out there to agents and in some cases small publishers.

Now that your book is officially “out there” what do you do? Well the first thing is to have patience, because with some exceptions (for people extremely lucky, very connected or both) it’s usually going to be a waiting game. As mentioned last week, agents rarely get back to you quickly and from this point on it will be a combination of managing your expectations and not letting yourself get discouraged by rejection. The one comforting thought is that even the most successful writers have experienced rejection, many of them for years until something finally hit. So the first thing that you do is to muster all of your inner resilience to just keep getting your book out there.

If you’ve exhausted all of the agents or small publishers that you initially identified, you may want to go back and identify another round. At this point, you may also have gotten some instructive feedback (as part of one of the rejection letters, as I did) which will give you an idea of some areas that you can re-write. Never be afraid to go back in after you haven’t read your manuscript for awhile and take a fresh look. Often it’s after months (or sometimes much longer) of not having read something that you can really look at it with fresh eyes and understand what may not have been working. You may also want to have someone else who hasn’t read the book before and who is either a writer or someone with a good literary eye, read it and critique your manuscript again.

At this point, you may also want to consider self-publishing. I don’t have any personal experience with self-publishing and I know that for some people it is a very viable option. From what I’ve observed from people whom I know who have self published, the major issues are distribution, money and your own time to promote the book. Before you think that once you get a conventional publisher you just sit back and wait for the book sales, think again! But we’ll talk more about promoting your book in a later blog. With self publishing you don’t generally have the benefit of an extensive distribution network with the major chains and independents, so in addition to promoting your book to consumers, you’ll also have to promote it to bookstores that you would like to carry your book.

The challenge in getting book stores to carry a self-published book is that often they cannot take the books on consignment from one of the major distributors, thus they can’t return the books if they don’t sell. Many self-publishers opt to do the book festivals (ie renting a booth), the internet, Amazon. Com or other online distributors and to by-pass traditional chains. Some self published books have become huge sellers that way and through word of mouth, but it can be very challenging. There are companies that will self publish your book, and do much of what a conventional publisher would do, including in some cases limited distribution. However, these are upfront cost that you have to cover. Again, I do not have personal experience with self-publishing and if you’re considering that route I would recommend that you research your options well and preferably get recommendations from someone who has had a positive experience with a self-publisher.

In the meantime, if you opt to stick it out until you get a conventional book deal, keep focused and positive on getting your book published and soon the waiting game will be over! Next week we’ll talk about what happens when you finally get that book deal.

If you’d like to know more about my book A DEAD MAN SPEAKS check out my website at or you can email me at adeadmanspeaks

Look for part six in this series on November 22nd!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


For those of you living in the Cincinnati/Kentucky area, who are looking for something to do this Saturday November 10th, I'll be signing at the 26th annual Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort, Kentucky at the Frankfort Convention Center from 9am - 4:30pm. Come on out! I'd love to meet you ; ).

Afterwards, I'm off to Las Vegas for a week to celebrate my mom's 60th birthday and to visit my baby brother who moved to Vegas in March. So, I'll be back to posting sometime after next week.

See ya later!

Monday, November 05, 2007

You plan; fate laughs

My first two published novels were romantic suspense stories, You Belong to Me and On Fire. My plan was to eventually write for three publishers in three separate genres - romantic suspense, mystery and science fiction/fantasy. But for now, I was satisfied to build a readership with my romantic suspense. I'd hoped to grow into the other genres in the near future.

Fate must have gotten quite the belly laugh from my plans. Last week it threw me for a major loop.

My editor rejected my proposal for the second book in my Fire trilogy. Sadly, the last two installments will remain on the shelf, unless there's a demand for the stories. Instead of continuing the trilogy, my editor requested a contemporary romance.

If you take another look at the opening paragraph of this post, you'll see contemporaries weren't part of my plan. I jokingly told my husband I'd never written a story without at least one dead body. But my agent pointed out that writing contemporaries for this editor would allow me to offer my romantic suspense to another editor, moving toward my goal of writing for multiple houses. Excellent point. I've got my fingers crossed.

Although disconcerting, this experience has given me insight into how authors are able to position themselves to write for multiple houses. It's also explained why some series are cut short or never materialize. Overall, it's been a good learning experience.

I'd better get back to my contemporary manuscript. Writing stories without dead bodies isn't as easy as it may seem.


Thursday, November 01, 2007



You’ve probably been working on your book anywhere from close to a year (on the very fast side) to much longer. You’ve tweaked, polished, hopefully re-written many times and feel that it’s ready to go. So now you need to find an agent who can get it out there for you and get you a deal.

One quick anecdote, I was interviewed on a TV show a few days ago called BookTV and the host of the show told me a story about one of the authors that she’d recently spoken to. This author has a best-selling book, was on Oprah etc. etc. She told me that the author told her that every week for 20 twenty years (yes that’s 20 years!) she submitted her writing to an agent or a publisher. First of all, I’m amazed that she found that many to submit to, but the point is that she dealt with rejection of her work over an incredibly long time. And ultimately her persistence paid off with success and the fairy tale ending.

I recount that story because it really encapsulates this week’s blog, which is getting your work out there and dealing with the constant rejection once you start that process.. If you are going to go the traditional route (we’ll talk about alternatives next week), you’ll want to try and get an agent , although some of the smaller publishers will accept manuscripts without agents. Either way the first thing that you have to do is to research where the best home is for your book.

There’s a very helpful reference guide found in most public libraries called “A Guide to Literary Agents” that is a comprehensive guide to most if not all of the agents in the country. It lists not only their name and contact information, but also equally importantly the type of literature that they’ll review, what you need to send etc. There are also other lists of guides to agents that can be purchased, many of them focusing on specific genres of books like romance and mysteries. They key is to select agents who specialize in your genre of work.

Once you’ve narrowed down a list of agents (I’d say start with at least ten names) who say that they review the type of work that you have, you have to create the Query Letter. This is the all important short (generally not more than a page or two) that succinctly sets forth what your book is about and why the agent should consider reviewing it. It’s basically a sales document that will hopefully encourage the agent to ask you to go to the next step which is sending your manuscript to them for review.

There are many excellent books about writing Query Letters that can be purchased, I’d recommend getting one because there is a very specific format that you’ll need to follow. After you send out your query letter, agents who are interested will ask you to send out either the entire manuscript or sometimes just the first 100 pages. Be sure that when you send your work out it’s perfect, and by that I mean no typos, grammatical errors, proper format etc. At this point you may want to pay a copy editor, that is someone who reviews a manuscript for these types of issues and makes sure that it is correct. If that’s not in your budget, I’d suggest having a friend (or several) review it just with those types of grammatical/spelling errors in mind. Also the format for a manuscript is double spaced, usually Times New Roman, 12 point., with paragraphs indented. Each chapter should also start on a separate page. Because most manuscripts are too big to bind traditionally, most people will send the loose pages in a manuscript box.

I made the mistake of sending out my first manuscript in single space, Ariel font, with double spaces between the paragraphs, rather than indenting. It might seem like a harmless error but it’s critical and it wasn’t until one very kind agent told me (in her rejection letter) that I even knew that there was a generally accepted format. One important note, if an agent says that they’ll only review your book for a fee, you may not want to send out your work to them. The reputable agents won’t charge you a fee for reviewing your manuscript. A literary editor or copy editor charges, but not an agent.

Now that you’ve sent out your manuscript to an agent or hopefully agents, it’s time to wait. Because good agents are inundated with material, you’ll usually not hear anything for at least 3 months, many times much longer. One thing you will want to do is to enclose a stamped self –addressed envelope that the agent can mail back to you, to acknowledge receipt of your manuscript. If this seems overly technical and not that interesting, you’re right! But based on my own saga sending out my manuscript, it’s better to know these things in advance! We’ll talk more about agents and other options for publishing next week.

If you’d like to learn more about my novel A DEAD MAN SPEAKS check out my website at or you can email me at

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


What's better than a good ole halloween scare? Why a good ole free halloween scare, of course! Here are links to free online horror movies and short stories.





Monday, October 29, 2007

Blonde Faith by Walter Mosley

If rumors are true that Walter Mosley's Blonde Faith is his tenth and final Easy Rawlins thriller, the novel is a fitting farewell for this complex, multi-dimensional fiction icon.

Mr. Mosley's Easy Rawlins thrillers aren't just about a private investigator on a case. They're about a father caring for "the children of his heart," an ex-lover working through regrets, a loyal friend balancing the knife edge of right and wrong, a black man maintaining his dignity and self-respect in this white man's world.

In Blonde Faith, Easy's best friend, Mouse, is missing and accused of murder. But Easy thinks Mouse is being set up. Another friend, Christmas Black, also has disappeared. Why are soldiers looking for him? And what role does Faith Laneer play? In addition, his true love, Bonnie Shay, is marrying another man and, seemingly every day Easy confronts racism.

What I love most about Mr. Mosley's writing is - his writing. His voice is ironic, thoughtful and true. It's also beautiful and poetic. It's no wonder the New York Times calls him a "literary artist."

As an author, there are several lines within Blonde Faith I wish I'd thought of first. For example - don't worry; I don't do spoilers - there's a scene in which Easy is staring down one of the officers looking for Christmas Black. Mr. Mosley writes, "I couldn't have looked into a woman's eyes as deeply as Miles stared into mine - not without passion growing out of it." I laughed out loud.

In another scene, Easy has these thoughts of one of his friends, "Jackson was the only man I knew personally who understood Einstein's theory of relativity, and he was still more superstitious than a room full of four-year olds."

Whether you're a devoted Easy Rawlins fan or this is the first time you've heard of the series, don't miss Blonde Faith. Mr. Mosley's writing pulls you into a world of honest emotions, loyal friendships and personal courage.


Thursday, October 25, 2007



Now that you’ve put yourself on your writing schedule and you’re churning out hopefully at least one to three pages a day, you’ve been making progress. You’re feeling good about your work. It’s actually starting to feel like a book. Or is it? Not! This is the halcyon period, you’re finished or almost finished with your first draft that you’ve been working for months on (maybe even years ) and it’s about to be done.

But in reality, this is where the hard work really starts. The first thing that I would suggest is that the moment that you write those fateful words; THE END, you pat yourself on the back ( you deserve it!) and then whatever you do, DON’T read anything that you’ve just written. No matter how good or bad it is, you’re too close to it at this point to be any objective kind of critic of your work. So I’d suggest that instead you do all of the other things that you’ve been putting off since you decided to write your masterpiece (now could definitely be the time for that day spa!). Take at least a couple of weeks, up to a month if you have the time, then print it out. It will give you a better, more accurate read than if you read it on the computer screen and it will also force you to really read, rather than continuing to edit on the screen while reading. Go to a quiet place where there will be no interruptions and read your entire manuscript from start to finish.

I stress this because that’s the only way that you’ll really get a good idea of the flow of the book, and if it’s working or not. Now the fun part starts; you’re either going to be pleasantly surprised at how well, in fact, your book does read, or you’ll be mortified at how horrible it is (rarely anything in between). But despite your initial reaction, don’t despair because even if YOU think it’s really good, someone else and probably many people will beg to differ. And conversely, even if you think it’s really bad, it’s probably not as unsalvageable as you first think.

This is where the first of the many, many edits will begin. I’d suggest approaching each re-write much as you first wrote the book. Write an outline of the big issues that are problematic. Diagram the character flows, are they coherent and well developed, is there a character arc for each of your main (and even your subsidiary) characters. Is the plot tight, where is it uneven or slow? Are there holes in the plot, action that begins but never gets resolved. Is there a clear beginning, middle, climax and end to your story? Presumably there was when you outlined the book, but did it translate to the page when you actually wrote it? Once you’ve outlined all of the big areas, then you can fine tune the edit, honing in on specific passages that may need to be moved, re-worked or eliminated. At this point you may want to get a friend who reads a lot to take a look at the manuscript, they may have some constructive feedback and can see things that you miss.

My only caution is that even if your friends love it or hate it, it’s probably still not an accurate barometer of what a literary agent or editor may say. And similarly, even if you’re a professional writer in another genre, such as screenwriting or journalism, and have someone in one of those fields read your book and give you comments, they still may not get to the heart of what a literary agent or editor is looking for. I speak from experience here, because what I discovered is that my screenwriter friends who read the initial drafts of my novel gave me the kind of notes that were appropriate for a screenplay but not necessarily for a novel.

This is where you might want to consider hiring a literary editor to professionally edit (from a story, structure, and character perspective) your manuscript. Like all professions there are good editors and bad editors, so you want to make sure that if you do hire someone they are competent and will give you the proper types of notes for your book. Look for someone who has experience editing your genre of manuscript. You wouldn’t necessarily want to hire someone who has only edited romance if you’ve got crime fiction. If you know literary agents or anyone at a reputable publisher, they usually work with or know freelance editors whom they can recommend. Generally, someone who has worked as an editor at one of the major publishers editing this type of material, is the kind of background that is helpful.

Finally, at the end of the day you have to know when the editing process is done, for the moment. And I stress for the moment because it never really ends until the final proofed galley goes to print! Next week, we’ll talk a little more about the editing process and what’s next in your book’s journey to publication.

If you’d like more information on my novel A DEAD MAN SPEAKS check out my website at, or you can contact me at

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


I love Halloween! I loved trick or treating as a child and I love handing out candy to little trick or treaters now that I'm way too old to be trick or treating. I love the scary movie marathons that many channels offer during the month of October and the haunted houses. I love it all. Here's a list of some of my favorite scary movies.

FRIGHT NIGHT- For young Charlie Brewster, nothing could be better than an old horror movie late at night. Two men move in next door, and for Charlie with his horror movie experience, there can be no doubt that their strange behavior is explained by the fact that they are a vampire and his undead day guardian. The only one who can help him hunt them down is a washed-up actor, Peter Vincent, who hosts Charlie's favorite TV show, Fright Night. Vincent doesn't really believe that vampires exist, but does it for the money...

LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH-Jessica has just been released from a mental hospital. Wanting to "start over", she moves into an old New England farmhouse with her husband and a friend. Before they even arrive Jess starts having strange encounters, and after they find a young transient in their new home, things start getting rather nasty. Seems this redheaded hippie chick is in fact a vampire, a onetime resident of the house who drowned on her wedding day, and all the old guys in town are her harpies (they all have scarred necks and arms). Or is Jess really having another breakdown? Who knows...

PSYCHO-Phoenix officeworker Marion Crane is fed up with the way life has treated her. She has to meet her lover Sam in lunch breaks and they cannot get married because Sam has to give most of his money away in alimony. One Friday Marion is trusted to bank $40,000 by her employer. Seeing the opportunity to take the money and start a new life, Marion leaves town and heads towards Sam's California store. Tired after the long drive and caught in a storm, she gets off the main highway and pulls into The Bates Motel. The motel is managed by a quiet young man called Norman who seems to be dominated by his mother.

THE EXORCIST-Based on the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist marries three different scenarios into one extraordinary plot. A visiting actress in Washington, D.C., notices dramatic and dangerous changes in the behavior and physical make-up of her 12-year-old daughter. Meanwhile, a young priest at nearby Georgetown University begins to doubt his faith while dealing with his mother's terminal sickness. And, book-ending the story, a frail, elderly priest recognizes the necessity for a show-down with an old demonic enemy.

THE INNOCENTS-In late 19th century England, an inexperienced young woman becomes governess to a small orphan girl living in a lonely stately home occupied only by the child, a housekeeper and a small complement of servants. Her initial misgivings allayed by the child's angelic nature, her anxieties are once more aroused when the girl's brother, equally captivating, is sent home from boarding school for wickedness of some unspecified kind. Then eerie apparitions and inexplicable behaviour on the children's part cause her to wonder about the house's history, especially about the fate of the previous governess and the former valet, Peter Quint, and to fear for the children's souls and for her own sanity. Eventually convinced that there is an unnatural force at work, perverting the innocence of her charges, she sets out to secure the children's salvation by wresting them from its power. Though her struggle reaches a resolution, its real nature and its outcome ultimately remain ambiguous.

THE OTHER-In the summer of 1935, 9-year-old twins Niles and Holland Perry live with their family on a Connecticut farm. Their loving grandmother Ada has taught them something called "the game." A number of accidents begin happening, and it seems to Niles that Holland is responsible. It is Ada who begins to see the truth, and she is the only one who can stop this macabre game of murder.

THE SIXTH SENSE-Malcom Crowe is a child psychologist who receives an award on the same night that he is visited by a very unhappy ex-patient. After this encounter, Crowe takes on the task of curing a young boy with the same ills as the ex-patient. This boy "sees dead people". Crowe spends a lot of time with the boy (Cole) much to the dismay of his wife. Cole's mom is at her wit's end with what to do about her son's increasing problems. Crowe is the boy's only hope.

AUDREY ROSE-A New York couple experience bizarre, stalker-like behavior from an English stranger. While they attempt to bar him from their lives, he slides his way in anyway and tries to convince them that their 11-year-old girl is the reincarnation of his 11-years-departed daughter, Audrey Rose.

CARRIE-Carrie White is a shy young girl who doesn't make friends easily. After her class mates taunt her about her horrified reaction to her totally unexpected first period one of them takes pity on her and gets Tommy Ross, her boyfriend and class hunk to invite Carrie to the senior prom. Meanwhile another girl who has been banned from the prom for her continued aggressive behaviour is not as forgiving and plans a trick to embarrass Carrie in front of the whole school. What she doesn't realise is that Carrie is ... gifted, and you really don't want to get her angry.

DRESSED TO KILL- Psychotic transsexual Bobbi murders the patient of a prominent doctor and then pursues the high-priced prostitute named Liz who caught a glimpse of Bobbi in the elevator. Liz comes under suspicion of the crime and teams up with the patient's son to catch the killer.

THE RING-A mysterious video tape is killing off anyone who watches it. Whenever the victim watches it, the phone rings, telling them they have only one week to live. A young reporter named Rachel is investigating these events, but after she and her small son watch the tape, it becomes a race against time to find out why the tape is killing everyone and how it could be stopped.

So, what are some of your favorite scary movies?


Monday, October 22, 2007

Mind Your Business

I hope to hear from my editor soon regarding the proposal for the second book in my Fire trilogy. The first book of the trilogy, On Fire, is available now. The second book, tentatively titled Through the Fire, brings back two of the characters readers meet in On Fire.

Because of the anticipated call from my editor, contractual terms have been in the forefront of my mind. Each contract should help advance an author's career. That's why, in addition to studying the craft of writing, we owe it to ourselves to learn the business of writing.

Contracts are more than advances and royalties. There are subsidiary, reprint and film rights, for example. There are payment terms and copyright ownership.

I read an anecdote about an editor who'd offered a judge a publishing contract. This editor waited with nervous anticipation regarding changes the judge would demand. After all, the author was a judge. Surely, he would have changes to the legal terminology. Instead, the judge signed the contract and sent it back with a Post-It Note stating he hadn't even read the contract.

What a shame.

Even if you have the best representation in the industry, it's important to understand the terms of your contract. After all, it's your signature on the contract. You'll feel the influence of that contract on your career for years. Make sure it's a positive influence.


Thursday, October 18, 2007



For those of you who’ve just joined us, this is a blog for anyone who has been putting off writing that book! You know the one I’m talking about, the one you’ve been telling your friends and family that you’ve got to write, that’s been eating away at you, that you think about whenever you’re not doing the million other things that you’ve just GOT to do. Well, as they say there’s no time like the present; so, think of this as your own personal blog coach---you CAN write that book (try saying that a hundred times). Over the next few weeks, I’ll be giving you some thoughts on how one writer (namely me) got started, got finished and ultimately after much trial and tribulation, got it published (and actually received some critical acclaim). So now it’s your turn!

Last week we talked about getting that BIG IDEA, the one that will propel your book forward. This week we’ll talk about the next step: Getting Started. I’ve subtitled this week “Blowing out the Cobwebs!” because from a figurative perspective, that’s often what getting started entails. Blowing out the mental blocks and cobwebs that have hindered you in the past from taking that first step, writing that first sentence and slowly but inexorably getting drawn into your own story. Because, ultimately, not getting started once you’ve latched on to your BIG IDEA is almost like that famous Langston Hughes poem “A Dream Deferred.” I won’t recite the entire poem (because I can’t remember it right now!) but the gist of it is What happens to a dream deferred….” He writes: Is a dream deferred like a “Raisin in the sun….or…. does it explode?” I would say that if you’ve done the mental work to come up with the BIG IDEA and you don’t take it all the way to fruition, it is like that dream deferred. And I know that no one wants any more internal combustion then you probably already have! So let’s get started.

In writing the book there are two equally important tent poles: Character and Plot. If you have a novel with great characters but no plot, it’s ultimately not going to go anywhere and in today’s fast food, immediate gratification world you’re probably not going to get too many people to hang with you until the end. Conversely, if you have a great plot but poorly developed characters, you’ll leave your readers unsatisfied because they will not feel a connection to the people in the story. So the moral is that you’ve got to have both. Then the question is how do you start developing character and plot. Let’s begin with characters.

The first thing that you want to do is to define your main characters. I’d suggest writing a half a page to one page on each of your main characters. The page should contain as much information on them as you can create, obviously their name, where they’re from, the major conflict in their life, their goals, their frustrations, their relationships, as much on their “back story” as possible, where they grew up, any trauma early in life, their relationship with parents, siblings, best friends. In short you’ve got to create their world and if you discipline yourself to describe your characters in a page or less, you’ll have more to draw upon when you start writing. One caveat, I found that as I wrote I came up with characters that I hadn’t initially contemplated or in some cases, the back story changed with my original main characters. That will happen because more than anything the process of writing is organic and does change as you write more, but defining the your main characters and their major conflict is critical in making sure that they are coherent in their actions and reactions throughout the story.

Once you’ve written the page about each of your main characters and you feel as if you know these people, then you want to write a general outline of the beats of the story. I do have a disclaimer; some writers don’t write outlines; they don’t write character descriptions; they just sit down and write. And that can work too, but I’ve found that if you’re having difficulty starting, it sometimes helps to put your toe in the water before you jump in, and a good solid outline with character descriptions is the proverbial “toe in the water” that gets you used to the temperature so that when you do jump in it’s a good experience.

With that in mind, I’d suggest that you write a very general outline of the beats of the story. I’m going back to screenwriting terminology for a minute where generally you’ll write down the beats (ie the main plot points) in each of the three acts, focusing on what are called the “turning points” at the end of each act which move the action forward until the climax and conclusion. Although there’s no required three act structure in a novel, you’ll still want to think about the major things that happen in your book. What is the set-up, ie. what starts the action of the book. If it’s a murder mystery, is it the crime being committed, is it the detective getting a call that they’ve been assigned to a case? There has to be something which starts the action. That something is called the set-up. Although in a novel there’s no page by which the set-up must begin (as in a screenplay where the set-up has to happen within a defined page limit), you still want to make sure that your setup occurs at least within the first twenty pages. Otherwise it’s going to be difficult to keep your audience. It also disciplines you because once you have your setup, something’s got to happen as a result of the setup and that will take you to your next major plot point.

What I’ve found in writing the beats of the story is that I go from very general to more specific. In other words, my first outline may only be a page. I’ll have the set-up, then the next major action point that occurs as result of the set-up and then every major plot point until the climax and conclusion. Once I have the very general outline, I’ll start getting more specific, filling in additional characters and subplots. Generally you’ll have what’s called the “A” story which is the main plot. As an example, an outline for the “A” story might look like this: (1): Setup: A body is found in a dry riverbed, (2) the Detective is assigned to the case, (3) He follows the trail of suspects and is convinced it’s the business partner (4) He has amassed all of the evidence against the business partner (5) He’s about to arrest the partner and charge him with the crime and the partner is found dead (6) There’s a ticking clock and the detective must solve the case or something else is triggered (7) In a bizarre twist he realizes that the person he least suspected is in fact the killer (8) the Climax where he confronts the killer (9) Resolution: the crime is solved.

This is of course very general, and the next step would be take each of those nine beats and flesh them out more. For instance, what is the trail of suspects, how does he find them, who are they? The “B” story (or subplot) will generally be a combination of fleshing out more back story on the main character or characters, or parallel action occurring that ultimately ties in with the main story. The key with subplots is that they have to tie into the main plot otherwise they’re like dangling participles (remember from high school English) and they are just a distraction.

Now you should have the first building blocks of your novel: the main character descriptions and at least a general outline of your story. A final word about outlines: you can continue making them more and more detailed until finally you have an outline that’s as long as a book. I would suggest that once you have an outline that sets out the major beats of the story, the major subplots, if any, and reasonably fleshes out the major plot points, you should start writing. Otherwise, you risk spending so much time outlining and re-outlining that it becomes just another impediment to actually writing the book. The outline is the tool, not the end in itself. Generally an outline of 5-10 pages is more than sufficient and at that point, you’re ready to start writing. PAGE ONE: You’ve started!

Next week, we’ll talk about Point of View and Putting yourself on a Schedule. In the meantime, for more information on my novel A DEAD MAN SPEAKS check out my website at or if you’d like to contact me I can be reached at

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Authors in the News

Lots of interesting articles in the news lately about authors. Check them out.

Bestselling Author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez was dismayed by the backlash on some black websites and blogs over the news that producer Deborah Martin Chase is turning her best-selling novel The Dirty Girls Social Club into a movie. You can read Valdes-Rodriguez's response to the backlash here.

Former porn star turned "author" Heather Hunter is being accused of plagiarism by author Dianne Miller who claims Hunter and coauthor Michelle Valentine lifted entire passages from her unpublished novel Insatiable Desires for Hunter's book Insatiable: The Rise of a Porn Star. This should get interesting. Read more about Miller's claims here.

Say it isn't so! Walter Mosley talks to Publishers weekly about the release of his 10th, and quite possibly, last Easy Rawlins novel, Blonde Faith : (.

You know you've arrived when when a publishing company gives you your own imprint, which is what's happened to bestselling author Karen Hunter.

Got book or author news to share? Let the Crime Sistahs know!


Monday, October 15, 2007

Know your competition

Authors aren't in competition with each other. Think about it. I know several readers who can finish a 400-page book in a weekend. And what do these readers do once they've finished such a book? They start another one. Unless they've just "discovered" you, and you have an enormous backlist, as an author you're not going to be able to satisfy these readers on your own.

Take J.K. Rowling. Readers were finishing each Harry Potter book in a week. But Rowling published one Potter book a year. Where did her readers go in between her books? To other fantasy releases. Or to other genres. I read romance, mystery, non-fiction, fantasy. And then I returned to Harry in the summer. It was a comfortable arrangement.

So, who are our competitors? Other forms of entertainment. Television programs, movies, computer games, Play Station, the Internet. Angela Henry, Gammy Singer, Pamela Samuels-Young and Lisa Jones Johnson aren't my competition. Halley Berry, Denzel Washington, Reese Witherspoon and George Clooney - to name a few - are. We're competing for attention and disposable income. By the way, according to a study published earlier this year, they're winning.

Have you ever been to a book signing in which another author treated the event like a competitive sport, trying to see who could sell the most books? If you get swept up in that attitude, you could end up feeling like a used car salesperson. Not a good feeling. Conversely, I've participated in several multi-author book signings in which the authors worked to cross promote each other. Those events are wonderful, and the authors get it.

The next time another author/aspiring author asks you for your insight on the business or craft of writing, remember she or he is not your competition. We're in this together and, when you take the time to make one of us stronger, you make all of us stronger.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A New Crime Sistah in the House!

Author Lisa Jones Johnson has joined the Crime Sistahs Blog! Look for her posts each week on Thursdays. Please join us in welcoming Lisa to the blog! Here is Lisa's first post.



When the Crime Sistahs asked me if I’d like to do a weekly blog for their site, I was very flattered. Their site was well done, interesting and seemed to have a large and loyal following. So my first thought was of course to say, Yes! Then I realized that I didn’t have a clue what I would blog about. Probably because in my mind bloggers are wannabee journalists on their own personal soapboxes who really want to be on CNN. (Now if you’re one of those bloggers, please accept my apology, I’m sure this is a gross exaggeration, but it sounds good!).

But getting back to Crime Sistahs, and my blog. I decided that since this was a site by, about, and for writers, why not write about the process of writing, and specifically getting that book that’s in YOU published. Since my novel, A DEAD MAN SPEAKS was published last year, I’ve gone around the country doing book signings, book clubs and other speaking engagements. I’m always struck by the similarity of the questions that I’m asked, seemingly regardless of the location or the demographics of the audience. Black, white, male, female, all ages, the top questions are always: how did you decide to write your book and what was your writing process? And that’s how I decided to write a blog that would at least for the first few installments be about that process.

Since this is technically Week One of the Blog, let’s start at the beginning. When people asked me how I started to write my book, I think of that moment when I knew that I had the idea for a book. I’d been a screenwriter and so was used to coming up with story ideas, but this was different, at the moment that I had the idea, it was as if I saw the entire novel in front of me. I was passionate about the idea, excited and couldn’t stop writing down scenes. At this point, I should probably explain that since I’d been a screenwriter, I ultimately see chapters as “scenes” even though I’d be the first to admit that the process and manner of writing screen plays and novels are fundamentally different. (But that’s the subject of separate installment which will come later).

But suffice it to say, that the first thing that you need to have for the book is the BIG IDEA. And not just a general, vague idea of something. It needs to be an idea that you are totally consumed with, characters that come alive in your mind, where you hear their dialogue, see where they live, die, play, or whatever and in short are so consumed with, that you have no choice, but to write your book. Now, that may seem like a “tall order.” However, the reality is that since writing is truly re-writing (someone else said that, but I agree), if you’re not completely captivated by your IDEA, your characters and their lives, you probably won’t have the mental staying power to do the endless re-writes that face you once you finish the first draft. (After you mistakenly think that you’re done!) I call it the “Jaws” theory of writing. As in the movie, just when you thought it was safe to go in the water…..well you know the rest. The same with writing, just when you thought you were done, here comes another re-write. Ultimately, the re-writing is the writing, it’s just not obvious when you start.

So then the question may be, well how do you come up with that BIG IDEA. I can only speak from my personal experience because everyone has a different path, but in my case I had identified the genre for my novel. I had written screenplays that were murder mysteries and I liked that format. Probably because I’m a lawyer, and like most lawyers liked the rules, the minutiae and attention to detail, in short, kind of like briefing a case. I also knew that I wanted my book to have a theme that was spiritual in nature and about something bigger than the crime. The “Aha” moment for me came when I read an article in the LA Times that quoted a famous detective who had said that anytime crimes weren’t solved, the lives of the victims are restless, they remain with us. That sparked my imagination and literally, the entire story unfolded in my head.

When I’ve heard other writers talk about their process, people have discussed everything from being inspired by something that happened in their own lives or someone they knew, to stories drawn from a personal interest in a particular historical period, either real or imagined. I should probably stop here and talk for a moment about non-fiction, which I’ve written, but primarily as articles. The process, however, is still the same. You still have to come up with the BIG IDEA. The major difference is that generally it can’t be a random idea that interests you, such as Oh, I think I’d like to write a non-fiction book about the war in Iraq. I may be interested in that, but since (a) I’ve never been to Iraq (b) I’ve never studied about that, and (c) I have no other expertise in that area, it’s highly unlikely that I’d ever get that book published. For non-fiction, generally, you must demonstrate that you are an expert in whatever you’re writing about (even if that includes your own life as a dysfunctional celebrity).

You then do a book proposal where among other things you discuss in detail your expertise and why you are the person to write that book. The key is to figure out if there is anything that you could credibly call yourself an expert on and something that you’re also passionate about. Because in the end, passion is what counts. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, you’ve got to believe in your idea enough to create something that someone else wants to read. So to summarize, start out by identifying clearly your BIG IDEA. Then the process begins. Next week we’ll talk about how to take the BIG IDEA to the next step: STARTING TO WRITE.

For more information on Lisa Jones Johnson or her book A DEAD MAN SPEAKS check out or email her at

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