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

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