Sunday, January 31, 2010

How to improve your odds of getting published. Part II

As writers we can talk about craft, sentence structure, word choice and even title choice. But to readers the most important question is, do I care about the main character? Do I care enough to invest time going on this journey with them?
If you can make the reader care about your character and want- no need- to read more, then you have a story that will sell. All the craft and editing can be fixed, but if no one cares for your main character all the good craft and solid writing in the world can't fix it.
How do you create characters people care about? Make them as real as possible. Give them hopes and dreams readers can identify with. Give them flaws and talents. Readers want to identify with the main character. They want to see the best of themselves in this person. They don't want to read about someone who seems to stupidly walk into conflict. They want someone who is doing their best and still running into problems. They, also, don't want to read about someone so perfect that they can't ever be in their shoes.
Authenticity is important-but not so important that today's readers can't identify with the character. For example: if you wrote a truly authentic sixteenth century story, most readers would struggle with language and social/cultural differences. So you have to find commonalities between a sixteenth century lord and today's readers. How do you do that? I'm certain that people in the sixteenth century cared as much for their family and friends as we do. They gossiped. They worried about budgets and who left the candles burning in an empty room. They worried about who is stabbing them in the back and how they could be successful, and where they have failed. It is the sameness in those worries that draws the reader in and the differences that keeps the reader wanting more.
If your main character is a homicide detective give him strengths, ie. the ability to break cases and then weaknesses. Perhaps he can't communicate well with others. Or he has a sick mother he cares for, or his friends hound him because he doesn't always remember to change his clothes. Think about iconic characters such as Colombo or Monk- it is their little oddities that make them three dimensional and attractive to readers.
So, improving your odds of getting published boils down to a few things: knowing your readership; surprising them while meeting their expectations; giving them characters that are three dimensional and authentic. Good luck!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

How to improve your odds of getting published. Part I

There are decisions that you as the author of a work can make that will improve your odds of getting that work published. (I'm not going to tell you it will get you published. Publishing is far too subjective. But here are some things you can think about when choosing which story to write next or when revising the story you're working on now.)

1) Think about who your reader is and make sure you appeal to them specifically. Start with your title. I chose to title this blog "How to improve your odds of getting published" because it appeals to the core readers of this blog--writers. It is meant to interest my current readers and draw in new readers who are looking for writing how-to articles. The title of your book/work should reflect your knowledge of what your genre is and who your reader is and what you know they are looking for. If you don't know who your reader is, stop everything. Do some research. How? Go to the library/bookstore/online forums. Look for books like yours. Where does your book fit in your genre? Which books/authors are most like your work or the work you are thinking about writing. Look at the titles. What do they say to the audience? Read their reader reviews. Listen in to book club discussions. Do a little digging and find out what readers are saying about books like yours.
Once you have a title and some knowledge of what readers of your type of book are looking for, take a hard look at your work.
2) Does the work follow reader expectations?
Reader expectations can be a fine line. A plot or story line must be fresh (not over done) and yet meet what the reader wants/expects from a book of this type.
How do you do this? First and foremost weed out cliches. How do you know it's a cliche? When a reader who does not read the genre knows what is coming next, then you've fallen into the realm of cliche. Example: if two guys who don't read romance know that that guy the heroine just attacked is going to turn out to be her new boss or coworker or love interest, then you've stepped into a cliche. If you can't identify a cliche on your own or you are uncertain, wrangle your own non-genre readers into looking at the work and ask them if they know what is going to happen next. If they do, then you need to change the work.
It is important to surprise your reader while giving them what they expect from the genre. Example: You can't have a romance where the dog and the hero die in the end. Romance readers will never read you again if you don't provide them with a happily-ever-after ending. It's what they read romance for. It's a fine line, I know, but being able to straddle it will improve you chances of getting published.
Let me repeat that: It is important to surprise your reader while giving them what they expect from the genre.
How do you do that? Know your genre. Know your reader. How do you do that? Read as much as possible and discuss with anyone who will talk to you about books (There are a lot of people out there.) Use trial and error and hard work. Trust me a few months investing in reading and discussing and research will vastly improve your chances of getting your book published.
Good luck! Next week- Part II

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Master's degree program

Last week I posted about being at the residency for my Master's degree program and I was asked for more details. So, I thought I'd share a bit about the program and why I chose it.
I've been job hunting along with ten percent of the population that is unemployed. Its tough out there. I asked myself, what is it that I really love to do? The answer was write novels, of course, and discuss novels and novel writing. I enjoy giving seminars and workshops. I get a nice little buzz talking about books. Knowing this, I could be a bookseller or I could teach. What I've always wanted to do for a day job is teach at the community college level. To do that I had to have a Master's degree.

So I spent some time doing research. There are many wonderful MA and MFA programs out there for writers and educators. I made a long list and did a pro and con for each. In the end, I thought it a no-brainer to get a Masters degree in what I do--writing popular fiction. Seton Hill University offers a workable on-line/residency program that fit into my schedule. Each year there are two, one-week intensive residency's where you spend close to 12 hours a day immersed in genre seminars, guest speakers and in depth critiques on campus. The rest of the program includes on-line classes in genre reading and teaching. There are weekly discussion boards, monthly chats and, of course, the Master's thesis which is a completed, polished work in your chosen genre. This worked best for me because when I do get a day job, I can continue with the program using my two weeks vacation for the residencies.
I signed up.
My second semester in the program started with last week's intensive residency. I've found that the more you know, the more you realize how much there still is to learn about writing, craft and genre. I bring home pages of notes and new friends. And maybe in the end, I'll get that dream day job where I get to talk about popular fiction, the craft of writing and story. Wouldn't that be fabulous? Cheers~

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I am in PA for my second residency for Seton Hill University's Master's in Writing Popular fiction. I am currently blurry eyed and wishing I could stream line coffee straight into my veins. There is not a whole lot of coherent thought in me and I've got to get to class. So I thought a picture is worth a thousand words. Here are a couple of pictures.

I'll be here all week. They say that what doesn't kill us only makes us stronger. I think they should be shot. *big grin* Don't get me wrong, its all a great adventure. Plus I'm not alone. I'm here with a fabulous group of writers and professors- all blurry-eyed and strung out on coffee. Isn't learning fun? Have a great week.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


There's a quote going around the internet by the writer Stephen King which states in essence as a writer you should be reading two pages for every one you write. Or some such thing as I'm drawing it from memory and when I researched it, couldn't find it. (Quotes on the internet are elusive things that appear and disappear like wisps of smoke. You never truly know if they are real, but the essence sticks with you because you thought it was cool.) I'm sure someone will correct me.
The point being that most writers begin as readers. As children we consume books like candy. I, like many other book lovers, wanted to read every book in the library. I wanted to explore every story, to live lives imagined and real. When I first started writing, I was reading up to six books a week. I couldn't get enough and I think that is one of the things that pushed me into writing my own.
But lately I've found myself reading less and less. For a couple of reasons, the first being that when I have spare time, I want to spend it writing. The next being that after fifteen years in the business, I find myself more and more discriminant in what I read. I think, as I've said before, I know too much about the book business and emotions, rejections, unrealistic expectations cloud my reading experience. But I've found the less I read, the more my writing suffers. Funny, that, but reading is important to writing.
So, my resolution for this year is to rediscover reading with abandon. I have to read for my Master's program, but my goal is to read more than that. My goal is to read all the books on my shelf, to read as many debut novels as possible, to read in as many genre's as possible. In essence, my one resolution this year is to read in hopes of finding the lost joy, the lost wonder and bring it back into my life. I hope you'll join me. My ninth book, and second romantic suspense, DREAM MAN is out this week. You could start with that. :)
Here's to reading, may it bring joy to your life. Cheers!