Hi de ho de, friends! I'm at the Moonlight and Magnolias conference in Georgia, having a terrific time and meeting so many nice folks!
I sent out a speaker's poll to the people attending my class, and this one particular question had so many responses that were too involved to answer in a quick way in the class. So I decided to answer them in long-form. Here we go!:
The question I posed: What's one question you wish you could ask a seasoned author, that might make your writing journey smoother/more successful?
My answer: When I started out, I wish I had known WRITE TO TROPE. Querying/marketing is easier when you have a trope already selected. Only took me like 15 years to figure this one out...
When to get an agent? This is a great question, and I can only give you my own experience on this one. I don't think there's a set time. That said, if you have a relatively mainstream, hooky manuscript that's polished and you wish to go a traditional route for publishing, then yes that's a good time to get an agent. That's fiction only. I think there's a whole different level of criteria for non-fiction, the market for which I'm not an expert. The next question is CAN you get an agent, and there are so many ways to set yourself up for success there (good product is #1, understanding of basic social media presence and what would be required for your part in marketing a book, having written/published other books might be helpful too if you've had success there). If you want to see just how long it took me to get an agent (it's pretty ridiculous, really), then check out this post HERE.
How do you know your dialogue is interesting and not boring? Read it out loud to yourself. Cut the parts that aren't required to push the scene forward. Give it to a critique partner/group or have a developmental editor look over the scene for the flow of dialogue. At some point, you'll develop an "ear" for cutting the fluff and hearing the tightness of the dialogue.
How do you manage your time? Are you talking to me? HAHAHAHAHAHA....>pauses to breathe, hands on knees<... hahahahahaha.. OMG, I needed that one. Check out posts HERE and HERE and HERE. Short answer is, I don't always manage that time because my Day Job can be rough. It's like the Whitney Houston song: "It's not right, but it's okay. I'm going to make it anyway."
How important is professional editing before submission? In my opinion, until you are a seasoned author and can objectively evaluate and correct your work, I would recommend getting solid review before submitting the manuscript. If you think for sure your book is THE ONE, consider investing in a developmental edit, where the amazing editor finds holes you never realized existed or tics/patterns that you didn't realize you made. They help make the story stronger and more polished. If you can't afford an editor, then get a TRUSTED and seasoned critique partner to work with. Other options include using Before You Hit Send by Angela James which I'm told is a worthwhile course, or many other self-editing books out there. (I have zero affiliation with Angela James who I'm told is a very nice person. If she wanted to provide me kickback money for promoting her course, that'd be swell...)
When did you start making actual money? HAHAHAHAHAHA...>pauses to breathe, hands on knees<... hahahahaha... You all are very funny. My Day Job 100% subsidizes my writing job. Okay not 100% anymore, but most of it. My goal this year is to simply make as much money as I spend on memberships/supplies/courses/marketing/advertising. With teaching classes, that does help my income a little bit, and truthfully my most recent books are starting to move and groove some, so fingers crossed for 2023 to be a break even and 2024 to come out a smidge ahead. But in layman's terms, what I made in writing would not pay for a studio apartment in any mid-sized city, or cover groceries for the month. But you know what it does cover? A metric ton of new books!!!
Having a schedule -- Is this a question or are you passing judgement? I think I'm being judged. You're not wrong, just phew. That's bold. Ask me about my writing schedule when I go on Day Job sabbatical in the spring for 4-6 months. I plan to have a writing schedule then. Right now, it's mostly writing in small spurts or racing the cervix. (Pomodoro versus dilation is actually a good way to get words on page, please don't tell my patients.)
What is the acceptable or common length for a romance novel? Varies depending on which line and publisher you are targeting. In general, I'd advise not to exceed 100K words and not to go under 50K words, and pretty much anything else will fit somewhere in the market. You'll want to go to the publishing house sites to really understand what length your genre generally comes in at. Then write to about that length and when you send it to the agent, they'll see that it's "in the box." And there are always exceptions, but let me say that those exceptions are just that -- exceptional. They either have been around long enough to break all the rules (thanks for head hopping, Nora) or they can write their genre at whatever book length they damn well please (a-la Sarah Maas). Right now, our manuscript has to fit in a fairly standard size, at least if we're going the trad route for publishing.
What makes your query letter really stand out? On mine, it was probably the sheer volume/tenacity/desperation/foolishness of how many times I sent that sucker out. However, here's some actual info that could help you HERE. I think I read somewhere that romance query letters should be 300 words or less. That said, my query which was successful came in just over 500 words. I could have done it for about 100 less. It worked, and that's all I care.
Where to connect with readers to build readership. Whoever said that newsletters are gold wasn't wrong. Start there, even if you're a noob. Just get the newsletter signup link on your website and social media bio. Even if you're only sending it to 5 people once every 1-2 months, get in practice of chatting with them and building your persona/brand. Every book signing you attend as an author, bring the newsletter signup sheet or have a QR code on something where folks can just scan it. Attend reader events if you are able. You can attend as a reader or a writer, and still make nice connections. Social media, sure, but it seems that most SM is more authors talking with authors. And Facebook is so hit or miss on whether folks see any given post, it's probably only through a reader's group that you'd be able to talk with readers. Again, that's not gaining readers, it's chatting with pre-existing ones. At some point, word of mouth and some Amazon/BookBub ads are super helpful as well. HEY SIGN UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER HERE, HIT THAT SUBSCRIBE BUTTON!
Where do you come up with story ideas? My very first book was when I had a random idea in my thinking box (aka "shower") after I had shown up in labor and delivery late one night at random and the nurses looked at me like I'd lost my mind. Then within 5 minutes all everloving hell broke loose, and they thought I was magic. Over the years, I seem to have a 6th sense about medical things. I'm not special, just experienced. But my first book idea came from the idea of what if a doctor could tell if someone was going to live or die just by touching them? (That book also asked the question of: What if someone truly sold their soul to the Devil and was trapped in a centuries-long contract but wanted to break the contract. Anyway. It was super fun to write!) My paranormal western (psychic cowboys) ideas are HERE. And my latest military romantic suspense series idea happened when I moved into a new house and there was this bench thing in the walk-in closet and it opened to a storage space underneath, and of course my brain said: hey, what if that hid a trap door to an escape route instead? Thus became FALLEN COMRADE and the PROJECT MORPHEUS series. Here are the "lost" 2 chapters that explain the closet escape route concept.
Thanks for everyone's amazing questions. I hope I answered everything in a way that helps out authors starting their careers! As always: Happy reading!
Author, daydreamer, and practitioner of trying very hard to duct tape folks together and help when I can.
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