Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What I know about queries I learned from cover letters

I've spent the past two weeks reviewing resumes and reading cover letters. 159 of them, to be exact. This is not a process I enjoy. I don't like categorizing people. I worry that someone I'm putting in my "eh, maybe" pile should really be in my, "hmm, interested" pile. I'm constantly moving people back and forth between piles. Then I feel guilty so I move them back where they were originally. Then I worry that I'm biased toward someone because I knew someone with the same name who was terrible and . . . .you get the idea.

It's a never ending loop of second-guessing myself (much like writing itself, ironically).

Back when I was actively querying, I read a lot of agents blogs who talked candidly about the process. I noticed a surprising number of similarities between the experience I had scanning cover letters and looking for applicants to interview, and the experience agents have scanning query letters and looking for pages to request.

Based on all the cover letters I read, here's the tips I came up with. What do you think - do they apply to query letters as well?
  • The best first way to get my attention was with professional documents and communication. I was floored by how many resumes I got that were just lists with no formatting. How many cover letters I got that were just paragraphs typed into Word - not even in general letter format with a salutation and sign-off. Most weren't this bad, but a lot were full of errors. The cover letter addressed to the wrong organization, a word used wrong, and overly snarky tone, etc, etc. So when one popped up that was clean and easy to read, that followed all the (very) basic formatting rules, that was professional, it was like a breath of fresh air. I took notice, and I looked closer. 
  • Watch out for the pictures in gmail. If you use gmail, and you have your picture attached (or your pic is attached to your Google account), and you send an email to me, your picture is what I see first. If it's a professional head-shot, that can be a great thing. If it's you drunk at a club with your friends, not so much. Not only is that true for any email address ending in, of course, but tons of email programs are run through gmail now, with their own custom domain. Mine's one of them.
  • Be careful how personal you get.  I want to know things about you -- I want to know a lot of things about you. But the number one thing is, can you do the job?  Prove that first, and then give me the basics about you, but only as they relate to this job. Tell me you're detail-oriented and punctual. Don't tell me you love Disney movies, and over-achieved in high school. Tell me you have a working knowledge of SPSS. Don't tell me about all the wine you drink, or that you got stomped on by an Elephant while on a semester abroad in Thailand.
  • Don't give me a website where I can find more information about you. I was surprised that this one bothered me. I have no problem with persona websites, and no issue with the ones listed with the other contact information on the resume. I did have a problem with cover letters that directed me to go to such and such website for information on the applicant. I'd rather you just give me the information up-front than send me on a fact-finding mission.
  • Write well, write well, write well. The applicants who got the most attention were the ones who wrote the best letters. I skim - everyone does. But if you're writing is excellent, my eyes will stop skimming and focus in on the words. I'll get a better sense of who you are and what skills you bring to the table. You'll hold my attention longer. I'll remember your name better.
  • Of course, even if you sent me a cover letter that was professionally formatted, free of drunken pictures and TMI, that gave me all the info I needed in one clean, organized place, and somehow made the whole thing sing, you still have to be able to do the job. And for writers, of course, that means you still have to be querying a kick-ass story. 
What do you think pirates? Would you follow these tips when sending a cover letters? How about a query? Do you think there's more room for creativity in query letters? Have you had success by doing the opposite of any of these? What other tips would you include for writings doing either a query or a cover letter?
Tuesday, January 29, 2013

One Good Pirate Deserves a Novel

Okay, my good little pirates, are you listening? Go buy this book: Sarah Maclean's ONE GOOD EARL DESERVES A LOVER. I'm including the link so you can go immediately and bypass my gushing because I know how nauseating it can be for me to go on and on about the brilliance of a novel.

But this one is pretty damned brilliant.

This easily has the most fascinating heroine I have ever read. I love her. She's adorable. She's such a little nerd who can name every bone in her body--and she's the utter "straight man" of delivering dialogue. She will say something, perfectly in earnest, and you will howl when you read it, fall off the bed, scare the dogs, and keep laughing. Then you'll stay up until 3 a.m. still reading the book. Even if you don't do that sort of thing. You won't be able to help yourself.

Because Lady Phillippa Marbury is odd. In the best and most entertaining ways.

She is going to marry in a couple weeks, but being the devoted scientist she is, she wants to research FUN. Basically all the things that won't happen after she is married because she knows her fiance is a sweet and simple guy. Very basic. And she thinks of him at best as a friend. But what she wants to know about is ruination, specifically coitus. So she has sought out London's best expert, Cross, who is one of the partners of a famous gaming hell, The Fallen Angel. He's positively famous for his...coitus.

Cross, of course, wishes she would stop saying that word. He also wishes that his clothes were a bit more cooperative about pulling themselves on his body when he discovers a proper lady in his room, correcting his ledgers and asking about coitus. He also wishes she would leave and never, ever return. But you know what? You don't always get what you wish for. For Cross, his life will never ever be the same since Pippa stepped foot in it. Ah, love.

And I've only described the book to page 13. It just gets better (or worse, if you're the characters) from there. I had absolutely no idea how these two characters were going to end up together, but I knew it was imperative they did so. They needed each other. And these characters try to screw it up right up until the last few desperate pages. It's a nail biter. Even though it's a ROMANCE and the very definition requires these two row together at the end.

But for a bit you do wonder. The hero does his best to screw this up.

It was pretty magical. I loved the sexual tension and the chemistry between the characters; I loved how well-drawn the characters were; and I *ADORED* Pippa. She was adorable. And smart and witty and sweet--and so worth reading about her happy ending.

So go get the book. Ensure that Ms. Maclean is going to continue to write brilliant, lovely, touching (and sexy!) books for many years to come.

What are you reading this week? Or what are you most looking forward to reading this year?
Monday, January 28, 2013

The Problem with Labels

I’m a full-time member and a part-time President (because I’m so busy) of the Procrastinator’s Club. As a member, it is difficult for me to actually pinpoint when I’m truly working. Being the ancestor of Scots, I tend to have a very narrow definition of “hard work” when it comes to my writing. I know I’ve been working hard on my manuscript by the following:

  1. I wrote 20 pages in a 4 hour period
  2.  I began the book and finished it in the same session. 
  3.  I revised the whole book in one sitting

Being none of these actually ever happen in a writing session for me, it’s clear I never consider myself as working hard on my manuscript. I could have always been doing more…better and faster and with less complaint. If I didn’t bleed to death all over the page or worse, if I had fun, I was not working. In fact here is a short list of things I believe if you’re doing, you’re not working hard at actually writing.

  1.  Staring into space
  2. Reading a book
  3. Pre-writing a scene
  4. Making a list of possible scenes, character goals, et al, in order to help you think what should be coming next in your book
  5. Storyboarding
  6. Talking about your book with CPs or random strangers who stupidly stopped long enough to ask you if something was wrong
  7. Taking up another hobby: quilting, beading, crocheting, drawing, painting, baking—if I’m listing them, I have done them
  8. Reading craft books—this is deceptive because it’s not a fun book, but a work book
  9. Napping (or if you’re one of those writers: exercising)
  10. Deleting the last ten pages of your manuscript because you realize it’s all wrong

Writers are uber-critical of their efforts. This is not news. And it’s also not news that constantly criticizing our efforts only sends us into a death spiral of continually not working on our projects, because after all, what is the point. You’re never going to finish it; and even if you did, no one will want it.

I’m not sure if it’s our perverse natures trying to keep our hopes from being too inflated—that if we “keep it real” we won’t be disappointed if it comes true. There is true irony in this. For one, even when we’re keeping it real, we’re using the word “IF” instead of “when”; and for two, you’ll be disappointed either way, so what are you actually preventing? Nothing. You’re just giving yourself an ulcer and more reasons not to get out of bed in the morning.

We already have enough stress in our lives to allow our writing to become something even more to stress about, especially when we’re giving false labels to what actually constitutes success, hard work, or legitimate reason for praise. Life is hard enough without labeling yourself with narrow definitions for, well, everything. And if you’re narrowly labeling your efforts in writing and creativity, it’s a 100% likely you’re narrowly labeling other things in your life: your love life, your worth as a person; your efforts to be healthy and happy; your place in the world, etc, etc, etc.

That shit needs to stop.

So this week, I’m going to work on broadening my labels for what constitutes working on my story and also having more compassion for myself in all things. We could all use more kindness: with ourselves, our loved ones, our writings in progress, and life in general.

What is one of the things you need to stop right now? And what is something you will do this week to be kinder to yourself (or your writing)?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Drinking at Disney - The Pirate Way!

I'm back from a 17 person family vacation!  Woo hoo!  Sure, it was hard leaving the 80 degrees of Orlando for the -14 degrees of Illinois - but I have to admit that I'm happy to be back.
On the plane on the way down south, I was thinking - what would the Pirates do at Disney?  Drink of course!  And that's what I did.  I share with you now, my drinking adventures!
To begin with, our hotel, Shades of Green, had a deal where you bought a draft of Paulander Beer, and kept the glass, for $1 off all refills.  I used it liberally throughout the week, naturalmente - even though my doctor doesn't want me drinking beer (shhhh...don't tell her).  Tom was sad they didn’t have the same deal for scotch.

With my cousin, Stacey, drinking Lost on Safaris at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom.  Lots of lovely rum!

2nd or maybe 3rd Lost on Safari at Tusker House with nice man who paid for it.  An hour later, I had a Tusker Ale (doctor be damned!) with lunch.                                      
Best milkshake ever!  With my niece, Emily, and Marsha’s Milkshake – a chocolate shake with a generous dose of Bailey’s and Kahlua – at the Sci Fi Drive-In in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  They even had light up ice cubes and real whipped cream on top!

Sadly, no alcohol is allowed in the Magic Kingdom (I really must write a letter...after all, they have the Pirates of the Caribbean ride there).  This is the closest thing, LeFou’s Brew at Gaston’s Pub in the new Fantasyland.  It just needs some rum… Notice that this is the only photo of me with a closed lip smile.  Now you know why.
Same day, this time at EPCOT, in the World Showcase in Italy.  Found a little hideaway called The Wine Cellar.  Stayed there for two hours… 

In France, I discovered Nuvo – a French, sparkling vodka that has my favorite things...champagne and sparkling vodka.  There are 2 bottles right now in my fridge…

Shopping at Downtown Disney was fun – so was drinking Cotton-tini’s at TREX with Stacey’s husband, Rick and cousin Shawn.  You pour the cosmo over cotton candy in your glass.  The ultimate combo - sugar and booze!
At the Polynesian Beach the last day.  This is a Banana Cabana.  I had two.
Oh yeah, and we did other stuff, like, with the kids and whatever.  And there were guys in costumes who looked a little funny after a couple of drinks.  I'm pretty sure we had fun.
Next time, I'm taking the pirates with me!  Now THAT would be an adventure...
Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Importance of a Support System

It’s been a crazy couple weeks for me. In fact, I have been hoping I could get a mulligan on this entire year.  The year 2013 hasn’t exactly started out with the blessings and goodness I’d hoped.  We’ve had a family tragedy, a couple medical emergencies, and now a run in with the flu. The party hasn’t ended around my house lately. *eye roll*

HOWEVER! This isn’t a complaining blog. I want to take this time and talk about how incredibly supportive my friends and family have been through all of this.  Not just my hubs, who is a rock in my life in every way and situation, but everyone. I have such amazing family and friends and I’m incredibly lucky.

I realized once again the benefits of having a support system. A group of people who care standing beside you, propping you up when you need it. I think that is just as important in writing as in real life.

It’s so vital to have people who will prop you up when you need it as an artist. There are moments when we lose faith in ourselves or our projects. I don’t mean that we can’t work through those times on our own, but it’s much easier, much more nurturing, to have others to help us work through them. I have no idea where I’d be without my writing pirate lovelies.

I know that I’ve left my personal blog fizzle recently, spent some time away from Twitter and FB, off line, as a general, to write. I’m going to try to get back to them. Even though I don’t want to exclude my writing (ie, use the internet to procrastinate), I’d like to make sure I still remain connected. Even if it’s modestly.

What benefits have you found from your writing community? Any drawbacks? Ever had a few weeks that just feel like the universe is laughing at you?
Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hellie Confesses: I Took Too Darn Long to Pick Up This Book

I have adored Julie Anne Long's books since WHAT I DID FOR A DUKE, and her newest one, A NOTORIOUS COUNTESS CONFESSES is no exception.

It is exceptional, however.

Adam Sylvaine, the vicar in Pennyroyal Green, is an exceptional hero. He's just an honest-to-goodness kind man. The type of Christian you would want to be a vicar; the kind of Christian you wish more Christians would be like. I wasn't sure I would like him too much, because nice Christian men tend to bore me with the fornication front--and the heroine, a former courtesan and now widowed countess, isn't really the type to put up with prudish behavior. But Adam isn't prudish--he's just a flesh-and-blood godly man who can't help loving the one woman in Pennyroyal Green he should not fall in love with.

Meanwhile, the poor widowed Countess Wareham has come to Pennyroyal Green because...well, she's broke and she needs to make a new life for herself. She tries to blend in--at first--but her dubious reputation has followed her and all the women of the town shun her. It takes the work of the vicar to step in and help her make friends with the lady's group--and they reluctantly let her in their circle after she passes a few critical, hilarious tests.

This book is loaded with secondary characters who add to the book rather than cause a distraction, but they don't overwhelm the hero and heroine, who keep the reader on her toes, wondering if they're going to kiss or not...or more. Because every time those two get into a room, the temperature goes up twenty degrees when they look at each other. I found myself fanning myself as I read the book. But before anyone can go up in flames, something horrible happens--usually hilariously horrible--and you're torn between sighing happily or laughing your butt off.

But that isn't why I'm recommending the book. No. It's not those things. It's the end--the end where the moment was so BLACK it was coal and I wanted to know how this is going to happen--and the scene in the church was the reason for this book. I cried. It could have gotten real preachy and awkward--there was some Bible quoting going on--but it wasn't. It was perfect. Well done, Ms. Long!

I think Adam Sylvaine was the best hero of 2012--and if you haven't had a chance to read this book yet, please put it at the top of your list. I cannot wait for the next installment--and I'm still rooting for Olivia and Lyon. Oh, how do I love me a series!

Who's the best hero you've read this last year? What are you reading this week?
Monday, January 21, 2013

This Deserves a Reward

First off, today we recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Seems such an appropriate day for our first African American president to take his second oath of office. History meeting history.

Second off, I’ve got nothing. It’s (very) late Sunday night as I write this and I’m afraid I, for lack of a better phrase, blew my writing wad on Saturday. I was determined to finish the rough draft of book 2 in the Anchor Island series so I’d have 6 full weeks to revise before my deadline. When I started writing Saturday morning, I thought I had 3 scenes to write and I’d be done. Oh, silly me.

One of the best things I’ve learned as a writer is to trust my characters. I had no plans for a secondary character to hand the hero his ass, but she did. I had no plans for the heroine of book 1 to do the same, but she did. I never planned for the heroine to tell a secondary male character who had been after her throughout the story that he was barking up the wrong tree. But she did.

All of these scenes unplanned, but were necessary to the story. That’s the thing about trusting your characters. They really do know what they’re doing.

In the end, I wrote over 5000 words and 20 pages before finally reaching THE END. At which point I happy danced around the room. In my head. I was way too exhausted to do any real physical activity.

So what is my point? Good question. I have no idea. How about we go with rewards? I definitely deserve a reward after this weekend and few things are as rewarding as reading a good book. If you were looking for a book reward this week (or month), what would you reach for? Old or new. Any genre (even non-Romance.)
Friday, January 18, 2013

Lists! I NEED Some List Ability!

Time for some brilliance!

Uh huh.

Okay, time for some…thing shiny. Or something that needs to be shined up. I can do that. Let’s talk about lists today.

I suck at making lists. Well, maybe it’s more realistic to say I suck at sticking to my lists. I also lose them regularly and find them, usually in scraps in my lint trap. When I find them intact, I usually stare at them for a while, trying to figure out what I meant.

I also have a tendency to fold them up and tuck them in the back of whatever tablet I wrote them on. To be found some time later, when the need for them has passed, for good or ill.

I’ve heard all about how to do this right. Post them somewhere on a wall where you’ll see them often. Keep them in a book you write in every day. Organize them.

(Yeah, right. Organize is such a distant relative I don’t even know how to address the post card!)

So, I need some help on this. I have a smart phone, and something tells me there is a way for me to program that sucker to make noise and keep reminding me of things. But so far, all I’ve figured out is how to get it to buzz once for appointments.

(And watch cat videos.)

I need an assistant app. Or I could use a program for my laptop where my list is on the desktop, maybe it could blink at me. A big cartoon hand with a pointing finger…ala Monty Python, or for the older gen, the hand from Yellow Submarine…


I really do need something to get me on track. I have declared my intention to self-publish this year. I have dates set with a copy editor and with a formatter. I still need a cover designer, though I have my idea…what I really need is someone who can make my vision a reality with the right graphic programs and provide me the right files for the different formats. (Damn it, I just remembered I need to send money to my cover designer!)

But I need a veritable check list of what I need to do. Like open accounts with the distributors, buy the ISBNs…and somehow put together a system so I can keep track of the millions I’ll make… (Yeah, if that happens all of this is meaningless, I’m paying a hottie to do it all for me.)

You know, my brain has been on a partial hiatus ever since menopause settled in for a nice long stay. It’s really a struggle to remember, prioritize and figure this stuff out.

Who has a system that works? Anyone seen an online system I should consider? An app? Heee-eeelp! These spreadsheet things…how does one make them work?
Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I Need A Hero...I'm Holding Out For A Hero...

Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where's the street-wise Hercules
To fight the rising odds?
Isn't there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream
of what I need


I need a hero
I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night
He's gotta be strong
And he's gotta be fast
And he's gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
I'm holding out for a hero 'til the morning light
He's gotta be sure
And it's gotta be soon
And he's gotta be larger than life

Thanks to Bonnie Tyler for the inspiration for this post...and possibly the inspiration for my hero* after all!

So I've been working on the new story and the original snippet of the idea started with my heroine. I was sitting in Debra Dixon workshop at RWA Nationals in Orlando and she challenged us to write an opening line for a story. Out of the blue a heroine came to me almost fully formed. 

Likewise, the path she would need to undertake to grow came around not long after. I can see her story in my mind and know how she should begin and end. The plot too has been swirling around in various forms.
What I don't have is my hero. 

I've been drawing a big goose egg when trying to flesh him out. Who he is and how exactly their stories come together just isn't coming to me. 

I even forced myself this weekend to write the meeting scene between them. And you know what? The guy who appeared was flat. Also, totally not the type of guy I'd been thinking my heroine needed. 

He wasn't an alpha. 

Can you do a non-alpha hero in a paranormal? LOL! Scratch that question. I'll try to stay on one topic first. :)
So I have...a beta hero I can now see rising up to alpha status when the story calls for it. 

But he still feels flat. 

So my dear crew, my questions for you today are: 
When you've fully formed your protagonist, how do you manage to make the love interest equally compelling? What happens when the character that starts to write themselves isn't what you had in mind at all? Besides character worksheets (because we all know I'll never get past filling them out in order to actually write) do you have any suggestions for rounding  out my poor flat hero? 

*Note - This song came to my mind for this post, but after listening to it again and looking up the lyrics I think it might have totally inspired me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Triple Shot of Kleypas

Okay, I finally succumbed and read me some Lisa Kleypas. At the Bosun’s nag…er…urging, I read Sugar pop, then Blue Eyed guy and Silver Tongued whatever.

(Go ahead, slap me now. If I get around to it, I’ll look the real titles up and fix this. If not? I’ll face the music. Or the Bosun will go into our blog and fix it for me.)

So! What did I think?

Great characterization. Wonderful sense of place, grounded in tiny details that really plant your feet in Texas. (The only thing I didn’t care for. I mean…Texas? They think they’re all that when everyone knows California is where it’s at!)

Loved the heroine in Sugar Daddy. Loved her voice, got her to the marrow. But felt she was made one dimensional in the tiny guest appearances made in the next two books. Which I understand, because you can’t have the guest star hogging the camera. But her man remained constant with dimension, and she felt phoned in. (I’m just sayin’!)

Blue Eyed – Not sure I bought the easing of her well-earned complication phobia. But…wow. Liked his persistence and again, the details in this book was incredible. Kleypas says so much with so few words. The real hominess of her prose is a delight.

Silver Tongued – Felt a little inconsistence with the guy presented in book two. You know, the hero? He had enough lines in book two that I wasn’t sure she’d kept true to the man she created when she gave him his own book.

And now that you’re all totally mystified… I read all three of these books in three days. Which means…nuance probably flew right over my head. Character names also went in one eyeball and out the other. If I were a scrupulous book reviewer, I’d go look them up, along with my favorite lines. (I’m not, this is more an impression of some books than a review.)

I commented to Terrio that I thought them very simple love stories.

I felt her bristle across the continent.

Now, to me, simple doesn’t mean bad. It means…not complicated, not convoluted, not a dozen layers to keep track of, no uber villains or maniacs…no aliens. Just a love story. I really nicely told love story, very fleshed out and told in exquisite detail. In language that wasn’t pretentious, overblown or trying to be witty. It just was enough.

I like books like this. I like that I can just read them without a need for a period dictionary nearby. They take my mind away from where I am, without causing me undo stress. (Jim Butcher takes me away, and wrings me out and makes me feel apprehensive about what is going to happen to Harry. For example.) Kleypas didn’t. I never had a doubt where things were going, but it was interesting to find out how they got there and to enjoy the skill at which she drove this bus.

Thumbs up for all of them!

So, you rotten crew. You badgered me into reading Eloise James. You pestered me into SEP. I was cajoled into reading Jennifer Crusie. I willingly picked up Kristen Higgens (dogs on the covers) and I’ve read Jill Shalvis after she was a guest on the ship. Who is next? And when are one of you going to try one my favorites?