Archive for the 'Readers' Category

This is how we change the world…

“…the people can make [decisions], by choosing how and where they spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read a book.

This is how we change the world: We grab hold of it. We change ourselves.”

–Ann Patchett in “The Bookstore Strikes Back

Some fun things my lunch table said they like about romance novels

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I spent today at a NJ RWA panel where I, and four other industry folks, talked about the most common mistakes writers make in queries, synopses, manuscripts, pitches and publicity. It was a fun discussion, made so by the insightful questions from the audience and the good humor of my fellow panelists.

But one of my favorite parts of the day was actually off the panel, at lunch.

When I looked forlornly around the dining room, a group of funny, smart, book-loving ladies were kind enough to invite me to pull up a chair and sit with them. I’m so glad they did.

After the obligatory grammar and punctuation jokes–this was a writers meeting after all!–we got down to the nitty gritty of book discussion. I added five books to my Goodreads TBR from that conversation alone!

There were a few things we all loved, things I don’t always hear discussed when folks talk about what should be in a romance novel. So I thought I would share.

1. Complex characters. It’s a romance, so the journey together is guaranteed, but the hero and heroine also need to each have an individual journey over the course of the story. (Loretta Chase came highly recommended as someone who could do this well. Can’t believe I haven’t read her yet!)

2. High stakes. Which means, there’s something more to the story than just “will she get her soul mate or won’t she.” High stakes come pretty naturally to romantic suspense. The stakes can’t get higher than life or death. But for contemporary romance, high stakes are harder to pull off.

This seems to be where classic “hooks” come in: secret babies, secret pregnancies, marriages of convenience, forced proximity, enemies attract. The hook adds high stakes that impact the romantic plot. But adding the hook can escalate the problem. How do you pull it off without writing something that seems too similar to books that have come before?

3. Surprises. I’ve mentioned this in a couple of interviews recently, but this time I wasn’t even the one to bring it up! Someone else said it and when she did, we all agreed we’d been reading romance so long it was hard to surprise us. But when an author can make magic happen…amazing.

4. The romance as a journey of trust. Anne Walradt put it best when she recounted the premise of one of her favorite Suzanne Brockmann books, Harvard’s Education. The hero begins the story trying to protect the heroine and keep her out of combat, even though he can’t complete his mission without her skills. By the end, when they are escaping together, he turns to her and says, “Drive or shoot?”

It’s the ultimate development for an alpha hero, moving from overlord protector to comrade in arms. Really, that line gets to the heart of the matter even better than “I love you.”

How to write well, inspired by Richard Bausch and Shania Twain

Can good writing be taught?

I don’t think so.

But I do think good writing can be learned.

Just like singing.

A couple of weeks ago, I read an essay in The Atlantic’s fiction supplement about the silliness of how-to manuals for writing while I watched Shania Twain mentor American Idol contestants.

Not surprisingly, the essay got me thinking. Very surprisingly, so did Shania Twain.

Richard Bausch said,

If you really want to learn how to write [then] read…One doesn’t write out of some intellectual plan or strategy; one writes from a kind of beautiful necessity born of the reading of thousands of good stories…

Shania said something to the effect of, “To make it, you can’t just be a great voice, you have to feel it.”

Let’s ignore for a moment how the market rewards timely topics and strong platforms. Those who are great writers, great storytellers, are more than marketing.

And learning to write, like learning to sing, begins with more than talent and desire, more than “a great voice.” It begins with “feeling it.” It begins with a deep, consuming love for the source material.

So, the first and most important step to becoming a good writer is immersion.

Wallow in stories and language, in song and melody. Luxuriate. Find what you love, what you hate, what bores you to tears. Read it all and keep reading. I agree with Bausch. Writers never really move on from this step. Reading is the foundation for writing. Reading is writing’s raison d’être.

Second, practice.

Write to sound just like those who swept you away with their tales, or phrasing, or high notes. Write to sound nothing like them. Write everything, from recipes to essays, novellas to poems. Realize that craft and artistry take hours, days and years of practice.

Third, hone your voice.

Make each word and rhythm and story your own. Riff a little. Or a lot.

Fourth, embrace your constructive critics.

They will tell you what you need to hear, even when it hurts. Peers, judges, readers, editors…even, maybe, one or two really good books about reading and writing. Listen to the advice that resonates, drop the rest of it. Then go back to the first three steps.

Finally, perform.

Let yourself feel it. Read it back. Does the rhythm and the story flow? Does it make your audience feel it, too? Put your writing into a reader’s hands and see what happens.

Most likely, a writer’s reward won’t be money or fame. The reward will be knowing your writing is part of the backbone, the foundation. Your work is there, in a reader’s library, along with Shakespeare, waiting to sweep someone away.

More library love

I am such a soft touch.

My husband can tell you. I cry when the confetti comes down on the winner of American Idol, and I cry when someone wins a car on The Price is Right. I cry at the end of The Muppet Movie when Kermit sings the reprise to “Rainbow Connection.” It’s something about happiness and love and people having their dreams fulfilled.

And because I love libraries, and their stories, so much, Heather McCormack’s post about the publisher-library connection struck me as sweet and wonderful and made me tear up.

Libraries, as Heather says, are an integral part of the “reading ecosystem,”

a gorgeous little loop that leads to innumerable sales and circs that no one’s bothered to measure.

Library patrons are book buyers. They feed the cycle with their passion for stories, knowledge and information. Heather, in talking about one particular patron, says

This is just one story, but I bet you know five people who know five people who have used a library, then shopped in a bookstore, then gone back to a library before returning to a bricks-and-mortar or Amazon. And so on and so forth it goes…

And if you like sharing library memories, don’t miss the continuation of library week over at The New Sleekness with posts from Shayera Tingri and Kassia Krozser.

If you have other library links, please share them!

My first library

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The building that once housed Coleman Library.

I love library stories.

In the same way that I love birth stories and love stories.

So I was delighted to see Kate Rados’ little post about libraries, with an accompanying cute picture.

I commented–about my memories of yummy musty book smells and the wonderful sound of the card-stamping machine–but then couldn’t get the library thing out of my head.

So I looked up images of my first library, Coleman, which was funded by the Callaway Foundation.

The library wasn’t public. It was, actually, overtly racist–a fact I didn’t fully understand until I was in high school. (As a private library they could keep out anyone they wanted, they said, even in the 1980s.)

But before I knew about race and segregation, when I was just learning to read, this library was the most magical place I had ever known.

As if to prove its magical abilities, one afternoon as my grandfather and I walked outside, rain came down on one side of the building while the sun shone on the other. The library was the dividing line of the universe.

All the knowledge in the world, good and bad, up for grabs.

I loved that place.

If you have a library story, head over to Kate’s post and share it in the comments.

[Update, 4/29/10: I changed shined to shone, yo. Because when re-reading I knew something wasn’t right.]

My personal TOC

There are a lot of solid wrap-ups for the Tools of Change for Publishing conference making the rounds today. DBW’s webinar chose TOC Take-Aways as today’s topic, though technical problems and catch-up work prevented me from listening. Mark Coker had a piece, as did Publishing Perspectives. [Update, 2/27/10, a few more TOC links: an insightful observation about the value of chance and open-mindedness at conferences from Debbie Stier; Kirk Biglione’s DRM slides; Don Linn’s observations; and a summary of Tim O’Reilly’s speech on Teleread.]

I’m still working my way through my notes, which are way more detailed than usual, thanks to typing them instead of writing them. But I do have some personal take-aways from the conference.

1) It’s really fun to take your computer into a room with free wifi and interesting speakers. I took notes, looked up URLs as they popped up on the big screen, added books to my Goodreads to-read list as they were mentioned and had my RSS feed right there for reading should I get bored, which only happened once or twice. I wish actively using your device was socially acceptable at every conference.

2) Social media is the new SEO, especially when it comes to selling more books via word of mouth. I found the panels by Bob Carlton, Chris Brogan and Angelina Ward to be immediately applicable in my daily business.

3) Analytics will become (or have already started to become?) the new sales numbers. The amount of information that will soon be available…I mean, you can actually know if the book was bought and not read. Or, if the reader started, but then lost interest at page 20. As one presenter put it, you’ll know the multiple differences between those who read at 2 am in bars and those who read at noon during lunch. Talk about niche markets.

4) Technical guys who can create their own version of xml, automate all of their publishing systems (e.g., turn a 2-day process into a 37-second process), publish all of their royalty data for everyone to see and make money…well, they make me wish I could write a book about code and publish it with them right now.

5) I don’t like to feel that my content is brought to me by sponsors. I found suspicion creeping in every time there was a product related to a presentation, even when some of the products were ones I want to try.

6) Mobile is everywhere, even in emerging markets. The coverage is only growing. So who needs ebook readers?

7) And the most important point: It’s all about the customer–know them, meet them, talk to them, engage them, give them all the information you can, give them their choice of devices and formats, add value for them. Then maybe you can publish what they will pay to read.

Knowing the reader

After thinking about editor platforms, I’ve come down on the side of connection. A book editor’s platform should look like this: reaching out to those who work on, write and read books. It doesn’t mean, as I had thought, selling things.

And now that the connect-to-reader meme has entered my mind it seems to be finding me.

M.J. Rose wrote an editorial for Publishing Perspectives last week that spoke passionately about publishers getting a clue about what readers want.

As someone who has spent her life in advertising doing endless research about the end user, I’m continually shocked by the lack of information publishers have about readers. And even worse their lack of concern about the info they don’t have.

Most of the post was about the relationship between hard cover book sales and postponed e-book releases, but M.J.’s paraphrase from Kevin Smokler said it all:

The inescapable truth of doing business in the 21st century, according to author and CEO of BookTour.com, Kevin Smokler, is that you have to give the customer what they want… “Should you choose to make it difficult for your own purposes, said customers will simply abandon what you are offering them and go elsewhere.”

Just as it’s easier for customers to find alternatives due to the web, it should be easier to connect with them as well.

The sheer size of the romance reading audience, and the many, many places where they discuss books online is intimidating. But at least they’ll be easy to find…


DISCLAIMER

I work as an editor at Harlequin, but the posts on this site are all mine and don’t represent my employer's positions, strategies or opinions.
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