Friday, July 13, 2007

The Times They Are A'Changin'

Well, I can hardly believe it but it's been A YEAR since I started this blog! Happy anniversary to me! Which means that, while I haven't counted, I must have answered a couple hundred questions by now...and I hope that I've proven myself helpful and put some good juju out there in the world.


I think, as recent posts have indicated, that I'm going to shift gears a bit from here on out. I feel like I've answered just about every question related to writing that's humanly possible, so I want to expand the blog a bit to discuss a wider range of industry and writing-related subjects. Is that cool with you guys?

I'll definitely still be answering questions: so please don't think that you can't email me with them. You can, and I'll happily post them, along with my insights. But, well, I have other things to say, dammit, and I want to say 'em! :) This also might mean that I'll slow down the pace of the blog, but we'll see how it goes.

So from here on out, that's what we'll be doing. Cool?

In the meantime, if you haven't bought TDLF, why not??? Here's another rave review from the Tampa Tribune, along with another one from Coffee Time Romance. Now, explain to me again what you're waiting for? Buy it here. Buy it now.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Why Do I Write?

Yes, I'm in a philosophical mood these days.

I've been mulling over this question of late. I've been fortunate enough to receive a bevy of emails from people who have read TDLF and with whom it resonated enough that they actually took the time to track me down online and send me a few kind words. Some of these people have been touched by cancer, others are cancer survivors themselves. And their notes mean EVERYTHING to me. I mean, seriously. Here I am, just someone who had the misfortune of losing a loved one to cancer, but not anyone who battled it herself, so for these survivors to reach out to me and say, "Hey, thank you for writing my story," or "Thank you for portraying a kick-ass woman who is strong enough to wreak fury on the disease," or "Thank you for helping me to heal when cancer took my mother," well, seriously, it's truly hard to express the emotions that these notes drum up for me.

All of which has gotten me thinking. I wrote TDLF as a way to cope with my own grief. The truth of the matter is, that I'm not sure why else I wrote it. I guess, now that it's out there in the world, part of me must have written it as a way to connect with others, to share my story and hope that it resonated with them. Is this why we write? Is this why we pick up books? I guess so.

It would be easy for me to say that I write because I'm good at it. But I'm good at a lot of things - I don't expect to be paid for them. I'm an excellent Precor-er, that doesn't mean that I think I should be a professional aerobics instructor! (I'm stretching my point, but I think you get it.) I mean, I do write partially because I'm good at it, but there has to be something more than that. I suspect that some people write because they want the world to see how brilliant they are...they should only wait until they get their first scathing review or discover that the world doesn't think they are as brilliant as they anticipated. Others write because "it's their calling." But what does that really mean? (And I'm being serious in asking this.) Is it your calling to share your stories or to entertain people or to be able to make money while working in your pajamas? Which is it?

I think that I've finally realized that for me, as I said above, it's about being able to connect with people. I don't kid myself that my work will win huge prizes or land on the top of the NY Times list...but I guess that via the emails I've gotten, I now understand that I write because my story is also someone else's, and in reading the book, it helps/entertains/amuses/soothes that other person.

But what of all those unpublished writers whose work might never see the light of day? (Though hopefully it will!) Why do they write? Or even for other published authors...why do you write? I think it's an interesting question that a lot of us don't focus on...because we're too busy writing. :)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

When A Book Changes Your Mind

So I'm reading a book now (shout out to Trish Ryan!) that won't hit shelves until 2008, so I can't really chat too much about it, but I'm having a really interesting experience with it. Here's why: it's a subject matter about which I have not that much interest or experience - namely, religion - so I was really hesitant (and expressed this to Trish) about whether or not it would appeal to my sensibilities. And here's what I've found so interesting: through her writing, which is strong and relatable and at times, so funny (seriously, some of her dating experiences have had me giggling with glee on the Precor at the gym), that I've found myself tugged into her world, despite the fact that I didn't think I would be.

I've heard similar comments about my own book: that because it's about breast cancer, people aren't initially interested. But once they're drawn into the story, they discover that a) it's not really about breast cancer, just as Trish's book isn't about religion, and that b) there's a lot to learn about experiences that aren't your own or even ones that you thought would interest you so much. Rather, TDLF is about one woman's journey of finding her way in the world, and in the book, cancer is just the catalyst for that. Just as in Trish's, religion is the catalyst for her path to self-discovery. (Trish, I hope you don't mind me taking liberties here!) :)

And this was a sort of eye-opening experience with me: I tend to pick up books that might in some way reflect something that I've already gone through, but I'm learning that this is a mighty small box that I've constructed for myself. It's the reason that I haven't read The Kite-Runner (shhh!). I thought, "Ugh, I won't relate to that," but I'm guessing that just because I don't really have a HUGE interest in Afghanistan in the 70s, that there are still things to be learned, just as I'm learning about religion and spirituality via Trish, and just as people might have learned about cancer via my book.

I dunno. I can't believe that it's taken me this long to figure this out. But I guess I look at books as entertainment, even if it's heavy entertainment, so I've never wanted to slog through something that didn't immediately appeal. But I'm learning that my gut instinct might be wrong.

So let me ask you: have books ever surprised you? Have you ever found yourself interested in a book that you thought would hold little interest? If so, which ones? Or am I alone in my discovery? (Please say no!)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Getting Organized

I was wondering if you could recommend some writers' organizations I could look into joining. Do you belong to any?

The only "official" organization to which I belong is the American Society of Journalists and Authors, also known as ASJA. It's a group of talented, well-regarded journalists (they have fairly strict entry requirements), and its focus is on non-fiction journalism. You can grab invaluable contract advice from its contract committee, and I particularly enjoy the month newsletter, which has insidery tips on who is paying what, who is delinquent in payment and lots of other good scoop.

That said, ASJA does not cater to fiction writers, so I'm also debating joining The Authors' Guild. I received an invitation package when TDLF came out, but I just haven't gotten my rear in gear. But I've heard that TAG is a wonderful advocate on behalf of writers, and from what I could tell, it looks like a network of tremendously accomplished authors.

There is also the National Writers Union, which I really know very little about, and I'm sure that there are a slew of others. Anyone want to chime in on where you belong and why?

I should note that the membership I find the most valuable is at, which has no strict requirements for entry - but just asks that you maintain a professional, helpful and friendly attitude on the boards. Which, for 99% of the folks there, isn't hard at all.

So where do you guys belong? And why?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Query Letter Confusion

I am writing because I am a little confused about the whole query letter thing.

Let me start by saying, I did not write a book for anyone but my daughter. I wrote her a story of her own because she hated Harry Potter, not because she read it and did not like it but because her brothers loved it.

After I wrote, “Anna and Her Amazing What if Machine” something odd happened. My daughter started passing it around to her friends. Much to my surprise, they loved it. Then my daughters teacher read it and she loved it. Together they pushed me to get it edited and ready for publishing. I did, and now I am stuck. I have read every website, and I have seen so many different variations on the query letter, my head could spin. I have sent out a few letters and no takers so far.

I could use some good advice…..Can you help me?

Hmmm, well, I'll try. To begin with, I'm not sure what "a few letters" means, but most folks have to send far more than "a few" to land an agent. I've rarely heard of writers who have sent out fewer than, at least, a dozen, and most send out five times as many. If you're serious about getting an agent, then you have to keep pitching and pitching. I started with my top twelve or so, then kept sending out a new letter every time a rejection came in.

As far as query letter format, yes, there are some variations, but in general, there are also some rules.

1) Limit it to a page. If you can't sum up your book in that amount of space, you need to figure out how to hone your writing.

2) Imbue the letter with the same voice that you use in your book. Don't just make it an, "I wrote this book and I'm sure it will top the charts" letter. Agents get that all the time and honestly, there's nothing unique about that at all.

3) Toot your own horn but depersonalize it. What I mean by that is that I would emphasize your professional accomplishments, but I wouldn't let them know that your friends and family endorse your book. That screams amateur, and frankly, agents don't care if your mother thinks it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. That's part of a mother's job.

4) This isn't a rule, but I like to set up my letters in the following format: opening paragraph is a brief, snazzy, grabs-ya summary of the book and what makes it unique. Second paragraph is a real push for why readers will love it. Third paragraph is my bio. (See last week's posts for my query letter for TDLF)

Hope this helps. Anyone else have other query letter tips to help out this reader?