Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Boris bent his head and pressed his lips to...

You know, it would take one heck of a writer to turn anyone named Boris into a romance hero. Fair or not, some names work better for romantic heroes and heroines than others. For instance, I love my brother Dennis. But I have a hard time thinking of a "Dennis" as a romance hero. (I'd probably use his middle name, Lee, instead).

Gertrude would be a hard sell as a romance heroine. So would Doris. Or Gladys or any number of names that are no longer in style. Even in historicals, set in eras when those names might have been more popular, authors generally opt for names that have more lasting appeal, like Elizabeth, Anna, Chloe or Christine.

On the other hand, writers can go too far in their quest for new, different and sexy sounding names. Roman, Blake, Ridge, Thorne—eee! Run, run away! Or names chosen by Hollywood stars for their children—Rumer, West, Scout, Apple...need I say more?

Other names are so common among heroes that it's hard to avoid them, such as Jack, Nick, Rick, Luke, Josh, or Jesse. If we write long enough, we're probably all going to use at least one of those names for a hero. (I've used one of them already). And you'll probably have a Kate, a Maggie, a Sarah or a Rachel before it's all over.

The secret to making those well-used names work for you is to make the characters so real, so memorable, that nobody will ever mistake your Jack or your Kate for anyone else's. Or give them interesting surnames or first names. For instance, in one of my books, my heroine Maggie's full name is Marguerite, and the hero, who knew her back when she was going by that name, thinks of her as Naughty Marguerite when she lays on the flirty charm to get her way.

Last names as first names can work, too. In my current WIP, the hero's name is Maddox Wainwright. I wanted to convey the idea of a man who came from money—but who has an independent streak a mile wide. (Hence his oft-used nickname, Mad Dog). In FORBIDDEN TERRITORY (Harlequin Intrigue - June 2006), my hero goes by his last name, McBride, for reasons that are evident once you read the book and learn his first name.

Names that come in threes can work for series—Faith, Hope and Charity...Sarah, Rachel and Hannah...Lily, Rose and Iris (the three sisters in FT and following stories). I'd love to see someone make Tom, Dick and Harry work—or has someone already done it?

So, how do YOU choose your hero's and heroine's names?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Why I Write

Compulsion? Addiction? Calling?

I've been thinking on this a lot lately. Why do I feel the need to sit at my computer day in and day out, creating characters, telling stories, dreaming and scheming of other worlds? There are plenty of other things I can do -- limitless chores and responsibilities to keep me occupied.

Is it a compulsion? Yes, but it hasn't always been that way. For years, I was perfectly content to read what others had created but felt no great urging to put pen to paper and create my own masterpiece. Were there characters in my head? Well yes, but I never really thought about putting them down on paper. They just kept me entertained. But now, if I don't write, I feel empty and unfulfilled.

Is it an addiction? Absolutely. I have never been so interested in something as I am in writing. I love talking about it, reading about it, learning about it and I love doing it. If I had to stop, for whatever reason, I would survive but I know I would never be truly happy. Writing fulfills me.

Is it a calling? No doubt about it. I don't think I'd have all these characters running around in my head, all of these stories screaming to be told, if it wasn't meant to be or if I wasn't destined to be a writer. I have something to say and I want people to hear it -- actually I want them to read it.

So, what about you? How do you feel about your writing? Does it sometimes consume you? Do you feel you have to write? Do you believe you were called to write?

Southern Magic authors going strong!

Congratulations to Kathleen Long for finalling in the Greater Detroit Booksellers Best Award's Single Title category with her book Cherry On Top.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

What I learned from the movie BATMAN BEGINS

And how it applies to writing.

1) If you want something bad enough, you’ll climb mountains for it. (If you wish to be published, don’t expect it to be easy. Plan to improve on your weaknesses and exploit your strengths.)

2) You have to hit rock bottom before you can look up. (Rejections of all different types can push you down, but they can help you appreciate the successes.)

3) Be prepared to change course. Be flexible. (Though you have THAT certain publishing house or special editor in mind, keep your eyes open for other opportunities.)

4) Have plenty of back up. (Keep writing. Build up your library and, at the same time, improve on your experience.)

5) It doesn’t matter what others think. It’s more important what you think of yourself. (This is the hardest lesson of all, but we need to believe in ourselves. Believe in yourself and your writing.)

6) When we fall, we must learn to pick ourselves up. (Again, rejection can knock you down, but keep writing. An editor cannot publish a book you haven’t written. No one can write your book for you.)

7) You can’t do it alone. (Surround yourself with supportive people. Join a RWA chapter and be active.)

8) Even regular looking guys look good in black leather. (No explanation needed. See picture.)

What's some of your movie/tv wisdom?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Southern Magic Keeps Rocking!

Congratulations to Kelley St. John for her new two book deal with Warner Books! You go girl! You make us proud!
What will these be? Number four and five, or five and six?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Taylor Hicks Win!!

Birmingham is talent filled. Not only with writers (see below) but with musical talent, too. Four out of five American Idols had Birmingham runner ups or winners! Taylor Hicks is the second BIRMINGHAM winner!

Southern Magic Does It Again TWICE

Congratulations to such talented writers!

2006 Daphne du Maurier Published FINALISTS

Category (Series) Romantic Mystery Suspense
WORTH EVERY RISK by Dianna Love Snell (Silhouette Intimate Moments)
TAKE NO PRISONERS by Gayle Wilson (Harlequin Intrigue)

Single Title Romantic Mystery Suspense

2006 Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Awards WINNERS

Best Harlequin Intrigue

Best Vampire Romance
Sherrilyn Kenyon -- SEIZE THE NIGHT

Blogging Along The Way

Nothing like blogging about blogging. The last couple of days, some of my blogging buddies have been worried about running out of things to blog. I guess I worry about it, too. For about two seconds! ::g:: Being one of those kids that got in trouble often for talking, I can always think of something to discuss.

This blog is about writing. So I find it easy because everything in life leads me back to writing. I stump my toe, and I think of ways to remember the pain. Then whenever it happens to my heroine, she’ll limp around and feel the same thing. (Kinda sick when you think about.) I take a bite of pecan pie, and I savor the flavors and textures to refresh my memory for the next time my hero eats a piece. Hey, there’s ways to make it sexy. (Yeah, we already agree, I’m a sad puppy.)

To me, this blog is an exercise for the brain. And anyone that knows me, knows I hate exercising, but I love this type. Every time I place fingers to the keyboard, I know I’m improving on my word choice and maybe getting a little closer to being published.

I read grammar books with the hope some of it will sink in my thick head. Hanging around other writers help me realize I’m on the right path. What can I say, I eat, breathe, and live writing. To my writer friends, I’m interesting. To my non-writing friends, I can be boring as h*ll.

What exercises do you believe improves your writing?

P.S. The book cover is one of my modest blogging buddies -- go out and buy the book, you will not regret it! Click on BUY PAULA'S BOOK, FORBIDDEN TERRITORY

Monday, May 22, 2006

Soul Patrol!

I was going to blog about Taylor Hicks, but Debbie stole my thunder. So this blog entry will be about writing, not Taylor Hicks. Eventually.

(Soul Patrol!)

Here’s just one of the hundreds of recent articles about Taylor online:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Brad Hicks fondly recalls the time he and wife Linda settled down for dinner at a small Mexican restaurant in Birmingham years ago and spied a curiously familiar face on stage with the band.

That lanky frame and thick mop of hair, the way the young man jerked around as he coaxed sweet melodies from his mouth harp -- the mysterious musician could only be their son, Taylor, who was supposed to be at home.

"Linda looked up and said, 'Well, there's Taylor,' " Brad Hicks reminisced recently from the family's home in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover. "When he was 15 or 16 he would sneak into bars and play harmonica."

Of course I start spinning this little glimpse of Taylor’s formative years into a YA novel. But it also makes me wonder about how all of us in creative professions get the bright idea that we can produce as well as consume art. Taylor reportedly declared upon hearing Otis Redding when he was 12 that this would be his life’s work--singing and writing his own soul music, not listening to it. I’ll bet Taylor had role models in his life who sang and wrote rather than just listening.

My role model was my grandmother, from whom I borrowed my pen name (her maiden name was Echols). She wrote stories about growing up during the Depression here in Birmingham. She also painted--not very realistically, I’ll admit, but with the most beautifully mixed colors.

Everyone in my family was proud of my creative grandmother. But I also knew her as a loving elderly lady who let us play in the sandbox with her sterling spoons and could cook nothing well except shrimp salad and dessert. (I inherited her culinary skills...all two of them.) She was a real person, and she produced works of art as well as consuming them. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t.

Think about it. Do you have friends who write you hilarious e-mails? You suggest that they write a novel, and they say, “I could never do that!” But you know they’re as smart and hard-working as you are. What sets you apart?

And finally...

Soul Patrol!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

How is Writing Romance like American Idol?

I was not originally a fan of AI, but those Alabama boys have been doing well. AI 4 and 5 are the only ones I've watched every show. This season every Wednesday and Thursday morning my Aunt Addie and I discuss the show in great detail because we love Taylor Hicks while my Aunt Deanie is embarrassed by his antics. (Go, Taylor!!) To each her own! That applies to writing as well. Some will love your book while others think its distasteful, boring, silly, insert your own adjectives. What is a great book for some to others is a wallbanger. It's all in individual perception.

Everyone is a critic. At some point, some person will comment on your writing in a very blunt, no-nonsense terms. Others will only offer cheery comments with no real meat. Some will like your voice, others will not.

Everyone has an opinion and some aren't shy about sharing. And with the internet, they can do it behind anonymity. I'm sure it's disheartening for authors when they discover someone they thought a friend or professional associate is the one dissing them and/or their book. And that does happen.

Some authors win the big prize, others won't--NY Time & USA Today bestseller lists, contracts that keep on coming their way. Sometimes luck plays a bigger role than talent. That doesn't mean you're not talented. People just didn't "vote" for you by buying your book. I'm not suggesting that poor books make the lists. It might once, but for continued success, an author has to write a compelling book every time.

Or maybe your book just came out at a bad time. There are other things people are spending their money on like Christmas presents.

When it comes down to it, most things are out of an author's control. God bless you if you're a control freak. Publishing is NOT the business for you.

All we can control is our process and how we tell the story. No book will get written if you don't insert butt into the chair. No book will get published if you don't send it out into the world and face rejection.

So if someone makes a Simon comment just smile and thank them for reading your book. Now, that may really drive them batty.

And, hey, if a 27-year-old, gray-haired man can be America's Idol, maybe there's hope for me to sell once again.

Friday, May 19, 2006

WRITING CATEGORY or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Word Count

The other day, in the comments of another thread, someone (Betty, I think) mentioned receiving advice to write the story first and figure out later whether or not her book was a single title or a category book. Don't worry about writing to the word count.

It's good advice, especially for writers who aren't writing under contract, or who aren't sure whether or not they're writing category-length books to begin with.

But if you know you're writing category books--if you're under contract--that good advice is impossible to follow. When you write specifically for category, you have to learn to write to the word count. You have to learn the expectations of the line, the length they're looking for, the sort of language you can get away with (and what you can't get away with). And you have to learn to write a full, engaging love story (and in some lines, a twisted, compelling mystery) within a very short number of manuscript pages.

This used to be a big problem for me. Left to my own devices, I write long. Very long. In fact, some of my earlier books, written for category before I knew what I was doing, came in around 400 manuscript pages, which translates to 100,000 words. The book I sold, FORBIDDEN TERRITORY, had been trimmed from 320 pages to 300 to fit Harlequin Intrigue. My editor then asked me to cut another twenty or thirty pages.

Once I stopped sobbing and tearing my hair out, I got my mental scissors out and started slicing. And you know what? It's a better book for it.

As restricting as category's lower word counts may seem, they can really force you to make every word, every scene, every character count. When you're staring at 300 pages and you know you want to come in at 260 pages, it's amazing how much tighter you can make a book.

You learn that a scene that doesn't accomplish at least two things for your story is a wasted scene. If your scene isn't moving the plot forward and revealing character, or revealing character and providing vital back story, or doing all three at the same time, then that scene either needs to be cut or conflated with another scene. Your scenes must do double or triple duty.

You learn when characters are necessary and when they're not. When I was working on my most recent work-in-progress, I had created a pair of characters designed to reveal something about the hero's character. But the subplot required too much set up, took up too much time from the storyline, and did nothing significant to propel the story forward that couldn't be accomplished in a more streamlined and organic way. So I cut those lovely characters from the story and went a different direction. (I may bring those characters back to life in another story if they fit better. Or maybe I'll give them their own story).

You learn just how flabby a first draft can be When a story is flowing straight from our brains to our fingers, it's hard to edit as we go. Stopping every few minutes to question word choices or dialogue lines slows down the process and irritates the muse. But when you're finished, and you're staring at 300 pages that need to be cut by forty pages, unleash that internal editor! Read through your manuscript with mental machete in hand. Hack away at the redundancies, the repeated information, the extra adjectives and adverbs better replaced by strong, specific nouns and verbs.

So if you're thinking about targeting category, but you're afraid that writing to guidelines or a shorter word count will be creatively limiting, remember that there are valuable trade-offs involved. What you may sacrifice in unlimited creativity you get back in learning a valuable lesson about writing tight, crisp and compelling prose.

It'll make you a better writer when it comes time to write that bigger, longer book.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Romance Magicians

Letting Go

I'm not a particularly sentimental person. Yes, I still have my wedding dress and all of the cards my husband has given me over the years. Oh, and the dollar bill my great grandmother gave me when I was six, but...well, okay, maybe I'm a little sentimental.

When it comes to writing though, I try to stand back and look at my characters and stories as just what they are -- fiction. Created by me but not real people. I say the words "I try" because, darn it, I am sentimental about my guys and gals and their lives.

I created them out of nothing. Gave them life, fed them, clothed them, was even there for their first love making. Blushing a little bit, but I was there. Yes, I'm a bit of a voyeur too.

Even though I love my characters and my stories, I know at some point I have to let them go. I have more stories to tell. No, they've not sold. They're sitting there, waiting for the right time, right person, right market, right whatever...but I have to forget about them and write about other characters and other stories. I know I do. But it's hard.

I've written three manuscripts and I have yet to stop tinkering. So many writers will bravely admit that their first manuscript(s) are stinkers. I don't know that I'm there yet. I still go back and fall in love with my stories and characters when I read them again. Will I ever be able to let go? I don't know. I hope I can or do I?

What about you? Can you write a manuscript, call it finished and then go on to your next story? Or do you have trouble letting go? Do you go back and tinker and play or do you look toward your next great story?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

So what if I'm not published!

So what if I’m not published! I still have something to contribute!

Of course, you’re wondering what in the world am I hollering about? Well, at a conference not too long ago, I overheard an attendee say she wondered if a workshop presenter was a published author. Asked why, she said, "If she’s published, she’ll know what she’s talking about."

Geez, didn’t that shoot down a lot of the advice I’ve received over the past, hmm, four years if not longer? A lot of the advice I’ve been given was from not-yet-published writers. Sure, I’ve received just as much advice from published authors, but I don’t remember one contradicting the other - except from pantsers and plotters, and that’s understandable.

Considering a lot of that advice, since becoming involved with Southern Magic, has been from non-published authors that are recently published, I believe that advice is very viable.

When it comes to me, my faults are many. Nevertheless, I can tear down a story and show you how to word your pitch or query letter and make it interesting, even exciting. Thanks, Kelley St. John, for the lessons and advice. And, hello! that was given when she WASN’T published. I've included the cover of her second book - we at Southern Magic are very proud of her. (Side note: Love this book! I just know she was thinking of me when she wrote it. Ain't that right, girlfriend? Yeah, right!)

I’m a firm believer that not everyone is made out to be a teacher as everyone doesn’t have the tenacity to be a published writer.

What do you look for in a workshop presenter or speaker? Do you feel different about advice from a prepublished author versus a long standing published author? Is one advice more important than another? And what was the best advice you received and who gave it?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Changing Friendships

During my married life, I and my husband have moved quite frequently as his expertise is needed in different parts of the country by the company he’s worked for since 1982. While I enjoy the chance to experience first hand life in a different area, moving from one state to another brings a host of challenges. Obviously, the first one is setting up a new household. Once the house is located and purchased, the utilities need to be connected, kids registered at school, grocery stores located, etc.

The biggest challenge though is to meet new friends. When we first moved to Tennessee, my daughter was in the U.S. Pony Club, so she was able to make friends through joining the local club. My son made friends at school. My husband has his coworkers; he doesn’t make friends easily.

Yet, the moms of my daughter’s friends were not my friends. Here’s where I knew I needed to connect with other writers. Enter the RWA and the Southern Magic and Heart of Dixie chapters.

At the first meeting I attended, I was welcomed with such open arms that I felt at home immediately. I didn’t have to think long to decide that being a member of a supportive and instructional writing group was worth the cost or the time it took to drive to the meetings.

The second biggest challenge of moving is holding on to the friends left behind. We tried to keep in touch, believe me, through e-mail, Christmas cards, sporadic visits back to the previous hometown. Eventually the friendship has little or nothing to sustain it. No common experiences. No shared friends to catch up on. Thus the friend slips away. I do still have one friend from high school that I've managed to hold onto, thankfully!

At the HOD luncheon a few weeks ago, during the bustling charity book signing, I found myself wondering if the friendships we share within our chapters, within our families and circle of non-writing friends, alter after we become published. I know that, personally, I look up to the published romance authors as mentors, as guides, as an example of what is possible. Yet, my innate shyness reins in my enthusiasm, lest I embarrass the newly published or sagely published with my inadvertent gushing or stammering.

Friendships, like any relationship, require nurturing, honesty, support, and understanding of what the other is experiencing.

I truly hope that the friendships I’ve found within the two chapters continue to grow and mature over many years to come. But is there a change that occurs once you become published? (By the way, I’m not suggesting that anyone becomes jealous or resentful, I’ve never seen that, rather that (like me) they treat you with new respect, perhaps a touch of awe.)

To the newly published, have you noticed friends or family treating you differently? Or the same?

To those of you who have been published multiple times, what have your experiences been? What do I have to look forward to when (I like to think positive) I’m published in romance?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Southern Magic Keeps Rocking!

Congratulations to our newest published author, Linda Raper! She received THE CALL yesterday from Mills-Boon/Harlequin! Then they asked for EV-ERY-THING she's got written! How cool is that?!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Who moved the finish line?

I’ve blogged before about the running/writing metaphor (“A Marathon of Luuurve”; “Proud to Finish 1157th”). Last November, I ran in my first 10-K race, the Vulcan Run, the day of the Southern Magic Readers’ Luncheon. I found inspiration in jogging 6.2 miles, then presenting awards to Southern Magic members Sherrilyn Kenyon and Debra Webb for selling their 50th books.

My second 10-K, the Birmingham Zoo Run, is coming up this Friday evening. Even so, I sank into a funk last week about both my running and my writing. I completed and turned in the second book on my contract some time ago, and I’ve been waiting to hear whether my editor is accepting it. I have no more contracts and no more deadlines. I’m back where I was before I sold, writing into the unknown. When I finish the WIP, I might get nothing but “feelings of accomplishment.” Woo-hoo. *eye roll* It was easy to let my self-imposed deadline for my new novel come and go.

Similarly, there have been days lately when training for the 10-K didn’t seem worth the effort. Unlike last race, my husband and son will be there to cheer me on this time. But if I decided not to do it, they would understand. Technically nothing would be lost but my twenty bucks for registration.

Then, last Friday, completing a rather anemic 2-mile jog that I’d intended to be a 5-mile jog along the Shades Creek Trail, I passed The Old Guy. I see The Old Guy there a lot. He started jogging after being diagnosed with health problems at age 54. Now, at age 72, he has run 30 marathons. He showed me his medal from a marathon he ran in Nashville a few weekends ago. He finished in six hours and came in second in his age group. When I recounted this story for my husband, he pointed out that (1) there were probably only three people in the age group and (2) six hours is not a very good time for a marathon. I responded, (1) “But still!” and (2) “But still!” Obviously The Old Guy enjoys sharing his accomplishment with other runners, who understand what an accomplishment this is. But his only real motivation is his own health. That is, himself.

This week I’m on a renewed mission to make it through that 10-K, and to finish my WIP by my son’s last day of school, May 26. I have plenty of excuses not to run or to write today. I have a child and a job, I’m behind on the laundry, I’m recovering from a nasty cold, and I’m preoccupied with worry that Taylor Hicks will do an Elvis impersonation tonight and get himself kicked off American Idol. But I will run and I will write, because I am a runner and a writer. That is what I do.

I’m writing for me. I am a worthy audience. And cheering myself on is one of the most important parts of this journey, one I can’t forget again.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Magic Formula

These days everyone wants the easy way. We want a pill to take off the pounds in just a few weeks when it took months or years to put the weight on. And there's plenty of people willing to sell it to them. Sure, it would be nice, but it ain't gonna happen.

Some writers are no different. Lately, I've been seeing stuff on the internet for writers offering to make the process easy. Could it be these people just want to make money off a writer's hopes? Sure. I guess there's always a Jack trying to find the magic beans.

There's software that writes query letters for you. Just plug in a bit of info and presto! you have a query letter. Of course, some agents have been complaining to Miss Snark that a lot of query letters sound alike. So, I wouldn't suggest this. There's a person who will sale you the magic formula for a romance novel. Personally, I don't think buying her formula for $200 is the answer either.

The last two weeks there's been press on a plagiarism case, which I guess is the easiest way of all. There have been reports of three books with striking similarities to hers. Yes, she has lost her two book deal. Originally, Little, Brown was pulling the book for revisions. Now, they will not rerelease it. I'm sure she is highly embarrassed, but it's not enough. She should have to give the money back and go to court.

There is no magic formula. There are no magic beans. There is no easy way. Or an honest one anyway. Writing and becoming published is hard work. If it were easy, everyone would be published. Publishing is a business. The publishing professionals aren't into giving people the warm fuzzies. Only the strong survive this business. This is not a writer just being pessimistic. It's the brutal truth.

I'm willing to give you the getting published formula for free. No gimmick, no money due. It's simple -- WORK HARD AND WRITE A GOOD BOOK! No, all good books don't get published, but if you're out there networking and sending your manuscript to agents and editors, it will eventually find a home. If the first or second or third manuscript doesn't sell, keep writing and submitting. Luck will find you if you practice perseverance. And I'm no Pollyanna.

Just my two cents. I know some people will disagree with me. That's your prerogative. That's what's great about living in a free country.

What do you think will help a writer get published?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Self-Promotion for the Unpublished

When you're dreaming of the day you get The Call, do you ever think of how you're going to promote yourself and your book when the time comes? Few publishers are going to spend any promotional money on a first-time writer, so for most of us, pushing ourselves and our books is going to be up to us.

Scary thought, huh?

But relax--that's what today's blog entry is about. In my day job, I work for an advertising agency, so I know a little bit about what it takes to create top-of-mind awareness for yourself and, when you sell, for your book. So here are a few of the steps you should take BEFORE you sell so you'll be better prepared for the day you get The Call.


If you're writing romance and you're not a member of Romance Writers of America, you're missing out on an invaluable resource. Unpubs are full members of the organization, they have voting rights and can attend all but a few workshops at the national conference.

When you join RWA, you also have the opportunity to join local chapters such as Southern Magic, which provide even more opportunity for networking, education and friendships.
You can also join other specialty chapters, such as Kiss of Death (for mystery/suspense writers) or Scriptscene for people who want to write screenplays. These specialty chapters help you hone your skills in specific areas.

But how does that help promote you? Because one of the best ways to sell yourself and your book is to let people know you're out there. Make friends for the sake of friendship, not to sell yourself, of course. But remember, friends are more likely to buy your books--and recommend your books to others--than strangers would be.


I figured out early on that I wanted to write category-length romances. I may write bigger books eventually, but I love to read category books, and I love to write them. So when I figured that out, I knew there was one place I needed to be Harlequin/Silhouette is the only big category-length publishing house out there at the moment. So I started hanging out on the eHarlequin community boards.

I made friends. I commiserated over rejections and accepted condolences when rejections came my way. I posted advice, encouragement, good news and bad news. I didn't do it just to sell myself, but by becoming part of a community, I built a group of friends who WANT to buy my book and want me to be a success. I want the same for them. And we all benefit from it.

Make friends. Expand your world.


I had a website before I was published. I wanted to have a web presence up and running before I sold so that I'd be prepared. When The Call finally came, I was ready. I changed some of the content to reflect my change in status, but I didn't have to scramble for a domain name or a web design. I was ready.

Websites aren't that hard to build. If you have high speed internet service through your cable provider or phone provider, you may already have access to web space to build your site that's included in your monthly internet fee.

Microsoft Front Page is an easy-to-use html-based web design program for people who work on P.C.s. The cost is around $200 if you buy directly from Microsoft; some places have it for less. Other programs are available that have more bells and whistles, but if you haven't sold, you probably don't need to splurge on a lot of bells and whistles. Save that for when you sell.

Even cheaper option for the unpublished: blogs. Weblogs can be had for free; I use Blogger for my blog, Spinsters and Lunatics. Romance Magicians is also a Blogger blog. It's very user friendly, doesn't have too many glitches in my experience, and it's a great way to build a group of people interested in seeing you sell. Other blog servers are also available. Do a little research and see which one works best for you.

Put your blog URL on your signature line in e-mail and on web community board posts. Talk about your blog entries if they pertain to ongoing discussions. Post your good news and your bad news on blogs. But remember--what you write is available to EVERYONE, including agents and editors. So be careful not to shoot yourself in the foot with what you write. Save your heavy-duty venting for private places and situations.


Yes, I'm talking about contests. I know a lot of people don't find contests worth the money spent. Judges are subjective and some don't know how to give constructive criticism. You spend a lot of money with nothing to show for it. Sometimes you get bad feedback or no feedback and end up frustrated and demoralized.

Well, here's how I see it. You're trying to sell a book, right? You spend a lot of money to mail out submissions. For your efforts, you may get nothing back but a form letter telling you they're not interested. You end up frustrated and demoralized.

If you can't hack that treatment from a contest, you probably can't hack it from an editor or an agent. So suck it up and decide if you're in this business to sell or if you're just piddling. If you're in it to sell, contests can be a useful tool, especially if you're savvy about how you approach them.

a) Pick the contests with a certain amount of prestige; it's harder to final, but it means more if you do.

b) Pick contests where the final judge is an editor who can buy your book or an agent you think you'd like to work with. If you final, the editor is going to read your work. Sometimes those editors ask to see a full. And sometimes, you don't have to win to get a request.

c) Pick contests with good reputations for quality judges.

But how do contests relate to self-promotion? When you enter contests, someone reads your work. Judges are also readers, and if a judge likes your story, she may want to read more. She may scour the contest announcement sites or the Romance Writers Report to see if you've sold yet. She may find your name listed in the finals of other contests. She may make note of other titles you've written. The more you final, the more likely she'll be to remember your name when you finally get The Call.

I keep track of several prolific contest finalists, hoping for the day they sell. Stacy Lynn Reimer, Mary Fechter, Victoria Wasserman, Tanya Taliese Holmes, Tawny Weber--those are all names of people who consistently final in contests and whose work I hope to buy as soon as it becomes available. And I know them almost exclusively through their contest finals.

One final word of advice about self-promotion: be kind. People aren't going to care how good your book is if they have a reason not to like you. Treat people online and in person with kindness, forebearance, politeness and genuine respect. Don't try to fake it. Don't pursue friendships and relationships for what you can get out of them. Go the extra distance to be kind to others, not because you think it'll get you something but because you genuinely want to give something back to others.

What are some of the ways you promote yourself and your writing? If you're published, how have your self-promotional activities changed since your unpublished days?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Romance in the Magic City

Got a workshop and/or presentation that you would like to share with writers of all levels?

Southern Magic's 2007 ROMANCE IN THE MAGIC CITY conference will be held at the Wynfrey Hotel, a premiere Four Diamond Preferred hotel in Birmingham, Alabama. It is attached to the Riverchase Galleria, a mall with more than 200 specialty stores and named "one of the top 25 malls in the United States."

The dates of the conference are March 30, 31, April 1, 2007.

The keynote speakers are
Beverly Barton
Gayle Wilson
Linda Howard

We plan to have three editors and three agents available for appointments.
Saturday night will be a formal awards banquet.

If you're interested in offering a workshop and/or presentation, please send an email to, and I will email you the application to be filled out.

Thank you.
Carla Swafford
President, Southern Magic RW
Birmingham, AL

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Man Trouble

Pssst! Hey you! Yeah, you there, sitting in front of your computer screen. I've got a problem -- one I don't really like to talk about, but geez, I need help and besides, what's a few intimate details between a few thousand friends?

Here's the thing....Well...The thing is...I'm having man trouble. No, my marriage is just fine -- really it is. It's all the other men I'm having problems with. All the other men? Yeah, you know, the ones in my head. The ones who won't do what I tell them to do. The ones who look at me, their voices dripping with disdain and snap, "I would never say something so ridiculous!" When I tell them they have to, they cross those tanned, muscular arms and stare at me with contempt, their square jaws rigid, mouths shut tight.

So what's a writer to do? I had no male role models growing up. My mother -- a steel magnolia right down to her three inch heels she even mowed grass in -- raised my two sisters and me all by herself. I had no brothers, dated very little in school... That's another story you definitely don't want to hear!

So, how do I figure out these mysterious creatures? How am I supposed to know what they would say or do? And, since we're sharing secrets, I'll tell you, I love those alpha males -- the strong, silent type who can make your toes tingle, your mouth water and your belly flip all with one raised brow.

In the beginning, I can get it right. My heroes are mysterious, maybe a bit sullen, even angry and bitter -- with good reason -- they've not met their heart's desire -- yeah, I know that's sappy -- but hear me out. That's why I'm having man problems.

Once my man...uh, hero, falls in love, he becomes tender, somewhat sappy and he starts to lose that sexy edge he had at the beginning. Sometimes I can delay the sappiness until almost the end -- but he still feels all these tender feelings for the heroine -- no matter how unwanted they are to him and his personality shifts.

So, what's a writer to do? Who do you use as your male role models for your heroes? Do your men stay alpha all the way to the end? How do you get them to stay the strong, tough, silent type but still have that tenderness that makes your reader sigh and close her eyes, wondering where she can find a man like that?

Anyone have suggestions? My hero in my wip is having all these mushy thoughts and it's way too early!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Playing Favorites

Now admit it. You have a favorite. No, not child! Book! Stick with me, people. If you’re like me, you actually have several. (Favorite books! Geez.) I’m talking about the one, or ones if you insist, that you pull out time after time and read.

Me? I have Gayle Wilson’s, LADY SARAH’S SON (oh, so sexy Justin - wounded emotionally and physically - you want to heal him every which a way - get your mind out of the gutter) . I keep it near my bed and when I want to make sure that I have good dreams, I pull it out and read. A couple others that I keep handy are Linda Howard’s ALL THE QUEEN’S MEN (mystery men always get to me), and Lisa Gregory's (aka Candice Camp) RAINBOW SEASON (love those bad boys that turn out to be good, and those good girls that...well, you get the idea).

What books do you read over and over again?