writing advice

With so many authors jumping into the self-publishing pond, I thought I’d share my experience. First of all, let me just say, if you weren’t already aware … I found the trek from writer to publisher to be a very steep climb. We’re talking ice crampons, ropes and pick axes (can you tell I’m doing research for a new story?) But one that’s going to be worth the view from the top.

I released my three book series in April, June and October (oops … a couple of months late) of this year. I originally released the first two as erotic suspense, but found, much like my experience at my original publisher, they weren’t romantic enough for the usual romantic suspense reader and not erotic enough for the erotic romance reader. Sales by July were non-existent. So I dropped back, reassessed, redid the covers and cut back on all the sex in the stories and put them back up as sexy romantic suspense. They are very slowly hitting their stride.

I’ve tried different price points, $.99, $1.49 and $2.99 (the last one to get the 70% royalty on Amazon). Price didn’t seem to be a factor. And no one complained about the short novel length even at the $2.99. I’m going to continue to mess with the prices until I find a nice balance between price and sales.

I’ve done a blog tour and advertising for the first two, but since I didn’t see any uptick in sales with all the hard work, I didn’t bother to push the publicity for the most recent release. My sales for all three book have remained about $15/month for Amazon and $5/month at Barnes and Noble since the spring. It may be hardly worth the gas to the bank to cash the check, but I remain undaunted!

I now have the books up at All Romance Ebooks and though sales aren’t brisk at the moment over there, it is another venue for people to find my books.

I am happy to report that being part of the BOOK LOVER’S BUFFET (where every book on the website is $.99) has been a shot in the arm this month. I’ve sold just over 100 books at the posting of this blog with another TWO weeks to the end of the month. Obviously the collective marketing of nearly 100 authors is helping to get the word out.

I’m also looking to do some specialized marketing in January with Pixel of Ink (if my book is approved for an advertising spot), a site where thousands of Kindle readers search for their next read. I’m hoping this will boost sales especially to new-to-me-readers.

So there you have it. Total disclosure. Not the millions some authors are selling. Nor the rocket success of author Catherine Bybee, who recently made the USA Bestseller list with one of her self-published books. But I keep plodding along. I’ve made a resolution to myself for the new year though. I WILL step off this crazy marketing merry-go-round and begin writing again. Funny, how people can’t read a book sitting unfinished on my computer!

I’m always happy to answer questions about self-publishing. Feel free to email me at Nina AT NinaPierce.com I’ll happily share with you what I’ve learned and hopefully steer you clear of some of those hidden pitfalls.

Hi everyone, and Nina, thank you for inviting me. My name is Charlene Roberts. I’m an Ellora’s Cave author, and soon to be Double Dragon author (this is an e-pub specializing in sci-fi, horror, fantasy, etc.)

My blog is about the National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo for short. I’m sure that some of you are wondering if you can do this, or if it’s worth spending time on. For writers who are not prolific, like me, the gain of 50,000 words is 50,000 more than if I wrote at my regular pace.

National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month – or NaNo, as it’s affectionately called – is the brainchild of Chris Baty, who works for the Offices of Letters and Light in California. His idea to get people of all ages writing has blossomed into a global extravaganza, where writers challenge themselves to complete a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.

Now you must be wondering; why on earth would anyone subject themselves to the agony of finding 50,000 words in 30 days? Well, I for one am a procrastinator. I have all these wonderful ideas of what to write, but when it comes to finishing, it can take me forever. Plus I’m a very slow writer—a double whammy.

With NaNo, I can decide on what project to work on, get an outline together, and make myself write 50,000 words.

For those who are considering the challenge of taking on NaNo, here are some tips that can help:

1. The most important thing to consider when tackling something of this size is to turn your internal editor off. That’s right, I’m serious. There’s no way (unless you’re extremely prolific) a person can write 50,000 words in 30 days unless you turn off that annoying little voice in your head that says “What are you writing? It’s terrible! Start over!” The whole idea of doing NaNo is to write as much as you can in one month. Don’t worry about what words you’re using, or the grammar – just get the words down on paper. You’re going to be editing it anyways. And you know as well as I do that it’s easier to edit a bunch of words than a blank sheet.

Oh and what I’ve learned when turning off the internal editor? You come up with some very interesting scenes you never would have thought of otherwise.

2. You need to plan. 50,000 words is a lot of work, so you need to know how you’re going to achieve that goal. It takes about 1,666 words per day to make the 50K mark – so how will you do this?

I found that for myself, a little bit here and there helped. I work full-time in front of a computer, and nowadays, I’m hard pressed to sit in front of my computer in the evenings. So I would write long hand instead, or use my Blackberry Torch to write.

If you do write in the evenings, you should plan to have “me time” – no interruptions from the family, no phone calls, and no distractions. The hour or two that you set aside for yourself HAS to be for you – I found that my family would find excuses to interrupt me! After putting my foot down though, they got the hint! LOL

3. Know what you are going to work on. It sounds simple I know, but I noticed that in the years I’ve done NaNo, passion for my new manuscript made a big difference in how many words I would produce. For example in 2008, I was working on an urban fantasy manuscript. I loved the story and the outline I had drawn up for it, and when NaNo started, I couldn’t write fast enough. I think I was at 53,000 words when NaNo was finished. I finished my manuscript (which was approx. 103,000 words), and finally sold it this year. Like I said, slow writer. 🙂

However, this year was a struggle. I liked my story, but I didn’t have the same passion for it as my urban fantasy, which is not normal for me. I did manage to reach 50K this year, however.

4. Know the best time for you to write. Some writers are early birds, while others are night owls. I’m definitely a night owl, and produce my best work then.

The best thing about NaNo is that it’s not a contest, or that you HAVE to have 50K at the end of the month. The best thing about is that you’re further ahead than if you didn’t join NaNo. And the support from Chris and his team members is contagious. They’ve set up NaNo so that Regional Volunteers can cheer their neighbourhood writers on to produce as much as they can. Some of them even have all-night writing parties! How’s that for inspiration?

And I personally love a challenge. You can even “friend” other people on the site and watch as you compete with each other on your word counts.

Anyhow, I hope that what I’ve learned about NaNo will make you think about taking on the challenge next year. And I’ll be there too in 2012, working on my next greatest masterpiece!

Charlene’s lastest release, A Gentlemen’s Savior is available from Ellora’s Cave.

BLURB:
When Stephanie’s art teacher issues a challenge—create a painting based only on the torso of a human sculpture—she decides to paint a Regency lord. But with his muscular body, longer hair and a few well-placed scars, Stephanie’s lord is definitely no Regency dandy. Her best work ever, the painting stirs an obsession Stephanie can’t explain. Not content to wait for the next class, she visits the art center, just to get a peek at her lord. She touches the painting…

And suddenly finds herself in a bedroom in 1817 London, her lord standing behind her—very real, very naked and very ready to end Stephanie’s sexual dry spell.

Before she can say “ton”, Stephanie’s indulging her desires with Gabriel, dressing in the height of Regency fashion and meeting the Prince Regent. But life in 1817 isn’t all tea and crumpets. Stephanie soon learns she’s reliving her past life—one that ended tragically. Thrust in the middle of a sinister plot, she must save the prince, save Gabriel…and if she’s luckier this time around, save herself.

EXCERPT:

On Friday, Stephanie decided to go straight to the community center after work. The thought of not seeing her Regency lord until Wednesday bugged the shit out of her. She needed a visual dose of his taut, muscular body to keep her fantasies running strong over the weekend.

At the center, Stephanie hurried inside, the silence in the building eerie. There was always something going on at the center, but since it was after hours, the hallways now stood empty. The classroom doors were all closed and the early evening twilight lengthened the shadows in the long, narrow corridor.

Stephanie walked quickly, her heels clicking with swift purpose. If she couldn’t find the janitor before he left for the weekend… She shook her head. It wasn’t the end of the world for Christ’s sake! It was only a painting, after all.

A movement ahead and to her right caught her attention.

“Excuse me?” Stephanie called out, seeing the familiar blue coveralls. “I was wondering if you could help me.”

The old gentleman stopped and turned to look at her. “What is it?”

It wouldn’t be easy getting him to unlock the door. She would need to come up with a good reason. “I’m one of Leila Rowe’s evening art students. I can’t find my paintbrushes and I think I may have left them in the storeroom.”

The janitor sighed, rolling his eyes heavenward. “Come on.” He led the way to the storeroom and pulled out a large ring of keys, taking his time selecting one. “You artsy folk can be a pain sometimes.”

“I beg your pardon? What are you talking about?” Stephanie demanded, standing aside as he swung the door open and flicked on the overhead light.

“I’m talking about your weird requests. In the fifteen years I’ve worked for the center, the Adults Arts Program is the strangest.”

“In what way?”

“I’ve seen my share of people just like you, coming in here at weird hours, asking for me to open the storeroom door so they can stare at their masterpieces.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“They always forget to turn off the light and latch the door so it locks behind them, that’s what’s wrong! I can’t be standing here watching them ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over their paintings.” He made a limp gesture with one hand.

Stephanie managed to keep a straight face. “I’m only here to find what I want.”

“You’ll remember to turn off the light and lock the door behind you?”

“I promise.”

The old man nodded and walked off.

Stephanie walked in and shut the door behind her. Five easels stood in a row at the back of the storeroom, the paintings covered with sheets to protect them from prying eyes and careless fingers.

She moved forward, not knowing which one was hers, and yet she walked purposefully toward the last easel to her right, partially cast in shadow. Lifting the sheet, Stephanie gazed at her naked hero, feeling the rush of pride and slight embarrassment as she stared at his body.

His gaze almost seemed to beckon her to reach out and touch his warm skin, to kiss the full lips curved slightly upward with a mysterious smile, to grasp his cock in both hands and feel its silky skin glide over her fingers.

Stephanie let out a small gasp—she hadn’t realized she was holding her breath. Reaching out with one finger, she grazed her lord’s cheek ever so slightly…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thanks so much for visiting Char. I can honestly say I’ve never been brave enough to commit to NaNo. I’m curious how many of my visitors have tried it. If not, why? And if you did, were you happy with the results?

When I approach something new I look at it from all angles. Analyze. Re-evaluate. Change directions and tactics as needed. I repeat this process until I’ve met the objectives I set out to achieve. Hey, I’m a scientist at heart. It’s how I operate.

That being said, the whole thing seems to go out the window in the publishing world. All things being equal, genre, length, level of writing … books are never equal. What formula worked for one writer and gleans huge sales, does NOT necessarily translate into a winning combination for another author. Why? Who the hell knows. Trust me, if there were a formula to guarantee success I would have it for you and happily share it.

In the grand scheme of things I haven’t been a writer very long. Six and a half years to be exact. By that I mean, I was a voracious reader of fiction, but never saw myself sitting down and actually writing a novel. Yeah, I’ve always enjoyed writing papers, but writing a novel hadn’t been a life’s dream. Now I live for it. And it’s not that I should complain because I have had many books published, but I’m not making a living by any stretch of the imagination. And that fact is driving me INSANE!

Because writing for me is first and foremost a job. (And probably the hardest I’ve ever had … and I’ve had A LOT!) It’s not something I started because my heart was aching to put words on the page. It was a business venture. And I’m not the most patient A-type personality. I expected by now that I would at least be earning a teacher’s salary and the contracts to be lined up as I happily sat at my computer penning masterpieces.

Ummm, yeah, not so much.

Which brings me back around to that whole analyzing thing. The “What am I doing wrong?” or “What is X author doing right?” questions that plague me. I write. I market. I keep abreast of the latest publishing news without obsessing over it. I analyze and reassess. And then I market some more. And I’ve finally figured it out. There’s one key thing missing. Any writer would see it in my statements above. Figured it out?

Write.

There’s just not enough of that in my equations. Ask me the last time I wrote a new paragraph on a blank page. No don’t. I’d be embarrassed to admit it to you. But last week as I was preparing a short story for THIS post, I realized … holy crap! this is FUN! And it made me wonder if that’s what’s been missing for me. Have I been so intent on analyzing the market and seeing what genre/heat level/length successful romance writers are selling that I’ve completely missed what makes my heart sing? Have I been pushing my muse in specific directions because it fit a submission call or seemed like the latest hot genre? Hmmm…

But now I’m thinking it’s time to hand over the reins. Time to let her tell me where she’d like to go. I suspect I’ll be much more productive in the long run. So I’m making an early resolution to myself. First and foremost. Write. I know … DUR. But hey when your muse is fighting you every step of the way and your personal life is in flux … it’s really easy to not open that manuscript and stay busy blogging and answering emails. It’s amazing how a day can be frittered away working without working.

So the books at my publisher aren’t a big seller. And though the books I’ve self-pubbed are slowly making enough monthly sales to treat Mr. Nina to a chain restaurant dinner … no dessert, I’m thinking that figuring out why that’s not working isn’t going to help me find new readers. Only writing another book and another book and another book is going to do that.

And you know what? My muse is happier already.

So how’s life going for you? Are you already setting new goals for 2012 or just trying to survive the final push of 2011?

I’d like to welcome guest romance blogger, Phyllis Campbell.

Heart thumping, palms moist, she settles her shaky fingers on the keyboard. Millions of thoughts run through her mind, those that aren’t very good…at least that’s what her momma had told her as a young girl. Squeezing her eyes closed, pictures of half-naked men float through her mind and her mouth turns dry. SEX! No, it couldn’t be time to write the sex scene, could it? Her religious leader would certainly kick her out of church for fear of a bolt of lighting spearing down from heaven. What about her parents? Would her own husband disown her? Her poor children would have to walk down the streets with their head ducked from now on.

But she’s a romance writer. It needs to be written!

She swallows the lump of fear lodged in her throat and takes a deep breath. Once her eyes are open, she focuses on her story. Reminding herself it’s a natural thing, she proceeds, her fingers fly across the keyboard as if they had a mind of their own. His masculine scent of leather and spice fills the air, consuming every breath she takes. In her head, the scene unfolds, the hero sweeps the heroine off into another world where seduction and passion rule. Seeking fingers, curious kisses…

The more she writes, the wider her grin spreads. Her heart now beats a different rhythm. Her palms are moist for entirely different reasons this time. And in her chest…love grows. This excitement is the thrill she needs –the energy that gives her the courage to continue and not be afraid.

I don’t know about most writers, but I’ve certainly experienced this a time or two (or three or four) since I first started writing. Those who don’t read romance stories label us as ‘smut’ writers. All we think about is sex – twenty-four hours a day. My husband tells me this numerous times…and it isn’t for flattery. (grin) But there’s a bigger picture. The overall picture that nobody sees but romance writers. We aren’t writing about sex – we’re writing about love.

I write Sensual…don’t you just love that word? It rolls across your tongue like a lover’s passionate kiss. Makes you want to deepen your voice in a sexy tone, lower your lids half-mast and part your mouth. Maybe even swipe your tongue across your dry lips…

Okay, I’m getting carried away again. I need to get back to the point of this article. As a writer, when will you know it’s time to write the sex scene? I can’t believe how many times I’ve been asked this question. Do you know what I say? My answer is this… Listen to your characters. Between them and the theme of the story, that will tell you when. For my stories, my characters must have some kind of attraction between them, and as the story progresses, this attraction becomes the theme of my story. I LOVE to tease the reader—and yes, my poor characters get affected as well. They want it. Badly. They almost get it, but then something happens to make it not happen. Pretty soon they’re playing that sensual, teasing dance again and even take it a little farther…but just before they get what they want, it’s snatched right from under them. Finally I’ve created the build-up. I’ve made my reader WANT it to happen as much as my characters do. So now it’s time… Or is it? Like I said earlier, the characters are really the ones who’ll let you know when they’re ready. And when they are… WATCH OUT! It’s a fun ride for all!

Now let me tell you about an awesome Christmas anthology titled – “A Summons from His Grace.” This has three short stories, but it gets better. It’s part of a four-part collection. There is also “A Summons from Yorkshire”, and “A Summons from The Castle”, and “A Summons from The Duke.” The cool thing about this is our characters are all related. The Duke of Danby has summoned his children and grandchildren to Danby Castle for Christmas. Each story tells about those who made the trek—and why—and how they fell in love.

Please enjoy this EXCERPT:
As much as Calvin knew she really shouldn’t be in his room, he was reluctant to tell her to leave. Being close to her like this reminded him of how he enjoyed touching her—how he had cherished their first kiss and couldn’t wait for another one.

And here she stood in her nightrail. It was as if the stars aligned perfectly in the heavens and fate was on his side, because even the companion wouldn’t be disturbing their privacy tonight.

“Calvin, you shouldn’t say such a thing.” The tone of her voice wasn’t as sharp as it had been moments ago.

“I can’t help it. With you so near, it makes me want to touch you.” He bent his head closer to hers while his hands continued to hold her face.

She clutched his hands, and for a second he thought she meant to remove them. But she didn’t. Desire coated her blue eyes as they rested on his mouth. His heart jerked. She wanted this as badly as he did, despite her words earlier. Perhaps she was as confused as he was. But unlike Dorothy, when Calvin became confused, he didn’t cover it with anger.

He brushed his lips across hers. Hesitating…prolonging the excitement building inside his body.

“Calvin,” she whispered. “Why are you doing this to me?”

Smiling, he slid his hands down her neck as he rubbed his cheek against hers. “Pray, tell me what exactly I’m doing?”

She closed her eyes. “You’re making me want things that aren’t possible. You’re bringing my body alive, something that’s never happened to me.”

He kissed her eyelids. “Dorothy, my lovely, this is a new experience for me as well.” He slid his lips across her cheek again. “Because my body has never burned so much for a woman.”

A small moan came from her as she searched for his mouth with hers. When their lips met, he crushed her in his arms, kissing her soundly. Her arms hooked over his shoulders as she held him tight.

He caressed his tongue with hers, and she responded so passionately it nearly had him dropping to his knees. Moving a hand between their bodies, he cupped her breast, which elicited another moan from her. Under his palm, her nipple beaded, and he became aware of just how naked she was under this gown. Eager for more, he broke the kiss to move his lips over her chin and down her throat.

“This should be wrong, but it feels too good,” she muttered.

*** CONTEST ***
For a chance to win Gift Cards, books, and even a KINDLE (see my website for prizes), leave a message on this blog or on my website – http://phylliscampbell.blogspot.com

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Phyllis Campbell is an award-winning, multi-published and best-selling author of romance; from the dark and mysterious hero who sends shivers up your spine to the feisty heroines who somehow manage to keep them in line. She’s been published with several small presses since 2006. Most of her reviewers have given her the title of “Queen Of Sexual Tension”. Married with kids (and three grandchildren), Phyllis has lived in Utah all of her life and enjoys family activities when she’s not writing her next sensual story.

Opinions are like noses … everyone’s got one..and they all smell!

Okay, so that’s not exactly how that saying goes, but I thought I’d clean it up for my public. Anyway, the point is, no matter where you turn in the writing world, someone has some tidbit to help you on your way. Unfortunately, much of the time it conflicts with the last great bit of advice someone gave you. And if you’ve been doing this writing gig for any amount of time you know of what I speak!

It starts with the first critique of your writing whether it’s a friend or a contest. Heroine’s wishy-washy. Heroine’s overpowering. Too much description. Too much dialogue. Too much internal angst. Not enough deep POV. You just can’t make everyone happy.

And there it is and it bears repeating. You. Can. NOT. Please. Everyone!

All of us have different things that pull us in and throw us out of stories. What works for me may be a can’t-possibly-finish-wall-banging trope for you. Ask anyone who writes erotic romance and they’ll tell you they hear as many “I don’t like when X” as “there’s never enough X”. It’s because readers bring their own personal experience to the table when they open your book. What they love, what they hate, and what makes a book go on their keeper shelf are dependent on so many factors that the author can’t control.

But why am I even mentioning this? Because I’m analyzing and re-evaluating my self-published books. As I get ready to put up the last of the Tilling Passions Series I’m trying to figure out how to increase the sales. I’ve been pretty open about the dismal showing they’ve had. While others are talking about paying college tuitions and buying new cars I’m barely making enough to take my family out to dinner … at McDonald’s … dessert not included. And please don’t tell me one more time this is a marathon and not sprint. I have the patience of a kid on Christmas morning. I’d like to see results. NOW, thank you very much. Maybe not pay-the-mortgage-vacation-in-Europe kind of money, but something that is worth the gas to cash the check kind of money.

Okay, that being said. I’ve rewritten all three books from their original published manuscripts. (Well, I’m finishing the third.) Gave them new titles and spiffy new covers. Had every person I know enlist their family and “tag” and “like” them. Wrote new blurbs and put them up on Amazon/Barnes & Nobel/Smashwords and soon All Romance Ebooks. But they sit buried in the noise of thousands of releases making tiny little Horton Hears a Who quiet cries, trying to get noticed. Unfortunately, it seems there are no elephants to pluck my books from obscurity.

So now, I’m giving something new a try. In this world where people have no more than 30 seconds to check something out before they have to answer email, chat on the phone, move another load of laundry from the washer to the dryer, tweet, go pick up a kid at practice, finish making dinner or update their Facebook status there isn’t a lot of time to be reading through book descriptions on Amazon. I’ve honed the craft of writing back cover blurbs that cover a full story in 180 words or less. Intrigue. Romance. Lust. The story that took a whole book to unfold, boiled down into a few short sentences that grab the reader. Remember the days standing in the bookstore or library and reading the back cover? There was plenty of time to get a feel for what might lie between the covers. Well, it seems those days are gone.

So I’m trying something new. Quick, short blurbs in my book descriptions. A few sentences that hopefully will hook a reader before they surf to another page.

BLIND HER WITH BLISS:
She’s trying to find herself. He’s attempting to hide. Together they’ll discover a truth that threatens them both…

Investigating the death of her best friend, uptight accountant, JULIE TILLING, discovers an erotic world of adult nightclubs and Internet intrigue. When shock jock DAMON COREY rocks her world in a wild night of lust, she wonders if she’s found love…or the key to solving a murder.

DECEIVE HER WITH DESIRE:
A woman determined to protect her heart. An agent hell bent on proving himself. One night that changes their lives…

DEIRDRE TILLING had no way of knowing that attending her friend’s party would throw her into a dangerous world of corrupt businessmen and police stings. Of course her sexual romp with undercover DEA agent, AYDEN SCOTT only pushes her deeper into the drug smuggling ring running up the Maine coast. As the heat rises between Deirdre and Ayden, one thing becomes painfully obvious…their relationship has jeopardized his mission and now someone wants them both dead.

There you have them. I don’t know if they’ll work. But the theory of grab ’em quick seems to make sense. I’ll let you know if it works. What do you think? You can check out the original blurbs HERE and HERE. I haven’t changed them at B&N.

I’d like to welcome guest blogger Jayne Ormerod whose debut novel “Blond leading the Blond” is now available from Amazon and your local library!

“Stop jumping on the bed before you fall off and crack your head open!”

How many times did you hear that when you were young? Or perhaps yelled it to rambunctious children yourself? Okay, now raise your hand if you’re guilty of leaping fearlessly across the chasm between twin beds anyway, and managed to do so safely. I see I’m in good company. Yes, I’ve knocked a few pictures askew, broken a lamp or two, maybe even left a few dents in the plaster wall, but I have never, ever, in all my years of bed jumping, cracked my head open. Leave it to my mom to always warn me about the worst possible outcome of any situation.

“Don’t run with scissors or you poke your eye out.”

“Don’t get near the lawnmower without shoes on or you’ll cut your toe off.”

“Don’t lick the beaters while they mixer is on because it will yank your tongue clear out of your mouth.”

So let me take this opportunity to say, “Thanks, Mom,” because always warning me about the worst thing that could happen has not only kept all my 2,000 body parts in tact, but her dire predictions have made me a better writer.

“What?” you ask.

Yes, when I sit down to write a new scene I put on my mom hat and figure out what bad thing can happen to my characters and thus create conflict which raises the tension which, in the words of esteemed literary agent Donald Maas, is what “keeps the reader turning pages.”

Let me show you of what I speak. We’ll start with a scene, say a charity event held in the ballroom of a swanky downtown hotel. Our hero, we’ll call him Jake, looks yummy dressed in a tuxedo that emphasizes his broad shoulders and bulging biceps. Our heroine Daria looks stunning in an off-white, off-the-shoulder, cocktail-length number paired with sexy sling-back stilettos. How about we give her a little something sparkly top go around her neck, too? Okay, so the plan for the evening is a cocktail hour followed by an haute cuisine dinner, then a night of dancing under the spinning disco ball to music offered by a soulful singer and her back-up band. We follow our characters as they eat, drink and be merry. All nice and good and probably very enjoyable by real-world standards. But to a reader? In a word, BO-ring!

So now we’re going to play a little game of “What if…” thinking of something bad that can happen to our characters, and then let’s go one step further and figure out “what would be worse…” I guarantee you that we’ll spin a scene that will keep the reader engaged in our little drama.

Here’s some ideas I’ve come up with.

What if… Jake forgets to bring the tickets so they have to drive all the way back to his apartment on the other side of town so are very late to the ball, putting them both in a bad mood. I can imagine that dialogue—or lack thereof—in the car. But what would be worse is if they were to be in a car accident because Daria made a snide comment causing Jake to take his eyes off the road for a split second. (Fear not, they will both survive, and their relationship will grow stronger as they heal. This is a Happily Ever After story, after all.)

What if…somebody jostles Daria’s elbow and she spills red wine on her couture dress. Or if we’re going to worst-case wardrobe malfunctions here, what would be worse is if Daria returns from the restroom with the back of her dress tucked in her underwear. (And I speak from personal experience telling you this is the WORST thing that can happen to a woman at a formal event. You’d think my mother would have warned me about that! No worries, though, my “date” for the evening married me anyway.)

Or what if…Jake’s ex-fiancé is in attendance, looking ravishing, as usual. What would be worse is if Madame Ex is hanging on the arm of Jake’s new boss and whispering all sorts of secrets while looking his way. (And of course he has some dark secrets. All yummy heroes do. But that’s another topic for another day.)

What if…in hopes of taking advantage of the romantic venue Jake slips an engagement ring into Daria’s champagne and she accidentally drinks it. Worse yet, what if Jake’s ex-fiancé accidentally drinks it. I think there might be a little “conflict” after that, don’t you?

What if…when Daria passes through the lobby on the way to the restroom she interrupts a robbery. Oh, what if she’s taken hostage! At gunpoint!

What if…while they are enjoying their dessert, the charming elderly lady next to Jake falls face first into her cherry chocolate chip cheesecake? But what if it’s not a simple heart attack, but murder? And Jake is the prime suspect? (Forgive me, I’m a mystery writer at heart, and I’ve found nothing increases the tension better than the introduction of a dead body.)

Or feel free to rely on the all time “what’s the worst that can happen” scenarios that our mothers taught us. Like, what if…after the ball, they get a room at the swanky hotel and while they’re getting “frisky” Daria does fall off the bed and cracks her head open?

Making “bad things” happen to your good characters is such a simple concept, but so important to creating a compelling read. So can they go out for a nice date? Of course, but something has to happen, something out of the ordinary, something that will increase tension, maybe show the character’s “true colors” or force them to face their demons or push them outside of their comfort zone in some way. You need something that creates conflict and tension. Something that will have your readers saying “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.” That’s what makes a story not only worth reading, but also worth the twenty-four dollars and ninety-nine cents they plunked down for it.

Okay, your turn to play. Let your imagination run wild and think of something bad that can happen to Jake and Daria on their date. Then figure out what would be even worse than that. And maybe even push yourself to go one step further along on the worst-case scenario continuum. Is it possible to push too far? Yes. For example the abduction by aliens (unless you are writing sci fi) is too far for a mainstream romance. But in general, the worser the better. And please share your ideas in the comment section. We all want to read them!
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Jayne Ormerod is the author of The Blond Leading the Blond, set in a fictional lakeside resort in Ohio.  A lot of bad” things happen to Ellery, her main character, as she searches for her aunt’s killer. More information about Jayne and her writing can be found at her website.

I find sitting down to write a daunting task some days. But then again, isn’t that the way with everyone’s job no matter how much they love it? There are just mornings when you’d rather not show up and do that thing that today … is nothing more than a paycheck. But then you get to the office/classroom/wherever and somthing happens, whether it’s a conversation with a co-worker, a cold call that went just right or a student’s lightbulb of understanding filling your classroom, it realigns the stars and your job once again becomes your passion.

The problem with writing is that it’s such a solitary endeavor. Yes, there are writer’s groups and your critique partners, but when it comes right down to it, no one but you and your muse can translate your imagination onto the page. Word choices and characters create a world unique to you and your voice. Which means, when I show up at the computer dragging butt, there ain’t no one who can help me find the motivation, but me.

I’ve discovered my favorite part of writing is editing. The flesh and bones of the story are there and now I have to go back and make them lean and sexy. There’s nothing I like better than taking a mediocre sentence and turning it into something that strikes a chord in the heart of the reader.

But I’m not editing right now. I’m rewriting. Yep, I’ve got several stories that I recently got the rights back to from earlier in my career that require an overhaul. The premise works and 85% of the story is good, but that other 15 … well, it requires finesse to get it where I want it. The problem is, I’ve got no real idea how to do it. I’m muddling along reworking scenes, deleting others and writing new ones and trying to make sure it all mashes together in an enjoyable and cohesive story for my reader.

I don’t do rewriting well. The whole thing seems a tad overwhelming. Way worse than a blank page! If anyone has any suggestions or tips on how to survive this, I’m listening. Feel free to share. Because Lord knows my muse is ready to take a long summer vacation without me.

Hello, my name is Nina and I’m a contest whore.

Yep, I’ve said it out loud more than once. I’m competitive. Now that I’m older it’s just against myself. Still, I want to push myself to be the best. Before I was published I entered contest after writing contest. I was sure not only would I win, but my manuscript would be snatched up by the reading editor and I would net a nice, fat contract. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA … *wipes tears* Sorry, give me a minute while I have a good laugh …

K, I’m good. As you can imagine that first manuscript didn’t place anywhere near the top of the pile. BUT some very lovely judges took time to leave some wonderful comments on my manuscript and on the score sheet. Since I entered the same manuscript in different types of contests, like Best First Kiss or Best Love Scene or Favorite Ending, I got feedback on all parts of my writing. And I can’t thank those judges enough. They gently shaped my writing into something I could actually submit to a publisher. And now I can call myself a published author. (Weeelllll, not that first manuscript. It’s buried sooooo deep in the shadows of the couch with the dust bunnies, that it will never see the light of day.)

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

So now it’s my turn to repay the favor. For the last few years I’ve voulunteered to judge different contests for unpublished writers. I really enjoy it. I’ve read everything from winners who received contracts from Berkley to novice writers just learning their craft and beginning their journey. Of course it’s easy to gush over the entry that is ready to submit. The prose are stellar, the dialogue is snappy and you just fall in love with the hero and heroine. But you know, it’s the entry you know won’t be anywhere near the top that presents the most interesting challenge for me as a judge.

I believe in honesty. There is no reason to sugar-coat the truth about someone’s writing … they have their families and friends to cheer them on that way. My job is to teach and help the author improve so that some day they will publish.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not mean-spirited. What’s the sense in that? (Though I’ve heard nightmare stories of judges who were brutal in their comments.) I recently judged an entry that scored very low. But I took time on every part of the judge’s sheet to explain the score on each section. I also left comments in the body of the manuscript and complimented her wonderful descriptions and use of senses. My goal, once the disappointment washes over her, is to offer a chance for the author to learn the craft.

I often don’t know if my critique helps. It’s rare a judge receives notes of thanks (though I highly recommend entrants send them), but the teacher in me hopes that I’ve helped at least a little.

One of the contests I judged this year actually sent the list of scores for each entry. It was really interesting to see that some I scored high received low marks from others as well as the opposite. Goes to show not everyone enjoys reading the same thing.

So, as an aspiring author, do you enter contests? Do you find them helpful? And if you’re published, do you enter your stories in contests? I’m still looking to garner that first place spot. I can’t help it, it’s hardwired into me.

Okay, I’m just going to come right out and say it … I’m a scaredy cat. Flat out, yellow bellied wuss of the nth degree. And yes, that includes horror movies and ghost stories. But that’s not the fear I’m chatting about today.

I’m talking about the fear of failure.

Now don’t get me wrong … I love a new challenge. I’ll try most things at least once. (Multiple times if it’s fun 😉 ) What I’m afraid of is my manuscript. Yep, I said it. The thought of opening that puppy and staring down at the blinking cursor raises my blood pressure and starts my heart a-fluttering (and not in a good way). It didn’t used to be that way. I used to be able to sit down at the computer and happily pound out scene after scene in ignorant bliss. Not so much anymore.

I’ve learned enough about the correct way to craft a story that I worry I’m not doing it quite right. (Not that there aren’t lots of nuances of “correct”, but that’s a blog for another day.)

I love my stories and I’m really proud of them. I have fallen in love with the characters even as they have fallen in love with each other. But now I worry. Will this story be as good as the first (or second) in the series? Will the readers relate to the characters and love them as much as I do? Will they cry during this scene? What if …

Yeah, there it is … WHAT IF I can’t do it again? (See? My knees went a little weak there?) I know … it’s so dumb. Because if I’d just open that document and start typing the words will flow (well, as much as they do for me) and all would be right with my world. (And my editor. *g*) I know the more I’m away from it, the harder it will be to return. Like every other muscle, my brain needs exercise. And just like how easy it is NOT to go to the gym, I can fritter away the whole day without adding one sentence to my manuscript.

Bad. Bad Me!

Okay, so this is it, me kicking myself in my arse and opening my manuscript and working on it. That cursor isn’t going to intimidate me today. It can blink like Rudolph’s shiny nose and I’m not going to run from it. Because in reality … no publisher ever published an unwritten book! LOL!

How about you, what scares you the most and how do you overcome it?

(And don’t forget to comment on the post BELOW for your chance to win a basket of anniversary gifts)

Writing romance is a balance. We all know that. Writers walk the line between all the elements whether it be suspense, paranormal, inspiration, erotica or history and the main theme of boy meets girl and girl allows him to love her. Really it’s a lot of things we juggle to keep the reader engaged and turning pages.

So recently on author Rachel Barrett’s blog she was talking about something she read that totally pulled her out of a story. After reading her post I agreed that perhaps the author may have stepped away from the character when writing a particular piece of dialogue. (I bleed dialogue onto the page trying to make sure my characters remain true to themselves … I feel for this author.) But truthfully, I’m not sure it would have even stopped me in my tracks. I think we all have our own triggers.

Ya know … those things, especially word choices, that drive us crazy.

Because here’s the thing that I noticed as people commented on her post … we don’t all have the same trigger. What completely squicks some readers out might be a total turn-on for another. Something that could cause a book to fly from one reader’s hands might not even ping the radar of another.

Let me tell you, authors work REALLY hard not to upset readers. We want you to turn the page, not chuck the book against the wall. So obviously what works for one reader may not work for another.

For one of my crit partners it’s belly. I love that word. I think there’s something sensual and intimate about it. But my crit partner–drives them off the short diving board into the deep end of crazy. It sounds childish and completely pulls them out a story. *sigh* So what are we to do? Even if the author totally thinks a character would say or do something there’s ALWAYS going to be a reader that thought there’s no way on God’s green earth that that character would EVER act that way or say that thing. There’s no way to please everyone. (Or silence the critics.)

Here’s a list of some of the things that I’ve heard readers say they don’t like to see …
His stride ate up the distance between them.
deafening silence
a dance as old as time (and other versions)
silken channel
satin heat over steel
tongues tangling
pearled bud

That’s only a small sampling, but see, here’s my thing … there are only so many sensual words for wet body parts. And even when I’m in the head of the hero and he’s thinking what a mind-blowing … er … um … KISS he’s getting from the heroine, the fact is, it’s still lips and tongue and … well, you get the idea.

Do readers cut the author a little slack knowing that a nipple is a nipple? Peaked or otherwise? I know … it’s about the characters. It’s their reactions to each other that keep it all fresh and new. So does that mean we’re forgiven a groaning cliche now and again? or are there just some things that stop you dead and have you picking up the next book in your to be read pile?

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