Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Buzz Words: Tension

My Firefox homepage is set to Yahoo!, so in addition to the biggest of the real news headlines, I also see a variety of other headlines, such as: "10 Best Cities for the Young & Rich," "6 Ways to Know Your Man is Cheating," "Eat This Food to Lose 25 Pounds and Live Forever," etc. (Maybe these aren't exact titles, but close enough for you to get the picture.) I click through occasionally, most recently to an article about overused office buzz words. You know the ones--"synergy," "out of the box," "sea change." The words that defined a corporate culture for six months and then transferred to the rest of the world as business touchstones and shorthand for years after that. The point of the article was to advise readers to avoid these buzz words and to opt instead for phrases and words that delivered new meaning, because as we all know, when words get overused, they lose their impact (click here for a great send-up of Dan Brown's cliché usage). While the advice is relevant in the office and in your writing, I have to admit that office buzz words sometimes serve a purpose--or maybe I just have to admit that buzz words serve a purpose to me.

Right now, my buzz word is tension. In every manuscript that I read, I'm looking for tension, tension, tension. This encompasses a variety of elements. For starters, as a given, tension necessitates that the manuscript contains some sort of drama (this is as true for comic writing and light fiction as it is for thrillers and dramatic plots; conflict = drama).

Next, tension relies on well-paced exposition (you already know how I feel about pacing). This is as important in the meat of a story as it is in a story's prologue; even scene-setting should build tension by foreshadowing drama and conflict. Also, it requires a stern editing eye to pare down step-by-step mundanity of everyday life and foreground only the important plot elements. (E.g. Your protagonist botches things at work and loses the company's biggest client. That night, she comes home, cooks dinner, sets the table, eats, clears the dishes, watches TV, goes to bed, wakes up the next morning, gets dressed, goes to work, gets fired by her boss. Major plot drama exists in those two sentences, but the tension is totally diluted if all of that mundane filler is included.)

Finally, consider the stakes for your characters and their world. Tension exists (and can be executed beautifully and flawlessly) in the small scale of daily life, but it can also be vaulted beyond that if the conflict holds consequences beyond the scope of your protagonists. Bottom line? Synergize your plot elements out of the box to create a tension sea change in your manuscript. :)

Monday, September 28, 2009


It seems like every conference, panel, or presentation I attend, someone asks about self-publishing. Will I hurt my chances to have a trade house pick up my project if I go ahead and self-publish? {in some cases, yes, unless of course you sell thousands of copies quickly, then it’s a great way to great way to get noticed, ask Zane} Isn’t self-publishing a good way to get noticed by editors? {probably not, unless you get lots of wonderful reviews and sell lots of copies quickly. Editors and agents typically have enough submissions on their desks without having to troll self-publishing sites.} Why aren’t self-published books given the same treatment as those published by traditional publishing houses? {While yours may, of course, be the exception, traditional publishers generally provide a measure of quality control that self-published works lack. To maximize limited resources of time and money, most readers are likely to look to the traditionally published.} And then from those who’ve tried the self-publishing or [heaven forbid!] vanity publishing route, the saddest of all questions: why isn’t my book selling/getting noticed? {Well, self-publishing means that you have to do marketing and promotion all on your own. If you’re not fully committed, the book is bound to fail.}

From what I’ve seen, authors who go into self-publishing with their eyes wide open and who have a strong sense of what they’re doing and why, have the most success. One of my authors, Bettye Griffin is a great, recent example. She is the author of sixteen published books of romance and women’s fiction with such publishers as Kensington, Harlequin and BET Books. Her latest, A New Kind of Bliss, was released by Dafina in May of this year.

Well, Bettye had this story that she had been thinking about and working on for several years. It’s a modern-day marriage of convenience story involving a strong, independent woman who finds herself in the U.S. illegally and the two men who offer to come to her assistance. As her agent, I had tried on several occasions to interest editors at traditional publishing houses in the story, but no one seemed to want to take a chance. So this year Bettye just decided to publish it on her own.

First, Bettye did what every good author must do. She wrote the best manuscript she possibly could. Then, because she understood the value of a good editor, she actually hired someone to go through and professionally edit her manuscript. I championed this decision because I know how hard it is for any author to see all the forest for the trees when she is deep into a manuscript. Everyone slips up from time to time (e.g., changing a character’s name on page buried deep in the story) and it takes a neutral party trained in such copy-editing skills to really work the kind of magic a published book needs. Then when the manuscript was polished, Bettye set out to handle all of those things that publishers typically do.

She designed an interesting cover, wrote clever and engaging cover copy, and with the help of the printer that she secured for the project, selected the size, fonts, page layout, and made all the other design decisions necessary to pull off a professional product. Once she knew she would have a great looking book to sell, she then went out in search of distributors. You’ll see that her book is available at Amazon (both as an e-book for the Kindle and in print form) and on her own website. She's also working on local bookstores, both to carry the book and for signings. All of these are arrangements that she has had to make on her own. She also contacted friends and reviewers and sent out copies so that she could get reviews posted to entice people to buy her book. As I understand it, sales are going well and Bettye’s delighted at the decision she made. To read more about how she made her decision to self-publish, see her blog, and definitely be on the lookout for her book -- a great read.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Computer Comfort for Readers and Writers

Back in the day, authors would labor over typewriters and people would read their work on pieces of paper. Today, much of our reading and writing takes place on the computer. While I’m not going to go into the merits of tradition vs. technology, as someone prone to wrist injuries due to excessive typing on a keyboard and headaches from reading text on a computer monitor all day long, I’d like to offer a few pointers to help make your reading and writing experience a bit less painful.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and my advice cannot replace talking to your doctor about how to optimize your personal computer setup.

1. Adjust your keyboard. Right now I’m doing something very, very bad: I’m typing with my keyboard on a desk that is above my elbows. According to Cornell University, this is possibly the worst position for a keyboard, although I know that this is how a lot of people type. Who knew using your laptop on—gasp!—your lap would actually be the best typing posture?

2. If you can’t put your keyboard on your lap, or you find that you still are having wrist or hand strain (I find that my pinkies and ring fingers are usually the most affected by prolonged typing), look into an ergonomic keyboard. These keyboards help force your wrists into the proper posture and often are designed to involve less strain on your fingers.

3. Turn down the lights—the brightness on your monitor, that is. When you use a computer monitor, you are essentially staring into a bright light for hours on end. Look for a little sun-shaped icon on your laptop keyboard or desktop monitor (check your computer manual if you can’t find it) and turn the brightness down as low as it can go. If you use your computer to read a lot of eBooks or long documents (as opposed to browsing the web), look into getting an eBook reader with electronic paper technology, such as the Amazon Kindle or the Sony Reader, which does not use any backlighting.

4. Also, make sure your screen is the proper distance away from you. For those of you that wear glasses, many optometrists now prescribe “computer glasses” which are focused at the distance at which you use a computer (further than your reading glasses, but closer than your regular distance glasses) and which usually have an anti-glare coating to make the backlight easier on your eyes.

5. Another screen-reading tip: the beauty of reading on the computer is that you can adjust the size of the text you are reading without having to get the large print edition of the book. Look for the zoom option in your word processor, web browser, or pdf viewer and make the text the size you need it to be to see comfortably.

6. Finally, keep an eye on your overall posture. Many of us sit at desks all day, and if you aren’t sitting properly, you can be causing a huge strain on your back. Those of you who already have back pain may want to try a standing station, which is essentially an elevated surface for your laptop that allows you to read and write while standing upright. Also, try replacing your desk chair with an exercise ball to improve your muscle tone (and do pilates at your desk!).

Good luck vanquishing the dreaded carpel tunnel syndrome, my fellow computer users. Type safely!


P.S.- Happy Belated National Punctuation Day! Go semicolons!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Now Also Representing: Young Adult Fiction

I’m thrilled to announce officially that our agency is expanding to include representation of YA titles! It’s a natural expansion—the commercial market and romance aesthetic dovetail with a lot of young adult titles well. Plus, I ♥ YA.

What kinds of YA are we representing? Almost all kinds: contemporary, fantasy, dystopias, boy and girl protagonists, commercial, paranormal, literary, multicultural, coming of age, and maybe even a dash of historical. In all of these genres, as always, we’re looking for great narrative voices, believable characters and strong writing.

As a sampling of my interests, I have a soft spot for the classic authors I grew up with: Lois Lowry, Madeleine L’Engle, L.M. Montgomery, etc. I love contemporary YA (John Green, Sarah Dessen and Walter Dean Myers stand out, along with Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and stories about dystopias (The Giver still warrants a periodic re-read; Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy is fantastic). Fantasy feels like home to me—I grew up reading The Chronicles of Narnia and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy—and I like paranormal too (vampires [of course], but also unexpected angles, unique twists and new worlds [for example, I’m really enjoying Rachel Vincent’s My Soul to Lose right now]).

Elaine’s tastes run toward the more straight-forward contemporary stories. She has had ongoing success with Celeste Norfleet’s YA titles, Pushing Pause and Fast Forward—even before we officially branched out into YA. We also have great relationships with YA editors at all of the major publishers.

I’ll be the primary contact for YA. I’ve been helping Elaine with her projects and selling foreign rights for the agency for over a year now, but this will be my first opportunity to develop my own projects. Elaine, of course, will continue to supervise and be a resource, and we’ll likely work on some YA projects together, but I’m eager, dedicated and thrilled to have the opportunity to jump into the mix with YA. So, we’re ready for your query letters. You can mail them in or e-mail them directly to me at naomi@elaineenglish.com. Bring on the YA!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Guest Blog: Tawny Weber

In honor of her release date, we're welcoming Tawny Weber to the keyboard today to share with us some thoughts on first-meets, re-meets & an excerpt from her new title, Feels Like the First Time, which is deliciously hot. Without further ado:

I love reading about first meets –even when they are re-meets, as many reunion stories provide. One of the most compelling parts of a story, to me, is that first impression. Because I write for Harlequin Blaze, that first meet also has to get across the tone of the line and the story – in my case, a little naughty and edgy. In FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME, Zoe Gaston is reluctantly returning to her small town high school reunion using the need to search of a video game wizard named Gandalf as her excuse to prove a few things to the class that voted her ‘most likely to die a virgin’.

Zoe watched a guy hurry forward to help collect the luggage. Something tugged in the back of her mind, but she ignored it in favor of watching the delicious view as he bent low to retrieve the scattered bags.

There it was. The finest ass she'd ever seen. Nerves fluttered in her throat and she tapped her finger against her bottom lip as she considered the odds of the front equaling the back.Long shot, she knew. Guys were either good to watch coming or going.

And it'd been a long cold spell since she’d seen a guy come.

The guy straightened, the luggage all reloaded on the cart and the embarrassed guest reassured. He turned toward her and stopped as if he'd hit a glass wall. Their gazes met. She felt the impact all the way across the room. Her tummy spiraling like she’d fallen off a cliff, Zoe’s breath caught. Her body went from hot to blazing.

Gorgeous, was all she could think.

Tawny Weber is usually found dreaming up stories in her California home, surrounded by dogs, cats and kids. When she’s not writing hot, spicy stories for Harlequin Blaze, she’s shopping for the perfect pair of boots or drooling over Johnny Depp pictures (when her husband isn’t looking, of course). In September ’09 Tawny launched Dressed to Thrill, a fun, four-author costume shop continuity with her release of FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME. And in January 2010, her novella, YOU HAVE TO KISS A LOT OF FROGS, is out in the Blazing Bedtime Story anthology. You can check out the video trailer for FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME on www.tawnyweber.com.

New Releases

Fall weather's come to DC, and it's just in time for today's fall releases for two of our authors: Celeste Norfleet & Tawny Weber.

Tawny Weber's Feels Like the First Time, the first installment in a fun, four-author costume shop continuity, is available now in stores everywhere. Be sure to check it out, and read more about the title here.

Celeste Norfleet's new title, When It Feels So Right, also hits stores everywhere today. Read more about her title here.