I am still revising, and feel like I should be making faster progress. It didn’t help that when I was in our local grocery store, King Soopers, I saw Christmas cards. CHRISTMAS CARDS! Way to make me feel like I have even less time than I do, King Soopers. Thanks a chunk. I’m not letting them carry my book, no matter how much they beg. Okay they can carry my book. They can SO carry my book.

At any rate, I’ve copied a web article I saw on the Writers Digest site that really spoke to me. Even if you’re not a writer, you may find it interesting to hear something about the process from an New York Times bestselling insider. It gave me hope! I hope you enjoy it, and thanks again for your support!

And now: The Four Golden Rules of Being a Writer
By Anne Fortier, author of the
New York Times bestseller Juliet,

Here are four lessons about writing and finding an agent that I have learned the hard way. I hope you will read them and save yourself a lot of time and trouble. It is hard to calculate writing time, but I would estimate that, over the past ten years, I have wasted up to eighteen months by not figuring all this out earlier.

1. Start at square one. The world is full of people who know people who know an agent … but you can save yourself a lot of time and disappointment by ignoring them. Because the truth is, no one really knows anyone, and even if they did, it is probably not going to help your chances one bit. So, instead of chasing after those elusive people and waiting in vain for introductory e-mails and phone-calls, simply tell yourself that there are no shortcuts in this race; if you run around looking for them, chances are you will still end up back at square one, wondering why you just wasted six months on hearsay.

2. Do your homework. Yes, I’m afraid so. Just as there are no shortcuts when it comes to finding an agent, there are no shortcuts when it comes to your manuscript and query letter. I hardly need mention that your manuscript needs to be 1) finished, 2) brilliant, 3) formatted correctly, and 4) edited to near-perfection, but allow me to emphasize that the same goes for the query letter. You can save yourself a lot of time and unnecessary rejections by following the established rules about query letters. So, go ahead and buy that annoying book about how to compose and format query letters … and follow its recommendations. Don’t rush. Don’t try to squeeze through loopholes in your smarty pants. Invest the time and do a proper job; this is the most important page of your entire manuscript.

3. Pitch your book before you write it. What I mean by this is that you can save yourself a lot of time and headaches by thinking ahead to your query letter as early as possible in the writing process. Once you’ve done your homework and know what a query letter needs to accomplish, you are very likely to look at your finished manuscript and groan. Because how do you pitch that rambling, pointless, dead-boring excuse for a book? Hey, it looked so good while you were writing it, but now that you have to pitch it to someone else, you realize just how un-pitchable it really is. There are no murders, no explosions, no secret society … Well, too late. So, make a point of thinking through the story early on, with the pitch in mind.

4. Don’t jump the gun. Or, perhaps more to the point: Don’t foul your nest. The book world looks pretty darn big from your office chair, but it actually isn’t. So, once you have compiled that beautiful list of desirable and reliable agents (once again: by doing your homework), make sure you don’t waste it. Don’t send query letters to more than one agent at a time. Don’t say you’ve finished a book if you haven`t. And above all: Don’t test the water by sending your second-best. Be patient. Finish the book. Write the most attractive query letter ever. And then sleep on it. And sleep on it again. Remember: an agent is not some opponent you need to blitz; an agent is someone who would like nothing more than to be your ally. All she/he needs is a good reason.

  • Slogging.

    13 Oct

    I confess, I don’t know what to write about. I have no particular inspiration to thank or a dog analogy. I am still revising, and am not able to see the forest for the trees. I’m only in the 40s, pagewise, and although I realize the beginning needs the most work, it’s still discouraging that I’m not farther along. Plus, when I revise like this, in sections as one must do, I wonder if I’ll be able to sense the flow of the piece. Will I be able to tell if it’s too slow, if I’ve put in too many details to make it feel more real, or if I’ve cut too much?

    Here’s what my readers tell me I must do, and I’ve been trying to take their advice.
    1. Put more backstory in the beginning. That means the reader wants to know more about Amanda (our intrepid heroine) and her life before the story begins. Why did she come to Aspen? What was her life like before she came? Things like that.
    2. Make Amanda and Grady (our intrepid hero) more likeable/fight less at the beginning. I have to say, I didn’t totally see this at first—romance novels are notorious for their arguments early on, where the heroine has to appear feisty and conflicts between the hero and heroine need to be established. But THREE of my readers found the fights off-putting and the characters unlikeable. An unlikeable hero is bad, and an unlikeable heroine is the kiss of death. I also took into account something Susan Elizabeth Phillips (romance author extraordinaire) said at the Romance Writers of America conference, and that was, one thing that bugs her in the extreme is when heroines get in arguments for no apparent reason. Lord knows I don’t want to disappoint Susan Elizabeth Phillips with shoddy writing by not staying true to the heroine’s character.
    3. Cut down on Grady’s thoughts about how beautiful Amanda is at the beginning. One reader felt their attraction to each other felt rushed and I need to draw it out more.
    4. Cut down or eliminate jumping between Grady and Amanda’s inner thoughts during scenes. This is a topic of hot debate in writing circles, I’m learning. It’s called “POV”, or “point of view” and there’s one school of thought that says you have to stick with one character’s point of view in a scene, and there’s another that says you can switch back and forth as long as it’s not distracting. I didn’t find it distracting, but two of my readers did. So I’m splitting the difference and cutting out a few instances, sometimes for entire scenes, sometimes not.
    5. Put in more specific details. This was from my most demanding reader, who gave me the most detailed analysis of my book. He felt I skimped on the details  and should add more to certain scenes to make them come alive. This is to save me from a cardinal sin of writing, telling rather than showing. Giving more details, carefully chosen, will save me from telling and writing poorly, and possibly (gasp) boring my readers.

    Those are the biggies. That’s what I’ve been working on these past weeks, and I hope I can pull it off so that the book is tighter and better. Happily, all my readers felt that the latter half of the book was better than the first half, so there’s much less work to do there. MUCH less. PHEW.

    I hope you thought this was interesting. And there you have it, the Colette Auclair Slogging Report. Thanks for reading!

  • So. It has been brought to my attention by one of my “beta” readers (the folks who read my manuscript in its second draft and gave me comments. I assume they’re “betas” because I would be the first one to read it, by default, so I’m the alpha reader. This in no way means that I am the pack leader or exhibit displays of dominance—ruff shaking, hand on the back, lip curling—over my beta readers. Indeed, I try to keep my beta readers happy, so they won’t be surly and take their bad mood out on my story) doesn’t like the title “Thrown.” He is a very quiet beta reader. He would never, ever, ever talk about this incessantly, or send email after email telling me how “Thrown” is too quiet.

    Well. He started out by saying it was too quiet, but then couldn’t help himself and called it “boring.” This was after he surveyed romance novels in his friendly neighborhood grocery store. Mind you, many of these are Harlequin romances, the smaller, 50,000-word books that have titles like (and I’m not making these up, they’re in stores now): “Cattle Baron Needs a Bride,” “The Librarian’s Secret Scandal,” “Innocent Secretary…Accidentally Pregnant,” “Emily and the Notorious Prince,” “His Virgin Acquisition” and “Powerful Greek, Housekeeper Wife.”

    Granted, these are a particular line of Harlequin books, and I’m sure Harlequin has done tons of research and focus groups to figure out what sells to this particular audience. And if Harlequin wants to buy my book and change the title, am I going to stamp my foot in defiance and refuse? No. I do fear they’ll change it to something awful (“The Riding Instructor and the Movie Star,” or “Riding Amanda”—eek!), but if I sell my book, that will be the least of my worries. Besides, assuming I keep at this writing stuff, won’t it be colorful to have a terribly named first novel that I can laugh about later in my bestselling career?

    So here’s the deal. I humored Hal (he’s the reader who hates the title “Thrown”) and came up with more titles. He felt the setting—Aspen—is a big hook for romance readers, that it holds such cache, romance and allure that I should mention it in the title. He loved one of them. Now I want to know what you think.

    Should I stick with “Thrown,” or change it to “Tall, Dark and Aspen”?

    Thank you for your support! To comment, click on the “comment” button that is below this post and to the right—it looks like it’s for the previous post, but it’s not. (Poor design on your part, tumblr!)

  • This a large stick or small tree—depending on your perspective—entering one of the two lakes at Twin Lakes, Colorado, a mountain town near Leadville and Aspen. Last Sunday Tom, our good friend Mary Jo, our dog Galley and her dog Ben and I went to Twin Lakes to take one of our favorite hikes. The weather and scenery, filled with plenty of gold aspen leaves, were spectacular, but I found Ben to be my unusual source of inspiration.

    Here’s Ben, delighted to haul the massive piece of wood onto the shore. Ben is the Will Rogers of retrieving, as he has never met a stick he didn’t like. For Ben, size doesn’t matter one iota. As I watched him, I thought about the daunting task I’m facing—revising my novel, now that I have all comments in from my readers. Sometimes I feel that, since the overall structure of my story is sound—for example, nobody felt that the reason the hero and heroine split up was implausible, which would have been a major tragedy for me—the revisions will be simple and easy. Kind of like a retrieving a normal-sized stick from a lake.

    But sometimes, when I read all the comments all at once, I feel impossibly overwhelmed, that I am completely talentless and was an idiot to think someone would ever want to read a story I’ve written, let alone PAY to read a story I’ve written. That’s when I have to think of Ben and his beloved log.

    Just as that log wasn’t going to retrieve itself, my story isn’t going to revise itself. The edits ahead of me are relatively minor, things like including more of the heroine’s past earlier on in the book. I’ve found that as I roll up my sleeves and dig in, I still love to write (thank God!). I still love my characters and the story. And I’m making progress, bit by bit, word by word, as I  figuratively drag my story onto the shore. I suppose you could say my writer’s tail is wagging. So thanks, Benny, for putting it all in perspective and reminding me that there’s no such thing as a stick that’s too big.