About Me

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A writer by predilection, an aunt by blessing and a friend by choice, Shelley has spent many years journaling before sitting down to draft her first novel. She has a B.A. in English discourse and is currently working on her third romantic-suspense, the title of which will be announced soon pending publication. Shelley is a member of the Romance Writers of America as well as her RWA state chapter of the Maryland Romance Writers.
"I love story-telling. It's a way to live an experience through the eyes of a character." - Shelley N. Greene

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Resolution

Another long delay between posts—sorry.  Amends must be made.  If I’m tardy again I will let you pelt me with water balloons.  Deal?


 Life’s been busy but I am doing my best to be a good blogger.  I did just receive an e-reader for Christmas so I’ve been a little distracted.   I thank you for sticking with me.

            My holiday was lovely, as I hope all of yours was as well.  I find myself full of enthusiasm for the New Year.  

            And as New Year’s Eve approaches I need to perform what has become an annual tradition.  In addition to writing, I journal and take photographs to scrapbook my memories, and each book becomes the chronicle of that year of my life.  The first page of each book is always titled the “Buh-bye” page and is made up of a collage of pictures representing all the major events and trends that happened in the previous year. 

The second page is my “Resolutions” page.  It’s a bullet-point list of all the goals I have for the New Year.  The ritual is that I pull the current book out after Christmas to add the last of the year’s pictures, and then I look back at that the resolutions I’d listed.  I get to see if I’d accomplished what I’d set out to that year, and the number of the resolutions I cross off is always a mixed bag.  Inevitably I hit the big goals, but there are the years when unexpected changes occur, the “lightning-strike” events that you never see coming. 

“The only constant is change.” - Heraclitus

           And while reading through, I noticed that my big goals for 2011 had a way of coming true despite the challenges:

·         Attend RWA 31st Annual Conference in NYC
·         Have formal author photos taken
·         Take birthday off
·         Spend a week in the Adirondack Mountains

I sat looking at the pages with great appreciation.  Life is made up of memories.  What you do and accomplish sticks with you forever, and the concept had me thinking about the big adventures I've had in the past.  “Life material” from trips that started as little bullet points on my Resolutions list.  Sitting cross-legged on the floor, I flipped through this year’s words and photos, the memories looking up at me from their preserved pages.

That is what I love about storytelling.  Writing takes a moment and makes it permanent.

And right now I have some good news, a new moment to share, I just need to wait a little bit longer before I can announce all the details.  To be truthful, I'm afraid of jinxing it.  But expect a full entry about it soon.

And with my resolutions for 2012 there is this static electricity in the air, a sense that this year is going to bring with it some big changes.  It’s a good feeling—exciting and a bit scary.  I think that’s why I’m hesitant to type the words. 

I mean, what if it doesn’t happen?

            *staring at the blinking cursor*

            It shouldn’t be this hard, typing a sentence.

            I mean, come on –I’ve climbed a mountain, seen a masterpiece up close … *deep breath*

            Here it goes…

            Resolutions 2012

·         Publish my first novel

*staring at the words, mouse hovering* 

I’m letting it stay there.   

*Moving hand away from mouse and the Delete key*

It needs to stay where I can see it.  Where I can come back to it a year from now.

I can.  I will.

If not, there’s always next year…

-          SNG

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Summit

Traveling alone is a never a good idea.

Admittedly, I did it because my idea of fun is sometimes considered boring to my friends and I’m of the obstinate mindset that if I want to do something, I don’t let being single stop me.  One time I wanted to see a Norman Rockwell painting up close, so I did it.  Another time I wanted to see the sun set on the Pacific ocean - well, that time I had company.  This year I wanted to see the changing leaves in the Adirondack Mountains.  I’d read about the scenery in books, owned the PBS special on DVD, and had to see the multi-hued glory for myself.  And so the wheels of fate were put in motion…

While out to dinner with my best friend one night before leaving on my trip, I gushed to her about my plans.  I went into a long description of the trees and why I was so eager to see them.  “From what I hear, they’re incredible in the fall. The colors…they say you can find your soul in the trees,” I said rather dreamily.

It must have been the faraway expression on my face because my friend smiled like she was humoring me. “’Soul in the trees.’ Okay, no more wine for you,” she said as she moved the glass away from me.

Laughing at her joke, I doggedly returned to my explanation.  “It’s true. The nature is amazing, people go up there to find themselves.  And when I come back I will have a picture called ‘Soul in the Trees,’ watch me.”

“You do that,” she challenged.

So I grabbed my camera, and with the remainder of my vacation leave, I set off.  I tried to get someone to go with me, but there were no takers at the time.  My best friend had family obligations and my sister would’ve gone, but she couldn't spend too many consecutive days out in the woods, so I let her off the hook and made arrangements to go by myself.  When informing others about my trip, everyone looked at me like I was off my rocker.  I had three people offer me mace and two imply that I was going to be eaten by a bear.  And, granted, the comments did reinforce the instinct that I was acting impulsively, but it also fueled my determination to go. 

The trip was something I had to do, something spontaneous, even if it marked me a fool.

I left early on that Friday and played it safe the whole way:  I called, checked in, made sure to only stop in well-lit, well populated areas and only when necessary.     

Baltimore at dawn.  (Photos by Shelley Greene)

            I arrived at my little cabin on Friday night. 

Early in the vacation planning I’d devised the codename Camp IAmWhatIAm (the real name an extension of the nickname) for the place I stayed.  With a fireplace, bedroom, flat screen TV and washer/dryer, it was cozy.  The lady who rented it to me even left me fancy toiletries (lavender soap) and a range of food to eat.  The first night I settled in, making myself at home, only to find I couldn’t sleep.  For some reason I hadn’t left my restlessness back in Maryland, and it seemed like all my current problems were haunting me. I sat awake worrying about work, my writing, and feeling this heavy weight sitting on my chest.  In the quiet, the internal voices became loud, saying things like I hadn’t accomplished enough, or that I hadn’t done things the right way. Strange feelings that were a personified anvil on my chest, pinning me down. 

The fresh pine smell of the cabin walls reminded me that I wasn’t in my own bed, and for the first time since I was little, I had to fall asleep with the TV on.  I found a cool movie to watch, however. 

     I was up early the next day, ready to get my pictures.  Pulling out my file folder with my agenda and Xerox copies from travel books, I noticed that there was still this underlying drive to accomplish something.  I felt punchy, and I couldn’t shake the feeling.  On a budget, and keeping in mind safety tactics, there was this odd sensation of being caged.  At this I reminded myself that taking steps to be careful was to ensure I didn’t fall down a mountain, drown in a lake or—in fact—get mauled by a bear.

Yes, those were the sunny thoughts that jumpstarted my morning.  You go on vacation to escape, and I’d traveled over 490 miles to get away, relax and to take pictures of the trees.  I wasn’t about to go home empty-handed. 

Mirror Lake

Determined to get good pictures, I took an incredible boat tour of Mirror Lake and found out from one of the guides that the leaves were at their peak of color change a few miles south, near Whiteface Mountain.  Pulling out my folder, there was an “easy” trail near that, a bit south of Lake Placid.  The article stated that the hike was two miles, one way, but that the hiker was rewarded with “views of waterfalls at the summit.”

            I’m going to pause to mention that my voice of reason did go off at this point.  My subconscious very succinctly rattled off all the common sense laws to me:  

You never go hiking alone – what if you fall?  The chance of you having a cell phone signal is slim, especially when you’re unconscious and bleeding!

            I heard every word, but I sat in my car near the mouth of the trail watching the parking lot overflow with hikers, families, little kids—all on their way down the path.  Seeing the people, gauging the time of day and the fact that the travel book rated the trail “easy,” I was swayed.

And two hours later I was sweating profusely, breathing erratically and clinging to the side of rock.

            Wearing skinny jeans and basic running sneakers, a heavy camera in tow, the 75 degree heat felt like 90-plus as I hoofed my way up the rocky, muddy terrain.  I'd followed a pair of women onto the trail as large groups with children as young as seven years-old passed us, the little ones bounding up the rocks like the little goats they’re named after.

            Pushing myself forward, an hour-and-a-half in, I’d fallen far behind the two ladies I'd been tailing. The trail, from my perspective was far from easy, but I'd attributed that to my inexperience.  It seemed precarious; every advance forward requiring a hand-hold on to tree and the careful positioning of your feet to ensure you stepped on the rocks correctly; any wrong move had the potential of you taking the express way back down.  My heart was pounding, my jeans stifling hot, and I only had half a pint of water on me. Exhausted, I was torn between seeing the waterfalls and giving up. I felt like I’d come so far that the idea of turning around was not an option.  

             I didn’t want to fail.

            Catching the attention of a hiking couple who were coming down, I asked the man if they’d made it all the way to the top and I how much further it was.  The guy turned out to be an experienced hiker and told me that it was another hour at least, especially at the pace I was going (which was snail slow). Looking around, he tried to identify my hiking party and began asking me questions.

            “Did you come up here alone?” 

            I nodded, and to his everlasting credit he did not look at me like I was an idiot or like I’d be the first person to go out Darwin if this were Survivor.

            “How much water do you have?  Did you bring food with you?” he asked.

            “Some water, no food,” I answered honestly, feeling unprepared and foolish.

            “It’s pretty far still and it gets muddier as you go,” the lady added empathetically.

            With a sheepish shake of my head, I looked back down the distance I’d come and frowned. 

It was clear that I was ready to go back but I couldn’t give up.  The guy then opened his backpack, pulling out a liter bottle of water and a ziplock bag full of Chex mix.  Handing the lot to me I just stared at him, dumbfounded.

            “Oh, I can’t-” I started.  But he insisted.    

“I don’t need it, but you will if you’re going to make it to the summit.  And just a word of advice for next time—never wear jeans hiking. Short-sleeved shirts, shorts and layers,” he instructed.

            They both wished me luck and I continued to follow other groups up the mountain. Small children and dogs of every shape and size began to trot past me as I steadily navigated the boulders and peaty areas. The mud got deeper, slopping up my pants and seeping through my sneakers.  I grew even more tired as the air got colder, the wind picking up.  Slumping down on another boulder, I guzzled some water and pulled out the Chex mix. On the bag was a label with the name Greg written on it in sharpie marker.  So that was his name. 

  Picking out the pretzels, I stopped to look up at the trees. Golds, reds and emerald greens shone like stained glass above me and I exhaled.  There is soul in the trees, I thought.  For that one moment, I felt my body relax, a calm coming over me, and I realized: this is what the journey is about.  

This, right here. 

After the rest, I gauged the air temperature. It was cooler, so I was close, maybe another thirty minutes.  I ran into another couple on their way down; a gentleman covered in mud up to his bare knees, carrying one Corgi while another bounded over rocks on short legs; his wife following them.

            I asked again how far away I was, and they confirmed that it was another half-hour, moving about as fast as I was.  Gesturing to his pet, he, too “[had] an extra 30 lbs to carry,” because the poor dog was worn out, his little mud-strewn paws dangling over his owner's arm.  

            Pooped was the popular consensus.

 Considering what photos I had already and what resources I had left, I decided to let it go.  I may have been only twenty minutes away from the summit by then, but I decided not to push it.  I’d gotten what I'd came for, and it was time that I turned around and headed back down.

            The trip back used different muscles than going up; more toning than cardio.  My heart took less of a beating as my legs picked up the slack.  Stepping on the right stones made for a lithe, hopping dance that picked up in tempo as I descended.  Pausing only to snap more pictures of the red trees while I talked to hikers passing by, two twelve-year-old boys soon jumped past me, their father straggling behind them with less exuberance. 

            “Have they hiked all their lives?” I asked.

            “No, first time,” the dad replied.

            “Impressive, but the book I read labeled this trail as ‘easy’ so maybe it’s just me.”

            The dad gave me a confused look and then went on to say that the trail was most likely marked “easy” in comparison to other trails in the area, not on its own. It dawned on me that every hike around the area was advanced, what we’d just climbed was a small mountain, one of many in the entire Adirondack park.  And the trail didn't end with waterfalls, he affirmed.  He’d ventured the hike many times before and was certain.

            I was on one the shorter practice trails, but still...in completely wrong hiking clothes and with no supplies?  Was I nuts?!   Apparently.  And this was labeled easy in print?  I personally vowed to write a letter to the publisher of the travel guide.  Footnotes are needed—footnotes and asterisks!  If only to save idiots like me.

           I wondered what the 46er peaks were like in contrast.  They were no doubt the most challenging, I imagined.  Any one of them would make the Cascade Trail hike look like a warm up.
            I made it back to the parking lot shortly after that, walking along the railing to the entrance of the trail when it hit me.  It turned out okay. I’d made it out—

            The next cognitive thought I'd recall after that smug realization was that my cheek was smushed up against asphalt, my gifted bottle of water drizzling into my hair.  

I’d stepped on an uneven slab of pavement, fallen, twisted my right ankle and scraped my left knee. In a parking lot.  With people all around.  

            The look on the cashier’s face when I hobbled into Rite-Aid was great, too.

            “Can I help…you?” she asked, glancing up from her register, getting an eyeful.

            “Nope, I think I’m beyond help. But thank you,” I replied, tossing the individual contents of a first-aid kit onto the counter, poised like a macabre flamingo.

            As I was able to put weight on my ankle, and the swelling had not expanded to sizes fit for MLB or the NBA, I assumed it was quasi-okay.  The knee, however, stung like the dickens, as any scrape on a bendable joint does, but I stopped whining long enough to deal.  The full force of my idiocy sunk in then.  My lovely little faceplant was public, and my mother—psychic as she is with that handy mom-intuition—texted me right after it happened, checking in.

            There is no need to remind me that I’m destined for someplace hot and fiery for Googling "symptoms of a sprained ankle" while texting my mother (who works in the health field): Everything's great, having a fabulous time!  *smiley face*   

I know, I know...

            Later, while I was deducting the jumbo band-aid expense from my already meager budget, and watching Breakfast at Tiffany's in front of the fireplace, I figured there had to be a lesson inherent in my little misadventure.  Immobility forced upon me, my purple foot propped up under a bag of ice, it was clear the universe wanted my attention.  Pondering what my experience could be compared to, the only analogy I could think of was a writing one.  I’d been so worried about mistakes in my story, in my work.  The fear of not making it or failing pressing down on me. The urge to take action making me brash and impatient. Sitting there, swollen and stinging, it came to me: success in writing is like climbing a mountain.

      And you need to:

1.       Know Your Mountain – Whatever goal you set for yourself, you have to know where it ends, where the peak is.  Ask others or attain more than book knowledge of what you’re going after.

2.      NEVER Go Alone – I wouldn’t have made it as far as I have without help. With my writing, my hiking partner is Sarah, my CP.  She’s there to make the trek with me, to scout out the terrain. She’s always prepared and knows there will be tough moments where the mud and climb will feel like it’s swallowing you whole. Today, I have a guy named Greg and his girlfriend/wife (the lady in the powder blue Yankees baseball cap) to thank for my safety.  If you’re out there, reading this, you gave me knowledge and showed me kindness, and I can’t express how grateful I am for that.

3.      No Path (or Career) is ever “Easy” – Just like the trails, labels like easy or difficult are just meters of comparison. Writing, held up against any other job, may seem easy like the trail was, but in reality it’s work. Being an author may look like fun, like all we do all day is sit around drafting love scenes and I wish it were that simple, but it’s not.  Drafting, editing, working with deadlines all makes the job of a writer a mountain, not some small trail. There will be times when you want to give up, looking up and finding nothing but slippery rocks and mud blocking your path. If you fall, you’ll fall hard. And the moment you want to quit is when you are almost there.

4.      Be Prepared – Bring the appropriate tools for your journey.  There will be obstacles.  You will get tired and feel like it’s insurmountable, but it can it be done with the right equipment (your work, education, research, the feedback of your CP/critique group as well as guides you meet along the way).  Take a writing course or attend a seminar, with the right preparation, you can avoid major pitfalls.

5.      Have the Heart to Go – I felt the soul in the trees (and I have a lovely 8x10 glossy print for my friend, the skeptic. Lol). But only because I was brave enough to go get it.  Jump into your story, live it, chase it—start writing and don’t stop until you type “the end.”

My journey helped me see that.

And as I sit typing these words, nursing a puffy right lateral malleolus (the lump of bone on the side of your ankle), I’m thankful that everything turned out okay. I had a great vacation despite the accident and the doctor says the ankle is sprained, but not broken (thank goodness).  Just mad at me for trying to push it into a range of motion with which it wasn't accustomed.  It will heal and the even though it hurt, I got the message.  And on that note, I’ll tack one final bullet point onto the bottom of our list: Watch where you walk, no matter how beautiful the scenery is around you.  

A nine-hour drive home is so much more enjoyable when you do. 

-          SNG  ;0) 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Under Pressure

I have a confession to make.  I told my CP Sarah, because I couldn't stand keeping it from her.  The contest entry deadline happened to be the last week of work before I was slated to go on vacation.  Admittedly, I was feeling a little crazy.  Long work days, lack of sleep, a pressing deadline and a neighbor who likes to blast an eccentric brand of music outside my window late at night were all contributing factors.  So here it is: After having a finished, edited product, I went on a late night rampage and changed parts of it before I turned the entry in. 

I post-edit tweaked.  *blush of shame*

            It was a late-minute attempt to make the entry better.  I’d felt so discombobulated when drafting it that I didn’t think what I’d written was up to par.

             I strive to write every evening, but the longer workdays are grueling and those are the times when the writing simply doesn’t happen.  Those nights I barely get dinner before sleep becomes the main priority, but I do try.  Even if it’s just fifteen minutes, it’s something.  Sarah and I had twelve days to have our contest entries ready, and to our credit, I think we both performed well amid some big life disruptions.

            And despite my neighbor’s impromptu party in the parking lot, my mind was already pretty locked up.  I was tried, distracted and I felt like there was too much gazing going on in my entry.  I sat staring at the screen thinking, “the words are reflecting the author...”  I made last-minute changes and after reading it over with fresh eyes yesterday, I found that I’d some dropped words as well as made several receiver-versus-source adjective errors.  Many of the problems stemmed from the changing of compound sentences into stand alone ones (removing the comma and adding a period), but still, I am afraid.  I feel like I was rushed and I fear that what was submitted wasn’t my best work.  But even if I’d had more time, I think the result would have been the same.  I needed to stay focused and that was difficult. 

And Sarah was wonderful; the initial draft was perfect, not a single error.  She stayed up late in the night working on it with me.

And this got me thinking.  The pressure is part and parcel of the job, isn’t it? Periodic insanity is listed in the job description?

As an author you have big commitments and serious time schedules for publication.  There are days when you can’t wait for life to ease up or the muse to come; you have to hunt down the inspiration and get the job done.

 Through this experience I got a taste of what that feels like and I gained a great respect for published writers who work with deadlines all the time.  With the world as challenged as it currently is, it’s hard to keep your head in the story.  Anxiety is palpable with today’s economy and it really takes skill to set aside your worries (whether it be family, finance, how well received you book will be) and stay in tune with the writing.

How do professional authors handle the stress?  I wondered. 

I’m sure my ten-pages-in-twelve-days contest must be a walk in the park in comparison to a full manuscript, but that’s what a published writer does. That’s what you accept if you want the career.  And they have the good grace to rarely complain about it, or if they do, it’s in the privacy of their own home.  (I wonder if my neighbor is going to report me for giving him the stink-eye.  But, to be fair, music after 9pm is noise pollution, and to a night-writer it’s psychological abuse, so I say we’re even.)  

 I guess the secret is practice, lots of run through and dedication to the story.

And in the end, I don’t think my entry turned out bad.  It had to be cropped down to ten pages and that was tough.  The scene Sarah and I carved out was good; my couple’s first kiss.  :0*

I know that it has its flaws but there is lots of gold in it as well, and with the talented folks looking at it, I'm flattered just to have it read.

And the overall experience will be beneficial. I'm going to gratefully accept every bit of feedback and moving forward I’m going to make an exercise of having certain parts of my manuscript finished by a set time. It’s a smart habit.  You want to incorporate the tension into your daily routine, that way you’re used to it. 

Don't let the pressure slow you down, instead use it to propel you forward.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Beginning with The Kiss

 Well, it’s been too long again.  I’ve tried to be a good blogger, I swear!  The other night I lamely insisted to Sarah that the internet had abducted me, which it did.  It sucked me right in after a long day at work.

And that’s been the pattern, work all day and then easily distracted at night.  I’ve been struggling to stick to my second shift, but something in the shift has felt daunting.  And it’s a shame because I love my story; every minute my imagination takes me to some part of it, allowing me to get lost in it.  It’s a great tale and it deserves to be told.

So why the dragging feet?  Because it’s not easy to start a book.  There’s so much set up; character descriptions, setting, back story, all seamlessly rolled into the plot and point of views.  It’s challenging and lately I’ve been fighting “talking head syndrome” or what I refer to as the “Charlie Brown Teacher Effect” where the characters are whont-whont-whonting at each other and I don’t even give a crap what happens.  You want to avoid that at all costs, for sure.  Fight the whonts! The cure for that is to stay in a perspective—any perspective—and hold on to the meaning of what’s happening.  Hold on tenaciously—don’t let the feelings go.

But even then the responsibilities and pressures of everyday life have been an interruption, sucking the time and energy away before I can stop it.

And that is honestly what I’ve been up against.  The black hole of distraction, the restlessness and resulting inertia. The unconscious resistance to keeping the derriere in the chair. 

I needed some motivation (and a swift kick in the butt).  And so I asked, the universe delivered.

The opportunity arose in the form of a contest.  For pre-published (this is the term our president of the Maryland Romance Writers, Sharon Buchbinder uses because we aren’t unpublished, it will happen—and I love the creative visualization) authors to submit a scene from their manuscript.  A specific scene, the first kiss.

You never realize what form motivation will take, and man, I didn’t see this one coming.  The first kiss.  That scene in my book has been rolling around my brain for months, I just figured I had to work for it first.  That it would be the boon of me doing the legwork of the intro chapters.  It’s the carrot I’ve been trotting after, it just seemed to be held so far away.

I hesitated at first and then my critique partner, Sarah stepped in as my voice of reason and cheerleader.  Why can’t you write a future scene first?  If you’re seeing it so vividly just get it down on paper, then you can connect the pieces later like a patchwork quilt.  It may even give you important tidbits of information that are relevant for linking the scenes together.

I can write the first kiss, I thought.  And for the first time in weeks I felt this charge of excitement.  I get to write the part that we all look forward to, the first contact, and this got me thinking.

What is it about that first touch of intimacy? 

To be truthful, I don’t entirely remember my first-first kiss, but I fully remember the important ones.  And that’s what the moment is about.  It’s the true kiss that we all wait for, and eagerly look forward to.  The tingly one, the one that signals that who you’re with is the right match, the emotional and physical risk you should take. That green light to the fulfillment a relationship brings.

That golden moment.  I have twelve days and ten pages to write it.

I feel surprisingly animated despite the tight deadline.  We’ll see how long that lasts (*guffaw*).  I may be on the ledge by Thursday, but I'm ready to jump back into the writing.  I think that’s what I’ve needed—high stakes and some incentive. 

My couple’s kiss has been a marathon movie playing in my head and maybe that means it's time I shared it.

 I can do it, right?  Wish me luck and I'll report how it goes!

-          SNG :0)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Backup

Hello.  It’s been three weeks.  I know, slacker thy name is Shelley.  I have been busy writing, reading and performing other authorly duties as assigned, if that lets me off the hook in any small way?

No?  'Kay.  

I would lamely try to blame the delay on the crazy weather (both an earthquake and a hurricane have hit my area in the same week) but I will respect everyone’s intelligence and not make excuses. We were lucky that neither natural disaster caused much damage, so I will not push the universe into sending us any more.  

Given that it has been a pretty exciting week (i.e. many readers are probably picking tree debris off their front lawns as I type) I’m going to keep this entry short and sweet.

This week I’ve decided to talk about the art of choosing a publishing house.  This is a tricky subject for several reasons, but we’ll try to keep to the basics.  

My writing significant other, Sarah (a.k.a. my critique partner) compared the process of picking a publishing house to applying for college.

“You can have your Harvard-esque first choice but you always want to have a back up and even a third and fourth option.” – Sarah Allan

This is very wise advice.  There are some big names out there in the publishing industry.  Many houses require that an agent submit your manuscript which is yet another deciding factor in who you finally want to go with.

And similar to applying for a college, you want to research what each of the houses has to offer and whether or not that is what would serve you best.

During the RWA conference back in June I checked out several publishers and compared their models.  Some were smaller houses, some strictly e-publishing only, and many held different guidelines regarding print books.

Now the emergence of e-books has brought about a paradigm shift in the world of publishing.  We can’t even begin to cover all of those details in this entry (it would most likely be a multi-post series), but summed up, e-publishing has a dynamic all its own. There are no solid charts on the scale or guaranteed profit of e-sales because the data is still being gathered.  Numbers fluctuate, and like a new model of car, the statistics of it can really only be measured in hindsight.

That’s not to say that authors shouldn’t take advantage of the trend now.  E-books are hot and they offer higher percentages of revenue to the author.  Nook and Kindle will likely be around ten years from now, so if you want to look at an e-publishing group, check out the company’s history and try to get a gut feeling about them.

You can garner clues as to what places you want to apply in several ways.  First and foremost, I say stand up and walk over to your bookcase. Pull out three to five of your favorite books, and mix it up: grab a reference book, a novel, a mystery and so on.  Flip open the cover or check out the spine.  Who’s the publisher?

The point here is that if you love a publisher’s product there’s a great chance that they’ll love your work, too.  Especially if you see a theme with several different books stemming from the same publisher.  And you want to be sure to write down the names and look them up online.  Some publishing houses go by different names (usually separated by genre) but are unified under a single business figurehead.  Several different books all printed by the same company is a big sign that you like that company's style.  This exercise acts as kind of a divining rod pointing you in a starting direction.

You also want to ask a lot of questions about what you want and what benefits publishers have to offer.  Do you want your manuscript published right away?  Do you look forward to having print copies of your book?  How long are you willing to wait for publication and sales proceeds?

It’s advisable to be upfront about the average cost of everything.  Ask the publisher how many books they publish each month, how long it takes for e-book distribution and whether or not your book will be produced in both formats.  Find out if there are different incentives for print versus e-book (usually print will give you less profit because it’s more expensive to produce) and decide how important these numbers are to you.

Some publishing houses still specialize solely in print books.  With the world going digital, this may initially seem like a bad deal for you, but be sure to stop and look at every option closely before you gong it.  

Marketing and self-promotion is important as well because it’s not an easy thing to endeavor alone.  You’d be surprised how many e-authors have struggled to make time from already busy life and writing schedules to try to get publicity for their newly published books. Another benefit of publishing houses is that they have marketing resources readily available and it’s a valuable way for readers to find you without additional out-of-pocket expense.       

But even with a strong campaign in place, the prime rule of marketing is that word of mouth is single best way to sell anything.  You want your name out there, talked about, with easily accessible links of where to find you and your books.  So if you choose to pay a percentage price from profit, make sure that it pays you back through the support of your publisher. That way, like picking a college, you decide how much you’ll be sharing with your publishing house, an institution that will serve you in return.

And while a big name publisher is like an Ivy League choice, they admittedly have the big name for a reason.  The major-league names have been around for a while, and if you throw your hat in with them you have a good chance of going far.  But that's not to rule out the little guys.  The up-and-coming e-pubs of today may very well be the digital giants of tomorrow.  Kind of like the community college that has all the same professors as the top 100 school, right?  ;0)

  So really check out the places you’re interested in, many have fact sheets on their websites to help you weigh the pros and cons.  Go in with a list of key items that are important you (i.e. profit, promotion, book prints etc.) and select a first, second and third choice that matches your criteria.  And don’t be afraid to ask the hard-hitting questions.  With some luck, and a lot of hard work, you’ll be working for them but they’ll be working for you, too.

 As of right now I choose to remain quiet about my choices.  I feel that weird superstitious twinge that if I tell anyone beforehand that it might not happen, like making a wish. Sarah knows who my Harvard is, but my second choice is kind of a Yale, so I evidently have good taste as well as high hopes.  And Sarah has sagely encouraged me to add a few “state-school” level backups. I have a few really great companies in mind, and I want to dream big, aim high, and be reasonable about it.

I promise that if I land Harvard I will disclose the name, I’m sure that I'll want to shout it from the mountaintops.  ;0)


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pure Imagination

         Here is where I make my apologies for the skipped entry.  I had every intention of blogging last Sunday but was deterred for what I think is the best reason – I got lost in a great book.

            Three books actually, a best-selling series that has been out for several years and is now being made into movies.  I ignored the world except for the necessities of life for four days straight.  I started reading and got swept away…

            And getting that absorbed is a rare thing, because the story was so incredible that I wanted to “live” in it.  How many books can you say have ever impacted you like that?  

            When reading, I am the one being entertained, but every writer knows that it’s a lot easier to be on the reader side of the page.  And being in the “audience” you come to appreciate the genius of the author.  Reading the books, I was blown away by how enveloped I became with the heroine, the thoughtful details of her feelings and her life.

            A small cavern deep in my chest ached at how creative the plot was.  This author has such imagination!, I thought.  My story doesn’t even hold a candle to this…

            Okay, there it is.  The evil little thought in your mind.  The green-eyed self-doubt.  The negative self-talk that I have no imagination or that my thoughts aren’t as deep as other, incredible authors.  

            It’s said that “good writers are good readers.”  And readers are the heart of it because they provide the imagination.  They “see” the worlds in the words.  And while I was a fabulous reader this week, my thoughts occupied with the story, I still felt a twinge of guilt.

I lay in bed one night thinking about this.  Good writers are good readers, but we also handle our subject matter differently.  Reading other's work is a way to expose yourself to another voice and writing style, but it’s also a way to focus on the nuances of your own story.  And as all the awesome plot points of the book I’d read lingered in my mind, my thoughts turned to my manuscript.  For a fleeting moment I felt failure.  My little single-title contemporary story isn’t futuristic or metaphysical. It isn’t a fraction as dynamic as the book series that has dominated my brain all week. It won’t necessarily leave a reader thinking about the degrees of virtue or ethics, but it is a good love story. 

It’s a good story, I remind myself repeatedly.

While the never-ending comparisons continued to battle in my head, I began to ask myself questions.  How strong are my characters?  What maintains the bonds between them?  What are the real reasons two people fall in love and what makes up believable conflict?  What reasons would these two people, or any of the adjacent characters, have to care about each another?

Stories are formula but it’s the unique qualities of the characters, plot and voice that make them special.

Inspired by reading, I was motivated to walk over to the pillars of my story’s plot and kick at them to test their fortitude.  

It’s easy to be entertained, but its work to make what you write entertaining.  And it’s the ability to get lost in a good story that’s essential. 

This week I looked at what I had written and asked myself honestly, am I lost in this world?  Do I relate to my characters—the places, people and things?  Why?  Why not?

As I furtively questioned it, poking at gaps that made up the weak points in my story, I did start to feel a little hopeless.  Caught in the overwhelming knowledge that I have holes in my work, I also stared squarely into the face of my fears.  I questioned whether I have a creative mind, but I must, otherwise why would I endeavor to do this?  Spend hours typing, editing…documenting the images I see.  

            A world of pure imagination, how do we get there? What makes your imagination come alive? 

For me, it’s in reaction to my daily routine.  I live a life full of regimes.  Same clothes, same schedule, same food.  I ask myself often how a land of adventure can even reside in the crevices of all of that order, all that monotony.  The repetitive patterns of everyday life are played out to a silent dirge sometimes, and then that's when it hits me.  The daydreams are the escape.  The wayward thought that pops up and asks, “What if I drove past work today?  What if I turned onto the highway and drove until I ran out of gas?  How far would I go?  What would I see along the way?”

I’m currently working to get into that zone and stay there.  I’m also applying the obligations that I feel in everyday life to my characters lives.  I ask myself, “What makes a person stay in a place?  What makes two people feel obligated to one another?”  These are the heartstrings that I need to tie in place in my story and I want them to be realistic. I want to build a world, a believable one.

And I am beginning to get lost in my own story, because that’s when I know it’s good. When you want to run home to write the same way you want to run home to read a good book.  That’s the goal.

And never doubt the power and expanse of your imagination.  If you can appreciate ingenuity in the books you read, then you have the ability to imbue the books you write with personal vision, too. 

You just have to open yourself up to it.

-         -  SNG  :0)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Square Pegs and Round Holes - Where does my manuscript fit in?

Happy Sunday to all and welcome back! 

            It’s been a month since the RWA conference and all the knowledge I picked up in New York has stuck with me so far.  Looking back, the workshops were incredible as were the spotlight series. 

The spotlights were hour long question and answer session with the publishing houses which acted as a meet-and-greet with the different publishers.  I really got to check out the ones I was interested in and the sessions also opened my eyes to a really important issue for a first-time author: sub-genre.

“Romance” is my genre—the all-encompassing, main category of the fiction I write, and so the lucky reader who will one day pluck my book of its shelf knows that they will be reading a love story, but what kind of love story?  Good question, right?

Similar to any organizational classification system from plant species to grocery aisles, the subject category of your book is essential.  Just as a consumer wants to know what aisle they can find canned soups, your future reader will be shopping the different categories of fiction to find a good read with a theme that they like.  It may banal as hell to say but it’s still true, you can’t judge a book by its cover (or its synopsis), and the worst thing you ever want to do is trick a reader into paying for a story that doesn't live up to their expectations.  That’s bad business and most people can admittedly say that they’ve had that happen to them.  Think back to a time that’s happened to you at the bookstore or library. 

"Clean up on aisle Single Title Contemporary..."

 You have a good dose of empathy going?  Good.  Keep that with you.

Publishers know this—they’re out to sell books not tick people off. And in the vein of keeping their customers happy, they have all created product lines (designations that indicate the subject matter of a book) to help guide readers in selecting a story.

And this is important because you want the reader to pick your story.  In a nutshell, your book needs a place to "live" and while determining your story’s sub-genre may seem easy, it’s really not.

In today’s marketplace there’s a myriad of sub-categories to any fiction genre and in romance that list is growing every day. There are stories set in medieval times, in the Victorian era, out in the frontier wild west.  There are modern stories, mythical stories and stories with sleuth-like action added to them.  Up until just a few years ago there was no description for love stories that involved humans and non-human creatures, and to remedy that problem the category of Paranormal Romance was created.  And like Paranormal Romance, there are new themes emerging all the time, which means that categories will be forever growing and changing in order to accommodate it all.

And so I wanted to take a minute to talk about this and what it means for your manuscript.

            Like every other step in the publishing process, you want to do your research beforehand.  Appropriate categorization of your book will ensure proper exposure and will result in better sales, which is what you want. 

            While every publisher has their own scale of sub-categories, I suggest analyzing theses lists while your story is still a manuscript.  At this step your work is ready to be presented however it's not decided yet which publishing house will have the honor of publishing you. You want to be sure that you find a good category match before you sign anything that commits your manuscript in a contract. 

            The process reminds me of  a memory I have from my childhood. When I was little, my family and I resided in Japan for several years.  We returned to the states with many cool souvenirs from our stay including a flat, pinball-looking appliance called a Pachinko machine.  In Japan the machine was a game comparable to a slot machine that would dispense a cash reward to the player with the highest score.

It was challenging game because the balls used were small and heavy, made of lead.  The goal was to launch them as hard as you could by slamming the lever on the right-hand side with force until the little ball would ping and bounce off pegs stationed throughout the flat plane of the machine.  I remember watching my sister play, she was good at it, as she managed to get the ball to ricochet off several of the pegged markers, the machine’s bells ringing as she racked up the points and in the end the tiny ball would have to land in the slot at the bottom of the machine.

            Thinking back, it made a good analogy for this blog.  Finding your book’s category is not a throw-it-at-the-wall- and-see-if-it-sticks kind of process.  To wit: don’t mail your manuscript to every editor at a publishing house with the expectation that they select your category for you. 

            As a writer you want to present yourself and your work in a professional manner and be considerate of what could be your future editor's time and energy.  So if you’re interested in a particular publisher, go to their website and look up their submission guidelines for their different categories. Make sure that your manuscript is meeting the word count and the description of that sub-category’s requirements and become familiar with the "flavor" of that line.

            Take the time to see if your work fits what the publisher is looking for, and if doesn’t, don’t let that detour you from writing your story.  If what you’re writing seems pretty traditional, chances are that you’ll have a place for it with the book lines of more than one publisher.  You'll simply need to pull up each of their websites and check them out.

            If you’re working on something really different and never been seen before in the current writers market, don’t despair.  You may very well be the next trailblazing author of a new sub-genre, but with that crown comes a bit more legwork.  You may need to look even more closely at the guidelines offered, and if then your manuscript still feels homeless, you may need to send out a few e-mails to get clarification.  Also ask your agent (if you have one) where they think your story would fit best.

To help with this journey, I’ve typed up the following list of the current sub-categories (plus many that I heard listed at the conference).  Now, even with this I still say, “Do your homework!” and that will be the fail-proof way that you get your manuscript to the right place.

Here are a few of the sub-genres:

          Title - Description                                                                                                                     

           Regency Historical Romance - Romance set in the early 19th century

           Historical Romance - Romance set before the early 19th century (i.e. Viking, Medieval, Tudor,  
           Elizabethan and Georgian)

           Inspirational Romance - Romance with spiritual or religious influence (Exp: Christian beliefs)

           Young Adult Romance - Written for, published for, or marketed to young adults (roughly ages 14 to 21)

           Contemporary Romance -  Set in modern day (or after World War II)

           Romantic Suspense - Romance involving an intrigue or mystery for the protagonists to solve.  Note: There are more distinctions to this category (many classify it as the following):

            50% Love Story/50% Suspense = Intrigue

            75% Love Story/25% Suspense = Romantic Suspense

            Novel With Strong Romantic Elements - A work of fiction in which a romance plays a significant part in the story, but other themes or elements take the plot beyond the traditional romance boundaries.

            Romance Novella - A short-story romance

            Erotic Romance - Romance with intense intimate scenes. (Rated R or NC-17)

          Generation Romance - Written/published for or marketed to young adult's in their 20's

            Sci-Fi Romance - Futuristic romance

           Erotic Horror - Spooky, dual theme romance/horror.

            Fetish Romance - Romance written, published for or marketed to readers that are  fetish-based

            So you can see that there is a lot of selection out there and ways to be sure you find that you right “home” for your work.  Because like the Pachinko machine you want position your manuscript to hit the right pegs.  That way your book will win and win big.  ;0)

-          -  SNG