Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Beep beep, n'beep beep, yeah!

So yesterday I went with my dad and brother to the British International Motorshow (why the 'international'? Is it because otherwise people might think it's just for British cars? Are there any British cars any more? Didn't they all get bought by Ford, or sold to Russian oligarchs, or something?). Just as it was two years ago, the weather was blistering, but at least Excel seem to have got their air conditioning sorted out, and there was a breeze coming straight off the river for the outside bits.

Although, what the hell was up with the catering? A dozen or so fast food concessions, including three with the word 'posh' in the title, and the only veggie options were a cheese baguette or a cheese and onion pasty. Add a tuna baguette and fish'n'chips for those who eat fish...but it's still not a gigantic choice, is it? Maybe Clarkson's opinion of vegetarians has spread to the show's organisers?

Well, food ranting aside, I had a great time. It's always kind of funny to go to the Motorshow and see the ratio of men: women. It's probably about 4:1, and of those women present, at least half, maybe three quarters, fell into the wife/daughter/mother category, and not women who are there because they're actually interested in cars. Which is insane: I bet most of them drove cars. But then, men wear clothes and don't care about fashion.

I actually received what I'm taking as a high compliment from my dad: that I know as much, if not more, about cars than him. This might be his way of admitting he knows sod all, but that's not the way I choose to take it.

Anyway. Show highlights. I wanted to look at the new Fiesta, but it was kind of swamped, so I wandered over to the Land Rover stand. Here's my old favourite, and a car I still want, the Defender. Brilliantly functional, does what it says on the tin, and still looks damn good. This is what Sophie drives--although of course, Ted is bile green, about a million years old, and looks it.

The Land Rover concept, on obligatory revolving stand. Looks fantastic. Hope it makes it into production. Although whoever designed it does appear to have been moonlighting at Saab, too.

From the concept-for-concept's-sake department at Renault, the Megane concept. Those doors...very nice, but perhaps trying a little too hard to be different? You don't need to reinvent the wheel. A door that opens in one piece is enough, thank you.

The second-worst car company slogan I can think of belongs to Kia. "The power to surprise" is not a power I want from my car. They might be cheap, but that's part of the problem: buying a Kia tells everyone not just that you're cheap, but that you really don't care about cars (if you're that broke, buy a Fiat Panda). Kias just aren't cool (see Andre Agassi advertising them. Instead of his cool rubbing off on the cars, their naffness started to rub off on him). Putting gold wheels and bumpers on a car doesn't make it look just makes it look silly. And don't call it Diva. That's like you wanted to call it the Beyonce but couldn't get the licensing.

Incidentally, the absolute worst car slogan I saw yesterday was Ssangyong: "It works for me." But for everyone else, it just doesn't work at all.

The truly ugly Citroen C-Cactus. A terrifying melange of what-the-fuck-ness. It looks like a rhino snorting coke. Its name sounds like something spiky you find on ocean floors. It has lime-green felt on the inside. And yet, there is one thing I like about it: no dash on the passenger side means acres and acres of legroom. I mean, in a crash that diesel-hybrid engine is going to kneecap you, but up until then you'll be comfy.
Chevrolet's new Camaro. I don't know what it is about this thing that's just so...American. I mean, take the badges off every car in the place and ask someone to find the American one, and they'd point to this. That's not so say it's not good looking--it is, in a Tony the Tiger kind of way. It's grrreat. Makes a change from the ubiquitous silver and this year's concept colour, white.

Of the three Humvees on display, two were locked, and had blacked-out windows, so I'm not sure what their point was.The other one was full of young men in baggy jeans and very large t-shirts, and I've never been quite sure what their point is, either. But I absolutely loved the little soft yellow cuddly Hummer toy in the floor display case. Cute as all hell. Buy one for your kids: by the time they grow up, cars will probably have been outlawed.

Vauxhall's replacement for the Vectra (about time!), which of course is the invisible repmobile Luke drives in the Sophie Green books. Receiving its world premier at the Motorshow, although as this understated display shows, Vauxhall are being subtle about it.

Sarcasm aside, I think it looks like a decent vehicle, a whole lot better than the Vectra, and my God, it has a boot you could live in.

My brother remarked that the crappiest marques had the prettiest promo girls--he was right. After all, if their cars are rubbish they need another way of grabbing your interest, right? And see above re: ratio of men to women. No one is trying to sell anything to women at this place. In contrast, when you get to the prestige marques, the stands are being manned by middle-aged blokes in suits. The exception was Alfa Romeo, whose promo girls wore very stylish little black dresses, but then they're Italian, and they won't countenance ugliness.

This girl was on the Cadillac stand. I think this was the only stand, apart from Alfa, where I wouldn't be ashamed to be seen in public in the promo girls' outfits.

From the eco corner, the Nice (No Internal Combustion Engine). What's that you say? No, it's actually a real car.

In the same corner, the Nissan Cube. Clearly designed by someone who was only allowed a ruler and set square (and how exactly is this thing going to be fuel efficient when it has the aerodynamics of a, well, a cube?). Paint it red, add a bloke in a Royal Mail uniform, and you've got Postman Pat, am I right?

And back to the Now That's What I'm Talking About section. The Mazda Furai. How it can possibly have the same label of 'car' applied to it as the Nissan Cube I have no idea. Just look at it. Aerodynamics of an eel. Looks like Batman is going to dive into it. Sounds like a martial arts manoeuvre. This is why I love cars.

The Furai again. Because I love looking at it.

After lunch, we took a stroll down the side of Excel, past the river where, for those who find the whole car thing a bit boring, a bit cheap, a bit lacking in vision, there were some very expensive boats. This one came in at £2.8 million. You could buy three Bugatti Veyrons for that.

But if you have a lot of money and don't fancy a yacht, there's the Heritage Enclosure. This is where they put all the money-can't-buy-it classics. It's also where you find a lot of men with long-lens cameras and misted-up spectacles, quoting specifications at each other in hushed, adoring voices.

The sublimely pretty Alfa TZ1.

The wonderfully un-PC number plate on the Ford GT.

The completely bonkers Koeniggsegg CCX. This is the one that tried to kill the Stig.

The big, brutish Aston Martin Vanquish. This was the jumping-the-shark disappearing car in the last Pierce Brosnan Bond movie. Which is a shame, because I think it matches up with Daniel Craig's barely civilised Bond much better. This is the one Sophie blew up in Ugley Business. This is the one Docherty really wants some payback for.

It's so beautiful we'll have another picture.

From the sublime to the ridiculous: the AA had a small exhibition of heritage vehicles that had been used during the last 60 years. You know, the AA? Automobile Association? Comes to get you out of trouble when your car's broken down? Well, what I just loved was this. Most of the cars had drip trays underneath to catch the oil leaking out of them. Yeah, that's what I want to see--a rescue vehicle I'm going to have to tow.

Back inside to the Sunday Times You Couldn't Possibly Afford It area of the show. I was mildly disappointed that Aston Martin didn't have their own stand, and neither did Ferrari, but at least you could see them here. Shame there was no Veyron, however.

Yes, I do have a thing about Astons.

The Pagani Zonda. Looks like the white knight version of Batman, doesn't it?

And now to my favourite stand (well, since Aston didn't bother). Alfa Romeo, the last car manufacturers to prize style firmly over substance. God bless the Italians. The only manufacturer with nice cars who actually bothered to find their promo girls nice outfits to go with them. Also, one of a very small handful (the others are all Italian too) who should be allowed to paint cars red. Italian racing red. Any other red just doesn't work.

Here is the Brera, which my brother loves so much he'd marry it if he could.

Personally, I prefer the 8C Competizione. Mrrrow!

The only time you'll ever get my dad in an Alfa. ("But BMWs are much more reliable!" Yes, which is why yours has been back to the garage a bazillion times. At least when your Alfa breaks down, you still look good).

Toyota's new Pious concept. I mean Prius. Sorry.

From the Top Gear stand, Hammond's not-at-all-gay Vitara. Nice. The other two 'police' cars were there too, with several promo girls wearing t-shirts saying I Am The Stig. Sure you are, love, sure you are.

And that's it. Apart from the incident at the Suzuki stand, where I was checking out the Swift (still a very nice little car, even if it has absolutely no badge prestige) one of the promo girls came over and before I could say I didn't need any help, she said, "Excuse me. I just wanted to ask how you get your hair like that?"

This was basically my 'it's hot and I just want it out of my way' style. Because of the side fringe and the layers, etc, it doesn't pony up as well as it used to, especially if there's a breeze which there was, Excel being by the Thames and all. What the Suzuki girl wanted to know was how I got the plaits sitting on top of the hair, not tucked under. And I had to honestly say I have no idea: I'm just cack-handed about these things.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

If I was going to San Francisco

I'd probably be on a plane now. Zombified.

Instead, I'm going to the Motorshow.

Pictures will follow, for any of you who care about cars. And those of you who don', tough, the pictures are still going to follow.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

RNA conference notes--part five: Sunday afternoon

These appear to be the last set of conference notes I have! I actually found a lot of Julie's advice here really useful for revising Kett's book.

Julie Cohen: Pacing—it isn’t just what you do in Jimmy Choos while waiting for The Call.

It sure isn’t. I don’t own any Choos. I’ve only ever seen one pair in real life (Alysia, you know I’d nick them if they were in my size!).

Anyway. Pacing, as explained by the not-at-all-hungover Julie Cohen, is about being a Timelord (here we both regretted that she didn’t have a David Tennant picture to display) and controlling your reader’s experience of time. We’ve all experienced the OMG of sitting down to read a little of your book while dinner’s cooking, only to look up what seems to be minutes later, and find your kitchen filling with smoke. The book changed your experience of time, so you didn’t notice the minutes ticking by, or indeed the smoke alarm going off.

How to do this? It does depend on how long the book is. Julie writes short contemporaries for M&B Modern Heat (about 55k, I think) and longer books for Little Black Dress, which are nearly twice as long. In the LBDs, there’s more room for subplots, downtime and introspection, that there isn’t in a shorter book.There’s also space for more worldbuilding and the action can take place over a longer time period.

But all this can slow the pace of a book down. The basic thing you want to do is to make the slow, boring bits of life go faster, and the fast, exciting bits go slower. Lots of conflict slows down the pace, which is exactly what you want for the big dramatic moments in your book—you don’t want them to be over in a twinkling.

Similarly, there are certain bits of exposition that are necessary, but maybe not all that exciting. These could do with being speeded up or incorporated into another scene. You never, ever want your reader to have an excuse to put the book down, or worse, skim bits. You want your reader to burn her dinner (well, you don’t really, but you know what I mean).

Be efficient in your writing. Don’t waste time with things that aren’t relevant, and try to make each scene have two or more purposes. This isn’t about what happens in the scene, but about what it actually does for the story. Does it move the plot or subplot along? Are your characters being developed? Does the scene create environment/atmosphere/conflict? Does it impart information?

Revise for pace. Don’t try and cram it all in on your first draft. Julie often prints out her scenes and writes down what each one actually does in terms of the above. If you do this and discover that you have scenes doing nothing but imparting information, you might want to consider rewriting those scenes, as they’re going to be quite slow. Try to start, and end, each scene with a hook.

Vary the mood, topic, style and theme of your scenes. Julie gave us a breakdown of the first act of Romeo and Juliet with a bullet-point list of what happens. Shakespeare varies, in almost every scene, the tone and style of the language—the younger lovers, the older parents, the aristocracy, the servants. He alternates high drama with comedic moments or fanciful, romantic scenes. The combination is different in almost every scene, and thus a whole lot happens, the world is built and the characters introduced all in the first act, without the pace dropping for a moment.

If you have secrets to impart in your story, try to hand them out gradually. Reveals are dramastic, and they keep the reader coming back for more. Slow down these moments, make them full of emotion and drama. If they pass too quickly, they’ll just vanish and your secret-keeping will have been in vain.

Julie compared novels to comic books (her forthcoming LBD is about a comic book artist), where all the action takes place in the white space, call the gutter. Don’t be afraid of white spaces in your books—use them to break up scenes. They allow time to lapse without filling in pages of boring, “and then this happened, and then that”.

What should you speed up, or even skip altogether?

Coffee and shopping scenes. In films they’re always cut down to montages anyway. These scenes don’t actually do anything (unless the coffee meeting or shoe shopping is the backdrop for important revelations!).

Descriptions for the sake of it. You can tell me the minutest details about your heroine’s outfit, but unless those details are relevant in the scene—the over-tight corset that makes her faint, or the borrowed shoes that cause her to stumble—it’s all completely pointless. Ditto surroundings. This ties in with what Anna said in her workshop on settings, that there should be an emotional connection to the setting, and your characters need to interact with it. If there isn’t, and they don’t, then why are you telling me about it?

Things that are necessary in real life but not in fiction. Your character is driving--I don't need t0o know every gear change. I don't need to know about every meal they eat or how often they use the bathroom (I really don't). There’s a Jude Deveraux book (I can’t remember which one, and I’m not about to go through all twenty-twelve of my books to find out!) where the heroine is a cook, and she makes lots of jam. The reader is treated to page after page of nothing but checking temperatures and boiling sugar, or whatever it is you do in jam-making. I’d tell you, but I was so bored I skipped pages at a time, so I have no idea.

Naturalistic but unnecessary dialogue. I was reading a book the other day—and mercifully I’ve forgotten what it was—where every single word spoken by everyone in every conversation was recorded. You and I know that when you make a phonecall you start off with the pleasantries, but your reader knows this too, and doesn’t need to read, ‘Sarah picked up the phone and dialled Jane’s number. “Hello?” said Jane. “Hello, Jane, it’s me,” Sarah replied. “Sarah?” “Yes. How are you?” Sarah asked. “I’m fine, how are you?” Jane replied. “I’m very excited about the date I had last night,” Sarah said.’ See? Disaster. Your reader has skimmed most of that. If your narration just runs, ‘Sarah called her best friend and said, “Jane, I’m so excited about the date I had last night…”’ you’ve imparted the same amount of information without boring anyone.

Bits at the start and end of the scene. Start with a hook, and go straight in. Don’t re-cap anything.

Resist the Urge to Explain. Remember the jam story? Have R.U.E. painted on your keyboard. Remember about keeping secrets? Your readers are smart people. They’d like to think they’ve figured things out for themselves without being told in every scene what’s going to happen, what’s happening and what’s just happened. Don’t be afraid to cut anything that’s not useful or entertaining.

Analyse your pacing after the fact—especially if you're like me and Julie, and can’t plot in advance. Julie said that for Girl From Mars she made a quick summary of everything that happened in a chapter, then made a chart marking out who was in the chapter, and what was happening with them. Each character got a coloured dot—a small one if their presence didn’t make much of an impact, and a big one if something important was happening to them. This way, she can tell if there are different things happening in each chapter; if there’s a big dot in each chapter; if there’s something from each character thread in each chapter. It’s useful in seeing what the important thing in each chapter is. Can you cut the rest?

I bastardised a version of this for Kett’s book (which despite a list of potential titles running over two pages, still doesn’t bloody have one), which I know is over-long and has pacing problems. My version has columns for character and plot development, and then for the tone and content of the scene—one each for humour, love, lust, drama, and hate. I put in varying shades of each colour for varying degrees of content. Sounds complicated, but it enabled me to see where there were chapters with lots of plot development, but apparently no humour, love, lust, drama or hate. The characters didn’t develop much either.

See the highlighted box near the top? Skim along to the right, and you'll see only one colour there—plot development. But absolutely nothing else. That's the Hateful Chapter Five, which has since been fixed, to be funnier, sexier, and less hateful.

On the other hand, I could see where the Black Moment fell by the big dark colours in each column. The Drama and Hate columns had lots of colour there, but after that the Hate column got paler, while the Love one got darker.

It’s all about using what tools work for you. If you’re a better plotter than I am (and I can’t even write notes on my plots, or the creative bit of my brain just goes on strike) then you might not need all this. But if your book is plodding a bit, try using some of Julie’s advice to tighten it up a bit.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I really do want to write about superheroes

The thing is, I wrote about superheroes before, and it flopped. Badly. It was going to be a whole series (for the three or four of you who bought it, that's why the whole supervillain thing was never resolved) but after the first book failed so badly, no more were commissioned. That's the thing with series. The first one has really got to succeed.

Perhaps it was because Naked Eyes was an erotic romance, and supers don't do so well in the erotosphere? (new word, like it?) I was thinking of a new book more along the Sophie lines--non-erotic (although there may well be some sexx0ring) one central character, a couple of love interests, sequels, save the world, diet-to-fit-into-supersuit, etc.

Or maybe it's that superheroes do well in comic books, and on the big screen, but not in books.

Or maybe it just sucked.

Thoughts? Reactions?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Jungle cats

Jack and Daisy had their first trip outside yesterday. Neither of them understand the cat flap, and Daisy got stuck up a tree (a 15ft conifer...try leaning a ladder against one of those, swaying nicely, when you're terrified of heights!). But otherwise, things went well.

The pink rose there is one we planted for Tinker (we've always planted roses when our pets die). Twenty years ago, he was the same size Jack and Daisy are now!

Daisy, being intrepid. When we first got her through the cat flap, she hid under the sidings of the conservatory.

Daisy helping me work. She's a rotten typist. Even now she's trying to climb onto my desk.

Here they are making themselves comfortable on my bed. Left, Jack; centre, Daisy; right, Spike, remaining unimpressed.

Currently, Daisy is climbing all over the computer, and me, looking for attention. Three weeks ago she was terrified of me. Nice to see she's figured out who her mummy is.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Heat Stroke cover

Yes... isn't it hot? Props to Renee George who designed it! Fifteen Minutes from the Sun is a little short story snippet about two hot people on a shuttle facing meltdown. I'm flexing my sci-fi muscles here, people.

RNA conference notes--part four: Sunday morning

I've categorised these into their own folder, so if you click the '2008 RNA Conference' link at the bottom of this post, it will bring up all my conference reports for this year.

Kate Walker: Get yourself out there! Internet publicity

Kate gave an entertaining and informative talk on how and why to market yourself online. As Steven Williams of Midas PR noted, the Internet is one of the biggest marketing tools there is, and authors really can’t afford to miss out on it. If you’re not on the Internet, you don’t exist to a lot of readers. They might have heard of you through a different medium, but when they come to look you up online to find out more about you and your books, they’re not going to waste too much time if they can’t find information quickly.

The best way to do this is with your own website. Kate gave a 20 P Guide to getting your website right. Most of these pertain to a website; but could also be relevant to a blog.

1. Popular. Make people come back to your site again and again. If your site is popular, word of it will spread. Get a stat counter so you can find out who is visiting your site, and where from. Google Analytics will do this for you, entirely for free. Tracking information tells you how many visits you’ve had each day, and where they come from. And that ‘where’ is pretty comprehensive. It tells you not only which websites have referred visitors to your site (for instance clicking on the link to on the left would show up on my stat counter as a referral from; which search terms they have typed in to find your site (ie did they Google for Kate Johnson, Sophie Green, Samhain books, ebooks, spy mysteries, mad pink book covers, etc); and even which part of the world they’ve come from (I can even tell which town…apparently I’m popular in Cambridge and Reading).

One word of warning is against visible stat counters (you know, that tell you you’re the 1,684,325th visitor to the site), unless you really do have a lot of visitors. Telling readers that only twelve other people have looked at your site since 2001 isn’t likely to boost your popularity.

2. Pertinent. Make the website directly about you and your books. You can put other stuff on there as well, but make sure that you’ve got the info readers want: what your books are about, where/when they’re available, what they look like, and who you are.

3. Personality (but not Personal). Make the site reflect your personality as a writer. Are your books girlie and fun? Are they dark and serious? Try matching your web design to the designs on your books (Anna Louise Lucia did this to great effect with her website). If you write serious historicals, you probably don’t want a site with orange and green sparkles all over it (if you write sparkling romantic comedy, like Julie Cohen, that’s much more appropriate!). The tone of the website should also match your tone as a writer, perhaps to a lesser extent, ie you could make it more humorous if you write comedy.

Don’t confuse personality with personal. Your website doesn’t need to be cluttered with the details of your daily life—keep this for your blog.

4. Professional. A bad site is worse than no site. Home made sites look home made. And for the love of God, check for spelling errors. If people are coming to you’re website, there going to loose they’re faith in you if your not bothering to check their for bad grammer.

5. Promotion/Promotions. Build an image. Don’t do the hard sell, readers hate it. Don’t forget we’re in the entertainment industry, and while we might not be featured in Heat (thank God), readers still want to know about authors, they’re interested in personality.

Use promotions such as contests and blog parties to build interest. Offer a signed copy to one lucky winner, or a relevant trinket (I made a Christmas ornament featuring the cover of my first Christmas novella, and gave it away as a prize, for instance). But don’t do these too often, and beware professional contest enterers, who are just in it for the prize and not interested at all in you. Oh, and if you’re offering a signed anything, always make it a personal signature—it deters wannabe eBay sellers!

6. Protect yourself. Assert copyright, and never give out personal contact details on your site. Use a different email address than the one you have for personal stuff. There are crazies out there.

7. Purchase. Make it easy for people to buy your books. And I mean really easy. It’s a good idea to have a buy link to your newest book on your homepage (the first page people see when they type in your website address). Link your site to directly to your book’s page at online booksellers like Amazon and Waterstones. A lot of big chains have affiliate programs where if a reader uses the special Amazon link to buy your book, you get commission. Getting paid twice for one book, brilliant!

8. Print. Whatever you print out for promotional purposes—bookmarks, letterheads, business cards, t-shirts—put your website address on it. You don’t even really need to bother with the www bit—every single web address starts with this—but don’t forget the suffix, the .com or or whatever. Make your web address stick in people’s minds. Make it easy for them to look you up. And keep business cards/postcards/whatever with you all the time (I keep business cards in my purse, postcards in my bag, and my mum carries my cards with her everywhere too!).

My own advice for printed materials is to use Vistaprint. Their usual method of charging you for everything, from uploaded images to colour printing, is pretty annoying but there is a brilliant get-out. Sign up for their special offers and, sooner or later, an email will arrive in your inbox offering you stuff for free. Upload an image for free, choose colour printing for free, then order a hundred postcards (the only downside is you'll have to do your own images, but they do give you guidelines and you can probably do them using whatever imaging software came with your computer). You'll pay for postage, nothing more. Order another hundred, and pay the postage there. It's still cheaper than ordering two hundred and paying the full price!

9. Present. As in, not in the past. Keep your website up to date. I’m personally not a fan of those ‘newest updates!’ bits you get on some homepages—they don’t tell me anything useful at all. But make sure your newest book is right there for people to see the minute it’s available. No; before that. The minute you know about it. Get your cover up there ASAP. Release dates. Let people know things in advance.

As before, this isn’t the place to announce every detail. Keep the less relevant details to your blog and just put the concrete details on your homepage: your newest title, its cover and release date, maybe the ISBN and a quick blurb. The wrangles with your editor over said cover and blurb can be detailed on your blog!

10. Past. As in, your backlist. Your website isn’t just to advertise your newest book. It’s to advertise all your books, your entire career. Don’t put all the info on your homepage, but do make it easy to get to. It’s recommended that all important information should be no more than two clicks away—don’t make people load page after page, they’ll get bored and go away.

If, like me, you write in series, then it’s a good idea to post a list of these on your website. If, like me, these are slightly labyrinthine, you might want to put some thought into how you’ll do this! For my Cat Marsters books, which are both novels and novellas, print and e-book, in single- and multi-author series, it took me a while to work this out in a way that made me happy (I divided them into print or ebook, and then series or standalone). A reading order is also a good idea for your series.

11. Project. Figure out what sort of image you want to project. This is tied to your Personality. What sort of colours match your image? Bright, pale, dark? What sort of pictures and logos do you want?

I spent a while coming up with ideas for my two sites. I wanted them to look similar, so you could tell they advertised the same person, but writing two different kinds of books. Kate Johnson got a pink theme to go with the black, and Cat Marsters got purple. Since the books I have as Kate Johnson are spy stories, albeit rather silly ones, I used a black background, blocky fonts and made my header image with a few key elements: the silk background, the gun, the lipstick (I have those two on my business cards too) and the lines of code. To foil the darkness and match the girlieness of the books, I made the main colour pink.

For Cat Marsters, who writes erotic romance, the theme was simpler, although it took me a while to get the image of the naked girl right—didn’t want her to be too naked! I was going for that Sophie Dahl poster—you know the one I mean. To counter the dark sexiness, the titles are all written in a breezy purple font—purple traditionally being a signifier of passion, as well as one of my favourites.

12. People. Who are you aiming at? Will your target audience appreciate black and pink, or will it put them off? Try not to age yourself.

Think of your global audience. One of the massive advantages of the Internet is that it’s not constricted by time or distance…although language can be a barrier. If your books are translated, consider adding a Babelfish widget to your site, which can automatically translate it (although such translations can be a bit comical!).

13. Pictures. These make a site SO much more interesting! And covers of your books are very necessary. You want people to be able to recognise them easily.

Make sure you’re using images with a reasonable resolution, but size them so they’re not overwhelmingly big. Large images take forever to load, and people get bored and give up. Don’t cram a page with too many images, as this also affects the time it takes for a page to load (people on dial-up won’t thank you). That author photo again…it can be a matter of pride! You can always cheat and have an obscured photo—taken from behind, or just showing your hands at the keyboard—if you really don’t want to post your ugly mug on the Internet.

But as mentioned above, readers do want to know about you as a person. There’s a school of thought that says your author photo ought to be appropriate to the kind of books you write—the leather-jacketed mystery writer, the chick-lit author in fabulous heels, etc—but I’m not so sure it’s necessary. Approachability is what you’re aiming for, but perhaps try to keep your writing personality in mind.

14. Promote. If you have a web presence, use it to promote your website. We’ve mentioned including your web address on your printed matter, but don’t forget to include it in your email signature—at least, your professional email—and when you post on forums and message boards. Again, you want people to become familiar with it. More people read forums than post on them—there are a lot of lurkers—and it’s free publicity.

15. Posting. This is simple: post up-to-date-information. Keep updating your site and make sure it’s current.

If you have a blog, keep it current. Don’t let it fester, unloved, for weeks at a time. Some people post to their blogs several a day, some only once or twice a week. Whatever you do, try to maintain consistency, and don’t forget to be professional. Although here, more so than in the body of your website, you can get a lot more personal.

16. Prompt. As soon as you have information, add it to your website. Don’t leave it until the day before publication to show people your book cover!

17. Procrastinate. No, not you. Other people—make your website a procrastination tool! Make people spend ages tootling around finding what you have to offer. Add information that’s relevant to the books: perhaps some details about the research you did; things that didn’t make it into the books; the music that inspired you; explain things that are briefly mentioned in the book—for instance all the movie quotes in Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation are listed on her website.

A blog is a great procrastination tool. If you’re going to have one, make it very easy for people to find from your site. Some people have their blogs integrated to their sites, some have them separate, like mine (I’ve considered integration, but running it on two sites would make it more difficult). But make sure people can find it easily.

18. Purpose. Remember what your purpose is: to sell books. Whatever else you do with your site, make people want to buy your books, and make it easy for them to do so.

19. Presentation. See #4 re: spelling errors! Most programs come with spellcheckers these days (and as for posting on blogs, you can get a spellchecker add-on for Mozilla Firefox that checks your spelling as you type. You can probably get the same for Internet Explorer, but then why would you when Firefox is so much better?).

20. Pretty (and pussy cats). Make your site appealing. Make it pretty, but don’t sacrifice readability.

As for pussy cats, Kate Walker says she often puts pictures and snippets of info about her cats on her website, and has even produced a cat calender of them, but some readers don’t seem to like it. For what it’s worth, my experience has been the opposite: I get more readers and more comments when I post pictures of my furbabies on my blog.

Caroline Sheldon: It’s tough out there—shortening acceptance odds.

Caroline Sheldon, who has run her own literary agency for over twenty years, gave an informative talk on what agents are looking for now in the UK market.

Since the collapse of the net book agreement, big bookselling chains and supermarkets have taken over, and what they’re interested in is bestsellers. This means that independent booksellers and midlist authors are really losing out—nobody can afford to stock books they can’t guarantee will sell, and so fewer and fewer authors are being stocked. Publishers have also conglomerated into supergroups, and are looking for fewer titles and lots of bestsellers.

The minimum sales publishers are looking for are 4-5k hardback, 15k paperback. And yes, hardbacks are still desirable, to publishers at least, because they get onto lists like the Sunday Times bestsellers, which have lots of marketing clout. The midlist has been cut right back, with half the number of books per month. Publisher are always asking for something fresh, new and different…but not too fresh, new and different, or it might not sell.

What seems to be in favour right now are: romantic comedies, chick-lit (despite the doom-and-gloom forecasts. The glut of bandwagon-jumpers seems to be over, and peopke are still buying the good stuff) and its older sister mum-lit. Gothics and weepies are on the rise, and sagas—in the sense of big sweeping stories—are still popular. Quality historicals, like Philippa Gregory’s, are very popular (although Philippa Gregory denies that she writes romance. Despite winning the RNA’s main award!). Caroline accepts fantasy and paranormal books, which she thinks may be about to break through, but isn’t keen on science fiction.

What do you need to catch an agent’s eye? A catchy title helps a lot, and a gripping first line and paragraph. There are more agents than there used to be, but in the current publishing climate, you’re better with one than without one.

Caroline accepts submissions by email and post, but prefers post. She doesn’t print out many of the emails she’s been sent. The query letter is important, and a very short synopsis of one double-spaced page is preferred. She says perhaps one in twenty submissions, or maybe even forty, is re-read. Unusually among agents, she likes submissions in bright coloured folders—it makes them easier to find in the slush pile!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dr. Horrible is over

I'm sad because Dr. Horrible is over. Like a really good book I read too fast, it's ended too soon.

Although now, I want to write about superheroes.

Friday, July 18, 2008

RNA Conference notes part three: Saturday afternoon

While I wait for the third instalment of Dr. Horrible (new addiction! Yes it is!), here are the rest of my conference notes for Saturday's workshops.

Saturday afternoon

Midas PR: secrets of a successful PR campaign

Steven Williams, MD of Midas PR who run the RNA’s publicity campaigns, gave an informative talk on the elements of a PR campaign. He said that PR is all about face-to-face contact, and the best way to do this is to contact national newspapers and TV shows. Phone is better than email, as you want to build a rapport. However, as an example only about 3% of books sent to the Daily Mail are actually reviewed for the paper, and your chances of getting a slot on something like Woman’s Hour are even smaller.

Steven advised us to familiarise ourselves with the media by reading the papers and blogs that review and promote books, to make sure we’re targeting the right ones. He recommended Ready Steady Blog, Book Slut, Grumpy Old Bookman and Rake’s Progress, as well as the women’s website iVillage. You’re more likely to reach younger readers online, and older readers via traditional media. Build a website: this is becoming essential. You don’t necessarily need a blog—a neglected one can reflect badly, but if you think you can stick to it then it’s a good idea.

Write a PR plan. This should factor in lead times—big magazines plan their features 4-6 months ahead, national papers 4-6 weeks. Look at your audience and how to reach them, ie find the right magazine or website for your target readership. Use an angle: for instance have you begun a new career in midlife? Has your writing helped you overcome an illness or tragedy? Do you have an unusual background? Don’t forget that national newspapers have widely-read websites: for instance the Guardian’s paper sales are around 350,000, while its website gets about 16 million hits per day.

You press release should not be too long, no more than a page. Include a relevant biography—leave out the details that have nothing to do with your book or the angle you’re chasing. Always include a photo of yourself, as professional as possible.

Try targeting the trade press, in this instance writing magazines, with feature ideas, and don’t neglect your local papers or radio, as you have a built-in angle. Try to build a relationship with someone at the paper/radio station—think of that face-to-face contact. People are more likely to remember you that way and think of you for their own articles. Literary festivals ar eon the rise and a great way to make your face known.

Use the themes in your book if you don’t have a personal angle. For instance Freya North, who won the RNA main award this year with Pillow Talk. She ran interviews with sleepwalkers, as it affects her main character.

Unfortunately if you’re fielding the press campaign yourself it’s very expensive: Steven warned that a 2-3 day hard campaign would cost about £5000. This could rise to £20,000 for a bigger campaign.

Emma Rose: The life and times of a Random House novel.

Emma Rose edits the Arrow line of books at Random House. She invented a fictional author and her book, to talk us through the submission and publishing process: Betty Seller, whose first book (sorry but I’ve forgotten the fictional title!) has been submitted to Random House.

The editor takes lunch with an agent, who pitches Betty’s book. Emma likes the agent, and trusts her to pitch books that match the style and taste of the things she’d looking for. She accepts the submission and reads it quickly. Emma uses an e-reader, so she can read the book in the office and on the train, or wherever she likes. She likes the book, and takes it to her senior editor.

Emma has to sell the book to everyone else in the office: not just her senior editor, but also the maeketing, sales and editorial teams have to be on board. The book is pitched at an acquisitions meeting, where a profit-and-loss sheet is drawn up to work out the maximum offer Random House can afford to make on Betty’s book. They need to work out where it will fit into the schedule, making sure it won’t clash with other books of a similar nature.

The ultimate decision on whether to accept the book lies with the editorial department, but the marketing dept. also has a say.

The editorial team will make a presentation to Betty and her agent on how they intend to sell the book. If Betty’s agent has pitched the book to more than one publisher, they may need to try harder, and an auction might decide who actually takes on the book.

Emma’s offer is successful and Betty signs the deal. A year in advance, the author is consulted on the ‘jacket brief’. Work on the cover begins early as it is such an important selling tool. The team must decide where the book will be positioned in the market, and if the cover should feature photos, illustrations, or mainly text. The editor needs to tell the designer why she loves the book, and what the market is.

The editorial team has lunch with the agent and author so that the author can meet the team. Emma’s notes on Betty’s book allow her to return the second draft within a month, and a few weeks later the line edits have been completed. Emma did note that this is a very fast turnaround, but we’re looking at a perfect example.

Emma creates a title information sheet, which includes details on Betty, her biography, her agent, the cover and blurb of the book, as well as the sales points of the book. The publisher will usually write the blurb, although occasionally the author might do it. It’s considered a major selling point.

Sales to big chains have to begin 6-8 months in advance. If the book is to be published in May, then the jacket brief takes place the preceding May. In July the blurb is written. September is when the marketing meeting takes place, and a month later marketing material is produced at the sales launch meeting. In November, a proof cover is created.

Proofs are less common now than they used to be. They’re advance copies sent to booksellers, with some of the sales points on the cover (a friend of mine used to work in a bookshop and bring these home—it was how I discovered Sarah Mason—I remember a large photo of the author on the front cover, and sales points on the back, telling potential booksellers where the book stood in the market, expected print run/sales figures, and how great the book was was). After the final edit the book is sent to a freelance copy editor to check for any mistakes. The editorial team chooses the typeface and the proof is created a few weeks later.

In terms of marketing, sell-out and sell-through are about point-of-sale marketing, getting consumers (ie readers) to buy the product. Company marketing to customers (ie booksellers), known as sell-in, uses less paper materials and more interactive gimmicks, such as the whips sent to company buyers advertising a new bonkbuster. Samples of the book are often sent out, and various toys, and sometimes even cakes! Occasionally the publisher will take the buyer to dinner, but that’s less common now. A lot of customers don’t allow freebies. The publisher looks at marketing Betty’s career, rather than individual books. They work several books ahead. The aim is always to get books on shelves.

The marketing department might be working several books ahead. Their aim is always to get books on shelves, but ultimately they’re not marketing one book, they’re marketing Betty Seller’s entire career.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I've just discovered Dr. Horrible

I'm amazed that with my abiding love of all things Joss Whedon I managed to miss this! Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog is a musical blog webcast thingy with a lovelorn wannabe supervillain, and Nathan Fillion as an egocentric singing superhero.

What's not to love?

(If that site is down, which it apparently often is due to the sheer volume of people wanting to share the Horribleness, try here).

Episodes--oops, I mean Acts--Two and Three will be shown 17th and 19th July, and taken down 20th July. Don't forget to read the Master Plan, it's hi-larious!

RNA conference notes part two: Saturday mid-morning

Following on from Saturday morning's sessions, after coffee and the first of many compliments on my shoes

Anna Scamans: A Sense of Place

Anna (writing as Anna Louise Lucia) gave a brilliant interactive workshop on how to use setting in your books. She began by reading the opening of a Mary Stewart book (can anyone remember which one? I’m not hugely well-read on MS and only have one on my shelves--which isn't it!). The passage described the landscape in terms that foreshadow what’s to come: “a sound like rain” (which I think described the susurrus of wind on long grass or crops) hinting there’s a storm ahead in the story.

The passage was long, and as Anna said, unlikely to be picked up by a publisher today as a way of opening a book. Be wary of putting too much description together in your book—consider the pacing.

Anna asked us to partner up and describe a place that we had a personal connection to.
Mine was the fields where I walk the Demon Puppy—although she’s just over a year old, I’ve been walking there since, well, I was old enough to! My first dog, Jenny, was an ancient terrier cross who joined the family ten years before I did, and died when I was five, so our field walks were short. However, for five years after that we continued to walk in the fields on bank holidays and weekends when the weather was good.

I remember the gleam of wheat in sunshine, the movement of crops like waves in water. The smell of rain on a sunny day. The cool of the shade under the trees in the little wood and the stink of stagnant water in one of the overflow ponds up in the small nature reserve.

Those ponds became a bathing pool for Honey, who was my dog from age 10 to 24. She was long-haired (Retriever/Sheltie cross) and on hot days I used to walk her to the far side of the fields, through the nature reserve, to the ponds, where she’d just wade in and stand there, steaming, but never getting her face wet, like a lady with a hairdo. Now the Demon Puppy (short-haired black Lab/Collie cross) launches herself in, belly-flop style, and paddles around after sticks. This dog ain’t no lady.

Those fields and woods remind me of my childhood and of my dogs. I quite often stand there and, as Neil Finn put it, “breathe in the view” (from the song Part Of Me, Part Of You, which even starts with the words “Over these green hills, blue electric light, always in my blood, forever in my eyes”—yes, the setting even brings music to mind!). I’ve always been very glad they’re so close and always felt at home and quite safe there—although this could be to do with the hefty weight of the brass buckle on the end of the dog lead!

As Anna said when these places were described (not quite as lengthily as mine!), there is always a reaction to a space—whether you’re safe, happy, uncomfortable, scared, disgusted, whatever. What you know about a place is as important as what we see. Think of those poppy fields in northern France and Belgium: they look very pretty and peaceful, but we know the horrors that went on there, and it affects how we feel about them.

Your relationship with a space makes you who you are. I described a rural setting, but my partner described an urban one (again, it reminded her of her childhood) in which she felt happy. Having lived in a semi-rural setting all my life, I’m much happier with some space and greenery around me, but I’ve had city-dwelling friends who feel unsafe in the countryside (you know, all those pitchfork-wielding yokels. Too much League of Gentlemen if you ask me).

Make the setting significant to the characters. Anna’s example was the film Gladiator: we first see Maximus on a dark, muddy, bloody battlefield where he seems to be completely at home; but when he closes his eyes he dreams of golden fields, because that’s where his home really is.

When you’re researching a setting, don’t just look for geographical details. Try looking at blogs and travel journals to see how other people have connected with a place.

Anna put up four photographs, of a city street, a green valley, a beach at sunset and her office (complete with cats), and asked us to pick one and write about a character who felt comfortable there, interacting with the surroundings. Then to take the same character and put him/her in a setting that was uncomfortable. Taking a character out of their element can say as much about them as putting them somewhere they’re comfortable.

Use the five senses—although admittedly Taste is a tough one in a lot of settings! If your setting is somewhere that includes food or drink then it’s easier. Don’t just describe how a place looks but how it sounds and smells, and what sort of textures your character encounters.

When Anna came into the room she said it reminded her of being back at school—perhaps because of the desk and chairs and OHP, but the thing that got me about it was the smell. My primary school had the infants class next to the office and staff room. Whenever the connecting door opened, I smelled paper, ink and coffee. It still takes me back twenty-one years to Mrs Wood’s class, even when I smell it in my own office now.

Finally, Anna reminded us that a physical journey can often symbolise an emotional journey. Just don’t be too obvious with it!

Monday, July 14, 2008

RNA conference notes--part one: Friday & Saturday morning

I figured it was about time I posted something useful and constructive about the RNA conference, seeing as how I’ve been back a whole week now. I didn’t take my camera, so I’ve borrowed some pictures from other people who did.

Friday afternoon started with the author panel. I’ve already wibbled on about it; the other authors present did a much better job than me!

Picture borrowed from Liz Fenwick, who has loads of great snaps. L-R: me, Nicola Cornick, Kate Harrison (standing; just finished The Secret Shopper's Revenge and loved it!), Anne Ashurst (just visible), Kate Hardy, Anna Jacobs.

Same line-up; this time it's Nicola Cornick speaking.

After a slightly late, boozy Friday night, it was time to get down to the business of learning more about this ridiculous business of writing and publishing. Here are the first couple of talks I went to.

Saturday morning

jay Dixon: Shakespeare on Love

jay gave an informative talk on the influences of Shakespeare on romantic novelists from Georgette Heyer through to the present. Knowledge of Shakespeare has often been used to demonstrate compatibility between characters, and used as a shorthand to add intelligence, without stretching the reader’s knowledge too far. Shakespeare is known all over the world in many different languages (I once saw a production of King Lear at the Barbican that had an all-English cast, including the late Nigel Hawthorne, but an all-Japanese crew, including the director, Yukio Ninegawa).

Shakespeare has given us many common words, such as abstemious, critical, frugal, and zany—and several that haven’t caught on so well, such as insultment (I love this!), bepray, and undeaf.

He borrowed plots and subplots in a way that would have us crying piracy today—but in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was entirely acceptable. What Shakespeare gave us was a fresh way of writing. He could portray a character through speech—changing patterns of speech for older or younger characters, nobles or commoners (Julie Cohen also touched on this in her Sunday talk). His work was rich with metaphors and new ideas ‘bursting from their shells’ (that comes from a quote, but I only mate a very quick note so I can’t remember who!).

Romeo and Juliet gives us the framework for the romantic novel, beginning with disharmony and moving towards harmony. The stages can be described as:

Love at first sight





Of course in R&J the reconciliation isn’t between the lovers, but their families.

Shakespeare didn’t add on subplots for the hell of it: in R&J the Prince appears at three pivotal points and what he says and does affects the main plot. In Much Ado About Nothing, the wordy, funny, highly charge affair of Beatrice and Benedick is in total contrast to the romantic, tragic affair of Hero and Claudio.

Shakespeare had romantic plots of themes in a lot of plays that weren’t necessarily about romance: for instance Lady Macbeth’s love for her husband is the driving force behind her actions. The jealousy of Othello is a theme that’s been used again and again in romantic novels (although not usually with such tragic consequences).

And finally cross-dressing, so beloved of Shakespeare plots, is still an enduring device in romantic novels, although usually historicals, since today women in effect cross-dress on a daily basis!

Liz Bailey & Eileen Ramsey: Networking

Liz and Eileen gave a hugely enjoyable workshop on the right and wrong ways to network with publishers and agents. Using the biannual RNA parties as their example, and with Pia Fenton and Henriette Gyland as volunteers, they demonstrated the wrong ways to approach editors and agents at such events.
Picture borrowed from Kate Hardy, who also has a comprehensive write-up of the conference)

Things to avoid include: butting in on conversations; taking too long; being rude; approaching someone who doesn’t represent what you write; gushing over the other books they’ve edited; lacking a clear, concise ‘pitch’ to describe your book; don’t expect them to take your details/contact you; badgering famous authors for an introduction (but if they offer you one then take it!).

Things to remember: Be professional; be polite; know what your book is about (sounds obvious, but see below re: being unable to describe my own damn books); have paper/pen ready to take their details; if they’re there at such an event, then they’re willing to talk to you.

Then they had us role-play (haven’t done this since school) as pitchers/pitchees. I cheated, and played the pitchee.

The thing that always stumps me is trying to describe my books. All right; so I can explain the Sophie books without rambling on too long: a ditzy blonde gets recruited as a spy is probably all you need to know. And erotic paranormal romance doesn’t require much further explanation. But the book I’m currently shopping with agents (with very little success; possibly this is why) has no easy description.

I sat next to Imogen Howson for this talk, and while she described her book to me (A romantic ghost story with a shocking twist) perfectly, my description of the Untied Kingdom went something like, “Well, it’s set in a parallel world, and there’s this endless war, because basically we—er, that is Britain, England—are a sort of third world country, and there’s this girl who falls through a whole in the world from our world, and she’s fished out of the river by an army major, and he thinks she’s mad, or maybe a spy, and…”

You see the problem. So during and after the talk, I jotted down ideas for a more concise pitch. The trick to this, as I realised when I was writing the book, is to figure out whose story it is (I kept trying to write it as Eve’s story, but it’s really all about Harker). Here’s what I came up with:

Major Harker is fighting an endless war in a third world country that’s falling apart. It’s called England.

Whaddya think?

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Have got Mozilla working again! I know, everyone was on tenterhooks, tearing out hair in sympathy, etc. New profile--apparently the old one got corrupted, probably by whatever Norton found lurking like a maggot in the depths of my hard drive. Also, I panicked when the most recent set of bookmarks it could found dated from January 2007--but I located the newer ones, too. I bookmark all my reviews, you see, so I can find them quickly. Now I just have to stop that Getting Started tab popping up every time I launch the browser, and I'm good.

Stupid browsers

So, I was getting tired of Mozilla crashing on me, and on my brother's recommendation downloaded the new version. Mozilla 3.0. Can't get it to even launch properly (opens a blank window and an eggtimer. That's all).

So, I'm using Internet Explorer, which obviously I hated enough to switch to Mozilla. It has none of my usual haunts cached, no bookmarks, no spellchecker (and I'm a terrible typist, I need to see my mistakes before I post anything!) , and everything's a little fuzzy, as if it's been enlarged 110%. Whenever I click on my Gmail notifier for new mail, it tries to open Mozilla. How do I get Mozilla back? I've installed, uninstalled, reinstalled... I don't really want to have to give up on it, especially because it involves resetting all my preferences for things like Gmail.

It's probably my computer, which has decided it hates me. I even downloaded new virus software (AVG Free said there was no problem; Norton begged to differ) which started a whole new rant about why I should have to pay for virus protection just to use the Internet (sure, if you never venture away from AOL or Yahoo's homepages, never send or receive anything, or even download a picture, you'll be safe, but then why are you using the Internet in the first place?).

Just my luck: I get the first computer in existence with PMS.

Friday, July 11, 2008

My shoes

Since so much has been asked about them--I thought I'd post a picture of the cream and black brogues that got so much attention on Saturday at the conference. Although for some reason Blogger has decided to post the picture sideways. Picture me confused.

I was going to post something much more witty and insightful about the conference, but I'm a bit floopy this morning having handed over a large wodge of cash to my dentist to drill and fill a tooth. Consequently, the right side of my mouth, jaw and lip, are kind of numb and earlier I found myself chewing my own cheek instead of some cheese. I thought I'd cheer myself up by watching Scrubs and Greek, which should have been recording last night, but Sky+ has no memory of either of them. This is very annoying, since I can't find a repeats--not for Greek which was the repeat episode (tennis having taken precedence on Sunday), or Scrubs, which is on E4 where of course there's no room for anything, what with Big Brother chomping great putrid holes in the schedule.

Anyway. When I'm less grumpy I'll write some more about the conference, or at least about Crowded House at Thetford (the cause of my TV schedule interruption) last night!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Annoying things people ask authors

One of the lovely things about RNA meetings is that everyone there is in the same boat, or at least adjacent ones. No one asks you the irritating things you usually get asked whenever you reveal what you do.

These include the assumptions that you're writing about yourself, your friends and family. Maybe people are desperate to recognise themselves in books; whatever it is, just mention a skin tone or hair colour, accent or nationality, or heaven forfend a name a little like someone else's, and everyone's convinced they know who you're writing about.

At RNA events, I'm often asked if I write full time. This is so much nicer than the "So do you have a proper job?" phrasing, which means the same thing but also manages to imply that writing is a sort of hobby. Even worse is, "So don't you do anything else, then?" But then, authors are paid to think about how words go together--and how not to insult someone deliberately.

I don't know a single author, published or unpublished, who hasn't been asked where they get their ideas from. And I don't know a single one who could answer honestly. I think Terry Pratchett put it best, when one of his characters invented a sort of helmet to try and stop the constant inspiration particles from colliding with his brain.

It's like with Shakespeare (well, sort of). You know how there are people convinced he didn't write his plays because he'd never been to the places where they were set, and that no one in his family had any history of writing, and--gasp!--may have even been illiterate! Well? So? No one else in my family can play the piano, but no one assumes my brother fakes that. Can't we allow the clearly brilliant Mr Shakespeare the nous to, I don't know, ask people about these far-off places?

Which brings me onto the sniggering question I'm asked when people find out I write erotic romance. "So do you research your books (nudge, wink) personally?" Yep. All of them. Everything in them--I've done that. Even the one with the faery wings and the flying.

As for, "Can I be in your book?" there's only one sensible answer: No. You're far too annoying.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Pacing, and Why Kett Has Problems

Not just Kett the character, but Kett's book (which still doesn't have a definite title: another problem).

I bastardised Julie Cohen's plot chart to make this:

I know it's too small to see (also I don't want to actually give away the plot) but all the colours are relevant. The wide column with all the text outlines what happens in each chapter. The coloured columns list what they do. Orange is for character development, turquoise for plot development. The darker, the stronger. The next five (I ran out of clearly different colours) represent humour, drama/action, love/affection, lust/attraction, and hate/anger. This is so I can look at the book as a whole and see where the high and low points are.

For instance, chapter six appears to have some problems: it's high on plot development and exposition, but there's no character development, humour, drama, love, lust or hate. This means that chapter six is going to be pretty damn boring.

The purple column represents lust/attraction. You can see that Kett and Bael get off to a great start, but then there are big droughts where they barely even touch each other. This is a problem in a red hot romance. However, for the most part there's a lot of growing affection, and for many scenes there's drama which actually gets in the way of any naughty stuff.

The high point of hate/anger (the bright green on the right) represents the Black Moment. But look at all that crap that comes after it!

Methinks I need to do some serious work on this...

Monday, July 07, 2008

Well, what was romantic fiction?

Have just got back from RNA conference--well, not just, I had to watch Doctor Who first, obviously. Can I make a full report? No, my brain hasn't started working properly yet. The RNA conference is usually about two things: wine, and talking to other people who also hear the voices (in fact Nell Dixon has a t-shirt to that effect). Put the two together, and you don't get much sleep, especially in student accommodation with paper-thin walls (I hope to hell their library is quiet and conducive to study, because the student rooms aren't).

Anyway. I survived the author panel, which was the opening session and therefore at least over with quickly. Anne Ashurst did a brilliant job of keeping it moving and making sure all five of us answered each question, and in varying order. As we were first asked to talk about what sort of books we wrote and how we'd ended up writing them, I played the 'mis-spent youth watching Buffy and reading Terry Pratchett' card, which was sort of cheating as I'd already put that in my speaker bio for the conference notes.

Most of the questions weren't hard or scary, but being put on the spot is not my forte--when asked to name my favourite author in my own genre--paranormal romance in this case--my brain went dead and I couldn't think of one. It sort of went like this:

Me: Er, er, I hate being asked this question, er, well, my favourite paranormal author is Terry Pratchett, but that's not really romance--

Various Authors In The Audience: Which one? / Witches Abroad! / Wyrd Sisters!

Me: Yes, but the City Watch books are my favourite, Men at Arms and Thud! in particular.

Lynne Connolly: What about Kenyon?

Me: Oh God, thank you. Fantasy Lover! It's about a Greek demi-god who's cursed into a book as a sex slave, and whoever speaks the right incantation gets him as her slave.

V.A.I.T.A.: Collective sigh.


Question: What makes romantic fiction? What makes your books romantic?

O.A.O.P.: Very sensible answers about love and finding other half of soul, etc.

Me: I always think about what comes next. I hate books that are all grand and passionate but you can tell the characters are going to burn out. I always want to know what happens after the last page. Do they get married? What do they name their children? I want to know they're still going to be together when they're grey and old. (All right, I wasn't this concise and probably miss most of the pertinent points, but this was really what I meant to say. See above re: being put on the spot.)


Question: I know most of us are happily married, but if one of your heroes walked through the door, would you...?

Other Authors On Panel: No, of course not, I love my husband.

Me: I'm single, so yes. (This response was quoted back to me multiple times throughout the weekend!)

V.A.I.T.A.: Erupt in laughter.

Me: Especially if it's the one I based on Richard Armitage. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!


Etc. etc. Anyway, that over, I proceeded to the bar to drink lots of wine. Saturday morning came a little bit suddenly. It also came with my pretty cream and black heels, which garnered more compliments than any other shoes I've worn. They were followed by my silver sparkly shoes, which so enchanted Janet Gover that she put a picture of them on her blog. Sunday brought my red polka-dot wedge-heeled espadrilles, which made an appearance in a quickly-written PG Wodehouse-style parody in Katie Fforde's workshop (but unfortunately I can't remember whose! Sorry!) and had Tansy-whose-surname-I-can't-remember (sorry! Information overload!) asking me how me how many pairs of shoes I'd brought. The answer, embarrassingly for a three-night stay, was five.

Shoes and wine aside, I had a fantastic time hanging out with my writer friends, which I usually only get to do, Almost Famous-style, in the bookstore (speaking of bookstores, I took thirteen of my paperbacks with me, and sold eleven. Result!). I met Immi Howsen, who is an absolute sweetheart, and Naomi Clark, who is my age and lives near Cambridge which is brilliant. The usual suspects--Katie Ff., Kate Walker, Sophie Weston, Kate Lace, Jan Jones, Julie Cohen, Anna Louise Lucia--were all there and several of them ran brilliant workshops which I will try to relate in more detail later, and I made new acquaintances in the form of Kate Harrison, Anna Jacobs, Nicola Cornick and Kate Hardy who were also on the author panel with me.

(nb: why are there so many Kates in the RNA?).

Right. More will follow, probably, but a) I'm really tired and b) I'm trying to apply Julie Cohen's tips on pacing to making Kett's book work. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What is romantic fiction, anyway?

That's the title of the author panel--yes, author panel--I'm on at the RNA conference this weekend. And, you know, if someone asks me that, I'm going to be stumped. I mean, your obvious answer is, "Fiction about romance" or, for the less sarky, it's a story about two people falling in love and living, if not happily ever after, them for the foreseeable future.

I'm representing the paranormal genre for the panel, and this makes it a little trickier. Paranormal romance is not a huge market in the UK. The authors you might find on the shelves are a) imports, mostly from America, and b) not very well known by much of the public over here. Therefore, unlike the other authors on the panel (Kate Harrison, chick lit; Anna Jacobs, sagas; Kate Hardy, category; Nicola Cornick, historical), I'm going to be going in cold, because most of the conference-goes won't be familiar with the genre.

So, as Jan (who coerced me into doing the panel in the first place) asked, "Why are elves sexy?" I immediately replied, "Didn't you see Lord of the Rings?" but I fear I'm going to need more of an answer than that.

What's so special about paranormal romance? Why do we find vampires and werewolves, traditionally the very unsexy monsters of horror stories, suddenly attractive? What about future worlds and alien species? Fantasy universes? Why is paranormal romance, well, romantic?