7.30.14 - On Dancing, and Conferences, and Newbies, Oh My

By JT Ellison

Home from RWA (and a brief two-day birthday interlude for Randy,) and I feel like I’ve been gone for weeks. The cats were happy to see us, the house was still standing, and I have to get back to work on the book, which is now expected in Toronto on September 1, its original submission date.

I met my editor in San Antonio. I’ve been working with her for a while now, but we’d never had a chance to meet face-to-face, and it was an absolute joy. In addition to all the personal anecdotes and cat picture sharing, we spent some time on the story. I’ve mentioned before I’ve never shared a book that wasn’t the best I could make it with an editor before, and this has been hard for me, to let her see the warts and wrinkles. But she’s a pro, and she asked some great questions, especially of one component of the book, which is going to allow the next book in the series to be a full-on sequel to this one.

Were those groans I heard? A sequel? Well, yes. There’s a storyline in this book, a small thread, that is going to explode into its very own novel. I’ve never written two books back to back that were tied together, and I’m actually quite excited about playing with the structure and the story. It’s a delicate balance — no matter what, the books need to stand alone, but similar to my books in the Taylor series 14 and SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH, the stories will have a sequential component.

And there will be more surprises in that next book as well that will make everyone very very happy, so … trust me.

Back to RWA – a very optimistic conference, full of new writers and established ones. I counted four generations of writers in attendance. From the Catherine Coulter and Nora Roberts generation to the Heather Graham and Erica Spindler generation to me and Allison Brennan’s cohort and then the newbies just coming in. There’s probably seven, really, if you segment out by numbers of books — the 100+ers to the 70s to the 50s to the 30s to the 20s to the 10s to the debuts — but I’m more comfortable looking at influencers. It was amazing to sit at the literacy signing next to these literary romance giants, and to rub shoulders with the new kids on the block. It was so fun to be a little more established and to see the excitement and nerves of the new generation. I still get major nerves at these events — can I just tell you, I touched Nora Roberts! — so it was nice to see people more nervous than I felt.

My favorite newbie was L.R. Nicolello, whose first novel DEAD DON’T LIE comes out in September. I love finding members of my tribe, and she and I totally clicked. She’s going to be a big rock star. So check her out.

Spent some real quality time with besties Erica Spindler and Allison Brennan, plus a bunch of other great friends. We ate everything – from TexMex to French fusion to Italian (heavy on the Italian) and walked the River Walk daily. Even in the heat, it was a nice retreat.

And people, I danced. I never dance. I always hang back and watch everyone throwing themselves around and enjoy the show, but Friday night at the Harlequin party, someone (I think her name was Catherine) drew me onto the dance floor, and the next thing I knew, we danced all night. It was one of the most fun evenings I’ve had at a conference, ever. Harlequin knows how to throw a party, and despite the fact I was dancing in front of my bosses, I threw caution to the wind and let it fly. And it was so fun! And wow, why haven’t I done that before?

I’m off to score some more words for today. But tell me – when’s the last time you danced???

Via: JT Ellison


The Blacklist

By Allison Brennan I’ve been bad, not blogging from Thrillerfest or RWA, and I have nothing for today (though a FANTASTIC guest blogger tomorrow!!! I’m so excited!) but I just had, had, had to share this YouTube clip From ComicCon on The Blacklist.

Via: Allison Brennan


The Great Agent Hunt

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

The “How Do I Get An Agent?” question is coming at me from all directions this week and I figured I’d better put the answer all in one place so I can just refer people here.

So you’ve finished your first novel and now you face the dreaded question: What do I do now?

Well, first, MASSIVE CELEBRATING. Most people who try to write a novel never finish at all. You are officially awesome.

And before we talk about HOW, I’ll address the question of WHY you need an agent at all.

If you’re planning to go right into indie publishing, great! You don’t need an agent. Skip this step and go straight on to a whole other set of scary issues. :)

But if you’re looking for a traditional publishing deal with a traditional publisher, yes, you need an agent. I know, people do it without. Fine – if you’re one of those people, I’m not talking to you.

(If you’re planning to sell directly to a Harlequin category line, you don’t really need an agent at first, either. But you do need the professional savvy of Romance Writers of America. I strongly recommend that you join up.)

But for those of us who DON’T have that kind of business savvy to negotiate our own deals with a multimillion dollar corporation, this is what an agent does.

A good literary agent lives in New York (that’s CITY). An agent’s job is pretty much to go out to breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, and drinks with every good editor in the city, and know what those editors are looking for, so that when you hand your agent your new book or proposal, your agent will know exactly which editor is looking for what kind of a book – know each editor’s taste intimately, so that your agent can submit to exactly the right editor at each publishing company and put you and your book in the position of making the best possible deal available on the planet at that moment.

Really. That’s what your agent does.

When your agent submits your book, s/he will most likely submit it to 8-10 of the top publishers in New York simultaneously, and you need to have that book submitted to the editor MOST LIKELY TO BUY IT at each house, in the hopes of -

1 – creating an auction and/or pre-empt situation

2. – getting the best possible editor for you and your particular book and the best possible deal out there.

You cannot do these things yourself. An agent can. This is the difference between writing for a living and writing in those spaces between the demands of the day job.

An agent also is or functions as a contracts lawyer (or a good agency will have a department of contracts lawyers) who will, after the sale of a book, negotiate a contract that is far better for the author than the boilerplate (basic contract) – such as retaining rights in other media and other countries, reversion of e rights, and other critical bargaining points.

Writers without representation or with less than ideal representation might realize just how unfavorable the contract is only when it’s much too late.

And here’s some video of a panel discussion that I did with Dusty Rhoades and Stacey Cochran that goes further into what an agent will do for you and why it’s so important to have one. The question I was asked in the beginning of this tape was “Can I sell a book without an agent?”

And continued here:


So that’s the why. On to the HOW. Legendary Putnam editor Neil Nyren has this to say about finding an agent:

“The question I always hear the most at conferences is about how to find the right agent, and I always say, “Homework.” Now that homework is easier to do than ever. Besides such sites as Publishers Marketplace, AgentQuery, and the like, every agent in creation has his or her own website where you can find out about their preferences, authors, deals, ways of doing business. Really, people, there’s no excuse for cluelessness anymore.”

Amen to that. If you’re not spending – I would say at least a month – doing your research, you’re not taking this seriously enough.

I know a lot of authors recommend starting with the lists in Writers’ Market, but the very thought makes me cringe. How are you supposed to know who’s a good agent from reading randomly through that enormous book? Instead, I highly recommend making your own targeted list of agents who represent books in your genre, who have made recent sales, and who other authors you admire are enthusiastic about. We are SO LUCKY to have Google to allow us to do this kind of research instantly, right from our own desks.

I also know that getting an agent is so hard these days that a lot of aspiring authors jump at the first offer of representation. That is a TERRIBLE thing to do. You only have one shot to get your book read and bought by the major publishers and you need the best representation you can find. An agent with “clout” can get you thousands more in advance money, just because of their relationships and who they are. It can easily be the difference between you writing as a hobby – and writing for a living. It’s worth taking the time to do extensive research, and approach the agents you most want to work with first, before you settle for the first thing that comes along.


You knew that was coming, didn’t you?

While you are doing this research, I recommend that you build a list of at least 20 agents who you feel would be good representation for both you and your book. Take good notes, because when you query these agents you may want to say things like: “I feel you’ll respond to this book because of (these similarities) to your client’s excellent book (title).

Here are just a few great resources to consult when you start your agent investigation:


- Kindle

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)

- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon/Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE


Via: Alexandra Sokoloff


An Obamacare Challenge for Kay Hagan and Clay Aiken-Show Us Who's Side You're On!

By JD Rhoades
The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

“Death Blow Against Obamacare,” The Huffington Post blared. “Big Blow to Obamacare Subsidies,” claimed The Washington Times. As usual, however, the reports of the demise of the Affordable Care Act have been greatly exaggerated.

Here’s what happened: The ACA set up a system of insurance “exchanges,” where people can go online, shop among various insurance plans, and check to see if they qualify for assistance (in the form of tax subsidies regulated by the IRS) to buy them. The law provided that the states could set up their own exchanges, but if for some reason they couldn’t or wouldn’t, then the Feds would do it for them.
Some states, such as California, Kentucky and Minnesota, set up their own exchanges. Those have enrolled lots of people who are getting access to health care that they’d been unable to afford before. Republican-controlled states, however, out of pure spite over the GOP’s loss on Obamacare, refused to cooperate. They turned up their noses and said, “Let the Feds do it.” Which the Feds did.
Now, however, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in an opinion written by two Bushista judges (one a creature of Bush the Elder, one an appointee of his egregious son Dubbya), ruled that the ACA provided for subsidies only for policies bought on exchanges actually set up by the state, not state exchanges set up by the federal government.
I’m wondering if this ruling will finally get middle-class voters to realize that Republican governments that refused to set up exchanges might end up costing them a boatload of money. Because make no mistake: This decision, if allowed to stand, will end up having serious ill effects, not on the poor (whom the right wing already loathes and despises), but on a substantial percentage of the middle class.
See, the people who qualify for a subsidy, according to the ACA, are people who make between 133 percent and 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. That’s $46,000 for an individual and $94,000 for a family of four.
That’s solidly middle-class, folks. Those subsidies help cover uninsured people who are too well-off for Medicaid, who aren’t covered by their employer, but don’t make enough to buy their own insurance. If that’s you, and your Republican state government refused to set up a state exchange, then they’re trying to yank the rug out from under you.
One study, as reported in The Washington Post, predicts that if the subsidies were withdrawn from federal exchanges, the estimated number of Americans without coverage would increase by 6.5 million.
Another study by consulting firm Avaler Health found that people who’d been getting subsidies would see health care premium costs rise by an average of 76 percent, with some increases in poorer areas going up to 95 percent. People in the Democratic states that set up state exchanges, however, would get to keep the insurance they bargained for.
So I would advise the rabid right not to start doing the Wingnut Monkey Dance of Triumph just yet. Yanking away the health insurance that people just got may not be a winning issue for you.
In addition, a mere two hours after the D.C. Circuit made its ruling, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond ruled in exactly the opposite way. It ruled that the ACA says that the Feds are operating the exchanges “within the state,” which makes it ambiguous as to whether they’d be entitled to subsidies.
It’s a long-standing principle that in a case where a law is worded ambiguously, the agency interpreting it has broad leeway. So the IRS (which, remember, regulates the subsidies) can apply it to both kinds of exchanges.
The defendants in the D.C. Circuit case can (and no doubt will) also get the case heard by the entire panel of D.C. Circuit judges, not just the three-judge panel that issued today’s decision. And if that happens, the case will be reviewed by a court made up of a majority of Democratic appointees.
In the meantime, it remains to be seen if weak-kneed Democratic politicians who have been showing lukewarm support for Obamacare have the gumption to stand up for the people they represent and point out that it’s the GOP that’s cheerleading for millions of middle-class people’s health care to be taken away.
It would be a trivially easy flaw in the wording of the statute to fix, and ACA opponents would then be forced to defend their stance that taking health care away from people who just got it is a good thing.

Sen. Hagan, are you listening? You’ve shown vague signs of having a spine on this issue. Will you brace up and make this the middle-class cause it deserves to be? How about you, Mr. Aiken? Mrs. Clinton? Let us hear from you. Loud and clear.

Via: J.D. Rhoades


Pirate’s Alley — oil technique

By Toni I’m playing with various techniques within Photoshop. This is a relatively easy one — I took this shot July 20, pretty early in the morning. When I loaded it into the computer, I HDR’d it with Photomatix Pro 5, then popped it into Photoshop and fixed the necessary lens corrections. (When you’re shooting with a […]

Via: Toni McGee Causey



By Toni Innovation. One of the things that all the hoopla surrounding Amazon vs. Hachette is obfuscating is that the internet isn’t just changing publishing–it’s changing every type of commerce. I’m not all that interested in the controversy surrounding the negotiations, for all the same reasons that I wasn’t interested back when Barnes and Noble did the […]

Via: Toni McGee Causey


The ideal creative writing course format

By PD Martin

What is the ideal creative writing course format? Is there even such a thing? Writing courses come in all shapes and sizes—from a three-hour workshop to a full-time course. What’s best? What course will help you improve your writing the most?

I’ve taught quite a few different course formats –the shortest would be a six-hour workshop and I’d class my longest as being my mentorship role in the tertiary system. What works best?

The truth is, there are advantages and disadvantages of different course formats. One of my favourite courses was the Year of the Novel course I taught at Writers Victoria in 2012. I loved the fact that I could help people improve their writing over time, and I could see their projects taking shape. This course was one Sunday a month for eight months. However, while the eight-month time frame held many advantages, there were also disadvantages. Part of my teaching ethos is to drive my students to write more and finish their novels. Which meant that in my eight-month course I set word counts that I wanted them to achieve before our next session. Problem? I couldn’t possibly fit all the writing craft, character development work and plot development work into the first day of the course. Of course, I’d structured the course to feed the relevant craft info into key points, but still, there are definitely advantages of doing a more intensive course upfront before you start writing the next novel (or while you’re writing it).

I’m now also running intensive, week-long novel writing sessions at the Abbotsford Convent. Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm. These are designed to set up writers with the knowledge and tools to start and finish their novels. Again, there are advantages and disadvantages of this format. On the plus side, after only one week I’m confident that these students will know everything they need to know to make their novel the best it can be. To increase their chances of getting a publishable novel at the end of the day. It’s also handy for my interstate students, who can take the week off work and fly in once and know they have improved their craft exponentially. But it is pretty intensive and there’s no room for workshopping a novel, chapter-by-chapter.

The ideal format? I think a short course of 4-8 days over a shorter time frame (e.g. all the days in a row or weekly) followed by a longer course/program to ensure you’re putting all the craft knowledge into action is the ideal combination. The longer program could be in the form of a detailed manuscript assessment, workshopping group, or a course. Or even giving your manuscript to a good editor. I’ve learnt a lot from seeing the skilful edits of my Aussie, UK and US editors.

It’s also important you choose a ‘good’ course. Of course, choose a teacher who’s a published author, and someone who’s an experienced teacher. One of my students who did one of my Writers Victoria courses (five-day course over five months) said she learnt more in those five days than she did in her one-year, full-time creative writing course. And while that’s incredibly flattering, it also appals me that a full-time course can’t deliver the goods. So choose wisely and research the teachers!!

Via: P.D. Martin


An American in Harrogate

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

This time of the summer I’m almost always at Thrillerfest. It felt weird to miss it, but my brother was getting married that weekend so obviously, priorities!

But I wasn’t conference deprived, far from it. As befits my new transatlantic lifestyle, the weekend after TFest I ended up at what is in many ways the UK equivalent: the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Festival.

I’ve always intended to go to Theakston’s Old Peculier (which most people understandably shorten to “Harrogate”), since a good number of my favorite authors are British, and I can always use the UK market exposure, and of course there are the accents. This weekend was the first of many to come, now that the conference is only a four-and-a half-hour train ride away from me. Craig and I flew back from the wedding in California and had just twenty-four hours layover at home before we took off again (just enough time to reunite with our abandoned cat and promptly leave him again. Anyone know a good feline therapist?).

I don’t know what exactly I expected of Harrogate, visually speaking, but I was surprised to find a lovely little Georgian-era spa town with elegant stone mansions and Victorian gingerbread flourishes, gorgeous flowering gardens and ubiquitous hanging flower baskets, hilly cobbled streets lined with restaurants, pubs, tea rooms, mouth-watering boutiques… and a startling number of bath houses. The respectable kind, at least so it seems from the outside of them. Which meant that all weekend long I was dying for a Turkish bath, but because of the crazy traveling we were only there for two days of the festival as it was. So the Turkish bath will have to wait for the next trip. As will, alas, the obviously excellent shopping.
Or maybe missing out on the shopping is a GOOD thing….

To catch you all up on the conference I’ll give an American version of Craig Robertson‘s Sixteen Wonderful Things about Harrogate U.K report (which you can read here on Crime Fiction Lover) and start by focusing on some key differences between Harrogate and some of its U.S. equivalents:

1. — US: the host cities and hotel venues tend to change for every conference (except for Thrillerfest, which is now permanently housed in the Grand Hyatt in NYC)
— UK: Harrogate is permanently in the Old Swan Hotel. (photo right)
(I know, how much more British does it get?).
2. — US: Except for a few headliners, authors generally pay to go to U.S. cons, and most authors who pay their conference fees on time are given a panel spot, which means there are a lot more panels on and the quality of those panels varies wildly.

— UK: Authors are invited to panels by a programming committee, and they are paid both for the panel and for travel and accommodations. Obviously I’m in favor of this “authors are paid to appear” thing.

3. — US: Conference attendees pay for either day passes or a full conference pass and then can attend as many panels/events on that day or days as they can handle.

— UK: attendees pay for individual tickets to events of their choosing. So you can choose what you attend and how much you want to spend.

4. — US: There are lots of panels on at any given hour and people tend to panel-hop, and it’s perfectly acceptable to move in and out of panels, which is kind of great.

— UK: There’s usually only one event going on in the one huge double event room (capacity about 500 people). So you can conceivably see the entire program, and the conversation in between events tends to be focused on one event, which is also kind of great.

More specifically about Harrogate:

5. The Old Swan is really quite small compared to big US downtown hotel venues, and the event hall and the bar and the lawn area (which hosts a bar tent and a signing/bookstore tent) are all right up against each other, so despite the impressive 15,000 tickets sold for various events over the weekend, it feels like you’re at one four-day long party of about 400 people.

6. As usual, I didn’t make it to many events, but I absolutely loved the Domestic Noir panel, featuring my new author friends Helen Fitzgerald and Julia Crouch, plus Chris Ewan and Cath Staincliff, chaired by NJ Cooper, who asked great questions like: “If some people are in fact biologically born bad, does that make them less guilty of their crimes?” (Discuss!) If you ask me, we need more panels like this at every crime conference.

I was also really thrilled (at the spy panel) to learn the backstory of screenwriter Terry Hayes’ huge success with I Am Pilgrim. Hayes is living proof of what I am always telling my ScreenwritingTricks workshops: If you want a better chance at getting a film made, write a book, not a script. And what a lovely thing it always is to see a writer of a certain age making such a brilliant second career. And being so perfectly jolly about it all!

7. There was a quiz, traditionally hosted by the always hilarious Val McDermid and Mark Billingham. To put it in British speak, I am rubbish at quizzes, so I only peeked in. The questions were really, really hard. For all the reading I do, I don’t seem to know much about crime fiction. I did know which director directed the first Columbo episode, though. (Go ahead, guess…)

8. It was really, really wet. I’m told that’s not usual – in fact I was promised sunny days lounging out on the expansive hotel lawn. Hah! Instead it rained like hell half of the time and the other half it was so humid it might as well have been raining. Luckily there was a bar tent up on the lawn (although… those metal poles during a lighting storm? Hmm….) But I’d just had a lot of sun in California, and rain promotes its own kind of intimacy. It was all good.

9. There is much, much, MUCH more smoking in the UK. Some electronic cigarettes but a lot of old fashioned cancer sticks. My lungs were cringing in horror. On the other hand, there was much less pot. At least that I could see (smell).


10. There is more drinking. I wouldn’t say much, much, MUCH more, but still, it felt like more. But I always feel like a lightweight in a UK drinking crowd. As for the all night partying (which it was), I’m usually up for anything from two a.m. karaoke (Anchorage Bouchercon) to after-midnight absinthe (Romantic Times New Orleans) to drag queen bingo night (Thrillerfest) to a hike through Mayan pyramids on a blazing Caribbean day (Florida Romance Writers’ Cruise With Your Muse), or dressing up as God knows what at Writers for New Orleans or Romantic Times, or a midnight Jacuzzi party (any number of cons in every genre) but after five straight weeks of traveling and accompanying jet lag I was in bed by a reasonable 1:30 a.m. both nights, therefore blissfully unhungover in the mornings. Next year, however, I intend to organize a Turkish bath party (and I have a fair idea of which of my new U.K. friends will be up for it).

11. There were no bloody battles between indie published authors and traditionally published authors (that I saw); in fact I had a very civilized conversation with a Big Five publisher who shall remain nameless, but who was quite open to hearing about why so many authors I know are happier with the way Amazon treats them. I hope all of this enmity is on its way to dissipating, because the important thing is that authors now have all kinds of ways to make enough money to keep writing great books.

12. In the UK, they call the readers “punters,” which I know is affectionate… (she says hopefully) but which I still find a little shocking. (I have a mouth like the Berkeley hippie child I am, but Brits can outswear me by ten words per sentence.) We’re all readers, aren’t we? Isn’t that the point?

13. Some things are exactly the same. Friday night was the publisher dinners, and I had a fabulous time at a restaurant called the White Hart meeting my new Thomas & Mercer colleagues: authors Helen Smith, Jay Stringer, Louise Voss, Mark Edwards, EM Powell, Mel Sherratt, and Daniel Pembry, and our charming T&M hosts Emilie Marmeur, Sana Chebaro and Neil Hart.

14. The main reason I didn’t make it to many events was that just like in the US I kept getting caught up in chats, I knew a lot more people than I expected to, not just Americans like author Laura Lippman and editor Kelly Ragland but quite a few Brits (and Irish) authors and readers I know as regulars to Bouchercons and Thrillerfests and World Fantasies and World Horror Cons, like Sarah Pinborough, David Hewson, Martyn Waites, Mark Billingham, Stuart Neville, Kevin Wignall, Simon Kernick, Russel McLean and Martyn James Lewis. We Americans really should be ashamed that the Brits are so much more willing to travel to the U.S. festivals.

I also realize I’ve met a fair number of terrific UK writers and readers and bloggers during my not very long residence in Scotland, like Helen Fitzgerald and Sergio Casci, Julia Crouch, James Oswald, Chris Carter, Mari Hannah, Rhian Davies, Danny Stewart, Lisa Gray, Graham Smith. And I met a whole slew of wonderful new people who are now part of the ever-growing and forever circle of conference friends.

15, Just as with US conference attendance, it’s hard to quantify what good it does for your visibility as an author. I wasn’t on a panel (this time!) but even so the networking is gold. You meet bloggers, reviewers, agents, publishers, conference organizers, other authors, and READERS. It certainly will not get you the book sales of an online promotion (far from it!) but personal connections make for the most loyal readers – readers who are happy to talk you up to other readers. I think there’s a ripple effect to attending conferences that pays off in millions of ways that you’ll never fully be aware of. And face time with your publishing people is invaluable. I always think it’s worth it to attend a conference that’s nearby (to reduce travel expenses!).
16. And there’s one more thing that’s also always golden: the massive creative inspiration. I’ve come away every bit as fired up to write as I am after any U.S. conference. I woke up this morning and wrote five pages on the first book of my new series without even getting out of bed.
Magic is magic, in any accent.

Next up: I’ll be launching the first three books in in my Huntress Moon series at Bloody Scotland, September 19-21, and then Bouchercon, Long Beach, November 13-16,

And I can’t wait to see people again on both sides of the pond.

- Alex

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff


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