Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

Archive for November, 2009

PAGE PROOFS

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 30, 2009

I received my galleys via email this morning for SILVER SERENADE. It’s so exciting to work on this project through each stage in the publishing process. I can’t wait until the book is available for you to read. Meanwhile, I’m going through the story again, looking for last minute mistakes as this is my final chance at corrections. So far I’ve found two spacing errors that should be easy for the typesetter to fix. A reader at the publisher’s house plus my editor will also check through it one more time. We try to get it as perfect as possible before printing.

Often when an author gets the page proofs, we’re already writing another story. We have to take our mind from that world and put it back into the one we created before. Soon the story absorbs us and we are turning pages like our readers. I’ll be just as sorry to reach the end and say goodbye to my characters. As a reader, it’s sad when we finish reading a good book. As a writer, it’s sad but it’s also a relief when a project is complete. Then we can move on to the next story, while anticipating reader response from the upcoming book’s release.

Posted in The Writing Life | 5 Comments »

A WRITER’S THANKS

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 28, 2009

What does a writer have to be thankful for in these days of shrinking lists, cut print runs, lower advances, and fewer markets? If we stop to think about it, I’m sure we can come up with several items. So here’s my list. I am grateful for:

  • My fans, first and foremost. I write stories to please you, to sweep you into my worlds, to offer you an escape from daily toil. Your feedback gives me the encouragement to keep writing despite the highs and lows of the publishing business. Your feedback shows me what you respond to in my writing and my blogs. Your feedback lifts my spirits.
  • My writing talent. I am grateful that I have been gifted with storytelling ability, that I can lose myself in imaginary worlds, and envision scenes in my head with people I’ve created. The drive to write cannot be taught. Writing craft can be learned, but the urge that makes a writer pick up a pen or sit at a keyboard comes from the heart.
  • A love of reading fiction. I can look at printed words on the page and soar into the zone where a story unfolds. It’s such a glorious feeling that I feel bad for people who read non-fiction and don’t understand what they’re missing. Not everyone has this ability. Consider it a gift, too.
  • The publishers who have accepted my work so that I could share my stories with you. So thanks to Dorchester, Kensington, and The Wild Rose Press. SILVER SERENADE will be my fifteenth published book.
  • My husband whose support has allowed me to pursue this career. He helps with the errands, often with the cooking, and this frees my time to write. He drives me to signings and other events. He listens to me whine. I realize not all spouses are this supportive or generous, and I am grateful for our 33 years together.
  • My kids who give out my bookmarks to their co-workers.

What are you, my fellow writers, grateful for today?

Posted in The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , | 12 Comments »

THE E-BOOK CRAZE

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 24, 2009

The rise of the Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, and the iPhone have fueled a revolution in publishing. More and more readers want to download their books in electronic formats. This brings up several issues for writers. First is the fear that ebooks will replace print books, and brick-and-mortar stores will become a thing of the past. How many people buy music CDs these days? Even libraries are involved in digital lending. About 5400 public libraries today offer e-books and digitally downloaded audio books. NetLibrary, a provider of e-books to libraries, has seen circulation rise 21% this year. I’m not saying books will disappear altogether; they’ll just change format. This affects income for writers since ebooks may sell at a lower price point than print editions. It involves issues of piracy as well as reversion of rights clauses.

E-rights are very important in publishing contracts these days, even for traditionally published authors. Many regular publishers are jumping on the bandwagon and putting out electronic versions of their print published works. Then there are ebook only publishers. Harlequin started Carina Press, a purely e-book venture. Those of us in the writing community have known about Samhain, The Wild Rose Press, Loose ID, and many other ebook pubs, for several years. But herein lies another problem: publisher recognition.

According to the standards of professional writing organizations, some of these publishers do not meet their criteria and are therefore not approved, meaning their authors are not eligible for published author status. This has been a growing point of contention among authors and a thorny issue. The well known ebook pubs have a selective policy and editors scour through manuscripts just like a traditional pub. Editing services are included so an author goes through a similar process as for a print pub. But certain qualifications demanded by professional organizations render these authors little better than self-pubs in status. For example, one writing org requires for recognition that a publisher pays an advance of at least $1000. This lets out many of the ebook pubs who offer no advance, just a royalty rate. Others may offer a small token advance . Some e-book publishers will offer the book as a POD (print-on-demand) as well, either simultaneously with electronic publication or later after certain sales quotas are met. But the profession organizations also demand that an approved publisher must have a print run and distribution of 1000 copies or more of each title they produce. This model doesn’t work for POD presses. How this will play out in the industry remains to be seen. Eventually, the professional writing organizations may have to rethink their definitions of acceptable publishers in lieu of the e-book explosion.

Royalty rates are another problem. For books that don’t have to be printed and stockpiled in warehouses, authors should be able to earn a higher royalty rate. For this reason, authors should carefully compare ebook publishing houses and e-rights clauses to know their options.

Some of these books may appear on bookstore shelves, but for the most part, readers have to order them online. Writers have to step up their Internet promotion and learn how to deal with booksellers who won’t work with ebooks or POD. But one thing is sure: writers who want to get their work in front of as many readers as possible will want their novel available in as a downloadable ebook.

Read more about this topic here:

E-Reads

Libraries article

NY Times articles

* Subscribe to my blog before November 30th to enter a drawing for a free signed book!

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SELF-PUBLISHING

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 22, 2009

Self-publishing is rising in popularity these days. It used to be that books vetted by agents and accepted by editors went through quality control measures. In other words, the writing was up to professional standards and the story had a special zing to it that made an editor take notice. But if any Joe can publish, how is a reader to distinguish between what’s classy and what’s crap?

I have no problem with self-publishing under certain circumstances. For example, someone wants to publish their memoirs to share with her family. Or perhaps an expert in a subject wants to publish a nonfiction book to sell on the speaking circuit. I’ve considered going this route for a book my father wrote concerning his hitchhiking adventures in 1939. Thus in some circles, self-publishing is acceptable. Even legitimately published fiction authors may find themselves suddenly orphaned without an editor, or their line closes, or their option book isn’t renewed. They may view self-publishing as a viable option after a series of rejections by the major pub houses. In this case, their writing will be polished enough that quality won’t be lost.

In fact, why not bypass a publisher altogether when you can convert your own files and submit them electronically for publication as an e-book or POD (print-on-demand)? Maybe this will be the wave of the future, especially if print books go the way of the music CD. Then who needs a publishing house or an agent? Well, I’ll tell you. Authors who want the distribution and support of a royalty-paying publisher. Readers who want quality control so they don’t pick up a book by Joe Schmoe who has no clue how to write. Booksellers who need to be able to return unsold books to the publisher. Change is in the wind, but writers still need traditional publishers if they want to make some money at this career. They still need agents to help them find a publisher for their work. And publishers still need authors, for who else will write the stories of tomorrow?

These publishers may produce ebook or POD formats, but their editors still scour through manuscripts looking for polished work and a unique voice. In other words, they are selective. Self-publishing skirts this process, dissolves the barriers, and lets anyone have a voice. For experienced writers, this isn’t a problem. Their work will still be up to professional standards. But how is a reader to tell the difference between their book and the enthusiastic aspiring author who has no clue about pacing, characterization, and plot? Herein lies the danger of self-publishing, that bad books will flood the marketplace and turn off readers. And if it’s one thing all writers want, it is for readership to increase, not diminish.

Posted in The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

TROUBLE IN PARADISE

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 20, 2009

Writers loops are abuzz with discussion over the bomb dropped by Harlequin, the renowned romance publisher, that they are starting a vanity press originally called Harlequin Horizons. Due to protests in the professional writing community, they’ve issued a notice saying they will change the name to one that does not mention Harlequin at all.

Vanity presses are unscrupulous publishing houses that make profits from aspiring writers instead of profits from book sales. Why is this wrong? Because writers have to pay vanity presses to publish their work, not the other way around as with a traditional publisher who pays an advance against royalties. Writers who pay to have their work published are denied recognition in professional writing organizations.

Both RWA and MWA have already taken measures to challenge Harlequin’s status on their approved publisher list. This would make their legitimately published authors ineligible for the RITA or EDGAR Awards. Now SFWA has stepped up to the plate and issued a statement as well: http://tinyurl.com/yj4x8eu

Adding fuel to the fire is the paid editorial service Harlequin offers. Publishers who make referrals to editing services also prey on unpublished writers, who may become so frustrated with the submission process that they hire book editors to improve their work and make it more saleable. They believe they’ll become rich and famous once a book editor fixes their work and it sells. But having someone else edit your work doesn’t teach you the principles of writing. It doesn’t train you for a long term career. It’s the easy way out. Nor does it guarantee a sale.

Either venture is a way to take advantage of naive writers. Newbies may feel that acceptance into Harlequin’s vanity press program gives them a chance to have their book picked up for the traditional route. It’s unlikely, seeing how the slush pile for the regular Harlequin lines are huge enough. Are those editors really going to be looking for more manuscripts?

Harlequin has been a highly respected name in publishing forever. We’ll have to see how this plays out. Publishing is in a flux and change is inevitable, but this one doesn’t help writers. It helps the big corporation that will make money off inexperienced writers desperate to see their books in print.

More discussion online:

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

Writer Beware

Ashley Grayson Blog

Jackie Kessler Blog

Pub Rants

Posted in The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

LIVING WILL

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 19, 2009

My daughter sent me this joke. It’s very appropriate for a writer.

MY LIVING WILL

 Living Will

Last Sunday evening, my kids stopped over for a visit, and while we were all sitting together in the living room, I told them, “I never want to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine and fluids from a bottle……and if that ever happens, just pull the plug.”

They got up, unplugged my computer, and threw out my wine.

They’re such asses!


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CHARACTERS & COLLECTIBLES

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 17, 2009

While thumbing through a recent mail-order catalog, I began to wonder what items my heroine might select. This gave me the intriguing idea of assigning a collection to each protagonist. You can learn a lot about your hero or heroine from the knickknacks found in his or her house. Perhaps your heroine presents a tough exterior but indulges herself by wearing lacy lingerie. Or your hero, who seems a sensitive type, harbors an assortment of evil-looking knives in his drawer. This one might work especially well in a mystery.

What are some of the items your protagonist might collect? How about porcelain figurines, i.e. cats, dogs, birds, or children? Letter openers, music boxes, sports memorabilia, clocks, models of airplanes or cars? For works of art, does he prefer expensive paintings or framed posters? Sculptures or tacky souvenirs? What about religious ornaments, decorative plates, bead jewelry, antique coins, or crystal paperweights? How about porcelain thimbles portraying kittens, castles or cottages? Fantasy figures like angels, wizards, and unicorns? Or maybe icons from a popular TV show.

What books and magazines does he read? Are they strewn about the cocktail table for show, or are they askew on an unmade bed? Are the pages ragged, corners folded in, or is an elegant bookmark used for a book in pristine condition? Don’t forget the office, too. What do they have on display on their desk?

For inspiration, check out those unsolicited catalogs you get in the mail or browse the Web. Look through the magazine section in your local bookstore. You’ll see magazines for all sorts of hobbies. Ads can give you other ideas.

Next time you’re in someone else’s house, be nosy and snoop out their shelves.

Think about why your hero or heroine collects a particular item. Does it express a hidden desire, reveal a facet of his/her personality, expose a touching sentiment? Even owning nothing of a personal nature can make a statement in itself. Have fun delving into the intricacies of your people’s hobbies and describe the precious tchotchkes through their eyes. Adding these details will give an added dimension to your writing and more depth to your characters.

Posted in Writing Craft | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

ARCHETYPES

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 16, 2009

Archetypes are recurrent themes in literature and films. Which ones ring your bell?

AMNESIA: is he/she married, a parent, a missing bride/groom, presumed dead? Did she kill someone? Did someone try to kill her? Is she a witness to a violent crime? Is he an undercover agent who got hurt by the bad guys? American Dreamer, The Bourne Identity

BRIDES: marriage of convenience, fake fiancé, mail order bride, virgin bride, runaway brides/grooms, green-card, royal, shot gun, jilted, terms of the will, mismatch. Runaway Bride, Father of the Bride, Wedding Crashers, Sleepless in Seattle

CHILDREN: abandoned, lost, adopted, biological, inherited, stolen, secret baby, true identity unknown, switched-at-birth, kids playing matchmaker for single parents.

 DISGUISE: secret identity, switching places: True Lies, The Prince and the Pauper, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Freaky Friday

FISH OUT OF WATER: Enchanted, City Slickers

MAKEOVER: The Ugly Duckling, The Princess Diaries, My Fair Lady

MISMATCHED COUPLES: Bad boy/Good girl, Cowboy/Lady, Pirate/Princess, Wanderer/Homemaker, May/December, Duke/Governess, mentor/protegé, opposing occupations, boss/employee. Romeo & Juliet, Beauty and the Beast, Six Days Seven Nights.

RAGS TO RICHES: Cinderella, Pretty Woman, Ever After

REUNION: former lovers, estranged spouses, lost love, thwarted romance, divorced but still in love. Sweet Home Alabama.

SINGLE PARENTS: struggling unwed mothers, clueless divorced dads, inexperienced surrogate. Three Men and a Baby, Baby Boom

TWINS: switched identities, mistaken identities, trading places to fool people and having the tables turned on them instead. Parent Trap, New York Minute

Think about the books on your shelves at home. Do you tend to repeatedly buy the same types of stories? Does this tell you something about the plot devices that appeal to you?

Try picking out a couple of your favorites and mixing them to create a new story.

Posted in Writing Craft | 10 Comments »

WELCOME TO MY NEW SITE!

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 15, 2009

Welcome to my new site! I’m eager to hear how you like this design and its new features, so please leave a comment. Suggestions are welcome. I’ve also posted a writing piece below for your reading pleasure.

To celebrate this site’s debut, I will hold a drawing from all new subscribers to this blog for the next two weeks. Prize is a free signed book from my mystery series or an online bookstore gift card for non- U.S. residents. Odds of winning depend on the number of entries. All subscribers from today, Nov. 15 through Nov. 30, will have a chance to win.  Click on the Subscribe to my Blog button on the left to enter the drawing.

Thanks for visiting!

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 13, 2009

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

This aspect of novel writing can be torturous as well as stimulating. Initially, I decide who will be the victim in my mystery and then by association, the suspects pop up. I give each one a secret that could be a motive for murder. Next it’s time to pull out my character development sheets and label each one with the name of a player. Okay, how do I turn these pages into people? First I look in my photo files. In SHEAR MURDER, #10 in my Bad Hair Day mystery series, Jill’s Uncle Eddy is a shifty attorney. So I look through the pictures for someone who looks like him. Nah, this guy is too young. Eddy is middle aged. Wait a minute. How is he related to Jill? I stop to devise Jill’s family tree. Now I know her grandparents had three children: Eddy, Sarah, and Luke. Cousin Kevin, another suspect, is the son of Luke, while Jill and her sister Torrie are offspring of Sarah’s. I may have to figure out their ages later, but for now, I know Eddy is middle-aged. Back to my files. Who looks like him?

Wait, this guy is perfect! He looks JUST LIKE UNCLE EDDY! And the woman in the photo with him is great for Eddy’s wife, Alexis. Oh, he’s married? Of course! And her manly features and his weasly looks tell a lot about them. i.e. Torrie and Jill call his wife “Auntie Al” behind her back because of her throaty voice, big-boned frame and square jaw. So now I go down my Character Development Tool. This is a shortened version:

Name: Eddy Rhodes

Career: attorney.

Physical Features: florid complexion like he’s been running, deep-set eyes under prominent brows, thundercloud gray hair, double chin, wide forehead.

Favorite Speech Phrases: “Oh, come on.”

Lifestyle Preferences: Big tipper, big mouth, big smile, big house

Dark Secret: Accepts kickbacks and bribes

Ruling Passion: wine connoisseur–wine cellar, wine tours, wine clubs

Dominant Trait: Balding, obnoxious loudmouth

Short-Term Goal: make more money

Long-Term Goal: retire in style

Concrete Symbol: chateau-like house

Motivation: Teased as a child for being overweight, Eddy has to best everyone to prove his worth. Middle or younger child.

Internal Conflict: Need for praise

External Conflict: Inflation prevents retirement and so does a son with ongoing health problems

Strengths: Generous, likes to contribute to charities…but always needs money.

Flaws: Greedy, drinks too much, cowardly in confrontations.

Realization leading to change: not applicable. This may occur during the course of the story but it’s more a tool for the main characters.

Now what about Falcon Oakwood, the bigwig developer in the story? Hey, this picture is perfect. It even shows his wife Leanne. But who’s that older lady in the photo? Why, it’s his mama! So that’s why Leanne is having an affair with [other suspect]. She craves her husbands’s attention but Falcon considers his mother over his wife.

The process repeats with the other characters, until I’m ready to meet them on the page.  All of this info may not make it into the story, but it gives me a springboard to begin writing.

Posted in Writing Craft | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

 
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