Thursday, November 11, 2010

Writing Advice Cont'd: Kensington Publishing's Editorial Director, Audrey LaFehr & More!

Lately on our blog we've been sharing industry tips. One of the things discussed recently was websites. After seeing what Kelli Collins had to say about them, I've personally reviewed my own website. I've cleaned things up a bit and even added a few things I realized were missing. Basically, I've attempted to make it easier for readers to find and purchase my books. In fact, I still have a few things left to do before I feel 100% satisfied with it.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, I firmly believe that no matter who you are or how long you've been writing, there is always room for improvement. Last Thursday I brought several publishing professionals in to share their knowledge. Today I have more! This time around I bring you my editor at Kensington as she gives you her #1 piece of advice. Also chiming in are bestselling authors Pamela Palmer, Lorelei James and Maya Banks. And as a special guest I decided to ask a cover artist if he had any tips for new writers. The result was an eye-opener for me. Just when I think I've got a handle on this business I realize I've only barely scratched the surface. I still have so much to learn! Thankfully, those who have been-there-done-that are willing to share what they've learned with the rest of us. :)

First up, Audrey LaFehr, editorial director at Kensington Publishing. For fourteen years Audrey was the executive editor at The Penguin Group. Audrey has worked with authors such as Rick Mofina, Kate Douglas, Marie Bostwick, Tawny Taylor, Georgina Gentry—and she’s my terrific editor at Kensington.

When I asked Audrey for one piece of advice to share with writers, I was honestly curious what she’d say. I mean, there are so many aspects to publishing, I couldn’t imagine which direction she’d go with this. I was thrilled when I read her reply because it’s something I actually DO. Thank goodness I’m getting at least ONE thing right!

My #1 advice to aspiring writers is to READ. I am astonished by how many hopeful writers say they don't read much, or read only within their critique group, primarily unpublished manuscripts. The very best thing you can do to improve your writing is to read! And read widely, in different genres, read heavily in the classics, read current bestsellers, and read magazines that still put quality writing first such as The New Yorker. I don't accept the argument that it will "influence my ideas or my voice" at all. Your voice will always be your own--the only influence voracious reading can have on your own writing will be to improve it. I would also recommend joining a book club of "civilians" or non-writers who are not interested in publishing, but just enjoy reading and discussing books. This will give you a very different perspective on the way "real readers" respond to characters and storylines without any competitive agenda.
Pamela Palmer is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Feral Warriors shapeshifter series for Avon books and the Esri series for Nocturne. As Pamela Montgomerie, she writes the Jewels of Time time travel series for Berkley Sensation.

Being a fan of Pamela’s Feral Warriors series, I was nervous about asking her for writing advice for my blog post. I don’t know, there’s just something about speaking with your favorite authors that gets us all jittery. LOL! However, her tips on creating believable characters really spoke to me!

The key to creating believable characters is to ensure that they act as THEY would rather than as you would, or as you imagine a hero or heroine should--a unique, individual way consistent with their personalities, situation, frame of mind, mood, background, past experiences, etc.

Faced with the cancellation of her flight, would your character march up to the nearest service counter and demand to speak to a supervisor? Laugh? Shrug and head for the nearest Starbucks? Cry? Get on her iphone and calmly (or desperately) start looking for another way to reach her destination on time?

It depends. On where she’s going and why. On how many things have already gone wrong that day. On her personality and how she naturally handles such setbacks. On whether she’s traveling alone or with a business partner, or with a fussy baby.

Let your characters act true to themselves and their individual situations and they’ll leap to life for both you and your readers.
Lorelei James writes contemporary erotic western romance stories. She’s the bestselling author of the popular Rough Riders Series. Lorelei also writes mysteries under the pen name, Lori G. Armstrong. Her book Snow Blind, released in Oct. 2008, won the 2009 Shamus Award, from the Private Eye Writers of America, for Best Paperback Original. She’s published with Samhain Publishing, NAL, and Medallion Press.

Okay, I fully admit that the advice Lorelei James shares is something I have NEVER done. Knowing how prolific she is and how much readers love her books, well, I’m thinking I’m going to change things up a bit with my own writing process!

Allow yourself to write crap for the first draft, the most important thing is to finish the book. Then you can edit edit edit, cut, add, fix, polish and turn it into the book you envisioned.
Maya Banks is the author of Sweet Temptation, a #1 bestseller on both the BN and BGI trade romance bestseller lists in April 2010. Her book The Billionaire’s Contract Engagement hit the USA Today Bestseller list in March 2010. She’s published with Samhain Publishing, Berkley Sensation, Ballantine Books and Berkley Trade.

When Maya shared her advice I realized right away this went right along with some of the tips Tess shared recently. Seeing it again, from a USA Today Bestselling Author at that, should tell all of us that these two ladies are definitely onto something!

My advice to writers, especially those just starting out is to be fiercely protective of their voice. I think a lot of writers in the beginning are excited, driven and exuberant. They look for critique partners and they tend to listen to every piece of feedback because they want their book to be the best it can possibly be.

I haven’t used critique partners in a long, long time. I’m a bit rebellious because I want the book to be my own whether it flops or succeeds. When an author takes every piece of feedback and attempts to please all their critics, the result is a watered down, generic story that could have been written by anyone. An author’s voice is what makes a story special. Not the plot or the theme. Most stories have been done before. Many, many times. What makes it new and fresh is the author’s voice. An author’s voice can make the difference between an editor passing or an editor offering a contract.

Don’t be afraid to ignore “advice” especially when it comes to your story. Make sure it resonates with you before you change parts of your writing. Even when an editor or agent rejects you and offers suggestions, make sure you agree with them before you go revise your story because they are only ONE opinion. Writing isn’t about pleasing every editor or agent out there. It’s about finding ONE editor who loves your voice enough to want to invest in you as an author.

And after you’re published, you’ll find that there is a multitude of people, readers, reviewers etc who offer advice or make suggestions on ways to change, improve etc. Again, writing to please ONE person or even a vocal minority is a huge, huge mistake. Own your voice. Don’t change it for anyone. For every reader, reviewer, editor or agent who dislikes one aspect of your story, there is likely a hundred who love it.
Scott Carpenter is the Art Director at Samhain Publishing. He’s also an author with Samhain Publishing and Ellora’s Cave Publishing. Scott went to college for three years to learn Graphic Design.

The cover is the first thing a reader will see. A bad cover can turn a reader off and possibly keep them from learning more about the book. So, naturally I was curious what sort of advice a cover artist might have for new writers. (Also I wanted to add that Scott has done all of my Samhain covers.)

For anyone that is a writer or aspiring to be remember, the story is YOURS. What you see in your head is what anyone doing the cover or art needs to know. Be detailed and trust others visions because they may see it different but will enhance your thoughts.

I am blessed to have surrounded myself with artists that are talented and listen.

I have worked with Anne for a while now and I know what she wants and she trusts me, that's the best advice I have is to trust your Editor and Artist. Just like a marriage, lol.
Scott also adds:
I learned more on the fly by doing the covers, ads and promotional items and everything else by listening to what authors and people want to see. People have ideas and visions; it's my job to bring that out.
And now I'd like to share a few links. These are sites I browse if I'm in need of help. You might already be using them yourself. In case you aren't though:

Theresa Stevens blog: A fantastic blog that discusses every aspect of a story. There is so much to learn here:

Charlotte Dillon's Resources for Writers: There are hundreds of articles her folks. Take your time and browse. This is a place I visit at least once a week.

The Passionate Pen: Another site that has a ton of information. A list of publishers, agents, articls and links to articles. And be sure to click the What's New section for the latest information:

The Writing Corner: You'll find some neat things on this site. Even a few helpful articles by Nora Roberts.

Harlequin's Writing Articles: It doesn't really matter if you're writing a story for Harlequin or not as there's still a nice selection of articles here:

Now, I turn to YOU. Do you know of a website or blog with helpful tips on writing? Share it please, I'm always on the lookout for a fresh perspective! :)


JoAnne Kenrick said...

Fantastic blog, great to see all those wise words for authors all in one place. Thank you! I've found my way here via a post on Facebook many times in the last few weeks,and each time I've found the post to be highly enlightening. Going to add this page to my bookmarks and check back often.

Anne Rainey said...

Thanks, Jo-Anne! I admit, gathering information from the pros has been quite interesting. I've made so many notes about things I want to explore further!

Natalie Dae said...

Great post! Thanks again for all your hard work in putting it together.


Brindle Chase said...

Thank you Three Wicked Writers! Great advice and I love that you share with us! I'm along the same lines as Lorelei James. I pound out my rough draft, no matter how sloppy it is. But it gets the story from beginning to end. Then I go back and polish and fix. As I learn more and more on each book, I'm getting better at not having as much to go back and fix!

Tess MacKall said...

Another great round up of industry professionals, Anne!

And as for knowing of any place to add to your list to help authors? Yes, I do. Right here at Three Wicked Writers Plus Two. LOL

Just sayin'!

And I sooo wish I could just pound out the story and go back and fix. I have a horrible habit--and I do mean horrible--of editing as I go. I'd much rather do it the other way and just get the story down. I've tried to break myself of the habit, but no success. Some days I agonize over one little sentence for hours. I've got to stop that and don't know how.

Anne Rainey said...

Thanks, Natalie. I'm actually looking forward to blogging about something other than writing next week. LOL

Anne Rainey said...

Brindle--I'm seriously going to adopt that attitude. Just get the story one paper THEN fix it. It'll be hard, though. I have always edited as I go. And I'm nog real good with change. *shudders*

Anne Rainey said...

Tess--I do the SAME thing! Dang, it's frustrating. I've even sat for hours trying to figure out the right descriptive word. This process seems to be okay to a point. But I think I need to work harder on just getting the story down first.

Tess MacKall said...

If you figure out how to do it, Anne, please let me know. It's very frustrating and some days I don't want to write because of that alone.

Again, great post!

Brindle Chase said...

You can do it Anne!!! It takes a little discipline. When I first started to write, I could never finish a book. I was too distracted with ugly sentences, repetitive word choices, and grammatical mistakes... instead of concentrating on getting the story onto paper. Once I began ignoring the mistakes and got to the story, not only did I finish a book, but I enjoyed writing it even more. I concentrate now on the story, rather than plot or grammar. I concentrate on characters and dialogue. All the sentences in between can be fixed, so I no longer stress on them. Anywho... it works for me. I could never finish a book until I adopted that style.

Anne Rainey said...

Tess--I think part of the problem is that I'm an avid reader. When I read back through something I've just written I tend to view it as a reader. So if it doesn't sound just exactly right I NEED to fix it.

Maybe if I sink into the plot and forget about the rest it'll help. *shrugs* We'll see.

Anne Rainey said...

Brindle--You're my new hero!! It's interesting that you actually enjoyed writing even more. Hmm, that's exactly what I want!

Unknown said...

Great post Anne! I, too go to the Passionate Pen, there's a lot of great advice there.

I have to say that I have crit partners and wouldn't dream of doing a story without them. We each have our strengths in terms of who's good at continuity, who's good at sentence structure and word choice, who's good at spotting what scenes don't move a story forward.

Barry Eisler has a great column for writers on his site.

I also love J.A. Konrath's advice.

allencurrier said...

Some really great information, I love this site!!

Anne Rainey said...

Melissa--I don't have a crit partner, but I do have beta readers. They are terrific at seeing the things that I miss. Also, I have a friend who writes. We do look at each other's work from time to time and it is seriously helpful!

I will definitely check out those two sites! Thanks for the links. :)

Anne Rainey said...

Allen--Thanks a bunch! :)

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Great advice! Thanks for sharing their words of wisdom, Anne! :)

V. J. Devereaux aka Valerie Douglas said...

Great post Anne!!! This is so helpful!

I've always been from the pantser school of writing, just get it down on paper (although my English is pretty good) Sometimes I learn new things about my characters as I go that way, which fills them out more on the second draft. So it's good to know I'm not weird. *grin* Or weirder than some.
Anyway, I had a critique partner who I liked personally, but really didn't help me when it came to catching some things editors hate. Now I have beta readers and they help tremendously, since one may catch something another missed.

Anne Rainey said...

Anitra--You're welcome! :)

Anne Rainey said...

Valerie--I would die if I didn't have my beta readers! You're right, having more than one helps because they all catch different things.

I never had a crit partner partly because I just didn't feel I could devote the time to their work like I should. And I wouldn't want to go into that type of close relationship unless I could give it my all!

Cara North said...

Anne, Thank you to you and the other writers for creating such interesting and useful posts on your blog!

Fiona McGier said...

I really agree with Lorelei James. For years I have told teens I sub for that to write well, they should first learn to "barf it up now, clean it up later". Write when the muse strikes you, without inhibiting your voice worrying about grammar rules. You can't edit and revise what never gets written in the first place! Once it is written, revise, revise, revise, until you think it is perfect. Then have someone else read it and revise some more!

Lissa Matthews said...

I so completely agree with a lot of the advice here.

Maya is right... You have to own your own voice because the more you listen to others, the more 'advice' you get on how to improve, the more you do as others say...the less YOU the book sounds like.

And I really wish I could write crap the first time around. sighs... I really do. But, I can't. I'm a former editor and am way too OCD to do it. I can't move on until I clean up what's already there. Believe me, I've tried. I know I'm not the only one who has a brain that works like that and I'm grateful for it. I think we need a club, perhaps a support group...

I do most definitely agree with reading...

This was very interesting and informative... An awesome blog!

Anne Rainey said...

Cara--Hey lady! How are you? And you're quite welcome. I've been getting a lot out of these posts myself!

Anne Rainey said...

Fiona--"barf it up now, clean it up later Oh! What a great way to put it! And you're right, you can't edit it if it isn't written!

Anne Rainey said...

Lissa--I'm terrible about leaving ghe errors alone. It just bothers me terribly. Like having the dishes half done. What good does that do me?! I think part of that thinking comes from growing up. My dad always said that if you're going go do a job, do it right. Don't half-ass it.

Still, I do really think it'd help with the writing process. I know that I've interrupted my own flow because I went back and checked and rechecked what I'd alread written.

Brindle Chase said...

"if you're going go do a job, do it right. Don't half-ass it."

Right. but the job is more than that first draft. You will revise/edit/alter/delete/add and whatnot before you submit. And once accepted, you'll do even more of that! So when the book comes out, the JOB is done and it's anything but half-assed! =oP

Try looking at it that way. I see my rough ugly draft as just the first step... Its a wall..laying the frame down comes first. Then I can start putting up sheetrock, then spackle, tape and texture and eventually wall paper and add framed pictures. Hehehe...

Anywho, I love hearing how other authors write, because what works for one, doesn't for another.

Anne Rainey said...

Brindle--I see where you're going with this. Sort of like when I cleaned out the basement the last time. I didn't sit and carefully pick through each and every little thing. First, I had to get in there and get all the big crap out. I got dirty and the place was a mess. Once I got the big stuff out of the way I was able to go in and deal with the details. It didn't get any better until I was done hours later. But the finished product made me feel good. It was a job well done. :)

Brindle Chase said...

Exactly!!! But either way, have fun doing it!! That's the most important thing.

C. Zampa said...

There is so much good advice here, I don't know where to begin to thank you for it!

Just...thanks for sharing this!

Evie Balos said...

One of the best writing advice I've come across in a while. Mucho thanks for sharing!


Anne Rainey said...

C and Evie--You're both welcome! :)