The Importance of a Strong Opening

As writers we know how important it is to have a strong opening. Our goal is to grab a reader on the very first page and never let them go. This is often compounded in writing contests where only the first 250 words of a story is often seen, forcing us to make those opening pages as strong as they can possibly be. And it doesn’t stop there, as querying and submitting also require that strong start.

Writers talk a lot about starting a story in the right spot, often the inciting incident, and not going too heavy on back story. Or clichés like first days of school or looking in the mirror. There are a ton of rules out there, they all aim to help newer writers create an opening that pops.

Sometimes we need the reminder of why.

I brought a book home from the library to read to my young son. It had a subject matter I thought would resonate with him. The book has no pictures, even though he prefers them, so I was a little worried how he would respond.

I brought the book to bedtime and told him this was what we were reading. Now, this is a kid who is strong willed, he likes what he likes and he wants to do what he wants, but he sat nearby as I started to read.

This story opened with the main character doodling on a piece of paper during school. My kid is an avid doodler and he instantly perked up. By the time I finished the very first paragraph he was sitting next to me, leaning on my arm, and said, “This is cool!”

I read one chapter to him that night. He read a second (slightly above his reading level, mind you) on his own after I left.

All because that first paragraph grabbed him.

This is what we want as writers. No matter what category or genre we write, we want our readers hooked by the first page and eager to keep reading and devouring the story. If this book hadn’t started with the main character doodling, if it had started with the life history up to now, my kid might have listened, played with a toy, and not picked it back up on his own. Some stories do need a slower build up, but regardless of buildup you need to make the reader care.

The next time you’re struggling with your opening, think of this story. Will the first paragraph snag a potentially reluctant reader? In all truth, it won’t grab everyone, that’s life in the reading world. But will it grab the one who needs it?

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Romance Cares Giveaway

I am thrilled to be part of this giveaway providing relief for those affected by the recent hurricanes and earthquakes. Read on to find out how you can help and win free romances!

Romance Cares (FINAL GRAPHIC)

~*~*~ ROMANCE CARES GIVEAWAY! ~*~*~

Rachel Lacey and Mia Sosa have teamed up with over 30 romance authors to offer you a special giveaway, in light of the recent natural disasters that have affected parts of the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean Islands. To enter, just email us at romancecares@gmail.com showing proof of a donation (please remove sensitive information) to disaster relief efforts, and you will receive 1 or more free ebooks – chosen at random – from a list of books from participating authors. Some people will even receive an entire series! 🙂 Please help us spread the word by sharing this giveaway on social media using the hashtag #romancecares.

Our hearts and thoughts are with everyone who’s been affected. ❤

Entry Details:
1. Please email romancecares@gmail.com by Friday, October 13th showing proof of a donation to disaster relief dated between August 1 and October 13, 2017.
2. In your email, please indicate your preference of Kindle or Nook copies for your gifted ebooks.
3. If you’ve already read any of the books included in the giveaway, please let us know in your email, and we’ll do our best to gift you a book or books you haven’t read yet.

 

Our Awesome Participating Authors:
Laurie Benson – An Unexpected Countess
Jennifer Bernard – Setting Off Sparks
Marnee Blake – Altered
Asa Maria Bradley – Viking Warrior Rising
Laura Brown – Friend (With Benefits) Zone
Celeste Castro – Homecoming
Olivia Dade – Ready to Fall
Alexis Daria – Take the Lead
Jen Doyle – Calling It
Kate Forest – Interior Design and Other Emotions
Calista Fox – His Angel of Starlight Bend
Megan Frampton – the Dukes Behaving Badly series
Codi Gary – Crazy for You
Mia Hopkins – Cowboy Rising and Cowboy Karma
April Hunt – Hard Justice
Ryvr Jones – Shadow and Bones
L.J. LaBarthe – The Archangel Chronicles (complete 9 book set)
Rachel Lacey – Crash and Burn
Ruby Lang – Hard Knocks
Jessica Linden – Fight For Me
Tracey Livesay – the Shades of Love series and the In Love with a Tycoon series
J.L. Lora – Boss
Sarah MacLean – the Scandal and Scoundrel series
Kelly Maher – The Bridesmaid and the Hurricane
Tif Marcelo – North to You
Liz Maverick – The Transporter
Harper Miller – The Sweetest Taboo
Steph Nuss – the Love in the City series
Priscilla Oliveras – His Perfect Partner
Tamsen Parker – Rogue Desire and In Her Court
Annie Rains – Forbidden Kisses
Sara Rider – Going for the Goal
Lydia San Andres – A Summer for Scandal
Susan Scott Shelley – Making His Move
Sabrina Sol – Delicious Satisfaction
Mia Sosa – Acting on Impulse
Elisabeth Staab – Losing the Fight
Mia West – Marked by Fire
Tara Wyatt – Dirty Boxing

 

 

For more details, check out the sites of the two who started this wonderful giveaway: http://www.miasosa.com/romance-cares-giveaway/ and http://www.rachellacey.com/romance-cares-giveaway/

The Wait Game of Publishing

Publishing is a slow industry. It moves at a turtle pace, with random spurts of speed. It requires all your patience, and then some. It requires a thick skin.

It requires professionalism.

If you can’t handle the wait. If you can’t handle rejection. If you can’t handle constructive criticism (never mind the negative feedback you will undoubtedly be the recipient of), then you either need to learn how or get out.

Harsh. Yes. But true.

I actively sought out an agent for two years before being picked up. Two years and two manuscripts. Which means that my first manuscript collected rejection on top of rejection until I had combed through the list of agents I thought could be a match. And you know what? Two years and two manuscripts are nothing compared to what some authors go through.

And when you do land that mystical agent, guess what? You’re not going to be offered sight unseen. True story: when I first spoke with my agent on the phone I found out she’d been stalking me on twitter. That’s right, she checked my tweets, saw how I interacted with others. She decided that I was worthy of her time and that I was a potential client she could be proud of. She wasn’t going to sign me if I had been complaining about rejections, or how long an agent took to respond. She wasn’t going to sign me if I seemed impatient or difficult to work with. Because it’s not just her working with me, she needs to know that when she finds an editor for me, I’m not going to be difficult to work with.

The waiting doesn’t stop at the agent level. The waiting goes up to turbo level. Your agent will send your manuscript out on sub. And then neither one of you will hear anything for a long time. Weeks, maybe if you’re lucky. Months more than likely. Sometimes years. Your agent isn’t going to want you emailing every week asking for an update. Because there won’t be an update, your agent is just as in the dark as you are. It’s mind numbing and stressful and the reason why everyone says to work on your next project.

Because you never know which novel is going to be picked up. So having something new to work on, and a next project prepared, is always a good idea.

This post is stemming from some things I have seen in regards to Pitch Wars. Now, Pitch Wars is great for the waiting game. It’s only three weeks long! That means in three weeks, you have an answer. You are not stuck waiting for months or years. Just weeks. And there’s an entire community waiting with you! Plus mentors chatting and teasing. Who cares if they aren’t teasing about your baby, you’ve got an insight into what’s going on. That’s awesome. Agents and editors certainly don’t give you as much.

Bottom line: if you can’t handle the wait, you aren’t ready. And that doesn’t mean you can’t stress out about it or get frustrated. It does mean you behave appropriately on social media and keep your freak outs to your close writer friends. They get it. They’ll hold your hand and cheer you on, and you’ll do the same for them. And then you’ll go back to social media and smile sweetly as if there is no turmoil in your life. You don’t tweet about requests. You don’t tweet about rejections. You keep a positive and professional front.

I’ve had my freak outs. My husband reminded me how crazy stressful Pitch Wars was when I was a hopeful. I’ve had melt downs to my CPs. I’ve had melt downs to my agent. You won’t know about this by searching my social media. I mention it here without any specifics. Because it’s the specifics that are the problem. We all know how insanely stressful it is to be a writer. We know that we all have these moments. It’s how we handle these moments that separate those that are ready from those that are not.

Some Pitch Wars Stats

Pitch Wars is in full swing and many of us mentors are knee deep in glorious words, crying over the fact that we can only choose one! I’ve always found the behind the scenes stuff fascinating so I’m going to let you into a small look at what I’ve been working with.

I received 89 subs this year! That’s almost double from last year. Part of that is due to expanding my wish list, part of that is due to the sheer jump in numbers the overall contest received.

Here’s how those 89 subs broke down:

  • 16% were New Adult, the rest Adult with one YA I had to automatically remove.
  • 21% did not follow my wish list. (Sad panda)
  • Highest word count: 141K
  • Lowest word count: 45K
  • My genre breakdown. Note that I simplified some genres to make the chart less crazy. Also note that some marked Contemporary were really Contemporary Romance and I spotted them easily. Some of the Women’s Fiction did not appear to match my wish list (if you read my wish list, this isn’t you, don’t worry!)

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To date I’ve read 827 pages and can usually tell within the first 2-3 if a story is right for me or not. That number read is actually higher since I read fulls on my kindle and don’t have all of those updated yet. And no, I do not read every full in complete. I read until I have enough to make my decision.

I did not get nearly as much diverse stories as I did last year, less for disabled characters. Makes me sad but could mean there weren’t as many participating. (more sad panda)

I’ve made requests (currently at 12%), founds some I’ve loved, some I’ve passed on to others (no stats, sorry, I’d have to sort through all I’ve mentioned and compare that with all I’ve sent, it’s not easy!), and some that I’m not the right person for. I am not done requesting. I’ve also received some subs from others that were not subbed to me.

Here’s a look into my actual notes in my spreadsheet. I write these for my own eyes only, not intending to share, so there’s no filter here. I’ve blanked out any areas too telling. These are also random places in my inbox. No, I will not share what the colors indicate.

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I’ve found a lot of high quality stories in my inbox, so you should all pat yourselves on the back. I hope you all have been making connections with your fellow potential mentees. My core group of CPs (Critique Partners) have all come from contests, either directly or indirectly and I would be nothing without them.

In regards to feedback: I’m a feedback junkie. Love it, and when I was in the trenches I always craved it to help point me in the right direction (news flash, one opinion from one person is just that, one opinion, it might not be right for you, but three similar opinions require some consideration). Last year I sent out feedback to everyone who subbed to me. This year I am not going to have the time. If you are interested in feedback, please comment below or on twitter with your title and I will add you to my list. I cannot promise how prompt I will be, and for most of you it will only be a few lines, but I will get to it.

And that’s your tiny insight into what’s going on in my inbox.

Is This Manuscript Ready? Some Pitch Wars Thoughts

I’ve been seeing this question pop up on the hashtag, with hopefuls pondering if they are ready and if they will be ready in time. I have thoughts on this so I decided to dedicate a blog post to it.

First and foremost: you can’t win if you don’t try. Yes, the mentors do not want a first draft—and we can spot a first draft, we’ve written enough of them! But if you are wondering if you need yet another round of edits first or not? Stop. Pitch Wars is a mentor contest. We’re not looking for perfect. If you are chosen you’ve got a LOT of work ahead of you. Take a few deep breaths, do what you can, and enter.

If you are not sure if a part of your novel is working, then you are a prime candidate for this contest. Mentors are looking for something to love, yes, but we are equally looking for something we can fix. We want to fall in love with your stories and see its weaknesses. More importantly, we want to have the inspiration on how to fix said weaknesses.

Now, story time. In 2015 I entered for the second year as a hopeful. I was working hard at finishing up a major revision. I didn’t know if it worked. I felt like there was still some major flaw left in it. I’d lost my way in the revision process and was floundering, as many of us do during the course of writing a novel.

I ended up with requests from all but one of the mentors I subbed to, which was thrilling! I wasn’t chosen to be a mentee. And let me tell you something, even though I still worried there were major flaws, the manuscript didn’t need the contest. A month later I signed with my agent and did minor alterations before going on sub. That book sold not too long after that and my editor’s edits were not the rip it apart kind.

The novel was ready. Some of you out there are biting your nails, fighting this gut deep feeling that there is something wrong with your novels. Some of you don’t have major problems left to address. Some of you are there. You are ready. You just don’t know it yet. Because this business is subjective. It drags you down, knocks you out, and forces you to pull yourself back up again. If I hadn’t subbed to my agent, if my agent hadn’t subbed to my editor, I might still be in the trenches with all of you. It’s part talent, part luck, and a whole hell lot of perseverance.

But back to the contest: Do you have a finished novel? Does it have a beginning, middle, and end? Have you edited it, hunting for easy fixes? Have you had other eyes providing feedback? (If not, reach out on the hashtag or join the Facebook group!) Have you done what you think you can for the novel? If you are at least close, enter. The only thing you have to lose is a quick pass (not a rejection, it’s not a rejection when we can only pick one) with potential feedback (some of us do, some of us don’t, check with your mentors). And in the meanwhile you’ll make friends and learn from others. Which is a win-win.

As for me, do I still bite my nails and wonder if my work is ready or not? Yes and no. I have my close CP (Critique Partner) cheerleaders who talk me off ledges constantly, but a perk to being published, and having reviews, is learning my own weaknesses. I spot them in my own work, I self edit with my agent and editor in my head. I’ve seen my work go from creation to completion. It helps let me know when I’m ready and when I’m not. It comes from experience and not giving up. We are all always learning and we will all always have edits to do.

The real question isn’t if your manuscript is ready. The question is: are you ready to work?

Pitch Wars Mentor Bio

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I’m back for a second year as a Pitch Wars Mentor and I could not be more excited! Many of my wish list items are the same, but there are a few notable changes, so read on to find out more!

First, a little about me: If you know me at all, you’ll know I’m a bit of a contest junkie. I’ve participated in quite a few as a hopeful, and always walked away with new knowledge, new friends, or both! I’ve entered and not gotten picked, I’ve been picked, and I’ve been on the other side helping out. Since you’re reading this you probably already know, but I’m going mention it anyways: all sides have been super valuable! So pat yourself on the back for looking into Pitch Wars, you’ll find a lot more than a potential mentor with this contest.

At any given moment my writing/editing process looks an awful lot like this (note the messy desk and wrist braces for carpal tunnel). The cat, Oreo, recently passed away, but her fur can still be found keeping my laptop warm:

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I’m a NA/A Contemporary Romance writer represented by Rachel Brooks of BookEnds Literary Agency. For how I landed my agent (I’m a slush success) check out this post. I have two NA romances out with Avon books, SIGNS OF ATTRACTION and FRIEND (WITH BENEFITS) ZONE. I’m Hard of Hearing and I write about hearing loss. I also have a degree in Deaf Studies from Boston University, which I used in my former career as a social worker, before burning out and turning to the family business (need window treatments? I’m your gal!). I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic: I married my high school sweetheart and we live with our son and two cats.

And if this doesn’t give you a hint about what I’m looking for…I want all the romance!

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NA-A Mentor MugOkay, not all, I can’t have them all. Specifically I’m mentoring NA/A and what I’m looking for is pretty universal across the two categories. Here are a few things high on my wish list:

  • Diversity. Whatever that means to you: race, sexuality, gender, religion, disability, etc. I especially would love some own voices as I’m super sensitive to authentic portrayals. Note that I’m white/cis/straight, so I’m counting on you to bring a respectful and accurate diverse element across. Also note that I want diversity to be an is, part of the make up of the character not a plot point (own voice issue books the exception). If a disabled character is “cured,” I’m not your mentor.
  • I’m a sucker for a second chance romance, or friends to lovers. Show me either of these and you’ll have my attention. Secret babies (or babies/kids/pregnancy) also strike a cord, but must stand out from the crowd.
  • I dig unrequited love finally getting their chance.
  • I’m also a big fan of the underdog.
  • I like a story with meat to the plot, that is more than the romance. A story that knows the rules and breaks them just enough to be unique.
  • One of my favorite parts to a story (or movie or television series) is the interpersonal relationships. I love to see those relationships grow and change over the course of a novel.
  • I like characters who are real. Sure, we all love the tattooed bad boy, but the hot guy who reads a book at the coffee shop is just as hero worthy!
  • While I tend to fall in love with a little of everything, I’m a best match for contemporary stories.
  • That said, I’m game for some light fantasy, thanks to an overwhelming obsession with Once Upon A Time (did you catch the gif above? *swoon*). Got some fairy tale lore or True Love, gimme! Just keep in mind that another mentor is your best bet for full on fantasy novels.
  • Got a Women’s Fiction novel with a strong romantic component or RomCom? Send it my way!
  • A few other sub genres I’m open to: Romantic Suspense and some Paranormal (I had a ghost story high on my list last year but I’m not a big vampire/werewolf gal).
  • I want amazing chemistry between the two main characters. That can be off the charts or a slow burn.
  • In regards to chemistry…I prefer my sex on page, please. You may be able to tease me with no sex but good build up, however full on BDSM makes me blush far too much!
  • Ultimately, it’s voice that will seal the deal for me. And That’s not something I can explain beyond: I’ll know it when I see it.

Things I am not a good match for:

  • Historical
  • Science Fiction
  • Heavy Fantasy
  • Non HEA or HFN, I need my happy endings!
  • Spiritual
  • Many instances of rape. It’s a gray area for me, but I’m getting a lot of questions on it so I’m adding it in here: if you have a good reason for it being in a romance, I’m okay with it. But if it’s heavy on the rape or a lot on page, I’m not your mentor.

So why should you choose me? I intern for a publisher and have learned a lot from this experience. I’m a plot hunter. I love nothing more than to find plot issues and point them out. And I will go back and forth happily over issues until they shine! I love seeing how things can be made better and stronger. I’m a revision nut. Some of my best work has come from revisions and I’m not afraid to rip things apart and put them back together. I have a soft spot for kick-ass romance black moments. I may have also developed a fondness for torturing characters.

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As for grammar: if I had a time machine I would go back and re-assign my English teachers, as I got the easy one every year. It took until middle school Spanish for me to understand verbs enough to play MadLibs (hangs head in shame). I’ve come a long way, but after having commas added, removed, added, removed by my agent, editor, and copy editor, I’m not your gal if you need help placing them! That being said, I will hunt down all instances of tell, search for passive language, and absolutely mark up what I’m confident in.

I communicate mostly via email or messaging due to my hearing loss. However, I’m happy to work with what form is best for you!

I love to watch romantic comedies (While You Were Sleeping, Stardust, Penelope, Sweet Home Alabama) and a romantic plot or subplot has addicted me to more than one television series (Frasier, How I Met Your Mother, Coupling (British version, American doesn’t exist), Once Upon A Time). In books, I range from sweet to angsty. On the sweet side: I love me some steam. On the angsty side: too much can be too much, I like my happy moments! My favorite author list is seriously lacking in diversity, and I’ve been branching out over the last few years. But my tried and true authors include: Jennifer Crusie, Jill Shalvis, Nora Roberts, Elizabeth Briggs, and Tracey Livesay.

Any questions? Tweet me! @AuthorLBrown or comment below! And be sure to check out the other mentors posts! *note, the scavenger hunt word is a red “That’s”*

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Hearing Loss Terminology

There are lot of different terms used to describe a person with a hearing loss, and a lot of acceptable and not acceptable terms are widely misunderstood. As a writer of books regarding hearing loss, I often have to bite my tongue when the wrong term is used. I know the terms are not being used with any negative intent. I’ve experienced the wrong terms being used my entire life (try being in the hospital and having your own preferred terms ignored and not feeling good enough to correct the nurses).

So, here’s a rundown of some of the terms:

Hearing Loss: Blanket term that covers all forms of hearing loss, from mild to profound.

Deaf: This term implies that a person’s hearing is in the profound range, meaning they have “absence of useful hearing.” Some deaf people can still hear sounds, some hear nothing at all. Some speak. Some do not.

D/deaf: In the Deaf Community there is a thing called “little d” and “big d.” Simply put, someone who identifies as Deaf (big d) is a culturally deaf person. They are a part of the Deaf Community. Someone who identifies as deaf (little d) is just that, deaf. They are probably in the hearing community and might not know ASL, prefer speaking to the best of their ability. There is no right or wrong here, but with every book I write I am explaining my usage of D/deaf. Because when discussing deafness as a disability, there is no “big d,” that term is reserved for statements involving identity.

Hard of Hearing: This is a term for someone with some hearing loss. This person is not deaf, this person is not hearing. Often times they will wear hearing aids to help boost their hearing abilities. Like the D/deaf above, a person can capitalize to denote identity and being part of the Deaf Community. As a whole, being hard of hearing is a very vast term. We range from an older person with a little late onset hearing loss, to a person who has significant loss and has worn hearing aids most of their lives, to many variations in between.

Late Deafened: This is a person who normally is born hearing and loses their hearing later on in life. Could be they started losing their hearing as a child, or a teenager, or in their forties. Regardless of when they started losing their hearing, they are now deaf.

Hearing Impaired: Uh uh. No, just no. Unless you use this term to self-identify—and rock on with your bad self if you do—please do not use this term. We are not impaired. There is nothing wrong with us. And many of us feel our ears make us part of a linguistic community. This term does not encompass all forms of hearing loss. This term is hurtful to most of us. If you pay attention to my writing, I only use this term in the negative sense. And even when I have a character who would self-identify this way, I opt not to.

Mute: Another term to avoid, especially when using a combination of deaf mute. Many deaf people opt not to use their voice. Many have also been forced to speak and go through hours upon hours of speech therapy. Like “impaired” it is often frowned upon.

Deaf-Blind: This is a person with a hearing loss and vision loss. Like the hearing spectrum, this person could still have usable vision, but often times meets the legally blind criteria.

As for me, I was born hard of hearing. My identity wavers between Hard of Hearing and Deaf, and in ASL I often use both signs simultaneously. For one main reason: my right ear is considered deaf. Now, I still wear a hearing aid in that ear. I still hear with that ear. But I also don’t listen with that ear. If someone is talking to my right ear, I have to move them to my left ear in order to comprehend. Yet that ear does okay in speech recognition tests, mainly due to my hearing loss being moderate in speech areas of sound. Another big thing about me: I grew up without the community. It wasn’t until college that I sought out an ASL class that changed my life and brought me home.

Any terms I’ve skipped over that you want an answer to? Comment on it below. I love questions and am happy to discuss. Just please don’t assume what terms I prefer.