Morning Coffee: Selling Myself

halloweenSome people believe all writers do is write. After we’re done with one book we launch right into another. I wish!! There was a time when a writer could count on their publisher doing all the PR work. Publishing houses had whole departments for promoting their lists. They scheduled book tours/signings, placed your books in all the right stores, and ran ads in the papers and magazines with the highest reader numbers in your market. Not anymore.

Yes, the big houses still have advertising departments. Unfortunately, unless you’re one of the top-of-the-list big-buck-earning authors on their list, they expect you to do not all, but much of the work yourself. Beginning with my initial query/submission, I have to prove that I am both willing and able to promote myself before they’ll even consider signing me. I blame the internet.

The internet has supplied us with all the resources we need to do our own PR. I have a Facebook author page, I tweet, and, of course, I blog. All means for getting my name out there and building a fan base even before I’m ready to submit my first novel. I will also be expected, after publication, to buy tables at festivals and craft shows so I can sell copies of my book. I will need to schedule book readings/signings at local libraries and bookstores.

There are also the business cards and bookmarks I already carry everywhere to hand out to anyone interested. Anything that will help people remember my name, anything to prove to a publisher that I can do my part.

Agents want to receive, along with a query letter, synopsis, and sample chapters, my market and a list of already published books that are similar to mine. They want me to convince them my book is worth the time and effort they would need to negotiate a publishing contract. Naming my market is easy, women over thirty. Determining which similar books will best sell mine is a little tougher. I would like to include three. I’ve currently put together a list and am reading them so I can have a list ready for submission next week. So far, one is a definite inclusion.

With all this put out there to sell myself, I will then, and only then, be able to go back to work on my next book while waiting to hear the verdict on my first.

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Morning Coffee: “Mary Bishop” Update

halloweenBack in May, I had the opportunity to pitch my novel, “Mary Bishop”, to two agents at WisRWA’s annual conference in Green Bay. One requested the first five chapters and a short synopsis, but suggested the manuscript be about 10,000 words longer. The second requested the first three chapters and a short synopsis. She also told me something I’d already figured out for myself. The reason I hadn’t sold it yet, despite all the positive comments from editors, was I had been submitting to the wrong market. It’s not historical romance; it’s historical women’s fiction with romantic elements. Yes, there’s a difference. The characters and plot lines are more complicated and need a longer format.

I prefer to do my revisions with red pen on paper; so, that’s how I spent my free time this summer. (What’s free time?) I rewrote dry scenes that merely “told” what was happening, replacing them with scenes that “showed” the story. I expanded some and filled in historical details. I addressed questions raised by one of my beta readers. (Thanks, Mo!) Then I rounded it out by writing an epilogue to tie-up a story line that was once very minor but had grown much more prominent.

In September, I started the long process of typing and polishing those revisions and this week I completed them for an additional 9,200 words, a total of 90,700. These were not the first revisions, and I totally believe they won’t be the last. I have no doubt any agent or publisher who wants to pick it up will request additional changes. If there’s one thing this process has taught me, my words are not all gold and sometimes the ones you like the most are the first ones that need to go.

For example, my opening paragraph was my favorite from day one. It was word for word what my heroine, Mary Bishop, kept saying to me until I wrote it down and launched into telling her story. As far as I was concerned, it was sacrosanct. I had enough trouble changing it from first person to third. A couple weeks ago I attended the first page workshop at the Wisconsin Writers Association annual conference in Neenah and one gentleman suggested I move it to the bottom of the first page. He pointed out the real strength of my opening came from all the paragraphs that followed on page one. He didn’t want me to delete it, just move it. My first reaction, which I kept hidden behind a ‘thank you I’ll think about that’ smile, was the thought that he didn’t know what he was talking about. That was the paragraph that would pull my reader into the story and never let them go. But guess what happened when I started thinking about it. He was right. My opening is much stronger, and nothing had to be deleted in this case.

Now all I have to do is write a two-page synopsis and a cover letter and I’m ready to send the agents their requested chapters. After that, who knows what will happen. Hopefully at least one of them will want to read the full manuscript, will want to sign me, and then will sell my book to a big New York publisher convinced he or she has found the next best selling Great American Novel.

I’ll keep you informed.

Morning Coffee: Friday the 13th

halloweenToday is Friday the 13th, and it’s October, which makes it all the spookier for those who believe in omens, superstition, and such things. Halloween winds down the month of October. We spend weeks watching horror movie marathons, visiting corn mazes and haunted houses while picking apples and pumpkins. Then we end the month by dressing our children in costumes and binging on an orgy of chocolate left over after all the little ghouls and goblins have gone home.

Two years ago, when this blog was new, I wrote about the history behind Halloween, but what’s the deal with Friday the 13th? There’s no clear information regarding when Friday the 13th became a tradition for bad luck; but negativity has surrounded the number 13 for centuries.

While the number 12 has historically been associated with completeness (12 Days of Christmas, 12 months and Zodiac signs, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 tribes of Israel), the number 13 has been linked to the negative for almost as long.

The Last Supper is credited for the belief that 13 dinner guests at the table is a bad omen, that it tempts death. Consider it; there were 13 men seated at the Last Supper: the 12 apostles plus Jesus makes 13. Judas was one of the 13 and the next day, Good Friday, was the day Jesus was crucified. Could this also be what links the number 13 with Friday? Possibly.

Have you ever noticed the lack of a 13th floor in many buildings? Next time you’re in an elevator check to see if you can get off at the 13th floor. Technically there is a 13th floor because there certainly isn’t empty air between 12 and14, but people are reluctant to rent office space or a hotel room on the 13th floor so building owners often pretend it doesn’t exist for the sake of their bottom line.

New Yorker Captain William Fowler (1827-1897) founded the Thirteen Club to try and dispel the superstition behind the number 13, particularly having 13 dinner guests at a table. On the 13th of each month, 13 men would meet for dinner in room 13 of the Knickerbocker Cottage, a popular restaurant owned by Fowler from 1863-1883. Before sitting down to dinner, each guest had to walk beneath a ladder and sign that read Morituri te Salutamus, Latin for “Those of us who are about to die.” Most notable members, at different times, were four US presidents: Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, and Theodore Roosevelt.

Numerous books and movies, most notably the Friday the 13th franchise starring hockey mask-wearing Jason, have spawned from the superstition. For some, they feed the fear. For others, they’re just a bit of fun.

Yes, throughout history there have been bad things that happened on Friday the 13th; but unless the world is going to stand still for those 24 hours it’s inevitable that something bad is going to happen somewhere. Any other month of the year a Friday the 13th can pass with me hardly noticing. But, when it happens in October, well that’s just the icing on the cake.

Scary-pumpkins

Morning Coffee: What I DON’T Love About Fall

fallI’ve written before about how I love everything fall, but that’s not entirely true. I love the colors, the scents, the flavors of fall. I love the cooler temperatures, fuzzy sweaters, and hot chocolate mixed with a little peppermint schnapps. And maybe most of all, I love just about anything pumpkin spice or cranberry. We’re only a month away from lefse-making day with my sister-in-law. Playing golf in the fall is special, too, when it’s not so hot and the leaves are all changing. We have a beautiful golf course here in St Croix Falls.

miceBut there is one thing I do not love about fall. Mice.

The filthy little creatures have already begun to seek refuge in our basement. At least, so far they’ve kept to the basement, but I’d prefer they kept to the outside of the house. Since the beginning of September I’ve trapped five, the most recent just last night. Before you try and tell me mice are cute, none of these were wearing little shorts or a polka dot dress and matching bow! These are not the cute variety of mouse, the kind that sing and dance and entertain children of all ages. These are the kind that chew through my belongings, invade my pantry, leave caches of seeds in my boots and nasty little black poops that let me know they’ve been there recently and leave me wondering where they are right then.

miceDid you know that mice have soft bones and can easily squeeze through a hole the size of a dime? As soon as my husband finds one hole and blocks it, they find another…or create another. As I said, they like to chew on things.

I’ve written a number of poems expressing my dislike of, my frustration with, them. This poem originally appeared in Creative Wisconsin, Winter 2013-2014, under the title “In The Quiet Hours”.

miceIn The Night Time Hours
By Jane Yunker

We stalk the night time hours
Bony feet scuffling
Scratching
Sniffing with hungry noses
Searching
For crumbs left behind
By those who live upstairs
Hiding
When the sun rises
And they wake
Checking
Traps left to stop us
In the night time hours