So you want to be an author, huh?

Then listen up.

The moment you send out your finished manuscript, you are going into business. Forget about baring your soul, writing the book of your heart and caring for your muse. On second thought don’t forget about that completely, just put them away somewhere safe while you concentrate on selling your book.

Here’s what you have to do:

  1. Take a good look at your finished book and compare it to the stuff that’s out there. By the way, don’t compare yourself only to the best sellers. Porque, you ask. Well, more than likely their agents and editors probably won’t look at a new author. They might. But chances are they won’t. So take a peek at the midlist authors and the newbies and check who’s acknowledging whom. If you like a particular author’s work and your book falls into the same genre put that agent on your list.
  2. Buy a subscription to Publishers Marketplace and do some more research. Find out who sold what to whom and the name of her agent. Pay attention to what is selling and if you see a trend, go the other way. That sounds counter productive but its sage wisdom, my friend. By the time those books hit the stores, the trend will be over and there will be a new craze in its place. Chick lit, by the way, is not a trend. It has become its own genre.
  3. Compile your top ten list of agents. Now go and do more research on those individuals. Do they only read exclusives? Are they still accepting unsolicited submissions? Do they only want a query letter and synopsis, or the first three chapters? Do they accept email queries? Are they coming to a conference near you?
  4. Drum the following into your head: the writer must have a thick skin to withstand criticism and rejection; but the skin must still be thin enough to take in the world around her. If an agent passes on your work, it’s not personal because they don’t know you. Think about it: do you buy every book you see at Barnes & Noble? I don’t either. Agents and editors are people with individual likes and dislikes.
  5. Write your query letter and synopsis. And then rewrite them a second time, a third time, a fourth time … get it as close to perfect as humanly possible.
  6. When your chapters are ready, your synopsis is snappy and your query letter sparkles, it is time to submit.
  7. While you wait for a response, do two things:
  • Decide how you will respond to exclusive requests from agents. This is important because if you do this incorrectly or try to be sneaky, it could back to bite you in the ass, big time. (Then again, I’m a Buddhist and we take that stuff pretty seriously.) So if an agent asks for an exclusive read on a partial, don’t hide the fact that you have queries out there. And give her a time limit, so you don’t end up waiting for weeks on end with other agents who want to read it, too. This is a balancing act of making sure your needs are met, and conducting your business in a professional manner.
  • Get to work on the next story. Now is the time to bare your soul, write the book of your heart and care for your muse. Put away your business hat and don’t think too much about how to market it. As an artist/entreprenuer, you have to know when to switch your concentration. (If only it was as easy as it sounds!)

Note that I’m talking about finding an agent, not an editor. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have someone in your corner. Yes, yes I know I met my editor first, but I was really really lucky to meet my agent who negotiated that first contract. I was so damn happy that I would’ve given my soul to Avon to publish Hot Tamara. But my agent, wise woman that she is, wouldn’t let me and it was the start of a beautiful friendship.

And no, you can’t have her. (Just kidding … well, sort of.)

More to come next week!

Cheers,
Mary

The Big Wup

I don’t know about you but all this chatter about “quiet birth” and the impending arrival of the golden babies is kinda stale. But the thing that really baffles me is this whole notion of quiet birth. Apparently the fascination with it means that people really do believe what they see in movies and on TV: that women in labor yell, scream and curse with every contraction. As a veteran, I can say with confidence that some not all women yell, scream and curse. And usually this occurs when the baby is crowning. Trust me, if you had to push something the size of a large navel orange through your hoo-haa without an epidural, you’d scream too.

I was quiet because the pain was suffocating. I couldn’t muster the energy to let out a lusty “f%$!-s@#*-b&%*!-motherf%$!er” if I had wanted to. Every contraction sucked me under to bat me around until it spat me back out for an all-too short reprieve before doing it again.

So get over it people. Katie and Angelina will be fine without you looking over the curtain.

On Titles

I was supposed to writing a pivotal flashback scene for my latest WIP when I found the following article on book titles. For the record, In Between Men and Hot Tamara have not been used previously. Although I haven’t done a porno title search, so perhaps I’ve spoken too soon.

Say That Again? Books Recycle Titles

By HILLEL ITALIE, AP National Writer
Tue Apr 11, 3:19 PM ET

NEW YORK – Choosing the title of a Harlequin release can be as challenging as actually writing the book, with the author and editors sometimes sparring for weeks over the precise word or words to entice that imagined reader on the supermarket checkout line.

But when romance-suspense novelist Heather Graham submitted the manuscript for her latest, an exotic thriller about piracy and murder set in part off the Florida coast, everyone agreed that Graham had chosen the perfect name: “The Island.”

“Nobody here can remember any sort of resistance over that title,” recalls Margaret Marbury, executive editor of MIRA Books, a Harlequin imprint that released Graham’s novel earlier this year. “It seemed almost too easy.”

Easy, perhaps, because so many others have used that title before.

According to the American Library Association, dozens of works have been called “The Island,” including a children’s book by Gary Paulsen and a thriller by “Jaws” author Peter Benchley. Marbury acknowledges that she didn’t know the title was so common, but she wasn’t surprised.

“Most really good titles have been used before,” she says. “It’s very hard to find something completely original.”

The library association, responding to a request from The Associated Press, compiled a wide range of popular titles. “My Sister’s Keeper,” for example, has been used by Shirley Lord, Jodi Picoult and at least five others. Other familiar names: “Not Guilty,” “Judgment Day” and “Time and Again.”

Writing about your life? Watch out for “My Life,” claimed for millions of readers by Bill Clinton, but also used by Marc Chagall, Magic Johnson, Burt Reynolds and Isadora Duncan. Other books have the more formal “The Story of My Life,” most famously Helen Keller’s, but also works by Clarence Darrow, Ellen Terry and Giacomo Casonova.

Romance, mystery and other genre books are particularly likely to have recycled titles, because of the vast numbers that are published and their brief lives in the public’s memory — meaning a name can be brought back within a few years.

“The main thing is not to choose a title that’s memorably associated with another book,” says Harlequin executive editor Leslie Wainger. “In theory, you could call a title `Gone With the Wind,’ but why would you? Some titles have been used a number of times, but there’s no single book that’s been called classic.”

Inevitably, repeat titles cause confusion. A library patron in Fremont, Mich., requested a copy of “Leap of Faith,” the memoirs of Queen Noor of Jordan. He instead received, and read, a Danielle Steel novel of the same name. Karen Traynor, director of the New York-based Sullivan Free Library, acknowledges that she was thrown off by the release this year of two books called “Gone,” by Jonathan Kellerman and by Lisa Gardner.

“In the system where we order books, you can do it by title or by author, and because we weren’t aware that two books called `Gone’ were being published, both suspense thrillers by popular authors, we only ordered the one by Lisa Gardner,” she says. “It was only when patrons started asking for the Kellerman book that we realized we had made a mistake.”

D.W. Buffa, who writes courtroom thrillers, recalls trying to think of a title for one of his works featuring San Francisco district attorney Joseph Antonelli. The author’s original idea was “Trial by Ordeal.”

“I liked it because the book touches on English law questions and titles ought to reflect something about the story itself,” says Buffa, whose novel was published last year by Putnam. “But they didn’t like `Trial by Ordeal,’ so somebody at Putnam came up with `Trial by Fire.'”

According to the American Library Association, at least 20 books have been called “Trial by Fire.”

“I had no idea how many other books had that title,” Buffa says. “I suppose it’s because `Trial by Fire’ is a fairly common phrase and any time somebody’s had to go through some difficult ordeal, among the three titles that pops into somebody’s head is `Trial by Fire.'”

“They’re all cliches,” Harlequin’s Wainger says of commonly used titles, “but cliches become cliches because they so perfectly encapsulate an idea. It’s a phrase that resonates.”

Titles cannot be copyrighted, but authors have been known to claim rights. In the early 1990s, publisher Otto Penzler was ready to release Stephen Solomita’s “A Good Day to Die,” only to be contacted by the lawyer for a writer who had already used that title.

“The lawyer said, `This is our title’ and `You can’t do that,'” says Penzler, who currently runs Otto Penzler Books, a Harcourt imprint.

“So I looked the title up and found there were 13 titles that preceded his book. And I said, `Which of those writers did you steal that title from?’ And I never heard from the lawyer again.”

The Green Tea Martini: An Analysis


Last night I made the green tea martini. The recipe calls for a tsp of Cointreau, an ounce of chilled green tea and two ounces of orange flavored vodka with a drop of simple syrup. I omitted the simple syrup because of the sugar in the Cointreau – I’m more of a savory person than sweet – and added chopped fresh ginger to the green tea.

I then recalled the scene from The Thin Man when Nick Charles, played by William Powell, explains proper technique:

The important thing is the rhythm! Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a dry martini you always shake to waltz time.

So I shook the green tea martini at a waltz time and then poured it into a chilled martini glass. The color was reminiscent of chardonnay. The orange and ginger dominated the taste of the green tea, leaving a fresh zing on the palette. Unlike the classic martini, or even the vodka martini, this cocktail is a featherweight. You start to feel unconditional love for all of humankind at about three-quarters of the way through the drink.

My Way


At this very moment I should be working on my new story that has been obsessing me for the last week. But I wanted to tell you about this song that won’t stop playing in my head, which I’m now playing so it’ll leave me in peace.

I don’t know if you’ve been checking out Catalina Magazine’s Book Club but I’ve been the guest author this month. The experience has been immensely flattering but also intensely introspective. You see, I’m a typical doer; I don’t spend too much time thinking about what I should do or how to do it, which can be good and yet as last year proved, not so good. This morning when I received a group of questions from the book club readers, one really made me pause and think about how I write (which then inspired my brain to pipe in “My Way” by Frank Sinatra as the accompanying soundtrack).

When a new idea takes residence in my brain, I get the story in bits and pieces, usually conversations between characters or their internal dialogue. I keep a notebook with me at all times so I can capture them as if I’m a kid again, chasing butterflies in my Grandma Nana’s yard. If I don’t have it with me, I’ll repeat the idea over and over until I find a piece of paper (the backs of receipts are real handy). When it’s time to write the story down, the manuscript is just pages and pages of dialogue with a sprinkling of description or action to make it interesting. I then layer in more description, trim dialogue or rework stuff that doesn’t sound right, and take characters that appeared out of nowhere and develop them throughout the story. The third draft is almost always about plot. I suck at plot and even though I outline a pretty sound structure before the first draft, I inevitably stray and then have to go back to make sure the story unfolds in a logical manner. When that draft is complete, I then take three days to read it out loud into a tape recorder, which I painstakingly listen for rhythm and pacing. That fourth draft is usually what goes to my editor and then there’s a fifth draft based on her observations and the ideas that I hadn’t thought of earlier.

Whew.

It’s quite a process and last year I tried to tweak it so that I could be more efficient. It didn’t work out, even though I was trying to do it the “right way” rather than my way. The moral of this story, for those of you who are writers or at the very least care to know, is not to pay too much attention to those voices telling you “how to do things the right way.” First, understand how your brain works. Then, take the morsels that enhance your process rather than change it. Finally, leave the room for awhile. I had to make a very difficult decision to take a break from my critique group. When you’re published, you’re surrounded by often well-meaning voices. But the one that you have to listen to is yours (and your agent and editor). While I’m a heel for not being there for my friends, I feel like I’m chasing butterflies again and it’s awesome.

With that, this is my favorite line from Frank’s My Way:

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew,
When I bit off, more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up, and spit it out.
I faced it all, and I stood tall,
and did it my way.

FREE AT LAST … Well, for now anyway

Hi-dee-ho! I just turned in my novella, “Till Death Do Us Part,” which will be included in an anthology, Other Names I Call My Sister. Many of you have been reading In Between Men and then writing to me about how much you enjoyed Isa and Alex’s story. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to do so. Those emails sparked energy for my novella, revisions to Switchcraft and some new ideas that I’m dying to get to.

Before I start my next project – office clean-up – I want to share some official Chica Lit news. My fellow anthology authors, Sofia Quintero and Berta Platas have new books coming out next week!

Sofia’s Divas Don’t Yield is about four college grads who embark on a roadtrip odyssey from New York to San Francisco. I was lucky to read an advance copy and I wish I had had friends like these in college!

Berta’s romantic comedy, Cinderella Lopez, is sex-ay. It’s smart, funny, heart breaking and just has that, you-go-girl! feel through out.

If those titles aren’t enough for your book bag, check out Lynda Sandoval’s Unsettling. That book cracks me up every time I read it (which I’ve done twice, now). How’s this for an opener:

The door squeakd open, and Betty unceremoniously clamped a clothespin on Lucy’s shirt collar, then grabbed her wrist and yanked her over the threshold. “Finally! What took you so long? Your Tía Dulcinea can only wear her teeth for a couple of hours at a time, you know.”

Copyright © 2004 by Lynda Sandoval

I just had a quick thought about my title for today’s entry. Recently, I sat in on a talk by a NYT bestseller. What really struck me was this author’s attitude, something along the lines of “having to write so many books.”

My first reaction was, “dude, would you rather do a nine to five and sit in traffic each way for two hours?” My second was, “do you realize that most of these people listening to you are working their butts off to be in your place? They’d gratefully trade!”

So I don’t want you to think that I feel “burdened” or “trapped” by my stories. Yes, when I’m in the thick of writing, it seems like I’ve gotten myself in way too deep and I don’t have what it takes to finish it. And yet, there is nothing else in this world I can imagine doing. Writing and publishing books is not a hardship and I certainly don’t resent the challenges. (Although I could do without some of the nastiness I’ve received from other authors and a few critics; but that’s not my problem, it’s theirs.) What I do is a privelege and as long as you want to read my stories, I’ve got more coming!

Now that we have that unpleasantness over with, I hope to meet many of you in person in the following months. So far I have two book signing/reading events scheduled:

Sunday March 19th, 2006, 4 p.m.
“Heels (Manolos) and Heels (Men): Books with Great Shoes and Naughty Guys”
Barnes & Noble, Torrance, CA
Del Amo Fashion Center
21500 Hawthorne Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90503
»» Mary will appear on a panel with fellow authors, Josie Brown (True Hollywood Lies) and Sonia Singh (Bollywood Confidential). Book signing to follow panel. Visit Barnes & Noble for directions!

Saturday, April 22nd, 2006, 4 p.m.
Reading & booksigning
Tia Chucha’s Cafe Cultural
12737 Glenoaks Blvd.,#22
Sylmar, CA 91342
(818)362-7060
Visit Tia Chuca’s for directions!

With that I’m off to clean my desk for the next story. I’d tell you more but even I don’t know what it’s really about.

Cheers,
Mary

Clean Out Your Closets!

After watching Oprah’s show on the aftermath of Katrina, I’ve been praying for a way to help those in need. Let’s face it, I can’t exactly fly down and build a house right now.

But I read this and I hope you’ll join me in collecting books you no longer read and send them to the New Orleans Public Library system. Also, I’m going to enquire about libraries in other towns, possibly for the families who are still living in tent cities.

For now here’s the alert:

In an effort to restock its shelves after Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Public Library is asking for donations of hardcovers and paperbacks for people of all ages. Library staff will decide which books should go into its collection; the rest will go to destitute families or be sold to raise funds for the library.

Please send books to: Rica A. Trigs, Public Relations, New Orleans Public Library, 219 Loyola Ave., New Orleans, LA. 70112.

Apparently if donors mention to the Postal Service that the books are for the library in New Orleans, they will be able to send the books at the library rate, which is slightly less than the book rate.

Just When I Think I’m Free … They Pull Me Back In

Yes, that line was from the worst movie in the Godfather trilogy but I had to come up with something to describe my current frame of mind.

Just when I finished Switchcraft, I’m in deep with revisions to a novella I wrote last summer. It’s not too bad considering that I was in the last trimester of my pregnancy. But I have those too-many-espressos jitters without having inbibed any coffee today. This seems to be a regular pattern when I start or restart a story. Could I be physically addicted to writing?

Anyway, the coolest thing happened to me today! I went to the Borders store at South Coast Plaza to sign stock and Will, the sales manager, went on the store intercom to tell everyone about my book. Woo hoo! I admit that I did the “aww shucks” squirm while my husband smiled proudly and the Little Dude cruised in his stroller. But inside, I was eating it up!

By the way, if you haven’t been to my website lately, check it out. I posted a deleted scene from Hot Tamara, starring Isa, my heroine from In Between Men. Also, I’m scheduled for some book signings and I hope you’ll stop by!

Finally, the Fabulous Dana Diamond interviewed me for OCC RWA’s Orange Blossom magazine and part of that interview is now on her blog and at The Writer’s Vibe.

Cheers!

Mary C. who has still not found the elusive Green Tea Martini in Orange County

The Book Is Done

I finished it at 5:10 a.m. this morning. It needed a little spit and polish here and there before I sent it to my agent and editor. In the meantime, I’ll have to think up a new title and more than likely, will receive notes from my editor. But for now, it is done.

Thank you God for the gift to write my stories and actually make a buck at it. I’ve accomplished something really amazing by sharing these crazy ideas of mine with readers not just once, but now thrice with In Between Men.

So with that, I’m off to watch the Food Network. I’ve become addicted to cooking shows – especially Paula Dean and Rachael Ray – because nothing bad ever happens. Makes me feel at peace that in one part of this crazy world, something will turn out okay.

But the reprieve will be short-lived. On Sunday, I revise my novella.

Beats my old day job even thought I haven’t slept since Tuesday.

Salud,
Mary

Can’t Give Up The Clean

First off, I’m still working on Switchcraft even as In Between Men is now officially in a bookstore near you.

Second, I’ve little sleep and less contact with the outside world.

Third, this isn’t a diss of any writers who become so invested in the work that they forget to shower or change their clothes. It’s just an admission that I can’t give up showering no matter how deep I am into the writing. Yes, I walk around my house like a ghost but only when it’s my husband’s turn to watch the Little Dude. Even then, I’m still listening for that particular tone in the baby’s cry that only a mommy can hear.

But that’s a whole other topic.

So back to personal hygeiene: does my need for cleanliness make me less of a writer? Am I not as committed to the work? Am I … Bourgeois?

I tried to write in my jammies the other day – mom, I did brush my teeth – but I couldn’t concentrate because of that not-so-fresh feeling under my armpits.

Also, showering and cooking are my meditation. Before I go in, I carefully select a body wash from my fiercely guarded collection. Do I need White Tea, Soothing Lavendar, Revitalizing Mint, Seductive Rose or plain oatmeal soap? And then there’s the question of exfoliation, which I use when I literally and figuratively need to rid myself of dead skin. Moisturization is a must and I always use SPF 30 on the face.

When I’m under the water lathering up, my mind plays with different approaches to a scene, hence my handy mini-recorder is always on the counter just in case my character delivers a line of dialogue that could be forgotten on the rocky path between the shower and my desk. Or, I practice what I’ll say to Oprah or Tyra on the off chance I’m invited to their shows.

Now I don’t feel so guilty. But I better get back to work.

I hope you have a great time with Isa and Alex. Funny thing about being an author is that at the time I was writing In Between Men , I hated them for making my life miserable with their damn problems. Now, I miss them and hate the characters who are making my life hell right now.

Cheers,
Mary