HWSWAnswers: Everything Else

And we’re back with more answers to questions you asked earlier in the week.

Cate M asked:
Any tips for getting the most out of an MFA creative writing program as a genre writer (in this case romance)? This is definitely putting the cart before the horse, since I may not even get in. But in the event I do, and you wanted to give me some tips any time between February – September, that would be lovely.
Alternately, what are some ways to grow/ and learn as a writer if I don’t get into that MFA program?

I don’t know anything about MFA Programs. There are some good ones. A bunch seem more designed to produce teachers of MFA programs based on my experience one year applying to every one as an instructor since I had nothing better to do. They preferred people with MFAs rather than publishing credentials. I’d take a look at who is teaching and what the graduates do. If you don’t join one? Read a lot. Write. Get some people you trust as a small critique group. I’m not a fan of large groups. Two, at more three people. Continue reading

Questionable: How Do I Know What Genre My Book Is?

Judy asked:
I have written a novel and I am having trouble determining genre. It’s a romance for sure. It has suspense for sure. But it also has ghosts. No other paranormal elements- just ghosts. It doesn’t have that goth somber flavor. Is paranormal romantic suspense a genre? If so can it be paranormal when the only thing supernatural is ghosts?

So let’s talk about genre. Genre means “kind,” so when you’re deciding on what kind of book you’re selling (not writing), all you’re doing is slapping a label on it. Continue reading

The Alice Proposal

Here’s your link to the Haunting Alice Proposal. (If you’d rather go looking for it, it’s up at the top under the Works in Progress page; just scroll down til you hit the section on Haunting Alice.)

Most of you have read most of the first thirty-plus pages before, but there’s also the first page of the synopsis, which is the first act/first third of the book. You don’t get the rest because of spoilers. (A full proposal would be the pages, the synopsis of the full book, and a query letter.).

And now back to Nita.

New Month, New Book, New Proposal, Argh

Because I must get a proposal done before Nita is finished, I have started on a new book. Yeah, I’m not thrilled about that either; I love the book but balancing two narratives in my head is not a good idea, especially since one is overworked and the other is nascent, but here we are. At least it’ll make a nice change for you all since I’ll be bitching about Alice (aka Haunting Alice) instead of Nita (aka The Devil in Nita Dodd).

So what’s a proposal you ask, and how am I making one for Alice? (You have to ask because I need a blog post.).

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Questionable: What If I Write a Lot of Different Stuff?

Chacha wrote:
I have been writing for a long time, started self-publishing in 2012 . . . [G]iven that I have not yet found an audience, is it likely to kill me that all my stuff is not in the same style? . . . I’ve got romance novellas, romance-adjacent contemporary novels, historical novels. My published contemporary novels are in three (so far) different styles. Two are alternating-first-person POV. One is 3rd/omniscient. One is straight-up 1st person. . .

First, those things are not style.  Style is the way you sound on the page, your word choices and rhythms and world views, and chances are great that your style stays the same no matter what you write. I write ghost stories, romantic comedies, caper romances, demons, etc. but they’re all in my style; they all sound like Crusies. 

What you’re talking about is genre (romance, adventure, etc.). 

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Questionable: What’s the Difference Between YA and Adult Fiction?

Johnna asked:
“What makes YA novels so popular nowadays with adults? And is the line between adult and YA fiction really there anymore, especially in fantasy and science fiction? I know that you aren’t a YA author, but with Nita, for example – is there a reason why your book couldn’t/wouldn’t be in a high school library? (other than perhaps sex scenes?)

As Cate said in the comments, the big determiner of YA is the age of the protagonist. A YA protagonist does not necessarily mean that the book is a YA, but an older protagonist pretty much means it isn’t.   YA readers have too much adult PoV in their lives already; they want to read about people like them solving problems and making connections.  The focus is also likely to be on different things. YA dystopias are different from adult dystopias; YA romantic conflicts are different from adult romantic conflicts. It reminds me of something somebody said about the difference between pop and country music: pop is about falling in love and country is about working on your second divorce.  YA fiction is about becoming an adult and adult fiction is dealing with being an adult.

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The Cranky Agnes Logo and Other Ways To Exploit You

Mara Lubell does it again:

Cranky Agnes 2 Color Logo

Isn’t she the greatest? Both Agnes and Mara.

So the idea was to use this on the website and also on aprons as gifts within the industry, and then Mollie said, “Put it on merchandise and sell it,” and I thought, Ouch, exploiting fans. Except people are asking if there’s a Cranky Agnes apron as soon as they read the scene where she puts it on (beta readers, the book won’t be out until August) so is that still exploiting?

And I’d been thinking about other things, too, just for fun. Like a bumper sticker that says “Tucker for Mayor, More of the Same,” which given the way many readers feel about Phin and the dock scene, has that nice double meaning to it. And an advertising calendar from the Goodnight Gallery with one of Tilda’s paintings on it. Things that might have been in the books, fun things.

I don’t know why that seems less exploitive than a T-shirt with a bookcover on it. I’d still be charging for the stuff over on CafePress and making money, albeit not raking in the big bucks. Maybe because it wouldn’t be such blatant advertising? We’re going to do a T-shirt over there for the HWSW workshop definitely (“Nothing but good times ahead” on the front and “We’re doomed” on the back which pretty much describes the mental state of writers), but that’s another “real” thing, you get T-shirts when you go to writers’ conferences.

I can see Zelda’s business logo on the T-shirts her employees wear to work in, especially if we come up with a business name that’s really fun (I know Mara will come up with a logo that’s fun). Part of me loves the idea of making things from the book real, and part of me is still saying, “Ouch, exploiting fans.”

I think I like the idea of this stuff so much because it extends the world of the book into the real world. You get the Goodnight Gallery Calendar because you’ve been to the Goodnight Gallery. You wear the Cranky Agnes Mob Food apron because you’re a Cranky Agnes fan, not because I’m selling Agnes and the Hitman. I know, it’s a fine distinction, but I think that’s why it feels like play to me instead of promotion, even though it’s blatantly promotion.

So we’re cogitating on this and we’re probably going to do it. But I do want to know what you think of it all. Does the fact that the things we’re thinking about selling all come from inside the book instead of outside it (bookcovers, etc) make it different? Can you think of anything else that would be fun? Because if we’re going to do this, I want to do things that will make people smile when they see them, bring back the stories for them. It can’t be a T-shirt that says, “Buy everything Jenny Crusie ever wrote RIGHT NOW.”

Although that would be a damn fine T-shirt.

You Again Again

So I’m finishing up Agnes—ARGH—and looking ahead to the next book, which is actually my last book, the late, unfinished You Again.

For those of you not up to date on this saga, three years ago I gave my editor, who is a genius and a saint, 64,000 words of a work in progress called You Again. The book was under contract and past deadline, so I said, “Honestly, I’ve been working, here look,” and sent her the manuscript but I also knew that I was hopelessly, hopelessly lost. So we met in the tearoom at the Algonquin Hotel, and while the ghost of Dorothy Parker wept into her scotch in sympathy, my editor said, “Nope.” Well, first she and I talked about it, what was working, what wasn’t, but at the end of the conversation, she said, “Put it aside and start something new.”

I was so grateful, I almost wept right there with Dorothy.

Because I had been fighting that manuscript for so long, knowing the story was there but absolutely clueless as to how to fix, hell, how to find it, that I was almost suicidal. I’d even sent it to the guy I was collaborating with who insists he can fix anything. I gave it to him on a Monday; he said, “I’ll have it to you fixed by Wednesday.” On Wednesday, he said, “This is trickier than I thought, I’ll get it you to Friday.” On Friday he said, “This is going to take the weekend.” On Sunday he said, “What the hell did you do to this thing?”

So I put it in a drawer and moved on to Don’t Look Down, and “Hot Toy,” and The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, and Agnes and the Hitman, all collaborations except for the novella because I loved collaborating (and I’m going to do it again, too). But now I’m done collaborating for a while and it’s time to fly solo again and I’m heading back to that bottom drawer to see if I can salvage You Again.

I have to. People keep asking about it. I showed it to too many people while I was working on it. “Whatever happened to You Again?” they ask. “Sixty-four thousand words? Hell, just sit down and bang out the last thirty-six and you’ve got a novel.” Oh, if it only worked that way.

Plus I really want to go back. I loved You Again. I loved the heroine, Zelda, and her best friend, Scylla (pronounced Cilla, and that’s going to cause trouble), and the hero was great, James, a good guy, and then there was Rose, the surrogate mother from Zelda’s past without a maternal bone in her body, and Quentin the butler, and of course the supporting cast which was . . . uh, large. And I loved the premise, it was going to be my version of the classic Agatha Christie because I’m a huge Christie fan, only probably more Margery Allingham because I’m an even bigger Allingham fan, with some Rex Stout thrown in maybe . . . . Well, you can see how the plot got away from me. And why the beta readers kept saying, “Who ARE these people? And what the hell is going on?” I loved the damn book but it was a mess, so much so that I’m not sure I can fix it even now. I just moved the file to my new laptop and it’s sitting on the desktop looking at me. The last time I opened it was May of 2005. It has digital dust all over it. I’m afraid.

So my plan is to not do it alone. I’m taking you all with me. I’m going to journal about trying to restart You Again and then if it doesn’t work again, I’ll let it go forever and start a new book, and if anybody asks, I can just refer them to this blog.

I figure the first thing I’ll have to do is reconceptualize it. Before I open it, I’ll try to remember what I loved about it, what’s stuck with me these three years, the things I can’t let go of. I’ll figure out what the book feels like—I’ve still got the collage after all—the emotional shape of it, and then I’ll get some touchstones in place so I don’t run off the rails.

After that, I’ll have to do the basic outline which I would explain here but I’m explaining my form of outlining in general over on the HWSW blog right now so go there if you’re curious. If not, I’ll be getting to it here in a couple of days.

And then I’m going to have to open that file and take a look. That’s when I’ll do the Twelve Days of Zelda. (Somebody out there is thinking, “Twelve days. If she did three thousand words a day, she’d have that novel done.” No.)

And by the time that’s done, somewhere after Valentine’s Day, I’ll know if You Again is back again or gone forever.

It’s a plan.

But in the meantime, this has to be cheering up writers all over the place. I have a contract with a publisher and I still got rejected, in mid-book no less. It happens to everybody. Publishing. Gotta love it.

Clue Cake, Anonymity, and Other Unprofessional Behavior

Before we begin, a few disclaimers:

  1. I’m a friend of Anne Stuart, also known as Krissie.
  2. When Harlequin added the moral rights clause to their category contracts in 1995, I called them the Evil Empire on the internet. If I could find the place I said it, I’d link to it, but that was eleven years ago and God knows where it is now, probably orbiting Mars. The gist of it was that HQ had put into its contracts a clause that it could change anything it wanted in the books without the permission of the writers, and I said that was wrong, in several colorful ways that I have forgotten now, but in the midst of that, I definitely called HQ the Evil Empire. I remember that clearly.
  3. I read Miss Snark’s blog for the first time tonight, the entry from 11/03: Nitwit of the Day!

Unprofessional behavior. Yes, I’m talking about the Nitwit of the Day column in which Miss Snark took Anne Stuart to task for saying in public that she was unhappy with her publisher. I had never read Miss Snark before this because I have no time for anonymous writers because unless you have the courage to speak out under your name like, say, oh, Anne Stuart, you can pretty much lob any bomb you want and then slink away into the night while everybody else takes the hit, so you have no accountability and no credibility. So when I heard that Miss Snark was criticizing Krissie, I said, “Oh, for heaven’s sake, nobody even knows who this woman is, she’s just an anonymous blogger sniping at a big name from the underbrush. Why is anybody even paying attention?”

Then I read the column. From the first line, I was appalled. “A big hunk of clue cake for everyone at the book buffet” is not snark, that’s just somebody trying way too hard to be cute. I’m almost certain Television Without Pity invented snark, and they’d spit on “clue cake;” if this person is going to appropriate “snark,” the least she can do is not take its name in vain. Maybe in her other entries she writes with wit and verve, but this is the only one I waded through, and wit was notably lacking. Verve also. She did seem to be having a good time, there was a definite God-I’m-amazingly-brilliant tone throughout, but since that tone present in most of my blog entries, too, I’m going to just let that one lie there.

Then she followed up “clue cake” with:

Don’t diss your publisher in public. Not now, not ever. Not even if you think you’re right, especially when I know you’re wrong.

That was when I thought, “Who is this person and why isn’t she taking her meds?” The day my agent told me “Don’t diss your publisher in public” and then followed it up with “even if you think you’re right, especially when I know you’re wrong” would be the day I’d be announcing on the net that Jenny Crusie was looking for a new agent. Talk about unprofessional behavior; this is not the way a good agent speaks to a client or writes on the internet. (I know, ironic, isn’t it?) She’s telling authors in general and Anne Stuart in particular, “Do not say disrespectful things about your publisher on the internet because I know it’s wrong. Do what I say, because I know all.” Which is when I say to her clients, “Run, Forrest, run.” Or whatever the hell your names are, which you don’t know, either, because she’s anonymous. But if you’re an author and your agent has ever said to you, “Don’t argue with me, just do what I say because I know this is right,” run. Delusion of omnipotence is a bad sign in an agent.

One reason it’s a bad sign is that it leads to bad conclusions, and Miss Snark’s Nitwit Blog is an excellent example of this. She wrote:

Here’s why dissing your publisher is stupid. It removes every desire to go the extra mile for you. Every and any.

But Krissie felt her publisher wasn’t going the extra mile and wasn’t ever going to in the future. She was already past the point that Miss Snark was threatening her with. (And by the way, why are we so sure that Miss Snark is an agent? She’s sure threatening for the publishers here.) Miss Snark’s conclusion was that Krissie should have remained silently unhappy, that her abiding sin which made her Nitwit of the Day! was that she spoke of her unhappiness. You know, this is not an agent I’d want representing me. “You told people you were unhappy? You’ve ruined your career! Go sit in the corner! Nitwit!” Miss Snark is forgetting the major tenet upon which all publishing rests: If the book makes money, the publisher will go the extra mile, the extra kilometer, the extra continent for it even if the author is the offspring of Godzilla and The Thing. And if the book doesn’t sell, the author can be Susie Nice Girl and the publisher will dump her in a ditch and spread somebody else’s remaindered copies over her body. Making everything much more complicated, if the author doesn’t get publisher support, she won’t sell. And the only way to get publisher support is to make sure the author and the book get noticed. Which is NOT by shutting up. Miss Snark can sit in the concrete bunker of her anonymity and shake her cake-stained finger all she wants, but she’s ignoring the complexity of the situation and, if she’s any kind of agent at all, she knows it and she’s taking the cheap shot at Anne Stuart anyway. If she doesn’t know it, she’s not much of an agent.

Now let’s look at what Krissie actually said in her interview on All About Romance, and then think about what a good agent, safe in an anonymous blog, might have written.

So now I’m with Mira, who promised to love, honor and adore me. And maybe they do, but they could do more. I know every writer says that, and I hate to be greedy and ungrateful, but they’re not so much about the books. They’re about slots and numbers, not about passion for what they’re putting out there. Or so it seems to me. But then, right now I’m pretty disillusioned about the lack of support from them. I’ll get over it. Maybe they’re right and I’m wrong and I’m a middle of the road writer. No, they’re wrong. I’m a goddess. And maybe I’ve misjudged them. It seems to me that they look at my books like boxes of cereal on a shelf, and they’re in the business of selling cereal, not loving it.

Now a smart agent looking for a blog topic would read Krissie’s interview and say, “This is something that everybody in publishing knows but nobody talks about in public (except for Anne Stuart) that some houses are better at taking books to the next level, and I could do it thoroughly because I’m safe behind my anonymity. Or I could go safer and talk about what it means when a well-known author like Anne Stuart is so discouraged about fighting the good fight to get to the top after twenty odd years in publishing that she says, in public on the internet, ‘I just don’t know anymore,’ there’s a good blog in that, what publishing does to the long term author. Or I could go even safer and talk about what happens to both the author and the publisher when communication breaks down to the point that the author becomes so unhappy that she tells an interviewer about it and the consequences for both of them.” But Miss Snark went the safest and most self-centered route of all and said, “Boy, if I call Anne Stuart a nitwit, I can get myself a snappy little column out of this. Because nothing says ‘smart agent’ like making a big name author look bad while sucking up to publishers.” Which is why I’m really starting to think that Miss Snark is not an agent. No good agent I know would ever sound like this. Of course, she’s anonymous, so that makes a difference. Maybe in public, she hides this side and acts like a professional. That would help her keep clients.

The aspect that really makes me think Miss Snark is not an agent is that nowhere in that column does she say what she’d advise Krissie to do in her situation. She has a great time talking about how stupid Krissie is and what a huge mistake she made in speaking out, none of which is helpful in any positive, pro-active way to anybody, but she never says, “If I were Anne Stuart’s agent, here’s what I would have recommended she do in her situation, given her unhappiness with her publisher,” and my guess is that’s because she doesn’t have a clue what Krissie should do. Well, that, and also because there’s no FUN in that. Why be a thoughtful professional when you can be a name-calling mean girl and get the rest of the kids to laugh with you? It’s one thing to call an author to task and say, “That was the wrong thing to do,” but when the agent follows it up with insults instead of insights, I’m not impressed with that agent’s skill set.

But my favorite part is the end where the anonymous blogger makes fun of the author who signed her interview (“Anne Stuart couches her nitwittery behind ‘oh I’m always honest’”) by saying this:

And if you want to comment or email me all atwitter about this post here’s what I have to say to you: ‘I’m always honest’. It’s not true of course. I’ve learned that discretion is the better part of being a grown up.

Well, of course I recognized the maturity in “clue cake” right away (I know, I have to just let that go, but cutesy writing sticks with you like bad shellfish), and I suppose you could stretch and call an anonymous blog “discretion” if someone was doing cutting-edge industry commentary, but that’s not what this blog was; this blog was just plain wrong. Authors can criticize their publishers on the internet and still behave professionally. And survive. With those same publishers. It happens. If you’re me, it may turn out to be one of the smartest things you’ve ever done. If you’re Krissie and some anonymous blogger decides to take a ride on you and call you a nitwit, that’s annoying, but your name gets spread over the internet, and any ink is good ink, plus you’re the New York Times Bestselling Writer and she’s just an anonymous blogger, so you win. Speaking your mind as an author is not wrong. You do not have to gag yourself in order to be successful in publishing. You do not have to shut up to survive. There is no party line you have to toe in writing, damn it, that’s why we’re writers, we do not censor ourselves for the money. That’s a vicious message to send to writers. Who the hell is this woman, Karl Rove? Oh, right, we don’t know. She’s ANONYMOUS.

Okay, by now it’s clear that it’s the anonymity that sticks in my craw. People without the courage of their convictions. Or their clue cake. (Let it GO, Jenny.) People who can say anything because there are no consequences except for all the writers who are now afraid to speak what they think and all the agents out there that people are now suspecting might be Miss Snark and wondering if they’ll turn someday and snarl, “Because I know you’re wrong and I’m right so TREMBLE AT MY FEET, NITWIT!”

And eat your clue cake.

(Okay, okay, I’m OVER it.)

Anonymous blogs that make incorrect statements about the industry without insight or illumination, fueled by ego and tainted by unprofessionalism, ridiculing writers to silence them by threatening them with the end of their careers. Oh, please.

Call me when somebody signs her name.

Confessions of a Reformed Quote Whore

Nothing drives me crazier than author quotes. I hate asking for them, and probably 95% of the people I have asked for them have ignored me completely, which serves me right because I don’t give quotes to 95% of the people who ask me for them. The whole practice is a mass of desperation and bad feeling and you’d think it would just collapse in upon itself except for one thing: It really does generate sales.

The author quote is that sentence on the cover that says “A great read!” followed by the name of an author the publisher hopes you recognize and like. The real gets are Nora Roberts, Stephen King, John Grisham, and that ilk, but enough people want Jenny Crusie that I end up with stacks of manuscripts growing surly in the corners of my living room. I take them because I WANT to give author quotes. I want to help other people, it makes me feel warm all over, and besides that, it’s good for me to have my name on other authors’ book covers. It makes people think I’m somebody. They look at the cover and think, “Well, I’ve never heard of Jennifer Crusie but her name is right there so she must be famous,” and there goes my name recognition, up a notch.

For this reason, some of my friends are Quote Whores, and I say this with affection because they’re good people who like giving other authors a boost in sales. “Don’t send me the book,” they tell people, “just put on ‘I loved it!’ Melinda Q. Whore.” And everybody wins, the author, the quoter, the publisher . . . Well maybe not the reader. Continue reading