Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Jamie Freveletti on RUNNING FROM THE DEVIL

Just posted on YouTube and the Harper Collins website, debut author Jamie Freveletti talks about her thriller novel, RUNNING FROM THE DEVIL. I think these types of films are more effective than book trailers; we see the author talk about their own work rather than watch a voiced-over, dramatization of the book. Check it out!

On Rejection and Negative Feedback

In an industry full of rejections, failures, and unsolicited opinions, it is easy to get discouraged. You slave away at a manuscript for years, only to have it rejected by agents, torn apart by editors, and dogged by reviewers. So why do we do it? Why do we subject the fruits of our labor to such scrutiny? Because it is part of the job, and sometimes, criticism will make us better writers.

Most of the time, we are too close to our work to see its flaws. That is where critique groups, friends and family members come in handy. Agents know the industry, know what's selling, and they'll sometimes pass on well written manuscripts because of market trends. The same is true for publishers and editors. If we all let the rejection letters and negative feedback get to us, there wouldn't be any published writers. We'd all be curled up in the fetal position, sniffling like little children. We handle the negativity by recognizing helpful criticism and developing thick skin to ward off opinions that are less than helpful.

Here are a few ways to handle criticism, whether it be from a fellow writer, reviewer, agent or editor:
  1. Ask yourself if there is any merit to their comment? Is it something you can use in the future?
  2. Consider the source. Did some anonymous reviewer trash your book on Amazon? Did your former best friend from high school call you a hack? Or was it your favorite reviewer, or an agent with an excellent track record that deemed your work less than brilliant? If you respect the person's opinion, take their comment to heart. Otherwise, let it go.
  3. Summon your confidence. Know you have talent. You wouldn't be a writer if you didn't.
  4. Recognize that an opinion is simply an opinion. One person will tell you one thing and another person will tell you the exact opposite. Know your work, trust your gut, and form an opinion of your own.

It's impossible to go through this industry without rejection and negative feedback. It's part of any creative field. In order to survive it and not get discouraged, it's necessary to maintain confidence and thick skin. Don't like receiving criticism? I suggest considering a career change.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

From Newbie to Novelist: Interview with J.A. Konrath

As part of his national blog tour to promote his horror novel, AFRAID, J.A. Konrath AKA Jack Kilborn, joins us today to to talk about his journey from newbie to novelist. J.A. has published seven novels and dozens of short stories, essays and magazine articles.

DK: Welcome Joe!
JK: Hi Dana, thanks for having me!

DK: Tell us about the journey from writing your first novel to getting it published.
JK: It was a perilous journey, filled with hundreds of rejections and dozens of bottles of whiskey to help numb the pain of the hundreds of rejections. I wrote nine novels that didn't sell.
The tenth one did. It's called WHISKEY SOUR, and is about a Chicago cop named Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels. So, ultimately, all that whiskey paid off.

DK: Throughout this process, what was the most important lesson you learned regarding publishing?
JK: This is a business, not a lottery. Act like a professional, learn your craft, and never surrender. Also, marry someone sympathetic.

DK:What drew you to writing a series?
JK: A publisher bought the first one and asked if I could write a second one. Series writing is fun. Each of the books in my series is different than the others:

WHISKEY SOUR is a cop thriller that mixes scares and humor.
BLOODY MARY does the same thing, but Jack catches the killer on page 100. So where can it go from there?
RUSTY NAIL has a whole family of serial killers, and a surprising twist.
DIRTY MARTIN has very little violence in it, as opposed to the tons of violence in the previous books. It's about a poisoner.
FUZZY NAVEL takes place in an eight hour period, each minute accounted for. It ends on a cliffhanger.
CHERRY BOMB has Jack chasing the villain from Fuzzy Navel, and fully half of the book is in the killer's point of view.

During the series characters change, get hurt, and some die. There's also a story arc that begins in book #1 and ends with #6. So I get to have all the fun of returning to characters that I love, while dropping them in unique situations for each book.

DK: After six Jack Daniels books, what drew you to writing a standalone horror novel?
JK: Fans asked if I could sustain a scary narrative without any funny parts. AFRAID is the result. It's scary. Maybe too scary. In fact, I don't recommend anyone reading it, because I don't want to be blamed for the nightmares it will cause.

DK: How did writing AFRAID differ from writing the JD series?
JK: AFRAID doesn't have chapters. I didn't want to give the reader a chance to catch their breath or put the book down. It also has zero humor. Most of my other writing is funny. AFRAID isn't funny at all.

DK: What’s the best piece of advice you can give a newbie novelist?
JK: Buy all of my books and copy my style. :) Seriously? Never give up. This business is about persistence. Keep writing, keep reading, keep improving, keep submitting.

For more about Konrath/Kilborn check out his blog, The Newbie's Guide to Publishing. It has some very helpful tips!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stand On a Platform, Don't Rest On It

If you've attended a writer's conference or workshop, chances are, you've heard authors, agents and editors talk about platform. If you haven't, I believe there are two types of platform:

  1. Your platform - this is who you are and why you're the best possible person to write your book. For example, I'm a Masters swimmer, USA swimming coach, and certified swim instructor and therefore, have an ideal platform to write a swimming book. It's a convincer, something that gives you authority and makes you memorable.

  2. Your story's platform - this is a general topic of what your story is about. This is not your elevator pitch and doesn't mention specific characters or plot points. It's a general theme or subject matter that will pique interest and give you a different marketing angle. For example, Gregg Hurwitz's THE PROGRAM was about a man sent to save a girl from a cult. The book documented the methods of brainwashing, how cult leaders recruit members, etc. Therefore, his platform is simply, cults.

A solid, memorable platform lends to easier marketing strategies, which interests editors and agents. To write nonfiction, you must have a platform. How can you write about a subject if you're not an expert on it? But in fiction, having a platform doesn't always seem necessary. I've seen plenty of straightforward police procedurals that were promoted very successfully, without gimmicks or clever marketing angles. Not everyone is a former CIA agent, or cop, or lawyer. Does it help? Of course, but I don't believe having a solid platform is a guarantee for sales.

As always, your first job is to write a good story. You can have the ideal platform, but if the the book isn't well written, it won't sell. However, if your story isn't finalized yet, it's not a bad idea to think about platform during the brainstorming process. The new novel I've been working on is about tagging crews in Chicago. It's a great platform, but that alone is not a story. The story stemmed from an actual event that occurred when I was younger and the characters are based on graffiti artists I knew growing up. The platform grew out of the characters. When you have an idea for a novel or short story, explore the characters and the setting, see if there's a platform waiting to be brought out.

In these tough times, marketing is an enormous factor in book sales. You can have a well written, interesting novel, but if it's not marketable, chances are, it won't sell. The reverse is true too. You can have a marketable concept, but if it's not well executed, it won't be picked up. Writing a novel solely based on a platform is not a good idea, but creating a platform for you or your story, is.

Try brainstorming about your platform. What jobs, hobbies or subject matters are you expert in? What about you is different, interesting or makes you stand out? There is probably more there than you think.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Novelists Inc. Blog

Want more info on reading and reviewing? Check out my blog post over at Novelists, Inc.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Anti-hero or antagonist?

This weekend, I picked a book off the "To Be Read" pile with a great premise: two guys make a living robbing drug dealers and what happens when they steal from the wrong person. It reminded me of Omar from The Wire (gotta love Omar), so I was really excited to read it. The first few chapters were enjoyable, the voice was unique and gritty, but as I learned more about the protagonist, I liked him less and less. He was selfish, unmotivated and one-dimensional. What made me finally put the book down? It was revealed that the guy shot heroin.

Now, I'm not a prude. I wasn't happy when his crystal meth habit was revealed in chapter 2, but I could look past it. I didn't mind that he was a thief or that he shot someone's head off. The heroin was a deal breaker, and at first, I couldn't figure out why. There are plenty of characters from movies and television that I loved despite their addiction. I can even recall a few short stories with junkie protagonists that I enjoyed. What was it about this character that made me put the book down? He wasn't redeeming in any other way.

If you've watched The Wire, think about Bubbles. (If you haven't watched The Wire, stop reading this blog immediately and go rent it). Yes, Bubbles was a homeless addict, but he was also redeeming. He had a good heart, he helped people, and he wasn't proud of his substance abuse. All of these factors made him likable, even if his habit wasn't. In this novel, the protagonist didn't possess enough redeemable qualities. To me, he became just another junkie criminal, someone who should be a villain in a book, not a hero. And therefore, I had to put it down.

When I read, I want the protagonist to be a hero. A hero can have flaws, a hero can be a criminal or less-than-likable person, but in the end, s/he has to be working for the greater good. If this particular character was stealing to feed his family or if he did it to put the dope dealers out of business, it would be a different story. But this guy was doing it to feed his addiction. He was no better than those he stole from. This protagonist was no hero, and therefore, I didn't want to read about him.

I've heard from plenty of writers and readers that there are certain things your protagonist absolutely cannot be: a drunk, a chauvinist, a killer of cats, etc. I don't like blanket statements and I'm usually the first to illustrate exceptions to the rule. But when it comes to protagonists, I do believe they MUST be a hero, even if they are flawed. Any arguments?