Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Recently another author blogged about the fact that looks don't matter in writing, particularly when it comes to selling your book to an editor, but also in the marketing of your book. Anyway, a spirited, sometimes prickly discussion ensued, and towards the end the author commented that the reason she is so passionate about this topic is because, for her, it's about having and maintaining control of her destiny. As she put it (and I'm paraphrasing) she can work really hard, become a better writer, write a better book, and market harder. But she can't make herself look a certain way, so it's better to focus on the things she can control that will help her book sell (I feel compelled to point out that this is not a case of sour grapes at work - the author I'm referring to is very pretty and definitely has looks to leverage if the opportunity arises).

And I couldn't help thinking that if maintaining control of your destiny is a major thing for you, then perhaps writing is not the best career choice. Maybe it's just me, but I could lose weight, dye my hair, work out a whole bunch to fit some physical ideal, and it would happen a lot faster than it took to sell a book. And even beyond selling a book to the editor, there are a LOT of things that affect how your book sells once its published that I have almost zero control over. And I'm taking this list not just from my experience, but from other far more established authors who have hit bestseller lists and have still been burned. Here are a few I can think of off the top of my head:
- My cover
- How hard the sales team pushes my book to booksellers
- My reviews
- If there's glitch in shipping, causing my book to not show up in a major chain for the first 2 weeks it's out
- If my book comes out the third week of the month, after readers have already blown their budget on the other new releases in my genre
- If a bigger author gets moved into my month, thus eating up all the marketing $$

I'm sure you can all add to this list, just as I'm sure some of these things get a little more under your control as you get more established. My point though, is that while I'm trying to do what I can to steer my career in the right direction, there are so many things that you have no control over that can derail you. So I don't know, but I'm thinking a little diet, a little nip and tuck, maybe some botox, and I can be a beauty queen a hell of a lot faster than I can be a bestseller.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

That opening sentence

I'm starting Wolf Tales IV today, which is actually the seventh book in my series, which means there's a whole lot of stuff to remember, but my muse is being way too generous. She's given me about six different openings, and I'm having trouble finding that killer sentence. Think about it...when you start a new book, you start with an image that has got to snag both your editor and your reader. So, do you start in the heroine's point of view, or the hero's? Do you open with action or introspection? It's tough and it often means half a dozen false starts before you get the one line that sets your muse free. This conundrum is just part of the process of writing, and it's actually one I really enjoy. I spent most of today working in the garden, working on my opening line. I had planned to start with my hero, but the heroine won out. Here's what I ended up with:

If she sat very still, the wolves ignored her, even now in the failing light of dusk.

Now, would that snag your interest? We shall see if it actually works or not, but damn, I love my job!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Who Are You Calling a Bitch?

The heroine of my current WIP has a little personality problem. Basically, she's a bitch. Not to mention a snob, who, for various reasons, doesn't think the hero is appropriate dating material. I know she's bordering on unsympathetic, and possibly unworthy of the hero's love and devotion. The problem is, I like her. I like that she's a little uptight, concerned with her image, and reflects attitudes of women I actually know (and love!). And I love that she's not so super sweet and incredibly perfect that everyone who meets her is absolutely enchanted by her beauty and grace (barf!). On the contrary, while she's very beautiful, most people find her kind of cold, and the hero is one of the few people who sees the loveable woman under her perfect exterior.

Then I went back and reflected on my other books, and realized that out of 5 novellas and 2 single titles, my favorite heroines are on the bitchier side.

We're all familiar with the reformed rake/uber-alpha/asshole hero, but what about the loveable bitch? Do you like reading or writing them? Has an author ever gone too far in creating either a bitch or an asshole and made you think he/she wasn't worthy of the other's love?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Too Close to Home?

Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my family in Wyoming on a dude ranch owned and operated by my mother's family. Which, as some have pointed out, means I should have cowboy stories pouring from my fingertips.

Or not.

Don't get me wrong, I have definitely known some sexy cowboys. But I have also known many who have breath that smells like Coors and Copenhagen, and have the world's most ridiculous tan lines from never going outside without a hat, long sleeve shirt, jeans, and boots on. Which means that the entire torso and legs are milky white, while the hands and face up to the forehead are dark brown. In short, not a sexy look. Which reminds me - there's a cowboy cover floating around featuring a built, shirtless guy on horseback. Lots of people have said it's sexy. Several years ago, my brother's friend came riding back to the barn shirtless. They're still talking about it, still snickering behind his back, making unflattering references to Chippendale's. So when I saw that cover, all I could think about was gooey, velveeta cheesiness. Which is not to say I don't love cowboy heroes - I do. When I'm reading. But when I try to conjure up a cowboy hero, I get too bogged down in the reality of people I've known, and I fixate on those stupid tan lines.

So my point/question (and I do have one) is this: are there any classic romance hero types - cop, special agent, military man, firefighter, etc - that you have trouble writing about because you can't screen out the reality of your own experience?

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Book Covers

The anticipation of a book release is a real high for me. The cover of the book is the icing on the cake. I baked it, but someone else decorates it.
So far I’ve been very lucky.
Both of my thumbs are way up for the cover of my recent release from Changeling Press. Sahara Kelly is the artist. Click on News and take a look at the cover of COSMIC COPS: Dark Pleasures and tell me what you think.

BJ McCall

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Lessons Learned From My Contest

Out of Control, my SECRETS VOLUME 13 novella, got its start by winning Lori Foster’s online “Pick of the Week” contest a couple years ago. So, a couple months ago, I launched my first ever “Chase the Dream” writer's contest (with Leigh Michaels) in an attempt to help another writer like I was helped. Though the contest ended up being more work than I expected, it's been great fun. I received a lot of fantastic entries, which made the job of choosing a single weekly finalist difficult. And I accomplished my goal – editors have requested work from all the finalists. What a rush that gave me! As did the numerous emails from writers telling me how much they’ve enjoyed the contest.

But the contest also gave me something I did not expect to receive: A greater understanding of what agents and editors must go through. Oh, I’ve given lip-service to understanding, but now ... I really get it! Namely, the ...

Importance of a Great Opening. The night before it was time to announce the weekly finalist, I read all the entries I’d received that week. As such, if I wanted to get to bed at a reasonable hour, I didn’t have a lot of time. So the minute I lost interest in an entry, I filed it in my “No” folder and moved on to the next. (The number one thing that caused me to lose interest was opening scenes bogged down with narrative, introspection, backstory – in short, no action). Since the number of entries I read each week paled in comparison to an agent/editor’s volume, I imagine that they give submissions even less time than I did! This has made me revisit the first chapter in my WIPs to make sure it is as interesting as possible.

Great Writing – Overdone Plot. There were numerous entries where the writer had a unique voice, great writing style, etc. but the scene had been done a hundred times. Girlfriends having drinks together while bemoaning the lack of men in their lives is one example that comes to mind. This made me think of a rejection letter I received for my chick lit that opened with my heroine discovering her boyfriend’s infidelity. Maybe the agent’s polite comment, “Our readers did not feel that this material would get the attention of editors” was a nice way of telling me my opening scene was unoriginal. (On the other hand, maybe he just didn’t want to tell me my writing sucked. LOL)

Mood of the Reader. One night, I was stressed out over my own writing deadline. As I went through the entries, I was not as ... forgiving as I had been in previous weeks. Entries that I had previously considered a “Maybe” were now a “No.” So maybe the agent who sent me the rejection form letter with her handwritten comment “You’re trying too hard” had just had a bad day. (Or, once again, maybe she just didn’t want to tell me my writing sucked. LOL)

Empathy for the Writer. Some entries started out really strong – which had me cheering for the author. Then, when the story lost momentum, I got that sinking feeling in my stomach because I so wanted it to be good. This drove home the fact that, as a reader, I started out reading a story wanting it to be good -- and felt “bad” for the author when the story lost its steam.

This leads me to the real point of this observation: For every entry I did not pick as a finalist, I wanted to let the writer know why. But there was no way I had the time to let writers know. So maybe sometimes agents/editors send out form letters, even though they’d like to give an explanation. This makes the personal rejection letters that I’ve received that much more priceless.

Good Writing is ... Good Writing. Many of the entries I selected as finalists were not subgenres of romance that I typically read. But the openings were so compelling that they grabbed me and made me want to read more. This, once again, goes back to the first point – the importance of a gripping opening.

So, all in all, this has been a fabulous experience – for me and, hopefully, the contest entrants. Please stop by my site, check out the finalists, and cast your vote for the winning entry.

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