Thoughts on Outside-the-Box Characters.

My former colleague, author Mary Fan, is Chinese American, more academically accomplished than most people you and I will ever know, has a killer sense of humor; and perhaps most importantly, has a gift for explicating complex issues that makes you enthusiastic rather than defensive when you think about them.

Case in point her recent post on her own blog, which was so thoughtful and worthwhile, I gotta share it with y’all. Here ’tis: 10 Bizarre Ways



Why Does Romance Live Forever?

Romance is the largest book genre on the planet when measured by public consumption. As in colossal-huge, as in more than 20 percent of a market where the next “big” categories languish in the 6th and 7th percentiles. Romance sells into the billions of dollars each year while its lesser brethren deal in the pedestrian millions. We readers seem to love ourselves a love story.

But why? Romance is also the most saturated in terms of offerings – a quick search on Amazon yielded 1,005,777 titles, which is about the number of new books coming out each year across all genres worldwide. And let’s ask the obvious question: after you’ve read eight or nine dozen of these stories, what about them is new or fresh? Who doesn’t know-but-know the heroine’s impossible circumstances will be resolved and the main characters will at some point cozy up? Who can’t count on the HEA as a sure thing? No one, that’s who, yet we’re still riveted. How come?

Critics of the genre have put forth the same rote, dismissive evals for decades… and at this point we have to surmise their criticisms have to do with something other than the actual stories, since discerning readers still choose to read romance novels in droves. Non-discerners are present too, just as they are in all genres; romance’s contingent just looks bigger because… well, it IS bigger. The whole romance pie is bigger.

But I believe romance’s image has more to do with pedigree than its sprawling, amorphous body of work. Its base – its massive, multi-faceted base – is messy, encompassing sweet inspirational and Regency and paranormal and BDSM erotica, subject matters so disparate they probably shouldn’t qualify as a collective. The category includes more readers from more corners of the earth than Croesus had coins, meaning we romancers can’t make any intellectual or ideological claims to purity. We don’t have it. I wrote a humorous piece on this very subject a few years ago, and take a peek if you seek justification for your own reading proclivities.

Writer Jenny Trout also offered a compelling perspective in a recent Huffington Post article, one all of us writing romance should take a moment to ingest. I don’t disagree with her, and if we were having coffee, I like to think we would laugh over the absurd marketing characterizations we writers of the genre get to work under. I mean, targeting “women age 22 to 55” is kind of like hunting “wildlife” in Africa. No disrespect here, but are you looking to bag a crocodile or a gazelle, ‘cause there’s kind of a big difference…

Beyond acknowledging the context in which we write and read, however, we should probably set aside questions of literary integrity and market impact – and let’s be honest: we’re going to anyway. Seriously. These issues, while interesting, change nothing, not our stories, not our drive to write them. They don’t change the appeal of love and intimacy in our narratives; and they sure as hell don’t have any sway when it comes to convincing readers away.

My publisher, Liquid Silver Books, participated in a Kobo event a couple of weeks ago wherein several of us talked about what draws us to romance, and my colleague Susan Vaughn contributed a spot-on response in my opinion. She said any story able to engage another human being is intellectually stimulating, suggested a good romance read draws you into thinking about all kinds of things, including humanity and your own place in it. “It makes you evaluate who you are and what you need and want. It’s like giving your brain a badly needed hug,” she argued.

She’s right. And since romance is universal no matter which yardstick you use for measuring, we really do need to put these questions of salience aside. Now off I go to work on that 1,005,778th title…

New agent, neat lady.

Hi all – A former colleague of mine has recently accepted a job with Corvisiero as a literary agent, and if you haven’t checked her out, you should! Don’t know if any of you are querying for inspirational/romance/mystery or horror, but she’s building her client list now. And her explanations were as thorough as any I’ve ever seen… Take a look:

Query Questions with Kara Leigh Miller
Writers have copious amounts of imagination. It’s what makes their stories so fantastic. But there’s a darker side to so much out of the box thinking. When a writer is in the query trenches, their worries go into overdrive. They start pulling out their hair and imagine every possible disaster.

Is there a better or worse time of year to query?
Nope. I’m open and accepting queries year round. Response time will generally be a tad longer near the holidays.

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query?
Absolutely not. Everyone makes mistakes, we’re all human, it’s inevitable. A few are forgivable, but if the query and sample pages are riddled with typos and grammatical errors, then we have a problem. While I do have the added advantage of an editorial background that I eagerly share with my clients, if a manuscript is in need of a major overhaul or if I know there will be more red than black after an edit, I will pass.

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong?
I will always look at sample pages providing the query matches my list. For example, if an author were to query me with, let’s say, an epic historical fantasy – which I don’t represent – I would respond to let him/her know I don’t rep this genre and then direct them to an agent within the agency who does, or just forward their submission to a more appropriate agent.

Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them?
We have a fantastic group of interns at the agency who are always willing to help, but at this point, I’m handling all my own queries.

Do you keep a maybe pile of queries and go back to them for a second look?
Not usually. I can tell from a first look whether or not I’m going to pursue a project. If I get a query and sample pages that I’m not sure about, I will always request to see more to get a better feel for the story and the writing. By the third or fifth chapter, I know whether it’s something I absolutely have to have or if I can live without it.

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages?
Yes, although most of the time, prologues tend to be unnecessary.

How important are comp titles? Is it something you want to see in a query?
Honestly, I don’t have a preference about comp titles. If you include them, great. If you don’t, I’m not going to hold it against you.

Some agencies mention querying only one agent at a time and some say query only one agent period. How often do you pass a query along to a fellow agent who might be more interested?
This is a tricky question. As agents, we truly do want to see authors succeed, so we’re going to do our best to help them, and at times that includes sharing queries within the agency. However, if you’ve sent a query addressed to me personally, I feel that you’ve done so for a reason. (Hopefully because you want to work with me and feel we’d be a good match.) So, to hand off your query to someone else you didn’t personally choose feels…wrong (?) to me. Now, if I get something that’s really well written and has a fantastic premise but I don’t connect with it for whatever reason, I’ll share it with other agents to see if anyone else is interested, but I’ll also let the author know I’ve done so.

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript?
Both! I’ve found that a little bit of personalized chit-chat goes a long way to showing me who you are as a person, and that can be invaluable. Recently, I received a query that was personalized in such a way that made me laugh out loud. It was fantastic, and you can bet I remembered that author’s name. So, feel free to chat me up, but make sure you also tell me about your manuscript J

Most agents have said they don’t care whether the word count/genre sentence comes first or last. But is it a red flag if one component is not included?
That one sentence gives us so much information about your book, and truly does account in our decision making process. It can often be fairly easy to determine genre based on the pitch, (although I’d much rather not have to play Guess the Genre) but we have no way of knowing the word count. If I get a stellar query for a contemporary romance with a missing word count, and I request the full only to find out its 210K, you’ve just wasted my time and yours. Please don’t do this.

Writers hear a lot about limiting the number of named characters in a query. Do you feel keeping named characters to a certain number makes for a clearer query?
Yes! If I feel the need to grab a notebook and start keeping track with ven diagram, chances are good I’ll become confused and frustrated. If you’re querying a romance, I only want two named characters: your hero and heroine. On a side note: Please don’t name the killer in your query letter if you’re querying a mystery or thriller or horror. Save that for your synopsis. For me, the biggest payoff in this genre is trying to figure out whodunit. If you tell me up front, what compels me to read your book?

Should writers sweat the title of their book (and character names) or is that something that is often changed by publishers?
I’d much rather have authors sweat the quality and mechanics of their writing as opposed to titles and character names. Titles and character names can be changed by publishers, so my advice is not to get too attached to them. It seems as though titles get changed more frequently than character names though.

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those?
Right now, I’m receiving about 10 to 12 queries a week. Of course, I’m still new to the agency, so I’m sure that number will increase as time goes on. Of those, I might request one or two.

Many agents say they don’t care if writers are active online. Could a twitter account or blog presence by a writer tip the scales in getting a request or offer? And do you require writers you sign to start one?
If it came down to two queries that I absolutely loved but could only take one, the author with the online presence would win. It takes time to gain a foothold and a following online, so the sooner an author can start, the better. Typically, I check to see if an author has any social media to start with – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. (It’s rare nowadays not to have at least one social media account) – and once I sign an author, I will encourage them to being the process of starting a website or blog if they don’t already have one.

Some writers have asked about including links to their blogs or manuscript-related artwork. I’m sure it’s not appropriate to add those links in a query, but are links in an email signature offensive?
No, not at all. In fact, I actually prefer to see links in an email signature. When I’m interested in a project, I’ll look the author up on social media. Not necessarily to see how big of a following they have, but more so to see how they conduct themselves online. What sorts of things are they interested in, what do they post about, what things are they sharing?

If a writer makes changes to their manuscript due to feedback should they resend the query or only if material was requested?
Okay, this is kind of a pet peeve of mine. If your book is out on query, you should not be making massive changes to it that would require you to even think about needing to resend it. When you query an agent, you’re essentially telling them that your book is ready. It’s done. It’s been critiqued, beta read, revised, and edited. If you then send me an email asking to send an updated version because you’ve made changes, that tells me you queried before you and your book were ready. With this industry being as subjective as it is, the feedback one agent or editor gives might not mesh with how others feel about the book.

What bio should an author with no publishing credits include?
I always advise authors to include any related affiliations or memberships they have (RWA, SCWBI, etc.); any writing or critique groups they belong to; anything personal that lends credibility to the story they’ve written – for example, if you’ve written about a lawyer and you are in fact a lawyer, I want to know that. Additionally, any pertinent writing classes, seminars, panels, and/or conferences you’ve added. I know, that might seem weird to some, but that shows me you’re out there networking with other authors and industry professionals and that you’re dedicated to learning your craft. Also, be honest that you don’t have any previous publishing credits. It’s okay. We all start somewhere.

What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you?
It can mean a lot of different things. Sometimes it can mean I’ve already got something similar in my list, or maybe it would be difficult to sell in the current market. But mostly, it just means I wasn’t drawn into the story even though there’s nothing wrong with the writing.

Do you consider yourself a hands-on, editorial type of agent?
Absolutely! Having worked for various small presses for a few years, my background is in editing, and I plan to offer authors editorial guidance prior to going on submission so that they have a better chance of standing out within the industry.

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list?
Romance of any kind.
Thrillers / horror.
A YA or NA set during some sort of camp – summer camp, Bible camp, fat camp, a family camping trip.

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes?
Books: The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer, The Delirium Series by Lauren Oliver, Matched Series by Ally Condie, It & The Tommyknockers by Stephen King, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (absolutely LOVED that ending, too!), Elite Ops Series by Lora Leigh, Tess in Boots by Courtney Rice Gager.

Movies / TV: Any of the classic horror movies (Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Alien), The Avengers, The Twilight Saga, The Vampire Diaries, Survivor, American Pie series, Fast and Furious series.

Realism in Romance?

Thank you, Errin for hosting me on your blog today. My topic is inspired by comments from one of my editors as well as some reader feedback to my Moonlight Romance series. I hope my essay will inspire thought and even some comments!

How Realistic Should Romances Be?

I’m not talking about what happens in the bedroom or merely the aspects of a relationship here. I’m talking about books in every sub-genre of romance. Do readers expect some level of fantasy? Reading is escapism so is the genre supposed to be a Hollywood version of life? All readers have their own thoughts on this issue. Here are mine.

Let’s start small and work to bigger issues, shall we? Living with or dating another person is never always rosy. Do we want to know that the hero has bad morning breath? Do we want to know that the heroine hates folding laundry and has clothes piled up on her floor? I think many readers can relate to such small flaws. No one is perfect. What I hate most about a book is when a character is practically perfect. A few flaws will make them more human, more real.

Okay, let’s go a little deeper. Do we want to know that hero blames himself for his younger brother’s death? That could be the foundation to a multi-faceted character. I can picture a woman coming into his life and helping him heal, perhaps helping him to see the truth. He was only eight. He wasn’t old enough to watch his little brother in the pool. What if he did know better? What if he picked his little brother up from football practice and they got into an accident because he was driving drunk? Is that too much reality? Would you prefer his little brother only had some scars?

We’ve all done stupid things in life and hopefully we learned from them. Our characters need to learn, too. An author’s own level of reality tolerance should guide their writing. While some flaws or necessary the writer gets to pick which flaw and how deep the flaw runs. Do not try to guess what the audience will want. It is impossible to please all your readers. The best you can do is to write a story you are proud of and that pleases you. Even classics such as Shakespeare have 1-star reviews.

There are even darker issues that appear in some romances: bullying, blackmail, physical abuse, rape, racism, etc. I’ve touched on some of these darker issues myself. Why do I choose to bring a gritty realism to my romances? I feel readers should learn and reflect on what they read. I’m not one of those fluffy feel good authors. If you are, I have nothing against you. Feel good books have their place, and when I’m depressed I reach for one of those and a carton of ice cream. Some romances seem like pure fantasy, and I don’t mean just fantasy and sci-fi romance. The dashing alpha males and sexy billionaires can make my heart race, but little about them feels realistic. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t met any billionaires. Those are my thoughts on the subject. Now it is your turn to weigh in.

How realistic do you think romances should be?

Haley is an author of historical romance set in the Civil War era. Many of her titles are interracial or African-American. In her free time Haley enjoys hiking, antiquing, and being a slave to her cat. If you want to read more about her, drop in at for updates and release information. Her re-release Midnight Caller is on sale for 99 cents through the end of August. for updates and release information. Her re-release Midnight Caller is on sale for 99 cents through the end of August.

Reader Beware.

Reading rivals everything I value on this planet. Everything. Before I was a wife, mother, writer – even really a friend to anyone – I lived/breathed/survived on fiction. Don’t ask me what I liked to eat growing up, ’cause I couldn’t say. But ask me what I read, and get ready to shoot me if you hope to get out of my fervent, evangelical clutches when I launch into an answer.

I make my confession without shame, since I know many of you are the same way. In fact, I’m posting this essay on my personal blog site because of the solidarity I feel with other readers, not on LinkedIn from the standpoint of a writer, since writers are already well aware of the problems with online book reviews. And there are problems you should be aware of, friends.

It’s like this: have you ever read a book you out-and-out loved, gone online, and queried the internet for recommendations on others like it? Sure you have. Despite how compromised the information might be, I still do it. The big book sites make it easy, even, running titles of “similar” books, or “books you might also like” when you make an online purchase. Embedded in these recommendations are ratings tied to reviews to help us readers make an informed decision, with one star indicating the book is not up to snuff, and five stars telling us this could be The One. The One we read through 25 other books to get what we most crave out of reading. Enter the emotional and economic capitalists, i.e., people seeking relevance by writing reviews to have influence, no matter how sad, on others; and people out to convince you they have what you need so you’ll buy it from them.

Genuine reviews are still out there, but they’re buried among the purchased and coached and not-quite-honestly motivated. Reader referral sites have deep – not just superficial – sales ties these days, and Amazon gives greater prominence on its site to books with more than 50 reviews, which has prompted some authors to buy them from services that offer such things, or create ghost accounts by seemingly different people and post glowing reviews. Why wouldn’t they? Amazon, being the biggest distributor, has come under fire for not doing more to protect readers from unethical reviews; Google Books, from reports I’ve read, is a more careful steward of reader trust, but they’re no Amazon when it comes to reader influence. I found this Forbes article to give any of you interested more background on the various issues in play:

Authors are at fault, too, and reputable reviewers are leaving the online community because of them. Two long-time reviewers I know took their sites down recently due to threats from authors to whom they did not grant five-star ratings. And I already posted this link to an article that ran in The Guardian last year, In this particular drama, the author, who feels justifiably offended, acts pretty suspiciously, herself – one former reviewer I know had this funny but chilling comeback when she read the piece: “I so very wish [this author] had come to my doorstep. I promise you, she would not have left it.”

I don’t know the answer to this problem, except to talk about it, and maybe encourage readers to keep asking questions. I believe the companies we buy from will act on our behalf if we do, either via existing vehicles or a new one. One thing I can say as an author is I know many, many talented, caring writers who want to make this situation better, their professional interests aside.

So. Have you ever been taken in by a disingenuous review? Have you found reviewers you trust, or sites you now return to for recommends? Post a comment and let me know what you think!

Be a sister.

Every year, a student from my alma mater calls our house, I suspect as a requirement for her work-study aid package, to ask for a donation during the school’s annual fund drive. I’m a Katie, which means I graduated from what was the College of St. Catherine (now St. Catherine University), an all-women’s college established by the Sisters of St. Joseph in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1905.

I love St. Kate’s. I love the old-world character of the place, from the haunting and austere chapel that feels so weighted with humanity, you’d think Christ himself prayed there; to the modern student union and performing arts center, which, despite their fresher architecture, somehow stream 13th century European light through the windows. I love that one of the college’s first presidents, Sister Antonia McHugh, foiled St. Paul’s plans to run a road through campus by ramrodding the construction of a massive building at the precise juncture the city wanted better traffic flow. I love how all the nun presidents, including the one in office now, Sister Andrea Lee, accept no salary, that the money they would be paid cycles back into scholarships and upgrades to the campus. I love the intellectual curiosity the school fosters, and I love how it births, year after year, an ecumenical and activist student body that seems, at first glance, oppositional to its traditional Catholic roots.

Less than half of the undergrad population at St. Kate’s was and is Catholic (as in Roman), but by the time everyone leaves, I like to think they/we all end up catholic (as in universal). I have vivid memories of a sheik’s daughter being dropped off each day via limo, space being made in a common area for a Buddhist shrine, and the regular appearance of sari-clad students, whose brilliant silks were an ocular shock next to us soberly dressed American girls. It was heady stuff for a bunch of nervous, semi-adults embarking on a journey to separate their understanding of “self” from home and hearth. Any prejudices we had were quickly challenged by the need to study together, or share meals or laundry soap, or to lend out supplies when a pencil broke or book got left behind.

Few of the faculty are nuns any longer – I was taught by only five when I was there – but the nuns deserve 100 percent of the credit for continuing to enlarge the world both on and off St. Kate’s campus. They educated themselves to the limits of their own abilities in order to teach, and they taught everyone. Their goal was not to evangelize or convert. It was the St. Joe Sisters who loved what educated women could and would do, who manifested moral and educational values so appealing, girls from all over the Midwest – not to mention France and India and England and Brazil – flocked to learn from them. It was their high hopes for all of society that drove and still drives a thoughtful liberal arts curriculum, one that has turned out thousands upon thousands of smart, engaged women who went on to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, and social workers – they even produce, I’m told, the occasional paranormal romance novelist…

That aside, show me a Katie, and I’ll show you someone interested and interesting, someone with a refined understanding of who she is and what she needs to do, and who has the discipline to act on that understanding.

A different student calls me each year, but she always asks the question, “Do you have any advice for me as a freshman starting out here?” The marketer in me knows this is meant to play on my loyalty so that, hopefully, I’ll contribute, but I still bite. Katie alumnae do care about St. Kate’s, and the school is smart to have us start a conversation with future alums.

I used to try to give them a “big” answer, something that touches on the soul-edifying influence a St. Kate’s education will have later, when they’re working women, mothers, wives, or artists; but my callers aren’t interested in sermons, and I don’t blame them. When you’re just starting out, you shouldn’t be asked to figure out your beginning AND how you’ll feel about it in thirty years. Instead, I praise them for getting themselves there in the first place, and I tell them to eat well, get enough sleep, and go to class. I don’t have to say what I really hope for them, because if they make it through, it’ll happen. But I think it. I think how this person I’m talking with is learning, at this very moment, to be someone the sisters envisioned when they built that school, and how lucky she is, and how lucky I was to have gone there.

Self-proclaimed experts.

A writer friend in Atlanta sent me this link, and I found the article fascinating. In this age of online-ness, where we often don’t ever meet the people we rely on professionally, I found this cautionary tale especially salient. The author was nuts, of course, and way, way out line going to the extent she did… but part of me is glad she did it. Maybe the rest of us won’t have to? See what you think:

Still a New Age?

I was doing a bit of research this morning as I dither over a possibility I have with a smaller publisher (I’m tentatively excited!). I used to follow Nathan when he was an agent, and I think the guy’s a terrific member of the online community and not just for writers. Anyway, I found his analysis on ebook sales pertinent enough to share. I also clicked on his Freelancers Union link, ’cause I think that’s interesting enough to share, too! Hope you found the following as useful as I did:

“Writer without permission.”

Someone really liked my tagline on my LinkedIn page and wrote a post about it. How sweet!

conversation is an engine

Write On Your Own Dime

A new LinkedIn friend in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area has a job title “Writer without permission.” The genius of her title is to say out loud what most every writer is thinking—nobody asked for this, nobody gave me permission, and frankly, no one is waiting for me to finish it. The whole thing is entirely self-motivated.

Let there be more of her tribe.

Writers without permission may encamp here as needed--not that you need permission. Writers without permission may encamp here as needed–not that you need permission.

Writers often stop mid-sentence and think,

I am entirely unqualified to write this. When will someone knock on my door and say, ‘Hey—Stop it: You got no business writing that.’?

When those Philip Glass moments occur, whether real or imagined, the writer without permission pauses and then continues the sentence. And the next sentence. And so on—breezing past the “No Trespassing” signs posted around the perimeter of the topic.


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