publishing

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I've sold my second book to Harlequin Superromance!

WOO HOO!!!

In many ways, this is a greater achievement than selling my first because it means 1) I'm not a one-hit wonder and 2) I survived a second round of crushing rejections and managed to keep a toehold on this thing I call a writing career.

Only a few details for now:

  • It will most likely be released in early 2013 (January or February, according to my editor).
  • The working title is "Prodigal Daughter's Fortune" but will most likely be renamed.
  • The story features a Chinese heroine going back to the small town where her family owns a Chinese Restaurant. There, she reunites with her old high school crush, who she used to tutor. His son needs help with school, and there's no one better than his old tutor to help. As he reacquaints himself with his classmate, he fan old flames as well as bitter memories. It's a country-meets-city reunion story with a hint of sweet and sour.
  • The first draft is complete and I'm polishing it now.

So there you have it. Not a RITA Award nomination, but just as good, if you ask me. 8 )

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Woo hoo! The Globe and Mail has an article about me and Her Son's Hero!

An excerpt:

A bronzed, shirtless Adonis with chiselled abs and his willowy, full-bosomed lover are locked in a passionate embrace: It’s a book cover image that’s classic Harlequin, and various incarnations of this coupling blanket the main wall of the Toronto-based publishing company’s ninth-floor lobby. 

But one stands out: On a book called Her Son’s Hero, the hero in question is wearing a black belt and karate uniform.

In an unlikely combination merging mixed-martial arts (MMA) and romance, Her Son’s Hero tells the story of Dominic Payette, an MMA fighter who falls in love with single mother Fiona MacAvery. But Fiona has an aversion to violence that stems from her desire to protect her son, a victim of schoolyard bullying, and she initially resists Dominic’s advances.

Written by Toronto writer Vicki So under the pseudonym Vicki Essex (“You can’t spell my name without sex,” she says), Her Son’s Hero is a classic tale of opposites attracting – but wrapped in an unorthodox package.

Yay! I hope anyone who spots this article and who's come to my website will think of getting their own copy by clicking on the link in the right-hand sidebar...

 

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This is a lesson to journalists, aspiring journalists, and anyone who is a writer or wants to be a writer.

Research and balance are important, whether you're writing fiction or a news piece. If you want people to take you seriously, to believe you and trust you to tell them something important, you have to do the legwork.

A little news channel called WNEP in Woosic, Pennsylvania, put up this story, about how some parents are concerned that an English teacher who has served for more than 20 years happens to write erotica for Ellora's Cave under the pen name Judy Mays. Concerned citizens are "disgusted" and want the teacher to quit.

I am trying very, very hard not to be mean, to say what I really think about these particular small-minded witch hunters who apparently have nothing better to do. I am holding back all the things I really want to rant about, including the state of sexual freedoms in America, the personal lives of citizens, the devaluation of our educators, the hypocrisy of Western morality, and a bunch of other things that would likely make me sound smarter than I actually am.

Instead, I will focus on the gatekeeper to this piece of utter nonsense: the news media.

Having trained as a journalist, I know that small town media outlets struggle to fill inches and broadcast minutes. I know that reporters work on tight deadlines and can't always get the interviews they need to complete their piece. I know that, especially if you're young and just starting out, it can be intimidating to interview difficult subjects, especially those who are being attacked.

But none of those are valid excuses in the end. People are smart, and they will call bullshit on you if you leave out key pieces of information. And when you come off as blatantly one-sided in a story like this one, you become less than laughable. You become a sham.

The journalist in question, Kena Vernon, was more likely out of time rather than biased. The edits were a little sloppy, the script poor. There are huge leaps of logic with little supporting evidence, and no confirmations from the author in question. With little more than a few clips off YouTube to support the whole story, she should have killed it. In the end, the piece came off as petty, petulant and malicious as the women gathered in the opening shot. And yet, WNEP still ran the piece at its full 1:42.

The backlash has been both heartwarming and cringeworthy. As of the writing of this post, more than 3400 people joined the Support Judy Mays Facebook page since it started at 2pm EST today. WNEP has garnered more than 200 comments on the story--many of them nasty--and people have been calling the station to complain.

If anything good has come out of this, it's that Mays's sales have likely jumped this afternoon: in a tweet, Ellora's Cave was pleased by the support for her.

Here's the thing, and I should haven't to point it out, but I will: There's a person involved. And when you tell a story you think is full of conflict, sensation, something sexy and attention grabbing, the moment you decide to single out and pick on ONE person, you MUST stop and decide if you've been fair and balanced and given that person an opportunity to rebut.

I know it might have been a rough day. No one would return your phone calls and you had two other pieces to finish editing. I know it was probably just a fluff piece to you anyhow, and dammit, those minutes needed filling!

Yeah, life as a broadcast journalist sucks. It's why I never became an actual journalist. But good reporters must hold themselves to a higher standard if they want to tell real, impactful stories. It is not enough to say you tried your best to get the story, but you'll have to go with what you've got. As Master Yoda so eloquently put it, "Do or do not. There is no try."

By only telling half a story, you subject all involved to hurt, ridicule, abuse--not just Judy, but all those parents who complained in the first place. You could be destroying many lives. And you will most certainly hurt your own career and tarnish your media outlet's reputation.

In the case of Judy Mays, WNEP made it very, very personal to a lot of people--writers, readers, publishers, editors, parents, students, coworkers...a lot of people.

Perhaps there are those at Local TV LLC who are smugly sitting back at the number of hits they're getting on their website. Bad publicity is better than no publicity, right? Those ad dollars have to come from somewhere. But just as bad writing will cull your readership, poor reporting will decimate your news-watching viewer ship.

Perhaps there are those who will say that people love these stories regardless--celebrities, scandals, car wrecks: we're all just cavemen waiting for the next bloodbath, and it's their mandate to "infotain" us. Well, hey, I love going to the zoo, but there's only so much shit-flinging and masturbation I'll put up with at the monkey cage.

So journalists and writers take note: research, balance and more importantly, decide whether or not you're actually telling an important story...or if you're just flinging poo.

</Rant over.>

Leave a comment and I'll randomly pick a winner for any one of Judy Mays's Ellora's Cave eBooks! Draw will take place May 2, 2011, 9 p.m. EST.

 

 

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I'm starting what I hope will be a regular monthly feature on this blog: interviews with writers, editors and other publishing industry professionals.

My first guest is Melissa Leong, a features writer for the National Post.

Melissa Leong, National Post Features Writer
Photo credit: Chris Bedlington Photography

A bio in her own words:

I’ve been a newspaper reporter for almost 10 years, working for The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the National Post. I write everything from in-depth news features (profiling survivors of the Rwandan genocide) to whimsical satire (imagining Paris Hilton’s prison diary). In my spare time, I write young adult fiction and teach and perform Latin dance. I am also fully prepared for a zombie invasion.

Most writers are solitary people who work alone a lot, but journalists are different. What are the key personality attributes you need to do your job?

I’m always amazed that complete strangers are willing to invite me into their homes and tell me about their personal lives. I’m not that nice. But I guess, it’s not about being nice. It’s about wanting to be heard. So, you need to like people. You need to be curious (that will help you overcome any innate shyness and push you to ask the uncomfortable questions) and you need to be able to handle stress.

What’s the best part of your job?

The chicks. And telling a new story every day.

What’s the worst part of your job?

I used to be the crime reporter at the Post. For me, the worst moments (though they are rare) are when you accidentally break bad news to a loved one. I remember one time showing up at a woman’s house as she was climbing out of her car. She had just returned from a vacation and she didn’t know that her brother had been arrested for sex crimes. To her, I’ll always be the person who delivered crushing news.

Do you face rejection? How do you deal with it?

I get rejected all of the time. I’ve been yelled at and had doors slammed in my face. And you’d think that I would get used to it but I always take it very poorly. I think I resort to Caesars with extra olives or McCain Deep ‘n Delicious. My dad would say, “At least you tried.”

You recently judged the Iron Cupcake competition. How do you prepare for something like that?

By laying off the McCain Deep ‘n Delicious.

You’ve met quite a few celebrities. Who was your favourite to interview?

Who qualifies as a celebrity these days any way? During TIFF, my reporter friends met a woman who told them that she was “famous on the Internet.” Vicki, I think we should go around introducing ourselves like that.

Pamela Anderson was so easy to interview. She was articulate and generous and she completely understood what I needed to tell a good story. And best-selling author and humorist David Sedaris made me laugh to the point of tears. He later sent me a post card with a horse on it, thanking me for my time. So damn gracious.

You covered UFC 83 in Montreal. Are you a fan? What do you think is the appeal of MMA for women?

I love old kung-fu films so my favourite thing about UFC is the real-life soap operas, the drama of the underdog versus the champion and the amazingly skilled fighting. I know what I’m expected to say but I seldom look at those guys and think, ‘Wow, that naked dude is hot.’ I think, ‘Wow. That naked dude could kill me.’

********

Follow Melissa's exploits at her website, www.melissaleong.ca; read her work at The National Post; and check out her Twitter page at twitter.com/lisleong.

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Author-y things to do:

  • Think/obsess/worry about developing a proper website
  • Hunt down an agent who'll be willing to take my money (I've only queried two so far...hope they get back to me soon...)
  • Come up with my author bio, cover art concepts, back cover copy to sell the book, and other material for the publisher
  • Develop a press kit
  • Start planning out a marketing strategy including blog tours, press kit mailings, signings, etc.
  • Run contests on blog
  • Tweet
  • Blog
  • Write the next book...or two or three books...

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WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
!!!!!!!!!!!

That's right, Harlequin Superromance bought Fighting for Her Love, slated for publication July 2011.

I can't begin to tell you how relieved/happy/ecstatic/terrified I am. This website had to go up lickity split, and the name change to Vicki Essex actually came about from editor Victoria Curran's suggestion. I agree with it. It agrees with me.

So how did it all happen? Well, the Friday before Labour Day, I was called in to Superromance senior editor Victoria Curran's office. She wanted to "chat with me for a minute."

With the dread of another impending rejection sitting heavily in my stomach, I trudged through the labyrinthine hallways of the editorial department at Harlequin, feeling much like some poor tragic Greek virgin about to face the minotaur at the next turn. Actually, I ended up getting lost. It took an angel-faced editorial assistant and her benevolent smile to guide me to my doom. (Megan, I am always going to remember that deceitful look on your face...if others knew how crafty you really are...)

I sat down in Victoria's visitor's chair in her windowless office, careful to keep an even, relaxed smile on my face and an air of nonchalance about me. After all, the first rejection--while extremely educational--pushed me to consume half a large deluxe pizza and an entire bottle of red wine on my own after our first grueling interview. I'd survived that...I could survive another rejection, right?

But this time, Victoria's face was pulled into a tight mask of seriousness. Her blue eyes bored into mine. I cringed mentally--oh, no, she was going to grab up those 300 pages and smack me with them, wasn't she?

She folded her hands over the manuscript sitting in front of her and leaned forward.

"We want to buy your book."

"ARE YOU SERIOUS?!"

My shriek penetrated the walls and probably shattered a few windows. Victoria shushed me and added in a stage whisper, "But you can't tell anyone yet!" She quickly explained that she was going to be on vacation for the next two weeks, and that we couldn't announce the sale publicly until the contract had been inked and the details had been worked out.

She then apologized for cursing me with the burden of this great joy; the sinking realization that I hadn't escaped my Greek comedy-tragedy settled in. I couldn't tell anyone. Not my coworkers, who've supported me; not the wonderful members of the Toronto Romance Writers, who've been super about critiques, advice and more. I certainly couldn't say anything on Facebook, Twitter or my blog. I couldn't even tell my friends.

But sweet, smiling, angelic Megan had known. I was permitted to squee with her.

Actually, after the initial silent mime-victory dance, I knelt on the ground in her cubicle, put my head in an empty filing cabinet and slammed the drawer closed several times to dislodge the excess squee. (True story.)

Fortunately, I was permitted to tell my husband, family and relatives. I hung on to the knowledge of this great accomplishment closely, guarding it like a glowing ember in a rainstorm. Every time someone asked, "So, how's the writing going? Did Harlequin call you back yet?", all I could do was grin and mumble, "No...still...waiting..." *facial tick*

Two weeks later, I'd sublimated the news enough that I was almost Al-Goreish in my jubilation. I think I might have actually done this at my desk at work:

So here I am, new website, new ID, new life, and so much ahead of me I think I might drown in equal parts happiness and fear.

My writer's journey has reached a turning point--it's not ended, and never will be. There will be more challenges--like producing at least 2 more books for Superromance--and lots to learn along the way. Hope you'll all stick around and keep reading this blog. Because now I can finally start having contests and giveaways!

Stay tuned, and squee along with me! Thank you all for your continued support!

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A dissection of the Harlquin Horizons press release and response to the Romance Writers of America withdrawing Harlequin's status as a non-vanity publisher from author Jackie Kessler: Read it.

So it seems the deal is this: people are angry that HHz is misrepresenting itself as a self-publisher when in fact it is a vanity publisher.

From Jackie Kessler's blog:

- Self-publishing: author keeps all the money after paying expenses.

- Vanity publishing: publisher keeps majority of the money and the writer pays all the expenses.

Okay, I can understand the upset there. Having HHz take 50% of the profits blows my mind.

But I'm having a really hard time believing that anyone in the industry, any member of the RWA, anyone who's even thinking of getting into the romance-writing gig isn't doing their homework. I can't believe that local RWA chapters and newsletters and fellow writers wouldn't be spreading the gospel and warning newbies away from self-publishing or vanity presses.

We live in the age of the Internet: Google Harlequin Horizons and the top three hits (as of Nov. 19) are all negative postings and editorial about the venture. (Well played, the Internet.) That said, wouldn't the average wannabe author at least look it up online and think, hmm, maybe this is a bad idea?

And wouldn't the bull-headed, self-deluded author who refuses to believe their opus is anything but pure genius do whatever they bloody well pleased regardless?

As for the RWA's response? Gotta give 'em credit for sticking to their guns. All things considered, they really didn't have a choice but to disqualify Harlequin, according to their rules. But to do so without some professional discussion and discourse first? It seems a little like biting the hand that feeds them.

Some more reading here.

Response from the Mystery Writers of America here.

Official response from Harlequin here.

Just so people aren't totally put off by my position on this matter: my official position is "meh." Frankly, I have WIPs to deal with and a writing career to pursue. And I won't be pursuing it through self-publishers or vanity presses.

How to get the romance publishing industry into a froth:

1) Harlequin launches Harlequin Horizons, a self-publishing firm.

2) People freak out.

At the risk of alienating all (three) of my readers, I'm not sure I understand what everyone is screaming about, and maybe I'm just biased. Vanity presses have been around for a long time. People have thrown their money at these "scams" since they were conceived, and the ill-informed will continue to do so at their own peril.

So Harlequin, the world's leading publisher of women's fiction, has bought their own slice of the self-pub pie. For hundreds, even thousands of dollars, you too could have your book printed and bound for your friends and family to open on Christmas day...and have your opus possibly even seen by Harlequin editors.

In my head: Er...for $1599? Hmm...no thanks.
In the head of some poor schmuck: Sign me up! Here's my kid's college fund!

Here's the thing: publishing is a business. This move by Harlequin isn't some kind of crazy grab for rights and free money and slave labour writers. There's a legitimate market for self-published works. It's a fine niche market, but it's there. People seem to think self-publishing is nothing more than a scam to bilk starry-eyed, delusional wannabe bestselling authors out of their property.

To that, I say: If that's true, so what? I can name a dozen other products and services people pay for that are nothing but scams or can outright kill you. And yet, people buy them.

Here's the thing: Read above: Harlequin is the leading publisher of women's fiction. That means everyone's watching. The company can't afford not to give exactly what its self-pub contracts dictate. For Starry-Eyed Schmuck, that means he/she will get what he/she paid for, no guarantees as stipulated by the contracts.

Caveat Emptor, folks. If it's too good to be true, it probably is.

Now, I don't know where all the anger and fear is coming from, but I think there are bigger fish to fry. Call me on it if Harlequin Horizons starts printing on human skin.

Let's all turn back to arguing with the people who want to see the romance genre stamped out entirely. Sound good?

For further reading, here are some other concerns.