Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Save A Horse, Read A Nicole McCaffrey!!

Saddle up yer 'hoss' and ride into the country! Make welcome Nicole McCaffrey as the first guest blogger here at the ole' TLN. She's gonna offer up some great advice for us greenhorns.

Nicole is an Eastern who has a hankerin' for The Wild West. Her new book THE MODEL MAN was released March 28th and earned a 3cup review from Coffee Time Romance! The Model Man is the perfect read for anyone who thinks being over 40 means romance is dead.

Yee-Haw!! Take it away, Nicole!

Before we begin, I’d really like to thank Sarah for inviting me to blog here today, and say once again what a fantastic idea I think she has here with The Lovestruck Novice and her decision to devote her blog to the topics and challenges that new writer’s face. I liked the idea so much that I all but pounced on her when she mentioned her plan with lots of eager, slobbery “I’ll do it!”—kind of like my dog when he hears the phrase “daddy’s home.” LOL. (Aw, Shucks! Thanks, Little Lady!)

When I first joined RWA all those many long years ago, there was no internet (yes, I’m an old dinosaur—or maybe I joined RWA when I was in kindergarten, I’m not gonna tell ). There was no chapter in my hometown and my one and only link to my fellow writers was RWA’s Outreach chapter. That monthly newsletter was like a lifeline to me. But it was still a lonely existence—how did I know if I was doing this right? Where did I go to get information, support and guidance? I’m so glad things are different these days! Now on to today’s topic, that itching nagging rash called “I can’t wait for feedback” –or as I like to call it: The Eager Beaver.

If there was an anonymous support group for writers, I’d be taking in the required daily meeting. But since there isn’t (that I know of!) I have to keep myself in check and try to control my own “microwave mentality” of needing instant gratification.

Like so many newbie writers, when I first began writing, I was sure the publishing world was about to be set on fire by my brilliant prose. *G* I was so certain, in fact, that the minute I had that 37-page synopsis ready and was well into my 400,000 word manuscript, I began sending it out to publishers. It would only be a matter of time before one of them snapped it up. No matter that it wasn’t finished, once I got that hefty advance of a quarter million or so, I’d have plenty of time to work on it.

And so the waiting game began. I got to know the mail carrier on a first name basis—nowadays I believe they call it “stalking”. *G* Every time the phone rang, my heart leapt into my throat, what if this was …. The Call.

Hard as it is to believe, I’m still waiting to hear back on some of those submissions. From 1990. I’m pretty sure that out there in the publishing world–whether it’s scribbled in a hallway, on the bathroom wall or simply tacked up to a dusty old bulletin board —it’s written somewhere not to open any envelopes with my name and return address on them but to simply toss it in the nearest wastebasket.

So what was I doing wrong all those years ago, and what have I learned since? Well for one thing, I was sending out unpolished work. Sounds like a no-brainer doesn’t it? But I know a lot of people who, seconds after they write that last word of their MS, are printing off a copy and preparing the envelope (or attaching the MS to an email). That’s what I mean when I say I was an eager beaver—I couldn’t wait until I was sure my work was “right” or as close to perfect as I could get it. In my naivete about the publishing world, I assumed some kind-hearted editor would see the diamond in the rough and buy it anyway and together we would create The Great American Novel. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t happen often. Most editors want the manuscript to be as clean as you can get it before you send it to them. Nah, make that all editors. The first suggestion an editor gets of whether or not this is a professional author truly is the presentation.

The second thing I was doing wrong was wearing too many hats—or trying on too many voices. Mixing genres. Whatever you call it, it was the idea that no one had ever seen a story like mine that blended humor and drama and elements of gothic romance and horror and mystery all in the same story. Well as it turns out the reason you’ve never seen a story like that is because… they don’t work. As a contest judge so bluntly put it to me: choose one. But as beginner authors it’s important to try out new styles and voices until you find the one that is uniquely yours. It’s just probably not a good idea to bombard every editor on the planet with your experiments. That’s what critique partners are for! *G*

So how can you avoid being an eager beaver?

1. Don’t go it alone. Join RWA, or if you can’t afford RWA, find a writing group either online or in your area or an online critique group. Finding the right critique partner is a lot like finding a spouse—it takes time before you find someone who “clicks” with you. Don’t get discouraged and don’t be afraid to start over with someone new if the first few don’t work out. And hard as it is, don’t assume just because someone is praising your work that you’re the next Hemingway. If someone is only offering you praise and no constructive criticism, they either don’t know what they’re doing or are only interested in what you can do for them. Likewise, don’t bristle and get pouty if someone does offer suggestions. Not everyone knows how to sugar coat their delivery, and at the end of the day it’s still your story, you don’t have to take their advice. A simple thank you is fine. According to my mouse pad, a good critique partner is worth her weight in chocolate. It really is worth finding the right one.

2. Slow down. If your manuscript is good today, it will still be good tomorrow. Don’t be in such a hurry to get your work on an editor’s desk that you don’t take time to go over your ms—or better yet have a trusted friend or CP go over it—before you send it out. Highlight all those pesky passive ly and ing words, every dialogue tag and every use of your characters’ names. Do you need all those adjectives? Can you re-think or remove some? Can some of those names be changed to he and she? Do you have a crutch word you’ve used over and over like “that” or “just” or “really”? Can those dialogue tags be removed, or better yet, can you slip in a physical action so that you don’t need the tag? (Ex: “I can’t believe you did that!” John shouted. Try: John dragged a hand through his hair. “I can’t believe you did that!”)

3. Know your voice. If you like reading dark, suspenseful stories, don’t try writing lighthearted fare, it probably wont’ work. As much as I always start out thinking I have two deep, brooding characters and a dark plot, my voice just doesn’t come out dark and brooding. And truth be told, I hate to read those kinds of stories. Life is stressful and depressing enough, when I read I want to be uplifted and when I write, I want to entertain. So little wonder that once I found my voice, I also found my tongue --firmly implanted in my cheek. I guess, as my nine year old son likes to say, “that’s how I roll.”

Last but not least, remember this rule: butt in chair equals words on the page. Writing is a process we learn by doing. So don’t just sit there, get those fingers moving and get that story written—it’s not going to write itself.

Here's teaser from Nicole's current release:

Single mom and romance novelist Kelly Michaels has no time for a man in her life. But when mega-famous cover model Derek Calavicci puts the moves on her at a romance writers’ conference, she succumbs to temptation. Common sense prevails, however, and after a few passionate kisses she turns him down; she has impressionable teenagers at home, after all, she doesn’t need a one-night-stand with a much younger man, no matter how hot he is. When photos of their passionate moonlight kiss hit the tabloids, her agent has to do some fast footwork to save her reputation. Will the notorious bad boy go along with her scheme?

Derek rarely hears a woman say “no” – it’s been that way his entire life. If Kelly isn’t interested, he’s not going to push her-- even if she does melt like ice cream on a hot sidewalk every time he touches her. But when an unexpected opportunity falls into his lap by way of Kelly’s scheming agent, he jumps at the chance. Pretend he’s in love with Kelly Michaels for two weeks? No problem. After all, the lady may say she’s never going to sleep with him... but he's got two weeks to convince her otherwise.

For excerpts from The Model Man and news about upcoming releases, please visit http://www.nicolemccaffrey.com/ or http://nicolemccaffrey.blogspot.com/

Nicole's Civil War Era Romance

Thanks, Nicole for servin' up a heapin' helpin' of newbie reality! And THANKS to everyone for stoppin' by. Ya'll come back now, ya' hear! (Man, I love doin' accents! lol)


Nicole McCaffrey said...

Wow you're good at that country-fied accent, Sarah. Are you sure there isn't a cowboy story in you somewhere? LOL.

Just wanted to say thanks so much for having me today.

Paty Jager said...

What Nicole says is soooo true! I was an eager beaver and still have a patience problem. LOL But I've learned to make my work the best I can before sending it out. I have several CP's I go to for different phases of my projects. And RWA was one of the elements that helped me the most with my writing. The other is an awesome CP. ;)

Susan Macatee said...

Great post, Nicole! I started writing when I was still in school and went through one steep learning curve before I had anything an editor wouldn't just shove back in the envelope. Joining RWA, after my youngest son started school, was my first step in a path that ultimately--after many more years mind you--led me to publication. But I still don't know when all that money will come. LOL.

Emma Lai said...

Great advice, Nicole! I'm still trying to find time to read The Model Man, but at least it's in the pile.

My biggest problem is the butt in chair!

Kat Henry Doran Author said...

Very nice job, Nicole!!
From another "old-timer" who wrote her stuff long hand and paid someone to type it for her.
Kat Henry Doran

Jerrica said...

What a great post, Nicole! I totally thought the same thing - that some editor would see "the diamond in the rough"! LOL! After a couple of rejections I got wise, joined RWA and learned all I could about the business in addition to writing :)

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Waving, Nic. Great ideas and I am listening. My problem is having the stories written (three of them) and not sending them because to me they are NEVER good enough. I am thinking my friends are going to send a hitman in a box if I don't do it soon. I can always find a good excuse to put it off for another week.

Nicole McCaffrey said...

Paty--you're making me blush. *G*

Susan, LOL. Yeah I'm not "laughing all the way to the bank" yet, either.

Emma, I sincerely hope you enjoy it when you get to it. My TBR pile is really adding up, too.

Kat, thanks for stopping by. We've come a long way, baby!

Jerrica, I'm convinced that even the authors who say that's how it happened for them are stretching the truth, LOL. I don't think editors have the time nor the inclination these days.

Paisley--I know what you mean! I've never read any of my own published work because I'm afraid I'll hate it, LOL. But you've got some good stuff written woman, I look forward to seeing what happens when you finally get it out there!

Thanks everyone for stopping by and commenting today!

Helen Hardt said...

Nic, you know The Model Man is on my keeper shelf ;). It's wonderful.

Awesome advice, too. I think every writer (I know I did) finishes that first ms and thinks it's the next NYT bestseller. Boy do we get a dose of reality quick, LOL. Great post!

Nicole McCaffrey said...

Thanks, Helen. You're so right about that cold dose of reality, it's an eye-opener! *G*

LighthouseSandy said...

Great advice, Nicole! Thanks so much for sharing it. And love the sound of The Model Man. My interest is definitely piqued that a trip to the bookstore is in order!

Sarah Simas said...

Thanks, Nicole for lending some great advice! I hope you know how much I appreciate your willingness to help. :o)

And THANKS to all of you lovely ladies for stopping by!

Cari Quinn said...

Great interview, Sarah and Nicole! I must be one of those oddball writers who spends more time thinking her stuff sucks than she does thinking it's good. LOL

Lots of good advice here, and I've really got to get a copy of The Model Man... ;)

Nicole McCaffrey said...

Thanks, Sandy and Cari.

Cari, LOL, you're not alone--I know a lot of writers who suffer from the "it's not good enough" school of thought.

Writers are a pretty neurotic bunch, aren't we? LOL

Debra Kayn said...

Great interview, Sarah and Nicole. The advice was something we all need to listen to, and your new book sounds fabulous!