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9-21 Anna J. Stewart, Content Editor

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Unexpected Road Taken by Content Editor Anna J. Stewart

Thank you so much for the invitation to post on Romancing the Genres! I’m thrilled to be here as my editing alter-ego.

If anyone had asked me years ago, when I got serious about publishing, that in addition to my writing books for Harlequin (their Heartwarming and Romantic Suspense lines) I would add freelance content editor to my resume, I would not have been able to keep a straight face. Editors are the guardians at the gate: they clean up the (sometimes) messy manuscripts and help tighten and strengthen and polish. They have infinite patience and love, love, love the written word with a passion few others possess. All that still holds true of course, even as I’ve donned the editor armor. I love my Harlequin editor; I’ve liked most of the editors I’ve worked with over the years. They’ve taught me more than I never realized I didn’t know. There are, however, different types of editors and it’s important for writers and authors to know exactly what they’re looking for and, more importantly for the indie authors out there, who they’re hiring.

I am a content editor. The easy description is I edit the story (and sometimes the writing itself). I LOVE story, character, plot, conflict…all those ingredients that make the best of fiction cake that land on e-readers and bookshelves. I am also well aware of my limitations. No one (I repeat no one) wants me telling them where a comma goes, what a split infinitive is, or if a semi-colon is appropriate. Just ask my own editor. And while I do have a special affinity for the Oxford comma, punctuation is not my forte (spot the run-on sentence above? Yeah…moving on). But story? Oh, story. There’s my happy place.

It was one of my critique partners, another Harlequin author, who suggested to supplement my writing income (because I needed to stay close to home to care for an aging parent), to try my hand at content editing. The more I explored the option, the more I realized that content editing was a kind of ramped up version of what we did as a critique group. I, like many other authors, had a knack for helping root out story issues in other people’s work far more easily than I could see it in my own. I also always pushed hard on conflict because without conflict, there truly is no story. Especially in a romance. And so…I dipped my toe in the content editing pool waters. In the few years since I’ve been working with authors, I’ve earned a number of return clients and have read and worked on some truly amazing stories, all of which, I believe, have since been published. It’s the best of both worlds for me, without a doubt. This feeds my creative side, allows me to work from home, and refills the creative well. It’s also a way for me to pay it forward in gratitude for all the authors and editors who have helped me on my own publishing journey.

So what exactly is it that I do? For want of a better term, I excavate. I go deep into characters’ thoughts, their motivations, and most importantly their conflicts. I have an entire check list of questions I keep nearby as I read through a story the second time (the first time I read, it’s straight through, just as a regular reader would). Conflict is not something that can be solved with a conversation; if people can talk out their “issues”, that’s a really quick book. We want them to earn their happily ever after; don’t just hand it to them. In romance especially, you need characters who grow, who change, and who (at least one of the main characters) makes a decision at the end of the book they wouldn’t have made at the beginning (something I learned from the fabulous Mary Buckham)

As a content editor, I’m also looking for consistency and therefore inconsistencies. Does everyone’s descriptions remain the same? Anyone changing eye color? Hair style? Did the author mention an event that collides with something else in the timeline? Do they say something that contradicts something they’ve stated or thought previously? Is their behavior consistent with how it was set up from page one? Are they behaving realistically, rationally, believably?

I’m a pretty tough sell on these three characteristics, so I will push the author to think deeper about how their characters are dealing with situations. All those little details that tend to slip out of our control while our fingers are flying—are they right? Do they remain the same throughout? I’m an extra pair of not only editor eyes, but author eyes as well. I’m also still learning. I go to and listen to workshops; I attend conferences. I always want to make myself better at my craft and sometimes I’m just flat out wrong. Which brings me to my main “commandment” if you will.

Whatever story I’m editing, I always, always tell the author that these are my suggestions; what I would do to make the story stronger (not hopefully better). This is their story, first and foremost. If you think I’m wrong? Then I’m wrong. Take what works and discard the rest. Only the author, when all is said and done, can decide what works best for the book and characters. I have no doubt I’ve scared some authors away because I go hard. I go hard because I would want an editor to do that to me (and my editors have, believe me). I want to give my readers the absolute best experience possible when they open one of my books and that’s what I want for my clients as well.

I also consider being asked to edit an author’s book a privilege. I know how hard it is to send your work out. I know how blindingly terrifying it can be to wait for what’s essentially someone’s judgment of your hard work and I never, ever, take that for granted. I can’t speak to other editors, but that’s the code I edit by. I’m probably not everyone’s cup of tea (cliché alert! I’d totally ding an author for that phrase, LOL), but I go into each project with the best of intentions and I hope, the best advice I can give.

Thank you again, Romancing the Genres, for the opportunity to talk to you all today. I’ve loved being here. If anyone has any questions, please post them in the comments below.

Cheers!
Anna J

Bio:
USA Today and national bestselling hybrid author Anna J. Stewart writes sweet to sexy romance for Harlequin's Heartwarming and Romantic Suspense lines. Early obsessions with Star Wars, Star Trek, and Wonder Woman set her on the path to creating fun, funny, and family-centric romances with happily ever afters for her independent heroines. A former RWA Golden Heart nominee and 2018 Daphne DuMaurier finalist, her Heartwarming book RECIPE FOR REDEMPTION was recently optioned for a TV Movie and will air on UPtv during the 2019 holiday season. Anna lives in Northern California where she deals with serious Supernatural, Sherlock, and Jason Momoa addictions and surrounds herself with friends and family. When she's not writing, you can find her at fan conventions, wrangling Rosie and Sherlock, her two cats, or building her client list for her content editing services (Content Editing by Anna J). You can read more about Anna and her books at www.authorannastewart.com.

Friday, September 20, 2019

How Did I Get Here? #scifi #superhero #paranormal #romance

Hi, I'm Pippa Jay, author of sci-fi and supernatural stories to engage your emotions.

Despite fish, a gecko and chickens, my kids asked for a cat. Being a cat person myself, I was okay with having one in principal, but know the costs in reality. 'When I get a job that pays well enough,' I promised them. Writing didn't even pay me a living wage, and even going back to work part time didn't provide what I thought would cover any potential costs. But at the start of this year I went back to work full time as a science technician in a secondary school, and that's when the badgering really started. 'You PROMISED!'. Sigh.
Years ago we had two rescue kittens, so we decided to rescue again, especially as we planned for these to be indoor cats. Adopting from a rescue centre meant getting a house check for approval. I'm not house proud - I keep the place clean and tidy mostly - but the idea of a stranger poking around my home was unsettling. I cleaned and cleared the downstairs to the point of even vacuuming up all the spider webs and moving a lot of stuff temporarily into our summerhouse (much to hubs' disapproval), to the point where my older boy told me the house looked weird because it was too tidy.
And after all that, the cat rescue guy spent 10 minutes chatting to me in the back room, ending with an arrangement to bring the kittens over the following weekend for a month's trial fostering. O.o
On his way out, he spotted the three pictures on the wall that I have of three of my favourite book covers (shhh, don't tell the others!).
"Are you an author?"
"Yes, but not a famous one."
"How many books do you have?"
I had to think about that. I've mostly stepped out of the publishing bubble and remembering everyone's birthday is testing enough.
"18...?"
"I shall look you up on Amazon."
I don't know if he did but it felt kind of weird to be talking about my books again. I'd almost felt like I'd closed that door behind me, but I guess you never really leave them behind. It got me thinking again about how far I'd come in seven years and actually achieved. Eighteen titles. I don't think I really appreciate what an accomplishment that is, especially now I'm working a full time job that doesn't leave me time or energy to write (for now).

And how did I get there? For me it happened quite quickly - eighteen months from finishing my novel to an actual offer from a small digital press, and with my debut work too. I remember having to read the email several times over to be convinced it wasn't another rejection. 


Those first edits were sooooo hard, but I learned so much (though sometimes it feels like I didn't learn anything at all when my editor tells me off for the same things, lol). I really thought writing would get easier, and while some parts of it are, things like finding new ways to describe experiences, emotions, characters etc without repeating yourself becomes much, much harder. Publishing has definitely become harder. After losing a couple of my publishers and others changing their terms, I'm now completely self published. More freedom but much more work and much less support. I've experienced burn out, and this year will be the first when I don't release something. I miss the writing but not the publishing so much. I still plan to release more but I'm not quite ready to throw myself back in. It'll all be on my terms, for my pleasure, and if a few other people like it, that's good enough for me. Eighteen titles is still something to be proud of. 


Find more at http://pippajay.co.uk

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Reading like a writer

I love to read. I think most writers do and some say it's sort of a mandatory thing.


But as my writing career grew, I noticed how I read changed. While I still love to read, I find it almost impossible to turn the writer off.

Now I'm not talking how-to write books but I do read those. My two favorites are -

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
How I write: Secrets of A Bestselling Author by Janet Evanovich


What's the difference? How I look/view/analysis the story.  Now there are a ton of 'help' articles that tell you what you 'should' look for as a writer in reading, but hey why would I follow those rules? And besides, I believe this process is as individual as the writing.

Sometimes, I read specific books for 'help' in crafting a certain element. Please note: I do NOT read to copy. I read to see how the authors did it. I usually aim for three different authors and they will not handle it the same way because no one writes the same. And as writers and readers aren't we glad!

For example, if I'm struggling to develop a scene that involves a bomber I would look up books that have these scenes. I would note how the authors developed/led into the bomb scene. How much 'technology' did they include, etc. I use it as a bouncing board again NOT to copy.

The four things I note in every book I read because these are things I focus on in my own writing is:

1. How does the author introduce character description. Especially clothes. Because honestly, I have to add this on my second or third draft until then everyone is nude. I mean I know I don't have to include every outfit the reader will assume the character has clothes on but at some point I've been told the  reader needs confirmation that my characters aren't a bunch of nudist. :-p
Now how can this NOT be in a story...

A perfect place to commit murder!

A portal to another world, I swear


2. Settings. While I don't struggle with this like the clothes thing, actually it's the opposite I love settings. Almost too much. If you've read my other blog post here or on my blog or follow me on social media you know I love to post pictures of my world. So while my characters are nude, the reader will know about the log with really cool fungus on it. So I note this more as how much to include because again I've been told that not everyone finds fungus cool! 0_0
Isn't this cool??????


3. How does the character grow.  I think is just a standard thing for readers or writers as readers. We all read with the expectation that the character will grow.

4. Were there any surprises? In the plot or with the character. I don't mean the secret child type of thing but the type of thing that makes you sit back and look for a doughnut so you can process it. And if there is - a) does it work? b) why or why not.
What just happened!!!!!


Those are the things I look for as a reader who is a writer. Do you have certain things you look for as you read?

And here is one of my favorite reading spots:


What are yours?

Until next month! Enjoy reading!!!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

See how I like shiny objects?


I must have been a cat in another life. Apart from the fact that I think they're adorable, like the cute fluffballs, I'm easily distracted.

While it might be shiny objects, or just something that's moving that gets their attention, my shiny objects are either new story ideas, or my many, many started stories.

They sit there in my Writing Folder, the folder I shouldn't look in because Because of my distraction obsession, I always have two stories on the go  and these live in my WIP folder on a totally different Drive, and these have  priority. I'm currently working on two stories that both have deadlines (one for a box set and one for submission from a conference pitch).

You'd think two books to finish is more than enough to keep my writing time fully occupied, and I do
hit my daily word counts to get these done on time, but then a writing comp comes up and I think it's a good idea to enter. Not with an extract from my current WIPs, but something from my Writing Folder. So I start going through a couple of books that are only partially written and get caught up in those stories again. I have to work on them to get them up to comp standard (which is a good thing because they'd need editing eventually anyway so I'm saving myself work, aren't I?).

I get immersed in these stories again and ideas start to flow. I do resist the urge to keep writing more, but I make notes about those ideas. Ooooh I so want to keep writing these stories now, rather than going back to my WIPs (where I am struggling a little because I must have forgotten to put on my pantsing pants). My imagination is reinvigorated for these older stories.

Is it any wonder I have half a dozen 'three chapters'?

Oh, and not mention the attraction (and a bit of necessity) of re-releasing the back-catalogue of half a dozen shorter pieces that have been previously published, so they don't languish in yet another Folder for months/years.

But I am more disciplined with my writing these days, and I have deadlines which drag me back to reality. The only recent partially started story is one for a box set which had the category changed (from contemporary to paranormal) so that wasn't an actual lapse back into old bad habits - but it is one that I'm revisiting for a competition and it's trying very hard to call me back to keep writing it.

I thought I'd share my shiny object so you can see what sort of distractions I'm up against :

Partially begun stories (some only have a few pages written) :
Pleasures Mistress - historical
Second Skin - contemporary
Sophronia - historical
Summer Salsa - contemporary set in Cuba
Wicked Wishes - contemporary
Anna - paranormalish set in Greece
Purr - paranormal 
Two's Company - contemporary
Untitled - contemporary where I'd lost the file and started rewriting
Untitled - historical about female pirates

Re-releases :
Diving In - contemporary
Miss Blaine's Misconduct - contemporary
Skin On Skin - paranormal short which needs reworking into something longer
Caught In - pararnormal

Ideas :
Hothouse Flowers box set - contemporary to include Miss Blaine from above
Night Father - contemporary (non romance)
Untitled - paranormal thriller
Untitled - contemporary modern version of Peyton Place

Sooooo, putting all that out of my mind now and getting back to reaching my daily word counts on my WIPs :

Undying Night - vampire story for upcoming box set (Feb 2020)
A Firm Hand - Book 1 from Bedford Brothers series as requested at conference.

Shiny objects all safely back in their Folder now, and that's where they'll stay until above WIPs are done - and I have my little whip-cracking friend here to keep me in line !!


For more about Andra and her writing life follow her in Instagram @andraashesmutmaven or on her website here.   





Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Giving Birth to a Book Cover —by Delsora Lowe

One of the most exciting things about writing a book, besides the words THE END 😊 (Okay, in full disclosure, there are many other things that are exciting too,) is designing the cover.

Now, disclaimer, I DO NOT design my own covers. But I have found an incredible cover designer who appears to be able to read my mind, across country, between California and Maine.

As I write and edit, ad nauseum, my mind is whirling with images of what the cover will look like. When I have spare moments, or can’t think creatively to write words, I search for photos that might fit my vision of the perfect cover. So, by the time I am ready to contract for my cover, I know exactly what I want.

Okay – another disclaimer. I THINK I know exactly what I want.

In my imagination, I can see the cover, but having the brain translate the vision into words, not so much. That’s where my file of photos come in. Also, I am not an artist. So, what I think might make a great cover, never does.

For example, for The Legacy of Parkers Point, book one of Serenity Harbor, I had an evening image picked out of the front of a café. Picture dark background with twinkling lights sparkling EVERYWHERE, off trees and a “loving” couple.

Enter my cover artist. She is called an artist for a reason.

I sent Karen (of Covers by Karen) my ideas through the photos I collected and book covers of authors I love that showed what I want to say in a cover. I also described the setting of my book.

She pointed out that there was no space that wasn’t too busy to add the title, series title, or author name. But she also knew the novella series was set in a seacoast town on an island connected to the mainland by a bridge and that book one was set in the fall.

Since this was my first time making a cover, we did a lot of tweaks. It was a learning process for both of us. For me, understanding what makes a good cover background. And for Karen, learning to anticipate what I really wanted.

The first try with couple we found on depositphotos. But author name didn't show up well.
I asked Karen to use my author name off my website, But too dark.
Website-branded author font, but white shadowing added to make it lighter and readable.
And we tweaked the background along the way.
For The Rancher Needs a Wife, my book to be released in October, I sent her a photo taken by my daughter while on a hike in Colorado.

When I saw the photo, I knew it was a perfect example of what I envisioned for my cover, a fence and mountains. And miraculous teal-blue skies on a fall day, that fit the setting of my story. Karen loved the picture. Plus, it had the correct resolution.

So, in this case, with that one photo the search for the cover background ended. But not the tweaking of the cover.

When I chose the model for my hero in The Prince’s Son, book one of the Cowboys of Mineral Springs, I also took notes on models for the next three books and socked them away in my file. Of course, a year later, when I worked on the cover for book two, The Rancher Needs a Wife, weighed down with half a dozen links from Period Images, I had to start over. Same model, but oooh, so many pose choices. I went back and forth, forever…and narrowed it down to three, then sent them out to my critique partners. Amazingly, we all agreed.

A special thanks to my critique partners. I have run every cover by them and they always have good suggestions. The best part is when all of us say, THAT’S THE ONE!

I sent the cover model photo to Karen, and she sent out the first rendition of the cover.

Loved it!

Except…

I loved the white writing for the title, BUT it got a bit lost in the clouds, as did the hero’s white hat. I loved the red in the author name. And I loved the feathery look of the tree branches. I looked at the original photo and picked out the section of the photo she had used. BUT, I REALLY wanted the fence. And the title needed a bit of shadowing to make it pop a bit more. Luckily Karen can interpret what I’m looking for, even when I’m not sure what I really want or how to say it. So, Karen used a different portion of the background photo.

Loved it!

Except…

I did miss the feathery tree, but to get the fence, I had to sacrifice the tree. Maybe we could lower the sky a tad, so that patch of blue would make not only his hat stand out more, but make the hero stand out from the background more.

What came next was WOW! Karen worked her magic by moving the background photo over, zooming in a little, and lightening it up a bit. She changed the title from white to red. And everything popped.


Here are some other examples of the cover production progression. This is the cover for Come Dance With Me, book two of the Serenity Harbor series.

I wanted the heroine to have dark hair and a clip in her hair for the final romantic dance, before her world gets turned upside down…and not in a good way. We also tweaked the background several times, as I recall. And as I also recall, we made more than three attempts at this cover.

I really loved the cover, but the hero was all wrong from what I envisioned.

Yay - found a couple I loved. Except hair color was wrong.

Karen changed the hair color and added a barrette I found on a free clip art site.
Although I felt like a pest, tweaking here and there, that was only my second cover. And working with Karen on both the first and second covers, gave her an idea of my working style. And mine of hers, cool, calm, collected, and ready to do whatever I needed to make a great cover.

In Moonlighting, book three of Serenity Harbor, we got the cover right the first time around. Although, the following year, I had Karen update both this cover and Come Dance With Me to show they were holidays reads, by adding ribbon banners at the top.












Each author and cover artist have their own strategy for working together to make a cover. Mine is simple. I know what I want, but I really don’t. 😊 I tell Karen. She works her magic. Sometimes several times. And voila!


Finding the right cover artist is crucial and may take working with several before you hit on a good working relationship. I got lucky the first time around.  Karen gets me and understands what I want. Sure, it takes some back and forth work on both our parts. That’s to be expected. After all, the process is similar to writing, editing A LOT, and finally releasing a book.

But as I mentioned, it is a fun ride.

And oh, so exciting, when that cover finally appears on the front of your “baby” on release day.

Thanks for stopping by today. When you chose a book, what stands out in a cover that convinces you to buy the book?





~ cottages to cabins ~ keep the home fires burning ~

Delsora Lowe writes small town sweet romances and contemporary westerns from the mountains of Colorado to the shores of Maine.

Author of the Starlight Grille series, Serenity Harbor Maine novellas, and the Cowboys of Mineral Springs series, Lowe has also authored short romances for Woman’s World magazine.



Monday, September 16, 2019

Do you see how I write book blurbs…by Kristin Wallace

The theme this month on RTG is "Do you see how I..." with a focus on something related to the craft of writing. I chose a topic that leads to cold sweats and terror in many authors...

If you polled authors asking what one thing they hated most about the publishing business, I bet a majority would say…writing the blurb for my book. Blurb writing is one of those things that many authors dread. The thought of trying to take their 80,000-word novel and tell the story in a paragraph or two is terrifying.

That would not be me. I may be the one author on the face of the planet who LOVES writing them. 

To understand the joy of blurbs, you have to know that I am an advertising copywriter. The majority of my job is literally taking large, complicated subjects and breaking them down into a headline and a paragraph of copy to “sell” a product or service. Well, a book is another “product” authors are trying to sell. Once I figured that out, I understood writing blurbs. 

So how do I write them? I came up with a workshop called, “Blurb Writing Doesn’t Have to Suck”. I presented it at RWA Nationals a couple years ago and I’m doing it again at my local writer’s chapter (Florida Romance Writers) in October. 

Here’s a breakdown of what I teach. And hey…if you can get to Fort Lauderdale on October 12 you can come to the workshop!!!

Why blurbs matters

A blurb is one of your most important selling tools for your book, whether you’re going the traditional or indie route. If you're targeting agents/editors you'll need a blurb for your query letters. Indie authors need a great blurb for their sales pages. Once you have a long version of your blurb, you can adapt it for ads (Facebook, Amazon, BookBub), social media posts, your author newsletter, and printed marketing materials like bookmarks or postcards.

The flavor of a blurb

First, ensure the blurb reflects the tone of your book as well as your author brand. (If you don’t know your author brand or haven’t created one yet that’s a whole other workshop, which I’ve also presented.) 

If you write dark, your blurb must show that. If your books have humor, reflect that. It also needs to showcase the genre of your book, whether it's contemporary, historical, paranormal or YA. Erotic romance will have a completely different tone versus an inspirational romance. 

Elements of a Blurb

1. The Introduction

·      First, introduce your heroine & hero. You want to let the reader know *who* they are. 
·      What is their occupation? This can reveal a lot about them. How would you describe a Navy Seal vs. a college professor? A chef vs. an athlete? 
·      Your language should reflect their personalities. If your heroine is snarky and bold, your description should show that. 
2. Plugging in your GMC

The key to writing your blurb is to remember your GMC. Of course, GMC is vital to develop when you're plotting your book, but those same elements can be applied to your blurb. 

Hopefully, you are already familiar with GMC (Goal, Motivation & Conflict). 

·      Goal - WHAT does your heroine/hero want? 
o  If your blurb has a paragraph for both characters than you will need to do this twice.
·      Motivation - WHYdo they want it?
·      Conflict - WHATis standing in their way? 

So now plugin the goal, motivation, and conflict for both your Heroine & Hero.  

REMEMBER: Be mindful of your genre and tone of your book. Enhance GMC with words that reflect this. If your heroine is a chef, pepper in words or phrases that reflect this world (cooking, things come to a boil, heating up in the kitchen, a recipe for disaster, etc.)

3. Romantic Tension

After you have introduced your main characters and GMC for both, it’s time to focus on the romance.

Introduce the main romantic conflict
o  What is going to keep your characters apart for the entire book? Are they from rival businesses? He’s a wealthy Duke and she’s a penniless commoner? 
o  Do they succumb to the attraction? (If this is a spicy or erotic, chances are the answer is yes.) 
o  What is the result of their romantic interlude? Does it set up even more conflict or change the direction of the story?
o  Again, be mindful of your genre and tone. If you write “sweet” the words used to describe the romance will be different than ones you’d use for spicy or erotic. Same for a historical vs. contemporary vs. paranormal

4. A Big Reveal and the Dark Moment

Expose (or at least tease) at a secret or important information that will be revealed. Your story NEEDS this in order to drive the action and lead up to your Dark Moment and Climax. 

·      Give a hint about what the secret and dark moment will be. 
·      You don’t have to reveal every detail of the secret, but give enough of a clue that the reader wants to find out
·      How will this drive your heroine/hero apart (maybe forever)? Can they make it in the end?

5. Hook ‘em at the end

Now, you need to craft a closing line that entices the reader to want more. 

·      Write a cliffhanger or question… “Can she let go of her bitterness in order to claim a lasting love?” “Can they save the world in time?”
·      Restate the ultimate GOAL in a more dramatic way. Give them a “dun, dun, dun” moment. “Together, they must steal the ancient artifact…and if they fail the world will never be the same.” 

Okay…sounds easy, right? Actually, it’s not, but you can develop the skill with practice. These 5 tips will help.

If you’re an author struggling with blurb writing I can help. 



Kristin Wallaceis the USA Today Best Selling Author of inspirational and sweet contemporary romance filled with “Love, Laughter and a Leap of Faith”. Her latest book, SECOND CHANCE HERO, is available now. 

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