It’s been something of a momentous week. Actually, momentous might not be strong enough a word. What happened is that I just signed a contract to be represented by Laura Bradford—my #1, must-have, best-case scenario, would do almost anything to get, dream agent. Laura Bradford, you guys!!!!
Clearly, this is an early step in the process, but it’s a huge milestone, and a specific objective that I set myself a little over a year ago. When I think back to the advice I received not to put all my hopes into one agent… I almost have to laugh. I remember thinking, “I want Laura Bradford. She’s my agent.”
So, while I feel tremendously lucky (there’s a star up there with my name on it), I also know that I must have done something right. And if I figured out the right thing to do, then so can you!
Here’s a little list I put together of what I did right (I’ll let you figure out the wrong things on your own):
As much as possible, it’s important to keep a handle on reality and get a little perspective on who you are and what you’re capable of. I wrote a novella a few years ago. It was awful. Truly, truly bad. I didn’t take it and rework it and shop it out to agents. It just wasn’t, in my opinion, worth it. I knew that because I can read. I also knew that because I made the effort to step back and admit that it really wasn’t something I wanted others getting their hands on. That’s ok. That novella proved that I could finish something, which was what I needed at the time.
It’s good to write that crappy novella or the unreasonably long book. Just don’t put it out there until you’re sure it’s the right one.
If you're going to sell a book. You need a book to sell. While you're figuring out all the logistics, you might as well write one.
As you write your grand opus, I recommend that you look at which authors you most resemble, the ones you like, the ones whose writing you most admire. And then read. I have a few absolute faves and, while reading them, I came across the name of the same agent over and over and over again. I kept thinking to myself, “Wow, this agent has great taste.” That thought eventually morphed into, “Wow, I wish that were my agent. She really seems to know her stuff.”
Listen to the experts
I read, I talked, I asked questions, I took classes. And I still know next to nothing. But there are some crazy smart people out there, just giving advice away for free. Take their advice and use it.
Know what you want
I don’t mean kind of know or think you know or hope that this is the right thing. Know exactly what it is that you want and then go for it. I didn’t just want an agent. I wrote my book and, while I was doing that, I found the agent who was right for me and I figured out how to (hopefully) get my manuscript in front of her. Obviously, you can only do so much (like I said, that star was shining), but I made sure the odds were lined up in my favor.
Have a plan
So, you’ve got the end goal. Now, in order to get what you want, you’ll need to have a step-by-step plan. Mine was a multi-phase plan. Phase 1: enter contests and get feedback. Phase 2: improve manuscript. Phase 3: Hope to final in said contests. Phase 4: Hope like hell the final judges were interested in seeing my work, etc.
Do your research
Just randomly throwing out queries isn’t efficient. You need the right names, the right way to approach them, the right submission guidelines. You also may want to keep an eye on what they’re saying. They might have a blog or be active on Twitter. All of that will help you hone your plan. I entered a specific contest because my dream agent was the final judge. My hope was that my book would final in the contest and then that she’d like me.
Listen to feedback
I sought suggestions from friends, colleagues, teachers, class-mates, first round contest judges, etc. As with anything, you take what works and discard what doesn’t, but I could not have written my book without that outside perspective.
Practice the art of patience
I am not a patient person and, while tearing out my hair and refreshing my inbox, I noticed that there’s only one letter separating Writing from Waiting. You write, you wait for feedback, you quickly make those changes, then submit to a contest, then wait. Then, if you’re lucky enough to move on to finals, you wait some more. If, several weeks later, you’re lucky enough to have a request for a full manuscript, you polish it and send it out. And wait. For every crazy, mad-dash editing session you put in, prepare for several weeks of waiting in between.
Hey, all that waiting will give you time to write another book!
It’s a long and sordid story.
First, I’m going to just put something out there, once and for all: I am obsessed with sex. Isn’t everyone, on some level? There’s a reason that sex sells. It’s exciting, voyeuristic, depraved. It’s intertwined with love, power, hate. It feels good and looks strange and everybody does it differently. We need it to survive, as a race and, whether we consciously think about it or not, it’s a part of us, inevitably linked to our growth, maturity and, I will venture to say from personal experience, childhood.
My story is also about reading and writing and how they have made me more me. Those who know me well are aware that reading has always been my distraction of choice—my parents can attest to the mountain of illicit library books collecting dust under my bed for years, not to mention the overdue fines I stuck them with upon my departure to college. Books have shaped me, from earliest childhood through today, and writing them even more so. I’ll never forget the day my father decided it was time for me to stop reading pocket romances and start reading more mature books. He took me to the mall and bought me The Catcher in the Rye, along with a book called Maia by Richard Adams. I suppose he thought that the Watership Down author was a safe, innocuous bet. If only he had read this review, he would have known that it's actually an "erotic epic."
What I discovered, as I quickly consumed that thousand page fantasy tome (which is, sadly, no longer in print), was a world of intrigue, violence and [drumroll] sex. My poor father, who had absolutely no idea of the monster he’d created with that one innocent purchase, was thrilled. He had succeeded: I was hooked on reading. I remain today an avid reader and, while over the years my tastes have certainly evolved, I am the type of person who would prefer to read something—anything—than nothing at all.
So, I’ve read a lot of books in a lot of genres and would never limit myself to only romance or erotica. In fact, authors like JRR Tolkien and PG Wodehouse are some of my favorites, because despite everything I just told you, there’s more to life than sex. But halfway through a favorite mystery or thriller—a Martha Grimes or a Robert Parker—a love interest will come along and my pulse will pick up and I’ll feel it—that thrill. Because, in the end, what turns my crank, more than finding the murderer or getting that ring or avoiding Aunt Agatha is when people fall in love. That stupid, trite, happily-ever-after.
That answers half the question—the why romance part. Erotica, though, is more personal, older history. It’s half-memories of neighborhood kids playing doctor and the weird feelings that came with those games. There’s a French film from the 1960s, based on a novel, Angelique, Marquise des Anges, about a woman who goes through a multitude of mid-17th century trials and tribulations. There’s a scene in this film where poor Angelique, who has already survived a forced marriage, amongst other things, is being paraded on the auction block, in front of an audience of lecherous men. I was just a kid when I first watched it. I had no understanding of why, but the feelings… oh the feelings were there. To this day, I remember the titillation, the excitement engendered by that particular scene.
That is the excitement that I seek to capture through my writing. It’s an exploration of things that I’ll never live through and don’t particularly need to. What happens when you bring together these two people, in this situation and throw in a little dash of chemistry? Writing erotica lets my brain answer those questions and experience those fantasies without the commitment of real life. It’s therapy.
Erotica is, by its very nature, hot. It makes you horny; or at least it should. There’s a notion that it’s filthy, dirty smut. Well, yes. But, unlike pornographic films, where every last hair (or lack thereof) is displayed in vivid Technicolor detail, the written word spells out the basic framework and the reader’s mind fills in the blanks.
There’s a scene in the series Breaking Bad, involving a bathtub, a corpse and acid. I stuck with the show until that moment, but I just couldn’t force myself to sit through such graphic violence as that scene promised. For those of you out there who don’t, or can’t, watch porn, books may just be the way forward. I can read about violence—my brain helpfully provides only those details that it can handle—and I recommend reading about sex the same way.
A final thought on ‘Mommy Porn’: Contrary to popular belief, erotica isn’t just for frustrated moms who aren’t getting any at home. It’s for anyone who recognizes that sex is actually the good part. Like holding hands and secret smiles, physical intimacy is a highlight of a relationship, the best part of the rocky road we negotiate along the way. It’s the chocolate chips and the marshmallows and the cream in the middle. So, if I’m going to write about love, well, I’m going to make it sexy, because I'm a big fan of that cream in the middle.
I am excited to say that my manuscript, Blank Canvas, finaled in a second contest, the Utah Romance Writers' Heart of the West Contest.
Crossing fingers for the final results in October!
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