Monday, November 25, 2013

Five Tips for Putting Out an Anthology

This month on The Rockville 8 we've had a lot of fun talking about anthologies (collections of writings by various authors, usually short stories or novellas). Evie Owens introduced us to her mistresses and shared inside info about her new release Once and Forever. And Keely Thrall discussed the things she loves about reading a good anthology.

Last year I was lucky enough to participate in a holiday-themed anthology called A Spirited Season, with my good pals Karen Cantwell and Laura Lucas. We each contributed two stories with a Christmas paranormal theme, packaged 'em up and put 'em on sale. (Side note: A Spirited Season is available on Kindle, Nook and Kobo, and all proceeds go to the Children's Miracle Network.)

So let's say you're a writer, and you want to get some work out there, but you're not sure if you're ready to publish your novel (either indie publishing or traditional publishing). Putting out an anthology is a great way to get yourself some exposure and let readers know who you are. Plus, it's fun!

If you're interested in putting together an anthology, here are a few tips to get you started:

1) Grab some friends. Well, don't literally grab them, but talk to your writing buddies and see who might want to participate. Make sure that your anthology partners are willing to help with the extraneous, administrative functions involved. (More on that in step three.)

2) Pick a theme. One of the challenges of an anthology is the differences in author writing styles. Sometimes a reader falls in love so hard with one particular author's style that it can be jarring to finish one short story and go right into another. Having a theme eases the transition and adds to the fun! For A Spirited Season, my friends and I obviously chose Christmas. While holiday themes are fun and provide a little bit of help with marketing, they do have a limited sales life, as you'll only really be able to push the marketing at a certain time of year. But whatever your theme, make it one you all love and can enjoy writing about.

3) Divide the labor. Okay, in a nutshell, here is a list of non-writing-related tasks that will need to be done to put out your anthology:
  • Cover design.
  • Conversion to e-book formats.
  • Uploading.
  • Distribution of funds.
How you divide the labor and distribute the funds is of course up to you! Each one of these tasks comes with its own need for special skills, so don't be afraid to hire a professional. Karen, Laura and I each paid for part of the work that needed to be done, then our expenses were reimbursed before the funds were distributed to charity.

4) Write, edit, proofread. Whether you hire a professional editor and proofreader, or trade off and co-edit each other's stories, make sure you're putting out your best work. Short stories give you fewer words with which to impress the reader, so make 'em count!

5) Upload and announce! Once your anthology is available for purchase, let the announcement ring from the highest mountaintop! Nothing is more fun than seeing your work in print, and nothing is more rewarding than hearing from readers who loved it. So, enjoy!

Have you ever participated in an anthology? What was your experience like?

Monday, November 18, 2013

For the Love of a Good Anthology

I am an unabashed fan of anthologies. Why do I love them? Let me count the ways...

First - Discoverability

I love sitting down with one, stomach all aflutter with anticipation. The promise of a cozy, quick immersion in the talent of one of my favorite authors makes me grin. But it's the prospect of finding a new-to-me-and-just-waiting-to-be-discovered writer that has me sinking into my reading chair, squirming into that just-right spot, ready to dive for a few hours of reading bliss.

I've "discovered" some amazing talent by taking a chance on an anthology. Linda Howard - "Lake of Dreams," anyone? Anne Stuart, Carla Kelly, Eileen Wilks, Cait London, Katherine Stone, Mary Blayney, Lori Foster, MaryJanice Davidson, Cherise Sinclair, Stacia Kane. By taking a chance - and knowing I might have to kiss some frogs along the way - I opened myself up to wonderful new worlds.

Second - Re-readability

I love to re-read stories that have touched my heart. And the absolute best thing about a story from an anthology is you can have that emotional catharsis in relatively short order.

When I want to laugh, I'll go to Cait London's "The Nine-Month Knight" in Maternity Leave.

When I want to sweet and funny and lovely, I'll head for Eileen Wilks' "The Proper Love" in All I Want for Christmas.

For flat out emotion, you just can't beat Linda Howard's "The Way Home," in A Bouquet of Babies. Tears my heart out each time I crack that story open.

Third - Craftsmanship

Okay, so this reason is less about a love of reading and more about a love of writing. Creating a world, believable characters, a strong central conflict and a happily ever after is challenging enough in a regular length story. Cutting the word count means you really need to up your game and make every word matter. Reading a tight, well-honed short story is likely immersing myself in a master class of craft. Yum.

Fourth - Themes!

The last reason I'm drawn to anthologies is that I'm a sucker for theme - and how each of us interprets a given them in our own unique ways. Chocolate (check out Lisa Cache's "Eliza's Gateau"). Christmas. Father's Day. Halloween. Kink. Bad Boys. Valentine's Day (duh!). DIY for the paranormal set.  The Rockville 8 is planning our own anthology with a moon theme tying us all together. There's no end to the themes that can tie otherwise seemingly disparate stories into one happy gift for readers.

And speaking of gifts, consider giving one of these to your nearest and dearest romance reader (and that person just may be you!).

A Spirited Season - with The Rockville 8's own Misha Crews!

If Regency Christmas is your go to theme, try this collection of Carla Kelly tales.

For folks with a sweet tooth AND a jones for Christmas, try The Sugar Cook Sweetheart Swap with three delicious stories from Donna Kaufmann, Kate Angell and Kimberly Kincaid.

And while there's no Christmas in this rich collection, it's still a fantastic read and a perfect gift of the heart: Once and Forever - a new release that introduces the R8's Evie Owens to the world!

 Friends - what about you? Fan or foe of the anthology? Do you have a favorite? One lucky commenter will receive a copy of Once and Forever!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Meet My Mistresses...

Yes, it's true. The wise and beloved Rockville 8 is my first—and for a long time, only—critique group. But a couple of years ago I took a mistress. Four mistresses, to be exact.

When the Lifesavers invited me to join them I was flattered and more than a little mystified—four of my favorite authors, inviting me to work with them! And when, almost a year ago, they suggested we should publish an anthology of novellas, I was excited and more than a little terrified. I wasn't certain I could do it. But I did! And here's proof:

Available now on Amazon: Once and Forever, by Mary Blayney, Elaine Fox, Emelle Gamble, Lavinia Kent, and Evie Owens.

One lucky commenter here will win a copy of the new anthology, because my mistresses are the best! And as a way of introducing them to you, I asked them three important and revealing questions!

1) Many writers have a soundtrack they listen to when they write, or songs that they associate with their stories. Name one song that's associated with your novella (or the writing of it) in the anthology.

Mary Blayney: I don’t listen to music when I am writing. The fewer distractions the better for me. But there is always a song I associate with a story. In Playing for Keeps it’s Holding Out for a Hero  by Bonnie Tyler. I first heard it in the movie Footloose and for certain stories of mine, Captain’s Mermaid, Lover's Kiss and If Wishers Were Horses: in the anthology Mirror Mirror, it’s in my head the whole time which is not quite as weird as it sounds. Good thing I love the song.

Elaine Fox: I used to write with music, and sometimes now I’ll turn something on (usually classical—nothing with words) to create a mood. But I always end up turning it off once I get going. Seems I need total silence for my words to start flowing—and to keep flowing. But if I were to have had a soundtrack for this novella I’m pretty sure it would have gone something like this.

Emelle Gamble: In my novella Duets Actress Molly Harper, after a terrible ambush by the paparazzi, hides out in her best friend’s truck by laying on the seat and covering her face. The radio is playing Moondance, her favorite song. But it’s not a marvelous night for anything. That Van Morrision classic is also one of my favorites. It’s all about the night, the ‘fantabulous’ night when everything is right. Duets, on the other hand, explores a whole lot of nights that are anything but perfect. As a writer, those are the nights that interest me, because I think those are the ones we all live through until, if we’re lucky, we get to the one where “…all the nights magic seems to whisper and hushAnd all the soft moonlight seems to shine in your blush…”  I guess I’m just a bittersweet kind of girl, because for me, the bitter does make the sweet sweeter.

Lavinia Kent: I can’t. I am probably the world’s most unmusical person and don’t listen to music when I write. I find it very distracting. I do occasionally listen to the Benedictine monks’ CHANT, but I can’t say that it’s what inspires my hot and heavy romance. I really wanted to make something up because I’ve always longed for some musical understanding, but my mind faltered at even attempting such a task.  Now if we were to talk movies or other books...

Evie Owens: One of my favorite places to write is the local Panera's. I can't write in silence, all alone in my room. I can't listen to music with words. So at Panera's there's stuff going on around me but it isn't my stuff, so I don't have to pay attention to any of it. I can just get lost in my story. There is a song, though, that sort of set the mood for Erin and Martin—Bloodstream, by Stateless. You Vampire Diaries fans might remember this song from one memorable Damon-Katherine kiss on the old front porch...

2) Tell us about the romantic hero in your life.

Mary Blayney: The conventional and honest answer is that my husband Paul is the romantic hero in my life. The only one for more than forty years. He is calm to my storm, steadfast to my mercurial and sometimes as annoying as he is lovable. But if we put in "fictional" romantic hero, the list is a lot more fun. My favorite heroes are those who have honor at the core of their being. On that list: Aral Vorkosigan and his son, Miles from the series by Lois McMaster Bujold; Roarke (and Eve Dallas) from JD Robb’s In Death series; Martin, the Psychic Detective from Evie Owens novella of the same name;  and Michael Garrett from my own Lover's Kiss. The list goes on but I am sure I have already exceeded the word count.

Elaine Fox: Mmmmm, my romantic hero… Well, aside from being Argentinean with a lovely Spanish accent {{sigh}}, he’s kind and he’s handsome. He’s supportive and funny, intelligent and strong. He’s also a total pain in the butt when I’m not putting my writing first and he doesn’t let the distractions that lure me away pass without comment. (But that’s a good thing, right? No really—I’m asking.) He also puts up with my moods, my problems, and my dog, and he can make me laugh at even the most unexpected times, and that is a good thing. But there are many literary romantic heroes in my life, and the ones I turn to most frequently are Jane Austen’s. Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightley top the list, but I’m also very fond of Edward Ferrars, Col. Brandon, and Captain Wentworth. Men with strength and spine, honesty, dignity and character. There is nothing more attractive to me than a guy you can depend on!

Emelle Gamble: I could write 500 words in my sleep about my real romantic hero, ‘Phil-the-fist’ who was a love at first sight love, and continues to be. He’s real, he’s wonderful, and he’s mine. But the ‘romantic hero in my life’ that keeps me awake is that guy in my head who populates my past and present storylines. I feel like I keep re-writing him, stalking him, trying to get him as real to me as ‘Phil-the-fist’. He’s complicated. He’s quiet and watchful and you can count on him. He’s sexy and elusive and I don’t know what he’s going to do next. He needs the love of a good woman to feel complete, not be complete. The search continues…

Lavinia Kent: My husband.  Yes, I know it’s the typical, expected answer (and he also serves as my proofreader, so I don’t dare say anything else), but if you could have seen him at the moment that I first read this question you’d realize it wasn’t quite so typical.  The poor man had a cold and not a pretty one, a red drippy one. And he is not a good patient. He would rather suffer (not quietly) than walk the fifty feet to get his cold meds. Which means that I run back and forth on little errands, patting his head, making his tea and honey, telling him I am very sorry that he feels this way.  But the thing of it is, even as his nose drips and clogs at the same time he makes my heart go pitter-pat. And that is the core of romance to me. (And I should add, the fact that he’d do the same for me, is six-foot three with fabulous hazel eyes, fixes my grammar and let’s me write about him certainly doesn’t hurt.)

Evie Owens: Being single, this just seems cruel and I blame Mackenzie Lucas, because she insisted it was an important question. But if I reframe it to include fictional heroes, then I've got just two words for you: Lloyd Dobler.

And the last, but possibly the most important question of them all:
3) Robert Downey, Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, or Jonny Lee Miller. 

Mary Blayney: Jonny Lee Miller is my favorite Sherlock Holmes. I suspect that’s because I “know” his Sherlock better than I know the others. Cumberbatch is great onscreen or TV, but I cannot stand the way he portrays Holmes, or maybe it’s the way Holmes is written in that series. Robert Downey, Jr is an actor I will watch in almost anything but I find his Holmes more irritating than sympathetic. Building sympathy (empathy?) for the character is the key in my “affection” for Holmes by Miller. Is that too intellectual? To reduce it to a more basic level: for hotness it would have to be Robert Downey Jr. 

Elaine Fox: Sherlock-wise, absolutely Benedict Cumberbatch. He’s smart, weird, intense and, IMO, very very funny. 

Emelle Gamble: Really? I’m not choosing any man who has slept with Angelina Jolie. I mean, come on. So Jonny Lee Miller, her first husband, does not make my list. Cumberbatch? Yes, love love love me some modern Sherlock, but I’m not sleeping with the dude. Have you seen his apartment? Which leaves, of course, the right answer. HA! Robert Downey Jr….bad, a little mad, and dangerous to know. Take a deep breath and lose yourself in those all-wondering and devouring eyes. I’m betting the trip would be bumpy, but worth it.

Lavinia Kent: When I first got this question it didn’t specify that the question was best Sherlock—and I didn’t quite put it all together.  My answer was a little different then—and you’ll just have to guess about that answer. [Note from Evie: Or ask her in the comments!] I did enjoy the first Robert Downey, Jr. movie.  I thought it was great fun and I LOVE Steampunk.  And if the question was, “Who’s the best shirtless Sherlock?” then Jonny Lee Miller would win in less time than it takes to blink. But for best Sherlock, I can only go with Cumberbatch. The oddness of his character rings so true to me. I find myself believing that his mind could actually work that way. And I love that I can forget that his Sherlock is set in the modern day and that, even wielding cell phones and computers, he still has the Victorian edge of the original. I love them all, but if I can only have one, Cumberbatch is my only choice.  No question.

Evie Owens: Benedict Cumberbatch. Of course.

Comment to win Once and Forever.

Do it now!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Let's Kick Some Keyboard!

Question: So, ah, if it's not too personal, what's your NaNoWriMo word count today? 

If you answered 10,000, please leave the room and don't come back.  If you answered 5,000, you can stay where you are but for God's sake be quiet. If you answered less than 5,000 (perhaps you said: zip, zero, zilch?) then I've got good news for you: 

Saturday, November 9 is Writing Marathon Day.  Woohoo!

Clear the calendar, take the kids to Grandma's, and send your husband to a sports-beer event. It's time to kick some keyboard.

How many words can you string together in 24 hours? Heck, they don't even have to make total sense! In past NaNo years, I've written stellar passages like this:

It was a dark and stormy night, (ah, can't use that, but setting should be dark, moody, dangerous). The car Camaro--red Camaro-- cruised to a halt outside the seedy bar. Electra parked and stared moodily ahead.  She had surprise on her side and the cool steel of a INSERT NAME OF GUN HERE heavy in her pocket.  Jason Bourn Jason Nourn Jason McNeil Jase would atone for his sins today or, she thought grimly, she would die trying to make that happen. In a swift movement, before she lost the little courage she had, Electra swung out of the car and walked, strode, marched, stalked …. 

Well, you get the picture. It's not supposed to be perfect or even totally coherent. A few years back, I took myself off on a writing weekend. I wrote almost every waking hour of the 2.5 days I had. The story, bundled up inside me for months, flowed out like a river of words I couldn't halt. Finally, I tried to take a break and went to a local diner, but soon was scribbling the next scene on the paper placemat under my lunch. By the end of the weekend, I knew the characters and structure of my story. I didn't know whether Electra would stride, march or walk but I knew the important stuff: the who, the what, the where, and the why.
On Saturday you can stay at home and write in your PJs all day, or hang out with like-minded writers. In the DC region, there are three in-person events planned and more may pop up as the week progresses. Click here to see the full calendar. If you can't attend an in-person event but want some company, check in with NaNo for livestreaming or join the #NaNoThon on Twitter for updates, challenges, and giveaways.

Paired with this day of writing mania is a focus on fundraising. National Novel Writing Month is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that believes your story matters.  NaNo has set a fundraising goal of $50,000 (hmmm, that number seems familiar) and suggests you put a financial value on the length of time you're going to write and donate that amount. And, there are PRIZES!!!!

    Why donate? Well, first, hosting a month-long writing event ain't cheap. NaNoWrimo needs to raise approximately $1.2 million to put on the 2013 NaNoWriMo and other programs.  Second, when you donate to National Novel Writing Month, you help bring free creative writing programs to more than 500,000 kids and adults in approximately 100 countries, 2,000 classrooms, 600 libraries, and 500 NaNoWriMo regions every year.

    So, this November 9, put your money and your word count where your mouth is. Give to NaNoWriMo and pound those little plastic keys until they sing for you!

    We'd like to hear from you about your NaNo experience and if you're going to a Saturday event. Tell us all about it.