Thursday, November 8, 2018

What My Dog Has Taught Me About Life

Dobby is a 15-year-old mouthy miniature pinscher with cataracts in his eyes, a limp from being run over by a car a decade ago and the heart of a lion... in the body of a puppy.

While he barks bloody murder to get anyone to help him down off the couch, he can still jump up to the couch when he thinks no one’s watching. He sleeps a lot now but his ears still perk up at the sound of any crumb hitting the ground and while he can’t really run like he used to, he still canters like a mini stallion on his infrequent walls.
He avoids the outdoors if it’s raining, refuses to eat soft foods despite not having most of his teeth and gets in your face to sniff you when he can’t see you, which is most of the time now as his eyes cloud with cataracts. But he still gets playful, crouching down, his butt and tail wagging when he’s offered a snack and prancing around my husband’s buddies while they play cards in hopes of a few table scraps.
As I get older and the body aches and pains start, I look at my dog and think, “if he can still jump up on the couch, I can keep scrubbing this tub.” Okay, probably not the best analogy, but he’s an inspiration in many ways. Here are some ways he's taught me to live life a bit better.
  1. Don't let life get you down. Dobby couldn't care less about your political leanings, who you sleep with, what church you attend, or how you identify, he just wants you to sit down on the couch beside him, so he can get some of your warmth. It's not that he's ambivalent about the world his masters live in, he'd rather focus on the more important things in life, like how much time his Momma is going to spend on her Netflix binge of the British Baking Show, so he can stay curled up, catching some much-needed sleep beside her.
  2. He works hard at not working hard. He spends his days looking for ways and areas around the house where he can sleep comfortably. He knows sleep is a very important part of his health regimen, and he commits himself to it with laser focus.
  3. He doesn't let obstacles get in his way. Dobby will walk all over the laptop, remote control, books and papers strewn on the sofa to get to his sleeping corner. He refuses to eat soft food preferring to crunch on hard kibble with the remaining teeth he has left even if it takes him twice as long to eat.
He’s crotchety, ornery, ridiculously divaesque in his ways, but he’s still playful, loving, and at times, even helpful. I mean, he can still hear, so he’s sure to let you know every time the neighbor has company, steps outside or the breeze blows any leaves across our lawn. This is still his castle, after all and his instincts are to defend it any way he can. If that means barking at 3 a.m. to let everyone know he heard a sound somewhere, then so be it. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Why We Need More Male Friendship Books

Photo by Papaioannou Kostas on Unsplash
I'm a sucker for friendship stories. If a book has a strong, core friendship that lasts throughout the story, it's a good chance you've hooked me as a reader. Some of my favorite stories are adventure stories where a group of friends help each other achieve an impossible feat or where the main character defeats their nemesis with the help of their friends.

Photo by Aman Shrivastava on Unsplash
But while good friendships make for good stories, we don't encourage male friendships to thrive beyond childhood, and we don't encourage physical affection between them to extend beyond puberty. We tend to sexualize their bonds instead, creating rifts and establishing an environment of toxic masculinity. We tell our boys to be boys, to stop crying, to stop feeling or showing emotion after they reach a certain age (an age arbitrarily chosen by parents or the community they're raised in, by the way). We teach our boys that if they still hug or kiss their male friends, they're acting like girls, or equate affection to a homosexual relationship.

By rejecting anything stereotypically feminine, men and boys are taught to reject an essential part of themselves, something that is to be valued. - Michael Carley, The Good Men Project

The truth is, we learn more about ourselves through the media than in any other way. Movies like Stand By Me, Goonies, and The Sandlot show us how boys can be friends, holding hands, hugging and even kissing on the cheek for comfort but soon as those boys grow up to be adults, their affection shifts. Their relationships are shown as distant while close.

So where are the books exploring adult male friendships that show men loving each other as they did when they were little? Why is it so difficult to show adult male friendships in genre fiction without adding a romantic component to their love? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for romance novels featuring same-sex pairings and don't ever want them to go away. I want more of them, in fact. Would love to see them on the shelves at Walmart and Target stores across America but that's a topic for another post. I want to find more of those stories and encourage storytellers to give us those great adventure stories where men have friendships that have lasted a lifetime; where they are affectionate with one another on page as adults.

We need more male friendship stories in adult genre fiction. What are some of your favorite books featuring adult male friendships?

Monday, July 30, 2018

Updating my #MSWL and expanding my categories

Everyone knows I'm a huge fan of romance (and if you don't know, now you know). I read it for pleasure and for work. It's my favorite bookshelf to peruse while at the bookstore and of the 166 books read on my Kindle, about 80% of them are romance novels. But what a lot of people don't know is that I found the romance novel shelf late in my reading career (and how awesome is it to have a career where reading is a requirement). I cut my "reading" teeth on the horror, thriller and science fiction shelves while in junior high school. I devoured books like The Servants of Twilight and The Face of Fear by Dean Koontz, the entire Scarpetta series (which I'm now woefully behind on and must remedy) and Stephen King's It. That led me to Bram Stoker and Anne Rice with terrifyingly beautiful vampires who crossed gender and stereotype lines seamlessly.

In high school, I got bitten by the science fiction/fantasy bug as my English teachers introduced me to Ursula LeGuin, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov and Madeleine L'Engle. I'd walk into my English class and find them reading some paperback with a tattered cover depicting some strange and wondrous world and immediately ask what it was about. Most of the time, they'd hand me the book when they were done with it and ask me to write a book report on it for extra credit.

My reading expanded in college with the discovery of urban fantasy authors like Sherrilyn Kenyon, Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews and Patricia Briggs. I fell in love with the worlds they created, the kickass heroines and the love stories they wove through their plot. It inevitably led me back to romance where I could find all of the genres I loved within a romantic arc that delivered on the promise of a happily ever after no matter how dark the work seemed.

But I miss those days of reading books that made my heart speed up with fear, made my mind wander at the infinite possibilities of worlds and stories within the realm of the impossible or soon-to-be possible.

All of this to say, that I'm ready to expand my categories for queries and will begin actively acquiring more horror, thriller, suspense and science fiction works.

So what am I looking for?

  • Adult and YA Horror with a focus on works that twist a classic trope into a contemporary setting. Give me terrifying works where Bram Stoker's vampires are secret service to a Romerian zombie in the White House (then again, this could be less fiction than I thought). I want gothic horror, classic monsters reimagined. Scare me and thrill me at the same time. I dare you.
  • Science Fiction/Fantasy with a focus on works that blend the genres in new and inventive ways; where magic and science collide. Books like Binti by Nnedi Okorafor do this beautifully. I'd love to see some manuscripts for both adult and YA SFF that play with theme and form. Love hard science and space opera, galactic battles, spacefaring bandits and adventure stories set in space!
  • Thriller/Suspense with a focus on psychological thrillers that really mess with your mind. Think Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and A Killer's Mind by Mike Omer. I love strong female leads and if it's #OwnVoices or written by author of color, even better!
  • Mystery and Crime fiction with that whodunit you're chasing to uncover in a small town or metropolis. I like cozy mysteries but I LOVE murder mysteries with a thrilling pace. Would love a YA mystery featuring a diverse cast of kids solving a crime!
If you have one of these now and ready to query, follow my submission guidelines to query me. I'm excited to see what you've got in store for me!

Friday, June 15, 2018

5 Things To Know When Negotiating a Deal Sheet

Continuing my birthday-month blog series, this week, we'll go over the negotiating a Deal Sheet.

Also known as the Offer Letter, the Deal Sheet is the first step in your negotiation of a publishing contract. It is usually a one-page document attached to an email, or embedded into the email, detailing what the publisher is offering to publish the work. It is generally received after a phone conversation between the agent and the acquisitions editor (or the acquisition editor and the author) where the deal points are discussed.

Deal sheets are not a contract but they are generally a viable offer that a publisher has put on paper for the agent to take to the author and/or approve/reject on the author’s behalf. It details general points (deal points) that the publisher is willing to offer the author in exchange for the right to publish the work. It’s important to understand and review these points well before agreeing to them as these are generally the first opportunity you have to negotiate with the publisher.

If you don’t already have an agent who will negotiate the contract for you, or if you feel comfortable negotiating with a publisher on your own, here are a few things to remember before sitting down at the negotiation table:

  1. Negotiation is a dance of give and take. Set in your mind the rigid limits you’ll allow to be pushed before walking away from the table. What’s your deal-breaker? Keep that in the forefront of your mind.
  2. Do your homework. This is something you can do now. Subscribe to industry newsletters in your genre, consult with agents and other writers about the industry standard royalty rates. Ask other writers about their experience signing with their current publisher.
  3. Assume everything is negotiable. While one or two things can be non-negotiable in a contract, chances are 90% of what’s presented to you is negotiable. Doesn’t hurt to ask for everything and leave the room with more than you walked in with.
  4. While on the phone, don’t argue the small stuff and on paper, keep your tone professional instead of combative. Make a strong argument for what you want but since you’re likely not a bestselling author about to take your millions in earnings elsewhere, be aware of your lack of leverage at this point and arm yourself with knowledge about the industry (see #2 above). Propose counteroffers that are not insulting to the publisher or to your wallet.
  5. Ask for it in writing. Once the conversation is over, ask again for the revised deal sheet to be emailed to you. It should include everything you discussed in person or via phone.

- How to Be Your Own Literary Agent by Richard Curtis
- "Negotiating With a Book Publisher: 7 Deal Points to Confirm Before You Sign On The Dotted Line"

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Author Platform and Branding for Fiction Writers

It’s my birth-month and I think it only fitting that I dedicate it to launching a new blog series. This week we’ll discuss establishing an author platform and tying that your author brand. After all, readers are buying you when they look for your titles, not your publisher, or your editor, or even your adorable, Puertorican literary agent with a penchant for coffee and gifs in everything.

Aren’t platforms for nonfiction writers and 70s shoes?
An author platform is as vital to the fiction author as it is to the nonfiction author and it encompasses everything from blogs to social media presence, speaking engagements and media contacts. But simply put, platform is the “ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.” – Jane Friedman

So what’s a platform and why do you need one?
"Platform is the ability to get people to follow and find you for information and guidance." - Chuck Sambuchino, Create Your Writer Platform

It's what you do before you're published. Your platform is your visibility and your reach, or the amount of people who will amplify your message and lead sales back to you. It's about who you know and more important, who knows you? It’s not just about what you write, but the number of readers you’re able to secure for your upcoming title. Editors and agents like to see that authors are able to build (and retain) an audience, which starts with a solid platform.

What are you known for? What's your brand?
In order to build an audience, you should identify your author brand. Start wide, then narrow it down to the niche or specialty that sets you apart from the others.

  • Are you a romance, mystery, horror, science fiction, fantasy writer?
    • Identify this first as it will determine what your overall brand needs to be. 
  • What promise are you making to your readers?
    • HEAs for all? Or are you more of a Happy For Now?
    • Death to all fan-favorite characters? Sweeping your ax like a crazed George R.R. Martin making your fans weep?
  • Then identify you niche within the broader market. What will the reader come to expect in your books that you are known for delivering? High-stakes romantic thrillers? Light BDSM erotic romance works? Small town, sweet contemporary romance novels?
    • If you are known for something specific or a distinct style of writing, include that in your brand. This is your niche and it’s what sets your brand apart.
Now where is your audience for that brand?
Find out where most of the "fans" for your brand hang out. Where the readers of your genre tend to shop for their books and when in doubt, ask other writers and published authors in your genre. It's a great way to network with other authors who could lead to expanding your reach.

All roads lead back to you.
Once you’ve identified your brand and potential audience, make sure all roads lead back to you.  Your website, social media, promo should match your niche.  I tell my clients to make sure that their website is updated and all social media links, as well as buy links are available on their website. Have all links open in another tab or window so guests can return to your website when they’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of links your titles are bound to lead them through. You'll notice all links in this blog open in a separate tab or window.

Social media is for socializing and networking!
Use your social media to create long-term connections with readers and authors alike. Engage with followers in an organic way without constantly peddling your wares. Talk about what you’re writing, what your cat is doing, the number of rooms in your house you vacuumed before sitting down to write, etc.  You want to publicize your book on social media, of course, but you don’t want to beat people over the head with it. Sell you, not just your book.

But when listing your book on social media, don’t forget to include links to where readers can buy it. Include Amazon, iBooks and BN in the US, Kobo in Canada and Europe. Make sure that your social media encourages action and INTERACTION with you.

Last but not least, remember to use social media to network for long term connections. Engage with other authors in your genre as well as editors, agents, book bloggers/reviewers, librarians, booksellers, teachers, college students and fans! Cultivate those connections because, as I said earlier, they will help expand your reach. They will help amplify your voice when it’s time but you need to create a connection with them first.

There is a lot of information on platform and branding online and in books by amazing leaders in the industry. Here are a few that I used to put this post together.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

5 Things Every Query Letter Should Have

You've likely spent a few months revising your manuscript, making sure to remove clutter words, tighten scenes, strengthen plot-lines and create kick-ass characters you're sure readers are going to love (or hate). It is now ready to go out to agents and editors in hopes of publication. But agents receive thousands of queries per month, how do you make yours stand out?

First and foremost, remember that your query is a letter and should be addressed as such. You can address the agent with the standard Dear Saritza, or Ms. Saritza (though I prefer the informal Hi Saritza to Ms. or Mrs.) but DO NOT start your query with To Whom It May Concern, Dear Agent or Ladies and Gentlemen. Our names are everywhere, take the time to personalize your query and make the effort to show the agent you've done your research.

I recommend reading How To Write A Query Letter by Rachelle Gardner as the first stop in your research. Her blog is a an invaluable resource to aspiring authors, so make sure to bookmark her site and spend some time learning about the transition from writer to author.

Now, I can't speak for (nor do I dare to) any other agent but I can tell you what I look for and hope to see in the queries I receive. It starts with the voice! Hook me from the get-go and make sure to include information about your character, plot, setting, conflict and resolution.

  1. Character(s) - who is your main character? What's important about them that I need to know right away? If it's a romance, introduce the main character, then their love interest.
  2. Distinctive Plot - give me a glimpse of your plot or the events in your work that set it apart from others in your genre and this is where you get to make your voice shine. It should read like what you'd like the back cover of your book to say.
  3. Setting - where are you taking me? Time and place are important to the genre and it can be achieved with one sentence: The barrio is no place for secrets.
  4. Conflict - what are the stakes? Why should I care about this book? Make it compelling and make me want to devour the work in one sitting.
  5. Resolution - I represent romance authors. I need to see the Happily Ever After or Happy For Now in your query and clearly represented in your synopsis. But even outside of romance, I like to see that the book provides the reader with a clear resolution to the conflict.
These don't have to be in any specific order but I like to see all five in a standard query letter. Now, this is not true of every agent, so make sure to research.

You can find my submission guidelines on our agency website here.