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.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Women's Fiction in Romance #MSWL

I read a lot of Romance novels. It's my not-so-guilty pleasure and one I'm never ashamed to speak about or seen enjoying but it wasn't always the case.

While living at home (with my very religious mother), I had to sneak my romance novels (and any horror or suspense books) into my room or leave them in my band locker to read during lunch or between class periods and band practice so my mother wouldn't throw them away. But many of the Women's Fiction titles I'd bring home, my mother simply glanced at the cover and "paid me no mind." What's interesting is that some of the WF titles I'd read in the late eighties/early nineties while in school were steamier (and sometimes scarier) than some of the romance novels, horror books and suspense titles I'd be shamed for reading at home.

In Women's Fiction, as a young woman, I'd find more main characters that looked like me where romance was still very much about the love and pleasure of the Caucasian, heterosexual, cisgender female finding her happily ever after with the equally labeled man of her dreams, in titles like Waiting to Exhale and The Joy Luck Club, I saw women of color dealing with heartache, abuse, oppression, and shame, then standing up for themselves to change the world around them. Sometimes there was a handsome man courting them, sometimes there were sex scenes, abusive scenes but like in the romance novels, there was hope and a future for the heroine.

In the 80s and 90s, there seemed to be a very distinct line between the two genres (at least on the shelves of the library sales I'd shop as a teen). Today, that line between Women's Fiction and Romance is blurring (if the Goodreads genre lists are any indication) and allowing for a greater crossover for authors whose works fit both the romance formula as well as what the Romance Writers of America organization defines women's fiction to be: "a commercial novel about a woman on the brink of life change and personal growth. Her journey details emotional reflection and action that transforms her and her relationships with others, and includes a hopeful/upbeat ending with regard to her romantic relationship."

So, all of this is to say that I'd love to see more of that crossover in the queries I'm receiving. Do you have a Sophie Kinsella meets Debbie Macomber? A Terry McMillan meets Beverly Jenkins? An empowering tale of a woman getting her company AND her man? I'd love to see it! Follow my submission guidelines and send me your query today.