Sunday, October 18, 2009

How I Got My Agent: The Accidental Encounters

In the final edition of How I Got My Agent, here is my story. I met my agent by accident - twice. But first, a little background about my writing history.

Several years ago, my first book did very well in contests and racked up lots of requests, but it didn't sell. After a trip back to college and a few years establishing my marketing career, I started my second Regency historical romance. By now, I'd learned far more about craft and the business of writing, but I traveled 70% of the time in the US and Europe. The constant jet lag was a significant barrier to my writing goals. So I negotiated with my manager to cut out most of the travel. Then I took a vacation. Three weeks later, I finished my second book, which was then titled, THE DUCHESS COMPETITION.

My second book also did very well in contests. My goal was to get a great agent, so when friends invited me to tag along to a conference, I decided to go. I signed up for appointments, but was unable to get one with Lucienne Diver because her slots were filled. That night, the conference held a dinner at a local restaurant. My buddy Jo Anne Banker & I got lost. Needless to say, we arrived late. The keynote speaker met us and then realized she'd only saved one seat for Jo Anne. The speaker was horrified, but I told her not to worry. I don't know a stranger, so I strode off in search of new best friends.

There was only one vacant chair next to an agent. I'm an extrovert, but even I was a bit nervous when I approached Lucienne Diver. She gave me a warm welcome. To my surprise, Lucienne asked me what I wrote. I said Regency historical romance and shut my mouth. I believed she only asked to be polite. Then she asked me what my book was about. I gave her a sheepish look and said, "Oh, it's the bachelor in Regency England, minus the hot tub and camera crew." She whipped out her card and requested a partial. I couldn't believe my good fortune. Then we started chatting and hit it off. We’d traveled to some of the same places in Europe and swapped funny stories. After the conference, I sent her the partial and not long afterwards, she requested the complete.

Fast forward to another conference. While riding an escalator, I heard someone call out my name. I looked back and saw a familiar face. Yes, it was Lucienne. She asked about the manuscript, and I told her I was doing revisions. I'd found a flaw in the book. With my first book, I’d learned a lot because I’d done revisions for an editor without promise of contract. That first time, I was too inexperienced to do justice to the revisions (I’d only been writing for a little over a year). This time around, I was armed with far more knowledge, and I was determined to get it right. I believed too much in my story to send out anything but my very best work. Lucienne and I talked for a bit, and I wondered if this was some kind of sign (cue eerie music). What are the odds of meeting an agent accidentally - twice?

I returned home energized and finished those revisions. Then I sent the book off to requesting agents, including Lucienne. Soon afterwards, something unexpected happened. Three agents offered representation.

Of course, I was excited and flattered. It's a good problem to have, but it's also terrifying because you have to choose. I knew this was one of the most important career decisions I would ever make. How did I do it? I compared and contrasted each of them. I also did additional research. Here are some of the key points I investigated:

  • Their styles of communication. I wanted an agent who replied in a timely manner and also someone who listened to my goals.
  • How and to whom they envisioned submitting my manuscript.
  • Their editorial feedback and whether or not it resonated with me immediately.
  • The agency contracts, especially termination clauses.
  • Their agent experience, including the number of years in business.
  • Promotional efforts for their authors.
  • Their deals on Publisher's Marketplace (# of deals, which publishers, etc.).
  • Most importantly, I spoke to at least one of their authors.

In the case of the two other agents, I knew authors they represented. I didn't know any of Lucienne's authors. So I called published authors to find out if they knew any of Lucienne's clients. None of them did, but more than one admitted they were seriously considering querying her. Finally, I asked Lucienne if I could speak to one of her clients. She referred me to her wonderful author, Michele Lang. As it turns out, Michele had also gotten multiple offers of representation and understood what a difficult decision I had to make. She gave me a thorough and objective description of how Lucienne works with her authors.

So what differentiated Lucienne and why did I choose her? She has 16 years of experience as an agent. Lucienne has a stellar reputation in the business. Her move to The Knight Agency also swayed my decision because the agency is very well established and really promotes their authors. Plus, Lucienne promotes her authors on her blog. Speaking of promo, I'd learned from Michele that Lucienne went above and beyond at one conference by making a promotional opportunity available to her authors. And remember my one-sentence pitch to Lucienne? She got me at hello.

In addition to these tangible factors, I listened to my instincts. You see, I believe things happen for a reason.

Lucienne has exceeded my expectations over and over again. Working with her is a true partnership. She listens to my goals, provides guidance, and makes sure I'm involved/informed about all aspects of my career. I am so pleased with how quickly she responds. She emphasizes there is no such thing as too many questions. So I never hesitate to call or email. And she’s great at brainstorming ideas. In particular, I like that she's a creative thinker and makes opportunities happen. Not a day goes by that I don’t pinch myself at my good fortune. She’s the perfect agent for me.

Best of all, we sold that book in a three-book deal to Grand Central in June 2009!

Merci beaucoup, Agent Awesome Sauce!

May the magic romance fairies be with all of you!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

How I Got My Agent: Guest Blog with Lara Chapman

Welcome to another edition of How I Got My Agent. Lara Chapman, a fellow member of the West Houston chapter, recently signed with an agent and graciously agreed to guest blog today.

Welcome, Lara. Tell us a bit about yourself, your book, and your agent.
This is my first guest-blog and I'm very excited. I write Young Adult Contemporary Fiction. My agent is Holly Root with the Waxman Literay Agency. The title of my book is FLAWLESS (a Cyrano love story with a modern-day twist).

How long have you been writing?
Three years.

Along the way to representation, did you change subgenres?
Yes! I began writing adult contemporary romantic suspense because that’s what I liked to read. What I found, though, was that my voice was too immature for an adult heroine (as pointed out on several occasions by contest judges) so I did some research and read a ton of YA books before making the switch. There’s been no turning back since!

How many books did you write before signing with your agent?
Two adult contemporary romances, then two YA novels. The third YA novel was FLAWLESS.

What steps did you take to find your agent?
I actually queried pretty widely in the beginning. I made a list of the agents who repped my favorite YA authors and started with them. One of those agents was Jenny Bent (agent to tres extraordinaire YA authors, Tera Lynn Childs and Stephanie Hale). Jenny liked my writing, but didn’t have time to give it the attention she thought it deserved, so she referred me to Holly, who had previously worked as Jenny’s assistant and had recently moved to the Waxman Agency as an agent.

How did you go about researching agents?
While I definitely spent plenty of time trolling the internet for information – especially Agent Query and Publisher’s Marketplace. I found the most useful research was identifying agents that repped authors I enjoyed reading and thought my writing resembled. Once you see the list of authors an agent has signed and later sold, you get a feel of their interests and the type of voice that catches their attention.

What were some of the most important characteristics you were seeking in an agent?
Communicative – I really wanted an agent that stayed in communication and was accessible. Because I teach full time, it was imperative that my agent be email friendly as most of my communication takes place after working hours. I knew from the communication I’d had with Holly when I’d queried her with my first two YA novels that she was that kind of communicator.

Credibility – We all want an agent that has credibility within the industry. I knew I wanted an agent that was actively selling books in my genre because that meant she had contacts in the YA publishing market. It also meant she knew what editors were looking for!

Did you have more than one offer of representation?
Holly was my only offer of representation, and it was truly the only one I wanted. I just “knew” she was the one. Our personalities clicked, she was easy to talk to, and I trusted her advice implicitly. The backstory on my relationship with Holly is long… as in 2 ½ years long. I would query her, she’d ask for the partial, then the full. Twice she rejected me, but you could tell it just pained her to pass, even though it was the right thing to do (much as I hate to admit it). She’d offer some advice about how to make the next manuscript bigger and better. The term “high concept” was mentioned frequently, and we all know how elusive that term can be! During those 2 ½ years, I’d make pitch appointments with Holly when we were at the same conference and just talk about the industry. Keeping in touch was key to developing our relationship.

Now tell us about the day you got the call saying I'd love to represent you!
Holly emailed me on Monday afternoon (on the first day of school, which is crazy for teachers everywhere!) and asked if I’d be available to chat the following afternoon with the note that she was “so happy with the work” I’d done on the manuscript. I quickly replied with a manic YES and spent the next 24 hours obsessing if this would be “the call” or if she was planning to let me down gently. When she called the following day, 20 fifth graders had just returned to my classroom from PE, sweaty, stinky, and well… generally just icky! I grabbed the phone off my desk, left the sweaty preteens to make wild guesses about who I was talking to, and took the call in the hallway.

There’s nothing quite like hearing an agent talk about your writing using phrases like “really hit it out of the ballpark” and “high concept” (I finally got it!) and “I’m really excited about this!” When she finally asked, “So, what do you think? You want to do this deal?” I nearly screamed! Instead, I just gushed effusively and think I got a “yes” in there somewhere. When she sent me the contract via email an hour later (See? Good communicator!), I read it at least a thousand times, making sure it was MY NAME on the paper. A copy of it is still sitting on my nightstand so I can look at it every single day! I’ve decided that August 25th is a new family holiday… aka Holly-Day… to be celebrated for many years to come!

Who was the first person you called/emailed after getting the agent call? How did you celebrate?
I texted my husband and my critique partners first thing! Next up were my sisters! Honestly, the only people that really “get” what an accomplishment signing with an agent is are other writers. Husbands, sisters, and friends are happy for you and proud of you, but your writing circle explodes in celebration! My personal celebration was pretty low key… my only requirement was that I not be required to cook or clean for 24 hours and I got what I wanted.

Finally, do you have any words of wisdom for writers?
It sounds so trite and I’ve read the same words while stifling an eye roll more than once, but it’s so true… NEVER QUIT WRITING! You can’t sell what you don’t write and that’s just the plain and simple truth. I had all but decided to toss in the towel on writing, deciding instead that maybe I should consider it a hobby, not a career. But just listen to this story… the manuscript Holly actually signed me on had been lost in her email for nearly a year! When she never responded to my partial submission, I took her silence as a polite “don’t call me, I’ll call you” brush off. Regardless, I kept tweaking the story, loving it more and more with each revision, but never querying another agent. Fast forward a year… when Holly was cleaning out her email, she saw it, loved what she read, and asked for the full. Six weeks later, she offered representation! You never know what’s just around the corner. Believe in yourself, in your story… and never, ever quit! Oh, and you might want to follow up when an agent doesn’t respond to your submission.

What a great story, Lara!

Lara's website and blog are under construction, but be sure to bookmark the sites: and

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How I Got My Agent: Guest Blog with Lark Howard

As promised, here is the next installment of How I Got My Agent featuring my West Houston chapter buddy, Lark Howard.

Welcome, Lark. Thanks for agreeing to guest blog. Please tell us a bit about yourself, what you write, and about your agent.
I've written a contemporary paranormal romance set in Paris entitled DEYROLLE. The title is the name of a real place--an elegant townhouse full of taxidermied animals. The hero, Adrien Deyrolle, is a French aristocrat with vast psychic powers including the ability to bring the animals to life. Needless to say, the frequent trips to France for research were a blast. I recently signed with Becca Stumpf, of the Prospect Agency.

Have you been previously published?
I’ve published a lot of magazine articles over the years, mostly ghost writing for architects or engineers. No novels so far……

How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing fiction since junior high when I made myself the heroine of a West Side Story inspired saga. The hero was a boy I worshipped from afar because he was actually taller than me. Most of my colorful jobs involved lots of marketing and PR writing. Then about five years ago I wrote a woman’s fiction tome to entertain myself and found my way to RWA. Writing seriously for publication? About 4 years.

Along the way to representation, did you change subgenres?
Are we counting the sci-fi fantasy I wrote right out of college? Let’s not. Since getting serious I’ve written in two genres, suspense and paranormal romance. I love suspense and have not given up on that manuscript. Frankly I'd probably be on my 3rd suspense if my critique partners, Sarah Andre and Fleury Sommers, hadn't bullied me into writing Deyrolle after the first 25 pages--the only pages I had--won a contest. I loved my premise but thought the story would be a marketing challenge because it involves psychic powers rather than the vampire/werewolf/witch/demon characters paranormal readers love. My CPs insisted the story was fresh and original and I should finish. I think it was a good change and now I have a spin-off WIP and three more stories in the series I’m dying to write.

How many books did you write before signing with your agent?
Three including the 200,000+ word woman’s fiction tucked under the bed where it will forever remain.

What steps did you take to find your agent?
I soaked up every piece of knowledge and advice I got from the wonderful authors at West Houston RWA--especially Sharie Kohler, Tera Lynn Childs and Colleen Thompson. I entered contests hoping to be discovered, attended conferences where agents talked about what they were looking for and how to submit. I pitched whenever I could—local conferences, out of town conferences, RWA National—and cold queried via email. As it turned out, the face-to-face seemed to work best for me. Several agents I met informally requested fulls and followed-up with interest in possible representation. I met Becca at a conference in Houston last fall, chatted with her at the Friday evening reception, sat at the agents' table at lunch (hey, they asked for volunteers!) then pitched in the afternoon. All three agents at the conference requested Deyrolle and I ended up sending fulls to two of the three. All that and a great program for $100!!!

What were some of the most important characteristics you were seeking in an agent?
I wanted an agent with a good agency who loved my writing and wanted to be part of my career. The business is too tough to risk your career on an agent who's less than totally gung-ho about your work. Contacts, industry savvy, understanding the business were basic requirements, of course. As was professionalism. It was also important to me that she/he represented authors outside the romance genre as well as within. My work tends to break a lot of the romance genre conventions which was an issue for some of the very romance oriented agents.

Did you have more than one offer of representation?
I had serious interest from other agents but no offers on the table…the dating with no ring sitch. Some of those I'd eliminated from consideration before I made my decision.

Now tell us about the day you got the call saying I'd love to represent you!
We'd been in contact and an email proceeded the call—an are-you-available-to-talk email—so I suspected the offer might be coming. I had my questions ready for her and we talked about the story—what she loved about it and what I was in the midst of revising. Her excitement and enthusiasm was exactly what I'd been hoping for. My decision to say yes came about halfway through the call although I had many more questions. After accepting, it struck me that I’d made a commitment to my writing in committing to my agent. From then on, writing was my career, not a hobby I hoped to turn into a career.

Who was the first person you called/emailed after getting the agent call? How did you celebrate?
I was in Pennsylvania visiting my sister/beta-reader, Cheryl, so she heard my half of the conversation. I called my husband then Sarah Andre and Fleury Sommers, my CPs who midwifed the book. I’m not sure when the Grey Goose made its appearance.

Finally, do you have any words of wisdom for writers seeking representation?
I can only repeat advice I got from some fabulous and generous authors. Write the very best book you can. While you’re agent hunting, write the next one, and the next. You never know which will catch someone’s attention. Try everything. What works for one person might not work for someone else. A lot of people get their agent through queries, some through contests, some through pitching. Unless you get your work out there, you won’t get an agent, so just do it. Submit to a lot of agents. Some will be very slow in responding, some won’t respond at all and other will send rejections. And a few agents will show interest. It’s business for them, not a personal thing, so toughen up and keep submitting.

Thanks so much for sharing your story, Lark!

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Business Savvy Author

Stay tuned for the next edition of How I Got My Agent with debut author Lark Howard. Meanwhile, here's a post to tide you over. Let me know your thoughts!

After nine years working as a market research analyst for a F500 corporation, I've learned valuable lessons about professionally managing my day career. I apply those lessons to my writing career as well. Here are my tips to become a business savvy author.

You are your own public relations manager.
Every time you speak or post on the Internet, you are essentially putting out your own press release. What you say and how you say it affects your reputation as an author. Consider how you want agents, editors, booksellers, other authors, and readers to view you as an author. Act accordingly.

In marketing, perception is reality.
In focus groups, I've witnessed the shock of engineers and product managers when they hear respondents' erroneous perceptions of a product. I always tell them Perception is Reality. What that means is that it will take a great deal of work and positive messaging to reverse the incorrect or negative perceptions. As writers, this means avoiding shooting yourself in the foot. Recently, I've seen several authors publicize bad news such as poor reviews, low sales or rejections online. If you get a negative review, don't publicize it. Focus on the positive ones. If you are currently submitting manuscripts, don't post about recent rejections on your blog or website. Why? Because you may create a negative perception about your work to other agents or editors. Remember, perception is reality.

If you want to succeed, don't make enemies.
You may have had negative experiences with a former critique partner, agent or editor, but be wary of venting your frustrations to anyone except the most trusted friend. Be honest with yourself as well. There are always two sides to a disagreement. If a relationship goes sour, then have the strength to do what you can to either improve it or sever it if necessary. Don't burn bridges because you never know when you might have to work with that person again.

Propose solutions.
One of the most important lessons I've learned in my marketing career is to avoid complaining. My previous manager gave me some great advice. She worked hard to overcome emotional reactions because it wastes energy. Instead of complaining, focus on finding solutions to the problem. Others will view you as a team player and a positive influence.

Do network.
You don't have to be an extrovert to form relationships with other authors. Dare to reach out. In my opinion, the majority of RWA writers are friendly and helpful. If you're a newbie, volunteer for your local or online chapter. Take advantage of mentoring programs if they're available. Write favorable reviews for an author whose book you enjoyed. Give and you will receive.

Formulate a marketing plan.
Set an overall goal and then list realistic steps to achieve it. Periodically review your intermediate goals and be flexible about making necessary changes. Setting an overall goal to publish in five years is unrealistic; it may happen sooner or later. Instead, honestly evaluate your writing capabilities and let that guide you.

Kick the green-eyed monster to the curb.
At some point in your career, you'll likely feel a pang of envy over another writer's good news. It's especially difficult if you've gotten a rejection or a low contest score. But don't let that pang of envy turn into raging jealousy. We've all seen authors give back-handed compliments to a writer celebrating good news. These back-handers are the types who let jealousy fester and spend their time ripping others apart. But while they're wasting energy disparaging others, the successful author is working hard on her next project. Develop strategies to deal with the inevitable disappointments in this writing business and keep your focus on your own career.

Ask for what you want.
If you don't ask, you'll never get it. This particular subject highlights the importance of having a business savvy agent. Sometimes what you ask for is inadvisable. Other times, it doesn't hurt to try. In the latter case, the worst that can happen is the other party will say no.

Take control of your career.
Yes, there are aspects of the publication business that you have no control over. Lines fold, editors move to new houses, and trends change. You have two choices: whine about your misfortune or reinvent your career. Successful authors do the latter.

Dare to Submit.
Once you've polished your manuscript to the best of your ability, do your homework and then start submitting. Fear is your greatest enemy in this business.

Have the courage to say no, thank you.
There may be times in the course of your career when you will be offered an opportunity that does not align with your goals. The decision is often gut-wrenching. Take your time, ask questions, and do your research. You can only make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time. Remember, it's your career. Do what's best for you, even if it means turning down an opportunity. For the record, I've done it, and I have no regrets.

Finally, the best advice I ever got.
When I was a newbie, an editor told me something I've never forgotten. She put her fist to her heart and said, "Listen to your own inner voice."

May the Magic Romance Fairies be with You!

Friday, August 14, 2009

How I Got My Agent: Guest Blog with Sarah Andre

My West Houston RWA chapter mate and talented author Sarah Andre agreed to be my next guest blogger. If you're seeking an agent, be sure to read Sarah's journey to representation with the agent of her dreams!

Welcome, Sarah! Please tell us a bit about yourself, what you write, and about your agent.
I write Romantic Suspense. Although my first novel finaled in three contests, it has all the markings of a first novel and is now under my bed. The second novel: LOCKED, LOADED AND LYING finaled in the Lone Star, Finally A Bride, the Houston Writer's Guild and won the Linda Howard Award for Excellence in Writing. It's LOCKED, LOADED AND LYING (LLL for short) that captured my agent, the fabulous Maura Kye-Casella from the Don Congdon Agency in NY.

I majored in Creative Writing as an undergrad and won writing awards. But this is where I realized how difficult writing was and had my sites set on being a corporate big-shot, so fast forward many, many years and bottom line: life simply got in the way of writing.

In 2004, my husband took me to Italy for my 40th birthday and I swear to God, there is something in the air or water over there that inspires the artist in all of us! Even at the IAH airport on the trip out I spontaneously bought a notebook and began writing a story about an architect and an interior designer. While everyone slept through the flight I wrote and wrote and wrote, literally until my hand cramped up so badly I had to stop. No plot, scenes just flowed as I got to them...hence the discovery that I am a panster. In all 3 stories there is something of Italy or an Italian in the plot--it's my way of honoring a place that reminded me of the creative soul inside who'd waited so patiently all these years.

Along the way to representation, did you change subgenres?
When I first began writing I was an avid suspense reader- and I mean gritty, page-turning suspense, not RS. So when I opened the notebook that first day I automatically assumed that's what I'd write. Well! Out came the most cliche, over-dramatic soft contemporary romance with a misunderstanding for 400 pages instead of a conflict! A romance? No one was more shocked than me. But because it had flowed from me so naturally, I shrugged and looked up RWA and the local RWA chapters. And I picked romance books back up (I'd read romances as a teen) and read the modern evolved stories, went to workshops, writer's presentations and my second and third stories are solid, tense RS.

How many books did you write before signing with your agent?
I had two stories under my belt (the first under the bed, the second in a bunch of contests) and was a third of the way through my present WIP when Maura called.

What steps did you take to find your agent? How did you research agents?
I had decided the way to get an agent was through one-on-one personal interaction instead of cold E-queries. So I pitched 3-4 agents a year or got in front of professionals through contest finals. Then a friend of mine, Sarah Castleberry, finaled in 2008 GH and created a spreadsheet of all RWA approved agents and shared it with me. The list was extensive and my two critique partners, and I split it into thirds and each of us researched massive amounts of info for each name on our list. We used a variety of websites, PW, P&E, Googling their names, checking out the agency's website, chapter rumors, etc...

So, I had this gold-mine of info and still was reluctant to use it...I perseverated that meeting an agent face to face or through a contest was a more successful way to go. The down side was only reaching an average of 7 a year. So, I'd been shopping LLL since 2006 when I'd only had a few chapters written. I'd received 3 full requests and many partials this way.

In May at a West Houston RWA meeting, best-selling author Sharie Kohler/Sophie Jordan met up with me at break and said "I keep hearing your name mentioned in all these contest finals...why aren't you published?" And the frank answer..."Because I'm lazy." Well! No need to go into her blistering "pep-talk" (lecture) but she ended with "you HAVE to start e-querying...everybody! Start with my agent if you have to. Even if she rejects you, at least you queried and got your work out there!"

Thus, soundly spanked, I queried her agent that week (specifically so I could get rejected and prove my point to Sharie that my way was slow, but better.) Therefore, I knew very little about Maura Kye-Casella, other than how incredibly successful she is at managing Sharie's soaring career.

What were some of the most important characteristics you were seeking in an agent?
I'd heard over and over at the chapter meetings that you should not jump at the first agent offer, but to wait for someone who went absolutely gah-gah over your writing, voice, story, etc, because they'd believe in you and a long term relationship was the focus here. So I knew that was criteria #1. I'd also been in the contest/pitching circuit long enough to also know I wanted an agent who got back to writers in a (relatively) timely manner, and if they took 6-12 months to read something that they'd requested, they were not the agent for me.

Now tell us about the day you got the call saying I'd love to represent you!
Imagine my utter shock when, 3 weeks after sending the full to Maura, she called and spent 20 minutes gushing over LLL. It's innate in me to interrupt people who compliment me in any way with a modest "oh thanks, but really- let's drop the subject now" or to immediately volunteer "oh, but here's what's wrong with me" and I found myself opening my mouth to stop her after she'd say phrases like "hooked me," "tight storyline," "interaction between the brothers, wow!" And then I realized this is MY moment, I'd worked so hard all these years and received so many rejections or harsh feedback on this story that had reduced me to a fetal position and here was someone who GUSHED. This experience would never come again (getting your very first agent call) and I needed to just shut my mouth and absorb every second of it!

So I did, and the shock and sheer joy of a prestigious agent going on and on, and who GOT my characters and my plot, and who spoke to me as if she'd been a critique partner on it all these years was mind blowing. I wish this type of experience for every writer.

Who was the first person you called/emailed after getting the agent call? How did you celebrate?
Of course my first call was to my husband, then my best friend in DC (both went straight to voicemail, sadly) then I ate lunch with my writer-friend Sarah Castleberry, who was ecstatic and made the achievement that much more real and exciting for me. I couldn't have celebrated better than lunch with a writer-friend who GOT the significance of this moment.

Finally, do you have any words of wisdom for writers seeking representation?
So I guess you could say my recommendation for writers is A) NEVER give up and B) don't get too caught up in one method or mindset. Pitch, enter contests, e-query and network, network, network. You never know when another writer's simple advice will change your life.

Sarah, thanks so much for sharing your exciting story. I can't wait to hear the news of your first sale!

Sarah Andre can be found on FaceBook and MySpace.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How I Got My Agent: New Guest Blog Post

Finding the right agent is critical to your writing career, but it can be a difficult journey. When my Twitter buddy Elyssa Papa recently announced she'd signed with an agent, I thought her journey to representation could help others. So I decided to start a series of guest posts, and Elyssa agreed to be my first interview.

Eventually, I'll confess my own wacky story of how I accidentally met my agent - twice! But first up, read about the steps Elyssa took to successfully sign with the agent of her dreams.

Welcome, Elyssa. Please tell us a bit about yourself, what you write, and your agent.
Thank you, Vicky! It’s a pleasure to be invited to be part of this interview series. I’m a former high school English teacher, a chocoholic, and live in upstate New York.

I write light, sexy contemporary romances that have deep emotion under the sparkling humor. The name of my book is AS YOU WISH. It’s about a jaded rock star determined to make amends with his estranged family during the Christmas season and falls for an optimistic florist; it’s set in Burlington, Vermont.

I’ve recently signed with Kimberly Witherspoon of Inkwell Management. I’ve been a finalist in three contests with my first book. My blog is:, or you can follow me on Twitter:

How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing all my life, but it wasn’t until three years ago that I became serious about pursuing publication. It’s thanks to the Eloisa James and Julia Quinn Bulletin Board and the Avon Fanlit competition in 2006 that I really started believing that my dream of being a published author was possible. I also met great friends in Fanlit and two of my critique partners---Tiffany Clare and Maggie Robinson (both of whom are debut historical romance authors in 2010)---on the EJ/JQ bulletin board. Tiffany Clare met our third CP, J.K. Coi, at a local RWA chapter meeting.

Along the way to representation, did you change subgenres?
Well, in the Fanlit competition, all the chapters were in the Regency era. The historical voice didn’t fit my voice. I started writing contemporary romances at this same time, and it all clicked. I knew Contemporary Romance was the subgenre I was meant to write in.

How many books did you write before signing with your agent?
I’ve written two books prior to AS YOU WISH.

What steps did you take to find your agent?
I owe it all to my frend, Sara Lindsey, who is a client of Kim Witherspoon's. Sara's debut historical romance, PROMISE ME TONIGHT, releases Feb 2010. Sara read the first chapter of AYW and emailed Kim to be on the lookout for my query. Long story short, Kim requested the full and is now my agent!

How did you go about researching agents?
I used Agent Query, Publisher’s Marketplace, and RWA.

What were some of the most important characteristics you were seeking in an agent?
The most important characteristics for me in an agent were: someone who “got” and loved my voice, would be an advocate for me and my work, and who would help me grow my career. I think it’s important to make sure you know as much as possible about that agent before signing.

Did you have more than one offer of representation?
Kimberly Witherspoon is my dream agent. Of course I was going to sign with her! Kimberly was also the first agent who called; even though AYW had eleven requests overall---there was no question in my mind whatsoever.

Now tell us about the day you got the call saying I'd love to represent you!
I got the call on August 12th. The previous day, I’d received an email from Kimberly’s assistant asking to schedule a call. I was nervous and excited.

Kimberly began talking about the book and how much she liked it. She started talking about one of the characters, and I remember thinking: Oh my god, she really read my book. At one point I asked, “So does this mean you’re offering representation?” That’s how much of an out-of-the-body moment I was having. She replied yes and that I was her client. I repeated, “OMG!” about three or four times and said how thrilled I was. It was the best conversation of my life!

Who was the first person you called/emailed after getting the agent call? How did you celebrate?
I called my parents, then I called my best friend/critique partner, Tiffany Clare. We started squeeing, and that type of excitement continued throughout the day as other friends and authors learned about the news. I celebrated by eating a few chocolate chip cookies and happy dancing.

Finally, do you have any words of wisdom for writers seeking representation?
Write the best book you can, and one that comes from your heart. Push yourself constantly and set writing deadlines for yourself. Know when to put a book away---and keep on writing. Surround yourself with a support system. And last importantly, believe in yourself!

Elyssa, thank you so much for sharing your great story! We're all anxiously waiting for your news of a first sale!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Emily Contest Open for Submissions!

Want a chance to get a read from an agent and an editor? Here's your chance! My home chapter, West Houston RWA, has opened up submissions for our 21st annual writer's contest for unpublished and published authors (Some restrictions apply. See details at

Yes, I highly recommend the Emily. When I finaled in 2008, I got a request for the full manuscript.


DEADLINE: OCTOBER 7, 2009. ENTRY FEE: Members of West Houston RWA - $20; Non-members - $30. Electronic Entries Only.

Check out the fantastic line-up of final round editors and agents judging the categories!

Contemporary Single Title/Women' s Fiction: 90,000+ words
--> Final Judges: Frances Jalet-Miller, editor with Grand Central; Carolyn Grayson, agent with Ashley Grayson Literary Agency

Contemporary Series: Under 75,000 words
--> Final Judges: Patience Smith, editor with Silhouette Books; Sha-Shana Crichton, agent with Crichton & Associates, Inc. Literary Agency

Historical: Word count 50,000 - 110,000.
--> Final Judges: Esi Sogah, editor with Avon ; Barbara Poelle, agent with Irene Goodman Literary Agency

Paranormal: 50,000+ words--> Final Judges: Chris Keesler, editor with Dorchester; Maura Kye-Casella, agent with Don Congdon Associates

For additional details click on

Sunday, July 19, 2009

RWA Awards Ceremony

First off, congratulations to all the Golden Heart & RITA nominees and winners. I love the awards ceremony - it's like watching authors become Cinderella for the night. The celebration afterwards is super fun as well. That's Crystal Jordan and I with our Uber Fantastic agent Lucienne Diver in the photo.

Special shout-outs for RITA winners I know & just met at conference:

  • Good friend & West Houston chaptermate Tera Lynn Childs won Best First Book for Oh. My. Gods. WTG!
  • Lucienne's client Rosemary Clement-Moore won Best Young Adult Romance for HELL WEEK - Great to meet you, Rosemary - love the title!
  • Pam Rosenthal won Best Historical for THE EDGE OF IMPROPRIETY. Enjoyed getting to know you, Pam!
  • Yay for conference buddy Cindy Gerard who won in the Romantic Suspense Category for TAKE NO PRISONERS. Yay!

Congrats as well to my WHRWA chapter mates who finaled in the RITA: Colleen Thompson, Linda Warren, Deeanne Gist, Kerrelyn Sparks, and Judy Duarte. And congrats on another well-deserved final to my buddy Jane Graves.

So it's a wrap for the 2009 RWA Washington DC conference. Back to our regularly scheduled writing. Cheers to All.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Time of My Life

I'm having the time of my life at the RWA National conference. The bright pink First Sale ribbon attracts a lot of congratulations. Anyway, so far I've been on the go-go-go starting with dinner & drinks with my PAL Gerry Bartlett and the lovely Nina Bangs. Both Gerry & Nina have been super helpful to this newbie. My roomies joined me in the bar to have drinks with friends from West Houston and DARA chapters of RWA. Wednesday was the mega literaracy signing. Thursday morning I had a breakfast with my fantastic agent Lucienne Diver. The lovely Michele Lang joined my CPs Karen Burns & Ellen Watkins at the luncheon. Thursday evening, I attended Grand Central's dinner. And then, my fellow GC author and long-time friend Jane Graves insisted we needed to do something in the bar. That something turned out to be a Huge Cheer from my buddies from DARA followed by toasts with champagine. To my DARA buddies - I'll never forget that moment. Thank you!!!!!!!!!

Rats, I'm running out of battery power, so better go charge up in the room. I'm having the Time of My Life!

Monday, July 13, 2009

RWA National Conference Here I Come!

Wow, I'm soooo excited because this year I get to wear a first sale ribbon and a PAN ribbon at the RWA national conference in Washington DC. It's been 3.5 weeks since the official sale, and I'm still a bit in disbelief over it all. But I know this is one conference I won't forget!

The one thing I do tend to forget is what a pain it is to pack for the annual RWA conference. And yes, those are 6 pairs of shoes + 2 pairs of flipflops in the photo at the right. Yes, I need 3 pairs of black shoes!!!

If you really want a shocker, check out these rubber flip flops at the astounding price of $168.30 - on SALE- LOL. Here's the link in case you have $$$ to burn:

I used up the last of my frequent flyer miles for a first class ticket to DC - I'm really pampering myself this year. But I've worked really, really hard since January 2008 and at long last it paid off. So DC, here I come!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Congratulations to my buddy Jo Anne Banker!

Major congratulations to my friend and West Houston chapter mate, Jo Anne Banker. Her series romance THIS CHILD IS MINE finaled in the Orange Rose Contest!!!!

I've got my fingers and toes crossed on the final round. Jo Anne is definitely an author to watch!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Uber Advance Publicity

Seven days ago, I officially sold my debut novel Confessions of a Duchess: A Matchmaker's Misadventures in a 3-book deal to Grand Central. Tonight, I got a Google Alert that my historical romance was featured in a blog by Maria Geraci on Night Owl Romance. Maria took the high concept pitch from Publishers Marketplace: The bachelor in Regency England (minus the hot tub and camera crew). Here's a link:

Speaking of high concepts, check out Maria's debut novel Bunco Babes Tell All on her website: Sounds like tons of fun!

Thanks, Maria!

Yeah, I'm stunned. :-)

And if you're interested, check out my blog on creating the high concept pitch:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

More Fun, Friends & Good News

First off, more good news. My West Houston chapter mate, Sarah Andre, just signed with an agent. WTG, Sarah!

So it's been a few days since I promised to blog again after announcing my first sale, but it's been party central at Chez Dreiling - actually at various restaurants & friends' houses. What can I say except it's been a blast ... and well, this isn't a surprise to anyone who knows me. After all, I once inadvertently started a party with complete strangers on a plane (the flight attendants bemoaned they were on duty because they wanted to join the fun). Another time, I went to Georgia RWA's Moonlight & Magnolia conference all by myself (I was a Maggie finalist). I lasted as far as the hotel shuttle bus where I met two new best friends. I just don't know a stranger.

Where the RWA conference is concerned, however, you don't have to be an extreme extrovert like moi. The cool thing about writing conferences is that we all have the same thing in common. It's so easy to start up a conversation with anyone - where are you from? what do you write? Honestly, I think RWA writers are the friendliest bunch of folks I've ever met. And while my cyber buddies & I have arranged meet-ups, I fully intend to make new buddies, too. So if you see me (I look like my photo), stop & say hi - and join me if you have time.

If you're going to DC, don't just hang out solely with your roomies or chapter mates. At the luncheons, sit with a group you don't know. Heather MacAllister suggested this to me years ago, and boy, do I thank her for it. You wouldn't believe the cool people I've met at the luncheons. And if you're at the bar or one of the hotel restaurants & see a writer alone, invite her to join your group.

Sure we go to conference for the workshops, agent/editor appointments, publisher spotlights, etc. But if you were to ask me what I remember the most from previous RWA conferences, I would tell you about all the friends I've met & often see at conference every year. See you in DC!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

First Sale!

It's official! I sold my first book and two more to Grand Central! All three are slated for release in 2011!! I'm soooooo thrilled!!! More tomorrow ... still have many posts & phone calls going on tonight.

Mega thanks to my brilliant agent, Lucienne Diver. You're the best!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Writeaholic Turns Shopaholic

I am a binge shopper. Every summer before the RWA national conference, I get an itch to buy clothes & accessories. Those of you familiar with the RWA national conference know that attendance requires a variety of outfits. This year, I canvassed my closet and realized I did not need new clothes. All those lovely outfits I bought last year are still lovely & perfect for conference. Given the difficult economic times, I should have rejoiced.

I pouted.

Pouting turned into an itch. The itch turned into a full-blown craving. I resisted for 2 whole weeks. Then came my first trial - the nice folks at Coldwater Creek mailed me a catalogue and a coupon. I told myself one new purchase wouldn't hurt. And I remembered I actually needed a tank top for a jacket. It was a legitimate reason to shop! So off into cyber space I went with my credit card dangling from my itchy fingers. About a week later, the package arrived on my doorstep. OMG, there must be a mistake! How did those 3 shirts and those shorts get into the package?

It must have been a shopaholic blackout!

Naturally that was Not the end of my shopping binge. Last Sunday, I realized I was almost out of that Mineral based makeup. So I called Mom who loves shopping year round. Off we drove to the Candy Land of Makeup and Hair product stores - Ulta.

I might have escaped yet another binge if I had not seen saw someone getting a makeover. I lit up like a Xmas tree at the idea of learning the Secrets of Correct Makeup Application. Now I confess I was a trifle nervous because my Makeup Arteest just happened to have rainbow eyeshadow on - a rather sweeping rainbow. Nevertheless, I gave myself up to Makeup Girl's expertise. First, she looked into my shopping basket and pitched everything out of it, including the copper and beige eyeshadows. Makeup girl and my mom claimed I need violet eyeshadow for my *blue* eyes. "Uh, Mom," I said, "my eyes are green." Mom & Makeup Girl insisted my eyes are blue. I decided this was one time to pick my battles, so I surrendered.

Next, Mom & Makeup Girl insisted I needed contouring. There are plenty of things on my wish list, but contouring never even made the top 100. This is because I am an Ignorant Daughter and do not know the importance of contouring - according to Mom. So I sat still while Makeup Girl brushed some powder all along my cheeks & dusted my forehead. Maybe even my nose, but I digress. Makeup Girl & Mom waxed enthusiastic over the difference contouring made in my appearance. I looked in the mirror and ... saw no difference at all. I looked pretty much as I do Uncontoured. Mom claimed I looked ... Dewy. Makeup Girl agreed. I was outnumbered.

I am very proud that I did not swoon or gag when the Ulta clerk rang up the purchases. (I will, however, admit to a bit of buyer's remorse.) You might be thinking that was the end of my binge. I'm sorry to say it was not.

You see, the lovely folks at Coldwater Creek have brick and mortar stores - one of which happens to be not too far from the Ulta store. As we pulled up into the parking space, I grabbed Mom's arm. "OMG, there's a Sale!"

Naturally I only intended to try on that adorable violet skirt (to match the eyeshadow, you know), tank, and knit jacket. But of course it fit perfectly - and it was On Sale! Then I rummaged through my purse. To my horror, I realized I'd left the latest coupon at home. Mom said I should just come back the next day. I clutched my new outfit to my chest. Clearly I did not have any intention of leaving the store without it. So Mom told the sales ladies that her spoiled daughter needed that coupon and suggested they might want to honor it. The sales ladies looked at me - no doubt a little afraid of the manic expression in my purple shaded eyes. And they said, "OK!"

Hey, I got 25% off!

I swear that's the end of my shopping binge. Before all of Cyber World, I will repent. My name is Vicky Dreiling, and I'm a Binge Shopper.

Are you going to conference? If so, I've got a contest for you. The first person to guess how much money I spent on makeup at the Ulta store gets a free drink from me at the DC conference!

Cheers & Happy Shopping!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Make Mine Chocolate

In more than one post, I've included stories about my pet house rabbit, Buttercup. Since Easter is only two weeks away, this blog is a plea to all not to purchase a bunny as an Easter gift for children. Instead, make it a chocolate bunny. If you are seriously considering a rabbit as a pet, please visit the house rabbit society for detailed care instructions at

Now here's a UTube Video entitled Bunnies Rock. There's a strong message about treating animals with TLC. If you love animals, please pass the link on and get the message out there. Buttercup and I thank you on behalf of all the sweet bunnies in our world.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Knight Agency's Fabulous Contest!

The Knight Agency (TKA) is offering a fabulous opportunity to get an agent read, critique & just possibly representation. For more details, click on the link:

Good luck to all!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Funny Friday - Wedding Disasters!

In honor of the romance genre, I present weddings you'll never see in a romance book.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Increasing Your Odds with Query Letters

I'm addicted to reading agent blogs because of the insight into the business. It's also a great way to learn about authors I've yet to read. I'm always interested in expanding my reading horizons. But one of the central subjects on many agent blogs concerns query letters. After reading replies from authors who bemoaned the difficulty of writing query letters, I felt rather smug. In all but one case, I got a request. I concluded I'd written a dynamite query/cover letter. But then I recalled something important.

In all but one case, I had some type of connection with the agent.

Guess which one got rejected? If your answer is the one I had no connection with, award yourself a gold star.

I essentially wrote the same query letter to all of the agents. The only thing that differentiated the query was the first paragraph where I mentioned the connection. These connections consisted of an author recommendation to her agent, contests, and in-person pitches. In the case of the agent I signed with, I met her at a regional conference dinner. She asked about my book, and I gave her a one-line elevator pitch. She requested a partial on the spot. Scouts, be prepared!

While authors do get requests from query letters, I think my experience is important. Authors can increase their chances of getting requests by taking advantage of opportunities to make connections. If an agent you're hungry to sign with is attending a regional conference, you might try to attend if it's financially feasible. Enter contests that are judged by agents you are targeting. And if a published author offers to read a partial of your manuscript, by all means jump on the opportunity because she might recommend you to her agent.

Luck plays a part in any request, but it never hurts to take advantage of opportunities. You just might land the agent of your dreams.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Funny Friday the 13th Again!

Mrs. Hughes is hysterical. Enjoy!


Sunday, March 8, 2009

All-Time Fav Romances

I'm posting some of my all-time romance favorites, in no particular order. And I'm hoping to get some feedback from folks on subgenres I don't read as often.

If you're a fan of series, romantic suspense, women's fiction, Sci-Fi, Inspirational, and let's include YA as well, please include your favs. I'm always looking for great recommendations! Here are books I couldn't put down (and sometimes read more than once):

Historical Romance:

  • Flowers from the Storm - Laura Kinsale
  • Rules of Gentility - Janet Mullany
  • Miss Wonderful, Mr. Impossible, Lord Perfect, Not Quite a Lady, Your Scandalous Ways - Loretta Chase (Can you tell I'm a fan - LOL!)
  • The Spymaster's Lady - Joanna Bourne
  • Whitney My Love, Almost Heaven - Judith McNaught
  • The Duke and I - Julia Quinn
  • Slightly Wicked, Slightly Dangerous, Slightly Scandalous, A Summer to Remember, and First Comes Marriage - Mary Balogh (Actually I could list dozens more)
  • Mistress - Amanda Quick (This one is my fav - it's LOL funny.)
  • Once Upon a Wedding Night - Sophie Jordan (she also writes paranormals as Sharie Kohler!)

Paranormal Romance:

  • How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire and The Undead Next Door - Kerrelyn Sparks (All of her books are LOL funny)
  • Vampires Have Curves and Real Vampires Get Lucky - Gerry Bartlett (the whole series is fabulous - check it out!)
  • Marked by Moonlight - Sharie Kohler
  • Outlander - Diana Gabaldon

Contemporary Romance (Need Recommendations!)

  • Nobody's Baby but Mine and Heaven Texas by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
  • Fools Rush In - Kristen Higgins (In reading progress, but loving it!)
  • It Must Be Love and Truly Madly Yours - Rachel Gibson
  • Mr. Perfect - Linda Howard

Young Adult (Need Recommendations!)

  • Twilight - Stephenie Meyer
  • Oh. My. Gods. - Tera Lynn Childs

Women's Fiction (Need Recommendations!)

  • Nineteen Minutes and The Pact - Jodi Picoult (All her books are great, but these two are my favs.)

Help me spread cyber word of mouth about great books. Send me a list of books you couldn't put down (include subgenre please!).

Reading Test

How well-read are you? My friend Donna Maloy sent this on a private loop, and I thought it would be great fun. Part I is the literary one. In the next post, I'll list some romance classics and ask others to add to them! Check off each one and tally up your points. I've changed the font colors to blue for the ones I've read. Also, there are some additions at the bottom not on the original list - brownie points for any of those you've read!

  1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
  2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
  3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
  4. Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
  6. The Bible (Not the whole Good Book!)
  7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
  8. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
  9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
  10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
  11. Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
  12. Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
  13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
  14. Complete Works of Shakespeare (No, but I've read a good chunk of the plays & sonnets)
  15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
  16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
  17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
  18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
  19. The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
  20. Middlemarch - George Eliot
  21. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
  22. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
  23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
  24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
  25. The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
  26. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
  27. Crime and Punishment - Feodor Dostoevsky
  28. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
  29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
  30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
  31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
  32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
  33. Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
  34. Emma - Jane Austen (I love P&P and S&S, but Emma, the book, doesn't grab me.)
  35. Persuasion - Jane Austen
  36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
  37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
  38. Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
  39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
  40. Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
  41. Animal Farm - George Orwell
  42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
  43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
  45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
  46. Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
  47. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
  48. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
  49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
  50. Atonement - Ian McEwan (Part of it. Too slow for my taste.)
  51. Life of Pi - Yann Martel
  52. Dune - Frank Herbert
  53. Cold Comfort Farm Gibbons
  54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
  55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
  56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  57. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
  58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
  59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
  60. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
  62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
  63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
  64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
  65. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
  66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac
  67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
  68. Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
  69. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
  70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
  71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
  72. Dracula - Bram Stoker
  73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
  74. Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
  75. Ulysses - James Joyce
  76. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
  77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
  78. Germinal - Emile Zola
  79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
  80. Possession - AS Byatt (Loved it!)
  81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
  82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
  83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
  84. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
  85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
  86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
  87. Charlotte's Web - EB White
  88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
  89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the whole collection)
  90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
  91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
  92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
  93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
  94. Watership Down - Richard Adams (This book started my love of rabbits)
  95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
  96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
  97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
  98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare (Why separate? Beats me, but in the course of my high school/college years, I had to read Hamlet, Prince of Denmark 5X- ugh!)
  99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
  100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo K

Additions I've read & think are worth noting:

  1. The Memory Keeper's Daugther - Kim Edwards
  2. Girl with a Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier
  3. The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde
  4. Don Quijote (Norton edition spelling) - Miguel de Cervantes
  5. Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
  6. A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
  7. Farenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
  8. For Whom the Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemmingway
  9. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain
  10. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain

How many of these books have you read? What books would you add?

Stay tuned to help me build Romance Lists!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Funny Friday Bunny Style

My pet rabbit, Buttercup, has her own bedroom complete with a cardboard cottage. In the photo at the right, you can admire her remodeling efforts. Lovely picture window, isn't it?

She's also remodeled my carpet, but that's a sore subject at Chez Dreiling.

How I came to be a proud bunny slave is a bizarre tale (like most of my life). Five years ago, my daughter's high school boyfriend decided she needed a pet. When Amber kept begging me to let her have a rabbit, I made the classic parental mistake and said, "I'll think about it." Which Amber translated into "Yes!"

I had no idea what I was getting into when Buttercup came into our lives at 8 weeks of age. Suffice it to say, she got sick within two weeks. Very sick. So I found a vet. Not just any vet. An exotic vet. Yes, rabbits require specialized care. In addition to getting her well, I had to have her spayed, even though she had no boyfriends living with her. Why? Because female rabbits who are not spayed stand an 80% chance of developing cancer.

When I told my work colleagues what I'd spent at the vet, they concluded I was nuts. Buttercup became known as the $1000 rabbit.

Meanwhile, my daughter and the boyfriend had a parting of ways - and a custody battle over Buttercup. Needless to say, we, er, won.

About the time I thought I had Buttercup's care down to a science, she developed the rabbit equivalent of anorexia. Her wonderful vet tried to prepare me for the worst. I left the office, fearing she would die. Later that afternoon when I returned to the veterinary hospital, the gentle vet walked out with his thumb up. I broke down and cried.

I love our little fur kid even though she doesn't like to be held. That's because rabbits are prey animals and get scared easily. She's very fragile. We have to be careful when we do pick her up, so she doesn't jump suddenly and break her back. Every year, I have to take her in for dental work to file down sharp edges on her teeth - to prevent her from cutting her tongue. She uses a litter box just like a cat, but I have to use dust-free, pine-free litter to keep from damaging her lungs. Did I mention the 25 pound bags of hay? I'm a very good customer of the Oxbow Hay Company.

But every morning when it's time for her breakfast, she scampers around my feet for that one tablespoon of pellets and fresh hay. And every morning, I melt.

Because of the specialized care required for bunnies, they're not recommended for small children. If you'd like more information on house rabbit care, go to the House Rabbit Society:

Here's a link to a great You Tube Video of Super Bunnies!


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Write What You Know

Writers are often told, write what you know. There is a lot of misconception about what this means. Granted, there are writers out there who use their professions to advantage in their novels. But the resulting story often involves suspense situations the writer never experienced. In other cases, authors write about professions, situations, and time periods they only know about from extensive research. I can't possibly know first-hand what it was like to be an aristocrat in Regency England. What I have done is research the period thoroughly with books and visits to period mansions and to museums. This, however, is not the most critical aspect of writing what you know.

In my opinion, writing what you know means writing about what matters to you. I don't mean in a biographical sense, but rather writing what you've learned as a result of life experience. For example, when I first conceived the idea of How to Court a Duke, I started with a question. What happens to a woman who makes a life-changing mistake at a very young age? Why did this matter to me? Because I made a huge mistake when I married at age nineteen. The repercussions from that decision had a big impact on my life. The novel, however, is not representative of the events in my life. Instead, the themes that emerged resulted from my own life experiences and what I learned as a result. The major themes of the book deal with betrayal and forgiveness. Did I knowingly include them? No. The process was entirely subconscious.

I've heard several published authors talk about recurring themes in their novels, themes they only recognize when the novel is finished. Theme is about what characters learn. Theme is connected to the character's internal conflicts, conflicts that must be resolved in order for the protagonist to find peace, happiness, or in the case of a romance novel, lasting love. In some novels such as literary fiction, the character may never resolve his/her issues, which in itself suggests theme. It's realistic if you consider people who make the same mistakes over and over again. You shake your head and think: They never learn.

In romance, there is a fairy tale quality in the happily ever after aspect, which is suggested at the book's end. This doesn't mean the novels are not complex. I think readers are smart enough to deduce that the characters they fall in love with would likely argue and have issues as life continues. The point is that the hero and heroine have conquered their past demons, which allow them to form a lasting relationship in a healthy manner.

I unknowingly began How to Court a Duke with the kernal of a theme. The question popped into my head, and in the writing of the book, I subconsciously uncovered themes that meant something to me personally. These themes have a universal resonance. Who has not suffered some form of betrayal? Who has not sought forgiveness or had to bestow it?

Tell me, what themes do you find in your novels?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Are We Too Connected?

First there was email. Then came IM, text messages, blogs, My Space, Facebook, and now the newest gadget - Twitter. All of a sudden, I kept seeing bloggers mention they found info on Twitter. I didn't want to be left behind, so I paid a visit. There I found messages such as: 10:30 AM - I'm at the pool.

OK, so I still don't get it, but I'm sure Twitter provides lots of value. After all, tons of people are tweeting. So I asked myself: Should I jump on this cyber bandwagon? Can I send messages such as: I'm at the computer - or - I'm eating Kashi Granola with Activia Yogurt.

Wow! I, too, could be a Twit.

Nevertheless, I have some reservations. That's because I'm cyber overloaded. The number of Yahoo Group loops, websites, and blogs I visit is increasing exponentially. Admittedly, I've learned a lot about the writing business from the Internet. Agent and editor blogs are filled with important info, not to mention entertaining Query Letters. And I certainly enjoy communicating with fellow writers. But today I realized I'd hit the all time rock-bottom when I started getting emails with birthday wishes and offers of friendship from the likes of Snickers, Elizabun Tailor, and Floppy.

No, it is not my birthday.

My pet rabbit has a profile on ... BunSpace. Today, Buttercup got dozens of 5th birthday wishes from all of her furkid cyber friends.

My name is Vicky, and I am a cyber addict.

I need a 12-step program for my internet addiction. Or at least a diet. Is there such a thing as Cyber Watchers? Do I need to log in my daily visits to blogs, websites, and yahoo group loops?

Tell me, how addicted are you?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Funny Friday Brit Style

Many thanks to my colleague Andrew in Bristol for this (supposedly?) real British sign!


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Funny Friday the 13th!

In honor of Friday the 13th, I found this image of a scaredy black cat. Scaredy Cat reminds me of Phoebe on the show Friends and her hilarious song, Smelly Cat. If you missed it or would like to tramp back in time to the episode, here's the YouTube link:

Here's something unusual. There is a hospital devoted solely to cats in Phoenix, AZ. It's called The Scaredy Cat Hospital. I'm not making this up! The hospital even features "luxury boarding suites." Here's the link:



Thumbs Down

I never dreamed I would write rejection emails.

In my day job, I hire contractors, specifically market research firms. Often, I send requests for proposals (RFPs) to multiple vendors. I spend quite a bit of time on the phone with them answering questions about the project and listening to their ideas about methodology. Then I review the proposals and make a choice. This means I have to send rejection emails to the others. Ironic, isn't it?

Having rejected a number of proposals in the last eight years, I've gotten a taste of what it must be like for editors and agents. Fortunately, I don't have to cull through hundreds of query letters, but I can understand why publishing professionals send form rejections. What is interesting is that market researchers, like writers, want to know why I rejected their proposals.

When I first started this job, my colleague told me to write what amounts to a form rejection. Our decision was based on price, methodology, etc. This didn't work very well as the vendors tended to call and ask for details. They wanted to know what they could do differently next time. The problem is that my decisions are based on a project by project basis. I imagine this is quite similar to what agents and editors experience. In some instances, the proposal and the firm simply do not reflect the high standards I require. After all, my reputation is at stake with these projects. For those firms that do not show promise, I wish them well. For the ones that submitted strong proposals, I tell them I will keep them in mind for future projects. Does any of this sound faintly familiar?

The most important issue at stake is that once I've made a decision, it's a done deal. Taking time out to explain my reasons to the rejected vendors eats up valuable time. I understand how the research vendors feel. They expended enormous amounts of resources and energy on their proposals. But, they know there is no guarantee. As far as I'm concerned, the decision is made, and I have to focus on working with the selected vendor. My overwhelming workload simply doesn't permit me to spend time trying to reassure vendors, particularly if I have no intention of working with them in the future.

Recently, I read writers' comments on an agent's blog concerning form rejections. The writers' frustrations with multiple form rejections made me realize how incredibly lucky I was to get three offers of representation. And oddly enough, I had to send rejection emails to the two I didn't select. I told them it was a tough decision and wished them well. I kept it short and sweet, no explanations, because I felt it would be inappropriate. I chose the agent who was the best fit for me. She is fantastic. :-)

My final point about rejections is that unless you get specific feedback and an offer to revise, move on. A form rejection means they weren't sufficiently interested. No simply means no. Of course it's frustrating not to know what you could do to improve the manuscript, but chances are the agent/editor doesn't have time to write a detailed response. Based on my experiences in my marketing career, I can identify. It's a done deal. Something we writers need to accept, even if it means putting the book under the proverbial bed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I've no idea what prompted me to pick up Jodi Picoult's thought-provoking novel Nineteen Minutes this morning. Many of Picoult's books sit on my keeper shelf. The brilliance of her writing lies in her ability to simultaneously entertain and make us think.

While re-reading the first few pages of Nineteen Minutes, I noticed the use of time as a motif. Time made me think of writers who are overnight successes versus those who struggle for years. Jodi is apparently thought of as an overnight success.

Tonight I went to her website. I did not go there looking for inspiration. In truth, I have no explanation for why I visited her site and decided to click over to her podcast page. But once there, I found what I needed in her podcast If at First you Don't Succeed. As I listened, I heard words of honesty. Words of loyalty. Words that reminded me that behind seemingly overnight success there often lies a paper trail of rejections. Words that reminded me the only thing writers can control is the writing itself.

Jodi is so eloquent, I urge writers to visit her website and listen to her experiences and her words of wisdom. Click on the link and go to Podcasts:

Monday, February 9, 2009

The High Concept Pitch

The most basic element of the pitch is the premise of the book. You answer the question: What is your book about? In the pitch, you identify who the hero and heroine are and what conflict keeps them apart.

So, let's say you pitch your book to an agent. You tell her it is a historical romance about a couple who pretend to be engaged because each want to avoid marriages arranged by their families. Only they never expect to fall in love. Certainly it's easy to understand the premise - a little too easy because it's been done to death. The agent peers at you and asks, "What makes your book different?" Suddenly you've got sweaty palms.

To avoid sweaty palm syndrome, you need a high concept premise. A high concept premise is unique, original, and easy to envision. Agents and editors not only immediately get it, they realize it is fresh. The high concept premise is short, averaging about 2 to 3 sentences. The point isn't the length, but rather to describe your original premise in a succinct manner.

Of course it helps if you come up with the high concept premise before you write the book, but you can always revise. Here are easy steps to turn a humdrum plot into a high concept plot.

  1. First, identify the basic plot of your book. The following are some standard romance plots: Secret Baby, Reunion, Two Different Worlds, Marriage of Convenience, The Guardian, Beauty and the Beast, Reforming the Bad Boy, Secret Identity, Captivity, and The Matchmaker. Some books may have a combination of two basic plots.

  2. Next, ask yourself how you can turn a tired old plot into something so original, so different that editors and agents will notice. What makes a plot so high concept, it grabs interest immediately? An unexpected or novel change in a standard plot.

  3. Here is an example of an unexpected change in a standard romance plot. Consider the Secret Baby plot, the one many writers claim to hate. How many of those haters read and loved Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Nobody's Baby But Mine? SEP made this book unique. Here's my version of a high concept pitch for the book. A brainy physicist wants an ordinary baby. All she needs is a stupid guy to counteract her genious genes. But when the dopey jock she seduces and abandons demands his rights as a father, she soon realizes he's far smarter and more loveable than she ever dreamed. Note that SEP incorporates a marriage of convenience into the plot as well. Isn't that brilliant?

  4. Now let's make up a high concept plot for a subgenre that's relatively saturated right now. Vampire novels are usually about a couple from two different worlds. The conflict is inherent in the plot. Often there is a beauty and the beast element as well. Generally the hero vampire despises his undead status. He is tortured, knowing he will spend eternity as a monster. His attraction to the human heroine reminds him of all the human experiences he will never have again. But what if we take this standard plot and flip it. Let's have a whirl at the high concept pitch. A reform-minded female chemist slips her elixar of life potion into a two hundred year-old viscount vampire's Bloody Harry. Horrified to find himself human, the hunky ex-vampire is determined to get bitten again so he can live undead forever. But his maker is equally determined to teach him that human life holds far greater rewards, and the chemistry is just too hard for him to resist.

Wasn't that easy? And fun?

Whistling like the Snow White Dwarfs. Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to High Concept Work we go.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My Daughter Has Big Plans for My Book

That gorgeous young lady in the photo to the left is my daughter Amber Rose. She's bubbly, funny, and sweet. I'm one lucky mom. Because Amber has major plans for my book How to Court a Duke.

On Friday night after we got home from the movies, Amber couldn't find anything on TV to watch. She wished for another book like Twilight to read. The romance between Edward and Bella really captivated her. So while I mused over which of the hundreds of romances on my keeper shelf to give her, she said, "Mom, can I read your book?"

I printed out 100 pages of How to Court a Duke, figuring she would stop reading long before she reached the last printed page. After all, she'd told me several times she didn't like historical settings. She's more of a Sophie Kinsella kind of girl. She started reading,and a bit later, she asked me to print out more. I blinked and said, "I'm out of paper."

She demanded I go get more paper.

By now, it was 10 PM, so I told her it was too late. That frustrated her. Finally, she decided to read it on the computer. Once again, I figured she'd abandon my manuscript for the lures of Facebook or texting her friends. Nope, she kept reading. At one point, she gasped. So we had a discussion about the plot point that surprised her. She kept reading and started laughing again. Naturally, I just had to know what she found so funny. At one point, she told me to be quiet because I was interrupting the love scene. I decided this was my cue to go to bed.

Late Saturday morning, she woke up and told me she'd cried while reading. So I explained about the black moment. Then she said she'd cried at the end when the hero, Tristan, proposed to Tessa. To my utter astonishment, I realized she'd read the entire book.

I confess I teared up a little bit.

Then came the Big Plan. Amber concocted the idea of writing to Oprah about my book. Amber is a bit like me. She has lots of ideas and a wild imagination. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: "Honey, Oprah doesn't buy books, and mine is in Submission Land."

Amber: "Yeah, but those editors will buy your book if you end up on Oprah."

Me: "Yes, but ..."

Amber: "I'm writing to her. I'm going to tell her all about how you're a single mom and went back to college and ..."

Me: "That's nice, dear, but remember I have a Great Agent."

Amber: "Can I play Tessa in the movie? Do I look like her?"

Me: "Sure. You could play her in this hypothetical movie."

Amber: "No, I'm serious. Does Tristan look like Rob Pattinson?"

Me: "No, he actually looks quite a bit like Henry Cavill." I find a photo of Henry online.

Amber (frowning): "No, I want Rob Pattinson. He's British, too."

Me: "Henry is British."

Amber: "No, it has to be Rob. He has blue eyes like Tristan."

Me: "Rob it is."

In the comment section, please vote: Henry or Rob ...

Hollywood, here we come. Right after a stop in Chicago.

I love you, Amber!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Funny Fridays

Announcing the First Weekly Funny Friday Blog. For your reading pleasure, I have TWO ticklers today.

The first funny is a photo I took in Bath - not the tub - the merry old city in England . I have developed a special fondness for this Roman hunk of burning love and hereforth present for your swooning pleasure ....

The World's First Male Underwear Model!!!!

I think Roman Dude needs a name ... Any suggestions?

Important News: see the update - Roman Dude has a name!

Roman Dude is now Times New!
Thanks to Pat Rosen!
Next on the agenda is an exciting remake of the classic George Lucas film. Many thanks to Lynette Curtis from the Yahoo Contest Alert loop for this link to an educational video. For a preview of FONT WARS! click on:

May the Fonts be with you ...



Thursday, February 5, 2009

Teens and Tweens - The Next Generation of Readers

There are 1000+ comments debating Stephen King's comments in the USA Today article referenced in my blog below. In the comments section, many of the adults dismissed the young readers who defended Stephenie Meyer. I think these adults missed an important phenomenon. These kids are reading!

Reading isn't dead after all. We should rejoice. Because if we can hook them now, they are more likely to become lifetime readers. And the way to hook tweens and teens is to make books available that resonate with them. That's exactly how I got hooked on reading way back in the stone age - a time when academics and parents feared television would be the death of reading.

When I was in the 7th grade, my small town junior high school conjured up an experimental idea. The school decided to mix kids of all reading/writing levels in English classes, thus eliminating advanced English. They reasoned that the on-level kids would catch up to the advanced students by virtue of exposure. In addition, they believed that the smarty pants kids would help the others. They were so confident of the success of this new program that they put two classes together and had two teachers team-teach. This meant about 45 kids in one giant jungle, er, class. Of those 45 kids, about 8 were at an advanced level.

Yes, I was among the smarty pants kids. We were bored, bad, and disruptive. The teachers did not know what to do with us. Finally, they sent us to the library (since parents would complain if they threw us in the parking lot). Of course the librarian objected because we threw spitballs. The teacher realized she'd better find something to entertain us. No dummy, she found books that she thought would interest us. For me, she found Victoria Holt. I fell in love with 19th century England (which probably explains why I write Regency historicals). After I gobbled up all of Holt's books, I found another book set in 19th century England. I didn't know Oliver Twist was a classic. Dickens led to Poe (scary tales are hot stuff when you're 12). The point is that my experience with those first gothic novels led to a lifetime love of books.

Beyond the touchy-feely reasons for getting kids to read, there are dollars and cents involved. Dollars and cents that could boost an ailing publishing industry. In May 2007, CBS Evening News reported that children aged 8 to 12 are spending $30 billion of their own money each year. Little wonder marketers are shelling out $17 billion annually targeting them. That of course means that there are lots of products and services out there competing with books for these dollars.

Ah, but a number of publishers are paying attention. PW reported in September 2007 that Little Brown, Putnam, Scholastic, Random House, and Harper are all targeting the teen market with programs. I've no idea whether the publishers have cut back on these programs due to the recession, but it's an interesting article worth reading. Here's the link:

Happy reading!