Bear Selfies

Selfies with Bears

Recently I heard a report that one of the National Parks (not important which one) had to officially ban selfies with bears. When I was growing up the warning was don’t poke a sleeping bear.

Well I did just that.

Five months ago, I fed eleven bears my novel Forty Times Platinum for their long summer nap. A couple said, “Thank you, but no, Thank you right away. While the rest snuggled it close, dreaming of weekends at the Hamptons and Booze Cruises to Fire Island.

Well it was time to poke some bears. And boy, were they grouchy.

In the past two weeks, I’ve received three rejections 🙁

But what’s so interesting, is the positive way they two of them wrapped it:

“it’s clear that Deborah is a talented writer. Her prose is fun and engaging”

I’d read somewhere talent stands out. And I do keep hearing how fun the book is. Guess readers don’t want fun these days. “Fun doesn’t sell,” I can hear a publishing marketing exec say, when having to explain declining book sales.

This one gave me chills:

“I enjoyed getting a peek into the music industry and observing a gorgeous, talented rock star up close and personal. Who doesn’t have a fantasy about a rock star!? It’s fascinating what goes on in both creating the music and in the behind-the-scenes world and watching Jen and Jamie create amazing music together and dance ever closer together was great fun. I liked that Jen was in such a powerful position and I liked the chemistry between them.”

It was “me” the editor didn’t like, apparently. She didn’t “love” my voice. I am behind Jen and Jamie, who you loved!

But, that’s still only a total of 6 rejections out of 11. We still need to hear from 5 more in the top tier, and then we move on to Small Press or Indie publishers.

Please keep the support coming. Editors think readers only want Fifty Shades or Hunger Games.

Books aren’t Life Partners or even wedding dresses. And there’s a reason there are multiple genres available. Not everyone wants porn or post-apocalypse fantasies.

Sometimes girls (and boys- Dennis and Uncle Jack!) just wanna have ‘fun’.

Oh and please no selfies with bears.

God Bless Me Post

God Bless Me?

Welcome Back!

So I am going to deviate from the journey of Forty Times Platinum to talk about something personal. Another purpose of this blog is to make people interested in me (without a sex-tape). If someone is interested in me, then (in theory) they would want to read my book(s).

I’ll start with where I originally thought, I would end this story. Most of you know I am a designer (by day) for a Senior Living company. Last Wednesday I was at one of my communities with an art installer, when I came upon a resident circling around in a panic. “Help me!” she cried out. She couldn’t find her room. Thankfully she knew her room number. That’s not always the case. So of course I stopped what I was doing to help her. What heartless person wouldn’t? Of course the art installer just took out her phone and let me walk off with the resident. Hmmm.

Anyway, I found her room, the door was open, THANKFULLY. And she was so appreciative, saying, “God Bless You!” over and over. I walked back to the heartless art consultant (did I say that out loud?), thinking I just earned some points.

Well I was wrong.

Twenty four hours later, I’m sitting in horrific traffic driving to a facility in Pennsylvania. God Bless Me? That’s ironic, considering, I was heading to a town called, Bethlehem. What should have taken (according to the GPS), two and a half hours, took four hours. I was rushing to meet a drapery installer and when I got there, I was told he cancelled and was coming the following day. (Hint, that means I had to go back the following day as well)

When my fury subsided, I took a breath. I was also doing a furniture delivery that evening at five pm. So it was only say, five or six hours of my time, completely wasted. God Bless Me? Okay. The installers arrived right on time. They were nice and understanding that we were working on a dining room and that we needed to wait for the residents to finish eating. They almost seemed a little TOO understanding.

Seven hours later…. As if they were all going to turn into pumpkins, or they were all getting paid to work until midnight regardless of how long this was SUPPOSED to take, poof they were done. Did I mention, the night before I only got three hours sleep? And in two, one and a half hour increments? God Bless Me.

So it’s technically 9/11. Not that that means anything other than the irony of the date. The installers are long gone with their three massive trucks. It had been raining most of the day and mercifully, had stopped during most of their delivery, but as I was leaving the rain starting coming down again. It would be too cliché to say I didn’t have an umbrella- I did. Still, I wobbled out into the parking lot and into the new misting rain. I dumped my bags into my car and… click click click. The car doesn’t start. God Bless Me??

So yes, of course I made it back to New York the following evening. And I am still waiting for my blessing.

Yes Virginia Post

Yes Virginia, there are stupid questions.

Welcome Back!

As I had posted to Facebook nearly two years ago, anything can be found on the internet. I needed to describe what the terrain was like as Jen and Michael drove from Malibu to Bakersfield. Someone had done the drive, recorded it from the windshield and posted it on Youtube. It was extremely helpful. So I turned to Google once again to help me write my one page Query letter.

I had written over five hundred pages for what will hopefully be Forty Times Platinum and its sequels, but writing three paragraphs seriously had me looking back into self-publishing. Still I pressed on. I read example after example. Surely there had to be a way to scientifically transplant my information into another letter that had worked. I was wrong.

Just as with the novel itself, I turned to professional help. Ca Ching. Ca Ching. I submitted my letter to a critique service. Because this was my first time doing this, I put all these questions in the letter when I submitted it. And to my horror, my query was sent to one of the agents I was planning on contacting. It seems he had been volunteering with the service to do critiques. And if that wasn’t bad enough, my entire email, stupid questions and all, went right to the agent.

About three days later I got back my critique. In a word, I felt the comments were mean. It took so much not to fire back a nasty email. But I am pretty sure that word gets around about hot headed writers. So I took my time and tried to tackle one insulting comment after the other and tried to assume the agent said the things he said in a non-rhetorical manner.

The next dilemma was, I paid for a one time review. How would I know if the changes I made were correct? All art is subjective. And what one agent thinks is great and brilliant; another won’t read past one sentence. And so with most of my anger behind me, I emailed the agent, thanking him for his critique and that I worked on the areas in question and would he mind reviewing it again. I figured I had to ask. And much to my shock and awe, he wrote me back and said okay. And he was also actually, what’s the word I am looking for, nice.

Maybe I caught him on a horrible day?

I took my time and the second round critique I received back was so much more positive and helpful. It wasn’t quite there, but I had gotten about ninety percent of what he had been eluding to.

And so then I had my one page letter that was going to go out to (other) agents and make them want to read more.

But how much more? I was about to find out.

To be continued.

it comes down to one page

It all boils down to one page

Welcome Back!

I had known enough about traditional publishing to know what a “Query” was. It is a one page letter that is supposed to do the following:

  • Hook the reader in about your book in the first paragraph.
  • Completely describe your book in 2 more paragraphs.
  • Describe yourself as an author and why you’re special: which is extra fun when you’ve never published anything.

All of the above has to fit within 1 exact page, including a standard 1940’s-esq greeting with the recipient’s mailing address and the date.

The punch line is that 99% of the time, this “letter” is going in into the body of an email. But it’s a mind- (you-know-what) because you don’t know if some intern is going to cut and paste what you wrote in a Word Document to check to see if it actually fits on one page or not. I wasn’t taking any chances. So all my “queries” even though most were emailed, are sitting on my laptop in full professional business letter format.

Now for extra fun, if you Googled: How to write a query letter, stand back because an avalanche of hits will fall your way. At the end of the day, it’s a business proposal for your book. But it’s also an tease- think movie trailers: In a world…..

The best way to describe what’s in those 2 paragraphs is to look at the back jacket of any book. It’s supposed to tell you enough about the story to get you interested, but it doesn’t tell you everything. And what to tell and what not to tell is as debatable among experts as the beginning of time.

While writing and re-writing and re-writing and re-writing, Forty Times Platinum, I became viciously jealous of musicians, which is very ironic since FTP is about musicians. But all musicians have to do is come up with a stupid 3 minute song. How hard is that?

But when I tried to draw FTP down like a wine reduction into 2 paragraphs, I went into complete panic attack mode and I finally sympathized with song writers and who’s sole job is to hook you in and make you fall in love in those stupid three minutes.

To be continued.

2018

The Climb

Welcome back!

In November of 2014, I received an email that sat in my inbox for several weeks.

I get stuff all the time, videos, links to websites, pictures. I have to say there’s nothing I hate more when I ask for something in an email and I get a link for an answer. JUST TELL ME! Don’t make me go looking.

Anyway, so this link to a book crossed my path in an email. The book was called Writer’s Market.

I was putting the final touches on Forty Times Platinum with the Scribendi proofreader. It was still my intention to self publish. But after scanning a few pages of Writer’s Market, and seeing how many agents are looking for new clients, I was overwhelmed with a sense of strange hope. Even though I knew deep down that it couldn’t happen.

Things like that don’t happen to me.

I have a very strange type of luck. I am the last car to drive past what will become a ten car pileup. And on the morning of 9/11, I was on a plane coming back from L.A. And even though I was on the right plane, again luck struck and we were one of the last planes to get clearance to land at JFK. Hundreds of others were diverted.

But I don’t have the luck I feel is necessary to have anything truly great and extraordinary happen.

Because I do believe there is a sense of luck in getting published. There’s something to be said for being in the right place at the right time and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When you strip away all the fantasy notions about a publisher, at the end of the day it’s sea of people working in an office (or at a home computer).

Think about your job and all the emails you get. Think about the days when you clearly aren’t in the mood to do a certain aspect of your job. We all have them. So to me, it’s my luck, that I will send a query to someone on what will probably turn out to be a terrible day for that editor or agent. Everything sucks when you’re in a bad mood.

Or I’m the email they’ve opened up and someone will then burst into their office with an emergency and when they get back, they’ve lost track of where they are and assume, they’ve read mine and discarded it. (More on my adventures in query writing in a later post).

Still with all that, I did also come to the realization that I was going to have to justify spending $7000 to my husband —even though it’s my own money. We’ve been married for 8 years next week and still 90% of our money is sitting in separate accounts. The reason? Lazy. My husband has the summers off and every June, I say “This year we are going to the banks!” and next thing I know it’s September.

So I found myself faced with the daunting task to start querying agents. Most editors don’t even accept queries directly. And when you get an agent, they will contact all the publishers.

I went through the book and checked off all the agents who are accepting new clients. BUT, publishing is dynamic. So while at the time, Writer’s Market was being published, an agent was open to new clients— that could always change. So every agent had to be further researched online.

And of course I had to find for those looking for material in my genre.

So there I was faced with my genre dilemma again. Is Forty Times Platinum Women’s Fiction or is it really a Romance? I decided to contact agents looking for both and figured I would write two queries (we all know how easy queries are to write) each slanted toward a particular genre.

By the time I was done, I had found 70 agents that I wanted to contact. 70 queries to send out. 70 agents to research and find out what they are looking for, who and what they published, what are their interests, are they speaking at any conferences, are they judging any contests. I created a spreadsheet that I had to end up printing on an 11×17 sheet and it was still six pages long.

By the time I was done, I knew one thing: Forty Times Platinum, wasn’t going anywhere for at least another six months.

To be continued.

2018

What does Forty Times Platinum and Frozen have in common?

Welcome back!

I don’t jump on band-wagons. Not out of principle or anything as noble as that. And as much as I criticize my husband for fearing change, I am actually very similar. I usually like what I have going on and don’t want to do anything new or different.

So of course I was probably the last person to get a Facebook page and I will say I still don’t know how to use it as effectively as I can. And now I have to be on Twitter and Instagram. Help! These have been my summer to-do’s. I did manage to set up a Twitter account- Follow me! But I haven’t gotten on Instagram yet.

Anyway, back to band-wagons. As someone who does not have children, when the whole Frozen craze started, I looked the other way. But, I do like a good song. The lyrics to “Let it Go”, however confused me because I hadn’t seen the movie. There I stood, in my friends’ kitchen one Friday night and the movie was on. When the scene with the song came on, the room burst with excitement. I listened specifically to the words and turned to my friend, begging for an explanation. Ah ha! Now I get it. And then I was hooked.

About a month after that, there was a behind-the-scenes special about Frozen.

I love all the behind the scenes stuff I could get my hands on. That was research for my novel. There are little pieces of so many rock-u-mentaries that I mimicked in Forty Times Platinum. Even though my book is about musicians, I am nothing further from an expert on music. I can carry a tune that is it. No one will have any idea what I went through to try to understand the elements of music so I could write about it successfully, accurately and make it sound pleasant to read. Music is basically another language. And it’s up there with Japanese. Since all the symbols mean something different.

So I watched the Frozen special with interest and again peeled my eyes and ears for stuff I could steal. I mean use. Songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and her husband Robert Lopez talked about what had inspired them to write the song. It was then that Kristen had used the word “vamp.” She was referring to the opening piano notes to the song. For the longest time I had been looking for that word! If it weren’t for the movie Frozen, there would have been a hole in my novel.

To this day, when I hear the opening to “Let it Go”, I think of my own fictional song, “Time and Place”— the song Jennifer Montgomery writes for newly signed artists Jamie Miller.

“A strong and intricate opening or vamp should get people’s attention, Jennifer thought.”

Thanks Kristen!

Then the screenwriter was being interviewed. Frozen was one of those movies that had many stops and starts. And even when they thought the story was complete, apparently when Kristen and Robert presented “Let it Go,” the screenwriter, said her reaction was “Oh God, I have to re-write this entire movie.”

I started crying. Coincidentally her name was Jennifer. I said, “I know Jennifer, I know how you feel.”

The re-write I was facing however was going to be even harder this time because I was being told to employ techniques I simply didn’t know. I decided to take advantage of the proofreading service and used the same editor to get me through a few chapters at a time. She was teaching me how to write a novel properly.

It took five more months to re-write and re-work Forty Times Platinum.

Again.

To be continued.

2018

The Five Pages That Changed My Life

Welcome back!

So I’m a little drunk and my hands are trembling opening the word document that contained my manuscript critique. I had expected 1 to 2 pages, per the service’ description. I peeked down at the lower tool bar and read “Page 1 of 5”

“Oh my God, this is five pages long!” I shouted to my husband.

This was the first sentence of my critique:

“This is a fun and imaginative romance fiction that will have substantial appeal to a target audience that enjoys the modern romance genre.”

Several words jumped out and soothed my nerves: ‘Fun’ and ‘Imaginative’. But ‘Substantial Appeal’ took my breath away. SUBSTANTIAL. But then I noticed the editor classified “Forty Times Platinum” as a Romance.

I had spent the better part of year, trying to make it sound like anything but a romance!

But the critique went on with more words of encouragement. And then the bomb dropped:

“Overall, therefore, you have the basics of a really good read. However, the novel, as it stands now, suffers badly from the pitfall of “telling” not “showing.”

‘Suffers badly.’ Ouch.

The next few pages had laid out the criticisms in detail:

“often Jen and the others are acting against a “blue screen” in your book.”

She likened the book to reading like a screenplay-made perfect sense. (See earlier posts.)

One of my mother’s comments was that I was too descriptive. So while I was wiping all of the unnecessary descriptions away, I was left with only dialogue. In all the people who read it, they never told me that they didn’t get a sense of what was going on around my characters. And I hadn’t seen it either.

But then I started paying extra attention to movies and television. I got what the editor was talking about. Characters just can’t talk non-stop with nothing else happening around them. That’s boring. And on the screen, actors don’t just stand there and talk.

Next the editor said I was “head-hopping.” In novels, apparently you cannot tell a story from two (or more) character’s perspective in the same part of the book. Any substantial chunk of a novel has to be told through one character’s perspective. And then you can jump. But you have to put in a key somehow to let the reader know the perspective has changed. This is done in movies and television all the time but apparently it’s a big no-no on paper.

It’s at this point that I picked up another book for help. And Seven Years to Sin– my FAVORITE Sylvia Day book- really came to my rescue. After reading my critique I was determined to prove the editor wrong about the ‘head-hopping’. I was sure I’d seen it in books. I was wrong.

Many authors devote individual chapters solely from one character’s perspective. Jodi Picoult does this a lot. And each chapter is titled with that character’s name. Personally, I think that’s been overdone. No offense to anyone- especially a master like Jodi.

The blue-screen fix was easy. The showing-not-telling comment was trickier, but again, a relatively easy fix, once I understood how to do it properly.

Example:

Tell: The glass of wine was half full.

Show: Christina lifted her glass, tilting her head back to catch the last of its contents.

The head-hopping was a big issue. I literally had thoughts popping in and out all over the place. And to me each character’s thoughts and views were important to telling the story the way I wanted to.

This sadly meant one thing.

I had to re-write my novel.

Again.

To be continued.

2018

Bring it On

Welcome back!

So all my characters were re-worked, re-named and re-invented. And when I was done, I came in at a little over 85,000 words. I was then left with the question: What now?

Nearly everything I had read on the internet said that to get a book published today was virtually impossible. I read a staggering statistic that literary agents get 60,000 queries (proposals) per year. Do the math people. With no contacts and nothing significant going for myself—unless I changed my name to Kardashian—I came to the conclusion that my only option was to Self-Publish.

And for anyone thinking, ‘Oh just Self-Publish’, it’s not that simple. Just go to Smashwords.com and look at the upload instructions. I also knew very little about publishing and knew I would need to pay someone a lot of money to do all the things I knew I couldn’t do. After all the research, I calculated my all-in figure to get my book published the way I wanted was going to come in around $7,000.

I looked at it like I was starting a business. People start businesses. People make investments. I was ready to sign up for a consultation with a Self-Publisher who had top ratings and good reviews, when again through random links I came across Scribendi.com. I perused their menu and came across a very interesting service: “Manuscript Critique”. Basically for money, someone would read my ENTIRE manuscript and tell me what they think. This was something I knew I had to do, to justify spending that amount of money.

Friends and family had read the novel. A shout out to Uncle Jack, Mom, my sister in law, her sister, my boss and several other friends who so graciously took the time to read “Forty Times Platinum” and all its iterations.

But I needed a professional unbiased opinion. Editors and agents are biased. At the end of the day, my book is a product. And it’s all about whether it could sell. Everyone is in their own world, their own bubble with details and circumstances that they have to maneuver around. So why is a book a no for someone and a yes for someone else? Because different people have different circumstances.

And yes, if you are PAYING someone for their opinion, maybe they don’t want to trash you. But in the questionnaire for the critique service Scribendi asked: How honest do you want us to be? I think I answered, “Bring it on!” The fee was based on the word count, so it cost me about $600. If I was going to spend $7000 with a Self Publisher, $600 to decide if I should even bother was peanuts.

Plus I was going to get an answer. When you ‘query’ agents or publishers, you send one page and more than likely you will never get an answer. So here was my chance for a ‘professional’ who was unbiased (no skin in the game) to give me their opinion on the WHOLE novel.

And after a nerve racking two week wait, I returned home from my usual Friday night date night with my husband to find my critique waiting for me. I admit to having a few cosmos in me, but I opened the review anyway. The description of service said I could expect a one to two page critique.

My critique was five pages long.

To be continued

2018

Forty Times Platinum gets handed over to my biggest critic- Mom

Welcome back!

Forty Times Platinum was tight and polished and had come in at a cool 85,000 words. I was ready (again) to move forward.

I then gave it to several relatives and friends to read. A few friends had even suffered through the sad 135,000 word version— I paid them off in gift cards. After every reading, I received valuable feedback and made edits accordingly. When I had the shorter, better version my uncle (Uncle Jack) read it. He had had a hernia operation and I was the lucky closest relative who got to take him to the hospital and then care for him while he was recovering.

He stayed the weekend and I forced him to read nearly the entire book. It started with me handing him the first chapter and I asked in general- “What do you think?” The man who reads nothing but World War II novels was surprisingly interested and kept asking me to print more chapters.

Uncle Jack was the first person I had told about the book and he’s been my biggest supporter ever since. He was always emailing me: What’s going on with the book? How’s the book? And this was before I knew what I was going to do with it.

As a woman who has no children, it’s hard for someone to understand how much I feel left out of the general conversation going on around me whenever I am with other adults. For thirteen years (the amount of time, I’ve been with my husband) I have sat through announcement after announcement- We’re having a baby! We’re having another baby! Come to the Christening, the communion, the birthday party, the moving up ceremony. My son is selling popcorn. My daughter is selling cookies. Come to the recital!

All the while, I’ve had no announcements and nothing to celebrate. For thirteen years, I’ve basically had nothing to talk about because there was nothing to say. So all those texts and emails from Uncle Jack have meant more to me than anyone could imagine.

Next I gave Forty Times Platinum to my mother to read.

When I was growing up all my mom had cared about was that I got some kind of college degree, so I could get some kind of job and support myself. The idea of anything creative and risk taking was completely OUT OF THE QUESTION.

Fast forward 30 years, I am married, doing well financially and so with that worry out of her head, she was able to embrace this endeavor and she read my novel. She’s an avid reader with vast interests, so this wasn’t too much of a stretch for her.

Like others, she had made comments, such as “I don’t get this.” or “Why are they doing that?” But then I started getting texts telling me what page she was on and that she was really getting into it. Another comment prompted me to remove a scene and re-write it to be one of my favorite scenes in the whole book. So I thank her for that. She even had a bookmark with Forty Times Platinum engraved on it. That’s when I knew she was seriously on board with this whole thing. It was an overwhelming gift.

I will also say that my mother has never hid how she proud she’s been of everything I’ve accomplished. I know she talks me up to everyone. For someone who didn’t graduate with an advanced or professional degree, I did pretty well for myself. But like most women, my mother is my biggest critic. So it was really no surprise when she said that although she really liked the book and she LOVED Michael (everyone loves Michael) she confessed that she didn’t like Jen very much.

Most writers put a lot of themselves in their characters. Jamie and Michael were both based on real people. Gigi too. Cam was loosely based on someone real but more from when he was an actor and not a ball player. Jen’s success and her talent could mostly be based on someone like Cheryl Crow. If you had to think about the type of musician Jen was as far as talent and success, Cheryl is the best example.

But everything about Jen came out of my head. I wrote her in most scenes and acted her out as I would have reacted. Jen really is me.

So for my mother to say, she didn’t like Jen, left me wondering — maybe my mother doesn’t really like me 🙂

To be continued

2018

Who wants a happy ending?

Welcome back!

To this day, Forty Times Platinum has an identity crisis. Let me explain: Every book falls into a genre and while booksellers freely cross the streams to maximize sales, publishers are very strict that a book must fall into ONE genre.

I didn’t want Forty Times Platinum to be a romance novel. Plenty of them fill my bookshelves and I have nothing against them. But to me, FTP didn’t read that way.  Besides, there are very strict rules for a story to be classified a “romance.” For one, the main characters must get together at the end- the Happy Ending rule.  It’s debatable what really happens at the end of FTP. I’ve purposely left it open. And then on a webinar, I learned things like infidelity are not present in romance novels. True romance novels really thrive on giving the reader a fantasy to chew on and then swallow.

And so in Commercial Women’s Fiction—or as they say in the biz:  ‘Women’s’, the characters are more realistic. “The Sound of her Heart” version definitely had a lot of whimsical elements and so if I wanted to be on the shelves with writers such as Emily Giffin or Lauren Weisberger, the fantasy needed to be toned down.

Before, Jen and Michael were these incredibly famous people living fabulous lives. In order for this story to work in the Women’s market, I needed to anchor them into reality. In the original version, they were loosely associated with the record label Jamie had signed with. To better identity with Jen and Michael, I pushed them both out of their singing careers and stuck them in an office working for my fictional record label- Thompson Street Records.

The ‘exes working together’ factor was such a fun premise to write around.   This was another opportunity to present a strong Jen. She’s a tough business woman, who’s left her singing career behind to make other artists’ dreams come true.

That brings us to Cam Harris. In the original version he was an actor. I struggled with this one. It was an easy and satisfying decision to make Jen and Michael more realistic but it took some thought and internal struggles to reinvent Cam Harris. As one of Jen’s love interests, Cam had to be special enough for her.

But Jen was a different person now and an actor was too unstructured for the new premise and the backdrop of the music industry told from insiders. I had to put my thinking cap on for this one: Where could someone be famous, but also have a real job with a set schedule of days on and off?

I wasn’t totally convinced making Cam a New York Yankee fit the less-than-fabulous tone I was trying to present. In fact I had written a whole alternate section making Cam a lawyer for a rival music label. Yawn. No offense against lawyers.

Cam also had to be more age-appropriate for Jen (Jamie is a younger man).  I tossed the question out to some people and everyone liked the idea of a love story with a professional ball-player. So Cam became a New York Yankee.

Well . . . it took 9 long months after the pitch conference in September 2013, but I was able to completely re-write what is now titled: Forty Times Platinum.

To be continued.