Monthly Archives: March 2011

THIS TIME by Joan Szechtman

Joan Szechtman is one of those novelists who has such a good idea, that you wish you’d had it yourself. The idea of Richard III being wrenched from a near-death experience and deposited in 21st-century Portland, Oregon is mind-blowing in all its implications. What is Richard really like? How will he get on in a democracy? What will he think of the 21st century? And in light of what he learns, what sense is he going to make of the life he left behind, and some of the truly awful things he did?

But the novel didn’t really answer these questions, at least not in a deeply resonant way. Why?

The major problem as I see it is the quality of the writing. What the author needed to do was to plunge the reader into Richard’s skin, and make his experiences viscerally real. That would have involved many more sensory descriptions, as well as much more interior monologue.

I think the reason why the novel didn’t work is because so much of what happens to Richard is presented as a summary, almost as if we were reading a newspaper account. But newspaper reportage is not the best way of gripping the reader’s attention. Nor is summary.

Although Ms Szechtman made a few nods to the need to capture what Richard’s bewilderment at being in the 21st century must have been like, it wasn’t enough to be realistic. The storyline wasn’t believable. It just didn’t make sense that Richard, of all people, should learn to trust 21st-century strangers so completely that he married one of them and because CEO of a company in the space of one year! I know this book is meant to be a fantasy, but each book has its own internal logic. In the case of THIS TIME, the author violated that logic.

One way to have dealt with these problems would have been to make Richard far less active in the 21st century, to give him more time to speak about his past, in particular to paint a vivid picture of the crisis of the spring of 1483, when his brother King Edward IV suddenly died, and of the events leading up to the disappearance of his nephews. That would have been fascinating.

–Cynthia Haggard writes historical novels.  She has two completed manuscripts that will be published in the coming year. THWARTED QUEEN is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear. FAMILY SPLINTERS is  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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Let’s talk money: Author royalties, or how much do you think you should be paid?

As I said last week, things have gotten increasingly difficult for new writers. No longer do editors and agents proffer a helping hand to those of us who have a fabulous manuscript that needs some help. Instead, writers are not only expected to write a brilliant book, and do impeccable research that underpins their flights of fancy (especially true for historical novelists) but they are also expected to sell their books.

The shocking thing is that this is not just true for those of us who choose to self-publish, it’s also true for those who choose to go the traditional publishing route.

The dirty little secret is that publishers will not help their mid-list authors. And these authors typically don’t find this out until it’s too late, when the 3-4 month window of opportunity for selling their book has passed.

But that’s not the worst of it. The worst part about it is the low royalties that authors are expected to accept. Typically, authors are paid 6% to 10% on the NET price of the book. Net price means the price listed on the cover that’s been discounted by anywhere from 40% to 66%.

Let’s do the math. Supposing the price listed on the cover of your book is $15.95. The net price of your book will be around $8, if 50% is knocked off. What’s 10% of $8? It’s 80 cents. What’s 6%? It’s 48 cents.

Think about that. Think about all the hard work you’ve done to write your novel, and you get paid less than a dollar per book. It’s insulting.

When I think about my novels, I think about how I poured myself into them. I think about how emotional they made me. I think about the considerable amount of thought I had to put into each one, in order for it to be interesting (and easy) to read.  And I think about the fact that writing a novel is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, including writing a PhD dissertation.

This is not just about money. It’s about self-respect and respect from others. Do you like being used? Do you like having that feeling of being screwed over when you’ve poured yourself into your novel? Of course you don’t.

What can you do about it? How about self-publishing? Let’s do some more math. If you sell your novel for $2.99 on Amazon, you pocket 70% of the proceeds. How much is 70% of $2.99?

$2.09.

What does that mean? By publishing it yourself, you make anywhere from TWO AND A HALF TO FOUR TIMES what you would make with a traditional publisher. And considering that a traditional publisher isn’t even going to bother to market your book (unless you happen to be that lucky author with a blockbuster on your hands), you might as well publish it yourself and pocket the proceeds.

OK, so what’s the catch?

The catch is that you’re going to have to spend an enormous amount of time marketing your work so that it actually moves. I have seen e-books sitting on Amazon, dead in the water, because no-one knows they are there. Yes, you have to sacrifice the time you would spend writing your next novel to market this one. And that is a big decision to make.

Image: 80 cents from raisetheroop.com

–Cynthia Haggard writes historical novels.  She has two completed manuscripts that will be published in the coming year. ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear. HE MUST BE SOMEONE is  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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Websites to Watch: TROUVAIS

Continuing my series of Friday posts about interesting blogs or websites today, I’m going to talk about TROUVAIS, a site owned an operated by someone whose first name is Trish and whose last name might be Lyon-Allen. (When you visit the site, you will see at once that the owner keeps a low profile to allow you to enjoy her site).

In her post titled Behind Trouvais, Trish tells us that Trouvais is the French word for found.

But it actually has a gentler meaning than the usual word for found, trouvé, as in objet trouvé or found object. This is because Trouvais is in the imperfect tense (rather than the perfect), so it literally means I was finding, giving an impression of continuous delight, rather than of a sudden event.

The reason why I chose this site is because it is unique. Trish has obviously put an enormous amount of effort into her site, spending hours finding and scanning wonderful photos of French-inspired country life that encompasses, flowers, gardens, furniture and objects. It is so beautiful, it is relaxing, and it will make you smile. If you are having a bad day at the office, this is the perfect site for you. Click here to enjoy.

Image: trouvais.com

–Cynthia Haggard writes historical novels.  She has two completed manuscripts that will be published in the coming year. ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear. HE MUST BE SOMEONE is  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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THE WHITE QUEEN by Philippa Gregory

THE WHITE QUEEN is the story of Elizabeth Woodville (1437-1492), Queen of Edward IV, mother of the Little Princes in the Tower, and also of Elizabeth of York, who married Henry Tudor after he defeated Richard III at Bosworth, and founded the Tudor dynasty.

The novel starts in 1464, when Elizabeth is sent by her family to beg the King for his favor. There has been a war. Her family was on the losing side. She has nothing to give her two sons because their dead father’s estates have been confiscated. She is chosen to go before the King, because she is a beauty and the young monarch is known to appreciate pretty women.

The rest, as they say, is history. Edward IV secretly weds Elizabeth on May 1, 1464. Even more remarkably, he keeps his promises to her by publicly declaring their union in September of that year, horrifying his counselors, his friends, his family, and most of all, his mother Cecylee, Duchess of York, who does all that she can to disturb the marriage.

Philippa Gregory is such a talented writer and this novel is an easy and enjoyable read. Like others, I did not feel that the extended references to Melusina helped the story. A few details here and there, slipped into the text, would have suited me better.

But the real problem with this novel is the ending. It ends in April 1485, before Elizabeth’s nemesis and brother-in-law Richard III is defeated at Bosworth, before her eldest daughter marries the victor and becomes Queen of England, and before Elizabeth’s own disgrace and exile in 1487, and her subsequent death at Bermondsey Abbey in 1492. Philippa Gregory has created such a compelling character, I was sorry to see her abandon the novel so early, depriving us all of the pleasure of hearing what Elizabeth would have said about these events.

–Cynthia Haggard writes historical novels.  She has two completed manuscripts that will be published in the coming year. ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear. HE MUST BE SOMEONE is  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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Dan Poynter’s SELF-PUBLISHING MANUAL

I was going to write about something else today, but I’ve just finished reading Dan Poynter’s THE SELF-PUBLISHING MANUAL, and I think this is such an important book for an aspiring writer, that I’ve decided to share my observations.

The history of publishing in the last 100 years, has been one of increasing difficulty for writers. (And I’m not even talking about the insultingly low royalties that writers are expected to put up with! ) Up to the 1980s, it was not unreasonable to hope that an editor might take you on, even though you were an aspiring writer with a flawed first manuscript. Then editors got too busy to do that, so agents took over that role, and found publishing houses whose job it was to sell your books.

As many of you know, the new reality of publishing is that traditional publishers no longer see it as their job to sell your book, unless they think it is going to be a blockbuster. Too many authors have assumed that publishers will market their books, only to find out too late that very little effort was expended in that direction.

This is why Dan Poynter’s book is so valuable, both for those who choose to publish with a traditional publisher and those who choose to self publish. Why? Because I have never met an author who was so thorough and conscientious at explaining all the ins and outs of something.

You want a marketing plan for selling your novel? Buy this book, and flip through it. The chapter outlines will tell you exactly what to do. If you’re still unsure, Appendix 1 gives you a calendar of what to do, while Appendix 2 gives an exhaustive list of resources. Need more help? Go to his website, www.parapublishing.com, and you will find more articles, some free, some for a modest price.

If you do nothing else, buy this book. No-one else is going to care as much about selling your novel as you are.

I know. You would much rather be writing than selling, and thinking about selling gives you indigestion. But if you want people to read your books, you are going to have to do something to make them more visible.

Best of luck, and feel free to share your experiences by commenting below.

–Cynthia Haggard writes historical novels.  She has two completed manuscripts that will be published in the coming year. ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear. HE MUST BE SOMEONE is  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.


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TWO NERDY HISTORY GIRLS blog

Continuing my series of Friday posts about interesting blogs or websites today, I’m going to talk about TWO NERDY HISTORY GIRLS. This blog is owned and operated by Loretta Chase, who writes historical romance, and Susan Holloway, who writes historical novels.

What makes this site stand out are the wonderful pictures of historical clothing. Monday’s post was about a symposium hosted by Colonial Williamsburg, titled More from Accessories, showing the wonderful embroidery on the collars and sleeve ruffles that women wore in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. To read this post, click here.

Friday’s post featured a cherry-red ball gown from 1830. Every Sunday, Loretta and Susan provide Breakfast Links, which showcases other websites and blogs of interest. Browsing here over a cup of milky coffee is a real treat and has become my highlight of the week.

To read the post about the cherry-red ball gown, click here.

To read the most recent Breakfast Links, click here.

Image:  twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.


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THE RED QUEEN by Philippa Gregory

THE RED QUEEN is the story of Margaret Beaufort (1443-1509), mother of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond (1457-1509), who defeated Richard III at Bosworth and reigned as King Henry VII from 1485 until his death in 1509. (Margaret herself died two months after her son.)

The novel begins in 1453, when Margaret is about to go to court for the first time to formally dissent from her pre-contracted marriage to the son of a disgraced nobleman, so that she becomes available to make a better match. The hour is late, but nine-year-old Lady Margaret is on her knees at prayer, having a vision of herself as her heroine Joan of Arc. When everything is spoiled by her mother’s maid coming in and insisting that she go to bed, for they have to rise early on the morrow.

Philippa Gregory is such a talented writer, whose historical novels are easy and entertaining to read. But she has surpassed herself in this novel, for the voice of Lady Margaret is truly remarkable: determined, shrewd, strong, certain and unconsciously funny:

It cannot be right that the York princess is a favorite at the court, the darling of her uncle, the sweetheart of her people, and I thrown down. God cannot really want these women to lead peaceful, happy lives, while my son is in exile.

The whole novel is infused with that voice, and it makes fascinating reading. If you have not read this novel and you love the period of the Wars of the Roses, then you are in for a treat.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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Websites for workshopping your manuscripts

It is so hard to get quality feedback these days. Editors and agents are too busy to give it to you, and so you are forced to rely on the good nature of friends or relatives, or the people you happen to run into when attending a writing group.

My experience with writing groups has been mixed. In the beginning, when i was a brand-new writer, I found them enormously helpful, because I had so much to learn. Now that I have 2 novel-length MSS under my belt, I find them less helpful, because most of the people who show up are typically beginners with an incomplete first draft that needs some TLC. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you are a more advanced writer, you need more help than that kind of person is typically able to give you.

I’ve written before about joining book clubs, and how helpful that can be. I now want to mention a couple of sites that are designed to help writers workshop MSS.

The first one is Critters, which is for “serious writers of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror” to quote their website. To read more, click here.

The second one is Historical-Fiction-Writers-Critique-Group, which is a Yahoo! group. To belong to this group, you have to be extremely dedicated, because you are required to critique 3 MSS a month. This is a group I would love to belong to, but don’t because I can’t make this commitment. However, if you are in a position to do this, and you have a completed MSS that is ready for feedback that is a historical, you should definitely check it out. Click here to find out more.

Image: WordPress.com

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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Jane Friedman’s blog THERE ARE NO RULES

This Friday, I’m going to try something different. I’m going to start a series of Friday posts that will highlight a blog or website that I think is particularly interesting.

Today, I’m going to talk about THERE ARE NO RULES, a blog owned and operated by Jane Friedman. Jane is the former publisher and editorial director of Writer’s Digest. She is currently visiting professor of e-media at the University of Cincinnati and contributing editor to Writer’s Digest. Jane is very generous in passing on information via free webinars and blog posts, and I have learned a great deal from her on the changing nature of the publishing industry.

On Wednesday, Jane posted a blog from guest blogger John Rember, who wrote on the relationship between authors, agents and publishers.  Here is an excerpt from his blog:

But my troubles with my agent were never her fault. They were inherent to the relationship between agents and writers, which is a predator-prey kind of deal. Agents are not hoping to find, in you the writer, a diamond in the rough, a talent to be nurtured, a friend to be encouraged. They’re looking for the next John Grisham and they’re looking for 15% of a multi-million dollar advance. They are cold and hard businesspeople—if they aren’t, they end up living under bridges, and not the bridges in the Hamptons—so your talent or niceness is not their first consideration.

Many writers assume that with the big houses, a few bestsellers subsidize midlist writers. That’s the way it used to work. Now the CFOs of publishing houses demand that every book be a money-maker. In practice, this means editors are told to look for the next bestseller, and they, not being psychic, think that it looks like the last bestseller. Hence John Grisham, James Patterson, Dan Brown, and the dead Swedish guy.

To read more, click here.

To read Jane Friedman’s blog, THERE ARE NO RULES, click here.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS by Sherry Thomas

Romance is not usually a genre I read, because I tend to find it too formulaic. I am a reader of historical novels, because I love thinking about the past, and love the way that historicals allow the author so much scope. (It’s not surprising that I’ve become a historical novelist myself.)

Therefore, I stepped out of my comfort zone to read PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS by Sherry Thomas. Set in late nineteenth-century England, this romance explores the “courteous marriage” of Lord and Lady Tremaine, courteous because he lives in New York, while she lives in London. But when her solicitors contact his lawyers and demand an end to the marriage, he decides to extract a condition from her. She has to give him an heir before he will allow the marriage to end.

Of course this is outrageous, and for those of you who may be wondering why she would agree to such a thing, you have to understand that husbands ruled their wives even late into the nineteenth century, and thus he was demanding only what many would say is his “right”. She is a fiercely determined woman, who in the great Victorian tradition of martyrdom, sacrifices herself to what we would now call spousal rape for the sake of her love of a much younger man whom she hopes to marry.

As I said, I do not normally ready romances. But Ms. Thomas kept me glued to the pages of her debut novel. I think it was because the characters of Lord and Lady Tremaine vibrated with energy, so that they literally jumped off the pages of the novel. Quirky, opinionated, and not always kind to each other, they were nevertheless completely mesmerizing.

Why was this novel so successful? The author had taken the time and trouble to master her craft. The plot was taut and well-constructed. The rising tension was managed well, and the writing was gorgeous. The best recommendation for this novel that I can give is that I stayed up until 1pm reading it.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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