Thursday, December 21, 2006

Writing through the holidays



Howdy, y'all!

If you've been as busy as I have, you've probably asked Santa to bring extra hours in every day. But just in case he doesn't come through, I have a plan:

First, I went through my files. Yes, ALL my files. Almost a hundred story ideas, all at various stages of development. If a manuscript had no hope of selling, even if it hadn't been submitted and rejected, it took a short flight straight into the trash can.

That left me with about two dozen stories, some fully-fleshed out, others just topics I felt could be turned into salable novel plots. I gave each a thorough read, to determine which might sell in today's market...and which cannot...and a few more files sailed into the already-full garbage pile.

Next I sorted through the remaining six story outlines, and put them in 'easiest to complete and submit' order, so that on January 2, 2007, I can perch on my purple exercise ball, fingertips curled above the keyboard, and dig in on 'the story of my heart' (working title "Defiance").

Make no mistake: The "Defiance" characters and storyline fits today's publishing trends. I see no point in making a difficult job even harder. I mean, why put time, effort, and energy into a book nobody but me wants to read! (The fact that I can write about a couple of my favorite topics, and wrap character traits around my favorite (and least favorite) personality types is a 'plus'....)

Yeah, I'll put my 'all' into "Defiance", and when I believe it's ready, I'll submit the synopsis and first three chapters. And before editors' fingers ever turn the pages, I'll be hard at work on the second story in my short-stack, "Tuxedo Bend".

I'm organized to a fault. If things aren't in order, I can't get anything done. Chaos--even a small amount--puts me into a never-ending tailspin of 'fix this' and 'do that'. In order to concentrate on a task at hand, my tiny brain needs to see and feel (and believe) all the ducks are in a row, all the T's are crossed, all the I's dotted.

There's no turning back; I dragged pounds of paper to the curb and cringed as two big guys hefted the can into the back of the trash truck. Maybe the rats and roaches at the landfill will enjoy reading what no agent or editor ever had.... As the squealing, grinding gears of the vehicle moved down the road, I found myself relaxing. Smiling at my new-found freedom....

Each manuscript DISproved the 'out of sight, out of mind' adage. I thought of them every day, sometimes more than once a day: Could a few be rewritten? (If so, which?) Could I weave elements of one novel into the plotline of another? Might 'this' character perform better in 'that' story? Knowing they were as gone as last year's Christmas fruitcake opened my mind in a brand new way.

As an avid gardeners, I know that sometimes, when a plant malingers, harsh pruning is in order. Lopping dead stuff off, whacking back to the original plant is the only way to get back to healthy green chutes and big fragrant blooms I once enjoyed.

I'm sure you see where I'm going with this.... Cutting those dead, never-salable stories from my files made room for stronger ideas that will bear publishable fruit.

My advice to you? Instead of asking Santa to deliver more hours in the day as your Christmas gift, ask for 3 uninterrupted hours you can use to prune YOUR files. I promise...it'll be a gift that keeps on giving, for the space you'll create in your office will cry out to the Universe "Fill me!"...and new ideas will appear like magic beneath your Christmas tree....

I'll close by wishing you a merry Christmas, a happy Hannuka, a wonderful 'whatever you celebrate' during this holiday season. And may 2007 allow you to meet all your goals, and let you see at least a few of your dreams come true.

All my best, Loree

Monday, October 09, 2006

NY AGENT Featured Guest Speaker 11/11


Here's hopin' all's well with you and yours!

I'm still dryin' out from a long, soggy weekend at our early-attic-furnished cabin in the Allegheny Mountains. Fortunately, the cloud cover didn't interfere with our satellite signal, and we were able to watch hours of Discovery Science and Animal Planet. (Don't tell my hubby, but I've fallen in love with Survivorman. )

First, let me tell you how much I've enjoyed (and learned!), reading your posts here at The Lough Down. Please, please, please...keep it up. Your ideas, comments, and suggestions are a source of inspiration...and the foundation of many articles. And remember: Posting qualifies you to attend one of my Leading Edge Writers' Studios workshops at a discount...or absolutely free...simply by reminding me you've posted....

Speaking of which, the next Leading Edge workshop takes place on November 11th. As always, we'll begin the day in Kahler Hall's Marchand Room at 9 and hit the road at 4. (If you've submitted 5 pages for a free critique, I'll meet with you at day's end.)

Our guest speaker this session is New York's own Jan Kardys, whose years of experience in the industry have prompted her to open the doors to her own literary agency. She's willing to meet with you, one-on-one, during the workshop...provided you've registered by November 3rd...for a 15-minute interview.

FYI: The past few workshops have been such a hit that plans are in the works to host weekend and week-long writing retreats at Caribbean, U.S., Canadian, and European locations. (More information on cities and hotel/B&B will be available soon, so check back to find out if your home town or dream destination is on the list.)

The Leading Edge practice of featuring industry experts as guest speakers will, of course, remain intact. Nationally renowned best-selling authors, NY editors and agents, a handsome Britain-born leading man, and a gorgeous Hollywood starlet are but a few examples of 'featured guests' who will participate in the retreats. Each 'star' will address specific areas of the industry (PR/marketing, taxes, securing agent representation, copyrights, contracts, etc), and will be availble for private interviews, autograph and photo sessions, and ordinary conversation during sit-down meals. Sign up for as many how-to sessions as you please, use the time to tour our host cities, or just 'shadow' your favorite guest speaker! (Naturally, I'll deny making that last suggestion....)

Until those plans are a little more 'firmed up', the Leading Edge Writers' Studios continues to provide students with day-long nuts-and-bolts workshops that promise to meet the needs of writers, regardless of genre or skill level. As always, breakfast, lunch, and beverages are provided for you, along with numerous handouts and all writing materials. (Visit www.loreelough.com or ShawGuides Writing Workshops (type Leading Edge Writers' Studios into their 'search' block for more details).

Oh...and remember: A percentage of your registration fee is earmarked for The Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania, so you can feel doubly good about signing up, since your hard-earned dollars will do far more than help you excell as an author, but will provide much-needed help to the magnificent residents of Speedwell Forge, as well.

Hope to see your shining faces on November 11th. (Pssst...did I mention that if you mention this blog posting when you register, you're automatically eligible for a 10% discount to the workshop of your choice?)

Meanwhile, take care!

All my best,
Loree

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Writing workshop



Yes, Virginia, there's still time to register!


Loree Lough's (that's me! hehehe) popular Leading Edge Writers' Studios intensive, all-day workshop (Sept. 16, 2006 in Columbia, MD) has just a few openings left, so get your registration in soon!

For those of you who don't know, I founded The Leading Edge in 1999, in response to numerous requests from students and mentees.

Built on 15+ years' teaching experience (which includes my very own "Build a Better Novel", "The Elements of Fiction", and Writer's Digest classes, to name just a few, The Leading Edge is dedicated to one clear-cut objective: Helping you launch or enhance your writing career.

WHAT YOU'LL GET WHEN YOU SIGN UP:

Meals and beverages,


writing materials,

detailed handouts,

in-class exercises,

free one-on-one critiques (submit 5 pages by 8/15/06),

guest speaker (entertainment attorney this time!),

discounts (early registration, senior citizen, student, referrals),

the benefit of my 20+ years' writing and 15+ years' teaching experience,

and a whole lot more!


The Leading Edge will teach you how to turn your ideas into salable proposals. Learn what agents and editors want--and why--thanks to powerful tools and step-by-step instructions structured to de-mystify the write-to-sell process.

For more information, or to print a downloadable brochure and/or registration form, visit http://www.loreelough.com and click the Lectures/Workshops tab.

Hope to see you there. Meanwhile, keep those fingers on the keyboard!

All my best, Loree

Friday, July 28, 2006

Writers Beware....


For going on twelve years now, I've been invited to speak to writers' (and other) groups in the U.S. and abroad, discussing a wide variety of writing-related topics. From the hundreds of questions I've answered, I can always count on hearing one:

"Has anyone ever plagiarized your work?"

The simple answer is, a-yup. And if there's time during the Q&A period, I delve into the more complicated issues surrounding this thorny subject....

First, to tweak Bill Clinton's now-famous quote, everybody needs to be on the same page regarding exactly what the definition of plagiarism is. Fortunately, my dearies, it's waaaaaay simple: Plagiarism is stealing. It's taking another author's work and passing it off as your own.

The law specifies how many words, lines, paragraphs you can "borrow", and sets forth clear-cut rules outlining how. (Footnotes, quotes, identifying the true author and the source of the material you're "using".)

Okay, sure...there are lotsa times when it's sorta kinda almost necessary to borrow another author's work, say, in a history-type book. I say 'almost' because I've written lotsa non-fiction-historical-school-type stuff, and managed to find numerous ways to state facts and cite examples without taking the 'borrow it' shortcut: I did my own research.

Then there's the matter of "Do I need the authors' permission to quote 'em?" If you've given proper credit, followed the 'how much borrowed' rules and regs to the letter, the answer is usually 'no', but if the author is living and breathing, it'd sure be an Emily Post kinda thing to do....

Still...there's more to this prickly subject than first meets the eye. Borrowing other authors' written words and giving proper credit has long been standard policy for writers. Reporters do it all the time. Why, more'n'a few of 'em have quoted me. And to be truthful, if somebody thinks I'm good enough to quote, and they're honest enough to give me proper credit, I'm honored. Flattered. Heck, I welcome the free publicity!

Unfortunately, that particular practice isn't what I'm getting at here.

Taking somebody else's property--whether it's written/published words, or a jacket from a restaurant coat room--is stealing. And stealing is a crime. And in the eyes of most God-fearing human beings, it's a sin.

Since plagiarism is taking someone's words and tucking them amongst your own (maybe even amongst words you've...ahem..."borrowed" from other authors) without getting permission and/or giving proper credit? That's PLAGIARISM.

Having experienced first-hand what it's like to have my hard work stolen and passed off as A Thief's, I understand only too well the frustration, anger, and helplessness plagiarized authors feel.

Yeah, living by The Golden Rule is a great idea, and it's long been my motto. But it's a scary world out there; what choice do I have but to face a cold, ugly fact of life: Today's world is overpopulated by parasites who don't feel even a twinge of guilt when they take what isn't theirs and claim it as their own, no matter how many favors you've done for them, no matter how many years you've dedicated to helping them launch their writing careers.

So what do I do about it? Oh, I could sue The Thief...and fritter away my hard-earned money. But that could take years (and at my age, I don't wanna waste one precious minute!). I could confront The Thief, yet again, and see if maybe this time, I'd get some inner satisfaction upon hearing an admission of guilt. But narcissists don't change, and I couldn't stomach another chorus of "I'm an innocent victim, and you have an overactive imagination!"

Surviving a go-round with this "The world is my oyster and I'm entitled to all the pearls" leech taught me a very valuable life-lesson: I can't let stuff like this get to me, cuz another cold, hard fact of life is...if I let it get to me...I pay for The Thief's crime.

Instead of vengeance, or wasting even one precious second wondering why The Thief feels no tug of conscience, taking what's mine and passing it off as her/his own, I take comfort in the old "What goes around, comes around" adage....

All criminals think they're above the law, smarter than the rest of us, able to avoid being seen for who (and what) they are, indefinitely, with no price to pay...and "my" thief is no exception. But that smug, superior mindset is precisely what tripped up other scumsucking narcissists like Ted Bundy and that Enron bastard. And sooner or later, it'll trip up "my" plagiarist, too.

When it does, that's when I'll get my satisfaction.

Some advice to anyone who's considering the plagiarism route:

Live by The Golden Rule. Don't take something that cost someone else countless hours of blood, sweat, and tears...then pretend it's yours. Because no matter how cleverly you disguise it, or how cautiously you attempt to explain it, or how many times you try to rewrite and rework it, the words will never truly be yours. And even you can't hide from that cold, ugly fact of life.

Instead, trust your own instincts, have faith in the talent God gave you, and use your own stuff! Yeah, it might take a little longer to "get there", doing things The Right Way, but when you arrive, you'll be able to look yourself in the mirror...and genuinely like who you see. And if, upon arrival, you're greeted with applause, awards, admiration (money!)...you'll enjoy the kudos, because you'll know it was earned, not STOLEN.

If you steal, you're a thief.

If you're a thief, you're gonna get caught.

And when you do, I'll be front and center, whistling and clappin' when the world learns the truth...

...about YOU.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Business Management





Yeah...crazy as it sounds, artsy-fartsy types like us hafta dig in our heels and make the business of writing an important part of our daily lives. To do otherwise is career suicide.

Why is savvy thinkin' so critical? Well, consider the fact that there were almost 200,000 different titles published in 2005. The guys and gals who authored those books are your competition.

To succeed--and continue on the road of success--you have to understand readers, publishers, editors, booksellers and buyers, agents, royalty and advance rates, copyrights, and yourSELF.

Do you have what it takes to come up with salable ideas? If so, do you have what it takes to turn those ideas into salable manuscripts? Can you KEEP ON creating salable stuff for publishers by massaging editors with stories so fantastic that they not only trust you, but come to count on you for 'more of the same' as well?

You need a business email address. A web site. A blog...and if you're really savvy, a video blog (vlog). You need to belong to the 'right' writers' groups. Make smart alliances, because networking is important for a dozen different reasons. Get to know booksellers, so you can beg and plead, when your next book is about to hit the shelves, for some 'special handling'.

You need to consider writing a 'break-out book'. Sequels. Series books. Fiction and non-fiction. Teach some classes. Say 'yes' to some speaking engagements. Make yourself 'different', and do it now!

Will you write 'the book of your heart', or the book publishers are clammoring for? (Or will you figure out a way to combine the two?) Will you hire an agent? Change agencies? Work without a net?

I could go on (and on and on), but you get the point: There's waaaaaaaay more to being a multi-published author than writing books. Publishing companies don't have the budget any more to 'hawk' their authors. That's a job we have to do, ourselves. If we aren't willing to dive in, head first, and do the dirty-gritty-shameless self-promotional stuff, we'll end up one trick ponies.

Maybe.

If we're lucky.

(I can name a handful of writers who will ride those ponies to the grave, and be perfectly content with one, very old success. Not me! I don't have the personality to beat a dead horse, over and over, year after year. It'd make me feel like a complete and utter failure, cuz I'm the type who wants RECENT success...the more recent, the better. Why? Well, cuz it's affirmation--not just to my readers and students (that I really AM everything I claim to be), but to editors and publishers, as well. And THAT is what keeps my nose to the grindstone, year after year, series after series.

Sounds hard, doesn't it? Well, it's supposed to be hard. If it was easy, every numbskull would be doing it...and succeeding in your place.

If you haven't already written up a business plan, give it some thought. You'll be pleasantly surprised what a difference it'll make in your mindset...and your success.

So what're ya sittin' here reading for, when you could be writing Your Plan!



Until next time, stay safe and healthy!

Loree

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Writers' Conference Preparation


So you've registered to attend a writers' conference, and signed up for a private meeting with an agent or an editor...or both....

Having sat through a couple of each myself, I know it can be a knee-knockin' experience, especially if you go unprepared to 'the den' .

I sat through enough of 'em that I many have moved from my 'mere acquaintences' to my 'writing pals' list. So now, when we get together, it's to discuss the ways this wacky, ever-changing industry has affected us personally (well, and professionally, too, of course)...lately.

When I'm invited to lead conference workshops or give speeches for writers' organizations, question about these meetings often crop up. So I decided to add tidbits gathered from my own agent/editor sessions to direct questions I've asked them over the years. The result? A one-hour workshop entitled "Those Critical Ten Minutes".

Let me abbreviate that hour for you, here:

1. You need to decide whether a meeting with an agent, editor, or both will best advance your career, and schedule a session as quickly as possible so you won't be forced to decide "if your first choice isn't available, who else would you like to meet?"

2. Figure out long before the meeting what type book you'll pitch. If it's fiction, is it genre fiction or mainstream? Whether fiction or non-fiction, you need to be very comfortable with your THEME.

3. Who's your audience...or...who will read your book?

4. Is the book a one-time-only deal, or do you hope to write sequels or updated editions?

5. Can you describe the entire book in ONE SENTENCE?

6. What's your writing experience and/or what credentials make you the best person to write this particular book?

7. How is your book different from others like it?

8. How much do you know about the company 'your' agent or editor works for (or owns)?


9. Dress as though you're going to a job interview...because you are.

10. Bring a 3x5 card with you, and if you have one, a business card. On the 3x5 card, write:

a. your book's title
b. your book's THEME
c. a brief overview of your story (major characters only, conflicts, how you'll resolve them, and how the book ends)

Some direct quotes from my agent/editor pals:

Don't be intimidated. We belch after a hearty meal, same as you!

Understand your own story well enough to sell it. Don't meander around the theme. If you can't describe your plot in a sentence or two, you're doomed.

Don't tell us it's a viable story, show us!

Know what we're looking for, and for the luvva Pete, don't try to talk us into buying something we can't publish or represent.

Know what other books, similar to yours, are selling...and why.

Know how we prefer to receive submissions.

LISTEN! Everything we tell you during one of these meetings is free advice, so take advantage of it!

So there y'have it, boys and girls, from the experts, themselves. No reason not to sign up for a meeting with an agent or an editor...now that you know what's expected of you!

Here's hoping you'll sell whatever you pitch! Meanwhile, write on!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Writers Gone Wrong

So here it is, the month of May already. How's that possible, I wanna know, when it seems only yesterday I packed up the Christmas decorations!

So lemme tell ya a story....

A pal called me yesterday, in tears over what someone she'd considered a friend had done to her. Brokenhearted, she didn't know how to react to what she called 'blatant betrayal'.

"I held her hand through every stage of her career," my pal said, "took her under my wing, introduced her to others who helped advance her writing career. And what did she do? She stole an idea I'd been working on for years and passed it off as her own. Now, if I use it, it'll look like I stole it from her." On the heels of a shaky sigh, she added, "If not for me, she wouldn't even be a published author!"

I didn't have the heart to tell her she was dead wrong: This so-called friend would have found a way to get into print even if she had to fork over tens of thousands of bucks to do it. She's the type who'd have taken advantage of anyone, anwhere, willing to help her. It's a darned shame it had to be my pal but, as the sages say, if it quacks like a duck, it's a duck...

...or a seasoned hunter, tootin' a duck call to lure prey....

No doubt about it. If this "friend" hadn't abused the kindness and generosiy of my pal, she'd have screwed somebody else. I'd bet my next book contract she has abused somebody else...probably dozens of somebody elses. Why am I so sure? Simple: Narcissists and parasites both bleed their hosts white, then drop off once they've had their fill. (It's no accident that when we whisper the words "narcissist" and "parasite", they sound kinda similar....)

Most writers are by nature giving, sharing, helpful people. We remember all too well the hard-scrabble struggle it took to get our books on the shelves. If we can spare somebody a few bumps and bruises as they make the same trek, we're gonna do it, even though there's a chance we'll get our butts kicked up 'tween our shoulder blades in the process.

My pal? Oh, she'll cry a while, grieve at the loss of this so-called friend. She'll cuss a little, beat herself up a bit, call herself a sap. Stupid. Naive. Say stuff like "I'm not as mad at her as I am at myself, for letting her take advantage of me!" But in time, she'll get over it.

And y'know what? Next time a fledgling writer asks for her help, she'll willingly, happily give it. I've known this gal for a couple of decades. She's not the type who'll allow "a deliberate knife in the back" to turn her sour on would-be authors. She'd be the first to say it wouldn't be fair to judge 'em all by the behavior of one narcisstic parasite.

In a few months, when she's feeling stronger (less stupid, naive, and sappy), I'll tell her about a similar experience I had not so long ago, and how I consider myself doggoned lucky, because in nearly twenty years in this wacky business, I've only been kicked in the teeth once. Amazing, considering I've mentored literally hundreds of hopeful writers.

'Lucky' is the operative word here. I didn't get all savvy and sophisticated because that one painful event taught me something about myself, about human nature, about parasites and narcissists. Like my pal, I went right back to doing everything in my power to help new writers; I have their decency to thank that I bear just one scar from a painful 'backstabbing incident'.

Those of us who've been fortunate enough to write the right story at the right time, submit it to the right editor under the right circumstances are, for the most part, gonna keep right on sharing learned-the-hard-way writing and publishing lessons, because that's they kind of people we are. And the writers with whom we share those lessons are, for the most part, good and decent people who wouldn't dream of biting the hand that's feeding them helpful information.

My pal learned a tough lesson this week, one of the toughest: There are a few bums out there who'll don whatever costume is required to get 'em what they want. Some will need to honk duck their calls quite a while before they can walk away, backpack fulla limp foul in tow. Others are such masterful 'honkers' that they'll lure their prey in no time at all.

One thing's sure: The narcissistic parasites out there have built-in radar that leads them to straight to suitable hosts. So here's hopin' when they zero in on us--my brokenhearted pal, you, me--we'll have so much information in reserve, there's no way they can bleed us white.

A word to all you narcissistic parasites (and you know who you are), I hear your life cycle is frignteningly short. Enjoy your phony balonie success while it lasts, cuz it's only a matter of time before the publishing world realizes what you already know: If not for your lies and thievery, you couldn't make it on your own.

The rest of you? Write on!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Writing Research

In this installment of The Lough Down, we'll tackle a problem that has confused and distracted writers since, well, since the dawn of writing...research:

Q: Loree, please help me! How much research is sufficient in preparing to write a novel? I mean, if one of my characters is Chinese, do I need to visit Moscow?

A: Well, gee. Of course you don't have to go to Singapore just cuz a guy in your book is a former citizen. There are dozens of ways to research for accurate details without going straight to the Asian's mouth:

Surely someone you know knows somebody who's from Asia. Set up a lunch date with that person and enjoy some lively, one-on-one discussions about the homeland.

Visit your local library and/or bookstore, and read everything you can get your hands on about Asia, its history, climate, customs, etc.

Call a nearby college or university to set up an interview with a professor of Asian language or history.

Did someone you know visit Asia lately? Ask them to share photographs, memories, maps, etc., of the trip. Find out what s/he liked and disliked about the place...and why.

Rent some videotapes. Visit a travel agency. Get online and find out about the country's folklore, lullabyes, clothing styles, food. Experience the culture and the people any way you can. And if you can afford it, by all means, book passage on a Asian-bound 747 (keeping in mind, of course, that I'm handy with a travel iron, should you need a valet...).

And when you have a tidy stack of information available to you, sprinkle some of those facts and details into your story!

One thing you do NOT want to do: Put everything you learned into the story.

I know a writer who did a ton of research for a novel. I'd have to guess after several years, there was a couple hundred pounds of paper in her office, all related to South America. Trouble was, she felt obliged to show off all she'd learned about the continent by inserting every shred of the stuff into her story. So much so that the characters stopped talking like real people and started sounding like history professors. BORING history professors. The plot slowed to a plodding, hum-drum pace. (I remember one scene in which her characters were walking through a museum, listening to the drone of an overhead speaker; "much-needed" information wafted down to her readers appearing in italics....)

Would you be surprised to learn that, although she 'shopped the book around' to dozens of agents and at least as many publishing companies, she didn't sell the story...and ended up shelling out $30,000 of her husband's hard-earned money to have it self-published? Would you be shocked to know that she can't give copies away fast enough, and that of the 2,500 books delivered to her garage five years ago, nearly 2,000 still sit in their original packing cartons in her basement? (Her husband, sons and daughters-in-law claim to love the book...when she's within earshot. But I've been present on many occasions when she isn't near enough to overhear what people say about "that so-called novel". All I can say is, God bless her friends and family [myself included] for protecting her from the ugly truth!)


Research is like makeup: Too much and you just look silly; too little, and you look, well, flat. And it's a little like medicine: "If one pill works in 20 minutes, FOUR will work way faster and better...." The end result of nonsense like that is...you get sicker. You might even die!

The bottom line is simple: When we over-do research, we end up with dreary, meandering plots that, even when self-published, disappoint and/or bore our readers. (And remember, our first readers are agents and editors!)

So exercise extreme caution when positioning research...or prepare to wonder what unspoken thoughts lie between the parantheses when your friends and family say, "Great story (that reads like a high school history book)!" or "I couldn't put it down (fast enough)!" or "I had to wait my turn to read it (thank God!)."

Now, off with you, and may your own writing be 'research perfect'!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Little Altrusim Never Hurt Anybody

So how do you like my friend, here? Gorgeous, isn't he? He's part of my computer's desktop, and I look forward to having his eyes meet mine every time I sign on.

I've been enamoured of wolves since the early 90s, when I researched them for a novel I was writing. Started collecting 'wolf stuff' back then...a plaque here, a statue there...an over the years, I've accumulated more than 100 'wolf things'.

Quite by accident, I found a wolf sanctuary in Pennsylvania, about a two hour drive from my house. What a place! You can find similar organizations near you online. Doesn't hafta be wolves. Maybe your wildlife 'love' is tigers, or monkeys, or bald eagles. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how many individuals and organizations are out there, dedicated to the protection and preservation of many species.

You'll also find it satisfying and fulfilling, doing something positive that will help your chosen critter. Yes, I fully support every effort being made to improve the lives of The Wolves of Speedwell Forge. And yes, I've made a vow to dedicate a portion of my income every year to The Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania. Of course, those magnificent animals benefit from my donations.

But I have to be honest: What my contributions do for my soul can't be bought with dollars and cents. If I could, I wouldn't just write checks, I'd buy a little house nearby, so I could see the results of my so-called good works.

If you aren't already involved with a similar project, try one on for size. I guarantee you'll love how it makes you feel. (And just imagine how your readers will react when you put those emotions into the stories you're crafting!)

Well, that's it for now. Until next time, take care, keep those keyboards clackin'!

All my best,
Loree

Monday, March 06, 2006

Should You Attend Conferences?

I received so many questions on this topic that, despite having posted today, I decided to post again.

Q: Loree, I've read so much about the benefits of attending writers' conferences, but even the local ones are expensive. How do I know which to spend my money on?

A: Start by asking your writer pals, those who are veteran conference-goers. Talk to writing instructors who routinely lead workshops at writers conferences. They'll direct you to the most popular listings...and the gatherings that provide the biggest bang for your buck.

At first, you'll be overwhelmed with the list that accumulates. Never fear; you can abbreviate it by sorting out the meetings that don't require air or train transportation, and reduce the list yet again by selecting gatherings whose advertisements promise to deliver what you're looking for:

Agent and editor appointments
Networking
Workshops
Food
Contests
Critiques
Etc.

If you have a partial or complete manuscript, you might be ready for a face-to-face meeting with an agent or editor. Most times, these pre-scheduled appointments are included with your registration fee. If you're asked to pay (and the fees vary) for this service, make sure to check out the credentials of the person you'll sign up to meet. (Does this person represent a recognized publishing house or literary agency? If s/he is a published author, getting paid to evaluate the salability of your work, what qualifications have been provided [# published books, teaching and/or editing experience, etc.].)

Networking is an invaluable thing. Writing, by its very nature, is a solitary profession. For the most part, authors work alone, so it's a wonderful thing, meeting with folks who have the same needs, ambitions, problems, and lifestyles. I can't say enough about the added potential of meeting people who can literally move your career to 'that next stage'. Writers are generous (sometimes to a fault), and will happily share learned the hard way lessons with you.

Workshops range in skill level, providing how-to information for a brand-new writer...or someone who's been in the business a long time. You can usually tell by workshop descriptions whether or not the material is tailored to meet your needs.
Whether you'll buy your own meals or the writing organization provides food as part of your registration fee, take advantage of every opportunity to commune with your peers. Laugh, share experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly), and leave with a full stomach, a satisfied soul, a happy heart, and a few new friends.

You'll decide well in advance of a conference if you'll submit your work as a contest entry. The prize could be monetary...and it might be the glorious experience of having your submission reviewed by a professional editor or author, and the feedback can be invaluable! (Most contests do require an entry fee, usually between $25 and $50.) If the contest judges are members of the writing organization, there's nothing wrong with asking that your entry be read by someone with experience...rather than 'just another member' who is no more qualification to know a salable piece of writing than you are!

One-on-one critiques, like meetings with editors and agents, can also be a very good thing...provided your critiquer has the experience and the qualifications to give a thorough assessment of your work. If it seems I'm repeating that theme a lot, it's because I am. Too many authors have been led far afield by "teachers" who fabricate or exaggerate their credentials. Consequently, the information they provide is faulty, at best. I know writers who have literally lost years trying to fix the mistakes that were the result of bad advice from faux instructors. DON'T BECOME ONE OF THEM!

How do you check out instructors' credentials? Demand proof they are who and what they claim to be! If they say they've been teaching for years, find out where, and then check it out! (Too many so-called teachers are running their own private programs--some out of their own homes!--and are not unaffilitated with an accredited college, organization, etc. Still others claim to be members of legitimate faculties, but because of lack of enrollment, they've never actually taught a course at that school! You owe it to yourself, your future writing career, and your wallet to investigate the validity of instructors' claims.

Conferences can be entertaining and educational, and well worth any expense associated with them. If you do your homework carefully and completely, you'll come away satisfied that you met some cool people and learned a few things...which means your money was well spent.

I've been invited to speak at several conferences this summer, starting with the PennWriters annual get-together near Harrisburg, PA in May, 2006. For all they're offering, attendees will surely get their dollars' worth. I've seen the speakers' list, and except for a name or two, the faculty passes even my rigorous muster. PennWriters is one of those 'not too small, not too large' conferences, great for a first-timer who might fear getting lost, with an anticipated attendance of about 150.

For a more intimate setting, try my mini-conference: The Leading Edge Writers' Studios. Maximum attendance is 40...perfect if you prefer a quiet, one-day event. (Visit http://writing.shawguides.com/TheLeadingEdgeWritersStudios/ for more information, and if you mention this Blog when you sign up, you'll get a discount!)
See you next time, when I'll go into more detail about what to do (and expect from) those important editor/agent meetings. Meanwhile, take care, and happy writing!

Writing Questions

If you've had a romance novel published, you've heard that question, at least once. Maybe at a party, a family gathering, at a work-sponsored event. You can't predict when, exactly, somebody will pop The Question. You won't know who will ask it, either, but sure as your novel is for sale on bookstore shelves, somebody will matter-of-factly want to know "So, when're ya gonna write a real book?"

Like most romance authors, I've given a lot of thought to appropriate responses. Y'know...pleasant, yet 'put-them-in-their-place things' like "Romance novels are real books!" or "Gee...cover, plus typed pages, plus price tag, equals real book, right?" Wouldn't it be great to say the things we're forced to bite back: "Do you always ask assinine questions, or did they put something weird in the onion dip?" and "Funny...you don't look like a social misfit...."

So there we stand, blinking, thin-lipped smiles firmly in place as we rack our brains for ways to defend the genre. (That others put us in this position is, in and of itself, odd; I've never heard anyone ask a trash collector when he plans to get into a good clean line of work. or inquire of a gigalo when he plans to get a real job.)


It's especially tough when The Question comes from some vanity-press-published bum who considers it his duty to educate all breathing humans in areas of his expertise (and naturally, in his mind, he knows everything). Admit it, you've met him somewhere, sometime: "My stories are HIGH CONCEPT," he gloats, nose in the air, trying to bend that self-satisfied smirk into something akin to sympathatic proof how very sorry he feels for poor li'l Romance Writer you. He shrugs, because in his swollen mind, there's no hope for you. "I simply cannot," he adds on an exasperated sigh, "write LITTLE stories...."

You pray he won't notice as your eyes narrow and your face turns a shade redder. Maybe he won't associate your sudden lisp to the fat tongue you've developed, biting back what you'd like to tell him. Then again, what can you say to a...to a boob like that?

So instead you stand there, considering your options:


List all the justifiable reasons you write romance novels?
Ignore the arrogant (unpublished haha!) gasbag?
Kick him in the shin, and when he bends to rub the sore spot, add a quick knee to his pointy, girly chin?

Fun (and tempting) as that last idea would be, here's what I plan to do next time some social clod asks The Question:


First, I'll summon a Jack Nicholson expression...eyebrows arched and eyes wild...like the 'look' he wore in the courtroom scene with Tom Cruise. "You can't handle 'a real book'!" I'll snarl.

Now I ask you, won't that be romantic!

Well, that's it for today's post. Tune in again soon, when I plan to hop on my soapbox to discuss contests, conferences, balancing a job and writing, what to do when your editor has a baby....

Visit (
http://writing.shawguides.com/TheLeadingEdgeWritersStudios/) and check out my brand new listing. If you register for a Leading Edge workshop (and mention that you read about it here on my Blog), you're eligible for a 10% discount!

See you again soon. Post your comments and questions. Vent, if you prefer! As always, take care...


...and treat yourself like Company today! Loree



Friday, January 27, 2006

Here it is, the end of yet another week...bringing January to a close in merry old Maryland. My biggest complaint this month isn't with January, but with Mother Nature: Choose a season and stick with it, y'loony ol' bat, cuz this see-sawing from Winter to Spring is driving me (and my crocuses) nuts!

In all fairness to Ma Nature, she's been around a while. Maybe menopause has set in, and the crazy mood swings are hot flash-related? If that's the case, what she needs, I think, is a plan. A list of sorts she can stick to, regardless of her temperament at any given moment. An outline even, that'll help her focus on what she should do instead of what she feels like doing....

So the question is:

The Lough Down: To Outline or Not...?
by Loree Lough

Q: I just finished my second book, and have started a third (none yet sold). I had to totally re‑write the first book...twice! Published author friends say it's because I don't use an outline. I don't want to go through all those rewrites again, but I'm afraid a formal outline will inhibit my creativity. Besides, I've heard that successful authors like Nora Roberts don't outline, so why should I?

A. People who know me well call me a hard worker; "'Loree' and 'lazy' don't belong in the same sentence," they say. Maybe that's cuz, even when they stop by unannounced, my house is spic‑n‑span, the laundry and dishes are done, the spice racks and pantry are alphabetized, and the clothes in my closet hang in color‑order...by sleeve and hem length.
Before you sharpen the blade on your guillotine, allow me to make a confession: I'm the laziest person I know. Those 'neat house' things? They’re the direct result of—you guessed it—outlining.
I make an outline before leaving for the grocery store, an outline for annual, monthly, daily goals. Some might call them 'to-do lists' (to which I say pah‑tah‑toe), but outlines are what keep me organized, and being organized is what allows me to park my lazy butt, guilt free at the end of the day, and do, well, whatever my lazy butt wants to do!
For example, I outlined every one of the more than 2,000 articles and 49 short stories I’ve had published. I outline lesson plans for college and Writer’s Digest online writing classes. Speeches on writing‑related topics are (you guessed it) outlined. Each of my published romances were written after I'd completed (a‑yup!) an outline. Far from inhibiting creativity, outlines free me up to tell believable stories without fear of sagging spots, uncharacteristic dialog, anything that might cost me time consuming re‑writes.
As for your Nora Roberts comment?
Even writers who don't create formal outlines make outlines. But they're the natural‑born storytellers we all aspire to become; they know, instinctively, what belongs in a novel…and what does not. Like fine chefs, they know exactly when to add a pinch of tension, a dash of conflict, when to turn up the fire, when to let a story simmer. Maybe years of experience is their secret ingredient. Perhaps natural talent is their trademark 'spice'. Possibly, delectable stories are the result of seasoning and a God‑given gift.
Okay, so I’ve earned dozens of industry and readers’ choice awards for the 50-some books in print, but until I've see hundreds of my books on the shelves, I'm gonna keep right on a‑doin' what I’ve been a-doin’, cuz it works for me.
Because let's face it...
...there’s only ONE Nora Roberts.


So that's it for today, kiddos. Now, search your mind for a question, a comment (disagree with me if you must!), a suggestion for others reading this column.

Until next time, here's me...wishing you a wonderful weekend (while hoping Mother Nature gets her act together and decides...is it winter, or is it spring?)

All my best, Loree

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Writers and Self Marketing

The Lough Down: Does Self-Marketing Pay Off?
by Loree Lough

So...here's hopin' everybody had a productive weekend. Mine was terrific. Not only did I manage to celebrate my grandtwins' third birthday...but I did it without gaining an ounce. (Why doesn't birthday cake taste as good without icing as it does with?)

Good news from the hope-to-publish front...the non-fiction queries I shot hither and yon 2 weeks ago have resulted in several editors asking to see "the whole thing". (Can you hear me yelling "YIPPPEEEEE" from there?) I followed my self-made Rule of Twelve: Send out 12 queries, without exception, for every idea. Big net, but this time, it 'caught' the attention of 8 editors. Not bad odds, eh?

Are you wondering how I'll handle it if all 8 editors who asked for (and received) the full proposal package 'bite'? Simple: I'll follow my 'First Come, First Served rule. But what, you ask, if the next editor offers more money? Alas, that's the price I pay for being ethical. If these hard-working folks will go to bat for me during editorial board meetings and I waste their time and talents arguing why the company should publish my project...then jerk it back from 'em...do you think they'll fight for me next time I submit to them? Exactly. S'nuff said.

Part Two of the 'First Come, First Served' rule: Call the other 7 editors and ask them to recycle the submission package. They won't ask why. (At least none have so far....) Guess I'd better come up with a battle plan so I'll be ready if one does ask why, eh?

Long as we're on the subject of submissions and distantly-related things, here's the question of the day:

Q: My second book will soon be out, and I'm wondering about the effectiveness of ads in writers’ publications, in print, and online. First of all, isn't it mostly authors who read those publications? They don't buy books, readers do. Since I'm not convinced the ads affect readers' choices, I'm not convinced ads are a smart business expense. That said, I see no reason to self-promote, either. As my wife says, "Relax. Be patient; someday you'll be a 'big name' and won't need to sweat the small stuff."

A: First of all, authors DO read the work of their peers. It's how we support friends and contemporaries, and it's enjoyable, too!
Second, you're right. Ad space can cost big bucks. The bigger the publication's audience, the bigger the bucks. But consider this: Authors like Pat Gaffney, Diana Palmer, Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, and Patricia Potter are betting that buyers ARE affected by the ads. And since there's not a name on the list that isn't immediately recognized by their fans, I'd have to say ads ARE a smart business expense.
Third, as for self-promotion.... My publishers don't do much to promote my books, and they don't pay particularly well, which means limited funds for PR and marketing. However, though I don't have the money to advertise like the 'big names', I realize the value of having my name and book titles seen in all the right places. So...

* I send press releases announcing my latest book to the local papers
* which inspired an article that was read by
* a producer at the local cable station
* who invited me to be an on-air guest.
* I also teach writing at the community college.
* I volunteer whenever and wherever I can.
* I make myself available to head up workshops and/or seminars.
* I give speeches (NSA, AAUW, writers’ organizations, schools, etc.).
* I attend writers' conferences
* I agree to lead workshops at these conferences
* I provide newsletter editors with info about my books.
* I write this column, and share it with editors of other newsletters....

Sounds like a lot of work and a huge time commitment, doesn't it? Maybe that's because it IS a lot of work and a huge time commitment! But it's worth every minute and every ounce of energy expended, because whenever my name appears anywhere, for any reason, my books are being advertised...FOR FREE!
According to your husband, you can relax and someday achieve 'big name' status by writing, and with no extra effort on your part, your name will make the 'big' list. Now, it isn't that I don't believe in miracles...it's just that I don't live on 34th Street. Like it or not, I live in the real world, alongside people who know the answers to these questions:
When ‘the big guys’ became 'big names', did they stop volunteering to help their local RWA chapters?
When ‘the big guys’ earned 'big name' status, did they stop heading up workshops?
When 'big name' was used to describe ‘big names’, did they stop making themselves available to speak at conferences?
Did being a 'big name' inspire any of them to stop advertising and promoting?
No offense to your wife, but it takes more than time, patience, and a completed manuscript to become a 'big name.' It takes hard work, and lots of it. The 'big names' once stood at the same crossroads where you stand now. I don't know what becomes of writers who set up house 34th Street, awaiting their miracle, but I know what happens to those who chose to live on Reality Road: After they rolled up their sleeves and dug in their heels and put their noses to the grindstone, they made it big.
My advice to you: If you want to be a 'big name' someday, you'd better be prepared to 'sweat the small stuff' today.


So what are YOU waiting for? You have questions, or maybe comments about an already-posted Lough Down. Bounce 'em over, and I'll lob 'em back...answered!

'Til next time, be good (and if you can't, be well)!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Writing Instructors


So, how the heck have y'all been! Swell, I hope....

Since I promised in my first post that this blog is for you, I'm going to start publishing my column (The Lough Down) here for your review. Today, I'll post six columns that have appeared in a variety of online and print newsletters around the country, thanks to newsletter editors of writing organizations I've joined. After you've read a few, send me your questions, and I'll do my best to find accurate, cutting-edge answers.

Let's start with this one:

The Lough Down: Beware Faux Instructors
by Loree Lough

Q: I’m thinking about registering for a writing class, but the price is a little steep for my budget…and I’ve never even heard of this teacher. Any recommendations?

A: First, high fives to you for wanting to improve your style, your voice, your understanding of The Craft. But your "I've never even heard of this teacher" comment tells me you're a smart shopper.

I’ve met far too many writers who’ve made the mistake of letting uncredentialed instructors lead them astray with misinterpretations of information “borrowed” from the pages of how-to-write books. “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” might be true in other fields, but in publishing—an industry that requires writers to stay a step ahead of the latest trends—you can’t teach others to do what you aren’t doing yourself!

In my decades in this business, I’ve learned a ton of stuff at The School of Hard Knocks, like “Never take anything for granted” and “Spend your money wisely”…solid advice for members of any profession, but particularly useful for writers. The money we’re paid in exchange for countless hours of research, interviews, writing, and rewriting too often adds up to less than half the minimum wage… especially early in our careers. Forking over a portion of earned-the-hard-way cash to enroll in a writing class is important stuff, so we owe it to ourselves to make wise choices about the types of classes—and instructors—we’re spending that money on. (If I had a dollar for every student who told me how a writing instructor’s half-baked lessons led them astray, why, I’d have a couple hundred bucks for sure!)

There are literally thousands of writing classes, workshops, and seminars listed online, in pamphlets distributed by area community colleges, on 3x5 cards tacked to local library bulletin boards. Some are affordable, others can empty bank accounts. If, like any smart shopper, you’ve done your homework and believe the lessons you’ll learn are worth the price, go for it.

But before you scribble your name on a personal check, do yourself a financial and professional favor…and check out the teacher….

While it’s been my experience that most writing instructors have the credentials to teach, I can list far too many whose ‘padded CVs’ match nothing more than their bloated egos…and do not qualify them to teach others to write.

You wouldn’t let some dude on a street corner who claims to be a pediatrician examine your baby. You wouldn’t let some stranger who knocks on your door claiming to be a roofing contractor put new shingles on your house. Is the decision to further your writing career by signing up for a workshop any less important?
You owe it to yourself to find out:

Can the instructor’s “multi-published” and/or “award-winning” claims be backed up with legitimate books—produced by legitimate presses—on the shelves? (Look for copyright information about the book(s) in question; if a publisher isn’t listed online, it’s probably a ‘vanity press’.)

Have the instructor’s so-called “awards won” been provided by real and existing organizations and institutions…or are the kudos nothing more than fiction, written to further pad the instructor’s opaque CV? (I suspect there’s a long list of books for sale—in bookstores and online—written by what we in the industry call Wanna-Bees, and published by glorified printing companies rather than by respected publishing houses.)

Are claims of “years of teaching experience” bona fide…or more fiction? A phone call to the institution(s) will teach you a thing or two about the teacher; if no schools are listed, ask the instructor for names of the school(s) where the teaching experience was acquired. Then call the institution(s) and check it out. (Far too many so-called teachers’ names are listed as ‘Faculty’, but they’ve they ever actually taught the course(s) listed. And let’s face it: Anybody can re-type pages from ‘how to write’ manuals and pass them off as “classroom handouts”, but do you want these people teaching you?)

There’s a very good reason ‘Let the buyer beware’ has become an almost-clich├ęd adage….


Well, there y'go. The first of many columns that'll hopefully help you find your way around the publishing maze.

See ya soon!
Loree

Saturday, January 14, 2006

This and That and On and On


So...congratulations...y'all survived Friday the 13th!

Spent my Saturday helping The Hubby decorate his office in 'the new location', then came home to clean out my own old files. Found some of my old writings, and to be honest, I wish I didn't have the hard copy reminder of what a HORRIBLE writer I used to be! Soon as I find a box big enough, I fully intend to shred it all and refile...in the county landfill!

Several of you asked who cleans my house, since my 'to do' list seems rather long on any given day. Gotta admit, I do it myself. Now before you gasp and sputter and roll your eyes, remember that old commercial where the gal said "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful". If you replace 'beautiful' with 'nutball', you'll have a better understanding of my...nutbally-ness. Seriously, I figure all these activities are good for my marriage: While I'm busy organizing and cleaning, writing or teaching or this-ing and that-ing, I'm not saying "What...ANOTHER football game????" to my husband. (Dr. Phil, if for some freaky, far-out, Twilight Zone kinda reason you're reading this, I'd be pleased to outline my Happy Hubby Plan on your show, any ol' time!)

When I finished stacking my "ugly writings" in a pile, I wrote a 'blurb' for a writer pal's first novel. Next, I'll 'attack' the contest entries on my desk, and then I'll have no choice but to complete what I've been putting off for weeks: photocopies of handouts for my Elements of Fiction students. Class starts on Tuesday...ack!

Hey! I have a writing question for the buncha yas: If you could list just one thing that prompts you to park your butts in front of your computer every day to write, what would it be?

And now it's time for me to sign off and head for my teeny-tiny kitchen, where I'll whip up one of my favorite recipes. My youngest daughter, married just 2 short years, brought this to Christmas dinner and I've made it 3 times since!:

Cornbread Cassarole

1 stick butter, softened
1 cup sour cream
1 can (drained) corn
1 can creamed corn
1 box Jiffy corn mix
1 beaten egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine ingredients and pour into a 9x12 baking dish (no need to grease the pan). Bake for 1 hour. (Terrific with 5-alarm chili!)

Take care 'til next time!
All my best,
Loree

Friday, January 13, 2006

Loree Lough's "The Lough Down"

Hey, everybody...my first post on my first blog!

The purpose of this blog is YOU, my readers and writing buddies. The Lough Down is where you can come, any time, to ask questions about...whatever writing-related topic you can think up!

After today, I won't post a bunch of personal stuff; that'd be inappropriate, since this is YOUR place. But for those of you who haven't heard from me in a while, here's a brief update:

Thankfully, after several years of illness (and adjusting to the loss of my closest friend), I'm writing full time again. The family is happy and healthy, and even my neurotic formerly-abused dog has adjusted to his new life. My 'to do' list is longer than it's ever been....
  • I've pulled out all my old fiction files and, one by one, I'm updating each (four are with my agent, who is talking 'contract' with various editors);
  • nonfiction ideas are now full-fledged proposals under consideration at several publishing houses;
  • I'm part of the Writer's Digest faculty, teaching fiction and nonfiction online (www.writersonlineworkshops.com) ;
  • my one-day workshop is about to be unveiled (dates and location to be announced very soon);
  • my web site is undergoing a major rehaul (if you have time to visit www.loreelough.com, let me know what you like and dislike. The person with the most suggestion(s) will win a copy of my latest release);
  • I'll be a guest speaker at numerous writers' conferences in 2006 (hope to see you at one of them!).

There's more, but I don't want to be responsible for the big goose-egg you'll get when boredom causes you to nod off and thump your head on your desk.

So that's it for today. I'll check back soon to see what questions you'll have about writing, marketing, the publishing industry, etc.

Take care until then!

All my best,

Loree