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‑ 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 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'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 ' 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'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)!