Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Western Cape Writer’s Retreat 2017 by Tracey Wilson

Wondering what else you missed at the retreat? Tracy Wilson writes about her experience at the ROSA Writers' Retreat 2017 that took place in Cape Town in February. 

Lalapanzi Lodge: image credit Lalapanzi Lodge

Nestled in a tranquil forest of fir trees overlooking False Bay, Lalapanzi Lodge provided an idyllic location for the Western Cape Writer’s Retreat.  The rugged peaks of the Hottentots Holland Mountains accentuated the azure skies of the Cape behind the timber lodge, while a gentle sea breeze offered relief from the heatwave that had besieged the Mother City that week. 

Yes, the setting inspired my imagination, and was a great choice for a gathering of romance writers. 
Sixteen ladies attended, including the speakers.  The size provided an opportunity for newbies, such as myself, to meet other writers.  The ladies were all friendly and lively and lovely.  Not surprising when one considers that romance writers focus so much of their novels on the issues of the heart.  And I believe romance writers have the biggest hearts of all writers.

Romy Sommer, author and chairperson of ROSA, presented the first session on Mastering Story Structure.  Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure is a formulaic approach to structuring a novel.  The first “How to…”  writing guide I purchased taught me the value of applying the three-act structure model to my writing.  Hauge’s model strengthens this by teaching that there are six basic stages within the three-act structure, which are defined by five key turning points in the plot.  These turning points usually happen at the same point (or percentage) of the running time of a movie, the pages of a screenplay or novel.  I can almost hear the plotters cheering and pantsers sneering, but I believe Hauge’s template can assist any writing method.  It helps plotters outline their first draft, while pantsers can use the template when editing their first draft, thereby ensuring that each writer’s creative paradigm remains intact.  Romy demonstrated this technique by referring to examples from popular movies to highlight the inner and outer journey of the main character.  I’ve visited Hauge’s website, to learn more about his Six Stage Plot Structure and am looking forward to applying his method to my writing.

Louise Fury, former Capetonian and literary agent extraordinaire for the Bent Agency in New York, taught us the importance of Query Writing.  I liked how she compared the query letter to a business letter that a professional person (the author) with a business proposal (the novel) sends to a professional organisation (the agent).  The author-agent relationship is an equal partnership between the author, who brings the “asset”, and the agent who brings the contacts and expertise.  I learnt that a query letter is the point of first contact and should be brief, clear, and professional.  The ideal word count is 250 words, but no more than 300 words.  It’s an introduction, not a synopsis which describes your plot.  A pitch should tell the agent who the main characters are, what they want (motivation), and what’s standing in their way (conflict).  A short bio should conclude the letter, and your social media links included after your signature (thereby, not counting toward your word count).

After lunch, Louise Fury taught us the importance of Marketing and Social Media.  These days, more and more publishers are relying on authors to market their books on their social media networks.  In fact, publishers take your social media reach into consideration when negotiating the advance payment of your contract.  With so many platforms to choose from, it can become quite daunting.  The pros and cons of various social networks were discussed by the techies in our group, as well as ways to improve your site’s ranking (SEO).  Louise’s advice to us was to focus on Facebook, Twitter, and building a personal website - with Facebook, usually, generating the most sales for authors.

In case you missed it on Facebook, here's Louise Fury encouraging ROSA members to attend Rosa events and Meet-ups.


Rae Rivers, author of The Keepers paranormal romance series, presented the final topic of the day, Impostor Syndrome from the book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Woman by Dr Valerie Young.  Impostor syndrome describes high-achieving adults who are unable to internalise their accomplishments and constantly fear being exposed as a fraud.  They‘re unable to enjoy the success they’ve achieved, often dismissing it as luck.  It affects 70% of the world’s population, mainly women.  Rae discussed the four levels of competency - I’m a perfectionist.  And the coping mechanisms we employ to deal with failure – I tend to procrastinate, which often stalls my writing.  It’s vital to recognise how you feel, find someone you trust to talk to, don’t be afraid to ask questions from other writers, practice, practice, practice, and give yourself permission to fail.  I liked the way Rae phrased it, “Acknowledge it.  Accept it.  And move forward.”  Thank you, Rae, for sharing your own journey with us.

Thank you Romy, Louise and Rae for you presentations.  I gained a lot of knowledge at the writer’s retreat and made many new friends.

Tracy Wilson

If you live in Cape Town and want to hook up with a couple of locally based ROSA members, our next meet up is 8 April at 13:00 in Durbanville. More details HERE.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Cape Town Retreat Feedback from Dawn Rae

Dawn Rae (Left) with Louise Fury and Sumi Singh 

I'm not a member but I signed up for the ROSA Writers' Retreat specifically to hear Louise Fury speak about query letters. I got that and so much more. Louise shared knowledge and experience from her life as an agent, and she was always ready to hear what we were working on. Many of us benefited from her excellent advice so freely given.

I learnt that published authors also struggle, and although writing is a solitary calling, I am not alone. Rae Rivers spoke about Imposter Syndrome, something that even established writers do battle with, and I realised as I listened that I was feeling it right then. 

I learnt the importance of social media in a writer's success, and I now understand why I need a website. Since the retreat I've got myself onto Twitter - no idea what I'm doing yet but at least I've got the account!

I learnt that being part of a like-minded community brings benefits of support and friendship, and I felt welcomed into this group of awesome ladies. I'm so looking forward to our first informal get-together, happening soon.

For me, the way forward is to join ROSA and make sure I never miss out again on wonderful events like this one.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Types of Sex Scenes and How to Write Them

If you're like me, sometimes writing that steamy scene flows like a river, and everything just clicks together. But other times, I literally sit and stare at what I've written and hit the backspace button because I'm just not buying it, and if i'm not convinced, well, then how can I expect my readers to be? Also, and I'd love to hear if this influences your writing too, but if I've read a particularly hot book, I find myself projecting some of that on my characters. Note to self: Do not read 50 Shades while writing, unless your genre is erotica, of course!

So, how do we keep a cool head while writing the nitty gritty about the down and dirty? I found this video entertaining and quite informative and it's helped me to kind of characterise which kind of writer of sex scenes I am.

I'm a 50-50, how about you?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

What does diversity really mean for you as a romance writer? Antony Ehlers explores this hot topic.

What does diversity really mean for you a romance writer?
In a recent issue of Writers Forum, a great UK writing magazine, there was a post on diversity in publishing. Tom Weldon, head of UK house Penguin Random House, spoke about the need for a change in the whole industry.

Across the spectrum
Diversity cuts across the spectrum. It includes race, sexuality, class, gender, age and identity – and so much more. We can all agree that we need to become more inclusive and open minded as writers. In fact, we have to do this if we’re to survive in a changing world, with an evolving readership.

So how do we do it?
This question has me stumped. It’s one we all have to try and answer. I grew up with modern romance books that were all about the tall handsome – and usually Caucasian – hero who was impossibly rich. The heroine was usually a secretary, a nanny, an heiress – and yes, almost always, Caucasian.

Dare I?
Recently, I thought about writing about an office-based modern romance where both the hero and heroine have the same position – they’re equal.  Immediately, I thought … can I do that? Isn’t that breaking the rules?
Yes. It is. And it’s time to break the rules. Maybe not break them all the time – but time to bend them. Challenge theme. Find your way around them.

Rewriting romance, rewiring your thinking
I think we all need to rewire our brains. It’s time to look outside of the curled-up covers of those books we loved in the 70s and 80s.  In a way they shaped us, but it’s time to let them go.  What does love look around you?  Take your cues from the real world, a little voice was telling me. Maybe I should listen to it.

Open your eyes (and your notebook)
Here are just a few things that I scribbled down today.
·        Men around me have tattoos, not discreet tattoos but full-on ink and it’s beautiful. Why not have heroes in romance have tattoos?
·        Women around me have tattoos, maybe not as hardcore as guys but it’s still beautiful. Why not have heroines in romance have a little ink?
·        Men are getting married to men, and women to women. Why not have the hero in a book be the best man at his gay friend’s wedding? Why not have the heroine be the other groom’s sister?
What would your list look like?

Look at the media mirror
I love Alicia Key’s song Blended Family. The idea of family is being redefined – we have single moms, single dads, blended families.

I think this is a great idea to explore in romance. Both hero and heroine have kids from a former marriage or relationship. How do they make that work?

Right now, President Obama is leaving the White House. I’ve always found him to be charismatic and compelling.

In a story I’ve been working on, I had a female bodyguard protecting a bad boy rock star.  What if I made the rock star a handsome, rising black political star?  That would add diversity and it would do away with a cliché.

If you look at reality TV – a rich source of ideas – we have The Nightmare Neighbor Next Door. What if you wrote a working- or middle-class romance about two bickering neighbors who find love over the boundary wall?

I can’t see Mills & Boon snapping that one up, but maybe there’s a market for more ‘realistic’ romances out there. If not, why not create it yourself?

Look at your own life …
How has your own expectations of life and love changed?  If you’re young, it’s all about clubbing, and dancing, and having fun. It was for me, at least, and that’s fine – if you’re in your twenties, you’ll be writing about your own point of reference.

But what about when you get older? What do you want now? Give those same needs to your hero or heroine.

Maybe it’s more about building a life together built on shared interest. That sounds boring – but what if that shared interest is something out of the ordinary – like a new business, a charity, a shelter for abandoned exotic reptile pets?

Start with a new mindset …
There’s always an opportunity to bring diversity into your romance writing. It just means looking the world with a new squint – to see what’s out there in the real world, and amplify it, fictionalize it, and make it something extraordinary …

Be a pioneer, not a throwback …
In that same Writers Forum article, it mentions a UK study called Writing the Future. The study found that the UK book industry ‘risks becoming a 20th century throwback increasingly out of touch with the 21st world century world.’
It’s time to take on the Brave New (Diverse) World.
Who’s with me?

Anthony Ehlers

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

#Writertip Indie Publishing for Beginners

We've all heard the headlines: self-published author becomes overnight gazilionaire. And of course, we want in!

Stop right there, and read beyond the headlines to the true story.

First up, I'm going to de-bunk a few of the myths in that attention-grabbing headline.

Myth #1: Self-published means different things to different people. In this instance, self-published does not mean 'I paid a shitload to a vanity publisher to give me several boxes of printed books I have no idea how to sell'. In this instance, self-published actually means Indie Published. As in: an independent publisher. As in, the author has now become the publisher.

Myth #2: There is no such thing as 'overnight'. The most successful indie authors have been doing this a while. They've learned the craft of writing, learned about the publishing business and book marketing, and they've invested hard cash and even more time in building their successful careers.

Myth # 3: There hasn't been an indie published gazilionaire since Amanda Hocking and EL James sold their souls to traditional publishers back in 2011/12. Sure, there are lots of indie writers making a good living at it, but the golden age is over. Everyone and their mother-in-law is now self-publishing, and because of this complete explosion of content (without a corresponding explosion of readers) it means everyone is getting a little less of the pie than back in those golden years.

But enough with the doom and gloom. As I said, a good living can be made from self-publishing. After all, on the plus side, indie authors have content, marketing and pricing control of their work, so they can adapt quickly to changes in the market and hop on bandwagons before the big traditional publishers have even realised there is a bandwagon. If, like me, you're a control freak, then indie publishing is made for you! And finally, being an indie publisher means you get to keep all the profits. That's a pretty big incentive.

So what do you need to get started as an indie publisher?
There are just 3 things:
  1. Computer savvy. Don't even think about becoming an indie publisher if you can barely navigate your way around a Word document. Most indie publishing is digital. Unless you outsource absolutely everything (at major personal expense) you will need to be able to format your work correctly, upload it to any number of retail websites, create your own online profiles,  create your on teaser graphics, have a presence on social media, send out digital newsletters, preferably manage your own website, and a host of other online activities that require at least a little technical savvy.
  2. Start-up capital. You're no longer just an author. You are now a business. Which means you will need to invest at least a little start-up capital to launch your indie career. At the very least, you will need to hire a professional cover designer and a professional editor. Those are non-negotiable costs. Even if you are a graphic designer in your day job, if you do not also have a good grasp on digital formatting for book covers, book retailers' rules and restrictions, and an awareness of market expectations, you are still not a book cover designer. You may also need to pay fro website design, budget for advertising etc.
  3. This last requirement is the most important. You need to have a head for business. If you cannot balance your own cheque book, and terms like Reader Magnets, Return on Investment, domain names and web hosts, Profit & Loss Statements and Business Plans turn you cold, then maybe you're better off in traditional publishing where other people manage all those kinds of things. When you are your own publisher, you need to be your own business manager, accountant, and marketing guru (without neglecting your job as the business' resident author) - at least until such time as you're earning gazilions and can hire people in to do those jobs.

For me, my indie published books have yet to earn me as much as my traditionally published books. But the huge amount of satisfaction they have brought me is priceless. Along my (continuing) journey as an indie author, I have learned so much, and met some incredible people, and I am incredibly grateful for the experience. I may not have achieved gazilionaire status yet, but every single book that sells feels like a huge accomplishment because I did it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Elaine Pillay shares...'What I gained from the ROSA Conference'

It was with a heavy heart that I attended the ROSA Conference this year. Not for any other reason but that I felt as though my own book that was published was not seeing the light of day or not being read by the audience it was intended for.

Nevertheless, Romy Sommer had asked me to speak at the conference and so I attended. Boy, was I glad that I did, at the end of it.

I learnt so much from the writers who presented that day. I was in awe of the women who presented. They were so in charge of their dream and their craft. So in sync with what they were doing. At that point I almost wished one could bottle and buy that kind of energy at the conference.

Image credit: Joanne
Joanne Macgregor (Author of so many books, her latest being “Rebel”) was up first and she had a lot to say. Joanne is eloquent and very matter of fact about her experiences and her job. I am an introvert by nature and as such the thought of marketing my book has always been a daunting task which would explain why my target market had never seen it. I wanted to write a book that would sell itself. That, I learnt, does not happen. Joanne talked about how, if you wanted to sell your book, then you need not take yourself so seriously. “Get over yourself,” she said, “if you want to sell your book.”
She mentioned how if one was ever serious about being a writer, then one had to have a website. That too was something that I didn’t want to do. Not sure why but possibly the introverted thing rearing its ugly head again.

I love writing and I have always believed that all one did was write in a tiny room with a beautiful view. That’s the picture I’ve always had in my head. Me writing in a small room with the view of a lake and there’s a steaming mug of coffee next to me. Quiet moments. Silent reveries. Not the website and the hustling at conferences and standing with the mic. Those things terrify me.

But now here was Joanne with her business like attitude about books and writing telling me everything I didn’t want to hear about writing. Speak. Turn up at writer events. Hustle, hustle, hustle. At the end of the talk I watched her pack up, toss her hair and walk out of the venue to have a cup of coffee.

Lord, let me be like her, I said silently.

Next up was Rae Rivers, Harper Impulse Author of “The Keepers” series. Rae is quieter but by no means less of a powerhouse. Rae woke me up in a different way. Due to my not knowing how the sales of my book were going, I refused to write. Not refused out loud but in my manner toward writing. I hadn’t written in over a year. I had many excuses why not, ‘tired’ featured most prominently, together with, ‘I need to re-decorate the study’. I avoided the study at all costs and just went in to usher the dogs out whenever they managed to wander in.

Rae spoke of the fear of writing. At first I thought good gracious me, whoever would suffer from that? But as she spoke in her quiet, convincing way, I thought of how that was applicable to me. I was afraid to write because in my mind, writing a book and getting it published wasn’t everything I had dreamed it to be. In fact, up until then, it had turned out to be the biggest waste of time. An indulgence. But Rae made a lot of sense. She related her experiences to the topic and suddenly it all made sense.

There are very few people in the world insane enough to have the illusive dream of being a writer, there are an even smaller number of us who dare to believe that we can make a living of it. And because we are so far and few very rarely do we meet to discuss the psyche of writing and therefore many times we suffer the “evils” of writing in solitary confinement.

Attending the conference was fruitful for me because two things happened: Unbeknownst to both of them, Rae diagnosed my writing illness and Joanne kicked me into action.

I took what Joanne said to heart, not because of what she said but because of how she said it. Joanne has an incredible vibe. When she speaks, she is books. She is her business and somehow, she made me believe that I was my business too.

After returning from the conference, I started up my website. As difficult as it was to do, I realised that if I hid, then my book was hidden too. I had to come out in public and show who I was and what I do. I also realised that I was the only person who could sell my book. I knew what I wrote and why I wrote it. Joanne Macgregor made me see that if I wanted to be taken seriously, then I had to be serious about what I did.

Thanks to Rae Rivers, I also started writing again. Not in front of a lake or in a newly decorated study.  Rae’s talk unblocked the sludge of excuses. Rae quietly smacked that sludge off me. My self-worth as a writer wasn’t based on the royalties I received or the accolades I got for the book. It was based on what I believed my purpose was. On what I decided my life would be about. It is and always has been that writing is who I am. It is what I was born to do.

So, should you attend the conference next year?
My question is, how can you afford not to be in a room with dynamic people who understand the insanity of your dream?

Elaine Pillay

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Carlyle Labuschagne on Branding for the Brave

Image credit: Marie Dry
At ROSACon2016, successful local YA author Carlyle Labuschagne presented a talk on Branding for the Brave.

She opened the session with an exercise, getting us all to think about our own brands: what is the end result we desire from our branding? What are our core values? Who are our role models, and why?
Only once we have a grip on who we are, and what we stand for, can we establish our author brand.

Carlyle shared some excellent advice for author branding:

  • offer value to your readers
  • Put out a clear, simple message
  • Be consistent across all media and platforms

She also shared concrete, specific tips on how to run giveaways and contests, use graphics and teasers, and how to use social media features such as Teaser Tuesday. She recommended collaborations between authors and bloggers as a great way to spread awareness of our brands.

But perhaps the most valuable piece of advice she shared was that authors must show passion for their own brands. If you are not enthusiastic and excited about your own work, and your own brand, how can you expect anyone else to be?