I feel like I've been absent for so long that I don't even remember what we were talking about. Sorry to disappear like that. My hiatus was unintentional. Let's just say that these four things definitely do not go together: national holiday, new software, end of royalty period, and death in the family.
I have to go back and read everything that Alicia posted in the last couple weeks, and of course I want to read all of your comments. And at some point, I'm going to have to figure out what exactly we were talking about before my world turned to crap. Reminders are welcome.
In the meantime, I thought I might share some conclusions I've gleaned from submissions, several very long meetings, and sales figures over the last couple of weeks. In no particular order...
1. I've had to deal with three manuscripts in the last two weeks which did not have a clear protagonist. One was an ensemble piece, and so the lack of a protagonist is a little more forgivable. Sometimes there just aren't clear protagonists in an ensemble piece. However, just because there are a lot of characters in the story, that doesn't make it an ensemble piece. A good rule of thumb for most stories: have a protagonist, and don't make the reader try to guess who the protagonist is.
2. Calling the villain an antihero doesn't make him heroic. An antihero is a very specific type of character, one who lives a bit outside the normal parameters for heroic behavior but still functions like a protagonist. A villain is also very specific type of character, and usually is the antagonist.
Also, if you want your hero to do bad things, you have to motivate it properly. You can't just say that he's an antihero and expect that to explain it. Don't get me wrong. I love antiheroes. This is not a complaint about the existence of antiheroes. What I'm really trying to say is, don't muddle the hero and the antihero character types. (Alicia, we ought to do some posts on antiheroes. I love me some bad boys.)
3. Passive behavior from either the hero or the heroine will almost always get you dinged. I'm sure it's possible to write a compelling story in which nothing happens, or in which things happen but they get no response, or in which things happen but they change nothing. I'm sure it's possible to write a story about a character who sits in her room and does nothing, changes not at all, and never seems to care one way or the other what happens in her life. But this is not the stuff of commercial fiction, and it's going to be a tough sell with me.
4. Editors love a writer who delivers what she promises. It's wonderful to be able to trust an author, and I've had a string of people recently prove their merit and trustworthiness to me. Those of you writing for my house, just know that I pay attention to good behavior, and I remember. :)
5. On the flipside, to those of you in any house who are contemplating a bout of difficult behavior, let me urge you to reconsider. I'm not saying this because anyone has been difficult in the last couple of weeks. In fact, as far as I know, we're a pretty happy bunch these days. I'm just saying it because I have at long last concluded that part of my job is to persuade people to avoid committing career suicide. So, ahem, please don't jump, put the gun down, step away from the pill bottle, and all that jazz. *crosses item off today's task list*
6. It's hard to be able to predict the direction the erotic romance market is taking, though I am happy to report that our sales are up a bit across the board. That's always a good thing. I would say that, in general, books with very strong male heroes do well. Bad boys, Alphas, Navy SEALs, adventurers, mavericks -- strong men behaving in strong ways. Readers seem to respond to this character type.
They also like sex. Go figure. For all the complaining that people do about explicit covers, graphic sex scenes, and the secret porny longings of romance readers, the truth is that sex sells. Like it or loathe it, I don't think it will be going away any time soon. For many female readers, of course, sex still works best when it's within the context of a story. But within that story, readers seem to respond more strongly to sex scenes that are even evocative, imaginative, fantasy-driven, and above all, smoking hot. Hot enough to melt the screen on your e-reader. Really. (Side question: why is it that the ultra-kinky books do so much better in digital than in print? Anyone have a theory on that?)
One other predictor of success seems to be how much self-marketing an author does, though it's not a perfect predictor. I think really what it comes down to is a combination of active self-marketing and publisher support. I think you need both. What I wish I understood better, and what I probably never will understand, is why some authors can get out there and do everything right -- write a wonderful book, promote the hell out of it, work well with her publishers, create a beautiful website, interact with her readers, all that great stuff--and still never seem to break through. It's an old saying, but it's true: success in publishing is a matter of being prepared when lightning strikes. I see quite a lot of authors who are prepared, who were doing the work day after day and doing it very well. And I keep waiting for that lightning to hit them.
Of course, the flip side of this is that if you don't do the work, lightning can't ever strike you. Keep that in mind the next time you're feeling a bit down. Careers in publishing are a tricky business. Keep your motivation high by focusing on the work that you're doing rather than on the results it's producing. You cannot control the lightning. None of us can. But you can control the process, and to some extent, the product.
I could probably do full blog posts, or maybe even series of posts, on each one of these points. These are big topics. But for now, I thought I would share some general observations that have come up in the last couple weeks. It's good to be back.