Why Manners are Important to You as an Author

Inspired by my friend Jean, who writes the most wonderfully witty posts about Southern manners from time to time, I've decided to write about some things that have been bugging me lately. I've noticed a disturbing lack of social nicety lately, and I think remembering a few manners might help.

Yes, writing is often a solitary pursuit. It's creative and, according to one article, requires the kind of high level concentration that a master chess match might demand. Writing also attracts a lot of introverts, as we are people who would rather play with our imaginary friends than have to talk to our real friends sometimes.

That said, if you are writing in hopes of being published (or if you are published), this is also a business. A BUSINESS. And there are certain ways one behaves in public and when conducting business. It's called manners. You need manners. They don't have to be my Southern manners, but you should have some knowledge at least of business etiquette and how to behave. That said, I give you my top tips for how to behave:

1. Be nice to EVERYONE. No, not just to those people who you think can do something for you. Everyone. I've seen this one a lot, folks, and it isn't pretty. It's not nice to exclude people just because you think they can do you no favors. How do you know that person won't be the bestseller someday? Not only that, but it's just rude to treat people differently because maybe they aren't published and you are. Never make the mistake of thinking someone isn't worth knowing because you can't perceive they have anything to offer you. They do. Everyone does. Take the time to be nice to everyone, and you may learn something.

2. Don't boast. This one fries my bacon. Maybe it's because I'm Southern and I've been raised to think boasting about oneself is impolite. Of course I think you should crow to the rooftops about your contest finals and bestseller list placements! Of course you should celebrate and be happy! I do it too, even though I am often uncomfortable saying, “Lookie here, my book is a bestseller!” But that's a fine achievement and worthy of some snoopy dancing. Heaven knows we get beat up enough in our writing lives not to rejoice a bit when we have the chance. But if you find yourself saying on a daily basis about how fabulous your CPs or editor think you are, or claiming that you are the most innovative thing to come down the pike since Nora Roberts, or constantly needing to one-up your fellow writers with pronouncements about your fabulosity, then you need to step back and remember that nobody likes a braggart. We love to celebrate when someone gets good news, but crow all the time about everything you do and people will start to cringe whenever they see your posts/tweets/blogs, etc. You don't want that. It's hard to be happy for someone who so desperately needs attention that he or she can't shut up about themselves for one damn minute. You might think you're at the center of a stage, clearly the most important person around, but you are deluded. I'm telling you this to do you a favor. You are not super special. Thinking you are will get you in trouble eventually. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but someday. Count on it. Remember that a little humility goes a long way.

3. Don't trash talk about your fellow authors. This one continually amazes me. There's a difference between a critical review (which I am not comfortable doing as an author, but others are and that's fine) and trashing someone because you don't like their book. Never get caught up in this. The internet has a long memory.

4. You should already know this one, but don't argue with reviewers. Ever. If someone hated your book, even if they said mean things, the only appropriate response is either no response or a thank you if you feel inclined to give one. I usually go with no response.

5. You will get asked to do things. Give an answer one way or the other, but don't leave anyone hanging. We often want to do everything we are asked to do, but the truth is we can't. Not if we expect to meet our deadlines and have time with our families. Pick and choose the things you do, and don't be afraid to say no when you don't have time. But always, always do it politely.

6. This applies to the published people — now that you are published, don't make the mistake of thinking you know everything. You probably don't. The newer you are, the more you have to learn. I'm still learning. I can tell you what I know based on my experience – and I do have strong opinions about some things – but I'm not by any means the oracle on the subject. And I don't think I am either. There is no single way to do things.

7. Don't make absolute statements. This kind of goes with making the mistake of thinking you know everything. But telling people things like, “You don't need an agent for category,” or “You absolutely need an agent for single title,” or “Self-publishing is the only way to go,” or “One should never, ever change POV character mid-scene” is really a bit silly. And arrogant. Who died and made you boss? Everyone's experience is different. Now, if you want to say, “I decided I needed an agent for single title because I don't feel capable of negotiating (or want to negotiate) those contracts” or “I personally don't like to change POV characters mid-scene because I think, for me as a reader and/or writer, it's jarring,” then that makes perfect sense. That's your experience.

Okay, this post is getting long enough now, but you can tell I've been thinking a lot about this stuff lately. An unpublished writer told me once that an author who had been snotty to her in her RWA chapter didn't realize that she'd not only lost the writer's respect, but she'd lost her as a reader. This writer will never, ever pick up that author's books. Is it worth losing a potential reader (not to mention a potential friend!) just because you think there's nothing this person can do for you or that they are somehow beneath you? Be nice. It's all you have in the end.

Any bad behavior you'd like to add? Anything that fries your bacon? Any experience you'd like to relate? Any tips you'd give that I left off?

Bad, bad author — and revisions

Clearly, I have gotten very, very bad at writing blog posts. I used to really enjoy doing it! It was my outlet, my way to blather on about whatever was on my mind. This blog, long before I published, was alternately a “writer's journey” blog, a travel blog, and a “she talks way too much about inane every day crap” kind of blog.

I've realized that I miss blogging regularly, but I also have to acknowledge to myself that I get pretty stretched thin sometimes. I also tend to feel that if I'm blogging, I'm supposed to be inspiring or profound or whatever. I think that comes from having gone on this pretty amazing journey from unpublished to published, and feeling like I'm supposed to help others feel inspired or motivated where I can.

But I got an email from someone recently who thanked me for the posts I've done on this blog (she even went and read the old ones, which I found amazing!) because they showed her my progression as a writer. So, that's the answer really. That's why I'm supposed to blog more frequently. It's about progression and getting to know each other. I'll blather senselessly, sometimes it'll be really good take-that-to-the-bank info, but mostly it'll be whatever is on my mind at the time.

And if you get something out of it, great. If you don't, I hope you won't be too upset with me. 🙂

Today's blathering is about revisions and editors and the relief you feel when your editor explains the revision letter to you. Because I got a revision letter earlier this week, and I was confused. I always expect them, of course, because nothing is perfect when you first turn it in unless you're Nora maybe.

But this time the revisions seemed more extensive than they have for the last few books, and I was stumped. What did I do wrong? How did I get it so messed up? Was this a total rewrite?

My editor could sense the crisis brewing and helpfully called to chat. That's when she realized I was about to meltdown and I realized that she hadn't said the first thing about rewriting the whole book. No, what I'd done was short-changed some of the emotional stuff for the sake of plot. (But you're a pantser, I hear you cry! Yes, it's true, but I can let the plot get in the way as I make stuff up. Which is what I did.)

I have a bodyguard book, which is apparently a classic Presents trope. I did not realize that actually. But I'd gotten a bit caught up with the mechanics of the bodyguarding and the heroine's job (it's a cool job, believe me, and one my hero has to protect her for) and it seems as if I'd let those things get in the way of true emotional connection. I didn't think I'd done that, because there is emotion on the page — but it's not deep enough.

So my task now is to go back in and pull out the elements that are overshadowing the characters, and then to turn up the emotion to boil. I'm really looking forward to it — and so relieved it's not a total rewrite. I may be a pantser, but I usually get a pretty good story arc by the end that doesn't require major shifting. Thankfully, this isn't a major shift, but it's still work.

The lesson here, if you're looking for one, is something I've said before: your words aren't static. You have to be willing to change them. And it's not the words so much as the story. Spending hours and hours taking out all the ‘was' words, or getting rid of ‘was' + ‘ing' constructions, is insane. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking STORY.

If you have any questions about what that is, go read this amazing post by Epic Black Car.

That is all. 😉

Except for this: right now, The Prince's Royal Concubine is really cheap at Amazon! $2.17 on Kindle and $2.28 in paperback. No idea how long that will last, so go check it out if you want a copy!

Dear Snooki

I know who you are because you are because you seem to pop up in entertainment news and celebrity gossip quite a lot. I also know that you are a very, very tanned person. So when I read in an article recently that you would never have plastic surgery because you are afraid of needles and anesthetic, I had to shake my head sadly.

Here's the thing, my dear. You are young, in your 20s I think, and so all that tanned skin is quite supple and tight right now. But you just wait. When you hit 35, 40 if you're lucky, you may start to think differently about surgery. Because tanned skin is damaged skin. The only way the skin can react to UV damage is to brown. As brown as you are, that's a whole lot of damage to those delicate cells. It's going to sag, trust me. I've seen it in my tanned friends who looked awesome at 20, and then looked like they were over 50 when they were barely 40.

Your skin is going to sag when the collagen fibers stop doing the job of holding it up, and you may be looking at plastic surgery in a whole new light then.

On the other hand, there's another danger of which you seem either blissfully unaware or you think it won't or can't happen to you. Skin cancer. Tanning beds concentrate the UV light, and more and more younger people are presenting with skin cancers these days. You are dark skinned and have dark eyes and dark hair, but that's not a guarantee, especially the more you subject your skin to intense UV light. It's not just the tanning beds, of course. Sun exposure does the same thing.

And if you do get skin cancer, guess what? Surgery. If you get the worst kind there is, melanoma, the surgeon will need to take margins. You will probably be knocked out for this surgery, though not always. There are definitely needles involved.

Either way, Snooki dear, I think surgery is in your future. I'm sorry you're afraid of needles and anesthetic, but I think you need to realize that if you continue the way you're going, surgery will become a distinct possibility at some point. The damage is already done, considering how brown you are, but I do hope you will think twice about so much tanning. Taking care of your skin now could lessen the impact of the damage. Besides, with your money, can't you afford a really great spray tan?

Working hard and what’s next

Just a quick post to tell you all that I'm working hard on book number 9 — yes, number 9! Can you believe it? I can't. It's been two years since I got the call, and only a little over a year since the first book came out. Time really does fly when you're having fun! This one is untitled, but I can tell you it features a yummy half-Indian hero named Raj and a socialite named Veronica. So far, they are burning up the pages!

I also have exciting news about what's next. In the UK, Prince Voronov's Virgin is the Mills & Boon Book of the Month for January! I've been getting a lot of early reader mail about this story, and it thrills me that you all are enjoying it so much. It seems to be flying off the shelves over there, and for that I thank you! In fact, it's the number 1 bestseller this week!! This book will be released in North America in June under the title Behind the Palace Walls. It will be a Presents Extra — my first, so I hope you'll help me make it a success here too!

Next up in the UK will be Strangers in the Desert in May! I have no links for this one yet, or order information, but this is my first full-length sheikh book. Adan and Isabella have a delicious past together. When they are reunited, the sparks fly. I can't wait for the back cover copy to share with you! I don't have it yet, so no idea what sort of things it's going to say — there's a pretty big secret in the book that I don't want to give away just yet. Though maybe the back cover will do so, LOL!

Next up in North America is The Devil's Heart in April! I haven't posted this cover on the site yet, but check it out. I am so in love with the Presents version of this cover!

Finally, coming in the UK sometime this summer, and in November to North America, is The Heartless Rebel. (Available at Amazon UK. No order links for NA yet.) This book is part of a continuity series called The Bad Blood Collection! In this series, you get to read about a family called the Wolfes and all their trials and tribulations. My Wolfe brother is named Jack — and he's an absolutely delicious mess of alpha toughness and stoicism. Just wait until he hooks up with his heroine, though! This is a very sexy story — probably my sexiest yet!

That's what's coming up in 2011. And now I'd better get back to work on this book, since it absolutely refuses to write itself. Hope you're prepared for the Holiday Season! I'm not, but what's new about that? 🙂

The Labyrinth Experience

As a writer, I often daydream. Sometimes, I daydream at the computer when the words aren't flowing and I need to figure out what happens next. Sometimes, I take a shower and the thoughts just start to happen. Getting unstuck, finding a new path, whatever I need, often happens when I take that mental break and stop trying to force things to happen. I've even had breakthroughs on the treadmill while making deals with myself that I'll get to that next mile mark. Whatever it takes.

But on Saturday, I found a new place to think. My RWA chapter went on a field trip where we learned about labyrinths. After the presentation, we walked a labyrinth. It's not as complicated as you might think. Labyrinths can be quite simple. They aren't mazes, first of all. There is one path in and one path out and you walk the path with a clear site of the center. There are no tall hedges to get lost in.

I was surprised at how simple the labyrinth looked. We walked one that was patterned after the one here, which is a medieval labyrinth. Specifically, this is the one that's in the Chartres Cathedral in France. The path we walked was grassy, with bricks to mark out the way. It's meant to be walked barefoot, though as our teacher stressed, there is no right or wrong way to do it. I walked in wearing shoes, then took them off for the walk out.

And it was different each time. It's a surprising experience, in fact. Our group of writers, who are normally quite boisterous and talkative, got very meditative as we walked. I found that I was a bit bored and distracted at first. And then I had a moment where a recent painful memory crashed in on me and had me on the verge of tears. It was surprising how it came out of nowhere when I wasn't expecting it. Then the memory went away and the knowledge that things happen as they are meant to happen gave me comfort.

Then I settled into the experience and started to think of many things. I can't even remember everything, though some of it was writing oriented. As I got closer to the center, I felt calmer. And then I was in the center, watching others walk the path, and feeling very peaceful and content. When I was finally ready to leave the center, I took my shoes off and began the walk back out. Oddly, I felt as if I'd left any baggage I was carrying in the center. I felt lighter, relieved in some way.

The farther I went, the less light I felt. It was almost like picking up the worries I'd left behind as I walked out. By the time I got out, I felt the same as when I'd entered. I felt like me, with all the worries and cares and joys that I have. It was a very interesting experience, and it's one I intend to repeat. Because, as our teacher said, each experience in the labyrinth can be different. You won't always get the same thing out of it.

I wouldn't always anticipate having an experience where grief hit me out of the blue. But I definitely see the advantages to working out those thorny plot problems while walking the labyrinth. When I went in this time, I had no expectations, which is why so many things hit me. But if I went in thinking of my plot and characters, I know I would get answers to my questions. Just like standing in the shower or daydreaming on the computer.

I highly recommend the experience if you're looking for a new place to think. You can learn more about labyrinths, including whether there are any in your town, here. If you've ever had the labyrinth experience, what did you think of it?

Snow day

It's snowing again in Alabama. It's March, people. Snow does not fall in Alabama in March. Did someone upstairs not get the memo? I'd have loved this snow, scant though it is, in December. That's when it's supposed to snow. But this is Alabama, and it doesn't really snow here.

Except now. Why now? Why, when I want warmth and sunshine, do I have to put up with more snow? At least the weekend forecast is supposed to be sunny and 60s. That's more like it! We're accustomed to 60s in March. (We're accustomed to them in December too.) Can I please have my normal weather pattern back, dear El Nino?

Aside from the snow making me grumpy, I'm working on the latest book. Yes, it takes place in Russia. Yes, there is snow. I'm rather sick of snow.

In other Chez Harris news, I believe I'm going to have to track down and terrorize a misbehaving cat any minute. Nimitz, the evil beast, is yowling. Which wouldn't be a bad thing, if he were a normal cat. But destruction usually follows on the heels of the yowling. He likes to get on my hall table and knock over pictures. Or he'll open cabinets and crash around through the pots and pans. Then there's his fascination with the fireplace. And yes, he's actually tried to get into it while the fire was on. That's why I keep a handy dandy squirt bottle available. It'll either keep him out of the fire, or douse him once he's set himself ablaze. 😯

So, today it's snow, writing, and flaming cats. What about you? Anything interesting going on?