I HAVE AN AGENT!!!

I’m excited to announce that I’m now represented by Sarah E. Younger of the Nancy Yost Literary Agency. Sarah is fantastic, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be working with her. She describes my heroes as “sexy corporate/slightly nerdy heroes,” enjoys stories with touches of humor and whimsy, and tweets about Magic Mike XXL. It’s a perfect match, right?

I’ll share more soon (read: after the 2015 Romance Writers of America Annual Conference, because, oh crap, I still need shoes for the awards ceremony).

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It’s Official …

I returned from a weekend away to find a lovely welcome home gift: my Golden Heart pin and an invitation to a reception in honor of the 2015 RITA and Golden Heart Finalists!

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The receipt of these items prompted me to start my “official” countdown to Nationals in New York. If you’re following along, we have five weeks and two days to go. Yay!

Meet the 2015 Golden Heart® Finalists

Hi all,

As many of you know, I’m a finalist in the Short Contemporary Romance category of the 2015 Golden Heart ® Awards. The purpose of the award, according to its sponsor, Romance Writers of America,® is “to promote excellence in the romance genre by recognizing outstanding manuscripts written by members who have not published a Novel or Novella.” For the next several weeks, the Blog of the 2009 Golden Heart Class, the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood, will be featuring an interview or blog post from a member of this year’s class. Check out the Rubies’ blog (link below) for interviews of my Golden Heart sisters and me. In some instances, commenters will be entered into a drawing to receive a fun prize. I’ll be featured on Tuesday, June 2. I hope to “see” you there!

Mia

Click here for the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood Blog: http://www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com/.

Begin with the High-Concept Premise

When I attended the Romance Writers of America® national conference in San Antonio last year, writers, agents, and editors continually referenced an elusive term: the high-concept premise.

Uh, excuse me? What?

I left the conference knowing my manuscript lacked a high-concept premise. After I’d consoled myself with a hunk of dark chocolate, I then spent months fiddling with the plot to make it worthy of a catchy description. It’s a laborious task, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. So when I sat down to write my second manuscript, I vowed to begin with the high-concept premise.

By now, some of you might be asking: What the heck is a high-concept premise, anyway? Literary agent Rachelle Gardner offers this useful explanation: “When an agent says they want high concept, they’re looking for an idea that can be captured in just a title and a brief, pithy tagline—and from that brief description, will immediately attract interest.” For more on this topic, see Ms. Gardner’s video and write-up here: http://www.rachellegardner.com/what-is-high-concept/.

Why does it matter? It matters because books with high-concept premises sell. It matters because agents, publishers, and readers are drawn to books with high-concept premises.

Let’s imagine that I’ve written a romance, and this is its premise: Sally Drake can’t risk falling in love, so she avoids it—until Jake Carpenter walks into her life.

Is that an Amazon one-click? Of course not, and I’ll tell you why. Because there’s no high-concept premise; instead, it’s a flat and clichéd description of a romance novel that will never be published. But with just a few tweaks, I can infuse this one-line description with beaucoup de high concept and spark interest in the story.

Bounty hunter Sally Drake craves liaisons with anonymous, dispensable men who won’t be caught in her dangerous lifestyle, but after a soul-shattering sexual encounter with her latest bounty, Jake Carpenter, Sally learns what it’s like to be hunted.

It’s not perfect, but hopefully you get the idea. The premise gives information about the hero and the heroine and hints at the conflicts, both internal and external, that will keep the couple apart for most of the story. (And just to be clear, this is not one of my works in progress—yet.)

Not everyone works out their high-concept premise before they begin to write, but I’m experimenting with doing just that. And I love that if someone asks me what I’m working on, I have an answer that doesn’t begin with “um” and end with a blank stare.

Here’s the premise for my latest work-in-progress, The Wedding Disorganizer:

With her business and reputation at stake, wedding planner Miranda Chase’s warfare skills are put to the test when her latest clients can’t agree on anything and the bride’s sexy older brother threatens to derail her efforts to throw the perfect wedding.

I’ll tweak this many times before I pitch it to anyone, but I think this premise has promise (for fun, try to repeat that last clause five times in a row).

Now if I could just finish the damn story, I’d be in great shape.

What about you? Before writing, do you check your book idea to be sure you have a high-concept premise? Do you draft a blurb only after you type “The End”? Tell me about your process in the comments. I’d love to learn from you!

Exciting News: I’m a 2015 Golden Heart® Finalist!

I’m thrilled to announce that I’m a finalist in the Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® contest. My first category-length manuscript, At Her Service, is one of five contenders in the Short Contemporary Romance category.

RWA announced the results of the contest on March 26. That morning, my desk resembled a command center: my desktop computer was set to the RWA site, my laptop was set to a live blogging event hosted by the Rubies (the 2009 Golden Heart® finalists), and my iPhone was fixed on Twitter. Just before 11:00 a.m., I concluded no one would call me, so I called my husband and told him I hadn’t finaled. He wasn’t convinced it was over, but I was already in the pantry looking for the slab of dark chocolate I save for emergencies.

But then I received a call from an unfamiliar number at 11:04 a.m. When I answered, a very nice woman with a great voice told me her name, said she was calling from RWA, and informed me that my manuscript had finaled in the contest. My ears began to throb, and I couldn’t stem the tears. There many “oh my Gods,” and I might have mewled (it was not pretty, trust me).

I asked the incredibly calm and professional woman to repeat her name, and this is what I wrote down: Julie Jessup. Say whaaaa? There is no such individual on RWA’s Board. I suspect the excitement clogged my ears, and I can only deduce that the lovely woman was Janelle Dennison.

After that, it’s all a blur.

This is my first time entering the Golden Heart, and this year’s conference in New York will be my second trip to nationals. There, I’ll join my Golden Heart sisters at a formal awards celebration. I’m honored to be among this gifted group of women, and I can’t wait to meet them in person in July.

My next order of business is to figure out what to wear. Don’t judge my priorities, folks. I get to wear a dress, killer heels, and fancy jewelry. For a romance writer who spends most of her days in lounging wear (okay, PJs), this is a big deal.

I Write, Therefore I Read

I’ve been writing in earnest since February of last year. In that short time, I’ve learned a lot about the mechanics of writing romance stories. There are numerous blunders to avoid: too much backstory, the saggy middle, the big misunderstanding, the unsympathetic character, clichés, and so on. And there are numerous techniques that will strengthen your manuscript: an inciting incident in the opening pages; tension within scenes; and pinch points and plot points that up the stakes for your characters over the course of the story. And let’s not forget that aspect of writing that flows only from you: Voice (yes, that’s a capital v).

Did I know any of this before I started writing? Frankly, no. Sure, I knew when a book bored me, or when I was having trouble relating to a character, or when the main character’s actions made no sense. I also knew when I couldn’t put a book down because I liked the way the author “delivered” the story, or because the author ended a chapter in a way that forced me to keep reading. But I didn’t know how to identify the writing techniques that contributed to my reading enjoyment (or lack thereof).

Well, now I know. And that’s good news. But it’s bad news, too.

It’s good news because that inability to turn off the writer’s switch means I’m learning my craft: the craft of writing a compelling story. It’s bad news because my reading habits have changed. Gone are the days when I could read a book for pleasure, without regard to the devices the author used to give me that experience. Even when I think a book is well written, I read and reread paragraphs trying to identify the reasons why the book captivated me. And when a book doesn’t capture my attention, I dissect it, trying to identify why it’s not grabbing me in the way that it should.

Some might argue that if I’m distracted by the mechanics of writing as I read, the author didn’t do his or her job properly. I disagree. I still immerse myself in the stories I read, but I can’t help to raise my head now and then to reread a beautiful sentence or to note a particularly compelling hook. And now that I think about it, the evolution in the way I read might be the reason why so many experienced writers advise newer writers to read books both in and outside their genre. Reading in pursuit of your craft is not just about knowing what’s out there, what’s trendy, and what’s been done already. Reading is a necessary activity for any person who wants to be a writer, because any book can teach you how to tell a better story. So maybe this isn’t bad news after all. Maybe this is what happens when a reader who writes becomes a writer who reads.

Okay. Where’s the chocolate? My head hurts.

The (Writing) Year in Review

It’s the first of the new year, and I can’t resist reflecting on last year’s journey toward becoming a published author.

I entered contests, and to my surprise, placed in a few.

I finished two novellas, a full-length novel, and a category romance. Sure, some of those pages will never be available for public consumption, but I learned to “finish the damned book.”

These accomplishments didn’t happen in a vacuum, however. Three things made them possible.

First, my husband challenged me to make 2014 the year I committed to becoming a writer. I’d dabbled in the past, writing in spurts and stopping when work and life needed me more. But in early February, my husband encouraged me to treat my writing as a career. He promoted me among our friends and family, and he gave me the confidence to go “all in.” If that weren’t enough, he convinced me to attend the RWA conference in San Antonio and to set the date of the conference as my deadline for completing my first manuscript. Now, I’m living the life of a writer, and I owe him for pushing me in the right direction.

Second, I met my critique partner, Olivia Dade, a few weeks before the RWA conference. Olivia and I met online and discovered that we lived in the same state. I’m so glad we connected. We’ve navigated this crazy writing world together. She gives me honest feedback, which she delivers with humor and just the right amount of care. I hope I’ve managed to do the same for her.

Third, I discovered the community of romance writers, which I call “the village.” Countless writers, published and unpublished, share their experience and experiences on social media sites and at gatherings of writers. Without the information these writers shared, 2014 would have been a very different year for me.

A writer’s life is often described as a solitary one. To some extent, it is. Generally, though, writers have a few folks in the background who support their goals and believe in them. For me, that circle of friends and supporters is growing. I’m thankful for every person who has impacted my writing career in some way.

2015, bring it on!