Iconic Couples: Big Love At Its Best by Kelli Martin

In romance and in love, some couples are meant to be.

What makes a story’s couple reach iconic status? For some, it’s the super-size drama that swirls around them. For others, it’s longevity, or a relentless off- and on-ness. Sometimes it’s because of explosive chemistry and often…it’s because love is thwarted, or forbidden. Whatever the reason, iconic couples put us under the spell of a big, big love.

Rick and Elsa in Casablanca epitomize that love is sacrifice. He stoically chooses to put her happiness, her well-being above his own. Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams’ characters in Mahogany are iconic because of the duel between personal ambition vs. romantic love. When Harry Met Sally canonizes a modern enemies-to-friends-to-lovers romance, and ushered in the notion that love can make us laugh, and that true love accepts our personal quirks and our personal truths, like in The Kiss Quotient. Moonlight, Love Story, Moonlighting, Brokeback Mountain and An American Marriage show legendary love because that love is interrupted (either by society, circumstance, illness, isolation or silence). It’s a love that shimmers, but never comes to fruition. And we feel the loss of what will never be. In Boyz ‘n the Hood, Tre & Brandi’s teenage love breathes right next to their coming of age. For them, their love was home. If the love in Brokeback caved to the world, the love in Boyz was a refuge from the world. Sleepless in Seattle’s love is seminal because it popularized the concept of a soulmate, in movie life and in real life. Insurmountable differences in background and personality mark the combustible love of The Way We Were and Disappearing Acts. In Rebel (Women Who Dare) and Love in Catalina Cove, the dream of love is deferred by family expectations. In Friday Night Lights, Coach and Tami Taylor are iconic because their we-are-a-team love affected their family, their schools, the football team, the entire town. Their love is iconic because it made the world they lived in a better place. The Shawshank Redemption and Thelma and Louise show a love supreme because in life-changing moments, each friend chooses to be strong when the other needs to be weak. And the love in The Bridges of Madison County is truly iconic: it’s a love that demands an impossible choice. It’s the love of a lifetime; one of pain, and also of awakening.

As writers, when you’re creating your love story, it’s possible to strive for an iconic romance. How? Take your characters and their love to the brink.

Make drama happen. Rip the couple apart. Bring them back together. Exert devastating circumstances on them. Their love needs to be tested. Make us think that something momentous (society, death, time, their personalities, their goals and ambitions, their bodies – hello Twilight!) – is greater than their love. Make their love go wrong. Give your characters secrets – delicious, scandalous secrets. Give them painful vulnerabilities – and have your protagonists confess them! Force them to make the impossible choice. Show us their epiphanies. Show us their grand gestures. Surprise us. Make us laugh. Wrench our hearts, then put them back together again.

And please, please do this: give us our ultimate fear in storytelling and in love – That the couple’s love might not survive.

Then, when all is said and done, have your protagonists’ love show us one true thing: that everything is going to be okay. The result? 

We’ll love your couples – and their love story – for the ages.

-Kelli

Stop Self-Sabotage by Dr. Judy Ho

We are so thrilled for Dr. Judy Ho’s Stop Self-Sabotage to publish on August 20th! Order your copy today!

Combining therapeutically proven strategies with practical tools and self-assessments, Dr. Judy helps you stop the cycle of selfsabotage, clear a path to lasting happiness, and start living your best life in this a must-have guide perfect for fans of You Are a Badass, Unf*ck Yourself, and How to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t.

Hope In The Slush by Callie Deitrick

If you have written a book or a proposal, let me start by offering you my congratulations! Writing a book is no small feat and even the most experienced of authors struggle with the process. But, now, as I’m sure you know, comes another daunting challenge: the slush pile. Unless you have an inside connection, it is likely that you will be sending your work through an unforgiving email portal from which you may never hear back. This is, no doubt, quite frightening and often discouraging.

Depending on the agency, the slush pile might get tens or hundreds of new manuscript pitches and proposals a day. Since agents are already pressed for time, the importance of making your submission stand out at a quick glance goes without saying.

While the odds may seem unfavorable, I am here to tell you that they are not impossible. This past April when I was reading through the slush, I found a nonfiction proposal that immediately caught my attention. The letter was crisp, the book had a clever hook, and the author had exceptional credentials. We immediately reached out to the author, who was also being courted by other agents, and we successfully signed her shortly thereafter. After a few weeks of revising with the author, we sent the proposal to a carefully selected group of editors. Enthusiastic responses led to multiple meetings. In the end, the book was sold for six-figures! From start to finish, we sold the book in just 10 weeks.

If you send us a well-crafted letter and show that you’ve done your research, and present yourself and your project in a compelling way, I guarantee that your submission is already better than many of the submissions agencies receive. Emails that come to the slush often exhibit minimal effort in following our guidelines or researching our agency. Know your customer (us!) and what we are looking for. We frequently see wild conspiracy theories, genres we clearly state we don’t represent, and even the occasional scam (one scam tried to blackmail us into paying them in Bitcoin), so I promise that if you put the time and energy in, you will be carefully considered.

Try not to get discouraged. Just because you don’t hear back from one agency doesn’t mean that your book will never get sold. Agents want to find great material in the slush as much as you want to find a great agent. Trust the process and know that when you find the right agent it will all be worth it.

-Callie

How To Maximize the Writer’s Conference Experience by Cherise Fisher

A writer’s recipe for success in publishing is 20% talent, 40% preparedness, 35% networking, and 5% luck. This is an unscientific conclusion, but true nevertheless. A strong writer’s conference is designed to improve preparedness and create an environment for networking. So if you want to make the leap from writer to author, attending a good writer’s conference is money well spent. So how does a person go about maximizing the writer’s conference experience?

Look for a conference that suits your needs.

Self assessment is a key life skill. Where are you lacking? Are you an MFA student who has spent years working on your novel with prestigious writing mentors but have no clue as to how to market yourself? Opportunities to network with editors and agents will be important for you. Are you a lawyer by day and an avid romance writer by night? You might want a conference with workshops that can help develop your talent. Are you an expert in your field but know nothing about publishing? You might need basic information about first steps. The ideal writer’s conference for you will be one that suits your needs and fits your interests.

Know what you bring to the table.

Depending on where you are in your writing journey, you might have a full manuscript, a cover letter, a proposal, a synopsis, or some combination of all of these. Just be clear about what you are prepared to share. But do share something. I never understand why a person will come to a conference, sit down with me, and then tell me that they will send something to me in a couple of months. You should have something to email an editor within 24 hours (provided he or she has asked for it).

And now I’m going to contradict myself: it’s also okay to not promise anyone anything. Your first conference might just be one where you soak up as much info as you can. The conference will be there next year and you can pour all of what you learned into your work and presentation for the next go round.

Know who is at the table.

Look at which presentations, panels and workshops you want to attend and research the participants. It’s flattering (and a smidge creepy) when I meet someone at a conference who can quote me from an article I wrote four years prior. In addition to the ego massage, the research time they put in makes it clear to me that they believe I’m the right person for their work.  When I’m sitting in front of someone whose work is not at all aligned with my interests, it’s a pitiful waste of time.

Be memorable.

You will meet many people at a writer’s conference. I risk sounding like your mother here, but first impressions are important. Dress smartly, give a good handshake, smile, sit up straight and/or lean in when we’re talking. Present your best self.  Bring business cards. They can be simple: name, number, email, perhaps website, title of your book, or your area of expertise.

Also, get your elevator pitch together. You have ninety seconds to communicate what you have and what you need. One time after a stimulating panel, a man came up to me to introduce himself. He explained that he had sent me a query a week before and then proceeded to tell me the plot of his novel, minute by minute. By the time I got through the third verse of Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before you Go-Go” (in my head, of course), I decided to relieve the long line behind him by gently putting my hand on his shoulder and asking, “Are you planning to recite the entire novel?” Don’t be this guy. Be succinct.

And finally, Breathe. You are in a community of like-minded people doing what is best for your journey. Enjoy the experience.

-Cherise

How To Write The Perfect Query Letter by Nicki Richesin

Every famous author (even the esteemed Mr. King and Ms. Rowling) has had to write a query letter and was rejected on more than one occasion. Sometimes dozens of times. Take courage in knowing that this is just part of the process.

Congratulations! You have polished your manuscript to every inch of its life and are ready to find an agent. You have researched and identified a few agents who represent the same type of book you have written and would be a good fit for your project. Now you are finally ready to write your query letter. Deep breath. It’s not that hard, I promise.

Your query letter should be well-written, thoughtful, and short. How short you ask? Remember Shakespeare’s advice that brevity is the soul of wit!

I like to read no more than three paragraphs (four is pushing it) that amounts to one page. Remember this is the first impression of your writing, so you should demonstrate your skill. I would suggest sharing your letter with your fellow writers and trusted advisers. Does it capture their attention and intrigue them?  

In the first part of the letter, you should briefly explain in one sentence why you are contacting the agent. Personalize your note by describing why you believe this particular agent would be interested in your book.

In the second paragraph, include your book’s title, word count, and genre/category. Then offer a three-to-four-sentence synopsis of your book. Focus on the story’s premise and try to express what makes it compelling to the reader. The description should be written as succinctly as one you would read on the back of a book or jacket copy. You should refrain from explaining in detail all the twists and turns of the plot. When in doubt, better to leave it out.

The queries that have impressed me the most are clever and beautifully written, but also demonstrate an awareness of the marketplace. I am on the hunt for a writer who has identified the story’s hook- one that not only grabs my attention and makes the story unique and surprising, but often completely unexpected.

Finally, include a short bio, offering information about your background that pertains to your work or your writing skills. Add any relevant publication credits, writing degrees, memberships in writing communities or organizations, awards, and grants. You want to prove your commitment to your writing career. So feel free to include anything special that you bring to your writing background, perhaps in your research or career. You can always include something personal that will show you’re an interesting person.  

Please note at WSA, we request that you copy and paste the first ten pages of your novel in the body of the email.

That’s it. I know you may be tempted to share more information with agents, but it’s better to keep it short and sweet. Best of luck and keep writing!

-Nicki

Why We Read For Love by Kelli Martin

I’m obsessed with love. I always have been. When I was younger, I would have these big, all-encompassing crushes. I’d crush on Sodapop, Dallas and Johnny in The Outsiders. Authors R. L. Stine and Lois Duncan novels made me feel like suspense could happen right next door – and I loved that roller coaster feeling of closeness, of anticipation! Donna Tartt’s The Secret History awakened my fascination with how obsessive and consuming the dark side of love and friendship can be. Sidney Sheldon novels made me go gaga over lone female protagonists who glued the cracks in their souls back together. Sweet Valley High novels made me addicted to first love and new love, with all its butterflies and tingles.

Now, as an adult, I still crush a lot. The objects of my affection: yes, still books and their characters…but also their authors.

As literary agents at WSA, we have our own distinct journey of love. We see tremendous potential in the authors we work with. We have a vision for their current work, and in the stories they haven’t even created yet. As we get to know the authors we work with, we experience a mutual fondness, we see a bond coming to life. Agents and authors choose one another. We are devoted to one another. We see our dreams coming true with one another.  

As readers, it’s often a dance, a flirtation, the way a book comes into our lives. We may be instantly drawn to a book or we may stumble into a book. The end result is that we fall for books – fall in love with books – in mysterious, layered and surprising ways. We turn to books for so many reasons: sometimes out of a need for comfort and reassurance, a longing for connection and understanding, a desire to discover and learn, for companionship or direction, a chance to escape, or hope for a better future. And sometimes we read because we want to be absorbed – surrounded by this rich world that the author has so lovingly created. Whatever the reason that gets us reading, books offer a unique type of love that is as individual as it is universal.

It’s a vicarious thrill this reading is. The love of a good book sees something in us, something special, and so we cherish it right back. The love of a good book makes us want to shout about it from the rooftops; we want to share it, talk about it, dig deeper into it, get to know it, hold on to it, even relive it. And if there are some sentences that we may never understand, we accept that. And we will never, ever let that book go. That’s how we show our love.

Why do we read? Because it’s how we show our love for the world, for the book, for the author, for each other, and for ourselves. And that kind of love is tender and sturdy and beautiful.

-Kelli

Kelli Martin: From Editor to Agent, There’s Always an HEA at RWA

RWA Conference is a rite of passage. It’s the conference to go to for the romance book world. Held in a different U.S. city each summer, the annual conference for Romance Writers of America® is always filled with firsts.

In 2008, when I was an editor at Harlequin, I attended my first RWA in San Francisco.  I remember being astounded at how enthusiastic the readers were. I’d never seen a conference like it, with energy that joyous, that gregariously energetic for reading, romance novels and HEAs (happily ever afters). It was the first time I’d ever felt truly inspired by a work conference.

The first RWA when books I had edited or acquired were nominated for a prestigious RITA Award was 2013 in Atlanta. We were over the moon to see our authors receive recognition from RWA and readers….I remember us at that ballroom table smiling and tearing up with delight and loyalty and gratitude.

I’m just now back from RWA 2018 in Denver. I went not with colleagues or as part of a publishing house, but on my own as a literary agent. At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I feel lonely? Would I feel out of place? But it felt like home. A very open, new home. I think it was the sense that anything’s possible as a literary agent.

That sense of discovery being the first person to love a new story, to fall in love with a new author you know will move readers – lots and lots of readers. It’s an addictive feeling, that sense of discovery. There’s a freedom in seeing how far writers and I can collaborate to make them a published author. I feel invigorated knowing I can matchmake authors with editors and publishers who will share their vision and bring it to life. Building relationships is my superpower, and it’s crucial in the agenting business. It’s my own happily ever after.

-Kelli

2018 BookExpo

BookExpo America is the country’s largest ​book fair, held this year in NYC’s Javits Center. Publishing professionals, librarians, booksellers, ​and authors​ all gather under one giant roof to meet with colleagues, see ​publishers’ ​upcoming books, ​sell foreign rights, meet with media, ​and (best of all) ​meet the writers and editors who are shaping the industry.​ As always, the Javits Center was ​the place to be with books and the people who love and create them—such a fun scene, especially since ​for a first-time attendee​ like me​.

The event offers a variety of educational panels, ​high energy booths with displays of books, ​and ​long lines for book signings snaked through the aisles. ​We loved ​the​ chance to connect with colleagues and ​feel the amazing energy​. ​Itreally is astonishing to see the huge number and variety of books that are ready to enter the world and find their readers!

– Marie

New Spring Books

It’s been a long, seemingly endless winter here in NYC. Snow in April is not my idea of fun.  What is my idea of fun is looking ahead and seeing all the amazing books of ours that are being published this year.

I just returned from DC, where I had the pleasure of attending Steve Kistulentz‘s reading of his powerful debut novel, Panorama, at Politics and Prose (as well as the thrill of seeing the Michelle and Barack Obama portraits at the National Portrait Gallery).  I loved Steve’s novel from the moment I started to read it—and I read it from cover to cover in one fabulous weekend. Two years later, voila! Panorama continues to receive high praise, including these words from Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Robert Olen Butler: “A remarkable literary work…this is a stunning debut by an important new writer.”

Wade Rouse’s newest novel, The Recipe Box, written under the pen name Viola Shipman, is a hit right out of the gate. It landed on the MIBA bestseller list in week one, and has quickly become a favorite. Wade chose his pen name as a tribute to his grandmother, and writes beautiful, heartfelt stories like The Charm Bracelet (2016) and The Hope Chest (2017); The Recipe Box is his third novel centered on treasured family heirloomsThere was not a dry eye in the house when Wade delivered the keynote address at the Texas Library Association annual conference last week. These words of praise from #1 New York Times bestselling author Richard Paul Evans (The Christmas Box) say it all: “Filled with cherished memories and treasured recipes, The Recipe Box is a touching tribute to the women and food that unite us and connect our past to the present.”

Pray for spring weather…