Jane Answers Email

Every week or so I get another flurry of writing oriented questions and I thought I’d take this week’s questions and put them together here, with my answers, in the event that the rest of you are curious about the same thing.

Dear Jane, I am an aspiring writer and I have an idea for a sheikh story. Could you offer some direction for where I might research possible names for fictional countries, as well as names for characters, along with cultural traditions?

Dear Reader, to world build for my Harlequin Presents’ sheikh stories, I use National Geographic magazine a lot, as well as cookbooks from the Middle East, and travel guides, too. Some of my favorite writing resources for the sheikh books has been the Culture Shock! series including Culture Shock! United Arab Emirates, and Culture Shock! Morrocco. To create a believable foreign country, along with interesting names, you have to read a lot, and try to get a feel for the culture and what type of country and culture you want your sheikh to be from and then just run with it from there. Good luck!

Dear Jane, I have been thinking about writing a manuscript for several years now, have some ideas and now am ready to get to work on it but I have no idea where to start. I’ve never written anything like this before and could use some advice. Is there a format that most publishers require for a manuscript? How do I go about finding someone interested in it once it’s finished? I know I’m getting ahead of myself since I have only just begun writing, but I want to have an idea in mind of where I’m going with this. Any help you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

Dear Reader, congratulations on wanting to write! My first recommendation is that you check my website for articles on writing and useful links. I also have a thread on my bulletin board under The Writers Life dedicated to the beginners who have questions. It’s called Q&A For Newbie Writers and lots of published authors visit my bulletin board and chat with readers and writers. So join us there and you won’t have just my brain to pick but lots of other authors, too.

Second, if you’ve seriously decided to commit yourself to the life of a writer, you should consider joining the RWA (Romance Writers of America). You can find out more about this organization at RWANational.org. The RWA helped me tremendously when I started on the path to becoming an author and I highly recommend it to anyone who is serious about their writing. It’s a great resource for learning not only about the craft, but also about the business side of writing. Moreover, as a member, you’ll have the opportunity to meet lots of other writers and authors who are headed in the same direction as yourself, genre wise, and it’s likely to be a fun and rewarding experience as well as attend conferences and monthly workshops (through the local chapter and there are several close to where you live). The local chapters have newsletters and contests and monthly meetings, along with the huge national conferences and their monthly magazine. It’s the best thing I did to help me succeed!

Dear Jane, I’ve written and sold three books to a new small publisher and the first book is coming out soon. How do I market it? What should I do in terms of publicity? I don’t have a lot of money and yet I want to do something for this book.

Dear Reader, I strongly encourage writers to join the Romance Writers of America (RWA) if you aren’t already a member. They are an incredible source for writers of many genres and you’ll also open yourself up to a whole wealth of support from other writers.

In terms of inexpensive–or free–publicity, get yourself a MySpace, Facebook and Shelfari page. I’ve found all 3 sites helpful in meeting new readers and getting the word out about my books.

Depending on your demographics, check out CafeMom. There are several book groups there and I’ve met some wonderful readers through it.

Stop by the B-Board on my website and introduce yourself to everyone and find other forums online where you can stop by at least once or twice a month, if not more often. It helps with name recognition and helps put you in touch with others who are interested in the same things as you.

Depending on your subject, do some online promos with places like FreshFiction, Romance Junkies, and more. Sponsor some monthly contests, send books out for reviews, ask if a site will feature you one month in an interview. The key is to develop relationships at these different sites and become part of the online community.

Offer to do talks at bookstores, writing groups, and libraries. Speak to civic groups and volunteer to go into local schools and do a reading or writing workshop for kids.

And lastly, budget to get some promotional material printed to distribute at booksignings and other promotional outlets. I use Author Sound Relations for some of my printing needs and the quality is terrific and the price incredible affordable.

Dear Jane, how do you get so much media? You seem to get more tv and paper coverage than a lot of writers I know.

Dear Reader, I work it. The media isn’t interested in another romance writer or fiction novelist unless we have something interesting to offer them. We need to be more than a “hey, I got published” story, but a story that ties into current news, world events, seasonal story lines, or emotional human interest. For Flirting with Forty, I really tapped the whole older woman/younger man aspect, doing interviews with everyone from Romantic Times to Playgirl (where I got accused of being a cougar!). For Odd Mom Out, I tackled parenting topics, including the pressure women are under to be Super Mom. For Mrs. Perfect I’m dealing with money issues and perfectionism. You see, I’m trying to find the larger story, and that’s the one the media wants.

And those are the writing questions I’ve received lately.

Have a question? Ask away (in the comments below) and maybe some of my friends who are writers will pop in and help me answer, too!

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