The ‘Why’ behind the Africa Online Book Fair: Romance Authors & Books

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It’s an understatement to say I am excited! The online book fair is a first for me and I am are ready to start.

But before I get into giving you the details of the where and the when, I’d like to explain the point behind #AfricaOnBookFair.

I grew up in Apartheid South Africa, mostly at the end tail of the Struggle. In 1994 when we had our first democratic election I was still in primary school. Buying books, much less writing books weren’t something that was encouraged for any person of color. Yet authors of color prevailed.

They wrote books about the history of the country, books about their daily struggle. Wonderful Drum Magazine writers wrote some of the most memorable short stories that opened up worlds for me when I studied them in high school and university. Poetry like To Whom It May Concern by Sipho Sepamla still touches many around the world. But…yes there’s a but, I didn’t come across prolific romance stories set in my country and the rest of Africa, that didn’t have tinges of colonialism or was written for a specific audience that didn’t include readers outside of it.

The stories weren’t inherently diverse. Stereotypical roles for people of color littered these romantic texts and even till this day when I go to my local library and bookstores I have to hunt for romances written that’s multicultural or even interracial, romance that showcases the beauty and scope of the landscape as well as the people of this continent, and also the authors that come from it.

Romance authors in Africa don’t just write contemporary/historical novels in bush settings or urban settings, they write steamy reads about fairies and werewolves too. Local heroes and heroines making a life abroad. Nail biting suspense and mystery romance novels. Science fiction and fantasy. Young adult and new adult stories. They even interpret characters from different genders, races, cultural backgrounds and religions.

And I asked myself, where can you find these books and authors with so much diversity among them? Where is a place you can walk into and have a good fun old time getting book deals and meeting your next favorite author? You guess right. A book fair.

But because Africa is a really…really big continent, how do you get all of these terrific romance authors and their stories together in one spot for readers to discover them?

Thank God for the invention of the military programme that became the internet! Online is the easiest way to find things you’re searching for. Whether it’s the definition of a word (so guilty of that) or buying a pair of shoes, online shopping, buying and selling, and researching are things we consider common. Even in Africa.

Everyone owns a device they can use to access the internet.

And that’s how the #AfricaOnBookFair was created. It stemmed from this need to say, “If you’re looking for romance stories set in Africa or want to find out who your next favorite African author in every romance genre out there is, here they are. Online. Easy to access. You don’t have to pay to get in. You don’t have to stand in a queue. You don’t have to feel hot and sweaty. Or cold and tired. You sit in your home or wherever you might find yourself and check out what’s on offer.” Money you would’ve spent on gas, food and tickets to get in can go into buying extra books! As a bookworm, that makes me extremely happy.

And I know every little bookworm heart is giving a fist pump *laughs*

The Africa Online Book Fair aims to bring African romance authors and readers together. In a nutshell it is as simple as that. And I really hope you’ll come meet every single one of them.

Event date: Friday 2nd to Sunday 4th June 2017.

Starts: 10:00 am ( Cape Town time)

Ends: 22:00 pm (Cape Town time)

 

So without further adieu, here they are:

Aziza Eden Walker

Bailey Quinn

Elaine Dodge

Inge Saunders

Jayne Bauling

Joanne Macgregor

Kathy Bosman

Leenna Naidoo

Marie Dry

Nana Prah

Sherita Singh

Theresa Beharrie

TM Clark

Link to the Event Page:  https://www.facebook.com/events/372063406523550/

Twitter: @AfricaOnBookFr

Instagram: @africaonlinebookfair

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The Dreaded Synopsis

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For the last two years or so, I’ve come to embrace the synopsis. And though embrace is a strong word, since you won’t find me just jumping into one, I have realized the importance of one if I ever want to be considered by a big publishing house.

So instead of listing all my struggles with writing them, I decided to write how I became comfortable with writing synopses.

I’ve read a lot of articles on the topic and watched a few online teachings. I’m not good with textbooks because it makes me feel like I’m back at varsity and my “Am I going to get graded on this?” mentality isn’t so easy to shake off, even years later.

But the light-bulb didn’t come on until I realized that 1) there’s a specific publisher I like to write for and they require a synopsis. Without one I’m toast at the door. They won’t even consider me no matter how intriguing the pitch, hook or first three chapters. My submission won’t make it past the threshold. So to not put myself at a disadvantage, I knew I had to master the synopsis.

2) I came across a Harlequin editor who gave advice on synopsis writing. A side note: whenever an editor from a respected publisher give advice on writing, take note.

She hit all the points I’ve read so far. But what stood out for me from her advice was how simple she made synopsis writing seem. At the end of her advice she said, synopsis writing is you drawing a map. The map contains all the high points, the beginning and ending. You have a good idea of where the highs and lows are going to be. And writing the story are filled with all the meaty parts in-between, like the ditch the car falls into after a deer crossed the road. You write about all the angst and fear that came along with the experience. A minor setback, but the end destination still needs to be reached.

I started writing my synopsis like this. A road map. And that’s how I still view a synopsis, especially one that’s aimed at an editor.

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So besides these things, here are a few points I focus on when I sit down to write a short synopsis:

  1. First thing check the length the publisher wants. This can range from 1-2 pages to 5 pages. Reading the guidelines will save you a lot of time.
  2. Format: Double-spaced, 1 inch margins, Times New Roman font and Header over every page (check with the publisher if they require a specific style of Headers).
  3. Start bold. The same attention you spend on the opening line of your book put the same effort into the opening line of you synopsis. Grab the editor’s attention first before you summarize the book.
  4. Stay focused. In a short synopsis for 1-2 pages there aren’t space for extraneous details. Don’t include secondary plots or characters, unless they play a part in understanding the resolution. Don’t use multiple points of view (POVs) even if they are present in the novel.
  5. Determine your romance’s focus ahead of time. You should determine your target publisher’s preferences ahead of time and use it to guide your effort. A publisher like Harlequin wants romance, so get to that quickly and end on the romantic resolution.
  6. Write in present tense. This is something I didn’t know at the beginning. It is so simple and makes so much sense. Because the present tense creates a sense of urgency. This makes it effective.
  7. Show, don’t tell. Yes, even in a synopsis. Show the story through a good plot. Don’t describe it.
  8. Don’t resort to empty questions. “Will they fall in love?” This is an editorial pet peeve. You’re going to have to answer the question, so you’re wasting space. These types of sentences also yank the editor out of the story. They are views as “author intrusive”. You are not letting the story speak for itself, you are speaking for it.
  9. Many editors make it a rule not to read after the third typo. So be thorough!

 

Sweat the opening three paragraphs. Most editors conduct a “three paragraph” test.  If you don’t grab their attention by then, they simply won’t read on. A strong opening line and a quick tight overview of the hero/heroine and conflict.

These tips I learned from romantic suspense author Lisa Gardner. I look at them every time I sit down to write a short synopsis as a refresher. And even as I type this post, I learned something new.

Learning this skill isn’t a once off thing. You’ll have to practice it and practice some more. It’s not for the fainthearted and it’s not for the lazy writers. It’s not for the ones who are ‘stuck in their writing ways’, the ones who skip publishers because they want to avoid a synopsis. Because it’s a hurdle they can’t exercise enough to jump over.

Hard work do pay off. And I do believe getting the synopsis is one step closer to publication.

#happywriting

On Voice Part 2: “Your voice isn’t strong enough.”

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Recently I received feedback from an editor that said, “Your voice isn’t strong enough.” It wasn’t, ‘this needs a stronger voice’, only referring to the piece of writing. No. It meant the voice I wrote in normally for my romance novels weren’t as strong as it should be.

 
Now, if you’re a newbie like me, you first need to absorb the information and then go on a Google search to find out what exactly the editor meant, because in Part 1 of On Voice here on my blog, Lee Child explained in a lovely quote what having a ‘voice’ truly meant as an oral storyteller.

 
The publishing industry, however, has its own definition of what ‘voice’ is in the written word and when they tell you to strengthen your voice, it has everything to do with your style of writing.

 
So in a quest to distinguish my voice and make it stronger, I’ve discovered these points I have to focus on.

 
1. I need a persona when writing.1003679_631124983566225_882649124_n
Uh…yeah I know, sounds weird. But I need one. I need to have a character I can ‘step’ into when I’m writing, almost like placing on a ‘thinking hat’ but more concrete since this persona is going to be ‘put on’ whenever I sit down with my laptop and work on a story. This will allow me to develop and refine my writing objectively. By doing this I’ll also be able to, in future, drop this persona and write as a different type of character because I’ve distanced the ‘daily me’ from the ‘writing me’ and in so doing, made it easier to switch between narrative voices. Some prefer to ‘step into’ their main character and ‘live’ the story through them.

 

2. Style.
I need to use stronger verbs, alter the sentence structure, use alliteration, internal rhyme, onomatopoeia and uncommon words.
For me this will happen during the self-editing process, when I go back over the first draft, or second or third…you know where I’m going with this *smile* I even read that you can make up words to make your voice distinctive as you write a certain character. The idea here is to match the setting and situation your character is in.

 

3. Authority.
Authority refers to the writer’s confidence or control of the material. The idea here is to have a strong, credible voice.
How do you attain authority? By doing your research. You must provide specific, concrete temporal and/or physical detail. To write with authority, you have to know what you’re talking about. Even in romance! Spend a good amount of time developing characters, location and plot. This gives you power and control.

 

4. What do you want the reader to feel?
The emotions you use your voice to invoke will stick with readers. When they open one of your books it will all come back to them. What do you want your readers to feel on page six of a new manuscript? What strategies can you use to draw out that feeling?

 

These are only a few points that stood out to me that I’m personally focusing on in my writing at the moment. There are definitely more on voice and how to develop it.

 
One thing to keep in mind; voice evolves over time and working on yours will create a strong authorial voice.

 
Do you have any tips of your own? Then leave a comment.

Getting that 2nd Book Contract

i want to see you be braveGetting that 2nd Book Contract was just as great as getting the first one! In fact it had me going into a mild panic, reading and re-reading my email to make sure my brain wasn`t making up stuff and basically rubbing my forehead while my heart was having great palpitations…I was shocked! Why you ask? Because…I mean…I`m…me *incredulous look*

Don`t you ever feel like that writer? Yes I`m talking to you. Don`t you feel like you`re not worthy? Like that first book contract was a fluke. Like that great editor who recognized something in your story, was basically…wrong …misguided *pulling face* Yes, that`s where I found myself between being deliriously happy and doing my happy dance.

I questioned. I marveled. I agonized.

And it should mean something that a panel of editors said yes to your story. It should make Gooseflesh appear and also a bright smile. But my hectically overanalyzing brain couldn`t let me rest. I had the email. I was staring at it on my phone. I`d start typing an email to my editor Zee Monodee to make sure the email was meant for me, then I`d stop myself.  It clearly was addressed to me and referenced my book!*yikkes* I was a mess!

It took me four days to tell my writing group I got an offer for my novel “Dance of Love”. FOUR DAYS!  What writer could keep news like that to themselves for so long?! But I did! I was waiting for the shoe to drop. I was pinching myself. Unlike the first time I got offered a contract I wasn’t 100% in the clouds. And in hindsight, it had a lot to do with my first book contract.

Technically, this book contract is my 3rd and not my 2nd. My first romance novel was contracted twice last year. The first time from an e-publishing company that cared little about the quality of the finished product and would, in my opinion, use whatever means to sell a story. In this case, the book`s cover that didn`t depict an inkling of what the story was about. This was only the tip of the iceberg that was the major publishing drama/trauma I lived through in 2013. It taught me to be vigilant, to do my homework where publishing companies are concerned, even editors. See what their up to on the internet-social networks, ect. The same tabs they keep on potential writers.

The 2nd time my novel was contracted it was truly a perfect fit with an editor I got to know through my writing group and who knew of the drama I went through. This editor also had a great reputation and work ethic to start with. It didn`t take me long to sign on the dotted line to work with her.

So when I heard I was going to work with her again on “Dance of Love”, I was excited, elated…more than satisfied. Yet I paused, not because of her…not because I thought this e-publisher was in any way like the first one, but because I simply hadn`t realized how much residual trauma stayed with me.

It was more than pinching myself to realize a novel got contracted again…I experienced fear on a level I never had before. I couldn`t appreciate the moment completely for what it was, because once not long ago I got burned and still wore the scar.

I distrusted and that wasn`t a good place to be, so this was what I did.

I decided to be brave. I decided to “be amazing’. I decided “[I] could turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug”…yes I danced my heart out to Sara Bareilles`s Brave! I decided to not let my first experience in the publishing world “…settle [be]neath my skin”. brave

It was a lesson, it gave me thicker skin but it would never steal my joy again…it wouldn`t limit me.

I`ll keep on following my dream…I`ll keep on being brave:-)

So here`s to more book contracts and success to not only me, but everyone who`s taking the writing journey with me:-)