“Published Authors Tell It Like It Is”
(This article is the first in a series in which published authors will be asked to share the benefit of their wit, wisdom and experience on various aspects of the publishing business. The questions will vary, but the intent will remain the same: to share, to educate, and to inspire.)
There’s no “magic bullet” in publishing. Becoming a published author takes hard work and dedication. It requires commitment, perseverance, and the ability to withstand criticism. There are glorious highs and disappointing lows—the journey between “unpublished” to “published” can be a rollercoaster, a maze of choices, an overwhelming undertaking, particularly when we’re feeling discouraged.
But don’t despair. As members of RWA, we belong to a generous community. Many of our chapter mates are women who’ve already trod that difficult path to publication, and are willing to share what they’ve learned along the way. Becoming a published author is a dream come true, and for those of us who’ve achieved it, it’s a dream worth sharing.
Because I knew there were many wonderful women out there who stood ready to share, to encourage, and to help, I posed a question to the published members of RWAOnline, and many of them were kind enough to answer. The question was: “WHAT DO YOU FEEL MADE THE FINAL DIFFERENCE IN GOING FROM ‘UNPUBLISHED AUTHOR’ TO ‘PUBLISHED AUTHOR’? The answers were more varied than you might think, though the most common themes seems to be determination, improving your craft, and making your own luck.
Claire Delacroix equates the level of determination required to become published to the craft of writing itself. “I think that writers’ careers – like good books – have Dark Moments. Some authors have one dark moment – before making that first sale, before changing houses or agents, before breaking out – and some authors have lots of them. What these episodes have in common is that everything hangs in the balance. The author in a dark moment is a whisper away from giving up writing forever. The authors who can push through their dark moment and who find the confidence to carry on will invariably win big.” As the author of twenty-three historical novels as well as several contemporaries under the name of Claire Cross, Claire has proven that persistence pays off.
Determination was also a factor for Janice Lynn. “There were so many times it would have been easy to quit torturing myself with the pursuit of my dream. But quitting would have been a bigger torture. I made the decision to stick it out no matter what, and no rejection or public criticism would rob me of that determination.” Janice’s determination paid off big when she won the American Title contest with her sweet and funny Jane Millionaire. Janice is also a big believer in finding encouragement and camaraderie within writer’s groups. “Being a part of eHarlequin and RWA—attending conferences, meeting writers, editors and industry professionals, online groups—played a big role in getting published.” Once Janice got her foot in the door through the AT contest, she continued to persevere, and she’s now happily under contract for a series of medical romances for Harlequin Mills & Boon.
Another American Title finalist, Michele Ann Young, counts perseverance as a major factor, too. “I really had to pick myself up after a rejection. I tried to learn something from each experience and continually work at improving my writing."
For Harlequin Blaze author Tawny Weber, determination took the form of finding and focusing on the right editor. “The thing that made the biggest difference for me was finding an editor who got my voice, really liked my writing and encouraged me to keep trying,” said Tawny. “I kept myself in front of her through contests, including winning the Harlequin Blaze contest. I worked to hone my writing until I hit the right story for her.” Medallion’s Ann Macela and Triskelion author Kim Amburn agree. Ann says, “I had to find my editor, the one who liked my stories and my voice, the one who was willing to take something slightly different that didn’t fit into ‘conventional’ rules.” Kim Amburn targeted her editor at an advantageous time. “I approached an e-publisher at the beginning of an expansion,” says Kim. “For me, it was the editor.”
Cathy Clamp, who writes as a team with C.T. Adams, has made a howling success of her paranormal career at Tor Books. Captive Moon, third in the Tales of the Sazi series, is currently a finalist for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Best Werewolf Romance. Cathy feels a great editor is critical for new authors, and that working to improve her craft was the key to her first sale. “For Cie and me, It was learning what we were doing wrong. Our editor walked us through and helped us see what the reader would find lacking, even though they wouldn’t be able to completely explain WHY it was lacking.”
Many published authors stress the need to improve writing skills through critique loops, online classes, books, and perhaps even more importantly—a critique partner who will tell you the truth. Lynnette Brogan, who writes paranormals for Triskelion, says “I searched for writing groups, crit partners, and books about the craft to improve my skills. I didn’t walk away, even after bad critiques and rejections. I took a step back, looked at the advice given to me, then applied the suggestions I thought helpful.”
Linda Ford feels that once she learned how to write a good synopsis, she was able to see her stories in a way she otherwise couldn’t. “I sent my synopses to RWAOL for critiquing and slowly, with gentle help, I figured out how to see the story as a whole, how the give the characters a motivated journey from beginning to end, and hopefully, how to develop a romance between them. I wouldn’t think to go ahead with a story until I’ve had several people look at my synopsis.” Linda’s theory obviously worked, as she’s now publishing inspirationals for Heartsong.
Kate Pearce believes in taking risks. “Though my historicals were doing well in contests, they were still a hard sell in the current market. I made a decision to spend a year writing different things just to see if I could.” Kate turned up the heat and made the switch to erotica, writing for Ellora’s Cave and recently signing a two-book deal for Kensington’s Aphrodesia line. Kelle Z. Riley thinks risk-taking is essential also. “Risk taking is uncomfortable, but I think critical to success. Don’t play it safe by writing the stories you’ve seen are already successful. Risk creating something original.” Keziah Hill says her success was achieved by being “true to her voice’, and “writing from the heart”, regardless of what others are doing.
Erotica author Emma Sinclair believes it all comes down to luck—the kind of luck you make for yourself. “You have to love the book and then find the right editor that loves it just as much as you do. And to do that, you have to know the market. Who’s buying what, who wants what? Your chances of getting ‘lucky’ are greatly increased by knowledge.” Kelle Riley agrees, “Luck is finding the right editor, agent, publicist or reading public. There is little you can do to control luck. The trick is to be in as many places as possible, to maximize your chances of getting lucky. Unlike cards, this is where stacking the deck in your favor is a good thing. Follow all of the leads that you can, because each can lead to another. Be nice to the editor who rejects you. She will remember your professionalism. As you build a reputation for being a professional, as your name slowly gains credentials and becomes more visible, the editors and agents will begin to remember you. Sometimes all you need is a little edge. That professionalism or exposure may make the difference between an editor reading your work when she’s frazzled at the end of the day vs. putting it aside to read with her morning Starbucks. And if you’re ready and your work is ready, that little bit of ‘luck’ may be all the difference you need.”
For some of us (including me, Terri Garey), finding an agent who believed in us was key to that first sale. I was lucky enough to sign with the agency of my dreams, and it was their encouragement, belief in my story and business savvy that now has me writing paranormal contemporaries for my dream house, Avon HarperCollins. Michele Ann Young feels the same way. “The big difference was getting my agent. Having an agent opened more doors, and while at the end of the day it is the work that sold, having someone else in your corner is a huge help.” Lynnette Brogan says, “I found an agent who believed in me and my story as much as I did.”
Determination, improving your craft, making your own luck, finding the editor or agent that’s right for you — I wish I could call them “secrets”, but secrets are things never meant to be shared. The published authors of RWAOnline are happy to share their stories. Thanks so much to all the authors who participated in this month’s topic, and I hope everyone enjoyed the first-hand insight into the journey from “unpublished” to “published”. The next Asked and Answered question will be: “WHAT WAS IT ABOUT THAT ‘WINNING’ MANUSCRIPT THAT TOOK YOU FROM SUBMISSION TO SALE?” Look for it in the next edition of RWAOnline’s LoveBytes.
Ooh, I can’t wait to find out what our published authors have to say. Can you?
Terri Garey is the author of two upcoming paranormal tales, Dead Girls Are Easy and Where The Ghouls Are. Both novels are about ghosts, voodoo and an extremely unlikely psychic - a former Goth girl who becomes an unwilling ‘ghoulfriend’ to the dearly departed. Dead Girls Are Easy will be an Avon September 2007 release, followed by the sequel, Where The Ghouls Are, in March 2008. Visit Terri on the web.
Friday, January 26, 2007
“Published Authors Tell It Like It Is”