Words Are My Business . . .
Q: How did you first get published?
A: When I sent out my first manuscript, I was woefully ignorant. I picked publishers at random out of the Writer’s Digest, some of whom didn’t even publish what I was writing. I got one request for a complete that came back with a form letter rejection. It took me three more complete manuscripts to get up the courage to submit again. I picked what I thought was the best of them and sent out a proposal. Carin Ritter at Zebra Books wrote back a week later to request a full. It wasn’t even typed! This was in the early 80s before home computers. I wrote in long hand and typed on a Smith Corona manual. Two weeks after I sent it in, Carin called to buy SWEET TEMPEST for their Regency line. I didn’t even know they had a Regency line! She asked to see anything else I had. I sold PIRATE’S CAPTIVE, another of the four I had completed and two other romances before I knew another writer even lived in Michigan. When the first two books came out on the same date one a Regency as Lauren Giddings and one a Heartfire Historical as Dana Ransom, I was contacted by the Mid-Michigan RWA chapter to speak at their meeting, and I went from being a writer to an author.
Q: Do you have an agent?
A: I sold my first six books on my own. My first agent was recommended by a fellow Zebra author, but after a few books together, it was obvious that we had different career goals and I let her go. I had the good fortune to have had Debbie Macomber as a judge for my first Golden Medallion entry (now the Rita) and she took the time to hunt me down at my first RWA conference in Seattle. When I was agent hunting a second time, she introduced me to her agent and with that agent I sold with a shot gun blast to multiple houses (11 books in one of those years!) but even as she pushed me to jump to the next level, I was conservative and held back, and got slammed by the near death experience of the mid-list in the mid 90s. We parted ways amicably and, disillusioned with New York publishing, I found ImaJinn Books, a paranormal small press, and was able to do free range writing while recovering my passion for the written word.
I went on to reconnect and sell to Silhouette, and was trying to market a dark paranormal series that just wasn’t right for them. I figured it was time to tread the agent waters again but couldn’t get a nibble, even after bumping into Micki Nuding at a PASIC party and getting her enthusiastic, Send it all! Even after requerying those agents to say I’d turned down Silhouette’s offer and Pocket was now very interested, I couldn’t get a response, so I did all my homework and sold the three books myself.
Weary of the whole agent chase, I got lazy and/or clever and asked my editor to recommend a couple at the next PASIC industry party (Tip go to the PASIC party!). The next morning Karen Solem was looking for me. I’m very excited about the career plans we’ve made since then.
Do you need an agent? Not always. But if you’re going to parlay with big guns, it’s nice to have a sharpshooter at your side.
Q: Do you use a critique group?
A: I’d always been very reluctant to let anyone other than a close friend read my works in progress. I wrote so fast that a critique group schedule just didn’t seem feasible. Besides I’d seen the toxic effect one individual could have on a group’s confidence and direction. But then several of my writer friends formed a new group and after enviously listening to them talk about what they were doing, I gathered the courage to ask if I could join and was enthusiastically welcomed in what was the best decision ever made in my writing career. There are eight of us, not all published (yet), writing in all different genres from historical to paranormal to series to suspense to women’s fiction to inspirational to fantasy. We all bring something unique to the table. Some are line editors, some are plotters, some are just darned good intuitive readers. And we all respect each others talent, goals and dreams. We try to get together at least once a month and have just started exchanging chapters in advance via e-mail. A good critique partner is every bit as important as a good agent and editor relationship. Its all about trust, truth, and encouragement.
Q: Do you do a lot of self-promotion?
A: When I first started out, I was all aboard the self-promotion bandwagon. I did bookmarks (and won an award for Unique Promotion from Romantic Times!), I did targeted mailings, speeches, signings, tours, conferences. I got a lot of name recognition and I got very tired. Neither contributed identifiably to my sales figures.
Now that I’m back to a point where self-promotion is a necessary evil, I’m being more careful, more frugal, and started paying attention to my sanity limitations. I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone to embrace technology with a new website (Ta Da!), a presence on Face Book (which I’m finding surprisingly fun and addictive), and a cost effective, bang-for-your-buck plan for getting my name out to readers on various high traffic sites. The rest will depend upon money, time and patience.
Q: Describe your writing day?
A: I have no typical writing day. I’ve had to be flexible. I started out writing long hand in a notebook while watching my boys play in the sandbox, upgraded to a word processor, then finally a computer, and life as I knew it changed . . . for the better. I’ve had to work around babies, school schedules, full time employment, a divorce, and major shifts in the publishing industry itself. Luckily, I’m very OCD/ADD and can focus and filter out everything else when at the key board. I’m an early bird so I make use of those hours before I leave for work and have the screen warming up the second I get home at night. Even when I didn’t work outside the home, I was extremely regimented with daily page goals I had to reach each morning into afternoon before I could enjoy a movie and popcorn with the pets. It’s all about finding the path of least resistance and making the most of it.
Q: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A: See previous answer. OCD/ADD. I don’t leave the house to go to the store without Mapquest. If it wasn’t for a list, I would never get anything accomplished.’ I always made lengthy outlines and character sketches before starting a project, then divided up my writing schedule according to the scenes and chapters. All my chapters were almost exactly the same length. Can you say raging OCD? Then came my current shape-shifter series. My former Silhouette editor wanted the prologue I’d written, but wanted an entirely different book to go with it. New characters, plot, everything. So after pouting for a few hours, I got to work. And worked. And worked. And in five days had seven chapters written, all without the slightest idea of where I was going. The story just unfolded as if I was watching a movie. I had to force myself to stop and write a synopsis. Then, I was off and writing again. The plot just raced along. Through one book. Into another. Into a third. And all without a map. A case of serial outliner with pants on fire! I still prefer an outline, but I’m willing to follow that muse when I smell smoke.
Q: Do you recommend How-To books?
A: The only things I rely on at my desk are a Webster’s Ninth, a thesaurus, a book of baby names and spell check. For me, charts and graphs and note cards pull me away from the actual writing. I went to a workshop once on passive voice because I didn’t know what it was. I’d never had a problem with it until then. Then I got so obsessed with looking for it, I could hardly get a paragraph on the page without writing and rewriting it. I’m a believer that writing, like all creative endeavors, i.e music and art, is an instinctive talent. You improve it by actively honing your skills. Rhythm is intuitive. A writer can find inspiration, encouragement and direction in books by Donald Maass and Zig Ziglar, or in critiques by their peers. But someone without words in their soul can’t be taught the passion it takes to be a writer any more than learning technical skills can make someone who is tone deaf into a musician. But that’s just me . . .
Q: What’s the hardest part of the writing process?
A: Stopping. I hate to let go of characters I’ve grown to love and/or hate over the weeks and months of their journey. It’s like kicking out the friends and family who’ve been living with you for the past few months. I guess that’s why I enjoy writing a series.
Q: Have you ever wanted to quit writing?
A: Sometimes you just get tired. If it hadn’t been for my critique group kicking my butt, I would have given up after one too many I just didn’t love it letter. I kept going because I didn’t want to disappoint them. They’re meeeean! And a couple of months later, I was on a roll.
Q: Do you feel writers organizations/communities have any benefits?
A: See previous answer (i.e. butt kicking). Writing is such a lonesome occupation. No one understands it like another writer. We need to vent, to cheer, to share, to commiserate with those who feel our same pain, frustration and joy. There’s a definite value to networking, but even beyond that there’s the fellowship of kindred creative spirits that refreshes and reaffirms. I’m a dedicated lurker on the loops, but I get a feeling of connection from reading what others are going through. Conferences can be noisy and fatiguing, but also a time to put faces to names and find opportunities. As in anything, one can go to extremes and enjoy the socializing to the detriment of the actually writing. You get out of it what you put into it, so put in heart and soul . . . but not all of your time.
Q: What was the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
A: Suck it up! from pal Thea Devine, and it’s a long way to the top if you want to Rock ‘n Roll. AC/DC.
Q: What advice do you wish you hadn’t taken?
A: “A bird in the hand . . .” Caution sometimes means missed opportunities. Sometimes you just have to take a risk and spread your wings.