Thanks for dropping by my niche in the universe.

I write contemporary romance. Building families--one romance at a time.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Self-publishing Mentorship with Courtney Milan

I’m thrilled I was the lucky winner on the Brenda NovakAuction for Diabetes of a four-month mentorship on self-publishing with Courtney Milan. (This year’s auction raised $320,000 for Diabetes research.)  Courtney and I meet up in Anaheim at RWA’s national conference to begin the process. 

A little bit about Courtney.  She was a 2008 Golden Heart finalist in the Historical category and sold to Harlequin in a two-book deal at auction.  She self-published her first novella, UNLOCKED which hit the USA and New York Times Bestsellers lists in June 2011.  (I loved it!)  Over the last few years, she’s been a self-publishing advocate.  She has at least a dozen books out, both through traditional and self-publishing.  A talented business woman, she’s currently working with a German translator on one of her books.  This is unusual, since foreign rights are typically handled by agent or publishers. 

                                                    photo by Jovanka Novakovic | bauwerks.com.

We met in the Marriott restaurant of the Marriott and got to know each other over tea and breakfast.  We both lamented the sad state of tea in the United States.  (My mother was British, I believe her father is British.)

Since the manuscript I am thinking about self-publishing is still under review with editors, we’re not starting the clock on the mentorship, but I did learn a number of gems of successful self-publishing.  Some of this was after the RWA annual meeting as Susan Sey, Courtney and I chatted about Susan’s self-published book KISS THE GIRL.  (Great book!) 


Objective is to get a significant number of reviews in Goodreads and Amazon.  Ten reviews looks like the reviews were all done by friends and family.  So does twenty.  Fifty is better – one hundred is awesome.  But how do you accomplish this?  One of the Courtney’s suggestions is to look at authors similar to your book or writing style.  Then send the reviewers an email and ask if they would be willing to give an honest review if you sent them a copy. 

Social Media
Do what you enjoy doing.  If it’s Twitter or Facebook or blogging, do it, but do it well.  If you don’t like what you’re doing it will come across in you presentation. 

I hope to keep updating this blog as my mentorship continues!

Monday, June 18, 2012

My Day for Rejections

  This must be my day for rejections.  Both rejections were nice, personal letters rejecting my work.  (Have to remember they aren’t rejecting me—just my books.)

The first came earlier this morning.  An agent who’d requested a full of SOUTHERN COMFORTS.   
The positives -- You create the setting beautifully and really bring the inn to life. Overall, this is a good read, but I'm not convinced that it will break out of the pack.  I'm sorry to keep you waiting only to disappoint you. You have a lot of talent and have had a good bit of success.
The negatives – sometimes the characters came across as unsympathetic and the romance floundered.
TIME ELAPSED:  Initial query to final rejection – 4 ½ months.  Only 3 weeks after she received the full.  And she apologized for the delay.  That was nice.
The second rejection came this afternoon.  An editor who had RESTORING MITCH’S HEART.

The positives -- I like your writing, which is light, charming, capable of conveying warmth. The characters are appealing, too—especially Tierney and her dad.  Even though this story isn’t working for us, I definitely think your writing has potential. I wish you all the best with it!

The negatives – Sharing the house may be too much of a forced conflict.  Public proposal maybe too cliché.  And the slight paranormal threw the editor off.

TIME ELSPASED: Initial submission to rejection – 12 ½ months, but she warned me it would be a long time.  Back in February, I sent a revised partial because I’d made quite a few changes.  She also apologized for the delay – very nicely.
The editor said she would be willing to look at it again if I revised.  Sigh… 

I am in the process of revising Mitch’s story, but not along the lines of her suggestion.  It’s hard to know when to chuck a project, especially when you’ve spend so much time with the characters.   When I look at my log, I think this is my fourth revision.  A couple of revision passes were because I was actually learning my craft.  (The first draft was definitely a head-hopping nightmare.)
I actually have this manuscript out to two other editors.  We’ll see what happens.

Update on querying.  This includes my contest requests and conference submissions.

Total Submitted Through Queries
Total Submitted Through Contests
Total Submitted through Conferences

I should be querying more – but I keep submerging myself in revisions.

When do you give up on a manuscript?

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Great Agent Search - 2012

Last week I finished revising my 2011 Golden Heart manuscript.  This was after 2 agents suggested revisions.  Now I am on the great agent search.  This year I’ve vowed not to give up.  Here’s my approach.
I printed off RWA’s list of eligible agents.  Since I love spreadsheets, I am building my own.   I’ve included the following:
·         Agency
·         Agent name(s)
·         Submission requirements
·         Email submission address
·         anticipated response time
·         whether they take category romance 
·         Hyperlink to the agency website 

I’m still surprised to find there are still agencies without a website.   
I am also working between the agent’s website and Query Tracker.    Query Tracker is a free database tracking queries to agents and publishers.  Not only can you review statistics on reported querying results, you can also see who their clients are.  Participants can leave comments on querying activity.  You can dig up helpful information out of this database. 
All of this takes time – but so did writing the book!

I researched 30 agencies and submitted to 10.

Week One results.


Passed based on Query
Request Action
Week 1


Does anyone have another approach?  Let me know your ideas.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Savannah -- Bonaventure Cemetery

When my husband and I decided to do a driving tour of the eastern half of the US, I took that trip as an opportunity to spend a little more time in Savannah. I have a book series set in Savannah. Even though the internet is a wealth of information, there is nothing like smelling and listening to a city’s rhythm to help authenticate a setting.

On a cold February day – cold for Savannah – not Minnesota, we spent 3 hours in Bonaventure Cemetery. The 160-acre Cemetery played a major role in John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden Of Good and Evil. It was here that the narrator sipped martinis. Live oaks, draped with moss, line each road and shade the thousands of gravesites. According to our guide, there are over 40,000 bodies buried in Bonaventure.

I could never imagine spending 3 hours wandering a cemetery but our tour was fascinating. We met Shannon Scott, owner and guide extraordinaire from Sixth Sense Savannah, near the Jewish gate of the cemetery. Shannon has been hanging around cemeteries all his life. One of his first jobs in the Midwest was a caretaker for an old cemetery. His tour talked about first hand ghost encounters, an intimacy with a number of the families and a dramatic flair that kept us wanting more.

The cemetery is set up in family plots. The plots are typically raised above the non-paved roadways. Some plots are well-maintained, others marked “do not maintain” have fallen into decay.
There are amazing sculptures on the most visited plots. John Walz moved to Savannah and became one of the leading sculptures. Little Gracie Watson is one of his finest pieces. Gracie, much beloved in Savannah, died of pneumonia at the age of six. A collection was taken up to create a monument for her grave and Walz created the sculpture from a photo in 1890. Shannon said that when the moon is full, people swear the statue actually feels warm. The grave is so popular with visitors, tours and ghost hunters; an iron fence has been added to secure the site.
The Wilmington River adds a pastoral background to a number of the sites. A number of the plots have benches, and it was east to image Savannahians spending an afternoon wandering amongst the incredible monuments or picnicking at their favorite location. Perhaps, family coming to visit loved ones.

Near the river is the burial site of a young woman who committed suicide. The family buried the young woman in the family plot, but her back is turned away from the family.

The three hours and the tour were well worth the blisters on my feet. The next time you are Savannah give Sixth Sense a call and enjoy a fact filled entertaining tour of history filled cemetery – Bonaventure – Good Fortune!

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Great Agent Search Fiasco

One of my 2011 goals was to get an agent. Now this isn’t something I can actually control, but I can control my query and submission activity. Being a Golden Heart finalist seems to give a writer a leg up on agents requesting manuscripts. At a panel discussion, Laura Bradford likened Golden Heart finalists to chum and the agents were the sharks circling round us. They wanted to make sure the big one didn’t get away.
Unfortunately, Savannah Sighs, the manuscript that finaled in the 2011 Golden Heart, was in need of deep revisions. Between vacation and tax returns, I didn’t finish those revisions until May. When it was finally in shape to query, I began scouring agents that represented both category romance and single title. Then I started querying.
I had pitched to one of my dream agents at WisRWA and she suggested I send ten pages to her partner and copy her on the email. To my surprise, the agent requested the first fifty pages within the hour. (On a Saturday evening.) On Monday morning, I had my first phone call rejection with suggestions on how to revise the manuscript and a willingness to see to the revisions.
I was stoked. By this time, I had a couple of different manuscripts out to editors. It feels good when an editor requests your work after seeing it in a contest.
To my delight, an agent requested a full manuscript from one of my first queries. She also requested a one week excusive. The exclusive request was a first for me, but since no one had the manuscript at the time, I agreed. The week came and went with no additional contact from the agent. With no rejection or additional correspondence, I assumed she just didn’t fall in love with the story. (Sometimes I wonder who the first agent was that put that in a rejection letter. Did they know that other agent would use the phrase?)
I quickly submitted more queries, hoping to get a few more requests before RWA at the end of June. But by allowing the one week exclusive, I knew the agents would also be getting ready for the national convention. I could only hope that they would be checking email periodically during their week in NYC.
A chapter mate convinced me to come to the Harlequin Pajama party on Wednesday night. I dined with the Starcatchers, the 2011 Golden Heart finalists, and then caught up with the lovely author, Cat Schield and her roommate, December Gephart. (I refused to put on PJs, thank goodness.) Low and behold, the agent who requested the exclusive was standing near the bar. I quickly introduced myself, hoping I hadn’t had too much wine.
The agent actually looked pleased to see me and said she had planned to find me during the Golden Heart Award ceremony. We started talking, finally moving out to the hall to be able to be heard. I am so glad I had practiced pitches for all of my completed manuscripts, because we talked about them all. She requested blurbs and where each manuscript had been and my excitement grew. She talked about possible issues with the manuscript, and I loved everything she was saying about my writing and my career. When she said she wanted to send me a contract after the conference was over, I was ecstatic. I had just received my first offer of representation. Only one comment made me uneasy. She said she assumed there were all sorts of agents snapping at my heels and she would be cheering for me for the award ceremony.
I danced back into the room, the agent’s business card in hand. Cat insisted on taking a picture of the agent and I. I ran upstairs and called my family and then went looking for more chaptermates. I now had a dilemma. I had an agent appointment on Thursday. What should I do?
I decided to keep the agent appointment and received a full request. Then on Friday I had an Editor appointment with the lovely Victoria Curran of Harlequin. There’s where I made my first mistake. I did not pitch my Golden Heart book, but talked with Victoria about the premise to make sure it would fit the SuperRomance line and talked about another book that she had requested a partial through a contest.
Even though I didn’t win my category, I received another agent request in the bar. I’m so glad I was having a drink that night, even though the place was packed.
On my flight home Saturday, I prepped my query letters to the agents who had requested fulls. MyI emailed all the requests and an additional one that had come in during the week and then headed to the lake for a much needed break. My thought was that when I received the contract, I would contact any agent who had my material and see if they were interested.
It took me a few more days, and then I sent off the blurbs and a recap to the agent who’d offered representation at the conference. I also sent a note to one of my chaptermates who was represented by her and who loves her. Then I waited. And waited.
Mid-July I finally heard from the agent. Instead of a contract, she sent me an email saying she had finally finished Savannah Sighs, (she hadn’t read the full manuscript before offering to send me a contract?) and that the premise kept her from falling in love with the story. I felt like my legs had been knocked out from under me. Although she offered to talk, she hasn’t returned my last phone call.
When I finally licked my wounds enough to be able to tell people, I also asked both the 2010 and 2011 Golden Heart finalists if they had ever heard of this happening before. Apparently I am unique. And this time it doesn’t feel wonderful.
So I am back on the hunt for an agent. I have had some positive rejections (boy is that the perfect writer oxymoron?) on Savannah Sighs and I have started revising based on the comments of the agent who actually called and rejected me.
Wish me luck for an agent in 2012!