Samantha's Blog

The Not-So-Fairytale Road to Publication

Ahhh, the road to publication. This is always a difficult topic for me. I actually have two versions: the short version, which makes me look like a genius, and the long version, aka the truth, which I must always prep myself to discuss. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks doing just that, so here’s the long of it.Frog with crownLong ago, in a land far, far away (Louisiana, which is one state over, but that one state is Texas, hence the “far away”), a young lady was participating in her favorite pastime, perusing the bookstore shelves. You remember bookstores, right?

She found a slender book by Yvonne MacManus entitled You Can Write a Romance and Get It Published. Thanks to her parents, who in the best revised fairytale tradition taught her she could do anything she set her mind to, she thought to herself, “You know, I bet I could.”

She bought that thin tome, read it, joined Romance Writers of America (mentioned in said tome), purchased a stack of yellow legal pads (Am I dating myself?) and began to write a novel…on those yellow legal pads. (That most certainly dates me!)

Over the years, she wrote when the muse struck, which wasn’t that often. She progressed from legal pads to dot matrix printers to laser printers. She had children. She tried writing more seriously. She began to find her voice and win contests. She even found an agent, but a publishing contract eluded her.

During this time her middle daughter was born with health problems, and it became increasingly difficult to write. Sooo she decided to put the writing away until she was more comfortable with her daughter’s health. Six months later, her daughter died.

The wannabe writer lost her heart, not only for writing but for reading. It was all she could do to get out of bed every morning and take care of her family.

Time passed. Her son went off to college and her youngest daughter started high school, and the woman just about lost her ever-lovin’ mind. She knew if she didn’t find something to occupy her days, she definitely would lose her ever-lovin’ mind. So she tried to figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. She read want ads, talked to friends and family, considered various options, including writing, and discarded them all for one reason or another. But she kept coming back to writing.

She knew the demands on authors. They’d changed since she first started writing. One book a year was no longer good enough. If a writer wanted to make a living, she needed to publish at least two a year. And there were websites and Facebook and Twitter. Oh my!

Magic WandWarning!!! This is where the short version begins.

She finally made a decision. She’d take a year, see if she could write two books. If she could, she’d start shooting them off to publishers and agents.

Six months later, she completed her “first” manuscript. She was too insecure to show it to anyone she knew for a critique. At a friend’s suggestion, she entered it in a contest for feedback. Anonymity accomplished, she began working on the next manuscript. The first manuscript finaled in the contest. She plugged away on the next manuscript. She won the contest. Angela James at Carina Press, the editor who judged it, asked to see the entire manuscript. Wannabe writer emailed it to her. (Praise the Lord and Hallelujah, the days of snail mailing 400 page manuscripts were over!) Her only expectation was a rejection email in three to six months’ time.

Two weeks later she got an email from another Carina editor, Rhonda Helms. Would wannabe writer be willing to make changes to the manuscript if Carina acquired it? Well, duh. No brainer.

A month later, thirteen months after beginning that first manuscript, she got the call. Eleven months later her first novel, Sharing Hailey, was published. It won awards and landed on the USA Today Bestseller List.

See? Genius!I wish I could tell you she lived happily ever after, that she published two books a year and is living off her earnings. She isn’t. Yet. But stay tuned for the sequel because if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. And sometimes, not even then.

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.

 

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A Writer Confesses: I had to bribe myself to write!*

I have a confession to make. Last week, I had to bribe myself to write. Here’s how the conversation between me and “writer me” went.

Me (standing in the middle of the computer/dining room): I really need to finish painting this room. (Light bulb turns on in my head. It’s dim, but it’s on.) I know. If I get my words today, I’ll paint.

Writer Me (facetiously): Oh yeah. That’ll work. Especially since you looove to paint.

Me: I know, but I really need to finish this room, and I need to finish this book.

Writer Me: Well, tying the two together isn’t going to get it done. You’re just ensuring failure.

Me: What would you suggest?

Writer Me (bouncing on her toes): Shopping.

Me: Are you kidding? One day of getting my words does not a shopping trip earn. (Notice I didn’t say a thing about painting. I’ve got my priorities straight!)

Writer Me: You want something new to wear at RWA. Get your words for the week, then you can go shopping.

Me: Hmmm.

Writer Me: You know you want to.

Me: It’s a deal.

Two and a half hours later, I had my words for the day. The next day, mission accomplished, again. I did, in fact, get all my words by Friday. But then I didn’t want to go shopping. Just getting my words was accomplishment enough.  However, I figured if I didn’t use my “reward” it wouldn’t work the next time I tried to bribe myself. Yeah, I know. Quite an imagination. (Hey, I do write fiction!) So I dragged myself to the mall, and I shopped ‘til I dropped. I came home with two and a half new outfits. Two of those were for the conference. The problem was I’d only bribed myself with one outfit. Imagine the guilt. Oh, woe is me.Smiley face with shopping bags

So I made a new deal. Get my words for the next two weeks and keep the extra one and a half outfits.  If I round up as I was taught to do in math, that’s one outfit a week. Otherwise, back to the store they would go. So far, it’s working. (Knock on wood.)

Now this may sound silly to some, but here’s the deal. In the writing world, compensation in the form of a bi-weekly or even monthly paycheck is rare. Pats on the back are even rarer, and they’re often countered by a slap in the face. Sometimes we need a little encouragement, and it’s important to acknowledge that need. Whether it’s with a glass of wine, a bowl of ice cream or an hour with a book by a favorite author. BTW, I couldn’t use the book bribe because that’s how I get myself to exercise. The glass of wine is out because of meds. And that bowl of ice cream? Well, let’s just say I don’t want to outgrow that new dress before I get to wear it.

As for the painting…well, it’s still waiting. And I don’t think even a bribe will help.

Sooo, have you ever bribed the “writer you” to get your words?

Update: I got to keep the whole shopping spree. I pushed through a major logjam in the book, and I’m on a roll. Even better, I’ve developed a productive new writing habit.

*This post first appeared on July 24, 2014 at The Contemporary Romance Café.

 

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The Worst Writing Advice I Never Received

Woman looking through binoculars.I issued an APB, put out a BOLO and set up roadblocks in my search for the worst writing advice I ever received. I sliced open my skull (ouch), emptied the contents onto a fairly clean newspaper (ewww), and with gloves and trepidation squished through it (gross). Nothing, nada, zilch, and in deference to seven years of French, rien. Either I don’t network enough, or my memory isn’t what it used to be, or I don’t listen.  Maybe a combination of the three. Probably a combination of the three! Judging from this month’s posts, I’m an oddity, which makes me a little sad. Snort, giggle, snort. Yeah, right. Who am I kidding? I proudly claim my eccentricities.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been the recipient of advice. I’m a writer with all the attendant writerly insecurities. Heck, I’ve gone out of my way looking for the magic pill that will make my words beautiful and effortless and will banish those insecurities.

I’ve received advice that I took to the extreme. Never a good idea, but it’s a condition I haven’t managed to overcome. I’ve received advice that I ignored because I thought I knew better. Three children have cured that particular flaw. I’ve received advice I wasn’t ready for. Timing is everything! And I’ve received advice I tried to follow but just couldn’t. Heck, I’ve even doled out advice I don’t follow.

With Katie Lane at a writing workshop

With Katie Lane at a writing workshop.

So if you’re thinking of asking me for writing tips, you might want to rethink. I struggle with my own work. It’s one of the many reasons I don’t give writing workshops. It’s also one of the reasons I’m uncomfortable judging contests or critiquing other writers’ words. How can I confidently help another writer when I doubt my skills? Besides, who wants to be that well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) author who’s remembered for doling out lousy advice? Uhh, not me!

As published authors, we’re expected to have the answers. Some of us do. Some of us don’t. Some have answers that work for one person but not another. Some of us don’t even understand the question!

So the worst advice I ever received? I’ve yet to receive it. My thanks to the nonentity that shared it with me.

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.

 

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Work Space is a State of Mind

This post first appeared in 2014 at The Contemporary Romance Café.

Last night, my daughter graduated from high school. No, I’m not bragging. (Well, maybe a little.) On the day of her graduation, I realized the post on my work space was due in two days. That in combination with the big event made me think of all the places I’ve worked while waiting for her—coffee shops, the car, hair salons, the car, doctors’ offices, the car. You get the idea. In fact, I was in the car waiting for her to finish a driver’s ed class when I got “the call” from Angela James that Carina Press wanted to publish my first manuscript. That led to thoughts of all the places I’ve worked while traveling—airports, airplanes, hotel rooms and lobbies, and again the car (although in the passenger seat).

Before I had a home office, Sharing Hailey was written at a desk my husband rescued from the dump more than thirty years ago.

Most of Sharing Hailey was at a desk that my husband rescued from the dump thirty years ago.

He and I shared it. He hates clutter. It doesn’t bother me as long as there are no dust bunnies hanging around. You might think that made for a perfectly clean desk. It didn’t. I wouldn’t allow him to touch my “piles” because when he did, I couldn’t find anything. Yes, I’m one of those people. If my desk is clean, I’m lost! Oh, it looks pretty for a few minutes, but it quickly reverts to its natural state-chaos. 

After I sold that first novel, I figured I needed a dedicated room for my work. So Waiting for Ty was written here.

My desk and meI call it the green room. I keep all my research books, writing awards, swag, posters, and professional publications here. It’s a mess. I know. Kind of like my mind.

Most of Tempting Meredith was written here.

Most of Tempting Meredith was written in an olive green, fifteen-year-old recliner with the footrest up. But the manuscript also saw time on the back porch, the bedroom, the green room, the car, coffee shops, airports, even my brother’s house when I cat sat for him.

As with many writers, my work space isn’t an actual spot. It’s a state of mind. And maybe this works because we’re not mentally in the space where we write. We occupy the space our characters inhabit, whether it’s a luxury home in Hawaii, a cheap apartment in Houston, or a hunting ranch in the Texas Hill Country.

 

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You Want Whose Story?!

As I’ve said before, when I wrote Sharing Hailey"Love makes you stupid." Meredith Burke, it wasn’t planned as the beginning of a series. The secondary characters were just that—secondary characters—not potential heroes and heroines. By the time I finished it, I knew I wanted to write Landon’s story, but I was stunned when readers asked for more of Meredith. Seriously? She was kind of bitchy. Granted she had some admirable qualities. Her love for her family. Her loyalty to them. But Meredith didn’t seem like an easy person to love. How the heck was I supposed to give her a happily-ever-after when I didn’t like her that much?

The answer was easy, of course. I had to find out why Meredith was the way she was. Now, I know a lot of writers feel that their secondary characters must be almost as fleshed out as their main characters. In some cases, that’s true. But in real life, we don’t always know the history and motivation of the people we interact with. Sharing Hailey was written entirely from Hailey’s point of view. The characters she knew well, I knew well. She and I knew their histories, their backgrounds. The characters she didn’t know well, like Meredith, I didn’t know well.

I knew Meredith had a brother and sister, that she was an astrophysics professor, and that she had her ditzy blond routine down pat. I also knew she didn’t have a very high opinion of love. In fact, she said in reference to that emotion of hearts and flowers, “It makes you stupid.”

It took me a long time to get Meredith to open up about why she was so down on love. Not surprising. Even her family wasn’t privy to all of her secrets. Her brother, Landon, said in Sharing Hailey, “Meredith, well, she’s a little more complex. I haven’t figured out what makes her happy. I don’t think she has either.”

Turned out, Meredith had her reasons, heart-breaking ones. Did I feel bad about judging her? You betcha. But it made me more determined to give her a happily-ever-after. It also reminded me to look behind people’s façades. Happy or sad, we aren’t always what we show the world, and what lies beneath is so much more interesting.

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.

 

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Bingeing On Amy Lane

As I write this, I’m bingeing on Amy Lane. (And may I say it seems particularly apropos to discuss bingeing on American Thanksgiving.) Lynda Aicher mentioned Lane’s work at the RT 2013 conference when we were discussing our mutual love of M/M romance. At that same conference another friend of mine, bestselling author Katie Lane, sat next to Amy Lane at the massive booksigning. Over drinks, Katie told me about the long line of fans at Ms. Lane’s table. Of course, I had to pick up one of her books.

I was immediately hooked.

Even though I love Ms. Lane’s work, I was only reading one of her books every couple of months. Chase in Shadow, Dex in Blue, Ethan in Gold, Keeping Promise Rock, Shiny, Behind the Curtain, Racing for the Sun. She was a treat, a reward to be savored—like that chocolate éclair when I’m trying to lose a few pounds. But as happens from time to time with my favorite pastry, I lost my willpower. Two weeks ago, I downloaded a stack of Amy Lane, and that’s all I’ve read since: Clear Water, Hammer and Air, Sidecar, Talker, Locker Room, and Truth in the Dark, which I’ve just started.

Chase In Shadow coverWhat is it about her stories that make them like Lay’s potato chips? For me, it’s the emotion. Pure and simple. Her characters are damaged. But aren’t a lot of characters? Sure, but Ms. Lane has a way of making me feel that damage in every cell of my body. I don’t often cry when reading, but I know when I read Amy Lane there is a very real possibility that my heart will break. I won’t just cry; I’ll sob. It’s an emotional purging.

Perhaps someday, I’ll dissect her stories and figure out just how she does it. For now, I’m enjoying the binge.

Who’s your favorite author to binge on?

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café in 2014.

 

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Breaking the Rules: The Too Soon “I Love You”

Waiting for Ty coverIf you’ve read the back cover blurb, you know that in Waiting for Ty, Landon and Ty give into their lust after four long years of fighting their attraction to each other. They share a night together “that’s better than their most erotic fantasies.”

What you don’t know, unless you’ve read the book, is what happens after that night.

***Spoiler Alert***

Okay, are you ready? Here goes. Landon screws it all up with his premature use of the L-word.

“I love you, Ty,” he said, his voice low. It came out before he could stop it, and he immediately wished he could take it back. Maybe Ty hadn’t heard it. It was too early…too much, too soon.

Despite the fact that I wrote this, my heart stopped and I cringed when I realized what Landon had blurted. Oh my sweet, shy geek who overanalyzes everything, what were you thinking? Were you thinking? Have you just completely lost your mind? Did it blow out the top of your head (no pun intended) when you and Landon made love? Yes, yes, you made love. You both know it. But don’t say it! Not yet! Tyler will freak! Worse, he’ll want to talk about it. You know how you love to talk.

Of course, I was right. Landon knew it before I berated him. But it was too late. The cat was out of the bag. And can I just take a moment to say how difficult it is to get the cat in the bag? I had a cat who required insulin injections for his diabetes. I had to put him in a pillow case to give him the shots. It was magical the way he disappeared when I pulled out that pillow case. Poof! Gone in a cloud of dust punctuated with hairballs.

But back to Landon’s huge, colossal no-no.

Ty disappeared almost as quickly as my cat. But first, he insisted on talking about it. Yep, I was right. (Don’t get to say that very often, so forgive me for rolling in it.)

 ***Spoiler Alert Over***

How do they get past Landon’s faux pas? Do they get past it? (Hint: This is a romance.) And if you skipped over the spoiler, what grievous dating rule did Landon break? (Pay no attention to the title of this blog post.) All these questions will be answered in Waiting for Ty.

So tell me, have you ever experienced a misstep like Landon’s? Were you the misstepper or misstepee? Did it end well?

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.

 

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Readers’ Burning Questions

This post first appeared in 2013 at The Contemporary Romance Café.

I had no idea what to write about this month, so I asked readers on Facebook if they had any questions. As always, they came through for me. Thank you, Robbin, Karn and Mona!

Burning Question #1

How do you talk about what you write at PTA meetings?

I write erotic romance. There, I said it! (And bless you for thinking I’m young enough to be active in PTA.) I didn’t begin writing erotic romance until after joining VA (Volunteers Anonymous), so I’ve never had to explain to the mom or dad sitting next to me at PTA what I do for a living. I have friends, though, who are still trying to wrap their brains around my, uhh, unusual profession.

Burning Question #2

How do you decide when to have your character take the next step? Quarter
through, halfway, later?

I’m going to assume that by “next step” you mean turning point and not having sex without a condom. The cop-out answer would be, “Oh, I don’t make that decision. My characters do.” But honestly, I think if you read a lot of fiction, especially genre fiction, you already have a good sense of where your “turning points” happen—the 25%, 50%, 75% marks (mileage may vary). I’ll occasionally read a book or take a workshop on plotting/storytelling/story structure to break it down and gain new insight. This is a particularly timely question, because I’m currently working through a book recommended by Jeffe KennedyWriting Love: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II by Alexandra Sokoloff. It makes the point that the structure of storytelling, whether in books, stage or film, has been pretty much the same for thousands of years. Sokoloff uses popular movies to illustrate elements of story structure, including placement of the inciting incident and climaxes (what I think of as turning points). And yesterday, I attended a presentation by screenwriter Matt McDuffie. He discussed storytelling and where to place that “next step.”

Burning Question #3

How do you keep the hands straight in multi-relations?

Yeah, all those hands (not to mention arms, legs, chests, lips and—um—other body parts) can definitely be tricky. I know some writers who use Barbie dolls. I occasionally use photos as a jumping off point or to determine if that position is even possible. But usually I “see” the scene in my head and type it as I see it (sometimes with my eyes closed). I try to use the characters’ names more frequently than I normally would, so the reader and I can keep them all straight. I must admit, occasionally when I’m revising weeks or months later, I’ll read a ménage scene that leaves me completely befuddled and discombobulated.

That wraps up this issue of “Burning Questions,” but tell me, if you learned you were sitting next to an erotic romance writer at your PTA meeting, would you find another seat? If you were sitting next to someone reading a book with this

Sharing Hailey Coveron the cover, would you strike up a conversation?

 

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The Unheralded Unpublished

This year (2013), I served as the Contest Coordinator for The Rebecca, which was sponsored by Land of Enchantment Romance Authors. Writers entered the first 5000 words of their unpublished manuscripts with the hope that they would score among the top three in their category. The prize? Avoid the slush pile and go straight to the desk of an acquiring editor at a major publishing house or a literary agent. I judged twenty of the 130 entries, and some of them blew me away. On several entries I wrote, “I love this. Please let me know when it’s published. I want to finish it!”

I know how difficult it is to get published. It takes more than talent. It takes a thick skin – an ability to believe in your work and simultaneously see the flaws. It takes sifting through good advice and bad and figuring out what works for you. For many, it requires juggling a job (or two) to pays the bills, family obligations, and writing time. It also takes luck or persistence or both.

So when I read these wonderful, unpublished manuscripts, I couldn’t help but worry that their talented authors would give up and I wouldn’t get to finish their stories. No one could blame them for relinquishing their dreams. This is a tough business and for all the work involved, relatively few writers earn a living wage from it, even after they’re published.Never give up, never surrender

That makes my choices for “writers I admire” easy. They are all those talented, unpublished authors who will persevere to publication and become my new favorites. I can’t wait to read you. I know it’s a lot to ask, but in the words of the immortal Jason Nesmith, “Never give up. Never surrender.”

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.

 

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How a Book Gets its Cover

Ever wonder how a book gets its cover? Especially when the hero of a book has a blond buzz cut, but the man on the cover rocks long, flowing, inky black hair? Well, I can’t speak about other publishers, but I can talk a little about the process at Carina Press.

The first step is the Art Fact Sheet. It comes to the author via email and asks for such basic information as where the story takes place, the time period, character descriptions and interesting visual elements. I pull descriptions from the book and add photos that inspired me. That’s the easy part.

The Art Fact Sheet also asks more difficult questions like what is the “mood” of the book. Now, you’d think a writer would ace this question. But by the time I’m finished with a manuscript, I’m so close to it that I don’t know if I accomplished what I set out to accomplish. I might be shooting for light and sexy or dark and sexy, but did I succeed? So I always, always get my editor’s input on this. And she always nails it in just a few words. She described Waiting for Ty as “longing and secrecy, with high sexual tension.” Yay, that was my intent!

Since the creative folks in the art department don’t have time to read every book they design for, they also ask for a one-to-two paragraph synopsis and a two-to-three sentence elevator pitch. This is where I get really creative with grammar, because it can be insanely difficult to condense an 80,000+ word novel into two paragraphs, much less three sentences. Honesty forces me to admit that my elevator pitch for Waiting for Ty was seven, rather lengthy sentences. Yeah, I cheated.

When the Art Fact Sheet is complete, I email it back and begin the long, excruciatingly suspenseful wait … because the cover is as important to authors as it is to readers. It’s the visual manifestation of our words. We indulge in cover reveals and buy promotional materials featuring the cover. We are cover sluts, pimping it wherever and whenever we can. We love our covers!

Finally, months after submitting the Art Fact SheetWaiting for Ty Cover, the preliminary cover arrives via email. For me, no matter how beautiful the cover, it never looks the way I imagined. But the art department doesn’t want to know that. They simply want me to point out any glaring inconsistencies with the story. So I must set aside my expectations and look at the cover with a more objective eye. Is the hair color right? The eye color? When I received the cover of Waiting for Ty, there was a tat on Ty’s hip. It was a great tat, but there was a problem: Ty doesn’t have any ink. The artist removed the ink and voilà, the sexy cover you see here. Let the pimping begin.

Now that you know how important the cover is to the author, tell me how important it is in your decision to read a book.

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.

 

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