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Advice to Myself as a Newbie Author

February 22, 2009 by in category Advice to Myself as a Newbie Author by Shauna Roberts tagged as , ,

by Shauna Roberts

Today’s Guest: Jody Wallace

Jody Wallace is published in romance fiction under the names Jody Wallace and Ellie Marvel. She has always lived with cats, and they have always been mean. Her most recent release, written as Ellie Marvel, is the e-novella Megan’s Choice (Red Sage). Survival of the Fairest (Samhain), written as Jody Wallace, will be released in paperback in July 2009.

Jody, if you could travel back in time to before you were first published, what advice would you give yourself?

I used to be single and have lots of free time. I wore cool clothes, socialized on a regular basis, drove a two-seat convertible (it got 42 MPG—don’t sneer!), read new releases by my favorite authors before their next book came out, sampled all the trendy restaurants, enjoyed museums and festivals, slept in on weekends, and made a major dent in my student loans because I only had my expenses to worry about. I wanted to be a published poet and had some minor success with literary journals, which is where most poets get their start. Poetry was intense, challenging, fascinating, and, best of all, succinct.

I definitely produced more than one poem per annum.

Fast forward a number of years we will not dwell on, and so much has changed. I’ve switched from single to married with kids, cool clothes to yoga pants and monkey slippers, convertible to minivan, adult fiction to Dr. Seuss, sleeping in to rising with babies. I’ve also switched from poetry to fiction. What was I thinking, right? Now that I have negative free time, why did I convert to a type of writing that takes me two hundred times as long as most of my poems?

Because I have an inherent narrative impulse (a.k.a. can’t-shut-up-itis) that wasn’t translating well to verse. And because I’m nuts. But I’m in great company!

Either way, if I could go back in time to when I was contemplating a fiction-writing career, here are some of the things I’d warn me about (besides getting hooked on cheese and pasta). You will notice a theme that may or may not apply to your situation, but hopefully some of it will translate.

1. Don’t beat yourself up if your productivity declines while you have wee ones. And whatever you do, don’t compare yourself with other writers who seem to be achieving so much more, both in their lives and their careers. They’re just better at faking it. I promise!

2. Resist overdoing the social networking. Once you start, you can . . . not . . . stop. Unless, of course, you’re guest blogging somewhere like the OCC-RWA blog.

3. That agent or publisher you have mixed feelings about? Yeah. Back away slowly and professionally. You won’t be burning a bridge if you’re wrong, but it will be worth it if you’re right and you get to tell yourself, “I told me so!”

4. The TV program you’re dying to watch will be just as good on TiVo, maybe better, the way lasagna and beef stew are better the second day. Right now, use your TV time to write. Or do other stuff, such as parenting, which will open up a separate block of writing time. Save TV for when you absolutely cannot write due to death of brain cells or presence of husband. Or both.

5. That thing you did (or will do) in 2006? You knew in your gut it was a bad move. Trust your gut. Post-babies, there’s so much more of it to trust, after all.

6. If you hate conferences, don’t go to them. Your stress levels and budget will thank you, and your husband won’t take the kids to McDonald’s to eat every . . . single . . . freakin’ . . . day, the big dummy. Of course they’re going to start puking right about the time you get home.

7. Do not hang your dry erase to-do list where cats or small children can reach it. They will smudge the very important item on the bottom and you will miss a deadline that results in a chain of events involving ice cream but also tears and self-recrimination.

8. With that in mind (and because you will lose your mind), always post multiple reminders. (Of everything.)

9. You don’t have to go to every kiddie school party, and you sure as heck don’t have to be room mommy. Just say no to volunteering! For now, at least. You have so much guilt in your life, you won’t notice the extra helping.

10. Last but not least, it all comes out in the wash. It really does. And then you’ll need a new washing machine, because DUDE, who put that in the laundry??


To learn more about Jody, please visit her Website at or the cat’s Website at They share a blog at Her new e-novella, Megan’s Choice, written as Ellie Marvel, can be downloaded from Red Sage now. Survival of the Fairest is already available as an e-book from MyBookstoreAndMore and will be released in paperback in July 2009.

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Advice to Myself as a Newbie Author

January 22, 2009 by in category Advice to Myself as a Newbie Author by Shauna Roberts tagged as ,

by Shauna Roberts


Today’s Guest: Alyson Noël

Alyson Noël is the best-selling and award-winning author of several books for teens and adults, including the upcoming Immortals series (St. Martin’s Griffin) featuring Evermore (February 2009), Blue Moon (August 2009), and three more titles for 2010. Her books have won the National Reader’s Choice Award, made many top ten lists, and appeared on the “CBS Early Show” Give the Gift of Reading segment. She lives with her husband in Laguna Beach, California.

Alyson, if you could travel back in time to before you were first published, what advice would you give yourself?

I remember the moment I got The Call so clearly, it’s as if it’s frozen in time. I was driving north on the 55 freeway on my way to return a rental car to John Wayne Airport when my agent called with the news. And by the time I got to the Avis drop-off, I was way beyond giddy. I was jumping up and down and mumbling unintelligibly to the poor attendant, who wasn’t quite sure what to make of me.

And while the majority of my excitement was due to the sheer elation of finally hearing the words ‘two-book deal’ after several months of rejection, now, looking back, I can honestly say that the other part was due to the misguided belief that the worst was now over—that from that moment on I could expect nothing but sunny skies and smooth sailing.

And so I remained, stuck in a bewildering state of wonder and bliss (because trust me, ignorance really is bliss!), gaping wide-eyed and slack-jawed at all the publishing minutiae happening around me, until my third book, Laguna Cove, was about to hit the shelves. Then my editor quit, I changed agents, and, thinking it might be nice to meet some fellow writerly types with whom to commiserate, I crawled out of my writing cave and joined some professional writers’organizations—something I should’ve done from day one. I learned so much in my first year alone from both RWA and the various Yahoo groups that I joined that I could hardly believe I’d waited so long.

That was also about the time when I discovered that the Internet is your friend. Just as I was lax in joining the writers’ groups, I didn’t really use the Internet for anything other than browsing and occasionally updating my Website. Completely oblivious to the huge community of cyberspace book bloggers, readers, and reviewers that were popping up daily, I hadn’t even considered Facebooking, Myspacing, or Twittering (yes, these are all verbs now! Aren’t they?), until I realized everyone around me was doing these things and figured I should maybe try them out too. And while there’s no getting around the fact that social networking sites are a major time suck, they’ve also resulted in numerous review requests, interview requests, bookstore signings, school visits—you name it! None of which would’ve happened if I hadn’t put myself out there like that.

But while it’s truly tempting to go crazy with the promo, I really believe the key to promotion is to know when to say when. I had no promotional strategy for my first two books other than crossing my fingers and hoping for the best, which, thankfully, worked out okay since they went into additional printings on the very first day. But after seeing all the cool bookmarks and book trailers and bookplates to be had, I decided to get me some of those too. And while it’s doubtful that any of these things helps to sell books, they’re fun to have so I continue to do them. Though I truly believe the most effective way to build your readership and promote your books is to write the next book. And then the one after that. And to keep writing, keep perfecting your craft, keep reaching out to your readers in the ways that you can without letting your promotional efforts get in the way of your writing, because all your fans really want from you is to read your next book!

And even though writing is a business, (which also means rejection isn’t personal), just like any business, it’s important to take some time off to relax, rewind, and to recharge your body and brain, which full confession alert is something I still struggle with, so this definitely falls into the “do as I say not as I” category! It’s tempting to work all the time, wanting to get out as many books as you can, but it’s also just as important to carve out some time for some nonwriting fun, making time to get reacquainted with the world outside of the one you created, because trust me, your family, friends, and characters will thank you!


To learn more about Alyson, please visit her Website at or her blog at Her new book, Evermore, can be found in bookstores in February or preordered online from

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Advice to Myself as a Newbie Author

October 22, 2008 by in category Advice to Myself as a Newbie Author by Shauna Roberts tagged as ,

by Shauna Roberts

Today’s Guest: Susan Squires

Since beginning her career in 2000 with a Golden Heart win that became her first sale, Susan Squires has published eleven novels and three novellas, first for Dorchester and then for St. Martin’s Press. She has been a Rita finalist, and her work has won many regional contests and reviewer’s choice awards. Publisher’s Weekly named Body Electric one of the most influential paperbacks of 2003 and One with the Shadows a Best book of 2007. Her work has appeared on the New York Times Bestseller list. She’s known for breaking the romance rules, but her work always contains some element of the paranormal.

Her new and forthcoming releases are One with the Darkness (June 2008, St. Martin’s Press), the anthology Dead after Dark (December 2008, St. Martin’s Press), and Time for Eternity (May 2009, St. Martin’s Press).

Susan, if you could travel back in time to before you were first published, what advice would you give yourself?

1. The number one piece of advice (and I did say this to myself, almost constantly) is “Hang In There.” I know it’s trite, but persistence counts. A lot. Remember, of all the people who say they want to write a book, hardly any of them will actually sit down and do it. Of all the people who sit down to write a book, very few will finish a draft. Of those, few will take the time to learn their craft and polish it. Of those who do, few will persist in trying to sell it.

This isn’t depressing. It means that if you are willing to progress through all those stages, you are giving yourself a much better chance of succeeding, just because you’re still hanging in there when the overwhelming number of people who want to write have dropped by the wayside.

2. Don’t submit before you and your book are ready.. This is the primary mistake new authors new authors make, and I made it too. I submitted a book that was totally unpublishable (way too long, and not crisply written—it rambled) to lots of agents. Frankly, it was awful. Luckily, none of them will remember it or associate it with me. But I was not ready to submit. This leads to the next tenet:

3. Be willing to do the work to get better at writing. When I got all those rejections, it was a moment of truth for me. Was I willing to sacrifice to get better at my craft? For a long time I wasn’t sure. But when I decided I wanted to commit to writing, I went out and looked for the help I needed. I joined a critique group. I took classes at UCLA and went to writers’ conferences. After a while, I joined RWA to learn more about the business of writing. And I wrote the next book and the next, trying to get better at writing along the way.

4. To get better at writing, be willing to change. A book is a complex compendium of elements: story, character, voice, rhythm, theme, and imagery. We tend to fall in love with a particular formula early on, and it’s hard to get out of that habit. But that habit may be just what’s keeping you from selling. I don’t want you to water down your style and write “generic books.” Far from it. But there’s a difference between a book being written in your style and a book being poorly written. My natural style is to be a seat-of-the-pants Rambler. Unfortunately, that resulted in poorly written books. If I had kept true to what I find comfortable, I would never have sold. I had to tighten my style.

So, to break the cycle, write something uncomfortable—use a new format, a new time period. Push your stories and yourself to the edge. That’s how you get better. I know writers who always get the same comments about their work—“no conflict,” “unbelievable heroes”—and yet they never change their approach. The rejections they are getting won’t change either. A drive to improve also changes your attitude about contest results, rejection letters, and critiques. They still hurt, but you can turn each one that gives specifics into an opportunity to learn. Sure, sometimes the comments don’t even seem relevant. Ignore those. But if many say the same things, then take the hint.

5.  Don’t learn too much about the business too soon. I scared myself at a writer’s conference when I immersed myself in business instead of craft. The publishing business seemed overwhelming. I stopped writing altogether for a while. (Definitely a “don’t tell me the odds, kid” moment.) Concentrate on the craft first. Knowing you have a good book under your belt makes you more confident in the face of business realities.

6. Which brings me to the next point: Don’t get sidetracked. I quit writing after my first bout of rejections and after I was spooked by the fact that writing is a business. It took me too long to re-commit to writing. When I wrote it was sometimes in fits and starts. I lost valuable years (yes, years) when I could have been building a career.

7. Don’t chase trends. I know you’ve heard that a million times. But it’s still hard not to do it, even now that I’m published. I was talking to my editor recently, and she was saying that urban fantasy still had some market steam. I pitched her an idea that could be billed as urban fantasy (uh, Susan, you were trying to follow trends.) She looked at me as if I were certifiable and said that urban fantasy heroines were all really hard and kind of bitchy, and she didn’t think I wrote those kind of heroines. She didn’t even like those heroines. I said of course my heroine wouldn’t be like that. And then we wondered together if it was really an urban fantasy. Would urban fantasy fans find that approach a relief or a transgression? And by the time I wrote my three currently contracted books, and the one I was pitching, would urban fantasy still have any steam? That’s three years in the future until it was published.

Lesson learned: Write a story that’s really you. Figure out how to market it later.

8. Don’t sell to the first person that tells you he/she likes your work. We all want to sell so badly we may consider selling to a publisher that really doesn’t have much distribution, simply because they are willing to send us a contract. Any contract. I know I was tempted. But don’t sell yourself short. It was really hard to hold out for a publisher who had distribution. (Luckily, I had an agent to talk sense into me.) But for me distribution was important. I wanted more than just to see my name on an ISBN. I wanted lots of people to read my book.

My husband is a writer, too. He and I used to joke that we wanted to write the kind of book “available on supermarket shelves everywhere.” So if you want a large audience, start submitting to the top line of publishers and give them time to consider and respond (that’s hard because they are slow). Then work your way down the list. In the meantime write the next book and progress in your craft, so you’re ready when someone says, “I love it—do you have any more?” Being able to produce others they could publish means a fast start to your career, while you write your first book that you are delivering on contract.

9. That brings us to agents. Get an agent if you can even though it’s hard. Unless you’re selling to Harlequin, an agent is a very good thing. If you are selling to Harlequin, it still couldn’t hurt. They get your work read faster. (Sometimes it’s the only way you can get read at all.) If it isn’t a top-of-the-line agent at first, any agent is better than no agent. I found my first one at a writer’s conference. I had also sent out thirty-seven query letters. I got some good responses from agents who liked my work and invited me to submit more or to submit other work if they didn’t think they could sell the one I pitched.

P.S. My agent couldn’t sell the first book I published (second one I wrote) to a top-of-the-line publisher. But I knew it had been rejected by seven major houses (and Harlequin would never have taken it), so I had tested the waters well before Dorchester offered for it—not a first-line house, but a second-line house with pretty good distribution if not great advances. I knew that was the best I could do for that book. If you don’t have an agent, but an editor offers for your book, get on the phone and find an agent immediately. They keep you from volunteering your first-born child if someone will put your name on a cover.

10. The last piece of advice is the ever popular “don’t quit your day job.” I hear many would-be writers say they want to knock out a few quick books to make money and get them out of whatever job they currently have. I knew a person in one of my critique groups who took a second mortgage out on her house to live on while she hit it big. I hyperventilated every time she talked about it.

Initial money for writing a book is often not great and it is slow in coming. My first publishing house paid fourteen months after the date the book was published (not purchased), other than a smallish advance. Very few people ever make millions in fiction book deals. For those few, lightning strikes through an alignment of the stars in public taste and opportunity (being there with the right book at the right time) as well as the author’s talent. You can’t count on that happening.

But don’t despair. Unless you or your family have enough money to support your lifestyle in other ways, what happens for most writers is a slow build of audience over many books, until you get to a point where that dreaded day job seems superfluous. When you write, do it because you love the act of writing and you want your stories read by others. Do what you love and the money will come. It most often comes slowly, as a reward for the satisfying work you’ve put in becoming a wonderful writer.


To learn more about Susan, please visit her Website at Her new anthology with Sherrilyn Kenyon, J.R. Ward, and Dianna Love, Dead after Dark, will be available in December at all major bookstores and can be ordered online from and Barnes & Noble.

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