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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 Nordstrom.com 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 http://alysonnoel.com or her blog at http://www.alysonnoel.com/blog.html. Her new book, Evermore, can be found in bookstores in February or preordered online from Amazon.com.

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Advice to Myself as a Newbie Author

December 22, 2008 by in category Archives tagged as ,

by Shauna Roberts

Today’s Guest: Sandra Kay

Sandra Kay’s first book, Heart of Stone, was released in digital format on October 3rd by The Wild Rose Press. The print release will be on January 3, 2009. Heart of Stone won First Place in the Fort Bend (Texas) Writer’s Guild contest. She has been writing contemporary romance for about nine years and has belonged to the Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America since 2000. She served on the Board of Directors for three years, two as Ways and Means Director and one as Secretary.

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

If I could go back in time to before I was first published. . . .

An interesting question—one that I had to think extensively about. As a first-time published author, I read with interest the insightful answers given by the multipublished authors of OCC. And, that’s where I found my #1 answer:

1. I would not be so reticent about networking with published authors. What a font of information we have readily available in OCC. From Ask an Author, to critiques, to workshops, and simply answering questions, these ladies volunteer their time and expertise to help others obtain the dream.

I would also urge new writers to:

2. Never stop learning. I have to say that I did follow this rule. I took Creative Writing classes. I scribbled copious notes while listening to our meeting speakers. I attended workshops. And I continue to take online classes, most recently one on HTML to make promotion and managing my Website easier.

3. Find a good critique group or partner. Make sure that you don’t settle into a group that isn’t really helping you, just because you’ve become comfortable with it. That can be very detrimental to your writing career. Find a way to politely bow out of that type of situation and move on to a group or partner that will give you constructive critiques. If you can connect with a group that has at least one published author in it, you will benefit from that person’s knowledge of the industry.

4. Become active in your local chapter of RWA. I began by selling used books at OCC and went on to serve for three years on the Board of Directors. I learned so much from the group of ladies I served with. And serving makes it easier to meet knew members.

5. Keep on writing. When you break through and sell that first book, you want to have others in reserve. Heart of Stone is part of a four-book series, and I had written three of them before I sold the first one. You don’t want to find yourself desperately playing catch-up to get that second book to your editor.

6. Read in your genre! I think someone else mentioned this, but I just want to reiterate how important it is to stay abreast of the market in your select genre. You need to be familiar with the publishing houses and know what they are selling. Know the correct house to send your manuscript to. Having said that…

7. Don’t write to trends. I made this mistake. By the time I finished my book, the trend had passed.

8. Learn promotion. You may not think you need to know about promotion yet, but when your book is released you’ll wish you had some knowledge on the subject, especially if you’re an epub. There are many books you can purchase on promotion.

9. Don’t let rejection letters stop you. Rejection letters are just part of the business. You have to learn to think of them as a learning process. I’ve received some wonderfully informative rejection letters over the years. Of course, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t terribly disappointed. I was, but enjoying a pity party won’t get us far in this business. Limit the amount of time you allow yourself to attend that “party.”

10. Enjoy the process. This is a great business; have fun with it.


To learn more about Sandra, please visit her Website at http://www.sandrakayauthor.com, her blog at http://www.sandrakayauthor.blogspot.com, or her MySpace page at http://www.myspace.com/_sandrakay. Her new book, Heart of Stone, can be ordered online from The Wild Rose Press, Amazon.com, and Barnes & Noble.

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Advice to Myself as a Newbie Author

November 22, 2008 by in category Archives tagged as ,

by Shauna Roberts

Today’s Guest: Charlene Sands

Charlene Sands writes Silhouette Desires and Harlequin Historicals. To date, she has penned 25 romances, and her books have won the National Readers’ Choice Award and The Cataromance Reviewers Choice Award, and, this year, she won the 2008 Booksellers Best Award.

Her current release, Do Not Disturb Until Christmas (Silhouette Desire), a Romantic Times Top Pick, is a Borders/Waldenbooks and eHarlequin.com bestseller for November. Her next book, Reserved for the Tycoon (Silhouette Desire), finishes the series in February 2009. Presently she is working on the Texas Cattleman’s Club continuity for Desire.

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

When it comes to writing, I have my ALWAYS and NEVER rules to live by.

ALWAYS write. There are so many distractions now with the Internet and family issues, but it’s imperative to make writing one of the priorities in your life. You can’t sell if you don’t write. Enjoy the process and find ways to add extra writing in. There is more time in the day than you think. As I write this blog, I have the kitchen timer set for 20 minutes. I’m early getting ready for an appointment and so here I am at the computer, getting those extra few minutes in before I have to leave. Remember, if you are serious about being published, then you have to write!

NEVER allow yourself more than a day or two to bemoan a rejection. Yes, you’re allowed to feel badly and yes, you’re allowed a few moments of depression. Heck, you’ve earned it. You worked hard on that last manuscript and put your hopes and dreams into it as well. Give yourself a day or two to recover. Then forge on. Pick yourself up and most importantly learn from the comments the editor took the time to write. If you’re given advice and tips, by all means take it to heart. Implement their feedback into your next story and keep at it.

ALWAYS take workshops and attend lectures about craft. After penning 25 published novels, I’m still learning. I learn something new and different each time I listen to a lecture or read a good book. Try to figure out at least one important way to implement what you’ve learned into your writing. Look for ways to constantly improve. Be honest with yourself. If you know your weak points, then by all means, try to fix the problem. Authors are very generous with their knowledge. If you are lucky enough to attend classes, and there are many out there, both online and in person, then absorb as much knowledge as you possibly can from reliable sources.

NEVER allow jealousy and envy to creep into your daily life. Remember, you’re only in competition with yourself. I live by this creed and feel truly happy when others I know make great strides. They’ve earned it and you will too. If I can say one good thing about competition, it’s that it makes me try harder to be successful. It’s okay to have the “If she can do it, so can I” attitude as long as it’s not mean-spirited.

ALWAYS know your own limitations. Here’s where honesty is key. Vampires are hot, hot right now. But I know in my heart I wouldn’t be happy writing those types of stories. Think about what you truly enjoy writing. It will be transparent in your writing style. You know when your story is going well. You know your comfort level, and thus you’ll know your own limitations. They say, write what you know, but I say, write what you love! It may be one and the same, but maybe not. No one knows your limitations better than you.

NEVER stop reading books that inspire you. Find the time and enjoy those precious moments you tuck away for both fun and inspiration. Whether it’s reading books about craft or motivation or simply diving into a new novel, keep reading. It’s something I try to do, but I will admit that I don’t read as many books as I used to. My day is so busy writing, promoting, and answering mail that often my TBR (to be read) pile suffers. So with this one, do as I say, not as I do. ☺

ALWAYS know your target line or publishing house. Know the guidelines and word count. Know the editors of the line. You can’t sell your story to an editor if you’re not sure your story fits into the framework and guidelines they are looking for. The best way to know if your story is viable is to read and read and read some more from that line. Know the authors and what kind of story works. If it’s category, are you writing a sexy Blaze or a home-and-hearth Special Edition? If it’s a romantic comedy or a thriller, are you sending to houses you know for certain publish those types of stories?

NEVER submit anything that isn’t your own personal best. Be professional. Send in a clean and neatly polished manuscript and know that what you’re sending to an editor is something you have struggled to make perfect. They will note your efforts and pay attention to details. Even if you don’t sell that one, they will regard your work with respect and look forward to seeing your next project.

ALWAYS experience life! You can’t write about life if you’re stuck behind a computer every day. You need to get out, observe your surroundings, take trips, and make new friends. Each day is a new chance to learn and improve. You’ll revitalize your writing by your new experiences.

I’m always amazed what I learn from or about people when I do something new. Case in point, I recently took dance lessons at Arthur Murray Studios for my daughter’s wedding. It was a great experience to share with my husband and daughter, so I’ll always have fond memories. And during that time, I was invited to write a book in a continuity series for Silhouette Desire. You can guess my surprise when I learned that the heroine in my story owned a chain of dance studios! I had all the firsthand knowledge I needed to write that story with authenticity, and if I needed any advice, I could simply call upon my dance instructor. Sometimes, life is so pleasantly surprising.


You can visit Charlene and enter her Suite Secrets Contest at http://www.charlenesands.com. Her newest book, Do Not Disturb Until Christmas, is available in stores and online at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

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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 http://www.SusanSquires.com. 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 Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

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Advice to Myself as a Newbie Author

September 22, 2008 by in category Archives tagged as ,

by Shauna Roberts

Today’s Guest: Lynna Banning

Lynna Banning is the author of thirteen historical romance novels and a former RITA nominee. Her newest book, a September release from Harlequin Historical, is Templar Knight, Forbidden Bride.

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

1. Read lots in my genre (historical romance). It’s helpful to see what other houses are publishing and how other writers handle problems of point of view, pacing, types of villain, etc. Keep up with changes in the overall market and your particular genre.

2. Read more outside my chosen genre—nonfiction, literary fiction, trade and mass market popular fiction, and especially how-to books. Start with the “easy” ones: James Frey, How To Write a Damn Good Novel; Jack Bickham, Scene and Sequel; Syd Field, The Screen-Writer’s Workbook (good for plotting); and Ann Hood, Creating Character Emotions. Then move on beyond “the basics”: Linda Seger, Making a Good Script Great; Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel and the Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.

And keep reviewing these helpful books as you write!

3. Try to join the most advanced critique group you can find, preferably with published authors. You will suffer, but you will learn. However, protect yourself from critique groups that feel overtly or subtly “toxic.” Sometimes this is hard to recognize, but if you generally feel worse after the session (and not fired up and encouraged), give some hard thought to Why.

4. Do go to workshops, writing groups, and writing classes. Just keep your good sense about you, and your ego and your sense of “self” on an even keel. If your ego is very tender, protect yourself first and learn writing stuff later. Also consider getting some psychological counseling to help you retain perspective.

5. Brush up on the basics of grammar and punctuation. I highly recommend two reference books: (1) my old high school grammar text, Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition and (2) Jan Venolia’s Write Right. Both are easy to look up stuff in.

6. Learn to distinguish a “good” rejection letter from a “real rejection” letter. If the letter goes into any depth at all, they might consider a rewrite addressing those issues. Any letter that has even one line addressed specifically to you or your manuscript is a “good” rejection letter.

7. Learn not to see a manuscript’s rejection as anything but rejection of the manuscript itself, not of you personally. This sounds so easy, but it’s hard to detach one’s “person” from one’s “work.” But do try. Squashed egos are not good for writers.

8. Try to write consistently, every day if you can manage it. Use even small blocks of time, such a lunch-hours at work, hours spent on airplanes, time in hotel rooms (it helps if you first hand-write, as I do, on yellow lined note pads, or use a laptop). Set a daily goal: Mine is four typewritten, double-spaced pages a day, about 1,000 words. (Caveat: If a child has the mumps or I have a migraine, I take that day off.)


To learn more about Lynna, please visit her Website at http://www.LynnaBanning.com. Her newest book, Templar Knight, Forbidden Bride, is available in September at major bookstores and can be ordered online from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and Borders.

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