Thursday, April 26, 2012


I love to write romance. I love to read a good romance. I think most women do. When my sister began to read my novels, she said to me, “Okay, I’ll read them, but I hate romance novels, so don’t expect much.”

But, she loved them. The girl who HATES romance novels. It took me awhile to figure this one out. Sometimes figuring out which genre you write in is difficult. My novels didn’t follow the formula for an average romance novel—which is why my sister liked them.

Ever watch the HGTV design show called, “Secrets of a Stylist?” At the beginning of the show, Emily, the designer, performs a ‘style diagnostic.” She asks questions of her clients and has them choose their ‘favorites’ from different items. By doing this, she then determines what their style is. She comes up with very creative styles. Like, “beachy modern” or “classical contemporary chic.” And so on. Kinda cool, huh?

As writers, we need to run a ‘style diagnostic’ on our books and determine our genre.

At first, I assumed my books were Women’s Fiction. They weren’t. So what’s the difference? The distinction between genres is a bit subjective. It seems as though everyone has their own opinion. I quickly realized I wasn’t just plain old romance either. Romance was the common element in every single book but labeling my books ‘romance’ was too general. So, what the heck is my genre?

I learned the following about romance genres:

Women’s Fiction: The female journey. What does it take to be a woman in this day and age? Romance can be included, but is not the central focus.

Contemporary: Real stories set in the present day. This should be a story that could really happen. In other words, ‘keep it real.’

Inspirational: Stories wherein characters rely on their faith to see them through their lives.

Paranormal: Anything other worldly.

Suspense: Similar to a thriller. Action, adventure, and mystery.

Historical: Usually meaning it happened before 1945.

Futuristic: The setting takes place in the future. (did I really need to explain that?)

There are two ways to be published. Category or Single Title.

Category: Books that are published under a certain theme in many different sub-genres. ie: intrigue, historical, sweet, suspense, etc. Often made into a series. Think Harlequin.

Single Title: Longer novels, not part of a series, released as a single title rather than under a category.

My diagnostic: I realized that I was writing single title novels with Strong Romantic Elements. The romance was the significant part of the story, but the plot went far beyond the traditional romance boundaries. In the end, I call my books Mainstream Romantic Fiction, because they don’t necessarily follow the traditional ‘rules’ of romance. Did you know there were ‘rules of romance?’ Yep, there are.

There are certain elements to every romance:

*the love story is the focus of the novel

* POV should remain primarily in the heroine’s head, but you may go into the hero’s head on occasion.

*a happy ending.

Yes, under the rules of romance, there must be a happy ending! If there is not a ‘happily ever after’ then it is a relationship novel, not a romance.

Now, I don’t actually break these rules, but again, my plots tend to go beyond the romance and delve into other issues, therefore, they are not considered traditional.

I was also writing in the many different sub-genres of romance. Kind of a crime in the publishing world. I think most publishers want you to stick to one sub-genre, so you can maintain a following.

Confused? Yeah, me too.

There are also varying levels of sensuality in romance, from sweet romance to erotica. And this is where I ran into trouble. I love romance, but I don’t want to write (or read) explicit details of intimate moments.

Dead end. Screeching halt.

I just fishtailed off the road.


More on this next time.

Image: Stuart Miles /

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


THE AGENT sent me an e-mail one day. He’d been reading one of my novels and liked the premise. However, he found something that he said, “needed to be fixed right-away.” He told me I needed to have only one POV (point of view) per scene. Or in other words, quit with the head-hopping!

I looked at my novel with a different eye. Such a simple little thought. Why hadn’t I noticed how bad it was? I was all over the place, hopping between the hero and heroine’s thoughts. No one had ever pointed this out to me. Why? Because they didn’t notice it. I believe this is why it is important to have someone knowledgeable about writing read your work with a critical eye. They will notice things that your average reader will not.

Lesson: One point of view per scene. If you switch to another character’s perspective, double-space, (or add ***) and start a new paragraph.

I had to go back and fix this problem in two of my early novels. In those two first novels, I didn’t really know what I was doing. IN all honesty, I was simply having fun—writing for my own enjoyment. I love the plots of these two books, but I had to do extensive revisions in both of them before they were ever ready to see the light of day.

However, it sure was fun to write to my heart’s content with no thought as to publication. Ignorance really was bliss. Those were happy, carefree days, typing away, and filling the pages with my imagination.

My biggest fear had come to fruition with this experience, though. I was revealed as the novice that I really am. I live in fear of someone discovering that I’m not really a writer. I’m really just a stay-at-home Mom with an active imagination and a great computer. Even now, I have a hard time calling myself a . . . writer. Gulp. I’m a fraud.

But, I love writing stories. And I LOVE when other people love them too. It’s such a thrill. There’s nothing like it in the world.

So, I’m a writer.

Image: Idea go /

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


We’ve all had disappointments in our lives. This time around my disappointment came in the form of rejection letters. Lancaster House did not sell. I was devastated.

Now, I had a choice, I could mope around and cry, or I could move forward.

I decide to move forward.

Working with my agent, we work on revisions for two other books. I’d like to pause right here and add my two cents about revisions. I had NO idea how lucky I was when the AGENT loved my book and immediately sent it out to several major publishing houses. He asked for zero revisions, he felt it was ready to go. This rarely happens. I soon realized that this was not the norm! While he liked two of my other novels, I needed to do major revisions to them before he felt ready to send them out to publishers. However, if an agent is willing to work with you on revisions, this means you are on the right path. It means he/she sees something in your writing. It means he/she sees you being published one day. And while revisions are tough, know that you are on your way. Everyone has to do revisions, it’s part of the business. Well established, best-selling authors need to do revisions too. Expect them. Learn from them. Consider it a free education in preparing a novel for publishers. But, don’t give up!

I have one rule for myself when it comes to revisions. I will make changes to my novels, but I have to LIKE the changes too. I won’t make changes that cause me to hate my plot. (That being said, all of my revision work was on plot elements, I’m not talking about grammar here). Many of the revisions gave me ‘aha’ moments. I learned how to streamline a plot. I spent one year working with THE AGENT and it was a valuable year wherein I learned a wealth of information. Specifically, I learned to edit or remove that ‘precious’ paragraph that I thought was so amazing, but wasn’t. I learned to look at my writing with a critical eye without getting upset or discouraged or frustrated. If I do have a wonderful paragraph or plot element that I love, but has to be removed for whatever reason, I save it for another book.

A valuable lesson.

Image: arztsamui /

Thursday, April 19, 2012


The quips used by rejection letter authors really tell us nothing, other than: we DON’T like your book.


They’re already rejecting us, we don’t really need to hear any discouraging comments, but, boy do they come. And they hurt. (These are actual lines from my rejection letters for Lancaster House)

I don’t see how I can sell it.
The character’s didn’t jump off the page enough for me.
Not strong enough.
The heroine’s voice wasn’t quite compelling enough to pull off this sort of narrative.
I didn’t connect enough to pursue it for our list.
It just didn’t stand out in a big way for me.
While I liked it perfectly fine, I just didn’t fall head over heels for the story.
Not a traditional enough romance.
The tone should have been much darker throughout.
The writing wasn’t as crisp as I’d hoped it would be.
The story lost its momentum and became very predictable.

And then, very personal to Lancaster House, one rejection letter actually said:
. . . the very idea that Zoe could successfully flip a house that was so unusual, and thus hard to resell—would require a lot of restructuring.

I think the above comment bothered me the most. Really? After reading the entire story, all you can think about is that she wouldn’t really be able to sell the house?


Rejection letters are not fun. And if a publishing house is going to publish your novel, they need to LOVE it and stand behind it. Besides, everyone is allowed to express their personal opinion. One thing I’ve learned, if you can’t take criticism, you shouldn’t be an author. Keep in mind, even if you write a successful book, there will be those that love it, and those that hate it. Prepare yourself.

You have to take the comments as constructive criticism. Think about the comments and ponder over your novel. Are they right? Do you need to make some changes and do some serious editing?

If you take this approach, you will survive. I promise.

Most importantly, DON’T GIVE UP.

Image: digitalart /

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Burst the Bubble

Now, I hate to burst this bubble of happiness, but what I quickly learned was that just because you have an agent doesn’t mean that your book will automatically sell. Foolishly, I assumed that having an agent meant immediate success.

Reality quickly hit.

However, I will say that it is fabulous to have an advocate, someone who LOVES your novel, someone who is out there fighting for you. It was truly a fantastic feeling. It was thrilling to see the query letter THE AGENT sent out to publishing houses, raving about my novel. It made me understand why agents say they must love a novel to represent it.

At any rate, someone had finally taken notice of my hard work and it was an entirely exhilarating feeling.

Little did I know that it was only the beginning of hard work.

I busily set off on writing the sequel to Lancaster House, entitled The Middle Aisle. I figure if Lancaster House is about to sell, then I better have a sequel ready, right?

Right. But the rejection letters still come. Only now they are not from literary agents, now they are from major publishing houses.


Image: Chris Sharp /

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


What happens next was by far, one of the most exciting days of my life. (I don’t get out much)

It’s early January. Christmas is over and life is moving forward into a new year. Everyone in my household knows THE AGENT’S name and they know said agent has expressed interest in my novel and that he might be calling. I am on my treadmill at the time and ignoring my phone. When the phone rings, my daughter sees the caller ID and starts yelling THE AGENT’S name. This got my attention. Boy, did it.

I don’t pick up.

I am frozen with fear and petrified of actually talking to him. THE AGENT leaves a message and says that he’s very interested in speaking with me about my novel, Lancaster House.

It takes me an hour to pull myself together and call him back. And I’m pretty sure I didn’t utter one single intelligible sentence during our entire conversation. He tells me how much he loves Lancaster House and that he’d like to be my AGENT. I can hardly speak, but somehow I convey to him that I’d love for him to be my AGENT. A CONTRACT arrives in my e-mail shortly thereafter.

Soon, THE AGENT sends out Lancaster House to several publishing houses.

The opportunity to be published is now a distinct possibility.

And this in and of itself is exhilarating.

Image: farconville /

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Back to my story.

After facing lots of rejection, I decide that I want to self-publish. I now have five completed novels. My family and friends have read my novels and they love them. Of course, it doesn’t occur to me that none of them are experts in the publishing field. Still, I am encouraged at the response and I’m determined to be published. Everyone loves Lancaster House and many are begging for a sequel. The sequel to Lancaster House is now next on my agenda.

I decide to query the one book I haven’t queried at all. Lancaster House. It will be my last ditch effort. If I still receive rejection, then I’ll self-publish. Sounds like a plan.

I don’t send out many queries, maybe ten. In my querying, I include THE AGENT, the one who had recently sent me a personal rejection letter. I know he liked something in my writing in the past, so I figure I have more of a chance with him.

THE AGENT requests the first three chapters.

This has happened before, so I’m not too eager as yet.

Then THE AGENT requests the full manuscript!!!!

This is the first time someone has ever requested the full manuscript and I’m elated, thrilled, overjoyed, ecstatic, etc. etc. I’m also a nervous wreck. What if he likes it? It’s paranormal, I don’t have any other paranormal books. What if he hates it? What if he laughs in my face? Every emotion possible ruminates through my anxious mind.

I receive an e-mail from THE AGENT. He wants to hear about some of my other projects. And he wants to know where I see my writing going after this book.

After I’m done jumping up and down like a child and screaming till my family is covering their ears, I sit down to compose a response. It takes me a couple of hours to write the response. Some writer I am. I have no idea what the correct response is, or what THE AGENT wants to hear. In the end, I simply tell the truth and hope that it’s good enough.

It is.

Image: digitalart /

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Word Count

I’ve been alluding to word count problems throughout my writing journey and it’s time to address this issue.

Word count is very important. I should’ve researched word count early on in the writing process. I didn’t. I mistakenly thought that a longer book must be better. When I finally researched it, I learned:

20,000-50,000 words=Novella

50,000-110,000=Novel (most adult novels are 80,000) Over 110,000 words is considered to be an Epic or a sequel. You might want to consider dividing the book into two parts and making it a series. Otherwise—unless you are Stephen King, who will sell no matter what he writes—it’s time to EDIT. The genre also makes a difference. Science Fiction tends to be longer because the writer must build a world. For the most part, if your book is considerably longer than 110,000, it tells an agent/editor that you haven’t learned to EDIT your work.

Knowing this would’ve saved me countless hours of revisions. Once I learned this, I spent the next several months EDITING my books, getting them down to the proper word count. Thus, making them marketable publications.

But, I wasn’t done yet. I still had so much more to learn.

Image: Vlado /

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Did you know that a growing trend amongst literary agents is to not respond if they’re not interested? They say, you will hear from us only if we are interested.

I think we writers deserve to hear back. I think we deserve to get our rejection letters/e-mails. Otherwise, we anxiously check our mailboxes/e-mails on a second by second basis, hoping and praying for a response.

At any rate, I finally received the PERSONAL rejection letter. This is the rejection letter that is NOT a form letter. This is one that has been hand written (or typed) just for you. In this letter, THE AGENT said that there are moments of great writing here, but in the end, the story didn’t work for him.

It was rejection. Yet, all I heard was, there are moments of great writing. Not only that THE AGENT also said that I had a great writing style. I was thrilled. It was encouragement and exactly what I needed to hear. From here on out, said agent shall be called THE AGENT in order to protect agent’s identity.

There is a future with THE AGENT. And I didn’t even see it coming.

Image: digitalart /

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A challenge

At this point in my writing journey, my daughter calls me and issues me a challenge. Keep in mind, her favorite genre is anything paranormal. I write romance. She says to me, “Mom, let’s both write a paranormal story and try to get them published.”

“I don’t write paranormal,” I say.

“Oh, come on, it’ll be fun, we’ll do it together.”

I hang up with the promise that I will think about it. And the more I think about it, an idea comes into my mind. I begin to write my story. I hash it out, rehearsing every plot element with my ever-patient husband. I ask advice from my psychology-degreed daughter. Soon, I end up with a 90,000 word paranormal romance entitled, “Lancaster House.” But, I feel kind of silly writing paranormal, even though I end up loving the story. Maybe like everyone else in the world, I’m just a little bit tired of vampires—yet I LOVE Twilight. I admit it.

However, feeling like my book wasn’t really all that good, I don’t query it. I don’t send it to ANYONE. Not one single query letter.

Instead, I move on and write my next book, entitled, I Have People. Once again, it’s too long, but I don’t know that. It was in the 130,000 range. I do query this book, but only hear rejection.

But, one of the rejection letters is PERSONAL.

And this is HUGE.

Image: scottchan /

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

This rejection is NOTHING!

There is absolutely no way to feel good about rejection. You tell yourself that it doesn’t matter, that writing is very subjective, that your story just didn’t appeal to that particular person, etc.

But, the fact is, it hurts. It blows your confidence. You start to wonder if you really suck. If you let it, it will affect your writing ability.

After LOTS of rejection letters, one kind agent let me know that my books were too LONG, that I’d never get published at that length.


Do I believe her, however? Nope.

I keep writing. I move on and write my third book. The fastest I’ve ever written a book. I write For Nick in two months and I’m stoked. It was something like 137,000 words and I, of course, think that it must be okay because it’s shorter than the others.

I needed to do some serious research on word count. But, I don’t. I move on.

Everyone who is rejecting me is wrong. Right? They don’t know what they’re talking about. All I need to do is persevere. Don’t give up.

The don’t give up part was good, the lack of research was bad.

A little bit of quirky family history: Whenever my children came home upset at a teacher, a friend, an organization, etc, I would sing them a song. (Keep in mind, I can’t sing). They would roll their eyes and laugh, but the song has a fantastic message. I am again referencing, A Chorus Line. The song is about a young girl who goes to acting class and the children and the teacher laugh at her. As she prays about the situation, she hears a voice in her soul tell her, this class is nothing, this teacher is nothing, if you want something, go find a better class. And when you find it, you’ll be an actress, and I assure you that’s what finally came to pass.

Great message, right? I had the nasty habit of feeling that song bubble up inside of me as I listened to my children’s complaints. Then, I couldn’t help myself, I’d sing it to them, replacing the words with whatever problem they were having at the moment, ie: this person is nothing, this friend is nothing, if you want something, go find a better friend . . .

You get the idea. The thought wasn’t limited to advice. The thought was in my head. This agent is nothing, this agency is nothing, if you want something, go find a better agent . . .

It helps to be just a little delusional if you’re going to be a writer.

Image: digitalart /

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


At this point it in my story, I had two completed manuscripts, both of epic length. Every word and paragraph is so amazing to me that I can’t imagine cutting anything, (huge mistake, more on this later). I finally decide to do a little research. How the heck do you go about getting published anyway? I had no idea. It seemed like rocket science to me.

It isn’t.

But, you do have to do your homework. There is so much information at your fingertips via the internet, it’s amazing. Everything you need to know is there. Keep searching, keep reading, keep learning. I learned many things at this time and I will share these little golden nuggets with you.

Golden nugget #1: The literary agent

Having an agent is a good thing. They are your advocate. They work to sell your book and they fight for the best deal possible. A reputable agent will cost you nothing. They only make money if you make money. I have found that literary agents are by far the best source of information for learning about publishing. They have their fingers on the pulse of the publishing industry. They know what they’re talking about. I found that if I went to their websites, they almost always had a wealth of knowledge at my fingertips—advice, what to do and what not to do, and much appreciated guidance.

I found that there is a huge misconception about agents. Agents are not someone you hire to work for you. You are in essence, ‘applying to be their client.’ If they like your work and think they can sell it, they will offer you a contract.

To find an agent, I subscribed to Writer’s Market. They provide you with lists of agencies and publishing houses in your genre and the money is well worth your time and effort.

Golden nugget #2: The query letter

As I searched for information, I found many literary agencies that publish romance. Most of their websites offered information on how to write the dreaded query letter. Before I did my research, I’d never even heard of a query letter and I had to learn how to write one. I learned that, basically, the query letter is a one-page document that tells the literary agent/publishing house: your personal information, the title of your book, the genre, the word count, and the blurb. The blurb is usually one paragraph. It’s purpose is to tell the reader about your book. When you go to the library/bookstore, one of the first things you do is turn the book over and read the blurb, right? What is the book about? Is there something about the blurb that makes you want to read/buy the book? Your blurb should hook the reader, but it should not give away the ending, or reveal plot elements that you’d rather keep secret. Often, the blurb the author writes on the query letter is the blurb that ends up on the back cover of the book when it is available for purchase. It better be good! (no pressure)

Golden nugget #3: The synopsis
I quickly learned that besides the query letter, I also needed to have a synopsis of my book. The synopsis is usually a 2-5 page double-spaced document. It should tell your story without sucking the life out of it. Easier said than done. It should reveal the ending. It should not keep the climactic moments a secret. If you hide the ‘fantastic ending,’ you will be revealed as a novice. The agent/publishing house wants to know what your story is about from beginning to end, they want to know that you can tell a story from beginning to end. If they like it, they’ll ask to read the manuscript. The synopsis is important because it needs to hook the reader into wanting to read your manuscript. (an amazing moment)

Golden nugget #4: Submission guidelines

Literary agents/publishers most commonly ask for two things to begin with: a query letter and a synopsis. They don’t want to see your manuscript. Yet.

Do not send out a manuscript without a request for said manuscript. It will not be read.

If they like your query letter and your synopsis—if you’re lucky—they’ll request to see the first three chapters of your manuscript. (By now, it should be obvious why the query letter and synopsis are so very important. They are the tools that get your manuscript noticed, a necessary evil)

All agencies/publishers want something different. Do not send out a mass e-mail of your query letter to every agency that appeals to you. Do your homework. Go to a literary agent’s website. Most agencies prefer you to query one agent within their agency. Make sure they publish the genre of book you write. Read the agent’s list of books they are acquiring. Only query the agent that is acquiring the genre of book you write. All agents have submission information. Read it and tailor each submission to the agent you are querying. This takes time and effort, but if you want an agent, you have to abide by their guidelines. A mass e-mail sent out to several agents is a sure-fire path to REJECTION. For example, some agents want only a query letter. Some want a query letter and a synopsis. Some want a query letter, a synopsis, and the first ten pages of the manuscript. Some want a query letter, a synopsis, and the first three chapters of your manuscript. Some want the information in the body of the e-mail. Some want it via snail-mail. Some want a certain thing written in the subject line of the email, etc, etc. You get the idea. Take the time to know what the submission guidelines are and follow them.

Armed with this knowledge, I finally set off on my querying adventure.

And found myself in Rejection City.

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