August 24, 2010

How a book is bought today

Filed under: Backstory,The Writing Life — jenny @ 11:17 am

I realize I’m not exactly in a prime position to write this post, seeing as I haven’t, well, had a book bought yet. But since I’ve been noting, and referencing, and whining–just a little, I hope–across the country about getting news from NY, I figured maybe I should explain things a bit.

And then I had the key, meteoric thrill of receiving a few emails from readers–people I’ve never met before–asking questions about my book. Like, when they could buy it. I don’t know if I can explain why that is such a thrill, but if you’ve ever had the experience of having an unpublished book, you will understand.

Unpublished books feel…not quite real. Stephen King says in ON WRITING that they’re a circle unclosed.

All that work we put into creating them–forget about trying to get them out there one day–and then they sit, unread, while we wait on the vagaries of the publishing world. So when someone writes and essentially says, I believe that your book exists and I would like to buy it–it makes not just that book, but we, the writers, feel real.

And I want to answer your question. I don’t suppose I have any great industry secrets to offer, and if I did I’d be good at keeping them quiet anyway, but you don’t want secrets, do you? You just want the real truth about how a book is published today.

Before I give you the nutshell I’ve learned over the last few years, let me refer you to an upcoming event in that writing series I co-host. The editors, agents, and publishers at this panel will know much more than I do about this topic. After all, I only have my own idiosyncratic experiences to share, and believe me when I say that I hope all of you don’t go through it as I have, but have a far, far smoother, and easier time.

Anyway, so let’s assume you have an agent. If you don’t have one, take heart. Take heart, go to writing conferences or pitch workshops, make some personal contacts, improve your craft, make sure someone other than your Great Aunt Netta loves your book, and then one day, you will have an agent.

After that happens, the two of you will work on revising your novel and making sure it is submission ready. Sometimes, if your agent is big enough, or doesn’t feel her strongest skills are in editing, her assistant or intern will help in the revision process.

So, now let’s assume your manuscript (ms) is submission ready. Your agent will draw up a list of editors to go to. Some agents submit to everyone at once (say, 20 editors or so), but this seems to be the exception. Most agents go in rounds. They will sub to five or six or seven editors and wait for responses. If the responses are passes, they will contain feedback about why the book was passed on.

I have found this to be a very complicated issue. At first glance, it seems simple. Good books are bought so if yours (mine, ouch) was not bought, then it must not be good, or at least not good enough.

But this simply isn’t true. For one thing, you can get passes that could easily have been offers. This happens when the editor your agent went to wants to buy the book and now must pass it around the office for other reads. If the other editors don’t like the ms as much as the first one did, an offer won’t be made.

But as everyone knows, writing is very, very subjective. How hard it must be to get 2, 3, or more people all to agree that a book is wonderful.

To further complicate matters, there are marketing considerations, and the difficulty in predicting what will sell. No one (or at least not me) is suggesting these concerns shouldn’t weigh heavily in deciding which books should be acquired. If a book doesn’t sell well, then the publishing house will have trouble staying solvent and have to publish fewer books or make other compromises.

Problem is, as the great William Goldman says, Nobody knows.

What will sell, that is.

There are exceptions, of course, which is why you’ll see celebrity bios in deals everywhere, and why certain books receive a pre-emptive offer (pre-empt) as soon as the agent goes out with them.

But you, debut novelist, and me–well, it’s a lot harder to tell if our books will sell or not. Which is why I’ve gotten crazy reasons for passing, reasons that contradict themselves, or focus on a detail that should clearly not have to do with how readers will receive a book.

For example, in the ms that’s on sub now, there is one scene where a character does something that I knew full well, while writing, would be controversial. I think the character is in a tough enough position–and this is demonstrated well enough–that whether you agree or disagree with the course she takes, it will provide ample food for thought and discussion. Book club members can wrangle over it over food and wine. Have fun with even. Would you? Would I? And indeed, some editors referred to the scene as a highlight in the book. But one editor rejected it because of it.

Now if everyone had said the same thing, then I would’ve had a no-brainer. Remove the scene. I like it and believe in it, but it doesn’t work for others.

Once upon a time as a writer, I might have struggled with that, but not for long, and not anymore. Nobody knows, but the editors know a lot better than we writers most of the time, and I’m lucky to receive their wisdom.

But what do you do when the editors themselves don’t agree?

You wait to find the one person who believes in that scene–and your book–as much as you and your agent do. Who can convince the other readers at editorial to agree with her vision. And convince the marketing people to take a chance, because, say it with me, Nobody knows.

Except me. Except us. We know that we haven’t written the most perfect book in the world or anything like it. Just a story good enough that it has captured some people’s interest.

One day I hope mine will capture yours. Thank you so much, everyone who has written, and made that possibility feel just a little more real.

August 23, 2010

On the Road Again

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:38 am

I just can’t wait to get on the road again.

It’s really true. As much fun as we had, staying with family for a month in Oregon, for me there’s always been a draw–a real pull–to being on the road. It’s one of the only things that can truly distract me from hoping for news about my novel.

I remember as a child my family would take route 3 out of NYC to get home, and as we got off at the exit, there was a sign, pointing one way to our town, and one way to Paterson. I would play this game with my dad where I’d tell him that they’d switched the signs, and he’d say, “Well, I always wanted to see Paterson.”

With all due respect to the people who live there, it strikes me as funny now that my hunger for new, novel places would extend to Paterson, NJ.

The places we’ll hit along this route–camping in Spokane, WA; seeing the glaciers of Glacier National Park, which are tragically due to vanish by 2030; the infamous Fargo, ND; a lake in the middle of national forest in MN where we can kayak and even take the kids tubing from a motor boat at the safe speed of 5 or 10 mph; and from then on into uncharted territories in Ottawa, before being back in the familiar lands of Montreal, Vermont, and Boston–promise a little more exotica than Paterson probably would’ve offered in the end.

But the excitement I felt as a child to get there isn’t any different at all.

August 21, 2010

Citizen’s Police Academy: Final Story

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 9:21 am

Emerging writer Karyne Corum returns to Suspense Your Disbelief with this exciting final installment in her Citizen’s Police Academy series. Find out why police departments have changed their procedures ever since Columbine. And how Karyne now knows what to do in one of the most dangerous situation citizens are ever faced with.

The warm spring night quietly settled around us, and cast shadows into the corners. I sweated in long sleeves, a bulletproof vest and face mask, my weapon clasped in nervous hands. I was waiting for the word to come down that our exercise was about to go “live”.

My three teammates shuffled restlessly next to me, occasionally giving a nervous laugh or re-checking the modified Glock 9mm we all carried. Although the guns fired hard plastic pellets instead of bullets, they were, for all purposes, exact duplicates of the real thing.

The weapon felt cool and heavy in my grip. I shifted it back and forth, hoping that it would provide the protection tonight that I needed it to. I thought back to the first time I held one like it, during that now long ago second class in the Metuchen Citizen’s Police Academy, and was mildly amazed at how comfortable I had gotten, in such a short time, with something so deadly.

I don’t like guns. I may write about them, I may even enjoy action movies full of them, but in real life they scare the crap out of me. I’m a mom, and a relatively peaceful person, and yet, I’ve discovered that I possess a strange fascination for guns. There is something about the feel of something so powerful and lethal in your hands. It was just one of the many revelations I had experienced through this amazing program.

I and a team of three fellow “officers” were about to enter the darkened, twisting hallways and deserted classrooms of a local high school. There, hidden amongst the commonplace clutter of education and teenage angst, were several individuals whose job it was to show us the meaning of fear.

I considered just how badly those pellets would sting. I gave thought to why it was that every year, police officers use demos like this one to train for a real life “active shooter” situation.

At Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, after a brief exchange of fire between the first responding officers and one of the teenage gunmen just outside the school door, the officers stopped – as they had been trained to do – to wait for a SWAT team. When the team arrived, forty-five minutes later, ten of the thirteen people killed that day were dead. Because Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold didn’t wait. They didn’t have any intention besides murdering as many of their classmates as they could. It was as shocking as it was unheard of.

From that moment on, police departments began to drastically change their tactics. A new line of thought emerged with brutal clarity: In a mass shooting, a gunman kills a person every fifteen seconds. Now, responding officers are trained to rush toward the gunfire, stepping over the wounded and dying if necessary, to stop the gunman – the active shooter – first.

“We’re live! Go!”

We moved on down the hall, half crouching, weapons at the ready. Straight ahead a door stood half-open and to its right a murky hallway led away from us. Brains raced even as ears strained to hear any signs of oncoming danger.

Ping! Ping! Shots ricocheted ahead of us off the wooden door frame.

I instantly flattened myself to the wall, finger tensed on the trigger.

After a moment spent collecting my senses, I edged forward, ready to fire or be fired upon. Around me, the rest of the team stayed close, until our lead “officer” pushed the door open and a series of shots pelted the door frame, scattering among us like beads on a marble floor. I felt a sharp burning sting in my upper right thigh and dazedly realized that I’d been hit.

The last words the Captain had said resonated in my head, “Every time you feel a pellet, remember, that would have been a bullet.”

My hand involuntarily crept down and felt, through thin cotton, rapidly swelling skin. Fear made my stomach pitch and roll.

We began to race forward, hearing more shots, knowing we had to find the gunman. I scrambled past a doorway, unable to see in the dark whether it was open, and shots chased after me. By the time we had made it to a pitch black classroom, we were all sweating, cursing, and some of us were stinging with pain.

Shots zoomed through space from the far right corner; my team fired back. I dropped to my knees and crawled toward where I was certain the shooter had to be. By the time I got there, my Glock in front of me, the shooter stood and dropped his weapon. “I’m out!” After another ferocious volley of shots, he was followed by the second shooter in the opposite corner.

Those words were the automatic cease fire for the scenario. As I slowly made my way back to base, my thigh throbbed, my breath came in pants, and sweat clung damply to my back underneath the vest. Recalling how many shots I had felt ping off the front of me, I was extremely glad to have had it on.

I thought how grateful I was that this hadn’t been real. Before this I thought I knew something about what a police officer might experience. I’d read so many books, seen so many movies, even met police officers who’d shared their real life stories.

None of that penetrated the way those plastic pellets did. None of those made me feel fear.

I walked away with a bruise and a welt; in real life, I may not have walked away at all.

This experience, so generously granted by the Captain, police officers and civilian volunteers of the Metuchen Citizen’s Police Academy, has profoundly enhanced my respect and understanding of just what fears, and foes, police officers must face on a daily basis. It will not only assist me in my writing, but it will forever give me a new appreciation for the difficult and dangerous job performed by such extraordinary individuals.

Karyne Corum is the married mother of one preschooler. She lives in Central New Jersey, and has been telling stories since she was a little girl–only now they get her into a lot more trouble. Fortunately, she can write her way out of most of it. Her many jobs prior to accepting the inevitable include actor, security guard, executive assistant and massage therapist. She is currently at work on her first full length novel, which keeps her up at night almost as much as her four-year old son does.

August 17, 2010

Made It Moment: Tim Hallinan

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 11:19 am

The Queen Of Patpong

There are two authors whose books I don’t understand why I love. One is Lee Child (macho, emotionally-repressed hero, with no sense of family and a knowledge of all things mechanical), and #2 appears here on Suspense Your Disbelief today. Tim Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty series introduces the reader to a world that is a bit foreign for my usual tastes (I take my suspense set where I might actually experience it), and has a level of seediness and grit that, while utterly authentic, could make me want to avert my eyes. Yet Tim is too gifted an author to let me do that, and his series is too compelling. The fourth book launches today. Congratulations, Tim! Let’s raise a cyber glass of champagne and celebrate your success.

Or has he truly succeeded yet? Tim tells us below.

Tim Hallinan

Let’s see. The moment I knew I’d made it. Have I made it?

If I have, nobody’s told me about it. I haven’t made it in terms of huge sales and books weighing down the shelves in every airport and twelve-figure advances and getting tanned from fame’s spotlight. I haven’t made it in the sense that I’ve written a book I’m completely happy with. And I certainly I haven’t made it if “making it” means that I’m past the point where every single book threatens to collapse on me for months before I finally see the way out.

There’s no actual index on which I can say confidently that I’ve made it.

But there are times when I go, “Ooookaaaaayyyyyyyy.” And, for the purposes of this piece, those will have to count.

For example:

· I wrote twelve published novels (eight of them under my own name) before I had the courage to write two women in a room together with no men present. I don’t know exactly what I was afraid of – women calling each other and reading the scene aloud while laughing hysterically, or what. But I finally wrote it. And in the upcoming Poke Rafferty book, THE QUEEN OF PATPONG, I have a 40,000-word central section that’s almost all woman. And I like it, and so do my wife and my female editor. So that’s an okay.

· In the first Rafferty book, A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART, I wrote an edgy street kid who nicknamed himself, out of sheer wish-fulfillment, Superman. I gave him an equivocal ending in that book. I received, via my website, almost four hundred e-mails from people who either wanted to strip my skin off for not giving him a better fate, or asked how he was. I brought him back in a later book just to ease everyone’s mind. That felt amazing. People really cared about that kid. That’s definitely okay.

· Once in a very great while I open one of the books at random to see what’s in there and come across a line I really like – for example, “Through the sliding glass door, Bangkok glittered with the fraudulent optimism of all big cities.” And I think, huh. I wrote that. That counts.

· At about four-fifths of the way through the writing and publishing process, a box arrives on my front porch containing 15 or 20 ARCs – advance readers’ copies, bound galleys, with the actual type and the real, almost final cover. These actually mean more to me than getting the first editions. It’s the first time I’ve seen that particular 12 or 14 months’ worth of managed daydream packaged into an actual slab of physical stuff. The ARCs for THE QUEEN OF PATPONG came yesterday, and just to make things perfect, I opened it to a line I liked.

· Over twenty years or so, I’ve learned one, and exactly one, valuable lesson about writing, and that’s to do it. To do it every single day with whatever energy I have, whether it’s a lot or a little, whether the energy feels creative or toxic. To make story and listen to my characters even if those are the last things on earth I want to do. To understand that not wanting to write means that it’s absolutely essential that I do. To realize that writing is like a relationship, like a religion, like a child: it demands a non-negotiable commitment, a shrine of time, an investment of energy and emotion and intellect and all the other things we sometimes want to keep for ourselves. And I’ve learned that if I don’t do all those things, I fail, but if I do them, I eventually have a book.

So that’s probably the answer to the question: I feel like I’ve made it, at least on a personal level, every time I finish a book. And I guess I’ll settle for that.

Timothy Hallinan has written ten novels, all thrillers, and one book of nonfiction. For almost thirty years he operated one of America’s leading television consulting firms. He has written full-time since 2006. Hallinan divides his time between Los Angeles and Southeast Asia, the setting for his Poke Rafferty novels. Visit Tim at and watch the book trailer for QUEEN OF PATPONG here:

August 16, 2010

Made It Moment: Sophie Hannah

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 12:29 am

OK, you all know how much I love this forum. I love introducing new authors to readers, I love finding new authors myself. But today’s Moment is a first for Suspense Your Disbelief–the appearance of someone who has long been on my short list of favorite authors. Readers everywhere will understand what it is to get to know someone whom you’ve long known “only” through her books. It’s like meeting the president. Or Santa Claus. So, without further ado, let me introduce Sophie Hannah, literary suspense author extraordinaire. And the even better news is–if you love Sophie’s work as much as I do, she has a long back list!

A Room Swept White

Sophie Hannah

First, I’d like to say that I was thrilled to be asked to write this piece, as this topic is something I’ve been puzzling over for a long time. I have no idea whether I’ve made it or not. If I have, I don’t know when I did. If I haven’t, I don’t know if I will, and if I do at some future date, I’m sure I won’t know when it happens. I regard the whole issue as an intriguing mystery, and I am constantly searching for clues that might point me in one direction or the other. After all, like everyone else, I am forever hearing that hardly any writers make it, whatever ‘it’ is, so it seems quite important for a writer to know whether she has made it or not. When my first psychological thriller ‘Little Face’ was accepted for publication, that was probably my happiest moment as a writer, the moment when I most felt, ‘Hooray! I’ve succeeded!’ Of course, I quickly realised (indeed, I probably knew all along, though blissful denial obliterated the knowledge for a few days) that I’d succeeded only in securing for myself the opportunity to fail. So many published books wither and die without being noticed, and that might well happen to mine. Why wouldn’t it, in fact? There are so many books out there – why would anyone notice mine? And my publishers told me not to worry if ‘Little Face’ didn’t become a bestseller, as it almost definitely wouldn’t – they would build me up gradually. This sounded great to me – it was their way of telling me that they loved my writing and would stick with me and believe in me even though sales weren’t going to be much to write home about. At that point, things seemed clearly defined: I hadn’t made it, and probably wouldn’t for quite a long time, but my publishers and my agent and I would slog away together, hoping for the best.

‘Little Face’ was published the following August, and, although it got amazing reviews, it didn’t sell very well at first – a few hundred to a thousand copies a week, I think it was, which was perfectly normal for a first thriller by an unknown writer (well, I was known as a poet, but that basically meant that four people in Hampstead had heard of me, and maybe two in Chiswick). Then something odd happened. On Boxing Day that year, disappointed with all the books people had bought me for Christmas (‘Do they know me at all? How could they possibly think I’d want to read that?’), I made my virtual way to, planning to look at the Crime & Thrillers chart and order some ace crime novels. Bizarrely, my non-bestselling novel ‘Little Face’ – which I’d been told by many book trade experts was too subtle and well-written to be a commercial success – was at number one. Numbers two, three and four were by John Grisham, Thomas Harris and someone else hugely famous and multi-millionairish that I can’t remember offhand – Ian Rankin, perhaps, or God. In shock, I looked at the Amazon Fiction Chart. ‘Little Face’ was number one there too. I assumed my husband was playing a trick on me, but couldn’t work out how he’d done it. At almost exactly that moment, my editor emailed to tell me I was number one on Amazon. From that moment, the sales of the book took off, and it soon came to be known as a word-of-mouth bestseller (or a ‘bestseller de passaparola’ in Italy, or a ‘bestseller boca-oreja’ in Spain). Pretty soon it was selling all over the world, and people started to refer to it as an international bestseller.

That was when I started to wonder about whether I’d made it or not. Did being number one on Amazon count as having made it? Or selling to eighteen foreign territories? No, surely not. At the time, I was living in a semi-detached house in Keighley, West Yorkshire – I was fairly sure John Grisham and Thomas Harris didn’t live in Keighley semis. And I didn’t have a chef or a full-time live-in house-tidier, two things I would certainly have had if I was a roaring success, since I love food but hate cooking, and love a tidy house but hate drudgery. Yet there I was, day after day, picking up other people’s socks and pants from the floor, stirring pesto sauce into pasta… Therefore, I couldn’t have made it – not yet. But people kept talking as if I had, and certainly there seemed to be a general assumption from that point onwards that my future books would sell as well as ‘Little Face’ and probably better – they would all become bestsellers. This seemed a rash assumption to me – I pointed out that my next book might not sell at all, and everyone laughed and said, ‘Oh, nonsense – of course it will.’ The strange thing was that the people who seemed so sure that all my books from then on would be bestsellers were the very same people who were equally sure that ‘Little Face’ wouldn’t be. So I went from thinking, ‘Hang on a minute – how do you know it won’t sell?’ to thinking, ‘Hang on a minute – how do you know it will sell?’ When I reminded everybody that my next thriller ‘Hurting Distance’ might not sell for all the same reasons that we feared ‘Little Face’ wouldn’t sell, the response was flat-out denial and a rewriting of history. ‘Oh, I always knew ‘Little Face’ would be a huge success,’ said someone who had encouraged me to send it to a tiny, unheard-of publisher on the grounds that ‘none of the big publishers will want it – it’s too unusual’. Suddenly (like in a film where everyone is scarily denying what the hero knows to be the truth – Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, for example) no one could remember ever having thought ‘Little Face’ would be any less popular and widely published than the Bible and Harry Potter put together. I experienced one of those ‘am I going mad?’ moments. Even my husband was in on the conspiracy. ‘Yeah,’ he said self-righteously, ‘No one really believed in it apart from us, did they?’ Us? I thought. Us? My husband’s exact words, before the book found a publisher, were, ‘Look, Soph – it might just be no good. You might be better off giving up on it.’

When my editor rang me last year to say that my fourth crime novel, ‘The Other Half Lives’, had got to number 2 in the national book chart, did I think, ‘Aha, that’s it, I’ve really made it now’? No. I was thrilled, obviously, but I also strongly suspected it had to be a fluke – all the other books must have been off sick that week. And I remembered my ex-agent (emphasis on the ‘ex’) saying to me, ‘For your own sake, give up on ‘Little Face’ and write something else – I honestly can’t imagine anyone wanting to read it’. I thought about the time (recently) when an event organiser said to me, ‘Thanks so much for doing this – we did ask Ian Rankin, but the trouble with really good, successful writers is that you never hear back from them.’ I thought about all the people who accost me at my events specifically to say, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve never heard of you before today, never read one of your books, and only ended up here because it’s a compulsory part of my immersion in the witness protection programme.’ I also couldn’t help thinking of the woman from the Doncaster reading group who whispered in my ear, while hugging me, ‘I hated your book, but you seem like a lovely person.’ (Why, in such situations, does one never say, ‘Actually, you’ve got it the wrong way round: my book’s a fucking masterpiece. I, on the other hand, am an evil bitch.’) I suspect that rude insensitive people are just as rude and insensitive in their dealings with writers who have made it as with those who haven’t – which makes it hard, as a writer, to know which camp you’re in. I often find myself thinking, ‘If I were a famous writer, would I be being treated like this right now?’ Yes, I think I would – but I also would if I was an unknown writer.

Which, I think, raises an interesting point. Commercial success, while being financially very useful, is ultimately meaningless. Our needy egos constantly remind us that no amount of fame can stop us from feeling like worthless scumbags for a large proportion of the time, or stop other people from making endless significant contributions to the creation of that feeling within us. I reckon this is the universe’s way of reminding us that we need to look beyond the artificial uppers and downers in our lives – the chance events that big us up, like our new book getting a good chart position, and the chance events that squash us down, like getting a bad review from a withered old fu…. Oops, sorry, I was ignoring my own ‘looking beyond’ advice for a minute there. And it is important to look beyond what the world thinks and says about us, and to see who we truly are, which is unaffected by anybody’s opinion. Even if it’s impossible for us to do this, it’s important to try. In fact, the more impossible it is, the more important it is. Otherwise we might end up like those insane old famous-writer duffers who sell trillions of copies and whose books are adored the world over, but who grumble about other multi-millionaires selling four more copies than them, or stew about not being taken seriously by critics.

The other day, my sister sent me an email saying, ‘Pity about new Dan Brown book coming out in paperback this week – it’s going to stop ‘A Room Swept White’ [that's my new paperback] from getting to no. 1.’ I was baffled as to why she thought my book might get to number 1 even in the absence of Dan Brown, but if she thought it might then maybe it might. Except it wouldn’t, because Dan Brown would block it – the bastard!! I had a clear choice – it was a fork-in-the-road moment. Either I could become the sort of idiot who lamented her misfortune in not being able to top the book chart, or I could remain a reasonable human being and realise that to make something like that into a problem was as good as begging Fate to send you a real problem to deal with. Like reading on the backs of countless mediocre novels that the author is ‘the new Sophie Hannah’…now there’s a real problem…grrrr!!

Sophie Hannah is a bestselling crime fiction writer and poet. Her novels of psychological suspense have sold 500,000 copies in the UK, and are published in nineteen foreign countries.

Sophie’s fifth collection of poetry, Pessimism for Beginners, was shortlisted for the 2007 TS Eliot Award, and in 2004 she won first prize in the Daphne Du Maurier Festival Short Story Competition for her suspense story “The Octopus Nest”. Her poetry is studied at university.

Besides her psychological thrillers, Sophie has also written three other novels, even harder to characterize. Women’s fiction? Literary fiction? Yes to both.

She lives in Cambridge, England with her husband and two children.

August 13, 2010

Made It Moment: Carolyn J. Rose, Part II

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 11:16 am

And now, Part 2 of Carolyn Rose’s Moment, which is as suspenseful as the novel itself! Anyone who has ever queried an agent will relate to some of these insider details below, and feel a shudder of pain along with Carolyn. Will there be a happy, or at least satisfying, ending? Read on…
Hemlock Lake

Carolyn J. Rose

That rejection due to death was the final punch to my pummeled self-esteem. Reeling, I stowed away the manuscript for Hemlock Lake and, lest I developed delusions of adequacy, filed all those rejections with it. Eventually, I moved on to other projects—first avoidance projects like gardening and then writing a few cozies on my own, co-authoring two mysteries and a fantasy with my husband.

But I am, as my father used to say, “as determined as a terrier at a rat hole.” So, after a few years when the numbness passed, I took another look at Hemlock Lake and found that I still believed in it, still wanted to see it in print. Without an agent, there was no way most major publishing houses would consider it, so I made a list of smaller presses and, after several weeks of procrastination, began querying.

Rejections still arrived, but they came more slowly than they had from agents. Six months might pass and I might allow myself the tiniest spark of hope before I’d get word that a publisher:

· already had sufficient titles in the pipeline

· was overloaded with current projects

· felt it wasn’t right at this time

· felt it wasn’t compatible with current editorial needs

· had recently changed its policy regarding manuscript submissions

· couldn’t connect with the story, setting, or character

· had discontinued the imprint I’d queried

· was feeling economic constraints

· wanted a large sum of money to “go into partnership” with me

Three years into this process, the pain of rejection turned to grim amusement. As I filed each letter, I joked that this process was as torturous as trying to get a date during my teen years. I measured my stack of rejections against the square footage of the office wall I planned to paper with them and noted that I still needed another four square feet. I told myself that I wouldn’t quit, not as long as I could lick an envelope or tap out an e-mail message and hit the “send” button.

Four times editors wrote to say they liked Hemlock Lake and were moving it on to the next level for further consideration. Twice it was put on extended hold because of economic considerations and once it went into terminal limbo when the person considering it left the publishing house. Once it got glowing reviews from two rounds of readers before it hit a wall with the final editor.

I considered the validity of every comment I received about plot and characters, revised, and queried on, quoting Galaxy Quest, “never give up, never surrender.”

And then, in December of 2008, I got a different type of reply from Rosalind Greenberg at Five Star.

So hardened had I become to rejection that I was immune to accepting acceptance. This must be a joke, I thought. One of my soon-to-be-former friends is messing with me and has created a fictional publishing house.

Then I did a search and found that Five Star really existed. I called my long-suffering husband in to read the message. He assured me that it really contained the words, “I liked your novel so much . . .” and, “I would like to request approval to acquire your manuscript . . .”

In July of 2010, Five Star releases Hemlock Lake.

I feel like I’ve piloted a ship across a vast ocean, through a hundred squalls and storms, past a dozen reefs, around a whirlpool, and through a rocky channel. I’m grateful that I made it and proud that I kept faith with my characters and myself.

Will readers like Hemlock Lake? I don’t know. I hope so. When I’m not at work on the sequel, I have my fingers crossed.

Carolyn J. Rose grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She has published a number of mysteries and lives in Vancouver, Washington, with her husband, radio air personality Mike Phillips, and a motley collection of pets. Her hobbies are reading, gardening, and not cooking. Surf to for more information. And watch the book trailer for HEMLOCK LAKE at

August 12, 2010

Made It Moment: Carolyn J. Rose

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 10:50 am

I have a special feeling in my heart for this Moment by Carolyn Rose for two reasons. One, it’s a story eleven years in the making, and as most of you know, I can relate to one of those. And two, Carolyn hails from a part of the world I just love. Read here about the novel that pulled itself up by its bootstraps–with more than a little help from its author, of course.
Hemlock Lake

Carolyn J. Rose

With an innocent sense of optimism about its future, I began writing Hemlock Lake in 1999. Had I known it would be such a “hard luck” book, I might have taken a hammer to my keyboard, turned my monitor into modern art, and embarked on a career creating something easier to sell, like broken umbrellas or failing stock. But I didn’t have a crystal ball then—still don’t—so I forged on with a story that, from the start, felt like it wanted me to write it.

Confident about my first 100 pages, I sent a few chapters to a friend. They returned with gallons of green ink flowing between the lines and into the margins. If I’d laid the pages out on the ground, they might have been designated a wetland.

I’m sad to say that I didn’t handle the situation like an adult. Although I told myself that criticism is subjective and there was nothing vindictive about comments that I had solicited, I raged about the house repeating that she, “just didn’t get it,” and, “wasn’t much of a friend.” My husband, meanwhile, cowered in an upstairs room checking for an expiration date on our marriage license. Eventually I slammed the manuscript into a box (we were in the process of moving from Portland to Vancouver at the time) and ignored it for several months.

When the small TV station I worked for folded its tent and laid me off, I had time on my hands to consider her comments once more. But, practicing avoidance is one of my hobbies, so I painted the interior of our house, changed out the electrical sockets, and organized the garage before I unearthed the manuscript.

Time had given me emotional distance and I found that her comments weren’t as cutting or extreme as I’d first thought. In fact, most of them pointed to the need for material that had never made it onto the pages I’d sent her—descriptions and character details I’d carried in my head but never got down on paper because they were so obvious to me.

With a sense of mission, I went back to the keyboard, revised, and took second place in the 2000 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Competition and was a finalist in the Colorado Gold Competition. Emboldened, I began a search for agents. I soon found that no one wanted to touch Hemlock Lake for a variety of reasons, most of which will be familiar to any writer who has ever sent out queries:

· client list was full
· didn’t feel committed to the project
· couldn’t relate to rural setting
· couldn’t successfully market it
· had found editors were intent on potential mega-hit novels
· wasn’t wild about the premise
· was transitioning to a film management agency
· enthusiasm just not great enough
· not completely confident about this endeavor
· overbooked at present
· wanted a hefty fee for representation costs

And then I received the ultimate rejection: “agent has passed away.”

I remember opening that letter and dropping into a chair in stunned silence. Would someone rather die than represent this book? Was Hemlock Lake destined to spend the rest of my life in a box at the back of the closet under the stairs?

Stay tuned for part two…

Carolyn J. Rose grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She has published a number of mysteries and lives in Vancouver, Washington, with her husband, radio air personality Mike Phillips, and a motley collection of pets. Her hobbies are reading, gardening, and not cooking. Surf to for more information. And watch the book trailer for HEMLOCK LAKE at

August 9, 2010

How to work with your friendly neighborhood bookseller, by Lelia Taylor

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 6:00 am

Lelia Taylor once owned an independent bookstore, and now blogs about her former life at Buried Under Books. Since Lelia’s bookstore used to specialize in mystery, sci fi, fantasy, and horror, she is committed to spreading the word about great genre books, and I recommend visiting her blog regularly to find new reads. Today she shares with authors her tips for working with bookstore owners and getting your book on their shelves.

Those Pesky Perils of Promotion
These days, even authors with the big houses have to do much of their own promotion. They might get some financial backing for tours and they do have the advantage of having their upcoming books in catalogs but, when the books actually come out, they still need to remind booksellers and the rest of the world that they’re available. Writers who are self-published or who are with small independent publishers have to work at it even harder but no author, not even the big names, can ignore the need for promotion at some level.

So, dear author, now that your pride and joy, your baby, is out, how can you approach the mean and cranky bookseller and talk her into carrying it?

Please, get my name right, not when you first call because it’s weird—I blame my mother for this—and I don’t expect you to know how to say it when we’ve never met but, after that first call, at least try to get it right or ask me. I promise I won’t be offended if you ask.
I’m continually amazed by how many people can carry on a lengthy email conversation with me and never notice how I spell my name. And if this bothers me, think about folks with so-called “normal” names that get misspelled, like Terry for Teri or Patty for Patti. The misspellings of my name have included Lila, Lela, Layla, Lee, and Lily. Can you come up with another one? That and $1.50 might get you a Coke (that sounded much better when you could say “That and 50 cents’ll buy a cuppa coffee”).

Know something about the booksellers before you make that first approach; not doing so makes them feel that you don’t know or care what will make them a good partner. Over the years, we’ve had many authors make the mistake of asking us to carry their books when those books don’t “fit” our store. You may have gotten our name and address from a source that doesn’t describe who we are, but a little bit of online research would show you that we specialize in mystery, science fiction, fantasy and horror so we’re unlikely to carry your memoir or study of bugs (unless they’re very large and come from a distant galaxy far, far away).
More distressing, though, is the number of finished books that authors have taken the trouble to send to us, which we aren’t going to put on our shelves. That’s an awful waste of your money for the book itself as well as the shipping cost.

Include information about the book: title, ISBN, publisher, how it’s distributed, ordering terms if distribution is limited, retail price, number of pages, binding, the release date if it’s not out yet, and a brief synopsis of the story. I shouldn’t have to search the net for this information.
Get in an argument about POD. Print on demand is just a printing technology but, to some booksellers, the term is almost like a bad word and has come to mean self-published even though it is frequently used by traditional publishers. Unfortunately, if a particular store owner or manager thinks that POD is always a bad thing, you’re unlikely to change his mind. In the long run, you’ll be better off if you just accept his ignorance and move on down the road.

Speaking of self-publishing, there are many pros and cons, but most independent bookstores are willing to work with a local author. As long as you and the bookseller are both willing to acknowledge that there might be some “issues”, you should be able to work things out, and this doesn’t have to be to your disadvantage. Compromises can include selling on consignment, providing the books directly to the seller at a reasonable discount, agreeing to reduce the retail price if it’s unreasonably high, your publicizing that the book can be purchased at her store, your agreeing to meet with a book club, or even setting up a group signing (which is almost always more appealing to a seller than a single self-published author event).
Some authors set up their own publishing company but don’t publish anything except their own books. It may look better to have it published by Books Galore Publications than by a well-known subsidy press, but it’s still self-publishing. When the bookseller asks you who your publisher is, don’t wiggle around the truth. If he’s against self-publishing, your ruse isn’t going to work because it’ll only take him a few minutes of online research to figure it out and he’ll be tres annoyed that you tried to hide it. If he isn’t against it, you’ve done no harm by being honest and may have actually helped your case because you haven’t annoyed him.

Order some of your own supply of books through a local independent if you can work out a deal that’s favorable to you. We always offered to do this at a cost to the author just a little more than what it cost us to get the books so we made a small profit (our only real added expense being occasional shipping charges). Doing this accomplishes several things. First, it drives up your sales figures which is always a good thing. Second, if you’re with a royalty-paying company, those royalties will be increased while, if you order your copies directly from the publisher, you probably won’t get any. Third, it builds good will with the bookseller.
Don’t let the cold shoulder get you down. If you’re like every other author I ever met, you’ve experienced rejection and you’ve survived it, maybe many times on your way to holding that finished book in your hands. You and I might start out by annoying each other, but you know what? We need each other. And you can keep a private,(very private) list of those booksellers who have really yanked your chain—said list to be viewed with great amusement when you become famous and can pick out a few for your own brand of rightbackatcha.

Remember, that after all is said and done, the phone calls, and emails, and snail mails, and more than a little of what will seem like begging and pleading, will be well worth it. Every sale I’ve ever made as a bookseller has made me smile, has made me feel really good, and I don’t mean because of the financial transaction. Every shelf that displays your book is going to make you smile and feel really, really good. So follow these tips and enjoy.

Once upon a time, Lelia Taylor took the quixotic leap and left Corporate America with its benefits and every-other-week paycheck for the nonexistent financial power of co-owning and running an independent bookstore. No one ever accused her of making a brilliant decision back then, especially after the current recession shut the store down, but she sure has had a good time along the way—and has never been sorry. Indie booksellers are peculiar that way.

August 1, 2010

Made It Moment: Dennis Palumbo

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 11:35 am

I was so excited when I discovered Dennis Palumbo’s work because Dennis is (to my mind) one of those most exciting of authors: someone whose career informs his fiction. CJ Lyons is another such author whose Moment has appeared here, and Dennis’ profession of psychology is actually the same one that led to my writing my very first novel (also mentioned here in the crazy, roller coaster, backstory column). Today please join me in congratulating Dennis on the release of the first book in an exciting new series, out from Poisoned Pen Press, and read how for Dennis this is the latest in a series of Moments!

Mirror Image

Dennis Palumbo

I’ve been writing since my teens, so I suppose there’ve been a number of little “made it” moments. In college, I wrote a lot for the school newspaper. Then, after graduation, I worked in advertising, writing copy. It wasn’t until I moved from the east coast to LA that I began writing commercially. I tried my hand at everything–spec TV scripts, short stories, whatever–and, strangely enough, when I finally started to sell things, it all happened at once. The same year I started work on the ABC-TV series Welcome Back, Kotter, I also sold my first mystery short story to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and my first novel (City Wars, a sci-fi thriller) to Bantam.

So I guess that was the year that I finally felt I’d “made it” as a writer. That I could earn a living doing it. For most writers, however, I believe career success is more like a series of plateaus reached than some one, finite “moment.” For example, despite my years as a TV sitcom writer, I had another “made it” moment when my first feature film My Favorite Year, co-written with Norman Steinberg) was released.

Now, years later, as a psychotherapist who’s long retired from show business, my latest “made it” moment occurred when Poisoned Pen Press accepted my first crime novel, Mirror Image. The first in a new series featuring psychologist Daniel Rinaldi, I’m especially pleased because it’s set in Pittsburgh, my home town. So perhaps Thomas Wolfe was wrong: you can go home again, at least in fiction!

Now I’m curious to see where my imagination will lead me next. As well as what my next “made it” moment will feel like.

Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), Dennis Palumbo is a licensed psychotherapist and author of Writing From the Inside Out (John Wiley). His mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Strand and elsewhere, and is collected in From Crime to Crime (Tallfellow Press). Mirror Image, due out in August from Poisoned Pen Press, is his first crime novel.

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