February 29, 2012

Made It Moment: J. H. Bográn

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:18 pm

The Assassin's Mistress
This, one of the shortest Made It Moments ever featured, delivers such a poignant punch at the end that I urged author J.H. Bogran not to add a single word when he sent it to me for looking over. Read on and I think you’ll agree that every word is deliberately placed and utterly needed. J.H.’s short story is available for the first time on March 1st and I am thrilled to be celebrating its release with him–and of course, all of you.

J. H. Bográn

Back in 2007, Letra Negra Editores released my first novel in Spanish titled Heredero del Mal—Heir of Evil—. Excited with the prospect of being a “published author,” I organized a book launch party by calling in a few favors, prodding a few sponsors, getting a little wine, crackers and other assorted hors d’oeuvre. The place was not a bookstore, but a cultural center that hosts book launches, painting expositions. It even has a fully-equipped auditorium for plays and concerts. Another advantage of working with them was the extra media exposure. They got me interviews in the country’s two major newspapers and some short TV appearances.

I know what you’re thinking: where’s your made-it-moment?

Well, the moment I can pinpoint as the one happened during the book launch.

It was near the end, after I had ridiculed myself trying to put up a front of calmness when reading in front of the audience. I was sitting at a desk and there was a line—a short one, but a line nonetheless—of people waiting to get their books signed.

I agree that by itself, that was great, but the really special moment was when my 8 year old boy stood right next to me. He looked at the line, then back at me. The corners of his lips turned up as his eyes opened wide. “I’m the son of somebody famous,” he said.

Forget MasterCard. That precious second of pride I saw in his eyes is priceless!

J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José is the author of TREASURE HUNT, the first in a series about a professional thief who goes by the handle of The Falcon. Other works include short stories, contributions to The Big Thrill magazine, two TV serials that were co-written, and movie reviews for the Honduran newspaper La Prensa. He’s a member of the International Thriller Writers and of the online writers’ community Backspace.

February 27, 2012

Made It Moment: Joan Hall Hovey

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:21 am

The Abduction of Mary Rose

Joan Hall Hovey’s Moment–or MomentS–contain some very inspiring words. Words to live by as a writer. The book world is changing all around us–out from under us in some cases. Joan is an inspiration as an author for the way she mines riches from each new leg of her writer’s journey.

She also happens to write some mean WIJ (Women in Jeopardy) novels. If you like psychological suspense, check out Joan’s books. You’ll enjoy a night spent reading late–one pleasure that no matter how the world changes I think we will always enjoy.

Joan Hall Hovey

My obvious made it moment would have been when I sold my first book Listen to the Shadows. I’d been writing for years, short stories and articles, but mostly stories for the confessions magazines, which didn’t give you a byline. I wanted my name on my stories. And I wanted to write a publishable novel.

I began a suspense novel.  And two years later, in November of 1991, I sent it off.  I’d done a lot of research and had a good feeling about it.  I was right.  In February, the phone rang.  I was at the kitchen stove cooking spaghetti.  It was Ann LaFarge, senior editor of Zebra, in New York calling.   I was wild with excitement, but managed to restrain myself from  doing my version of  ‘You like me, you really like me’.  There could be only one reason for them to call. They were going to publish my book.  And they did.  Though first I had to weave in another 25,000 words to bring the book up to the 100,000 word count they wanted.   So one might say that was my made it moment.  I got written up in our local paper, I did book signings (where I didn’t have to cart books with me) and went on TV.   I was a celebrity.  At least in my home town.

Zebra went on to publish my second book Nowhere To Hide. Things were going swimmingly.   Then I wrote Chill Waters, which they turned down.  I was lost,  back to square one. It seemed like square zero.  Back to sending out the book and receiving nice little notes of encouragement, but still rejections.  I was a midlist author and that wasn’t a good thing to be, I learned.  I decided to publish with an ebookpublisher at a time when I was just hearing about ebooks. The experience was less than great, but a learning experience.And certainly humbling.

I’m with a new publisher now, a Canadian publisher, Books We Love Ltd. owned by Jude Pittman and Jamie Hill, both of whom are authors themselves.  And very smart women.  I’ve embraced the new technology in full measure.   At this stage of my life, traveling, doing book signings and all that goes with it, holds little appeal for me, so being an author with a small primarily ebookpress that makes my books available in print as well as download, works well for me.   And when I received my check this month, well, that was another made it moment.  I’m like Maggie Muggins:  “I don’t know what’ll happen tomorrow”.  And you never say never.

Made It Moments come at many junctures in our lives.  Often, when we least expect them.  My first was in grade school when I read my ghost story aloud in class and I was very aware as I read that there was not a cough or a shifting in the seats to be heard.  I held them in the palm of my hand, as the saying goes.  When one girl gasped, I knew total triumph.  And of course when I sold my first short story, that was a made it moment.

The lesson is to keep writing, keep learning.  Never give up. Because it’s really always about the journey.Rarely the destination.  You can have a made it moment next month or next year.  Anything is possible as long as you’re alive, and striving for excellence.

Joan Hall Hovey was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to her suspense novels, her articles and short stories have appeared in such diverse publications as The Toronto Star, Atlantic Advocate, and Mystery Scene. Her short story Dark Reunion was selected for the anthology investigating Women, Published by Simon & Pierre.

Ms. Hovey has held workshops and given talks at various schools and libraries in her area. For a number of years, she has been a tutor with Winghill School, a distance education school in Ottawa for aspiring writers.

She is a member of the Writer’s Federation of New Brunswick, past regional Vice-President of Crime Writers of Canada, Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

She enjoys playing the piano (albeit badly) and spending time with family and her dog Scamp. And especially her 2 year old grandson, Liam. She currently working on her next novel.

February 23, 2012

Made It Moment: Mike Nettleton

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 1:01 pm

Shotgun Start

The first line of Mike Nettleton’s Made It Moment contains some of the truest words I’ve ever read about this writing life. And the last paragraph gave me chills. You couldn’t ask for much more out of a Moment, but Mike gives us more. Like the roller coaster metaphor he used in this piece, Mike takes us on a hairpin ride from the bad old days of snail mail publishing–did I ever confess to you guys that I FedExed my queries out of some mistaken belief that anything I might do would require urgency?–through the very first halting days of e publishing, to the Moment that awaited him at the end of the ride.

Mike Nettleton

Validation, for a writer, is like sugar water to a hummingbird. You need constant nourishment, since you’re devouring your own body weight in ego every time you sit down and try to create. You may be offered sustenance by your friends, your writing group, or even your own internal critic who concedes, occasionally, that you’ve penned something that doesn’t immediately need to find a place in the circular file. But ultimately, to build the strength to go on, you have to make a pitch to an agent or publisher.

I equate it to buying an “E” ticket for the amusement park ride of your hopes, dreams, and ambitions. Once you’ve put that clever, well crafted query in the mail, you’re winding through the turnstiles to take your turn. After handing over your ticket to the slightly disreputable carny with his hand on the lever of The Wolverine of Love (or insert your favorite high-altitude coaster ride name here), you clamber into the tiny car, pull the safety bar across your lap, and start the climb. Step by clackety-clack step you ascend, palms sweating, dizzy and fighting the urge to stand up and scream—“Stop, I want to get off.”

The process seems to take forever: weeks; months; a year or more. And then…
The mailman drops that magic envelope in your box. The one with the return address from Mr. or Ms. high-powered, let’s-auction-it-for-a-huge-advance, it’ll-make-a-great-movie-with-Brad-and-Angelina, agent. With a final click or clack the roller-coaster car pauses at the peak, its nose hanging over the edge, poised for what comes next.

With trembling hands, you reach for whatever’s nearby to slit the envelope open: a letter opener, a butter knife, a fingernail, the schnauzer’s paw. A single sheet emerges from its nest—you open it to read:

Dear Mr. or Ms. Earnest Writer:

Not for us.


You’re hurtling at a million miles an hour down the tracks toward oblivion. Heart and various and sundry other internal organs are in your throat. Your dreams of instant fame and recognition are soon to be dashed at the bottom. You’ll never recover.

But you do. And you write again and buy another ticket for the ride.

In the mid-nineties, my wife and unindicted co-conspirator Carolyn J. Rose and I interested a highly-regarded New York agent, Vicky Bijur in our jointly written farcical mystery The Hard Karma Shuffle. She loved the book, knew she could sell it and urged us to begin writing a sequel, which we did. After a series of nice “no thank yous” from various publishers, she landed us a deal with the startup Ebook division of Time-Warner. Despite the fact we had no clue what an Ebook was and nobody was talking six-figure (or even two-figure) advance, we were ecstatic. The Wolverine had reached the crest and was teetering there.

And then, somehow, the weight shifted to the downhill side of the ride. Time-Warner folded the new division and wasn’t interested in publishing Hard Karma in paperback. Vicky didn’t much like the sequel we’d submitted. Soon, nicely, she notified us she didn’t think it would be fruitful to continue the relationship.


Since that time Carolyn has been published by Five Star and received a small advance and I had Shotgun Start taken around to the big publishers by an Atlanta agency, to no avail. I grew tired of the carnival, put the book away for 4 years, and essentially didn’t submit anything to anyone.

But then, with a little gentle but insistent urging by my wife, I pulled the book out, cut 50,000 words, strengthened some characters and plot lines and submitted it to Ken Lewis of Krill Press who published our jointly written books The Big Grabowski and Sometimes a Great Commotion. His reaction was immediate and gratifying. He thought it was a terrific book and despite thinking it belonged with a larger press, wanted to publish it. We agreed, he came up with a killer cover, and it’s now out in trade paperback and (here’s a little irony) as an Ebook.

But the real “Made it Moment” came when I began seeing sales on Amazon and at the book fairs we attended. They’re not overwhelming, but they are growing and I have high hopes I can duplicate Carolyn’s success story and sell thousands of Kindle and Nook versions to readers. I even got a fan email from a reader recently.

Ultimately, making it means something different now than it did when I started. My writing won’t make me rich and famous, but that’s not the point, really. What I want is for people to read what I’ve written. And that’s happening. People I don’t know, people who have no stake in stroking my ego are, as we speak, smiling at one of my jokes or rooting for Neal Egan to drop-kick his ex-wife to the curb. Perhaps I’ll help them escape from the pressures of their day-to-day life for a few hours.

And the roller coaster ride has shut down for the season.

Mike Nettleton is a retired radio personality who keeps busy writing mystery novels, playing golf, and walking a little white Maltese. He’s the author or co-author of six books including the hard-boiled Neal Egan detective novel Shotgun Start. He’s currently at work on a sequel. Mike is the two-time winner of the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association short story competition and has received national recognition for several advertising campaigns. His wife, Carolyn, is his fiction collaborator and he has a son, Rob, who is a webcasting specialist with Intel.

February 20, 2012

Made It Moment: Nancy Lynn Jarvis

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 10:21 pm

Four Books by Nancy Lynn Jarvis

Nancy Lynn Jarvis wrote her Moment in the form of a letter and upon reading it, I decided a whole new mini-genre was born: the epistolary Made It Moment! There are other ways in which this post is unique. I think I can safely say that I’ve never read about another author having quite this experience. As Nancy is about to tell, there probably isn’t much that’s more pure fun for an author than this…

Nancy Lynn Jarvis

Hi Jenny,
I would love to tell your readers about one of my made it moments. I could tell them about getting an email from a reader saying how much they enjoyed a book of mine, but most writers have had moments like that, so I want to share something a little different. My made it moment was being invited back to Senior Center Without Walls to read my second book to them.

SCWW is an interesting concept. It’s a dial in group serving a big chunk of California around San Francisco. It’s a free service; members need only apply to be given a conference call phone number. The idea is that for one reason or another the members aren’t able to get around easily so they meet virtually. During one of their regularly scheduled spots a group listens to and then discusses a mystery.

I can no longer recall how I found out about the group or convinced them to give me a chance to read one of my books. Many of the attendees have been avid readers and book club members all their lives and it may be that they were willing to let me read my first mystery because the book was fresh meat, a book they hadn’t read during their long reading lives. I was nervous, because reading aloud seemed daunting, and the group had a cumulative history of reading and critiquing enough books that I was additionally intimidated, but I was determined to do the best I could. One day a week I would call in, greet the members who were waiting for me to read, do my bit, and then chat with participants.

I now understand why actors love live theater. Although the attendees were respectfully quiet while I read, every once in a while there would be a chuckle when what I had written was supposed to be funny. Once a very soft, “Awh oh,” slipped out when my protagonist was in danger. When I killed off a character the group liked, attendance dropped the following week and when the audience returned they let me know they were still upset with me for what I had done. I went from almost throwing up before beginning reading to loving what I was doing.

But the book ended, and so, I thought, did my connection with the group. My made it moment came when I got an email from the organizer saying the group members asked her to find out if I had written another book and, if I had, would I read it to them? I now have a standing invitation to read all the mysteries I write. They tell me I write well. They make intelligent comments about the books and ask excellent questions. I’m certain I have more fun with them than they do with me.

I get to read The Widow’s Walk League, the fourth book in the Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries series to them beginning in September and I can hardly wait.

Nancy Lynn Jarvis was a Santa Cruz, California, Realtor® for more than twenty years. She still owns a real estate company with her husband, but she says writing is so much fun that she has officially retired from being an active agent.

Nancy’s work history reflects her philosophy: people should try something radically different every few years. Writing is the latest of her adventures.

She invites you to take a peek into the real estate world through the stories that form the backdrop of her Regan McHenry mysteries. Many of her characters are based on associates and clients she has known — at least until they become suspects, or worse, murderers.

February 18, 2012

My Heart Goes Out

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenny @ 3:55 pm

To the family of author Judi McCoy whom I just learned passed away today. Judi was the author of the dog walker mysteries and a guest on a past Writing Matters panel with fellow hobby mystery author Lois Winston.

Judi was a generous soul who inspired many audience members with her blend of reality, humor, and warmth.

May her memory be honored as she is at rest.

February 15, 2012

Made It Moment: Polly Iyer

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:48 pm


I spotted at least a half-dozen Made It Moments as I read Polly Iyer’s piece–see if you can spot them all :) And then I came to the Moment Polly cites out of them all. And I realized that I’d completely missed the boat. I’d missed it, but Polly knows what the boat is, and boy, is she sailing it. Read on.

Polly Iyer

When Jenny asked me to write a blog post titled My Made-it Moment, I thought, made it? But I haven’t made it. Then I thought longer and harder about what “made it” meant.

Most of the writers in the groups to which I belong claim to have written stories since they were kids. Not me. I drew pictures. All the time. Wherever there was a piece of paper and pencil, I drew something .That led me to art school and a career as an illustrator. Years later, no, decades later, when I needed a diversion because real life became too heavy, I sat down at my computer and started typing out a story. I had an idea, knew the characters, but I didn’t have a clue where I was going, or maybe I should say where the characters were taking me. I went along for the ride. And what a ride. Over the years, I’ve been an ex-call girl, a secret novelist, a wayward wife, a man who spent fifteen years in prison, a blind psychologist, and a psychic. I was anyone I wanted to be as long as there was a twisted tale involved. More importantly, I was hooked on writing.

My stories took me to another place, a place I loved. Being a realist and self-critical to a fault, I thought my first story was interesting with intriguing characters, but I was savvy enough to realize I didn’t know what the hell I was doing as far as the technical aspects. I found an editor on the Internet, wrote him, and he agreed to edit my book. When he reached page 49, he emailed me that the story was great—really, his words—but the writing needed work. No surprise there. I did mention I didn’t know what I was doing, didn’t I?

Still, those words, ‘The story is great,’ had a tremendous impact on me. I still have that book in my computer, still think it’s a good story, but time has passed and I need to rework it. The editor was a character and we became great friends. He worked on three of my books and offered three edits for each one. He helped with sentence structure and the technical elements I knew almost nothing about. Later, when I learned more, I realized he wrote only non-fiction. I mean I knew that, but I didn’t know what he didn’t know because I didn’t know it either. For example, POV wasn’t on his radar. Talk about head-hopping. I went back and forth from one person’s thoughts to another’s, never realizing there needed to be a break. Fortunately, I met two writers when I joined the local chapter of Sisters in Crime who asked if I wanted to critique with them. Why they asked, I’ll never know, but I’ll always be grateful to Ellis Vidler and Linda Lovely because they taught me so much. I still don’t know everything, still make mistakes. Learning to write well is a never-ending journey, and the question marks along the way inspired me to learn more.

I’ve written eight books, a few half-finished that I will finish, and a couple of erotic romances published under a pseudonym. After two years with a wonderful agent who said she’d take me back if I decided to go the traditional route again, I self-published three of my books with another one going up on Amazon within days. Tapping into my artist background, I created the covers, too.

So what was my made-it-moment? Not the words of the editor. Not my first publication—an erotic romance for a traditional publisher. My made-it-moment was finishing that first book, warts and all. The book had a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it told a good story. Don’t let anyone tell you that writing a book is easy because hundreds of people are doing it every day. It’s hard. And don’t think it isn’t a big deal. (Whoops, double negative.) It is. In fact, it’s huge. It truly is a made-it-moment.

Here’s to all who’ve made the journey and finished a book. And a word of encouragement to those en route: keep forging ahead. You’ll see what I mean.

Polly Iyer was born on the coast of Massachusetts and now resides in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina in an empty nest house with her husband and a drooling mutt named Max. She’s been an artist, importer, designer, and store owner, but writing is her passion. She belongs to Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime. Her stand-alone novels can be found on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

February 14, 2012

Made It Moment: Judy Hogan

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:28 pm

Mystery author Judy Hogan shares a Made It Moment that many of us will relate to, one we’ve either experienced or are working toward. It’s that Moment when The Call (or the email) comes and we know we’ve crossed a great divide. Here’s to divide crossing of the greatest kind. And here’s to all of Judy’s other hoped for moments coming true as well.

Judy Hogan

When I received the email from Judith Ivie of Mainly Murder Press, my first thought was that it was a rejection. In my four years of more intensive querying to get published, I’d so far had only rejections, although I’d had my hopes rise with requests for fulls, and especially when I became a finalist in the spring of 2011 in the Malice Domestic First Best Traditional Mystery Contest sponsored by St. Martin’s Press. But even that had led to more rejection from agents.

Then I saw that a contract was attached to Ivie’s email.

I had an explosion of feeling–yes–all in a moment. The best word I’ve found to describe it is ecstasy, in the original meaning of the Greek –ek stasis–standing outside of oneself. I talked to myself, to the dog and the cat, who had no idea what was wrong with me. Then I downloaded the contract and made myself read it carefully, before I replied to Judith Ivie that I’d be sending back the signed contract the next day. Then I called a close friend and left her a message and began sending jubilant emails.

So many threads came together and were knotted in that moment. I am a published poet and creative non-fiction writer, and for ten years I’ve published a column about women in my county for our community newspaper, Chatham County Line. I’ve had readers before. I’ve even given a talk to the Friends of the Pittsboro Library and read them excerpts from an unpublished book about my farm, Pushkin and Chickens. But for the last four and a half years, I’ve focused on my mystery novels: revising, getting good feedback from my librarian friend, Suzanne Flandreau, who’s sympathetic to my “niche” of community activism, and seeking to publish them.

Killer Frost is the sixth novel I’ve written over the last twenty years, and there are eight now. I have a ninth planned for 2012. So the email was a successful culmination of five years of work on a clear target: get a mystery published. I’m a prolific writer, but it’s easier for me to write a new book than to work on publishing the hordes of unpublished ones in drawers, boxes, bookshelves, and on the computer. I had the idea that if I could get one out, I’d get more out. Once the gate was open, the manuscripts would escape. So here was the open gate.

Another thread was readers. George Seferis, the Greek poet who won the Nobel Prize, said that all he needed was three readers. I’ve had more than three readers for my poetry. But a lot more people read mysteries than read poetry, so it meant, I hoped, what I’d dreamed of–one day having my books in people’s bookcases. An earlier Malice Judge, Ellen Rininger, in 2008, gave me helpful feedback on mystery number four. Ellen believed in me and wrote: “Judy, you amaze me. You have the positive outlook which will get you far. And you just keep going. We know you have a good product, you are getting wonderful critiques from knowledgeable people. You are making great connections, and we are going to see your name in print on bookshelves everywhere. Just keep up the good work.”

Another thread was that I was who I thought I was. I am the author I wanted to be. I wasn’t making it up. To keep going, I told myself the story that one day people would want to read my books. Now that was coming true.

Then there’s the thread about aging. When this book comes out, I’ll be seventy-five. I’m healthy. I work at staying healthy, by exercise, diet, staying active, and writing as much as possible. I wrote three books this year and five last year, plus a poetry book. But I have a friend my age who believed age was against us older mystery writers. Maybe it has been, but I can’t say I’ve noticed. Most of the Guppy members I’ve gotten to know have been over fifty, and some have had their first books come out in their sixties, but the sooner I got started getting more books out, the better.

There was still another thread, the most important one. I believe, with Virginia Woolf, that we should write what we wish to write.

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its color, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery, and the sacrifice of wealth and chastity, which used to be said to be the greatest of human disasters, a mere flea-bite in comparison.” [A Room of One’s Own, Harcourt Brace, Jovanovich, New York and London, 1957. Page 110.]

I’ve written what I wanted to write. My friend Margie Ellison used to say, “Speak your heart’s truth.” I’ve dedicated Killer Frost to her. I try to speak my heart’s truth in all my writing. In the mysteries I try to make the truth that I’ve seen in people and their behavior come alive. I’ve trusted not only what I know I think and feel, but a deeper part of me that knows more about what I have not noticed and feel than I do, and can make it alive when I set characters in motion in a story. The story draws things out of me and my experiences that surprise me.

The story and the characters, or call it the Muse, know more than I do. For this experience of creation, which I’ve been lucky enough to have, to go out to the wider world, with my truth in it as well as I could write it, could listen to its heartbeat, feel its pulse, and look into its eyes, feel it breathing in my life, is a great joy. It helps everything else be lighter and easier.

I realized immediately that I was feeling more gracious and generous toward other people. I’ve been pulling away in recent years from activism and activities, so as to give my writing as much time as possible. I’ll still be focused on my writing, less distracted by all the other worthwhile causes and projects, but I do hope my books may work on the two great crises of our twenty-first century, as I see it: learning to take care of our earth, the only planet we have, and learning to see all its people as fellow human beings–looking past the differences of culture, education, religion, ethnicity, age–whatever has tended to separate us and cause us to look down on other human beings as inferior or less important than ourselves. If my published books help even a little to work on these crises, then I will feel that I and my writing have done the work we set out to do in the one lifetime we are given.

Judy Hogan is a published poet and non-fiction writer, who lives and farms in Moncure, N.C. Killer Frost, her first published mystery is due out from Mainly Murder Press Sept. 1, 2012.

February 12, 2012

Correspondence With an Emerging Writer

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 10:47 pm

One of the most amazing things about this writing life is the connections it builds between authors, writers, and readers everywhere. My world feels like one of those maps with pushpins sprouting up all over. It’s heart-warming, enriching, and exciting–something I’m grateful for every day.

Recently, an emerging writer has shared some questions and ideas as he seeks a home for his novel of hope, loss, and inspiration. It’s been interesting for me to correspond with someone who is entering the biz at a time when multiple paths are available for getting your work out there. No more is it a given that you will query and query and query, until your fingers bleed, or you give up, or you finally break through.

This increased complexity is both liberating and confusing, and I hope that the Q&A between Derek and myself may clarify things and/or trigger a dialog of the sort Suspense Your Disbelief readers are so great at having. So with no further ado, Derek, please take it away.

Derek McFadden: Recently, I was directed to a website where an agent was giving advice. I’ve been querying for a while with no luck, and have been considering self-publishing as an alternative. Perhaps I could gain some insight from this agent. I that said that I think my novel is outside of a particular genre. Genre bending, if you will. Her response was: “Perhaps the fact that you’re not sure which genre your book is in turns some agents off. Whenever I read a question like yours, I think, Does the author understand the market they’re writing for?”

As a writer, should I find a genre and write to that market? Or should my focus be to write the best book I can? Shouldn’t an agent want fresh and new [material]? Even if this involves changing his or her expectations a bit?

Why do writers become writers in the first place? Because they love to write and create. Place constantly shifting market trends as the path for an author to get his or her foot in the door, and you might drive a writer crazy.

Jenny Milchman: Sometimes agents will say something like, “This is too hard to market” because it seems better than saying, “Hey, I just didn’t like this.” (And keep in mind that this take is always subjective, the opinion of just one person, unless you keep hearing the same thing over and over again). I think this contributes to a resentment on the part of writers much as you’re expressing:

Why would they want *another* stale vampire love story? The answer is: They don’t. It’s just a shorthand of sorts.

Another thing to consider is that agents need to sell books and editors need to buy books that will sell. That doesn’t mean writing to trends–and any real agent or editor is far too wise to believe you should do this. By the time a manuscript is written, edited, and published, any trend bubble will likely have popped a long time ago. But it does mean they’re looking for books that fit into established, albeit broad, parameters.  Romance readers read voraciously and they have certain expectations. Same for mystery readers and the other genres. Literary fiction can be a catch-all category, but even here conventions apply. For instance, the writing and characters are given the most attention.

Now does this mean some gems will be missed? Definitely. That’s why every so often there’s a sleeper that was turned down everywhere and surprises everyone. But as a rough strategy the above works.

Once you venture into self-publishing, things change. There is less money to be spent up front and thus much less risk. Put something totally different up and see if it has the potential to take off, or simply attract the few, loyal readers such an unusual animal can’t help but draw when the playing field encompasses millions. When there’s not a lot of money at stake, the so-called long tail can come into play. Agents and editors can’t hang out in the long tail because their model depends on large numbers. That’s one of the liberating things about self-publishing.
DMF: Here’s the funny thing about me. If an agent doesn’t like my book, I wish they’d just flat-out say that, and maybe take a sentence or two to tell me why. Instead of, “I didn’t connect with this story,” say, “I didn’t like this because…” Why not?

JM: The reason agents don’t explain why is because doing so requires specific analysis. Agents, as we all know, are overwhelmingly busy. They don’t have the time to think why they didn’t like something, much less put it in terms that will be helpful and comprehensible to the (rightfully) invested author. The other reason I’ve heard agents give for not doing this is because offering feedback, however minimal, often invites rebuttal or argument from the author, whereas a generic reply (i.e., a form) doesn’t.
DMF: I’m leaning away from self-publishing because I just don’t think I alone can generate a large number of readers. Really, when you get down to it, what are the chances of hitting it big?
JM: I’m going to go out on a limb here and say your (or anyone’s) chances of making it big in traditional or self-publishing are almost exactly the same.  To put a number on that–basically zero. Historically—and consistently—about 200 authors made a living off their fiction. E publishing has already made that number rise. Midlist authors are able to pay the light bill, the mortgage, and discretionary expenses with income from formerly out of print books or from new works they’ve decided to e-publish. But make it big? Stephen King kind of big? Very few get that lucky. Even with talent, there’s a lot of luck involved. But the Big 6 aren’t going to find that many Stephens, James or Janets, either. More than on the indie field? Possibly—that remains to be seen. But there just aren’t that many people who write what a huge number of people love—and there never have been.

DMF: As an author, I am experienced. As a query-er, I am not. I freely admit this, because I think the query may be the wall that’s up in front of me right now.

JM:  Getting the query right is definitely crucial—you’re smart to separate out the two writing challenges. The template for a query that I used myself went like this:

  1. An introductory sentence explaining why I was querying this particular agent. I began querying in the bad old days before email. When you’re sending snail mail letters—or worse, FedEx, as I was green and stupid enough to do, as if anything in this business ever moves fast—you make sure you’re targeting agents intelligently, or try to. I recommend against email blasts. Find agents who rep authors you love or who are actively looking for work similar to yours (which brings us back to the start of this discussion).
  2. A pitch paragraph, set off from the rest of the letter/query, and in bold font. The pitch should read like the flap copy of novels like yours. Pick up books you admire and read their flaps (or Amazon product descriptions) aloud. Writing the pitch can be harder than writing the whole novel, I think. If you are struggling with it, a bare bones approach is to boil your novel down to five sentences: one for the beginning, 1/3 turning point, middle, 2/3 turning point, end. These sentences will be the skeleton of your pitch. Add a little flesh to turn it into flap copy and you’re good to go. (This is also an excellent exercise to gain a rough sense of how the structure of your novel is working).
  3. Any credentials you have that are relevant to your being an author. These could include your professional background if you’re a lawyer and you wrote a legal thriller; or it could be publication credits you’ve amassed. Just make sure anything you include isn’t “small potatoes.” It’s better in this industry to be new and undiscovered than around the block several times. A query’s purpose is to paint your book—and you—in the best possible colors.
  4. A pleasant sign off whereby you offer a partial or full manuscript upon request.


Thanks so much for sharing your process so far, D. Whether you continue to pursue traditional publishing, or swim off into uncharted waters, I know you’ve written a meaningful book that will draw readers. I wish you the best of everything with it—I know you’ll be sharing your Made It Moment here one day.

February 10, 2012

Guest Post: Carolyn J. Rose

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 1:20 pm
Contest Update: Congratulations to reader Lucy Francis who won a signed copy of Carolyn’s novel A PLACE OF FORGETTING! Thank you all for entering, and here’s to many more giveaways to come!

A Place Of Forgetting

Please welcome back author Carolyn Rose to the blog, with a deeper-than-the-usual look at what makes for chemistry between protagonists and heroes in books. Not to mention a much-funnier-than-the-usual look at marriage. Her own.

Leave a comment with your own thoughts about how an author depicts genuine feeling between characters, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Carolyn’s A PLACE OF FORGETTING. This not-a-love-story, not-a-mystery book is something pretty special, crossing genres and appealing to readers who like their emotion real and laid out for the reader to feel.

Carolyn J. Rose

Recently, I looked up from a mystery and said to my husband, “I just don’t feel much chemistry between the protagonist and her love interest.”

Mike, who had read the book a few weeks earlier, frowned. “I did,” he said in an insistent tone.

Now, anyone who’s been in almost any kind of a relationship knows that the other person will sometimes take the opposite view not because he or she has a firm grip on that 180-degree opinion, but for a number of other reasons. Those can be based in the history of the relationship, conflict-riddled events within that history (recent or dredged from the distant past), or the desire to play devil’s advocate, stir things up to break the routine, or just be a pain in the butt for the amusement value of doing that.

But, I digress.

Grilled about his statement, Mike seemed sincere about his impression. He stuck to his contention that he felt a chemical reaction—indeed even significant heat—between the characters. I maintained that I’d see more sparks if I struck two slices of bread together in the rain. (Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but on a character chemistry scale ranging from icy to sizzling to three-alarm blaze, my needle got no farther than tepid.)

Neither of us would budge. So my choices were 1) to consider that he was misreading, misguided, or missing no opportunity to tweak me, 2) to determine whether I had some prejudice against the characters, 3) to admit that I might have missed something crucial, perhaps while reading too rapidly or in a near-sleep state one step above coma, or 4) to examine the text for evidence to either back up my opinion or change it.

I studied the alternatives presented by this four-tined fork in the literary/emotional road. Choice number 3, admitting to a weakness of my own, seemed, well, weak. Choice number 1, putting the blame on him, seemed like, well, the same old same old. That left me to examine whether I was carrying baggage where these characters were concerned—baggage from previous encounters or baggage based on their backstories. Had I read an earlier book and not liked it? Did one of the characters have a name I loathed? A name of say, a former boyfriend?

Nope, no baggage.

So I was down to choice number 4, examining the text for the elements that I feel create chemistry between characters.

First I looked at whether the male character filled a hole in her heart, satisfied a need in her life. It seemed that he did. Then I searched scenes where they were in conflict and found several. Good. I winnowed through the dialogue hunting for witty exchanges. Check. Quite a few of those. I considered their faults and then whether he seemed to have been created simply as a love interest or as a character with other purposes. No problems there. Plenty of faults. Plenty of other reasons for him to exist.

I dug some more. And that’s when I discovered what it was about the male love interest that kept me from seeing him as a satisfying match for the protagonist, a smart, strong-willed woman, capable and independent.

It was mostly a matter of adjectives and verbs and how those descriptive modifiers and action words resonated with me—or in this case, didn’t resonate with me—as a reader/voyeur watching the protagonist and her lover.

But it went deeper than that. I found I also responded to those words as a woman—a woman projecting herself into the role of the female protagonist and imagining herself involved with that man on many levels—intellectually, emotionally, and sexually.

And I just couldn’t see it. He wasn’t my kind of guy.

For one thing, he didn’t have enough bulk, enough physical presence. He was tall and slender. Tall is good. Slender? Not so much. Weighing in right on the line (and sometimes a smidge on the wrong side) of a body mass index number that’s barely acceptable, I gravitate toward clothing that makes me look thinner. Why would I pick a man who would make me look heavier?

And, this male character was enchanted with people and things. That seemed too much like a prince in a never-gonna-happen-to-me fairy tale. I grew up in a practical family populated by carpenters, nurses, and teachers. That could explain why the guys I go for aren’t enchanted or beguiled or enraptured or charmed or intrigued or captivated or delighted or infatuated or dazzled or even fascinated. The guys I go for are hooked, riveted, excited, stimulated, fired up, overwhelmed, or overpowered.

The male love interest walked softly. He may even have danced or skimmed in the course of the story. I want a man who puts his feet down with purpose. I want to know where he is when he’s walking around the house.

I always knew that verbs were important, but now I saw how they burrowed into my mind, linked up with my personal backstory, and formed opinion. Now I saw why the love interests I created for my characters had some heft to them, some degree of earthboundness. (And, yes, my computer insists that isn’t a word, but I’m going with it anyway.)

Pleased with myself for putting in so much effort and thought, I thumbed through the book, citing evidence for my conclusions as I presented them to my husband. “See,” I said when I finished, “you sort of became him when you read this and you felt a connection to her because she’s the kind of woman you like. But I sort of became her and couldn’t connect to him because I’m still me and he’s not what I look for in a man, so I didn’t feel anything between them.”

He glanced up from the TV, considered for a second, and then said, “Well, I still think they had plenty of chemistry.”

What could I do after spending hours thumbing through pages, highlighting phrases (it was a paperback and I owned it), and formulating a theory?

I threw the book at him.

Carolyn J. Rose grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. Now getting her quota of stress as a substitute teacher, she lives in Vancouver, Washington, and founded the Vancouver Writers’ Mixers. Her hobbies are reading, gardening, and not cooking. She is the author of a number of novels, including No Substitute for Murder, A Place of Forgetting, An Uncertain Refuge, and Hemlock Lake.

She has also authored five books with Mike Nettleton, her long-suffering husband. He recently released a solo effort, Shotgun Start.

February 8, 2012

So Then What Happened?

Filed under: Frontstory,The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:52 pm

So my novel finally sold after 11 years, and the excitement came amidst mundanities, like housecleaning (that’s me at the bottom of the stairs) and routine medical appointments. It took me a while to believe what had happened. It took me a while not to feel numb.

One thing I need to say, before I tell you guys what happened next, is something related to a very core belief of mine. I had enough time, while the publishing world was changing underneath all of us, to learn a lot about the different publishing paths. There are three main ones–traditional, small press, and indie–and I think they all have different things to offer. There are pros and cons to each.

Some of the details I’m going to talk about here are unique to the traditional publishing path because that’s the one I felt was right for me–and the one that opened to me at the right time. In the end, getting published will always be a combination of kismet, stars aligning, and the alchemy of knowing when to leap.

Anyway, some of these details will sound great. Some of them come with a cost (hello, twenty month delay till you see my book). Some of them I don’t even know yet. I pledge to be honest with you, the readers that come here, who mean so much to me. I’ll be honest about everything and I hope that doesn’t ever strike you amiss. If it does, please write me so we can talk about what I might be missing or not understanding.

Anyway…with that said…You know how, when you’ve been trying something for a very long time, you get used to the state where that something hasn’t happened? Then it happens, and you’re catapulted into another state, and you almost don’t feel like you’re you anymore.

This was me: I was unpublished. I was an aspiring writer. I was the one who kept coming close, but not q-u-i-t-e making it.

Now…I was going to be an author.

I still can’t say those words and feel quite like me. It was like when I met my husband-to-be after years of being the single Sally. (Is that a phrase or did I just make it up? Oh well. Let’s go with it). Anyway, I couldn’t get used to saying, “My boyfriend/fiance/husband.” I was Single Sally.

After a book sells, two things happen. I’d been hearing about them for, oh, a decade or so.

The first thing is that an announcement appeared in Publishers Lunch. Pub Lunch is an offshoot of Publishers Marketplace, which is a service I recommend to every writer I meet who’s looking for an agent. On PM there is a sidebar with ‘agents actively looking’. These agents are building a client list and they are GOOD.  I met my agent this way.

But I never expected to see in PM something else, namely the announcement that my book had sold, with a title, description, and whose work the publisher was comparing it to.

By the way, I’m fuzzing two things out for two reasons. The first is the pitch used to sell my book. It contains a spoiler that I am really hoping my publisher finds a workaround for the flap copy. I don’t want to give this away to you guys! It’s a surprise that comes at the end of the first chapter. I’m also fuzzing out my agent’s name. Some of you have written me over the years and know that I do share my agent’s name, even refer someone to her when the work might be right. So never hesitate to get in touch if this is something you’d like to talk about.

Publisher's Lunch Announcement

This is my book. I have to say that again. This is my book, right there, right here, for other people to see. It existed, and now me, my agent, my loyal trustys, and family–them of the Gat Publisht kids–weren’t the only people to know about it.

I felt so…real.

The phone calls and emails started coming in as soon as that announcement appeared. Early. An author whose book I’d loved last year contacted me. I can still see myself, standing by the kitchen counter–cleaning again–talking to a dear writer friend I hadn’t spoken to in over a year. The bringing together of people is one of the most powerful aspects of books for me.

The next thing that happened took some preparation. My new editor invited me and my agent to lunch. Because this is raw and real and I promised to tell you guys the truth, I will add that my husband called up the restaurant website and then he said, “Whoa.”

We’ve lived in or outside NYC all our lives. We’re fairly used to city dining. But to think that someone had chosen this restaurant to take me to–just because I had written a book–well, that was another sort of dream come true.

Of course, I had to buy a dress. And get my hair cut. And do something about my makeup, or lack thereof. I’m someone who spends a lot of days in my pajamas–and this was even more true 8 months ago.

That lunch was like a fairy tale. It was as if some sprite had come and draped the hard, fast-paced city with airy webs of light and sprigs of flowers. It was a time and a place out of time and place. My agent arrived first and she and I had a second to trade a hug and then my editor arrived and we all just really…clicked.

My editor and agent are clearly good people people–you’d have to be in the positions they occupy in the industry–and maybe all authors feel like this at their first lunches, but there seemed to be something special about this one. Something that felt destined. It had taken me a long time, such a long, hard, painful time, but I felt like I had wound up in the place I was always meant to be.

Midway through that lunch, my editor felt comfortable enough to tell me I had something on my lip.

And I felt comfortable enough to laugh about it.

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