Susan is guest blogging today at It’s Only a Novel. She discusses her time in the publishing business, from her first award-winning novel, BACK ROADS, to her work on the upcoming novel, WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD.
Susan Crandall’s Back Roads E-Book is being featured in Grand Central Publishing’s summer romance promotion, and from July 2 through July 30, it will be available from E-Book Retailers (including Amazon, iTunes, Barnes and Noble / Nook, Google Play Store, Kobo and more) for just $2.99. Put the RITA winner for best first book on your summer reading list!
One of the big decisions for a wedding reception is what tunes to spin for those special dedicated dances. When my son was married a few years ago, I had a back up song in my mind, just in case he couldn’t decide on one. He would have been mortified with my pick, so I’m glad he chose The Beatles’ “The Long and Winding Road.” It was fitting in so many ways. For those of you who can’t stand not knowing what I would have inflicted upon him, my pick was Rascal Flatts’ “My Wish.” My son the indie rocker is no country music fan, so it worked out. I’ve thought about his choice on many occasions since that beautiful day and I’ve decided this is a song for life.
Paths not taken. Roads that veer away from due north. The chance meeting that changes a life. We’ve all been there on some level. My entire writing career has been a very winding road. First of all, it wasn’t the path I set out on; it was one that appeared at my feet one day (my little sister laid it there) when I was a mother of two grade-schoolers and not particularly looking for a new life path. Still, without hesitation, I turned and took that path. I followed my gut and my gut alone. I was a science major. What did I know about writing a novel? But a novel it was, nothing else appealed, not essays or short stories—guess I’m far too long winded.
Then came the “chance meeting” that gave me a shove in the direction that would finally lead to publication. I wrote a fan letter laced with a few crucial writing questions to a prominent and popular author, which led to an unexpected phone call… which led to an on-line writing group (which then led to my now longtime friend and critique partner Karen White) and to Romance Writers of America. Now I was learning! And yet, it would still be several more years and four more unpublished novels before my first award winning novel, BACK ROADS, landed on the shelves at bookstores everywhere, as they say.
After I signed a contact with a Warner Books, I visited their offices in the Time Warner Building. When I stepped into their conference room, I was stunned. I was standing in a room I’d seen on 60 Minutes when they did a piece on Nicholas Sparks. I remembered watching it and thinking “wouldn’t it be cool if my book was discussed in a room like that.” And, as that road winds yet again, it turned out that was where the decision to purchase BACK ROADS was made. Gave me shivers!
BACK ROADS was followed by eight more women’s fiction novels. All published by Warner Books, now Grand Central Publishing. I was fortunate enough to work with the same editor for all nine.
And now, another change of path. I’m working on a book that is entirely different from any I’ve done before—and I’m loving it! I recently contracted with Gallery, an imprint of Simon and Schuster for publication of this novel, WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD. It’s slated for July 2013. And guess who my new editor is? I’m thrilled to say, it’s the same editor I’d worked with at Grand Central! Our paths cross unexpectedly yet again on the long and winding road.
There is never a shortage of aspiring writers out there wondering how to break in to the publishing industry. We’re in a rapidly changing world when it comes to publishing fiction, so keep your eyes open for new and unexpected opportunities. Because I’ve traveled the road to traditional print publishing through a large publishing house, I’ll address that path. Many small presses and e-publishers are popping up, and shouldn’t be ignored. I think the professional approach I’m suggesting will work well no matter who your target publisher is.
The Polished Manuscript
An aspiring writer needs a polished manuscript, and I do mean you’ve done all you can to eliminate annoying errors as well as polished the prose. This manuscript will be your representative out there in the world. It should make you proud. Many aspiring writers are so excited for publication, they submit their work before it is ready. Don’t give in to the temptation.
Before aspiring writers send a manuscript, they will want to do some research to hone in on those houses who publish or agents who represent the type of work they’re trying to market. Different publishers can specialize in different genres (mainstream fiction, sci-fi, mystery, romance, etc. and all of their sub-genres). There are tools on the internet like AgentQuery.com, which can assist aspiring writers in the process. But the old fashioned way works, too: Look in the acknowledgement page of your favorite novels. Most authors will thank their agents and editors.
Aspiring Writers (Usually) Should Not Submit to the Publisher
The aspiring writers’ directly submitted novel is not likely to be read. Most large publishing houses don’t review unagented material. Nothing personal against aspiring writers, it’s simply a way to sift through the mountains of manuscripts they receive each month. Essentially, the agent does some of the vetting. The writer’s time is better spent partnering with a literary agent. It createss the highest chance of publication.
For both literary agents and publishers (via the agent) your first contact will be a short, simple query letter. The letter should be delivered either by mail or email. Research to find out how the agent being approached prefers to receive submissions.
A query letter should be kept to a single page. All the writer needs is to catch the agent’s interest. Do not deliver an entire synopsis of your book. Again, this is the only thing an editor or an agent will know about you. Be professional in your presentation and your tone.
Open with who you are, what writing credits you already have (previously published short stories, novels, articles, etc.) If you’ve won any writing competitions, list them. This alone is a good reason to enter contests. Are you a creative writing major? Have you attended intensive writing workshops? Include anything that says you’re serious about your work. Don’t panic if you don’t have any of these. I only had the workshop thing and some contest recognition when I started. This is also a good place to mention if you have any special insight to your subject matter. The paragraph should state what you’re presenting for consideration (a 100,000 word romantic suspense novel; a 85,000 word Regency period historical romance; a 120,000 word contemporary action adventure novel set in Monte Carlo).
The next paragraph should be your hook for your novel. Think of it as a back cover blurb. Stick to the main character, the main plot thread. Here’s an example from my query for BACK ROADS, my first published novel:
Sheriff Leigh Mitchell must face the unimaginable, the disappearance of a young woman from her quiet community. Will Scott, self proclaimed drifter, arrives in Glens Crossing at precisely the wrong moment.
Here’s a sneak peek at the book cover for my upcoming romantic thriller, Sleep No More (January 2010). Just a little scary, just a little sexy — just like the book.
For those of you who don’t already know, as a general rule we authors get to see our book covers when they’re just about a done deal. Which I suppose is a smart idea. Writers write. Publishers and marketing departments sell. And that’s the name of the game, after all — sell that book! The sole purpose of the cover is to get you, the reader passing by in the retail store, to stop and pick up the book, read the back cover copy (which generally is also written by someone other than the writer of the novel).
We novelists sometimes have a problem with being concise when it comes to describing our stories. Back cover copy is an entirely different skill set. Of course, there are authors who possess both. I am not one of them. But I digress.
Back to book covers. Although I was privilaged to have my publisher use an idea I offered for Sleep No More (the van partially submerged in the water, which was one of the most fun-to-write scenes in the book) I still did not see the cover until it was finished. Luckily, I was thrilled with the finished product.
Another fun fact about book covers, there are actually contests devoted to cover art. Two of my book covers have been nominated for said awards: Back Roads and A Kiss in Winter.
Truly beauty is in the eyes of the beholder … but a beautiful cover can still fail to prompt the desired response … a reader picking up the book. I have had people tell me they chose my book because of the cover. Which is wonderful. But I would urge folks to open up that cover and read the first page before dismissing a book because the cover does not appeal to you. The words inside could very well sing to your heart.
Because this is my first author blog on this site, I’ll give a bit of a rundown on how I came to be here — and how I ended up with this fabulous career as an author.
Before She was an Author
Unlike many writers, I didn’t major in English Literature (I was a science major) and I didn’t begin penning stories as soon as I learned to write. My path was much more convoluted and, yes, I’ll admit it, serendipitious. Born with a love for words, and raised as an avid reader, it seems that the idea of becoming a writer really should have crossed my mind without prompting. Alas, it did not.
It wasn’t until my younger sister, she of the avid imagination, came to me one day with a stack of track-feed (yes, it was that long ago) computer paper and admitted to “closet writing” that my adventure as a novelist began. Working with her on that manuscript I discovered that although I loved reading, I knew less than nothing about novel construction and even less than that about the publishing industry.
Becoming an Author
The most serendipitous even of all: I wrote a letter (real snail mail, mind you) to the author of one of my favorite books Outlander. Imagine my shock when I received an actual telephone call from Diana Gabaldon herself! She was amazing and kind. She pointed me in the direction of the two organizations that ended up changing my life: CompuServe’s (again, it was a while ago) Writer’s Forum and Romance Writers of America. Those two connections opened up a whole new world for me.
Now I have eight published novels (six women’s fiction and two romantic suspense), the ninth, another romantic thriller, SLEEP NO MORE, is slated for January 2010. I’ve been honored with my very own RITA, as well as other awards that are so very precious to me. I might have gotten here without fate intervening, but it certainly gave me a big boost.
So, the lesson learned: persistence and patience, hard work and committment will someday deliver your dreams to your door. And sometimes it gets a little help along the way.