Since I’ve been published I’ve followed quite a few writers’ groups, and I’ve noticed one general theme in discussions about process: everyone does it their own way. Some rise at dawn and put in exactly two hours, then stop. Some can only write at night, some can only draft their stories long-hand. So I would advise any ambitious writer to find his or her own technique; in other words, do whatever works for you. Don’t feel foolish if you can only write standing up or in five-minute increments, or even in the bathtub. The key is to finish the story. Oh, and to submit it.
My first novel rose almost fully formed from a dream (a truly delicious dream). I wrote a first draft with the dream in my head. I shouldn’t have done it that way. I redrafted probably fifteen times and yet still found inconsistencies on the final run-through before release. I suggest you make an outline—no, not “I. A. 1. a.” stuff (unless you like that sort of thing), but write a general summary of the story and description of the characters. Chances are that as it unfolds the story will depart dramatically from your initial outline, but at least you’ll know the general direction in which it’s headed.
The old adage—write what you know—is absolutely true. If you write about a place or topic of which you’re ignorant the reader will immediately sense it. Authenticity is paramount. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t do a lot of research to ensure the accuracy of the details. My latest book (to be released July 27), Losers Keepers, is set on the island of Chincoteague (yes where the ponies are). I’ve stayed there probably 40 times and at all seasons, yet when I was writing the book I spent weeks driving around the island, checking out every intersection, nook, cranny, restaurant, and telephone book.
Do as I tell you in #3, but take advantage of the internet! I check facts constantly while I’m writing and editing, and search engines like Google allow you to do so quickly and easily. It’s a godsend. Do NOT rely on Spell Check or the thesaurus etc. that come with your software. They’re produced by techno-geeks. Have you ever seen a computer manual without a typo?
Do not try to rein them in. Even their names attach themselves like leeches to your characters. Accept it with grace. The only thing you can really control are their looks.
You will read this on every Submission Guideline page: “Edit your manuscript to within an inch of its life before submitting.” The acquisitions editor should not find a single spelling, grammar, or formatting error. Full disclosure: I employ the “Oxford comma” throughout this essay in protest of the recent decision by Oxford to drop it from their style guide. But when you submit your manuscript any penchant for punctuation protest should be muffled.
Get any friends who write or edit—at least 2 or 3—and ask them to read and critique your nearly perfect manuscript. What sounds cute or funny or really original in your little study cave may not stand the test of third-party scrutiny. Remember, you want people to read your book; otherwise you might as well shove it in a drawer.
Just do it. And don’t forget to write down the date you sent the manuscript. Even more important, make sure your submission has all the information in the required order and the formatting requested by the publisher. Otherwise you’re wasting your time—they sure as heck won’t waste theirs.
9. Dealing with publishers and editors.
Remember, every actor in your little publication play has a certain expertise. Most publishers and editors are writers themselves, but they also know what sells, what their readers want, and tend to be real sticklers for proper style. Appreciate them: they are vital to the success of your book. And when your editor tells you to eliminate your favorite secondary character, wait a day before you send that whiny (or screechy) reply, think it over, and do what she/he tells you. Total rewrites can be very fulfilling. In my favorite cartoon the editor says to the aspiring writer: “We loved all the words in your manuscript, but we were wondering if you could maybe put them in a completely different order.”
Promote, promote, promote—any and all ways. If you have money, advertise, make trailers of your books, get your name and cover in every magazine, go to conventions. If you don’t have any money, there are still tons of ways to get your name out there. I added a signature with my book information to my emails (many authors add their banners) and promote on-line on readers’ groups and through exchanges with other writers. One avenue I discovered is to send a blurb to your college or trade magazine. Another is to join an Amazon readers’ forum. My heroines tend to be in their 30s and 40s and I joined a group called something like Readers Who Like Older Characters. Through it I found my target audience as well as other writers of the same genre. The funniest method I’ve heard of is one writer who goes into computer stores and sets all the display models to her website. Hey, why not?
So I’ve thrown out some thoughts on what I’ve learned since plunging into the world of publishing. I’m looking forward to comments/suggestions/addenda, but hopefully not corrections!
Meredith, thank you for sharing your Top Ten List...very good advice.
Oh, absolutely. Even at my (undisclosed) age I still believe in romance and true love, although I’m beginning to understand that not everyone will find either one, and that not everyone even needs it. Consider Charlotte Lucas in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet’s best friend, she married the pompous Mr. Collins and explained it to Elizabeth thus: “I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connections and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.”
For those of us who still dream that the lightning bolt will hit us, romance novels supply a stopgap while we wait. The vicarious pleasure of reading about a woman finding and keeping true love can fill the empty hole in our hearts until our own comes along.
What is your all-time favorite romantic movie (comedy or drama etc.)?
It would have to be Ninotchka (1939) with Greta Garbo. I believe it’s the only movie in which she laughed. I never tire of watching the transformation from repressed Soviet cocoon into freedom-loving butterfly. I also love When Harry Met Sally because it proves that love will eventually win out no matter how long you suppress it, and Philadelphia Story, because it so cleverly displays just how complicated people can make their own lives.
Where is the most exotic place you’ve ever traveled to?
By way of introduction, I’ve lived in and traveled to countries on five continents. There are places I still yearn to see, but of the ones I’ve been to I can narrow it down to two as the most exotic: Morocco and Peru. Morocco’s food, culture, landscape, and history are as colorful as any I’ve seen. Peru’s culture and food are a romantic mix of so many civilizations, but it’s the wildlife there that’s amazing. On a trip into the Amazon I saw capybaras, tiny bats, the smallest primate in the world, parrots, toucans, monkeys, pink dolphins, piranha, tapirs, and more. One morning I walked out of my room to see a bird catch a tarantula five inches in diameter and eat it in three crunching bites. I stepped back inside.
Wow, I would love to visit Morocco and Peru...not so sure I'd like to see any tarantulas up close and personal, though.
eBook, 72,000 words, M/F (3 flames), contemporary romantic suspense
Buy from: www.secretcravingspublishing.com
Losers Keepers will be released July 27 from Secret Cravings Publishing.
Set on the Atlantic barrier island of Chincoteague, it follows a beautiful writer as she becomes enmeshed unconsciously in murder and unwillingly in romance. Here is the blurb:
Dagne Lonegan, aka Dear Philomena, advice dispenser extraordinaire, hoped that spending a year on the Eastern Shore island of Chincoteague to write her novel would clear her sinuses, if not her heart, of any feelings for Jack Andrews, erstwhile lover and long-time jerk. It’s just her luck that her first week on the island she’s in the right place at the right time to be involved with a murder. Only she doesn’t know it. Unfortunately, the murderer doesn’t know she doesn’t know. Strange and dangerous things begin happening to her, interfering with her new romance with Tom Ellis, the handsome manager of the National Wildlife Refuge. Complications ensue when her Jack arrives to take charge of the murder investigation.
Will Dagne stick with the tall, cool glass of a Ranger or fall back into the arms of her first tempestuous passion?
Sounds very intriguing. Definitely caught my interest.
Chloe Gray, Washington writer, meets Michael Keller, CIA troubleshooter, in a world in chaos, but he appears unpredictably, leaving Chloe limp and lovelorn. Looking for safe harbor, she yields to Emile, a dashing French diplomat. Will she embrace the luxury and comfort of Emile and his chateau or the romance of international intrigue with Michael?
Lost in His Arms, published 2009 by Red Rose Publishing
eBook, 61,000 words,
Contemporary Romance, Action/Adventure; M/F; 3 flames
Buy link: www.redrosepublishing.com/books/product_info.php?manufacturers_id=282&products_id=17
Sounds like another interesting book! Love the plots you are creating.
What do you do when David, your husband of a year, ups and disappears? If you’re Rose Culloden, a beautiful, wealthy woman in her forties who had despaired of finding happiness, you do anything to find him. The trail takes you first to the North Woods of Maine, then to Florida, and back again to western Maine. Along the way you meet James Stewart—a Maine guide—who vividly highlights the contrast between a real man and your delicate Harvard professor of a husband. Loyal to your marriage despite your powerful attraction to James, it takes the dramatic discovery that David is not just vicious and venal, but insane, to free your heart for true love.
Lost and Found, published 2010 by Red Rose Publishing
eBook, 69,000 words, ISBN 978-1-60435-707-3
Contemporary Romance, Action/Adventure; M/F; 3 flames
Buy link: www.redrosepublishing/books/product_info.php?manufacturers_id=282&products_id=654
Both books are also available at: www.amazon.com, www.bookstrand.com, www.allromanceebooks.com, and www.fictionwise.com .
Besides romance, I am readying some children’s stories for publication. Your readers may be interested in my long story, Lila’s Island, which tells the story of the dove that Noah sent out from the Ark. It is a parable of sorts, aimed at middle school readers (although it is eminently suitable as a read-aloud story to younger children).
Meredith, thanks so much for guesting today. It was very nice chatting with you today and learning about your very intriguing books. You can find Meredith online at her website and blog:
If you would like to read an excerpt of Lost & Found, click on the "Read More" link below.
Rose would never forget the tight knot of panic squeezing her heart as she looked down, down an almost thousand-foot drop to moss-dusted crags, down through the cold wraiths of mist circling the mountain in the chill September air. Ignoring the fear, she took a tentative step forward, away from the comfort of the cliff face, felt the icy breath of high altitude fan her face, and retreated. What she'd thought was solid rock behind her yielded slightly and she froze, engulfed in a surge of terror. I’m going to fall. I’m going to die in agony, crushed on those distant jagged spears. The rock behind her moved again. She began to totter forward, but a furry paw seized her elbow. The paw tightened its grip, and Rose let it pull her sideways, back into a gap between the damp stone walls.
Okay, Rose, girl. Steady. Take a deep breath. Now, open your eyes and look at the paw. Five fingers encased in a furry glove. Okay. It’s human. She followed the fur up a forearm, then to a broad furry chest. She risked a peek at the dark face, encircled with more fur. It was scrunched up, not with the cold but with a cold fury. The deep brown eyes flashed. She meekly dropped her own. “I was perfectly safe, Mr. Stewart,” she whispered. Did that sound as stupid to him as it did to me?
The face scowled. Her rescuer moved around Rose and knocked lightly with his heel at the ledge on which she'd been standing. A large chunk broke off and tumbled in crumbly bits into the ether. She heard pops and bangs as it immolated itself on the crags below. Still scowling, he turned back to her. “Get back to the others.” His voice was deep and primal.