>The Birth of a Novel, Query to Publication

>I’ve self-published two novels and will bring out two more this year. I’ve been asked how it differs from publishing via a conventional publisher. The answer: in almost every way. As former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin said of his decision to self-pub his book, “When you hand your book over to a publisher, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

My most recent blogs have focused on my experiences in conventional publishing. It’s brought back memories, both pleasant and unpleasant–but the most unforgettable experience any author can have is the sale and publication of their first novel. 

I queried Maria Carvainis, who became my agent, in May 1984, and received her response, asking to see the manuscript, in June. She signed me as a client in September. In late March, after extensive revisions, it was sent out to twelve publishers. Eight made offers. On April 26, 1985, it was sold to Damaris Rowland at Berkley for a $25,000 advance, paid in three installments. I got a congratulatory telegram from Maria and roses from Damaris!

Damaris’ enthusiasm was such that she went on to buy two more manuscripts from me within six months, for a $100,000 advance. Berkley was making quite an investment in my career! And more roses!

What followed was a lot of work. Finally, Dance of the Gods was on the schedule for publication in May 1988 as a lead title. A few months before the pub date, bound galleys were sent out to reviewers. On a trip to New York, I got my first look at the book’s cover, which was beautiful…but I’ll admit I had hoped for something that revealed a bit more about the story.

But then, the book that was published bore little resemblance to the novel I’d set out to write. 

I love bold, vivid colors–the more vivid the better–so needless to say, I was disappointed that the midnight blue cover Damaris showed me in New York would end up being black on the printed books. I did get the blue cover for Angels at Midnight, and requested–and got–red for A Time for Legends. 

As the May 1st pub date approached, I’d already delivered the manuscript for Angels at Midnight.  Press releases went out; interviews were being scheduled, mostly with local media.  It’s not easy to get any media attention when you’re an author nobody’s ever heard of.

Rarely does a publisher throw a launch party for a first novel. Again, who’s going to come out to meet a new, untested author no one has ever heard of? I did get a launch party, however, held by friends and fellow St. Louis authors, and attended mostly by other local authors and their spouses/significant others. It was great–my favorite foods, prepared by authors who had better things to do than cook, but they did it anyway. There was a toast and a lovely handmade centerpiece featuring copies of the book. 

Though most of my current circle of writing buddies live too far away for me to throw them a launch party, I will toast each of them in turn and look forward to being able to throw a party for those who are local when their time comes. Carole, Nicole, Cathy, Kyle–I’m talking about you. And unless he forbids me to do so, I will make the trip to Canada to celebrate with my partner in crime, William, whether his first published novel turns out to be Heaven & Hell or our collaborative effort, Same Time, Tomorrow!    

Next time: Judging a Book by its Cover. And please check out my guest blog at good friend Donna Yates’ blog, Believe in Yourself. And for more photos, including pics from writers conferences and booksellers conventions, check out my albums at Facebook.

>Down in the Dumps

>Sounds depressing, doesn’t it?

In this case, it’s not. The unfortunate term publishers, distributors and booksellers use for a floor display to showcase a novel is…a dump. Seriously.  Here are a couple of the dumps Berkley did for my novels:

So if you’re a book, a dump is indeed a very nice place to be.  And here are some other nice places for a book to be:

More good places to be seen…if you’re a book….

>Romancing the Reader

>Y’know, as long as you all keep giving me positive feedback, I’m going to keep posting this stuff.

I used to enjoy doing publicity for my books. I love to travel–or I did before air travel became such a colossal pain in the butt–and I enjoyed meeting the distributors and bookstore staffs. Doing interviews was also fun. It was kinda cool when I was in the waiting room at my doctor’s office one day and a woman recognized me from a TV appearance.

Before Dance of the Gods was published, I was in New York, meeting with my agent and editor. One day, Sabra Elliott, then Vice President in charge of advertising, publicity and promotion, introduced me to members of her staff. I was directed to a chair in the middle of a room, with them seated around me.  They proceeded to ask me questions I would be asked by reporters. Interesting experience. Over the years I was with Berkley, I did numerous print, radio and TV interviews.

I worked with three publicists at Berkley: Amy Barron, Kristen Kreimeier, and Sara Leopold, and they were all wonderful, even if they did joke about hiding under their desks whenever I called. Here’s a press release Amy wrote for me:

I got a lot of good interviews. I wish I could include all of them here, but I doubt Blogspot allows for endless blogs, so I’ll start with this one, from the St. Louis Suburban Journals….

I had more of a problem with the local press giving me the “romance writer” label than I did elsewhere. The irony is that I am a romance writer–and not just in my Silhouette series romances. I like writing about relationships, and I love happy endings, hallmarks of the romance novel. But at that time, I saw myself as a thriller writer–and I am. The two, I eventually discovered, do not have to be exclusive of each other. And any author is better off–at least at the start of their career–if their books can fit neatly into a category. The General Fiction section is a big place, and if you don’t have a recognizable name, you can get lost there!

Tom Blackburn, book editor of the Palm Beach Post when I was interviewed by him back in the late eighties, made my day when he told me A Time for Legends was closer to Tom Clancy than to Danielle Steel (I’m not a Steel fan, though I have great respect for what she’s accomplished). 

My editor, Damaris Rowland, was not as thrilled. In fact, she was a bit perplexed. She always saw me as a romance–women’s fiction–writer….

>The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Reviews)

>Since I got so many positive responses to my last post, I thought I’d let y’all have a few laughs at my expense. Today, I’m going to post some of my past reviews. I’ve been fortunate in that–to my knowledge–I’ve only received two truly bad reviews–and you’ll find both of them here.

First, there’s my first novel, Dance of the Gods….

Pretty good, huh?

And now for the bad news….

Ouch! And this was the first one I got to see! When it’s your first novel and the news is this bad, you want to go duck your head under something…anything….

And now for Angels at Midnight. If I got a bad review for this book, I never saw it. The closest I came to a bad review was a cyber wrist-slapping from a reader on Amazon.

The day this review came out, I had just returned from a writers conference in Miami. My editor, who had been at the same conference, phoned me to read it to me rather than wait for me to receive it via fax.

A Time for Legends also got excellent reviews, which made me very happy because of all of the books I did via Berkley, it was my favorite.

And I’ll close with the absolute worst review I’ve ever received, for Solitaire. The worst part of it is that I can’t even disagree with it.  Looking back on it now, it was a flimsy plot….

We used to laugh when we compared bad reviews. Why? Because even the most successful authors have received bad reviews. It goes with the territory. For every ten people who love your book, there will be ten who don’t love it.  Accept that fact of publishing life, and write the book you want to write. Give it everything you’ve got, and you’ll survive.

I’ve always believed that no reviews are worse than bad ones. Indifference is difficult to deal with. You can learn from criticism, but what do you do when the readers and reviewers give you nothing?

Ad nauseam…double ouch!

>A Walk Down Memory Lane….

>In setting up my new computer, I had to transfer a lot of files from my external hard drive.  While doing so, I sorted through some files–and found a few things I’m going to share here:

Berkley did a free copy promo for Angels at Midnight, as advertised in Redbook.

A Time for Legends was advertised in Good Housekeeping….

The ad Berkley placed for my first novel, Dance of the Gods--in Vogue!

A page from the publisher’s catalog….

I’d use any excuse for a trip to Florida, and the Miami Book Fair was a good one!

This is an excerpt  from an article that appeared in Woman, Inc., a supplement of the St. Louis Business Journal, on local authors (it was a very long article, so I couldn’t post all of it here)….

And this is my favorite of the sell pieces Berkley did for my books–for A Time for Legends….