My Novel Path to Publication

I’m frequently asked about my publication timeline from the start of writing my first novel to publication. I’ll outline it for you right here, right now:

Early 2012 – (Actually it was a few weeks shy of 2012, but let’s not get technical) – I submitted the first chapter of a work-in-progress, a historical novel set in the Middle East, for a contest to win a scholarship to attend a West Coast Writer’s Conference. A month or so later, I was notified that I won. I attended the Conference, garnered lots of interest, but had nothing to sell. Takeaway: always have something ready to pitch. It’s helpful if that something were…say…a completed manuscript. Live and learn.

Early 2012 – (February/March) – I begin writing the first draft of a mystery novel based on my former lawyerly life. I revised that draft about 100 times before I was confident enough to call it finished. I used beta readers along the way.

~June 2014 – I won the Helen McCloy Mystery Writers of America Scholarship Award (that included $$) for my manuscript.

Up until November, 2014 – I submitted the manuscript to agents and publishing houses and was rejected, mostly.

November, 2014 – I was offered a contract. The editor of the publishing company completely won me over. She loved my manuscript and was so utterly a pleasure to work with that I was happy to sign with them. 

May, 2015 – The scent of spring was in the air, as was the push for marketing my release, which was coming up mid-September. I watched and learned from bigger authors. If I had to do it over again, I would have trained myself earlier and started marketing about six months in advance.

My book marketing continued through most of 2016. I visited libraries, bookstores, and conferences; a few wineries, book clubs and I appeared on podcasts. I had more fun than I imagined. 

Takeaway: set a writing goal and do your best to reach it. If you slack off a day or two, or even a week or more, stay calm. The important point to remember is you’re writing because you enjoy it. Do nothing to take away that splendid feeling of satisfaction as you get closer and closer to completion. It’s a miracle every time.

Life Skills - In & Out of the Writing Life

Back in the day (pre-electricity, automobiles and supermarkets), people needed life skills to survive. Today, we’re fortunate not to need as many such skills. But I’m always astonished at skills people have honed not out of necessity, but just because. My friends and family can do everything from change their own engine oil to sew lovely quilts. 

I took a few minutes to interview someone I know (me) to find out what skills she has, and doesn’t have:

1. Write – yes, I can! It may not always be worth publishing, but I can write and enjoy it, too.

2. Milk a goat – thanks to the summer my kids raised 4-H dairy goats. It was maaaarvalous, but not something I care to repeat any time soon.

3. Blow up a balloon using the 2 Ls: Lips and lungs. I may pass out afterward, but I can do it! Next time you throw a party, you know who to call. Just have smelling salts nearby.

4. Sew on a button: piece of cake, as long as you don’t examine the handiwork too closely.

5. Make small talk: I’ve accumulated enough trivia to discuss nearly any subject from the Bhagavad Gita to zoologist Jane Goodall. If you want to talk old Hollywood with me, bring a sleeping bag and jammies. I could talk for days.

Life Skills I Lack – Confession Time: 

1. If you expect some fancy playing card shuffling, better not invite me to your next poker game; that’s all I’m saying.

2. If the only spot left to park requires parallel parking, you’ll find me and my vehicle blocks away where parallel parking isn’t an option.

3. Folding sheets? Who’re you gonna call? Not me, unless you are thrilled by odd shapes and funny angles.

4. Do you need a dress shirt ironed? Run like the wind if you see me coming, iron in hand.

5. It’s the holiday season and there are gifts to be wrapped. See number three above regarding odd shapes. And yes, run like the wind, too, if I’m carrying scissors, tape and wrapping paper.

Now you know!

Getting into Character: Interview Questions

Character building. We all do it when we’re writing our fictional books – mysteries in particular. We do our best to create memorable characters who get into situations interesting enough for readers to want to follow and learn more. How to come up with character traits for each of our fictional people?

Through a character interview, of course. Here’s a list of twenty questions I’ve posed to the characters who populate my Southern California Mystery series:

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS – Pretend you’re answering for each of your characters. (And always ask WHY?)

  1. What makes you happy? Sad? Angry? Nervous?
  2. What do you like best about yourself? Least?
  3. What is your greatest fear?
  4. Is there anything you’d like to change about your life?
  5. Do you lie? When and why?
  6. What’s your biggest regret?
  7. Where did you go to school?
  8. What is your occupation? Why did you select it? Do you like it?
  9. What are your hobbies? Skills? Talents?
  10. What is your greatest weakness? Strength?
  11. Do you get along with your parents?
  12. Is one of your senses more highly tuned than the others?
  13. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t yet? What?
  14. Do you have a best friend? Who?
  15. Do you have a boy/girlfriend? How did you meet?
  16. How do you decide if you should trust someone? First impression? Intuition?
  17. When you walk into a room, what do you notice first?
  18. Do you have any pets?
  19. What do you think about when you’re alone in the car?
  20. What do you do for fun?

Some of these questions are specific for my mystery series, but generally they may be re-worked to fit most books. The questions should help us writers to get inside the minds of our fictional people. What bothers them? What delights them? What makes them cry?

The answers to the questions will help shape our characters and will help us to get to know them better, which in turn helps us to breathe life into our stories.