Author Keith Cronin Shares His Publishing Journey From Hard Cover To E-Book

Keith Cronin is a true writer-advocate in addition to being the author of ME AGAIN and a professional drummer!  Keith’s road to publication has been long and arduous and wonderful — and we are so lucky to have him back on Women’s Fiction Writers. I met Keith on Backspace, probably in 2007! (OMG, that’s like 27 years in online years!) Keith was one of the very first guests on WFW!  A link to that interview, and to my review of ME AGAIN, his re-released novel now available on Kindle, are listed below.

Please welcome Keith Cronin back to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Keith Cronin Shares His Publishing Journey From Hard Cover To E-Book

Amy: Welcome back to Women’s Fiction Writers, Keith! Congratulations on the Kindle release of your novel Me Again, a year after its original hardcover release. Can you explain to us why there was a year in between these releases?

Keith: Thanks, Amy – it’s great to be invited back! The one-year wait was a contractual thing. Five Star is a very specialized publishing house, focused primarily on selling hardcover fiction to public library systems. In fact, when they bought my book, they were not doing any digital publishing at all. They’ve finally begun to enter the ebook market, but the terms of my contract give me all non-hardcover publishing rights one year after the hardcover release.

This arrangement didn’t sound too bad back in 2010 when I signed the book deal, but that one year ended up feeling like an eternity, given that my book came out right when ebooks started really taking off. So I’m thrilled to finally be able to offer the book to a wider audience – and at a much lower price.

Amy: How was your experience as a debut author? Was it different from your expectations?

Keith: It’s been both a roller-coaster ride and a huge learning experience, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Probably the toughest thing when launching a book is the ongoing choice you’re faced with, of when to just let things happen, and when to try to insert yourself into the process. On one hand, working with a publisher who’s been around, you need to give them credit for knowing how to do their part. But on the other, you can’t forget that yours is just one of many books they are publishing, so you need to stay on top of some of the details just in case they don’t – all without becoming a nightmarishly high-maintenance pain in the ass (or, NHMPITA). That’s always a balancing act, and I’m not sure I always stayed on the correct side of the NHMPITA line. But I’m fortunate to have many friends who are authors, and their experiences provided a much-needed reality check, and made me realize that most authors hit some occasional speed-bumps and woulda-coulda-shoulda’s with every book they publish.

I will say, the validation that comes with publishing a book has been very powerful – it makes you feel like all that hard work really meant something. And it’s incredibly gratifying when a reader speaks up to let me know they enjoyed my story. Whether they tell me face-to-face, send me an email, post a review, or comment on Twitter or Facebook, it never fails to lift me up and make my day. That stuff just never gets old.

But one of the coolest things I’ve found is that having a book out puts me in a position to help even more writers. I’m a huge believer in the power of writers as a community – my favorite being the Backspace online forum, where you and I met. When I speak at conferences and other events, or post my thoughts online about writing, it’s both rewarding and humbling to see how people respond. Just last week I did a reading and panel discussion down in South Beach, at the LitChat Literary Salon at the Betsy Hotel. One of the people in the audience was a high school kid, who came up to talk to me afterward. He said something that really struck me: “I’m not the best writer in my creative writing class. In fact, I’m kind of surprised that nobody else from my class showed up for this, after our teacher told us about it.”

I told him it’s not just a matter of who has the most talent, but more about who wants it the most, and the fact that he showed up indicated he had more of a hunger than the other students. By the way his eyes lit up, I could tell he was really encouraged. When you see that fire in another writer’s eyes, and know that you helped keep that flame going, it’s a really powerful experience.

Amy: I know you’re a regular contributor to Writer Unboxed, one of my favorite daily reads — but are you also working on a new novel? If so, will it be back under the broad umbrella of women’s fiction?

Keith: Yes, I’m in the brainstorm stage of my next project, and I think it will fit into that admittedly broad category, in that it will explore some pretty deep emotional territory. But I’ll be honest – I’ve really begun to think “women’s fiction” is a category that exists mostly in the minds of people who work in publishing, but not in the minds of most readers. I almost never hear the term unless I’m talking to somebody who is involved in the business. Even at literary conferences I keep encountering people in the audience questioning what women’s fiction is, particularly when they see a guy who looks like me claiming that he writes it.

That said, I definitely write with a female audience in mind. I’ve always related well to women – as a youth I was perpetually stuck being that nice guy whom so many girls liked “only as a friend” – oh, the agony! And I’m certainly not cut out to write testosterone-dripping Cussler-esque thrillers (in part because I don’t feel cardboard is a satisfactory material from which to build a character – oops, did I say that out loud?). So yeah, I’m sticking with this direction, because I think it lets me tap into what I’ve got, in a way that seems to resonate most with readers.

Amy: What’s your best advice for debut authors?

Keith: Well, this is definitely a piece of “do as I say, not as I do” advice, but here it is: Take advantage of any time you have to start writing the next freaking book.

I know, everybody says it. But it’s so true, and it needs to be reiterated. When you’re a debut author, your whole world becomes about this one book. And since it’s your first book (we’ll ignore any “trunk novels” for the moment), it’s easy to look at this one book as the sum total of all your literary energy. You’ve poured everything you had into this book, and there’s simply nothing left.

Sorry, but that only worked for Harper Lee. You wanna be an author? You gotta keep writing more books. And they sure as hell don’t write themselves.

Amy, with the publication date of The Glass Wives approaching (yay!), I’m sure you’ll agree that there is a LOT of waiting in this game. In fact, this advice isn’t just for debut authors. These bouts of waiting occur at all stages of your development and career, whether you’re submitting short stories to journals, or querying agents, or waiting while your agent pitches your book to editors, or all the stuff that happens after you sell, when you’re waiting on copy edits, cover art, author blurbs, ARCs, you name it. Bottom line, there is a huge amount of thumb-twiddling time in this business, during which your thumbs (and the rest of your fingers) would be put to better use typing away at your next book.

Amy: What’s your best advice for aspiring authors?

Keith: Don’t succumb to the temptation to treat self-publishing as a shortcut. Now, please read that sentence carefully. I’m not going all Sue Grafton on you here. I’m not saying “don’t self-publish.” I’m not saying “self-publishing is a shortcut.” What I’m trying to say – with any luck, more accurately and diplomatically than Grafton did – is that there can definitely be a temptation to treat self-publishing as a shortcut. I mean, your book can be live on Amazon within hours of you typing “the end” in your Word document. Just knowing this is heady stuff, and the temptation is palpable.

What do I advocate instead? Before jumping on that bandwagon, try to get a sense of whether your stuff is ready. And I’m “old school” in this respect: I think you need somebody else to help determine that. An editor at a literary journal choosing to publish one of your stories. A reputable agent offering to represent you. Failing that, some serious interest and “near misses” with several reputable agents and/or editors. Some positive reviews and comments from professional writers with whom you interact, either in online groups or at conferences, workshops, or meetings with established groups or associations (RWA, MWA, etc.).

All this may make me sound dreadfully old-fashioned, but I just think it’s so hard to be objective about your own work. And while your mom or your spouse might think your writing is fabulous, I really think you need a second opinion, ideally from others with some firmly established expertise. In my experience, most of us just don’t get good enough to write fiction worthy of publication without paying some pretty substantial dues – and getting our butts kicked by people who know more about writing than we do.

So that’s all I’m advocating: do the hard work necessary to get your writing up to par. Then, by all means explore whatever publishing options are available, and make a choice that best suits your priorities.

Amy: What is one thing you would do as a debut author– if you had it to do all over again? Or did you check everything off your list?

This question brought back a memory, and sent me digging through my Facebook statuses (or is it stati?) from a year ago, and I soon found the post I was looking for:

“When I put out the recycling bins tonight, the amount of empty wine bottles in the glass/metal/plastic bin reminded me that yes, this was the week I published my first novel.”

So I’m thinking next time around, I’ll look into trying to get a volume discount at the local wine shop!

(I’m making a note of this one, Keith. CHEERS, my friend!)

Author of the novel ME AGAIN, Keith Cronin is a corporate speechwriter and professional rock drummer who has performed and recorded with artists including Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, and Pat Travers. He is also becoming informally known as “the title guy,” having provided the title for Sara Gruen’s blockbuster Water for Elephants, as well as Susan Henderson’s HarperCollins debut Up from the Blue.

Keith is a regular contributor at the literary blog Writer Unboxed, named one of Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for the past five years. His fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine, Amarillo Bay, The Scruffy Dog Review, Zinos, and a University of Phoenix management course. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Indiana University, and earned his MBA at Florida Atlantic University. A native of South Florida, Keith spends his free time serenading local ducks and squirrels with his ukulele. Visit him online at or

Find out more about ME AGAIN, and get your own copy, by clicking here.

You can read Keith’s first WFW interview, When A Man Writes Women’s Fiction, by clicking here.

You can read my review of ME AGAIN, here.


My Month of Reading Vonnegut (and Cronin)

If you remember the advice from the authors who’ve been featured here on Women’s Fiction Writers, most of them say, “READ.”  More specifically they say, “READ WIDELY.”

So about a month ago I took a personal reading retrospective to see how I was doing with that.

As a child I remember reading a lot of Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary and Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I read Little Women several times.  In my teens I read Seventeen Magazine and avoided reading what was assigned in my high school English classes. (I always got an A in English anyway, which, as an adult, makes me question how exactly that happened.)  In college I read textbooks.  In my twenties I went back to basics and read classics. You know, all the books I avoided reading in high school, plus. I read Austen and the Bronte sisters, Kurt Vonnegut, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Irving, Willa Cather.  I discovered Margaret Atwood and Harriet Beecher Stowe.  I also read Tom Clancy novels.  I’m sure I’m leaving some out but you get the idea.  In my late twenties and thirties I read Eric Carle, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, Ronald Dahl and the backs of a gazillion Pokemon cards.  Later, when my kids started reading on their own, so did I again.  I read chick-lit and lit fic and women’s fiction.  I read memoir and narrative non-fiction.  I read a few self-help books but never found them very helpful.  I read a lot of cookbooks and magazines and backs of many, many cereal boxes.

In the past seven or eight years (you see how the age references are becoming vague, don’t you?) I’ve read lots of best-sellers.  In the past four years or so I’d say I focused on reading women’s fiction and literary fiction.  I also enjoy smart humorous books (have you read How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely? You should.) I’ve read an inordinate amount of writing books and spend a lot of time reading my Flip Dictionary.

But what I hadn’t done is gone back to the beginning.  And I don’t mean Beverly Cleary, although it’s tempting.  When a friend of mine mentioned Kurt Vonnegut and we email volleyed about our favorite Vonnegut books, I realized I had not read Kurt Vonnegut in over twenty years. Over twenty years!  It was the beginning of September and I told myself I was going to spend September reading Kurt Vonnegut. The next day I picked up Mother Night at the library. When I finished Mother Night I read a short story called 2 B R 0 2 B.  When I finished 2 B R 0 2 B, I read a collection of Vonnegut’s essays entitled, Fates Worse Than Death.  September had passed and I had only read Vonnegut. Success!

I must say, I was pleased.  Pleased to be accidentally reintroduced to an author I love and pleased to reintroduce myself to the idea that I don’t have to read something shiny and new.  Sometimes tried and true works wonders.  Vonnegut reminded me of the power of intricate stories and the pleasure of deep (often unusual) thought woven with accessible words.  I’m not going to write science fiction or political satire any time soon, but the fact that I remember how much I like it is really a wonderful gift.

Another wonderful gift was receiving Keith Cronin’s book Me Again in the mail from Keith.  My month of reading Vonnegut had ended. It was September 30th and I started Keith’s book.  Between Friday and Saturday I read seventy pages.  My Sunday morning indulgence is to make a pot of coffee, pour a cup (or two) and get back into bed with my coffee and whatever book I’m reading.  It’s still dark out, the book light is on, the coffee is hot…and often by nine in the morning I’ve been reading for three or more hours.  And that’s what happened with Keith’s book.  I finished it.  Me Again is heartwarming and real life, laugh-out-loud funny and it’s also don’t-cry-in-the-coffee, get-up-and-get-a-tissue sad.

What also struck me about Keith’s book is that while I so often focus on women’s fiction of all sorts, Keith’s POV character is a thirty-two year old man. And yes, I can totally see how it’s women’s fiction.  But I will say that because the main character is a guy — I think this book would appeal to men. Reading Me Again reminded me to try some books that don’t have a female protagonist — because well, men are good characters too.

And I think that will also contribute to my drive to read widely.

The great part about reading widely — or reading everything — is that I get to determine the width of my boundaries, the level of my experimentation — and you get to determine yours.

Another great part is that it simply means — go read!!



When A Man Writes Women’s Fiction

I’m honored to introduce Keith Cronin, author of the novel ME AGAIN (September 2011, Five Star/Gale) to Women’s Fiction Writers. ME AGAIN is women’s fiction written by a man and written from a male POV — just like many of us have mentioned, questioned and pondered right here on WFW.  

So, how does a guy end up writing women’s fiction? What’s it like to be the only fella in the room? How does this even happen?  Can Keith help us define this genre?  And…what’s his best advice for all of us? 

Read on and find out.  

Many thanks to Keith for his thoughtful and thought-provoking answers. His perspective will make you nod in recognition — when you’re not scrambling to take notes!  

Q & A with ME AGAIN author Keith Cronin

ASN: Would you tell us a little about yourself and your book?

KC: I’ve been writing “seriously” (does that mean I have to scowl a lot?) since the late 90’s, and ME AGAIN is my second completed novel. My first one, a Mafia comedy, attracted a major agent, but ultimately went unsold. After that I wanted to take a different approach. I found an old unfinished short story that I had put away a couple years prior, and got really excited when I re-read it; I loved the premise, and both the emotional conflict and the voice were much more complex and poignant than my previous book. It really felt like an opportunity to dig far deeper emotionally than I had ever done before, so I developed the story, and sure enough, the two main characters really came to life for me. In a nutshell, ME AGAIN is about two young stroke victims who each have to choose whether to look at brain damage as a handicap, or an opportunity to lead a new life. Neither of these characters are based on real people, but the female’s main problem – that a stroke has radically changed her personality – was something that had happened to a friend’s sister, and ever since she told me about it I’d always found her situation just hauntingly heartbreaking, so I used it as the basis for this character’s journey.

ASN: When you were writing the novel did you know it would be “classified” as women’s fiction? How did you feel about that as a male author?

KC: I didn’t realize it would end up classified this way, but I did consciously set out to write a book that women would want to read. As a musician I travel a lot, and I’ve found that airplanes are a great place to get a sense of who is reading what. In my travels I would consistently see more women than men reading on airplanes – and reading a wider variety of authors. So I decided I needed to try to reach them, by writing a book with a strong and compelling emotional focus. But I’ll confess, when I started writing ME AGAIN, I just thought of it as the male character’s story, although I knew there would be a major female character. It was only as I immersed myself in writing the book that it became clear that the female character’s conflict and ultimate transformation were really key to the overall point of the book. When Five Star expressed interest in the book for their Expressions line, which is their romance and women’s fiction line, I was delighted – it seemed like an excellent fit.

ASN: Were there any unusual or interesting reactions to your book because you’re a guy? Have you been “accepted” into circles of women’s fiction authors?

KC: I’ve been surprised and delighted by how open and welcoming everybody has been thus far. I rather hesitantly joined the Romance Writers of America this year, and recently skulked into my first local chapter meeting, with one eye on the exit just in case it was too weird or uncomfortable. But the people were incredibly friendly, and really embraced me – I wound up spending the entire day hanging out with a core group of them, and now I never miss a meeting. Likewise, I’ve joined a few online groups that focus on romance and women’s fiction, most of which are populated entirely by women, and they’ve been equally open and warm to me. It can be daunting to often be the only male, but nobody has had a problem with it, and if anything they seem to welcome the sheer novelty of having a Y chromosome in the room. And I was thrilled to be asked to be one of the women’s fiction panelists at this year’s Backspace Writers Conference in Manhattan, which is both a huge honor and yet another sign of how well I’m being accepted into the women’s fiction community.

ASN: Do you think men will be more likely to read the book since you’re the author?

KC: I don’t know – I guess I hope so, but it saddens me that anybody would have more or less interest in a book based on the gender of its author. I just don’t think like that. But I know many people do – particularly men. So yeah, I guess maybe between a man having written it, and the book not having a “girly” cover or title, maybe more men will read it. We shall see…

ASN: Did you ever consider using a pseudonym?

KC: No, not really. It’s not an uncommon strategy for men who write romance or women’s fiction to either use a pseudonym or a sexually ambiguous set of initials. But both my parents were journalists, so I’ve been raised with a healthy appetite for the byline. I’ve wanted to see my name on the cover of a book for a long, long time, so I wasn’t inclined to give that up just because of how my book is being marketed. And frankly, a woman who wouldn’t read my book just because I’m a man is not a reader I’m likely to connect with anyway.

ASN: How do you define women’s fiction? What makes it different from “general” fiction or what some call a family drama?

KC: I really like your own definition of women’s fiction, in which the woman is responsible for solving her own problems. Another one I like a lot is that women’s fiction is storytelling that takes the issues women care about seriously. A much more succinct definition – and one that I fear is probably more true than I’d like to admit – is that women’s fiction is fiction that men won’t read. Ouch. In my own attempt to cobble together a definition, I came up with this: In men’s fiction we want the reader to care about what the characters do, but in women’s fiction we also want the readers to care about what the characters feel. But I think the Women’s Fiction chapter of the Romance Writers of America does one of the best jobs of capturing it. They have a detailed definition posted on their website, and although they are defining it within the parameters of a romance-reading audience, they identify what I think is the essential component of women’s fiction: that it needs to focus on the personal growth and transformation of the main female character.

ASN:  ME AGAIN has a male main character. Why does it work well as women’s fiction? 

KC: ME AGAIN is written from the first-person viewpoint of a male character, a young stroke victim who awakens from a six-year coma with no memory of who he is. The blank slate that he begins the book with creates a vulnerability that I’m hoping both female and male readers will find compelling. Early in the book he meets the main female character, a young woman who is trying to cope with how a stroke has changed her own personality, making her a stranger to her husband. The two are drawn together by the strangeness of their respective situations, and ultimately begin to understand each other better than anybody else – including her husband and his family. As the book progresses, the male character and (I hope) the reader will begin to see that the female character’s problems are in many ways more pressing, creating a more urgent need for some sort of transformation or resolution. I think that’s why Five Star chose the book for their women’s fiction line, but I’m aware this is atypical for a women’s fiction book, and I suspect there may be some women who will pass this book by because it doesn’t follow the typical format of setting the female as the main POV character. But my hope is that if they take a deeper look and try to consider just what the female character is facing, they may find the story compelling and satisfying. This is a woman constantly reminded by her husband that she isn’t the woman he married, with the implicit message that he wishes she were somebody else – and it’s someone she can never be.

ASN: Do you compare your writing to anyone in particular?

KC: With ME AGAIN I’m shooting for sort of an “American Nick Hornby” vibe. Although many people categorize Hornby as writing humor or even “lad lit,” I think if you take a closer look you’ll find he’s often writing about very serious topics, and the humor in his writing comes from the clever and/or quirky viewpoints of his characters, and from the ironies that real life so often injects into our existence. Plus he does wonderful female characters, such as the protagonist in How to Be Good, and two of the four first-person narrators in A Long Way Down, and the main female character in Juliet, Naked. He frequently uses an approach that I would summarize as “serious things happening to witty people,” which is definitely a model that resonates with me.

ASN: Do you read women’s fiction in addition to writing it? What are some of your favorite books/authors and why? And what are some of your other favorite books?

KC: I never really consider genre when I read, but I certainly read plenty of what is considered women’s fiction. I tend to like stories with a humorous angle, so I particularly enjoy writers like Jennifer Crusie, Lani Diane Rich, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Helen Fielding and of course Jane Austen. Crusie is a particular favorite: I loved her modern-day fairy tale Bet Me, as well as Tell Me Lies and her most recent novel Maybe This Time, which is a reimagining of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. Plus she is an amazingly generous writer who blogs, hosts online forums, and does weekly podcasts analyzing a series of popular movies along with her friend Lani Diane Rich. The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler is one of my “desert island books,” which I think still qualifies as women’s fiction, although both the male and female characters make important emotional journeys. I’m also a big fan of some emerging women’s fiction writers who write in a more serious vein, like Susan Henderson, author of Up from the Blue; Jael McHenry, whose excellent debut The Kitchen Daughter just came out; and Danielle Younge-Ullman, whose first novel Falling Under was just jaw-droppingly good. Other writers I really enjoy include Nick Hornby, James Ellroy, Sara Gruen, Ed McBain, Annie Proulx, Jon Clinch, Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake, and I’ve just recently – and quite belatedly – discovered Elizabeth Peters. I know I’m forgetting about a million others, and my stack of to-be-read books is reaching a life-endangering height!

ASN: What’s your best advice for aspiring women’s fiction authors?

KC: Two things. First, make sure your protagonist is a driver, not a passenger. In women’s fiction in particular, you’ll often see inexperienced writers working on novels where the protagonist’s group of friends – often portrayed as a “sisterhood” – is really what carries her through the book. Or she gets into a scrape and a Big Strong Man ultimately saves the day. In both cases, the story is happening to the protagonist, which can make it difficult to connect with her or care about her. Second, make sure your conflict is big enough. Often women’s fiction focuses on fairly down-to-earth things that are a part of most people’s lives, like divorce, illness, grief, infidelity and so on. So your challenge is to find the extraordinary within the ordinary, the special thing that makes your story unique. Donald Maass gives some great insights about this in his book Writing the Breakout Novel, in which he really emphasizes the importance of inner conflict and escalating personal stakes. It’s one thing to be realistic; it’s another to be mundane. In this incredibly challenging fiction market, you need to ensure there’s something really distinctive about your story that makes people think, “Wow, I gotta read that!”

Keith Cronin is the author of the novel ME AGAIN, coming in September 2011 from Five Star/Gale, Keith Cronin is a corporate speechwriter and professional rock drummer who has performed and recorded with artists including Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, and Pat Travers. Keith’s fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine, Amarillo Bay, The Scruffy Dog Review, Zinos, and a University of Phoenix management course. A native of South Florida, Keith spends his free time serenading local ducks and squirrels with his ukulele. Visit him online at or