Please welcome Margaret to WFW!
Please welcome Margaret to WFW!
Sometimes you just click with someone, and that’s how it was for me and my friend, author Holly Robinson. I’m not sure even how or when we first connected, likely due to her first novel with NAL, The Wishing Hill, which was published around the same time as The Glass Wives. TODAY, Holly is launching her third novel with NAL, HAVEN LAKE (and has another coming out in the Fall, OMG). The best part of interviewing an author-friend is learning new things about her, her writing, her stories. They’re not usually the kinds of things that come up in casual phone conversations, but they’re the things I want to know and the kinds of interviews I want to share here.
Actually, that’s the best part of interviewing anyone—quenching my own curiosity by getting the answers to MY questions and knowing what, how, and why those answers would be of interest to others. (Hello, Journalism Degree!!)
Holly’s novels are family dramas strewn with emotion and mystery. Family secrets are woven through each one, as well as vivid settings, and character voices that ring clear and true. You’ll see what I mean when you read the interview!
Please welcome Holly Robinson back to WFW!
I often question my writing, judge my prose, belittle my word choices, and doubt my plot points. Some days I love what I’ve written.
The “disbelieving me” is in awe of the time and effort it will take to get from first draft to final draft. The “believing me” might think, “Aww, this is so good it doesn’t need to be changed.
No! To both.
I must self-edit.
I also must strike a balance where I am confident in my work but know it needs work.
Whether it’s the first time or the hundredth time, self-editing can be daunting. At least it can be for me. I stare at the monitor and all this little black shapes stare back at me. Just looking at them is exhausting.
I know myself. I self-edit differently than I write. I’m a binge writer, but a bit-by-bit editor. Not that I can’t, or haven’t, edited for hours, but I can also edit a paragraph, then leave for an appointment or to do the dishes.
Oh, who am I kidding? I do not stop editing to do the dishes.
But I do stop if I’m overwhelmed.
The key here is not to get overwhelmed.
My first drafts are embarrassing. I write in sentence fragments and run-ons. But what I have when I’m finished, I hope, is the beginning, middle, and end of a chapter, the right idea to build upon. I write light in first drafts. That means I know I’m going to go in again to flesh out ideas. Many of my friends write 125, 000 word first drafts they edit down to 90,000 words. My finished first drafts are about 50,000 words. I edit up. No matter how you work, some of these tips might work for you to take the sting out of first draft editing.
My first draft isn’t really finished until it’s self-edited. Until I know someone else could read it and make sense of it, even with the weaknesses and holes. I call it my finished first draft. Before that, you don’t want to know what I call it.
Second Drafts (Or, to Infinity—And Beyond)
I have never counted drafts. Let’s say that with each of my novels (published, soon-to-be published, and under-the-bed) I’ve written more than two drafts and fewer than a hundred.
This, for me, is where fine-tuning begins and where I remember the best advice/joke I ever told my daughter.
“How do you eat an elephant?”
“One bite at a time.”
If I looked at a whole manuscript and imagined editing the whole thing on my own, I’d crawl under this bed I call an office and that would be that. But because I write, and edit, my novels a chapter at a time, at first, it’s more manageable to me. For the time being I pretend that’s all I need to worry about, which allows me to focus (ie: which eliminates panic).
Final drafts take many forms. I have final drafts for my critique partner, then for agent, and then final drafts for my editor. If you’re not hiring an editor (silent scream) and you’re self-publishing then your final draft is for your reader.
For me, this is the detail and danger zone. This is where I nit-pick and where I usually am convinced that all my time and effort and energy has resulted in a big pile of poo. Luckily, this is normal. And that’s why I start with the hardest thing of all.
The best thing about self-editing, is that it’s not the end – it’s just the beginning. This is how I get my writing ready for others to critique and edit it. Yes, at some point, it’s finished, but you shouldn’t be the only person editing your work if you want it read by others. If you want people to pay to read it.
Beta readers and critique partners, agents, and editors will not only help your story, but their feedback will bolster your ability to self-edit in the future. Self-editing is the gift that keeps on giving.
By that I mean giving us headaches, some heartache—as well as the opportunity to be the best writers we can be.
This article was first published in Write On, the magazine of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (not affiliated with my WFW blog, although I am a founding member of the WFWA organization.) You’re not a member of WFWA? Check it out here.
Passover is coming.
Passover, the eight day celebration of the Israelites’ exodus from slavery in ancient Egypt, is my favorite Jewish holiday, although I’m not sure why. It entails cleaning and more cleaning and then cleaning some more, and that is my least favorite thing to do. It also involves macaroons, so perhaps that explains it.
In Hebrew, Passover is Pesach — PAY-SACH. The end of the word is that Jewish guttural throat roll that sounds like you are about to hock a loogey. It does not sound like the “k” in Saks or the “ch” in, chosen, as in — people. But I digress.
The first order of business in my household when I’m getting ready for Passover is to plan a Seder (SAY-der). A Seder is the holiday meal that revolves around the retelling of the Passover story through symbol, prayer, song and food. Think Thanksgiving on steroids but without the stuffing. I invite friends who are like family and we sit around the table and squeeze an otherwise four hour long ordeal into a modified fifteen minute yet comprehensive poetic version of the Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston without any love affairs or Technicolor. It goes something like this…they tried to annihilate us, we whipped ’em, let’s eat.
During the planning process, I am also faced with the quandary of how to best observe the entire holiday, not just the Seder part. While I don’t change dishes or buy all foods that are “Kosher for Passover,” many Jewish families do. But, during the eight days we do not eat bread or anything that has obviously “risen” and in my house that’s basically just bread, cake or anything we deem to be fluffed up. My own internal debate as to whether Oreos without the middle are flat enough to be eaten on Passover is as of yet, unresolved.
To make room for Passover foods in the house and for the holiday, in our heads, we begin by eating all the chametz (it’s the “ch” sound again), or leavened products in the house. Certainly we could sell it all for a dollar, as is customary, to a non-Jew, but eating it is more fun. We then perform the ritual dusting with the feather to ensure that all the chametz crumbs are gone from the house. The problem is, in my cabinets we need a full feather duster. In Passover as in life, every family has their own rules.
With the cabinets cleaned, the shopping ensues. I arrive home from the grocery store with boxes of matzah, matzah meal, matzah farfel, matzah flour, matzah cake mix and a case of macaroons. I store it all on top of our spare refrigerator in the laundry room right in front of the leftover matzah from 2006, 2005 and 2004. Matzah lasts forever.
And while some of that (new) matzah packed in my kids’ lunches might spark comments among their classmates, I always include extra, because it seems to be the hit of the cafeteria every year.
It’s a time when my kids wear their religion on their sleeve, so to speak. They share a bit of Jewish culture at the lunch table where their friends can taste it, for real. That’s the reminder in one full swoop that they’re different and the same, at the very same time. They’re sharing bland and binding crackers, but part of a rich and colorful heritage of which they are both educated, and proud – and then they go off math class.
Even when I make light of it, it’s pretty heavy duty.
The fact that my kids know what to expect, and therefore, expect it, is very reassuring. They remind me about everything from making homemade matzah to the Passover mac ‘n cheese to our aversion to gefilte fish to who gets to search for the Afikomen (a hidden piece of matzah) during the Seder to the silly props on the holiday table to a debate on why or why not beans or pasta or rice are eaten on Passover.
So I guess the best part of Passover, aside from the macaroons, is the unfailing recurrence of every part of it every year, making it a week filled with our own family traditions.
And for me, that’s enough, or as we say at the Seder—Dayenu!
(Originally published on Imperfect Parent years ago when my kids lived at home and I was bit more ambitious with holidays. This year, it’s me, the dogs, and vegetarian matzah ball soup! Also, my new fave—homemade macaroons!)
Have you entered WFW’s 4th blogiversary giveaway for THE LIFE LIST, THE GLASS WIVES, and WHAT I REMEMBER MOST? Click here to find out more!
Let’s celebrate Women’s Fiction Writers 4-year blogiversary with a giveaway, shall we? One winner will receive THE LIFE LIST by Lori Nelson Spielman, WHAT I REMEMBER MOST by Cathy Lamb, and THE GLASS WIVES by Amy Sue Nathan (that would be moi)!
Check out the Rafflecopter link below to enter!
Thank you for being part of Women’s Fiction Writers!
Click here to enter: a Rafflecopter giveaway for Women’s Fiction Writers!
Grab a cuppa and settle in. Today, multi-published women’s fiction author, Cathy Lamb, shares her personal publishing story as well as some unconventional advice for aspiring authors.
Cathy Lamb is the author of nine novels. NINE! (And she’s working on number ten! Yay!) She has been one of my favorite authors since the day a friend handed me Henry’s Sisters. I was hooked. I’ve read all of Cathy’s books and recently finished What I Remember Most, a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of resilience, friendship, and love. I adore Cathy’s characters, they—even with their many flaws and sometimes gut-wrenching backstories—are people I wish I knew. I want to step inside the story and be part of it.
One of the best perks of being an author is making author friends. Cathy and I have become friends through various writer groups. I’m thrilled to say she recently read The Glass Wives. Can you imagine? Her work has inspired me and she has read MY book. You can poke around on Facebook and see more about that here.
But first, read the post, and welcome Cathy Lamb to Women’s Fiction Writers.
And if you haven’t read any of Cathy’s books, why not start today? I recommend her first book, mentioned below, Julia’s Chocolates. I was hooked with the first line: “I left my wedding dress hanging in a tree somewhere in North Dakota.” Aren’t you?
Share your rocky road to publishing in the comments! Or ask a question!
by Cathy Lamb
I am asked all the time how one should go about getting traditionally published.
I will assume that you want to know how to do this without losing your mind.
Here is my answer.
You need to write something good. Really good. You need to write something that a publishing house believes will sell.
So work, work, work on that story of yours.
Write when you’re crying. Write when you’re daydreaming. Write when you’re hopeless. Write when you’re exhausted and miss your hippie days. Write when grief is overwhelming you, write after you kick your husband out, write after a weekend with your sisters where you laughed so hard you wet your pants.
Write when all is well, write when all seems black.
Study writing. Go to writing classes. Study your favorite books and ask yourself why you like them. If you read a dull book, ask yourself, “Why did this not work for me?” Make sure you don’t replicate those problems.
Read fiction, non fiction, memoirs, thrillers, biographies, etc. Read all over.
Read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. On Writing by Stephen King. Writing Out The Storm by Jessica Morrell. And read Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg’s books on writing for advice and inspiration.
Study more. Write more. Read more. Begin again. Edit, edit, edit. Use that delete button.
When you’re ready to submit your work, you need to get yourself an agent. (Remember, this article is not addressing self publishing or publishing with Amazon. That is a whole other massive and mind numbing article with conflicting opinions.)
Should you finish writing your book before you try to get an agent?
Probably anyone else, in any magazine article or speech about “how – to – publish,” here or on Jupiter, will tell you to write a full manuscript before sending the first chapter off to an agent for her review with the hopes that she’ll love it and ask for the full manuscript.
This is enormously good advice in many ways. Writing a full book before sending it to an agent makes you nail down those characters. It forces you into the writing process.
You learn about pacing, character arcs, character development, word choice, descriptions, dialogue, narration, setting, voice, and a hundred other things, including whether or not you are capable of sitting your butt down and finishing a book. All excellent points.
I, however, will not tell you to write a full manuscript before sending the first chapter off to an agent to review.
Why? Because of my own personal and miserable publishing history which involves piles of rejection slips from rejected, full manuscripts.
Let me share my literary misery.
(Skip this part if you can’t stand to listen to people whine. I’ll understand, I will.)
After years spending time writing full manuscripts, as a certain category romance publishing house kept asking for more, they would be rejected. Repeatedly.
I wanted to bash my head through a wall. All those months of work…trashed. For nothing.
Looking back, the writing was bad. The idea was bad. The characters were bad. The organization and dialogue and narration were bad. Bad, bad, bad. I’m surprised I got as far as I did.
On my LAST attempt at writing a book, when I completely changed genres to women’s fiction from romance, I wrote the first 40 -ish pages of my book, Julia’s Chocolates, no more. I sent it to four agents and a famous editor. The famous editor never responded. All the agents, based on those first forty pages, requested the full manuscript.
I waited until my favorite agent – the one I have now – asked for the full manuscript. I lied and told him I needed to do “a little editing,” and worked my butt off for about four months, writing from ten o’clock at night until two in the morning, while taking care of three young kids, a house, and working a freelance writing job for our state’s newspaper.
I used to edit Julia’s Chocolates while my kids were playing at Chuck E Cheese and McDonalds. I lost a lot of that fake money to the games.
Anyhow, I sent the full manuscript to my favorite agent, blurry eyed and exhausted. He loved it and I signed with him in a couple of weeks. A few weeks after that he sold Julia’s Chocolates as part of a two – book deal to the publishing house I’m with now. I was ecstatic and I still love both my agent and my editor.
So my advice is to write a bang up 20 pages. Yes, I did say twenty.
But why write only 20 pages? Because then you won’t waste your time. If the subject matter/characters of your book are not appealing, if it is not going to sell, you have not wasted a year, or many endless years, of your life writing a book that no publishing house wants. With twenty pages you have limited your loss of time and effort and, unfortunately, tears.
The brutal truth is – and here I will say something that will be offensive so put on your tough alligator skin – what you’re writing may not be anything anyone wants. It could be the topic. Could be the market. Could be the wildly insane competition out there.
It could well be the writing. It’s just not good/intriguing/gripping/fun enough.
So write twenty pages.
When the twenty pages are perfect and wildly wonderful, write a short cover letter to the agents describing the plot in the first two paragraphs, the ending paragraph should be about you, your writing history, etc.
Your packet out to agents, online or by snail mail, looks like this: Cover letter, one page. Twenty pages of your story. Synopsis, one page.
Send this packet out to ten agents at a time. Yes, I did say ten.
Everything you hear or read, here or on Jupiter, will tell you to send your partial manuscript to one agent at a time. Don’t follow that rule either. As you can see, I don’t really like rules. Too confining, too dull.
Why submit to multiple agents at the same time? Many agents will never, ever respond to you or your pages. Other agents will take months to read it. With others, the rejection slips will come back so fast, you will think the agent didn’t even read your book. And, he may not have. He may not be taking on clients.
Want more mean truths? An agent will read the first paragraph of your work, MAYBE the first page, of your book, before he tosses it if his attention is not grabbed. If he likes the first paragraph, he reads the first page, then the second page, then the third.
He knows QUICKLY if your book is something he can sell to a publishing house. They’re experienced, they’re smart, they’re efficient. Never forget: They are BURIED in manuscripts.
You will probably be surprised at how fast the rejections come back. It is disheartening, I know it. I lived it. Bang my brain against the keyboard, this part is not fun, and I so feel for you.
But buck up on the rejections or get out of writing. Rejections are a part of being a writer. Even multi published, successful authors still get rejections. Cry. Throw a fit. Take thirty minutes then get over yourself and your pride and your belief that your book should be Number One on the NY Times bestseller list by Tuesday.
If your book keeps getting rejected, analyze it without emotion and figure out what’s wrong with it. You must put your ego aside. Do not give it to your mother or wife to analyze it, they are too close to you and probably won’t be honest.
Hire a reputable editor. (Like Amy) An editor does not like or love you, which is how it should be. You are paying her to be honest and to help you improve. Do not hire an editor if you are afraid your feelings will be hurt. Listen to what she tells you, be open to the criticisms and suggestions.
(Side note: Do not hire an editor if you want her to flatter you and tell you that your book is perfect. A good editor is blunt and honest and knows her stuff. Most of the time she is polite, but not always. Only hire her if you want to hear the truth, you won’t get defensive, you want her criticisms, you’re okay with her shredding your prose, and you are mature enough and smart enough to turn around and use the criticisms to write a better book.)
You may have to eventually change genres, like I did, from romance to women’s fiction, which worked splendidly, and I am now writing my tenth novel. I wish I had changed genres years before I did. I would have saved myself a lot of frustration and heartache. I would encourage you to do the same after repeated rejections in one genre.
But, lickety split, let’s go back to agent talk.
If an agent likes those twenty pages, he will ask you for the full manuscript. This is where you write your heart out, like I did, above. Make it the best writing of your life. Give up sleep. Get up early, go to bed late, write during the weekend.
You may have to edit that sucker four or ten times. I edit all my books eight times before I send it the first time to my agent and editor, and I have been writing for years. Address the stuff I mentioned above about compelling characters and believable character arcs, word choice, description, setting and PACING. Pacing is key. Too slow and you’ll put people to sleep.
Many people will say that this approach, where only 20 – ish pages are actually done when you first send it to an agent, will result in a rushed, poor manuscript if it’s requested by an agent.
Here’s the key: Don’t send in a rushed, poor manuscript. Duh. Send in an excellent manuscript. The very best you can do.
Yes, your manuscript arrives later than the agent wanted but, trust me on this one: If it’s a heckuva manuscript, he won’t give a rip. He’ll lean back in his chair, throw up his arms, look to the ceiling as if in “Hallelujah,” and try to sell your manuscript for as much as he can get.
If you get ONE reputable agent who is interested in your work, you should click your heels together in joy. I have heard unpublished authors fret, hands wringing, all uptight, “What would I do if I send my manuscript to more than one agent at a time and they all want it?”
This happens so rarely, stop your worrying.
If you are very fortunate and two agents or more ask for the full manuscript, send it to your favorite agent first, wait a month, send an email to see if they’re interested, and if they don’t respond in a timely manner, send the full to the second agent. Or, send it to both agents at the same time, (this is what I would do) and let them know another agent is looking at it, too.
If the agent likes your manuscript and thinks he can sell it, he will call or email you. It is unlikely that he will send a smoke signal.
If you still like that agent after that conversation, you will sign a contract with that agent. This means he will represent your book to the publishing houses, which basically means he will contact the editors he knows, either at lunch or a cocktail party or a meeting or a bar, and talk your book up. He will contact editors in houses who sell your type of genre.
Hopefully an editor is interested. If he is, the agent will send the editor your manuscript. If the editor believes his house can sell it and make loads of money off it, he will then buy the book. This involves more contracts. All the contracts are in legalese and are quite long and detailed. They will bore you silly. Get an attorney to review it.
The contracts from the editor/publishing house will go through your agent. You will sign the contracts if you agree to the upfront money the publishing house is offering, and the royalties they offer after the book sells and your upfront money is paid off.
Please people. The number of writers who get upfront six figures – plus is tiny. Miniscule. Do not expect anywhere near this, especially for your first book. I know writers who get all the money they can upfront, because they know they will earn no royalties. Be aware that the vast majority of people who call themselves writers (probably 97%) cannot make a living writing, that’s why they keep their day jobs.
Remember, you will also give a portion of your earnings to your agent (15%) once you are under contract with a publishing house. All monies go from the publishing house, to the agent, then to you. Royalties are paid twice a year.
Once the contract is signed, you’ve sold your book. It is now time to skip and cheer so the aliens on Jupiter can hear you.
There is a WHOLE TON of stuff that you need to do at that time, social media, etc. but that is another article and I do not want to make you cry.
Hopefully there will be more contracts to come and you’ll be on your merry, lovely way. I wish that for you, I truly do.
In the meantime, always remember….
You must keep writing all the time if you want to publish.
You must keep reading excellent books, and learning from them, if you want to publish. I am still learning. Still studying. Still critically analyzing my work and doing the same to other authors’ work whose skills I admire.
Don’t you dare ever read crappy books. It will affect your writing.
Understand that this is an incredibly competitive industry. There are so many freakishly talented authors out there it is head spinning. You are competing against them. Never forget it. Bring your best to the table.
You must live a full life if you want to publish. Love. Laugh. Be with family and friends. Dance. Sing. Go have adventures. For heaven’s sakes, travel. Listen to people. Think new thoughts. Open your brain up to new ideas. Read the newspaper. Take an art class. Try photography. Go to the mountains. Play in the waves. Make new friends. Be interested in others. Be interesting yourself. Be compassionate and kind. All this will fuel the writer in you.
Good luck. I mean that.
***** A little more on agents, even though you are probably sick of this topic…
Do you need an agent? Unless you are writing category romance, like Silhouette or Harlequin, or you’re self – publishing, you need an agent. An agent acts as a screener. If you cannot get an agent to represent you, the general rule is that the publishing house won’t look at your work. In other words, if an agent didn’t like it, they won’t either.
How do you contact an agent in the first place? If you’re in writers’ groups, agents’ names will start floating around. Pay attention to those names. You might also meet agents at writing conferences or workshops. Your best friend’s brother’s half sister may be an agent.
Or, pick up this book, 2015 Writer’s Market and find an agent in there under your genre. If you’re writing romance, look for romance book agents, writing thrillers, go for agents representing thriller writers
Make sure you are sending your work to good, honest agents. Go to this website http://pred-ed.com/ to check. Reputable agents NEVER ask for upfront money or reader’s fees. If yours does, drop him and move on.
You might remember the cover story behind The Glass Wives. No? The cover started out with two pink cups. Then we did this. The final cover has one pink cup and one blue/lavender/periwinkle (I was way ahead of the blue/black/gold/white dress curve). It’s one of the favorite stories I tell book clubs and at reader events. It’s that peek behind the publishing curtain that readers (and writers) covet.
So now, I’ll clue you in to the secret behind the cover for The Good Neighbor.
It started out as a red door.
It looked orange to me on my computer monitor, but everyone told me it was red. And I was thrilled! I have always wanted a red front door. It was like the art department at St. Martin’s Press read my book and my mind. While the red door isn’t literal (no red door in The Good Neighbor), it signaled warmth and welcome. And THAT was literal.
Soon someone notice that another book was being published with a very similar red door. And then another. And because the pub date was originally December, we then were concerned The Good Neighbor would scream HOLIDAY STORY, which it’s not.
Back to the coloring board.
I’ll be honest, I am more a blue gal, than a red gal, but I loved that red door. But I took a deep breath and rearranged my thoughts and climbed on board the teal door train.
And now I can’t imagine it any other way. I’m so grateful to the St. Martin’s team who scoped out those similar covers. They want the cover to stand out, not fade in with other covers on the bookshelves and online. I’m very lucky.
But I’ll be honest, I didn’t always feel that way.
When the change came for the cover of The Glass Wives, at first, I was startled and upset. I assured my editor that Evie Glass would NOT have two different cups (since then, I’m not so sure). I persisted. Evie’s cups would match. I was urged to not be so literal, but to think about what the cups represented—and then I understood. The meaning of the cover went beyond the color of the cups to indicate the two different, yet similar, women inside the story.
It was perfect.
The same thing goes for The Good Neighbor. I based the setting on the street I grew up on in Northeast Philadelphia. Our front door were covered by metal screen doors (with screens in the warm weather, glass in the cold). The front doors were somewhat plain. Some had windows, some did not. I remember white doors and wood doors. I might remember a black door. I definitely don’t remember a teal door on my street.
This publishing thing is a learning process, and when I saw the cover I pushed aside my instant reaction that the door was wrong.
No matter the color, the door was right. It matched the tone of the book, the welcoming nature of the characters, and the neighborly sense of story that makes you want to knock a few times, and then step inside.
At least I hope so.