I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and that you’re all not suffering from too much turkey! Is it cold where you live? In New Zealand it’s summer, so we tend to have outdoor barbeques rather than big roasts.
I had a lovely relaxing Christmas day with my family. Over indulgence galore!
Merry: Thanks, Bronwen, for giving me the opportunity to visit the Brava Authors blog and ask some questions that pre-published writers – like me – would love to ask someone who’s first book is soon to arrive on the shelves.
First of all, now that you’re about two months from your publication date, what’s your mental state?
Bron: I’m laughing as I read this question. I had to have my second book, Invitation to Scandal, in to my editor, Megan Records, early December, so I haven’t actually had much time to think about book one. Now of course I’m nervously waiting on the first review. Thank goodness Christmas took my mind off it. I’ll just have to keep myself busy working on my next project Invitation to Passion. The promotional aspects of having a book due to be released will certainly keep me busy.
I bet you’re just as nervous, Merry. Making it through round one and two of the WWTS contest means you are inching closer to that book deal. How are the nerves holding up?
Merry: All my nerves are twitching. Actually, I’m torn between excitement and trepidation. This fantastic contest could give my writing career a tremendous boost IF I make it through to the end. It’s the IF part that makes me nervous. The third round challenge was to write the back cover blurb, something I found difficult since I didn’t want to tell the entire plot but still wanted to give the reader the flavor of the book. That’s very tricky. All of the contestants’ entries can be found at RT Review website and readers are given the opportunity to vote for the entry they think is best. Oh, Lordy, I hope people think that’s mine. Yeah, my nerves are definitely twitching.
How does this compare to how you felt when you got “the call?” What was that like?
Bron: Getting the call was like waking up to learn you’d won the lottery. It was the first book I had actually finished and my first ever submission, so my expectations had not been high. So when Megan called to say she wanted to buy my book, I couldn’t quite believe it. I didn’t sleep much over the days following Megan’s call, my adrenalin was surging. The book hitting the shelves is still a bit surreal and I am more nervous than when I submitted it. I hadn’t expected anything from my submission, but the response to book one can really help or hinder my career as an author. If you win the contest, you’ll understand!
Merry: How did you initially submit Invitation to Ruin? Did you have an agent and, if so, do you think everyone needs to have one?
Bron: No, I was un-agented and I submitted directly to Megan. I had been reading on Miss Snark’s First Victim blog site, that Megan Records had judged one of the contests, and I thought she must be looking for authors (this is a great tip – read romance writing blogs and see who is judging contests they might be actively looking for authors). So I typed up a query letter and submitted to Megan. I got a request for the full book from my query and the rest is history. So no, I didn’t have an agent. When you are trying to get published submit to both agents and editors. I actually received an offer of representation from agent Melissa Jeglinski at The Knight Agency three days before Megan’s offer. I met Melissa when she came to NZ for the RWNZ conference in 2009. I had pitched to her and she’d asked to see my story and liked it enough to offer representation.
Merry: Early in your career did you enter any contests? Do you think contests in general are helpful?
Bron: I have been writing seriously for about two years and playing at it for about another three. Yes, I did enter a few contests, but not with Invitation to Ruin. I had only just finished writing the story when I submitted the query and it sold in a month. To me contests are not about winning. It is a small number of people’s opinions and therefore sometimes it is the luck of the draw as to whether you final – not everyone will love your voice, or your characters, or your plot. However, if you enter the same piece in several contests, and you get similar feedback across the board, then the feedback becomes useful. Be careful not to fall into the trap of writing enough to enter contests – usually the first three chapters (I did that during my first three years writing). You have to learn to finish a book. Three chapters is easy, a full book is very hard work.
I liked contests for the feedback they gave me, some of it not always useful, but it made me really think about my story. Also once I started finaling in contests, it gave me the confidence to think I could do this and to focus on finishing a book for submission. I still feel a good critique group, especially those writing in similar genres, is more important than contests. Contests are also good to help you get in front of editors if you don’t have an agent.
Look how useful this contest has been for you, Merry. Have you entered other contests? What has been your experience?
Merry: Well, WWTS, which is sponsored by RT Book Reviews and Kensington Brave is way different from the various chapter contests. The entire manuscript was required, for one thing. But I have entered a few regular contests with other stories and my experience has been similar to yours. The feedback was helpful since it showed me “reader expectations.” I’ve previously written science fiction and fantasy, where the expectations are different, and the feedback helped me get my “romance hat” more firmly on my head. And I made the finals often enough to be encouraged.
Do you have a writing regimen and, if so, what is it?
Bron: I do have a routine. I have twenty hours per week of other paid work, two full days and one half day, and I look at writing as my second job. I write Monday afternoons and all day Tuesday and Thursday. I also write at least 8 hours at the weekend.
I usually spend the first hour in the morning going over emails as NZ is a day ahead of the USA and first thing in the morning here is about lunchtime the previous day in the USA , the best time to answer queries from my edito, agent and fans.
I’m a definite plotter and most of my books are completely plotted out before I start them. I use Karen Wiesner’s First Draft in 30 Days. I plot out – action plot, emotional plot, sexual plot and villain plot for each scene. I try not to edit as I write. I do a first draft and then layer it. I also don’t necessarily write scene by scene. If I wake up in the morning with a scene, in my head, I get it down on paper. I try to write something every day. I set myself a delivery target and work to it. I finished my first book, which was half written, by giving myself fifty days to finish it – that was only a 1000 words per day. I belong to (in fact I set it up) a group of about 25 romance writers in NZ, some published, some agented and the rest unpublished. We have a yahoo group called Book In 50 Days and about three times a year we run exactly that – a book in 50 days. We all have to post our daily totals and we support, critique and drive each other towards the goal of getting books finished, submitted and sold. Since we set up last year over 6 of us have found agents and over 6 of us have sold, including this year’s Golden Heart Paranormal winner – Kylie Griffin with a 3 book deal with Berkley – see contests work!!! Kylie is also with The Knight Agency. I really recommend setting up loops with self-minded authors who are focused on making writing a career.
Some days I write as little as 500 words. On other days, if it’s flowing I can write up to 5,000. I am not a fast writer. I have to really think about what I write. The most important thing is to find what works for you and stick to that routine. Family has to have time as well. I don’t have children so I have more time than many other writers I know.
What works for you Merry? How do you fit writing into your busy day?
Merry: I can tell you’re much more organized than I am. I plot before I write, but not to the extent you do. I know where I want the plot to go and pretty much how I’m going to get there, but I have to be careful or my characters tend to take the bit in their teeth and dash off in the wrong direction. I always love my characters, but sometimes I have to beat them into submission. J I try to treat writing like a business, however, and I dutifully keep my hands on the keyboard for at least 3 hours a day. Some days I end up with three hours of dross that will be deleted the next day, but on other days, the words just flow and I write and write and everything seems magical. This is what happened with Indentured Hearts, the story I entered in the WWTS contest. It couldn’t wait to get out my head and onto the page. I wrote it in about a month. Of course, the impending contest deadline may have had something to do with this.
Is Invitation to Ruin the first book you’ve written or do you have a secret stash of manuscripts?
Bron: Yes, Invitation to Ruin was my first completed book. I have a few half finished books and quite a few books bullet point plotted. That’s the trap I was warning you about in relation to contests – starting books to enter in contests but never finishing one. You can’t sell what you haven’t finished.
I have now finished Invitation to Scandal, my second book for Kensington Brava. I only have a two book deal with Kensington. I have Invitation to Love three-quarters finished, and I’m hoping if Invitation to Ruin sells well, Megan will want book it and book four, Invitation to Passion.
How many have you written, Merry? And have you submitted them or are they sitting in the bottom draw?
Merry: Nothing in a drawer, but I do have a very full thumb-drive. And I haven’t submitted any of these since I consider them part of my learning curve. I’m afraid they’re all pretty much mixed genre that do not meet the expectations of most romance readers. But I still consider them interesting tales and maybe some day I can work them into a more acceptable form.
Do you have a new project in the works?
Bron: I have three more books underway for the Invitation series. So there will be five in total, fingers crossed! I also have another stand alone historical almost complete but it probably needs an overhaul. And surprise, I also have a contemporary Harlequin Presents almost finished.
Merry: That sounds great. Had you always planned a series? Do you write a novel that’s part of a series differently from one that’s not?
Bron: Yes. As a marketer I quickly saw the sense in building a series for my readers. When I look at my favorite romance authors and their books, most of them are writers who developed a series of outstanding characters and plot lines. I don’t think I’d write the book differently if it wasn’t a series, but I am focused on ensuring any characters that are in all books are consistent.
Merry: Do you have any “hints” that could help make a new writer’s manuscript more saleable?
Bron: I am not a natural writer but I am a natural storyteller. When I first started writing in 2006 I had an awful lot to learn, so I did just that. I took over thirty online romance specific, writing courses. Some of the best are anything given by Patricia Kay, Margie Lawson, and those run by WriterUniv or Savvy Authors or any of the RWA Chapters.
I also read and read and read the genre I thought my voice suited – historical. I then took my favorite authors books apart, chapter by chapter and analyzed what they did. How did they start their books, how did they develop the character arcs, where did they put the turning points? I use Michael Hauge’s five key turning point structure as a guide.
Then you simply have to write and find yourself fabulous critique partners. I was very lucky that I found a fabulous group through RWNZ. Of course you ahve to join RWA and your local Chapter.
Merry: Thanks for letting me pick your brain a bit. I hope in the not too distant future, I too can be awaiting the publication of my first book. J And now I bet there are others out there with similar questions.
Bron: Thanks, Merry. I hope you continue to do well in the contest and that we see your book published. What are your current writing plans and what is in store for 2011?
Merry: I have a nearly completed Victorian romance that needs some work in the middle. My characters go on a journey that seems never-ending and much of that needs to be cut. And then, I have a number of stories waiting in my Stray Thoughts file that really want to get written. I get ideas at odd times, like when I’m putting on makeup. I mean, I really don’t want to look too closely at the mirror – what is my mother’s face doing there? – so I make up stories. I stick these in Stray Thoughts until the characters get so loud I have to let them out. And that file is getting very noisy indeed. So 2011 looks to be busy.
Bron: Thanks Merry – and Happy New Year everyone. Don’t forget to drop by the WWTS contest and take a look at Merry’s entry – Indentured Hearts (Historical). If you like it, give her your vote. Round three closes on the 2nd of January 2011.
As it’s the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011 I thought I’d GIVE AWAY a arc copy of Invitation to Ruin
If you’re a reader let me know if you prefer series or stand alone books and why. If you’re a writer let me know if you are a plotter or if you develop the story as you write.
I will draw a name from anyone who leaves a comment before 10th January 2011.
Have a safe and enjoyable New Year – I’m not even going to mention resolutions. Roll on 2011!