A Harlequin Affair

Never say never, but I believe my long-held goal to become a Harlequin writer is finally finished for good. It’s not that I still don’t love the publisher and the books. I have ten or so rejections from them for various series dating back to my very first book back in the ’80s. “Our readers don’t respond to heroines in the arts,” read the rejection letter.

It was very kind of them to let me down this way, as years later I read the manuscript and promptly threw it in the trash. It was horrible. A practice novel. Next, I sent in a highly polished query and got a request for the manuscript. The reply to that was from an assistant to an editor. “You need to learn your craft.” Wow. That stung. But I made it my mission to study craft. I attended conferences, took workshops, read books. Then I reread the manuscript and revised it. Finally, a revised and improved The Paris Notebook is coming out next month via The Wild Rose Press.

When I got an agent, she sent a sure thing manuscript to Harlequin’s “Next” line. They almost bought it but in the end passed. My agent was more shocked than I was…that book, Sister Issues, revised and indie published is now available on Kindle and Nook.   

Harlequin sent my editor a form letter rejecting my fantasy novel Gypsy. I have since written a sequel to Gypsy called Travelling Girl and can’t wait to get them both on Kindle as indie titles.

Meanwhile, on the romance front, I wrote three novels and began a lovely relationship with a Harlequin editor who always gave thoughtful critiques, balancing ego-boosting praise with why my novel does not fit the Harlequin brand. This third time, she said I had written a “bigger” book. The love story was not central. And she was right. A teenage girl was begging for a pov. I had written much about her in diary form, just as a way to let her have her say. Now, I’ll let her in the manuscript, which is a follow up to Sister Issues and more rightly belongs on my Kindle book list.  

Getting that final rejection from Harlequin was really sad. I kind of knew it was coming, and I was prepared for it, but it still stings. It’s been less than 24 hours, and I know this mood will pass. And even though it didn’t work out between Harlequin and me, I will always appreciate them for their honesty and excellent advice. It has made me a better, tougher writer.

Creative Full Moon

I love full moons. Not only are they pretty but they signal completion: something has come to an end. And I love completing things. Luck is on my side as a full moon works 4 days before or after, too, so I must get my butt in gear and finish that proposal already.

This full moon also has an aspect that plays well with creative types. In astro-speak it is known as the grand trine. Think of triangles of stars, all in direct mathematical alignment with each other, giving each other attributes that fire creative energy. That’s our golden triangle this month.

And these trines are rare. The last occurred in 2004. Susan Miller calls grand trines “bouquets from the universe.” Of course every sign is different and the planets will reflect those differences. If this much information intrigues you, I suggest you check out Susan Miller *and your own sign of the zodiac for specifically how this grand trine affects you.

*Susan gives her readings of the stars free every month so expect some annoying advertising before you get to the good stuff. I notice this month an entire ad page pops up first. Just click out of it to see her beautiful site.

The Third Choice

I’ll be working on my galleys for The Paris Notebook today. It has been a long haul getting this book into production. Yes, it’s nice to have an editor, a cover artist, POD and a marketing department all working for me at no cost to me. But right now, I’m split down the middle about which way I prefer to publish, go-it-alone indie, like I did with Sister Issues, or ePub with ePress.

Really, I won’t know until I see how each novel earns out in the next few months. And really, really, beyond those two choices, I want to get published by Harlequin, earn an advance, and have their giant readership advantage. I will be polishing new chapters this month and sending them off to an editor who has asked to see more of my work.

Literary Hierarchies

Today is a good day. Snowy outside and nothing much else going on. Perfect for reading through Sugar Shack, deepening the third character’s pov, and giving the rest of the book a final polish. Really, not that much to do. The manuscript it pretty clean. I am even enjoying reading it. Again. I’m also excited to think about putting it out on CreateSpace/Kindle.

I’ve been talking with friends about this particular project and a few people have mentioned that self-publishing can be a handicap for a writer hoping to break into contracted work. I do know that. In fact, there’s a whole hierarchy when it comes to what kind of writing gets the most (and the least) respect in the literary world.

Vanity publishing is the worst. You pay someone to edit, market, and print your book.

Self-publishing comes next. Unless you’re doing a boutique type book of poetry or something similar, which has been done so often with now-famous writers that it has its own cache. With self-publishing you do the artwork, the edits, the marketing, the distribution. You only pay to have the book printed by a good company and the cost is far less than a vanity published work. I did this with my first book and made back the money I spent fairly quickly, because you don’t have to split profits with anyone.

Digital and POD (print on demand) self-publishing is next. That’s when you do all the work yourself, pay no fees, get no advances, and are paid only a portion of royalties. The amount of royalties paid is significantly larger than royalties with traditional publishers who pay advances. That’s what I plan to do with Sugar Shack. Why? Because I couldn’t sell it to a traditional publisher. My agent almost sold it to Harlequin, but when they ultimately passed on the project, and I revised the story for the single title market, she couldn’t get another house to even read sample chapters. But I love the story and believe in it and so that’s why I’m choosing this option.

Why not Digital First or ePublishing, which is next on the hierarchy? Most ePublising houses are interested in romantic erotica. The only one who even considers women’s fiction (Carina Press) won’t let you submit if you’ve got a submission into Harlequin, which at the moment, I do.

Next comes genre fiction, including romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy. 

After genre fiction, commercial, “popular” or mainstream fiction, including women’s fiction, is next.

Then at the top of the heap, literary fiction. How is literary fiction different from mainstream fiction? If you make too much  money, or stick to standard plot structures, you are “popular” or commercial. If you make hardly any money, and don’t really give a crap about plot, or do “interesting” things with narrative, you are literary.

There are exceptions. A few authors are genre and literary. A few are popular and literary. I’d say these books trump everyone else on the hierarchy as far as respect goes. The real money however, remains with writers of  “popular” fiction. The more popular, the more money.

So my thinking on this is, it’s all kind of junior high. Well, except for the profit part, which is important yet illusive for most writers. We write what we write. How it gets out, who gets it out, where it comes from, all of that is just kind of a gloss that some people take more seriously than others. When I first started writing, I had aspirations to be “literary” like Anne Tyler, Alice Hoffman,  Margaret Atwood.

Selling a literary novel is the toughest sell out there. And also, I really don’t write literary novels. I write romance, fantasy, women’s fiction with a dash of romance. I can’t see why any editor would care if I love a novel I couldn’t sell and put it out myself on CreateSpace. What’s the big deal?

Which brings me to another writer discussion I was part of recently. What to write on blogs. We fiction writer/bloggers, so this discussion goes, need to be really careful about what we say in our posts. For example, maybe, since I have a novel at Harlequin, I should not say I’m doing another one for CreateSpace. Because of the “way it looks.” Because of, frankly, hierarchy.

Here’s what I think about that. I think I am so far down the totem pole it really doesn’t matter. And I doubt very much that Harlequin editors read my online diary entries. They are too busy reading manuscripts!

Conference Coincidence

I don’t really believe in coincidence, more that the universe constantly sends messages meant to nudge in the right direction. Of course there’s the other side of the story, which is that about half the time, when I follow up, nothing comes of it. Still, I stand firm in my belief that the universe is constantly sending me helpful messages. I just wish they were clearer.

What happened at the conference is that I saw the guy (an editor with Harlequin) who loved Sugar Shack. I found the email in which he says that my writing has “flashes of insight and humor that jump off the page” and that I’m “good at establishing atmosphere.” He also said “We’d be happy to review other material from this author.”

So why was I not sending him new manuscripts perfect for one of the lines he edited every six months? Because I had an agent who liked my paranormals and wanted me to expand the category romance into a single title, so I followed her advice, not what, in hindsight, seems like the more perfect plan.

What were we thinking???!!

Anyway, seeing this guy again gave me a cosmic push. As soon as I parted ways with my agent, I put the plan in place to write several categories, and keep sending them every six months or so. One’s already at Harlequin, one is in the revision stage, and I’m diligently working on the third (Yes! Finally started it at the conference!). I’m working the plan that I should have started years ago, had I read the message from the universe correctly.

But the universe is kind and it will send along another “coincidence” if you don’t get it the first time. Which is what happened at the conference. The editor who so enjoyed Sugar Shack works for a line that buys the type of story (home and family themes) I’m writing now! And he told everyone at the workshop we could send him a query.

Flashing neon sign from the spirits in the sky.