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The Call, Part 1

Since most visitors to this site will be authors or readers (and on the theory that misery loves company), I thought I’d introduce myself by sharing some of the ups and downs I’ve encountered in my publishing experience, not just before my first sale, but afterward too. It’s a crazy business, and I’m definitely proof of that. (Don’t get me wrong. I love it. But sometimes, I wonder why.)

Many authors refer to this type of story as “the Call,” because it revolves around the first time an editor calls to tell you they’re going to publish one of your books. However, some of us need more than one Call as you’ll see.

I played around with stories all my life, but didn’t really consider writing for publication, rather than for my personal satisfaction, until 1990, when I got an idea for a story about a grad student who finds out she’s descended from a long line of sorceresses. She needs to get up to speed quickly, because all sorts of evil wizards and sorcerers are suddenly trying to either kill her or seduce her. I envisioned this as a continuing series of books, not only about the original heroine but other family members. The story poured out of my heart and imagination, and soon I had a manuscript (or what I thought was a manuscript – I was such an innocent in those days!)

I consulted a couple of books at the library to find out about submitting, then I sent my baby off in the mail to five publishers. Three rejected it with form letters, the other two said basically the same things – (1) “you don’t understand word count, here’s how it goes,” and (2) “this story is a ‘crossover’ between romance and fantasy. You need to choose a genre. Decide which storyline to emphasize and which to make a subplot, then re-write accordingly.”

Looking back, I see how fortunate I was that those editors took the time to give me such valuable feedback. Of course, I was stubborn in those days, and truly believed I couldn’t possibly re-write this story. I would just keep it the way it was and someday, if I managed to sell something else and become famous, then I’d publish it, in pristine condition. Of course, that meant I had to write something else, but by now, I was hooked on the whole write-for-publication process, so no problem.

By a cool twist of fate, Romance Writers of America was having their convention that year right down the freeway from my house. I heard about it on the radio and decided to attend. It was a good decision, especially because I ended up joining RWA. At that time, before the internet became such a phenomenal resource, RWA’s magazine was really the best source, of comprehensive info about romance publishers. I used their Market Update section to find out what publishers wanted to see, and then I tried to write it.

I wrote two historicals, and got some good feedback on them, including the fact that (1) I was still doing word count wrong! Sheesh…., and (2) my historicals were crossovers because the romance, while pivotal, simply wasn’t the main plot. Yep, I had learned nada.

By now, the time-travel market was hot, and I had an idea for one, but it had strong sci-fi elements, and I knew I was hatching another crossover. So I put it aside (it’s still around here somewhere, b/c I love it to death) and I forced myself to daydream a truly romantic story about a modern day heroine who traveled to the backwoods of what would one day be Pennsylvania. I sent the completed manuscript to the editors who had liked-but-rejected my historicals, and in December of 1992, I got The Call. Yay!!

It turns out this book was something of a crossover too, but in this case, it worked for me, because Kensington wasn’t going to publish it as a regular romance under the Zebra imprint. They were starting a new line under the Pinnacle imprint for stories where the paranormal or otherwise “weird” element was as strong as the romance. How lucky could I get!! They bought the time travel and a sequel to it. Then I told the editor about my original grad-student-who-finds-out-she’s-a-sorceress crossover book, and the next thing I knew, they had bought that too. They asked me to beef up the romance a little, and by now, I was much more willing to do so (and honestly, all I really did was add a couple of explicit love scenes and have the heroes take their shirts off a lot more frequently in the non-love scenes, so it was no big deal).

I wanted the publisher to buy all six books in that series, but we struck a compromise. They’d buy the first two, and if those books had good sell-thrus, they’d buy the rest. I asked what a good sell-thru was, and I was told over that if over 50% of the printed books sold, or ideally over 60%, then I’d be fine.

The good news was, my books had sell-thrus of 70% or above. The bad news was, the Pinnacle paranormal-romance line as a whole wasn’t succeeding, so it was being discontinued. And since my stories weren’t romancey enough to be moved over to the Zebra imprint, my series was dead. I was encouraged to try and write some historical romances that focused on the romance to a greater degree than I had been able to do thus far.

I tried. I really did. But the truth is, I love crossovers. I love to read them, to watch them on TV and at the movies, and to write them. Since I’m a lawyer as well as a writer, I decided to give up on romance and try writing a legal thriller. I kept trying, but my plots weren’t quite gritty enough, and surprise-surprise, they had too much romance to fit the legal-thriller genre. However, the experience was useful, because I found out that I liked writing light romantic suspense. I developed a couple of storylines, and also continued trying to break into the paranormal romance market (as opposed to the crossover market). I got some crushing rejections, but also a lot of encouragement, especially from an editor at Avon. Those encouraging rejections really helped me through that tough time.

Then I heard that my old publisher, Kensington, was going to start a category line called Bouquet. I called my former editor, who’s a terrific human being, and a wonderful editor too, and we had a great talk. She was excited about the “light romantic suspense” and I sent her three chapters. That resulted in a sale, and believe me, it was just as thrilling as the first “Call.” Maybe even more thrilling, because of all the frustration.

Well, guess what happened? My Bouquet – which was called Stolen Kisses – won a Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice award. Yay!!! That’s the good news. The bad news? Bouquet as a whole wasn’t doing well, and the line was being discontinued.

Déjà vu? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
I’ll tell you about it in my next entry.

Bye for now. ~ Kate


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Mar. 16th, 2006 03:15 pm (UTC)
Kate the Crusher of Lines???
Noooo! Don't say that!

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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