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Back in May, I dropped off the radar everywhere. My new novel Lie Lay Lain had just released, and I was making various plans for what I would do to promote it. I was also considering which project I wanted to work on next: ghost trains that never stop, cougar sex in doomed bed & breakfasts, Romeo & Lolita meet Breaking Bad?

Then my pop* was diagnosed with leukemia. I abandoned every plan and project for the daily drive to the university med center, where I did what one does in such circumstances. I sat in hospital rooms and tried to ask smart questions of the doctors who were pumping my dad full of poison. I cried in bathrooms and cafeterias and elevators and parking garages so that I could put on a brave and hopeful face when I was in my pop’s room.

I don’t imagine I spent even a minute thinking about my writing career in May or June, but apparently someone else was thinking about it. An agent contacted me to ask if I had any new projects I was working on, and would I send her something. I shot off an email with a manuscript attached and put it out of my mind.

The week after I traveled by ambulance to take my pop home from the hospital, I spoke to that agent, who offered to represent me. Four years after I parted ways with my last agent, I had a new agent. Two days later, my pop died. Planning for the funeral and for the rest of my life without him ate up what would otherwise have been cause for celebration.

Now I find myself on the backside of July, about to turn in revisions to my agent. It seems like April was a million years ago, and I don’t even remember what I was supposed to do. Honestly, after four years without an agent, and having sold two books to a small press, I’d given up on traditional publishing.

Most days, I feel like I’m dragging a boat down the beach. In a perfect world, the goal is to put the boat in the water at high tide, but it’s too late for that. I’m putting the boat in at low tide and hoping for the best.

 

*To clarify, and it seems that even in this age of blended families, I must clarify: 
my pop was legally my stepfather, my mother's second husband. He was a command 
sergeant major in the Army, a 3-decade employee of the natural gas industry, 
and the man who managed to raise 5 daughters. 
My biological father is the former drug dealer and all-around scoundrel. 
My pop was my father for 36 years, and as such, has earned the right not to be 
relegated to such halfway titles as "stepfather."

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I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve officially signed a contract with Stairway Press to publish my next novel, Lie Lay Lain. Although we haven’t committed to a release date yet, I do expect it to be some time this year.

Considering how slowly publishing tends to move, this book is something of an oddity. My first novel, Last Will, took about three years to write and more than ten to sell. In a turn about, Lie Lay Lain took nine years to write and was sold in less than a year.

I don’t yet have a cover to reveal, but in honor of the signed contract, here’s an excerpt from the book.

***

The church’s Youth Director had an aura of cool that Olivia envied. She knew it influenced her, although she wanted to resist it. Marnie had always been one of the cool kids, Christian or otherwise, and when she tossed her hair back and clasped her hands over her modest cleavage and gold cross necklace, Olivia fell for it all over again.

“I have a huge favor to ask you,” Marnie said. She didn’t say it the way Olivia would have, like a supplicant. She said it with the same inflection she would have used to say, “I have a huge present for you.”

“How huge?” Olivia saved and closed the spreadsheet she’d been working on.

“I need another counselor to go on the Double Cross overnight.”

It was the sort of opportunity Olivia had once been eager for: participating in the youth ministry, making a difference in the kids’ lives, building the future of the church. Once upon a time, she’d been eager to live out all the public relations lingo Marnie used to recruit volunteer chaperones. Then Marnie shut her out, first telling Olivia she was too young to be a counselor and then four years later that she was too old. In short, Marnie didn’t want Olivia to be part of “the gang.” It felt like high school all over again.

Except now, Marnie needed her.

“I can’t. I’ve got plans with a friend.” Olivia reveled in knowing it wasn’t an excuse or a lie. She was supposed to see Rindell that night and she’d already promised Jennifer she’d go with her up to Anastasia State Park on Saturday, to help her find that little girl’s aunt. Olivia had a full weekend that didn’t include work or quilts.

Marnie didn’t even blink. “You could always reschedule with your friend. Double Cross only comes once a year and you can’t reschedule something special like that.”

“I’m sorry. I can’t.” Olivia didn’t care if her bulldog was showing. Marnie’s opportunism was so distasteful now that she could see the underbelly of it.

Two hours later, Marnie sent in the big guns. Pastor Lou poked his head into Olivia’s cubicle, peering at her over the top of his glasses.

“I hate to put you on the spot, Olivia, but I’d like to ask you to do something for me.”

“Double Cross?”

“The difficulty,” Pastor Lou said, in the same voice he used to cajole the deacons board, “is that there’s no time for us to clear someone through the volunteer protocols. You, however, have already been through it, and you’re already on the insurance for the van.”

Olivia didn’t repeat what she’d said to Marnie, that she already had plans. She didn’t mention that she felt pressed into service, taken advantage of, taken for granted.

She said, “Okay, but I have to pack.”

At the hotel in Orlando, the other counselors and youths trundled their luggage down to their rooms. Olivia followed and discovered the full horror of what she’d been strong-armed into. She would be sharing a room with three teenage girls she barely knew. The adjoining suite held three more girls and another chaperone, Amy, one of the cool kids from the Young Couples Bible Study Group.

“We’re in for an adventure,” Amy said chummily, touching up her make-up.

“Yeah.” Olivia wasn’t surprised when they reached the concert venue that she was made to play the adult while Amy went off to chat with Marnie. Olivia was stuck doling out dinner money, corralling teenagers, and being asked, “Will you keep my lip gloss/cell phone/hairbrush/wallet in your purse?”

The music was nothing like the Christian bands of Olivia’s youth, but she preferred the unintelligible lyrics to the MC’s strident voice between bands.

“Give it up for Jesus!” he screeched, encouraging the kids to yell as loudly as they could. “You wanna know who the coolest guy in the world is? It’s Jesus. He’s your best friend, your study partner. He’s the man. Who da man?”

The answer came back in chorus: “Jesus is da man!”

It was all more slickly polished than it had been in Olivia’s day, and she covered her ears to make it bearable. From somewhere in her purse a cell phone vibrated. As she reached into the bag, searching for a phone that was probably not hers, she glanced up and saw two teenagers pressed together against a wall. They were wrapped around each other, kissing feverishly. The boy was a stranger. Or at least Olivia didn’t recognize the back of his floppy blond hair or his sagging jeans, but the girl was one of her own. Erica, in a tiny pink camisole that barely contained her breasts.

“Oh crap,” Olivia said out loud in the din of screaming guitars and teenagers. Her first ever outing as a youth group chaperone and she’d lost a sheep to the wolves.

Her first instinct was to wait for a more experienced counselor to intervene. Her second instinct was to march smartly over to the girl and give her a stern talking to—no, that was more of a fantasy than an instinct. Olivia did in fact take two steps toward the girl, but came up short when the contents of the “stern talking to” failed to materialize.

Her third instinct was to scurry through the crowd and tell Marnie. She found the youth director dancing in the middle of a circle of kids from Church of the Palms. At first Marnie smiled and waved obliviously. Only after Olivia made multiple gestures to her did she approach, frowning.

Leaning close, Olivia shouted into Marnie’s ear, “There’s a problem.”

“What kind of problem?”

“One of the girls is making out with some guy.”

Marnie was all responsible adult then. She followed Olivia back through the crowds, and promptly went into action. With a flurry of gestures and words Olivia couldn’t hear, Marnie separated Erica from the boy and herded her toward the Church of the Palms crowd. She did it without a single glance at Olivia, leaving her alone on the fringe of the crowd with her vibrating purse.

Back at the hotel, Olivia had plenty of time to repent not following her second instinct/fantasy. Marnie and Amy shut all six girls up in one suite with another chaperone and then they rounded on Olivia.

“How long was it going on before you came to get me?” Marnie said.

“I don’t know. I came and got you as soon as I saw it.” Olivia was as stupidly surprised at the contempt in the question as she had been in high school, facing down the random viciousness of cheerleaders.

“Why didn’t you intervene?”

“I didn’t know what to say,” Olivia said.

“How about ‘stop’?”

“We covered this last week,” Amy said. “We talked about abstinence in group last week.”

“I’m not a regular counselor. I don’t go to group.” Olivia hated how plaintive she sounded.

“Well, you can’t let them go off by themselves. You have to stay close to them,” Amy said.

“I can’t believe you didn’t reach out to Selena.” Marnie shook her head in disappointment.

Selena. Not Erica.

“I don’t know her,” Olivia said.

“You should have done something.” Marnie and Amy shook their heads in unison. That robotic self-satisfaction finally roused Olivia to anger.

“You asked me to do this as a favor!”

Marnie was silent for a moment and then in a low, sneaky voice, she said, “I won’t make that mistake again.”

She breezed back through the adjoining suite door and, on the other side, she said, “Everybody gather around. We need to talk about something that happened tonight.”

Olivia and Amy stood in the doorway, watching as Marnie wove her web around a teary-eyed Selena. In a few minutes they were all hugging and crying and saying, “We love you, Selena. We want you to love yourself. We want you to respect yourself.”

In Olivia’s ear, Amy whispered, “Isn’t she amazing? She’s so good with them. It makes me so happy to think she’ll protect them from the mistake I made.”

When Olivia glanced at her, Amy looked away, maybe regretting the confession. She separated herself from Olivia and fell into the arms of the crying, praying monster of teenage girls. Olivia stayed where she was, watching the circle she hadn’t been invited into and never would be.

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Now that I have this pile of advanced reader copies taking up space on my dining room table, I need to start giving them away. The cats said I had to, as they’re not willing to share the table with my books. So, here’s the deal. I’m giving away the twelve (12!) copies of the book seen in the following picture. That includes the top copy where I scattered cat treats to lure the cats into posing. It may smell a bit fishy, but it’s a free book! I’ll be happy to autograph the twelve copies in any way the winners see fit.

Sippy grudgingly deigns to pose with my book fort

Additionally, I’m giving away 20 bookmarks as secondary prizes.

Oooooh, book swag!

Now, there are a couple of ways you can enter, and each one gives you an additional entry. First and easiest, you can Like this blog post. Almost painless. (Unless your mousing hand cramps up, which I hope it doesn’t.)

However, if you’d like to enter the giveaway multiple times, come visit me over on Facebook.  There you can see the full array of things that will get you more chances to win. You can Like my author page on FB, follow my blog, follow me on Twitter, retweet the giveaway, and you can add the book to your to-read list on Goodreads.

The contest o-fficially begins at midnight tonight and runs for a full week.

About the book:

Bernie Raleigh fails at everything he touches. The victim of a kidnapping for ransom as a child, Bernie has spent his adult life trying to avoid being noticed. That’s impossible once he inherits his grandfather’s enormous fortune.

The inheritance comes complete with a lot of obligations, a mansion, and a problematic housekeeper named Meda Amos. Beauty queen, alien abductee, crypto-Jew, single mother — Meda is all those things, and she may also be the only person who can help Bernie survive his new and very public life.

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I suppose it’s official now: my book really is being published. And I have a photo of a book fort with a cat to prove it. As many people before me have ascertained, it’s just not real until you have enough copies of your book to build a pyramid. Stay tuned. I’ll have details on how you can win a copy soon.

Sippy deigns to pose with my book fort

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Most writers would like to think that our brilliant writing, clever premise, and skillful plot manipulation are the primary things that lead to a book selling. We want to believe this, perhaps even need to believe this, because it helps us feel that we have some control over our writing careers, such as they are. If it’s all about skills, we can just work harder to become better writers, thereby increasing our chances of being published.

That said, as many writers can tell you, luck is a big component to the publishing game. You have to write not just a good book, or a great book, but the right book. Then you (or the right agent) have to send it out to the the right editor at just the right time. If this weren’t true, then how would any of the great classics of literature have ever been rejected even once? If all it were about was the quality of the writing and the story, every great book would immediately sell, leading to accolades, fame, and wealth for the author. We know it ain’t so.

Yet sometimes I encounter writers who would have you believe that it was only their hard work that led to their writing successes. As though they alone controlled the outcome.

Today, I read a news story about a CNN producer who has won the lottery twice. She tells her own story here. Part of the story is touching, because she apparently won $100,000 the first time, just at the moment she most needed it. Those are wonderful stories, when crisis is averted by a sudden windfall.

The rest of the story is pure aggravation. Here is what she has to say about why she won:

“I believe that this blessing came to me because I have worked very hard.”

Scratch harder!!!

I have scratched lottery tickets before. It’s not that difficult. It certainly doesn’t qualify as “hard work.” Somehow, this woman believes that she won the lottery because she deserved it for working so hard. These are the words of someone who is either delusional or lacking in logic. Unless one is cheating, one wins the lottery, because through a process of random chance, one has purchased a winning ticket. It has nothing to do with hard work or being deserving.

The same is true with writing and publishing. To get published, you have to write a book (or in some cases, hire someone to write your book.) Hard work helps with this, because writing a book is not as easy as buying a lottery ticket. That said, the rest of the equation is all about getting your book into the hands of the right editor at the right moment. This rests a very great deal on chance.

What say you? How important is luck? In publishing? In winning the lottery? In everyday life?

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So, let’s just play a hypothetical game to help me out with a dilemma.

Let’s say that 10 or more years ago, while toiling in obscurity in Tampa, I finished writing my first real novel. Let’s pretend it was before the internet was big, so my circle of writing friends was a lot smaller than it is now. I had this really great coworker, you, who read a lot and enjoyed talking about books. So I asked you to read my book, before I decided what to do with it–burn it, query it, weep quietly over it?

Continuing with our hypothetical scenario, let’s say you were an enthusiastic reader, who not only said nice things about my book, but offered some comments that proved helpful to me in revising.

Now, flash forward to the present. Sadly, you and I lost touch years ago. Before the internet, this happened all the time, remember? It was nobody’s fault. Sad, but true.

Except something pretty cool happened this year, hypothetically. After all these years, I sold that very first book to a publisher. I’ve hammered out edits, weighed in on covers, shilled other writers for blurbs and engaged in a growing variety of networking gymnastics. Then the publisher emailed me to ask, “Do you want to include a dedication?”

Um, yeah, yeah, I do. I particular, I’d really like to dedicate this book to my two first readers. The problem is, I don’t remember how to spell your name exactly. I think it’s Brianne May. But maybe it’s Brianna May. Or maybe your last name was LeMay. It’s just been too long since I worked with you, and I don’t remember.

So, in this hypothetical situation …

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I know, I know. I’m always over-eager to share my opinion, whether anyone asks for it or not, but every once in a while, I’m asked for my opinion and have to scramble for one. This one is a doozy.

A great title makes a great book cover!

Over the last ten years, a goodly number of my friends and acquaintances have sold books. At some point in each case, they opened the emails in which they got to see the final version of their covers. That sight has been met with everything from giddy delight to caution to abject disappointment. Until the recent increase in self-publication, that was how the game went: the author was the last to know what the cover would be. Now I know a few people who’ve actually designed their own covers with varying degrees of success.

On the other hand, I fielded an email from my soon-to-be-publisher asking for my input on a cover for my book. It’s a small press, with a president who’s used to making his own decisions, so I was prepared for the likelihood that I would simply be sent a couple versions of possible covers for feedback.  From watching all those friends’ and acquaintances’ experiences, I was also prepared for the likelihood that my feedback might be the least important factor in the final decision. After all, I’m no graphic designer.

I guess I wasn’t really prepared for the prospect of being asked for my very own little ideas about the cover.

Uh, me? I …

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve cogitated, looked at a variety of photos, and a whole slew of book covers. Today, I actually mocked up a few things to see how I felt about the various possibilities. Today I clicked SEND, and I wait to hear what the guy who makes the decisions thinks.

How about you? Have you designed a cover? Had one thrust upon you? What are your favorite covers? Least favorite?

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