I’m very excited to be a part of DEADLY SOUTHERN CHARM anthology, and I’m thrilled to have my writer friends as guests on the blog to share their advice on writing and book marketing.
What is the one thing about the writing life that you didn’t know until you were published?
Mollie: I didn’t realize that you don’t make much money. Of course, I didn’t start writing to make money. I absolutely LOVE what I do. And the further I get into my career, the more I see that loving it the ONLY reason to do it. If you don’t love the thrill of a perfect sentence, or the way a story moves you, you won’t find the business gratifying.
Heather: I didn’t realize how much marketing was involved with the book business. It takes a great deal of time to promote your work. You need to balance your writing tasks with your promotional ones.
Lynn: I didn’t realize that the moment I turned it into my publisher it wasn’t MY book anymore. It was OUR book. People kept messing with my book. Now, they were all good things and comments, but I didn’t know how collaborative book publishing really is. Even for my self- published books. Best advice? Make sure you agree with and trust the people working with you.
Kristin: Authors write their first draft for themselves, but revise-revise-revise for their readers.
Maggie: There’s a lot to do in the way of marketing, promotion, etc. My advice is to know your personal goals for your work: is it money (good luck!), love of writing, posterity? Perhaps publishing a book is a bucket list item, and multi-publishing isn’t your goal. It’s great to share inspiration and support with fellow authors, but avoid the keeping up the Joneses syndrome.
Genilee: How important it is to force yourself to set aside time every day to write and how hard marketing a book can be in today’s complicated world of publishing.
J.A.: How much work is involved that doesn’t involve writing. Marketing is a big part of the job and can be very time consuming.
How long did it take you to get your first work published (from creation to actual book)? What was your first published work?
Mollie: For fiction, it was probably 6 months. I had already been a published nonfiction author for years and agent said if I wanted to write fiction, they’d love to see it. I’d been write fiction for years and had an idea brewing, so I wrote the first draft of “Scrapbook of Secrets” during National Novel Writing Month and after several drafts, sent it on to my agent.
Heather: My first mystery was a short story, “Washed up” in Virginia is for Mysteries, a Sister in Crime anthology. It took about six months to write and polish. The book process probably took another eight months or so. My first mystery novel, Secret Lives and Private Eyes took me about five years to write and rewrite (and rewrite). When it was finally accepted for publication, it took another seven months to become a book.
Lynn: My first published work was a couple of essays I wrote and got published during the year of cancer (2007). A few years after that I wrote for the Trues market – short emotional stories with a twist. (I fell in Love with a Carney was my first credit with them.) Then in 2012, I got back a book that had been rejected by a large romance publisher after two years of back and forth consideration. I sent it to a soon to open digital first imprint. It sold in a week. In total, the process took from creation to sale, about three years. My first mystery sold the next year in a three-book deal to Kensington.
Kristin: I’d been writing fiction for about 6 years before I had anything published. My first published work was a short historical mystery, “The Sevens” which was selected from a blind pool of submissions to be included in Bouchercon’s anthology, MURDER UNDER THE OAKS. From the first moment I typed a word to the release date was ten months.
Maggie: “A Not So Genteel Murder,” a short story featured in the Virginia is for Mysteries anthology, was my first published work (2014). Writing and polishing the story took about six months, and the publishing process another six to eight months. Later in 2014, I published my first novel, Murder at the Book Group. That took me forever to write—ten years!—and another 18 months from contract signing to release day.
Genilee: It took my mother four months to write the first book (Twist of Fate) in our five-book The Fate Series. It then took me six months to rewrite, edit and find a publisher. It took the publisher about four months to get it in print and formatted as an ebook.
J.A.: My first published story was, Bikes, Books and Berries. It was part of the Virginia is for Mysteries Vol II mystery anthology. It took about six months to write and rewrite before submission.
Plotter (one who plans or plots out every detail of the writing process) or Pantser (one who writes by the seat of his/her pants)?
Mollie: Definitely a pantser—which I why the synopsis is so hard for me. I like the idea of a story unfolding organically and, in truth, it’s made some of the best stories in my career.
Heather: I’m a combination of the two. I start out as a detailed plotter. I even bought a huge whiteboard for my writing room. And then I write. The story and the characters always go where they want to do.
Lynn: I’m definitely a pantser. I do an outline chart with all the chapters listed to keep my timelines straight. It also helps me keep my chapters about even. And I break out the story structure on that. Red Herring #1, Red Herring #2, Big Black Moment, Happy Ever After... It gives me something to write toward, but the story and character take over.
Kristin: I’m a relaxed plotter. I can’t start writing a story (novel or short) until I know the final scene or the twist. I’ve stopped creating outlines, though. Now I just jot down the major scene points and let my characters take the scenic route from stop to stop. I love when they surprise me!
Maggie: Like Heather, I’m a plotser (combo of plotter and pantser). I have a general outline, but I “listen” to the characters as I write. They have their own ideas.
Genilee: I think we’ve created a new term: plotser! I sit down to write with no particular direction in mind, but I’m outlining and redoing everything as I go to make it all make sense and flow.
J.A.: Short stories I usually panster. Novels I’m a plotter. I like outlines, and I need them to make sure I don’t skip any necessary details.
What is the easiest part of the writing process for you?
Mollie: Coming with ideas is very easy. Making them work, not so easy.
Heather: I love to write. I just tend to get bogged down in the editing and rewrites.
Lynn: There’s supposed to be an easy part? I worry that I’m taking too long to write. I worry that I’m too fast. I worry I didn’t do enough to launch the book... it goes on and on. The best part for me is the planning or scheduling. What am I writing this month, promotions, edits, releasing or travel, it all goes in a word document as well as on my on-line calendar. I love planning and can get lost in the process without writing if I’m not careful.
Kristin: I love drafting. I don’t let myself edit as I write my way through the first draft, so I feel like I’m merely transcribing a movie that’s scrolling in my mind. That said, all the magic happens in the revising stage.
Maggie: Idea generation. I love the ideas I come up with on my daily walks. Developing them on the page? Not so easy.
Genilee: Putting words together the right way. I do it for a living through different channels (magazines, newsletters and articles).
J.A.: I enjoy writing dialogue. If a scene is working the dialogue comes easy. When the dialogue is off, I know I need to rewrite.
What advice do you have for a new writer?
Mollie: Be patient with yourself. Learn the craft. Practice. Take classes. Write and rewrite. I don’t care how good your agent is or how much money you have to promote something—it’s your writing that will ultimately set you apart.
Heather: Be persistent. If you want to be published, keep at it. Keep writing. Keep learning. Writing is a business.
Lynn: Writing is a business is a big one for me. Since I started with smaller publishers, I was around a lot of writers who were dabbling in the business without committing. You have to commit. You don’t have to write. It’s like giving yourself homework every night. But don’t tell me you WANT to be an author. Write or don’t, there is no try to paraphrase Yoda. And don’t get lost in the internet talk about the latest scandal (because there’s always a new one.) If it doesn’t affect your career, don’t let it steal your writing time.
Kristin: There’s only one rule for writers: Keep your butt in the chair. Progress, even just a few paragraphs at a time, is still progress.
Maggie: Carve out time for writing every day (or most days), even if it’s just fifteen minutes. Use a notebook or recording method to keep track of ideas, to-do items, etc. Find systems that work for you. Read the best writers in your genre. Bottom line: write.
Genilee: Don’t go into this field thinking you’ll be rich and famous. Do it because you love writing. It’s extremely rewarding to get published, but getting to point of making money is a constant process that takes many years (unless you are lucky of course!).
J.A.: Social media is a time killer. You need an online presence if you want to be a commercial writer, but it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole. A few minutes turns into several wasted hours that could have been spent writing. The same for research. Use both with restraint.
Many thanks to Mollie Cox Bryan, Lynn Cahoon, Kristin Kisska, Maggie King, Genilee Swope Parente, and JA Chalkley for the interview!
Mollie Cox Bryan is the author of cookbooks, articles, essays, poetry, and fiction. An Agatha Award nominee, she lives in Central Virginia. www.molliecoxbryan.com
Lynn Cahoon is the NYT and USA Today author of the best-selling Tourist Trap, Cat Latimer and Farm-to-Fork mystery series. www.lynncahoon.com
J. A. Chalkley is a native Virginian. She is a writer, retired public safety communications officer, and a member of Sisters in Crime.
Maggie King penned the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries. Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries and 50 Shades of Cabernet anthologies. www.maggieking.com
Kristin Kisska is a member of International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime, and programs chair of the Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia chapter. www.kristinkisska.com
Genilee Swope Parente has written the romantic mystery The Fate Series with her mother F. Sharon Swope. The two also have several collections of short stories. www.swopeparente.com
Heather Weidner is the author of the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries. She has short stories in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 SHADES OF CABERNET and TO FETCH A THIEF. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and Jack Russell terriers. www.heatherweidner.com