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Skipping Editor/Agent Appointments
Interview Tips
The Audacity of Form Rejection Letters
Why Keep Entering the Golden Heart?
My Small Press Journey
The Secret to Selling: TPT (Talent, Persistence and Timing)
Are You a POV Slut or a P.U.R.I.S.T.?
Dealing with Rejection


Dear Cindy,

I'm attending my first RWA National conference this summer. Thinking about the editor/agent appointments is making me crazy. I know they're a huge conference perk and that I shouldn't pass up the chance to meet the editor of my dreams. But if the idea of taking an appointment is making me hyperventilate now, how big of a mess will I be then? How much trouble will I get into if I book editor and agent appointments and then chicken out? Can't I just attend their workshops instead?

Nervous in Nashville

Dear Nervy,

I assume by "chicken out" you mean you're thinking of booking editor and agent appointments at the biggest annual romance writers conference on the continent and then maybe—if, at the time, you don't think you can handle the pressure—you might not show up. Do I have that right?

Nervy, please don't make that mistake! Everyone gets antsy about their editor and agent appointments. EVERYONE. And if someone claims they don't, well, they're definitely not me! I've been to about a half-dozen National conferences by now, and I think I've booked editor/agent appointments at every conference but one. I never ever ever fail to get nervous. It doesn't matter how prepared I am. It doesn't matter if I have my pitch perfected to a tee or if I'm winging it, the day of the appointments I'm very nervous, and sometimes (though it's not as bad as it used to be) I'm even nervous the night before (or the month before). I think some of us are just nervous nellies. It's one of our "things." Part of our processes. We can't fight it. However, the worst thing we can do is succumb to our nerves and ditch the appointment. If you do that, Nervy, yes, you might get in trouble. These things vary from year to year, but writers ditching editor/agent appointments is not new to RWA National or regional chapter conferences (although I can imagine the guilt factor of running into a ditched editor or agent at a smaller conference might curtail skipped appointments to a greater degree than at super crowded National). Some years there are stiff penalties involved. For example, if you book an appointment and then don't show, you're banned from booking appointments for the next couple of years (Don't quote me. I don't know what RWA's rules are from year to year. Maybe some years it doesn't matter if you ditch the appointment, but do you want to take that chance?)

Think of it this way. Your Dream Editor or Dream Agent has a list of names of authors taking her or his appointments. If an author doesn't show up, can you imagine that the agent or editor would think highly of you? Well, okay, they might love the chance to gather their reserves or take a 5-minute nap. But they also might remember your name and then not feel too kindly toward your query...if it ever arrives. So unless you have some sort of emergency or are sincerely taken ill, nerves simply aren't a good excuse. You see, because the appointments are so sought after and because RWA has a system for determining who chooses first (in case you're wondering, current Golden Heart and RITA finalists get first choice, the finalists from the year or two before get second choice, PAN and PRO members get third choice, and the general RWA population gets fourth choice), there are a lot of attendees who don't get appointments with THEIR dream agents and editors. They might still get an appointment, but not the one they so desperately want. They might get their second or third or fourth or fifth choice.

You'll often find these writers hanging around the agent/editor appointment desk at Conference...waiting for some other Nervy to ditch her appointment so they can snatch it up. I think that's where writers in your position make the mistake. In thinking that because it's likely your ditched appointment will be snatched up by some other deserving writer, it's okay to go all, "Oh, my God, I forgot it was this morning!!" (Yeah, right). However, that attitude really isn't fair to the Appointment Desk Ghosts, is it? I mean, why should they have to haunt the appointment desk to snatch up your dregs when they could have booked one with their Dream Agent or Editor instead? They could be attending workshops or networking with their writer buddies they only see once a year. And, by the way, so could you.

There's no rule that says you have to book an appointment. Yes, it's a conference "perk," but in my opinion the appointments aren't the reason to attend the National conference. If the primary reason you're attending conference is to get face time with an editor or agent, well...what if the appointment doesn't go well? What if the editor or agent doesn't request your work? (Yes, it happens). Will your whole conference experience be blown?

You mentioned attending the agent/editor workshops. That's an excellent idea. If you're nervous about taking an appointment, why not not book one and instead take in as many editor- and agent-led workshops as you can? Especially if you're agent-shopping. Attending agent workshops is a great way to determine if you and the agent would make a good fit, if you'd want him or her for an agent—never mind worrying about if they'd want you for a client. It goes both ways. Or, instead of booking an appointment then skipping out and risking getting banned for a year or two, you could become one of the Appointment Desk Ghosts! Or, you could Writer Up and force your way through your booked appointment, come out of it knowing that the first time is over and, quite honestly, if you don't want to, you never have to do it again. You can query your Dream Editor by snail mail. In the end, the result is the same. She'll either buy your manuscript or she won't. And whether she met you during an appointment at the National conference or through a cold query, it doesn't make one speck of difference. The face time is nice—for the writer. For the editor and agent, it all comes down to the writing. If they don't connect with your voice and story, whether they've met you in person or not won't sway them one way or the other. Editors don't buy books depending on the number of conferences a writer has attended. Editors buy books for market reasons, story, voice, what-have-you.

So, let go of your stress. Attend National and have a blast. Book an appointment—or not. The choice is yours. But whatever you do, please, please don't "forget."

©Cindy Procter-King March 2008




Dear Cindy,

My first novel just came out, and a newspaper wants an interview! I'm panicking. Cindy, I'm shy, and I get tongue-tied easily. I'm afraid I'll say something embarrassing. You're so witty and insightful and brilliant. Do you have any tips?

Saratoga Sue


Dear Sue,

There's nothing that pleases me more than when one of my readers pours on the flattery. Sue, you've hit on the perfect way to ensure your question gets answered rather than one of the thousand others I receive every month. And, have no fear, I will not ridicule or patronize you like I might have done poor Phil last entry. But that's what he gets for not fawning all over me. (Let this be a lesson to future Question Writers).

Sue, my sweet Sue, you've come to the right person! You see, although anyone who meets me would probably argue otherwise, I consider myself shy, as well. Okay, maybe not really and truly shy. It's not like I get all red in the face and throw up on the feet of those with whom I'm conversing—do you? However, I'm definitely an introvert who's become very adept at passing herself off as an extro. And, considering we writers spend great lengths of time alone, I completely understand that sometimes venturing into the public eye via an event as nerve-wracking as a newspaper interview feels very hazardous indeed. I mean, I'd rather strip naked and dance the rumba with George Clooney (but that's just me).

To illustrate just how uncomfortable the idea of my first newspaper interview was, I managed to put it off for three years by informing the first interested reporter that my release date had been postponed and I would call her when the book came out. So...did I ever call her, like, a month later? Um, no. And I felt bad about that, truly. Bad and utterly full of chicken droppings. So I promised myself that, should another reporter ever request an interview, I would force myself, yes, force myself, to accept. Fortunately for you, Sue, this earth-shattering episode happened not too long ago. So you want tips? I got tips. Believe me, if I can survive my first media interview, you can, too.

Tip 1: Set the Interview for the Morning. If you've already agreed on an afternoon appointment, call the reporter back and demand a rescheduling. I made the very big mistake of scheduling my first newspaper interview for late afternoon. I quickly discovered that there is nothing more jitters-inspiring than spending, no, wasting, your day waiting for the reporter to arrive! Think you're gonna write masses on your WIP before she rings your doorbell? Think again! Unless you're very self-composed (and, from your question, I've determined that you are, well, not), scheduling the interview for the a.m. and just getting it over with is the best approach.

Consider how nervous you become waiting for an editor or agent appointment at a conference (and, Sue, I just know you get nervous—sorry, sweets, it comes through in your typing). Wouldn't you rather have an early morning appointment, suffer the torture and indignity of all the twaddle that comes out of your mouth, then spend the rest of your day eternally grateful you didn't score a second appointment? Same rule applies with media interviews. Sure, you might lose a night's sleep, but at least you'll have time to recover.

Tip 2: Conduct the Interview on Your Home Turf. You know, if possible. This goes back to the nerves thing. Just getting in your car and driving to the interview will—I guarandamntee it—make you more nervous.

I'll admit, if you get a request for an interview while at a conference or on a book tour, it's kind of difficult to arrange to meet the reporter at your house. However, if your local newspaper calls and the reporter wants to meet you, say, at the library, ask that she come to you instead. Don't worry, she won't turn into a stalker. Rest assured, she conducts hundreds of interviews a year and could go crazy and kill far more interesting persons than you (or me).

(Note: If you've never heard the reporter's name before, no, it's not too paranoid to check her or him out first).

Tip 3: Check the Calendar. If the date for the interview falls anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks preceding Valentine's Day, prepare yourself that the reporter might consider you somewhat of an expert on romance (you know, considering we write romance) and might ask you questions about what you consider romantic, to be published, naturally, on Valentine's Day. It pays to have an answer prepared, so you don't say something irkful like, "Actually, I consider Valentine's Day overly commercialized and would rather get flowers or chocolates when the TV isn't reminding him to do it."

I speak from experience when I say that this sort of reply generally leaves one scrambling to think of something truly romantic to appease the reporter. Not a position in which you wish to find yourself!

Tip 4: Speaking of Preparation... It never hurts. Sure, there's some validity to the "I'll wing it" theory, and, I must admit, I adhere to this theory myself (preparing worsens my nerves!). However, unless you don't mind sounding like an idiot in print; or you don't have a sympathetic reporter; or you're not very quick with a comeback, think of which questions you really don't want the reporter to ask...and stuff a few clever answers up your sleeve. If you forget them, hey, at least you tried!

And, if the questions are inappropriate or downright ignorant about the genre, it's easier to sidestep them or lead the reporter back to the points you want to make if you're not just sitting there, going, "Uh, um, uh...."

Tip 5: Arm Yourself with Stats. Pop on over to the Romance Writers of America website, click on Pressroom and then Romance Statistics (watch, now they'll change the layout, screwing up my instructions!), then download and print the .pdfs of Industry, Reader, and Romance Statistics. Don't inundate the poor reporter. Pick and choose which information best suits your purposes, read it so you don't sound like you're scanning a teleprompter when you cite your stats, and hand the reporter copies to take with her. She might not make use of the info, but then maybe she will. At the very least, if she reads the downloads, she'll come away more educated about the genre.

Tip 6: Leave Your Feather Boa in the Closet. A little humor can go a long way, however, unless you really trust your reporter (like, she's your sister), why tempt fate by perpetuating the myth that romance writers lounge in bubble baths all day, then churn out a few pages when inspiration strikes? Be true to yourself and not the stereotype.

Tip 7: Remember Your URL! Don't let the reporter leave without mentioning your website and where her readers can buy your release. If necessary, have business cards or bookmarks ready with this information. As nervous as you might be, the interview is a promotional opportunity—so promote!

Tip 8: Don't Bother... Hoping and praying that family members or friends or people you haven't spoken with in ten years won't read the interview. Believe me, even if they'd rather die than open a newspaper, for some odd reason, the day your interview appears will be the one day of the year they actually read the darn paper—and they will phone you or mention the interview the next time they see you. This is the perfect opportunity to correct mistakes or misconceptions that appeared in the article.

Tip 9: Mistakes Happen. No matter how prepared you think you are, resign yourself to the fact that reporters can and do make mistakes, especially if the person getting interviewed is a fast talker. So the reporter writes that you've published ten books when you said you wrote ten books before publishing one...unless it's of earth-shattering importance, I wouldn't advise asking for a retraction or creating a fuss. One of the reasons to conduct a first interview is to get it over with, remember? After that, your goal is to get another interview in timing with your next release. You want your reporter to remember you fondly, not think of you as that twerp who nitpicked over every little detail.

However, do remember the reporter's mistake for next time. And correct the misconception then if you must—again, with the caveat of how messed up the misconception was. Only you can make this call. If it really bothers you, by all means, don't listen to me—correct the mistake el pronto.

Tip 10: Mistakes Can be Avoided... By asking to see a copy of the interview before it goes to print. However, some reporters don't take kindly to such requests, so don't be surprised if they turn you down. They don't like being censored, after all. Kinda takes the fun out of that whole freedom of speech thing.

Tip 11: Thank Your Stars... That your first exposure to the media is a newspaper interview and not a radio or TV appearance. Because, dear Sue, if you think you're nervous now, baby, you don't know nervous.

Good luck, Sue! You'll do great, I know you will. And, if you don't, well, you can blame me. God knows I could use the exposure.

©Cindy Procter-King, February 2006





Dear Cindy,

What do you think of form rejection letters? I find them insulting. The worst is when they begin, "Dear Author." I have a name! Can't agents and editors at least use it?

Frustrated in Philly


Dear Question Writer,

I agree that form rejection letters are...well, something just shy of extremely aggravating. However, the more familiar you become with the publishing industry, the more you realize that in most cases form rejection letters are a necessary evil and that you just need to Get Over It. Harsh as that sounds, I think it would only take a few hours inside a publishing house or literary agency before you'd realize that editors and agents are among the most overworked people on the planet! And while overwork itself is no excuse for rudeness, form rejection letters in and of themselves are not rude (unless they say truly horrible things like "Don't quit your day job," or "Blow off and die.") Form letters are a convenient time-saver. So the editors and agents can get on to the (let's face it) important duties of the day: working with their current writers and clients.

I mean, what if you were one of those writers or clients? Which would you prefer your editor or agent do—personalize each and every of the thousands of rejection letters received every year or get moving on your latest contract? Much as I sympathize with your predicament, QW, once I'm part of an editor's or agent's stable, I'd want them concentrating on mememe. If I want such devotion after the fact, I'd better get used to form correspondence prior.

The problem with getting form rejection letters from editors is that often what's included in the form letter doesn't seem to apply to one's work. It's like the editors need a variety of form letters to choose from (and some probably do use a variety). The all-encompassing, Your work includes some of our requirements, but not others is frustration incarnate. However, if your work impresses the editor or agent in some way, the likelihood is they'll attach a more personal sentence or two to the dreaded form letter. Consider such nuggets prizes, because they are.

I confess I've never received a form rejection letter from an editor that began, "Dear Author." They always spell my name (although getting the spelling right is sometimes a challenge). I find the "Dear Author" correspondence more likely to occur with agents. However, if the "Dear Author" happens at the query letter stage (ie. before they've requested your partial or complete manuscript), I'm afraid the Get Over It axiom applies. Recently, I read an article by agent Kristin Nelson on the website, Backspace. Until I read this article, I truly had no idea just how many queries even a relatively new agency receives. Ms. Nelson mentions receiving up to 800 queries a month. Eight hundred. Can you imagine a busy agent or her assistant needing to type author names into 800 form rejection letters a month? I can't. (And I'm not saying Ms. Nelson uses "Dear Author" rejection letters; I honestly haven't a clue).

For the sake of argument, let's do the math. Let's say Agent in Question has 20 working days a month (Monday to Friday x 4). Let's say she works every one of those days instead of taking even a single day off for post-conference/reading on the weekends exhaustion-recovery/family obligations/illness/relaxation. Agent in Question is receiving up to 40 queries a day. Forty. Never mind email correspondence with clients and editors (and the odd joke), we're lucky AIQ reads all forty queries, let alone painstakingly replacing her "Dear Author" form email or snail mail letter with "Dear QW." You see the problem, yes? I believe it's spelled R E P E T I T I V E  S T R E S S. And also probably B R A I N  D E A D. Which wouldn't serve the agent too well come negotiation time.

Push forward to a rejection at the considered-the-partial or full manuscript stage, and I'm less forgiving of "Dear Author" form letters from agents. In these cases, I'm accepting of the necessity of the form letter itself, but if my partial or full is worthy of a read then I figure my name is worthy of use. Even if it's misspelled more often than not.

I hope that answers your question, QW--uh, I mean Phil. (Oops).

©Cindy Procter-King, August 2005





Dear Cindy,

How come you keep entering the Golden Heart Contest when you never final?

Nosy Naomi

**The rules for entering the Golden Heart and RITA seem to change every contest year lately. So if a link no longer works or portions of my answer to Naomi no longer make sense, let me assure you it made total sense in 2005 when I wrote it! So, no, I'm not a lamebrain, although you may call me one if you wish.**

Dear Naomi,

Well, you've really grabbed some brass ones, haven't you? Not to worry, Naomi, I don't mind dishing about my shortcomings. First, for anyone reading this who isn't a member of the Romance Writers of America and has no blinkin' idea what the Golden Heart is, let me preface my humble answer by explaining that the GH is RWA's annual contest for unpublished Beginnings of Manuscripts written by both unpublished members and those published with publishers not yet recognized by RWA. I fall into the second category. How come some publishers are "recognized" by RWA while others aren't? That's a complicated issue best left to the experts to explain. However, seeing as I'm so helpful (some might call it lazy), I'll add another link for those of you with a burning desire to know. I'll get some tea while you read it....

All righty, I'm back, cup of tea in hand (er, I mean, on desk...far, far away from the keyboard). As you can see from the handily provided link (please, no applause...honestly, I don't deserve it...okay, now I'm blushing, please stop!), basically, if your publisher has yet to meet RWA's standards for publisher recognition, then, regardless of whether you're published or not, you can't enter the RITA (the contest for published romance novels and authors). However, you can, along with RWA's talented unpublished members, enter the Golden Heart. So I do. Hey, I gotta take what I can get.

To me, the primary reason for entering the Golden Heart over and over and freaking over is quite simple: you can't final if you don't enter. And finaling in the GH carries a certain "ka-ching" with editors and agents that isn't quite fulfilled by any other contest (the Maggies comes a close second, though, and I'm pleased to report that I seem to have no trouble finaling there!). Finaling Golden Heart entries enjoy full manuscript reads by industry professionals that sometimes lead to contracts (yippee!), and, of course, finaling means you have a really excellent reason to go gorgeous-dress-buying for the Golden Heart Awards held at the National conference. Not to mention getting first whack at the editor/agent appointment selection process. The only thing the Golden Heart doesn't provide that other RWA-chapter-sponsored contests do is a score sheet or critique of your entry. Which could be seen as a negative, but not by me...because of that "ka-ching" thingie.

Does not finaling in the GH—or any other contest, for that matter—mean you're a cr*ppy writer? (what does she mean? crippy? croppy? cruppy??) Resoundingly, no. Like so many other facets of this industry, contest judging is subjective. I've known many a writer not to final in the Golden Heart and still go on to sell. Some writers get supremely trashed in contests (well, their writing does), yet, once they cross the threshold to Published, these same writers often enjoy ultra-successful and lucrative careers. How you get there isn't as important as grabbing every opportunity you can to help you get there. And that's why I enter the GH whenever I have a new manuscript ready. And why I believe other writers should, too.

In fact, I believe entering writing contests in general is a great tool for developing writers (nice segue, huh?). Let's list the Pros, shall we? Offered in no precise order:

  1. Other than the Golden Heart, most—if not all—RWA-chapter-sponsored contests offer the aforesaid score sheets with hopefully detailed comments on your work. Some contests, like the Maggies, offer detailed critiques instead. You can use these score sheets and comments to improve your writing.
  2. Choosing contests wisely can get your work in front of the very editors and agents you're targeting (check the contest information provided in the Romance Writers Report to see who's judging the finals; granted, you do have to final to get your work in front of said editors and agents, but what is life without challenges, right?) Even if the final round doesn't result in a win or a request, the editors and agents in question still become familiar with your writing and your name (hopefully, in a positive light...)
  3. Not finaling in a contest helps you develop the thick skin needed to survive rejections (which even the published must endure). I realize this might not sound like a Pro, but it is!
  4. Entering writing contests helps you learn how to meet deadlines. This is a Kinda Pro, because I'm of the mind that no "pretend" deadline provides the same incentive as an editor-imposed deadline. I blow my pretend deadlines all the time! Heck, my muse knows I'm not an editor or an agent. But I've heard the "pretend deadline" thingie works for others. (Note: Lest some of you think I'm a slack-*ss, I have never blown a real deadline).
  5. Winning and finaling in contests can serve as a screening device for busy editors and agents—as in they might request your work as a result of the impressive contest wins you've dutifully listed in your query letters. I'm not saying eds/agents are only interested in award-winning writers, but contest wins can't hurt! (unless you've fallen victim to Con #1, see below...following Pro #6, for the literal among you).
  6. Winning a writing contest can give a previously rejected manuscript another chance with a new line and editor—or even the editor who rejected it in the first place. If they request the manuscript, that is. And assuming Pro #1 - you've improved the manuscript.

That's six nifty Pros. However, I like fences, so here are some Cons to entering contests:

  1. Winnifred Writer loves to enter, final in, and win contests so much (what a rush!) that she keeps revising and polishing the same entry over and over...and never actually submits it to editors or agents outside of the contest circuit. And perhaps Winnie even experiences great difficulty actually finishing a manuscript, because she's so darned busy making the opening perfect. Remember, Winnie: editors buy finished manuscripts from unpublished writers. So, sure, enter those contests, but also query and submit your completed manuscripts to editors and agents directly.
  2. The danger in believing that every judges' opinion is gospel and doing one's dangdest to accommodate every negative comment one receives. Tut, tut, Entering Edna. Remember what I said above? The industry is subjective. So, peruse those score sheets and critiques carefully, but never ever apply a comment to your work unless you honestly agree with the comment and believe with everything inside you that following the judge's suggestion is right for your story and for you as a writer. This danger doesn't apply only to the comments of published and unpublished preliminary round judges, but also to the reactions of whatever editor or agent judges the finals. Subjectivity even exists between editors for the same lines...which explains why some contest entries win one contest, garnering a full manuscript request, yet place fifth in another with comments along the lines of, "Never darken my doorstep again, you haggish hack, Edna."
  3. On the other hand, Con #2 isn't meant to say that Entering Edna should willy-nilly disregard negative comments because revisions are too darned difficult and Edna thinks the judges are morons. Really think through the comments, Edna, even the ones that at first glance sound totally off the mark. Set them aside for a couple of weeks and then re-read. Reconsider. Then make your decision. Because, in the end, it's your story and you deserve to feel great about what you're putting out there.
  4. Negative comments and scores are tough on the old psyche! Naomi, seeing as your question prompted this spew-fest, I'll direct this last Con to you. If scoring poorly in contests and reading negative comments sends your muse in a rapid downward spiral, Naomi, then entering contests might do your writing more damage than the thrill of finaling is worth. Only you can determine whether going the contest route is worth developing the thick hide mentioned in Pro #3. If reading your score sheets routinely leads to Shove-The-Manuscript-
    Under-The-Bed-Itis or makes you want to give up writing completely, then my recommendation (like I know what I'm talking about, but it's my column), is not to enter contests at all, but submit directly to editors and agents—and sell oodles and oodles of books regardless.

© Cindy Procter-King, March, 2005

Note 1: Cindy finaled in the Golden Heart in March 2007 with her long contemporary romance, HER HOMETOWN MAN! She's very happy that she followed her own advice!

Note 2: As of July 2007, RWA no longer has "Publisher Recognition" standards, so small press authors like Cindy are now free to enter their published works in the RITA (let's see how long it takes her to final in that!)

Note 3: As of the 2009 contest year, authors published with publishers whose books do not meet a currently mysterious definition of "mass-produced" are not eligible to enter the Golden Heart because they are published, but neither can they enter the RITA, because their publisher doesn't print enough copies. Yes, it's complicated, and it changes every year. That's why portions of my above essay no longer makes sense. (Yes, that's the only reason). (It is too!).

Note 4: Some time after Cindy wrote Note 3, RWA's requirements for entering the RITA changed yet again. Visit the RWA website for the latest information for the current contest year.

Note 5: Cindy's 2007 Golden Heart finalist manuscript sold to Five Star Expressions in 2010 retitled as WHERE SHE BELONGS and will release in December 2011. Watch her Books page for details.





Dear Cindy,

Do you have anything written about getting your first book published by the "small press"? This may be something I want to consider and sadly, know very little about. I inferred that it was published as an e-book—not paper. Anyway, if you have written anything about that particular journey, please let me know.

Super Writer


Dear Soup,

You're right, I haven't written anything about my small press journey. Allow me to rectify my mistake! Oh, first, HEAD OVER HEELS was actually published in both trade paperback and e-book formats. There are several small publishers out there publishing print versions. A careful perusal of each publishers' web sites and FAQ pages will help you determine which. I'd go and look for you, but I'm too lazy.

My journey as a small press author...

It all began with a certain, shall we say, milestone birthday. Basically, I grew sick of getting rejected by category romance publishers for myriad and sundry reasons, none of which seemed related to quality of writing, but, rather, to market changes and my uncanny ability always to have a manuscript in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time and, while we're at it, with the Wrong Editor for Said Particular Manuscript. Yes, I know, it's a familiar story, but I decided to take action. Electronic publishing was in its infancy, and at the turn of the new millennium this new and highly anticipated industry appeared set to skyrocket. I decided I wanted to get my work in front of reviewers and readers and garner their reactions instead of just listening to editors and agents (note: I'm all for listening to publishing professionals, but my personal frustration quotient with traditional publishing was at an all-time high). My critique partners kept assuring me I had talent—why wasn't I selling?

So I contracted HEAD OVER HEELS (originally written for Harlequin's Love & Laughter line, which, sadly and coincidentally I'm sure, died the very month I submitted) with the first of three small presses. This initial venture was not a good experience. After eight months with no editorial contact and no release date in sight, I terminated the contract and soon afterward signed with Publisher #2. My experience with P-2 was phenomenal in many areas. My editor loved the book, and the editing experience was fairly painless but also extraordinarily educational. My cover artist worked hard to deliver a cover that met e-publishing and trade paper expectations while also satisfying my own vision. And, best of all, when the book came out simultaneously in trade paperback and e-book editions, it received several five-star reviews and accolades from readers (luckily, those who thought the book sucked chose not to inform me, and I did receive one horrid review, but the thirteen good ones more than made up for it). FINALLY, what I'd been waiting for: confirmation from someone(s) other than my critique partners and contest judges that I was doing something right! My story might not have fit the needs of traditional publishing at the time, but at least it wasn't crap! Yippee! Time for the money to roll in! Right? Right?


Piece of advice for anyone considering small press: Don't do it for the bucks. Fortunately, for myself, money wasn't a consideration for the initial publication of HEAD OVER HEELS. I wanted validation, a foot in the publishing door, and a learning experience, and I got all three. So despite the fact that the bright future of e-publishing didn't materialize...well, that we're still waiting for the market to explode...or even just mushroom a tiny bit...I have not and will never regret one minute of my small press experience. And, in a way, it's not really fair for me to say one can't make money in small press. Just because I didn't make much moola doesn't mean your book won't sell like hotcakes. P-2 discovered that, for them, cross-genre books were their best sellers. Straight romance could not compete with the selection and prices available in brick-and-mortar stores. In general, romance readers have been excruciatingly slow to warm to e-publishing and small press offerings, unless you're talking erotic romance, and then, man, yowza, is that market hot!

When my contract expired, I left P-2 for a number of reasons, none of which seem kosher to detail here. And now I've signed with P-3 for the re-issue of the same book. Why? Because I want it back on the shelves, cyber or otherwise. Because I want to compare publishing experiences. Because I want to share my vision and my stories with readers. Because I believe in myself, no matter the response of traditional publishing channels to my work.

So why haven't I published a second small press book? A very good question! Okay, I'll admit that while money wasn't a consideration for publishing HEAD OVER HEELS, to me the logical next step was Selling to a Big House. I looked upon my small publishing experience as a stepping stone toward my ultimate goal, not a destination in itself. In retrospect, I still haven't decided if entering small press publishing for stepping-stone purposes was wise. Yes, I got my work out there to an enthusiastic (though admittedly miniscule) readership, but the readers who have clamored for a second book have been left disappointed. Many have let me know they're still waiting. Will I submit another novel to a small publisher? With the right manuscript and under the right circumstances, I would. I'm just not there yet. At the moment, several Big House carrots are dangling just out of my reach, and I want to focus my efforts on that arena. But never say never....

What are the benefits of e-book and small press publishing? Perhaps the greatest is creative control. Small press and e-editors are generally not required to tailor the manuscripts they edit to a "line." If it's good, it's good! If it needs work, it needs work, but that "work" is intended to bring the story up to a particular press's publishing standards, not force it into a preconceived line concept (note: I have nothing against publishing lines—just trying to answer your question). Working with a small press cover artist is usually a pleasure. The writer compiles an Art Fact Sheet in detail, and, once the cover draft is complete, the writer generally has at least one chance to ask for changes—a practice that, to my knowledge, very rarely occurs in traditional publishing. And, in the e-/small press industry's infancy, the waiting times to hear on submissions, the length of time from signing the contract to getting your book out to readers, was very short. Sadly, these days, e-publishers and small presses are so inundated with submissions that wait times are growing longer. The royalties... Well, the royalty percentages.... Royalty percentages of 30%-40% are not uncommon in small press and e-publishing, compared to the minimal 6%-8% standard of the big houses. But, let's be frank, if your small press book isn't selling like hotcakes, 30% of Not Much is still Not Much.

The negatives? Urk, I kinda stuck in a couple up there. Okay, let's ignore that. In my experience, a lot of small presses go into business without a solid plan or the finances to back them up if trouble occurs. The presses that do offer print and e-books can find themselves in a scary situation when dealing with traditional print distribution outlets. A big house can afford to print thousands more books than required and take "returns" from distribution networks if the books don't sell. Most small presses have difficulty in this area, particularly if they go to print with too many books too fast. The readership—the boom expected at the turn of the new millennium—has yet to happen. When e-books finally are accepted by the general reading public, however, who will benefit? The small presses that are so willing to try new genres...or the big houses? I have a sinking feeling it won't be small press. But that's a whole 'nother topic and one I'm not eager to get into....

In the end, each writer must determine for her or himself if publishing with a small press will benefit their career or help them achieve their personal writing goals. The reasons for choosing to go this less-traveled route are as varied as the writers and their stories themselves. There is no right or wrong answer. Individuality is a huge component of e-publishing and small press, so the choice is up to the individual—you. Don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

©Cindy Procter-King, September 2004

Note: Thanks to Amber Quill Press being a great publisher to work with, Cindy has now released a second novel with them.




Dear Cindy,

I recently finished my first novel and sent it to the publisher of my dreams. Now my on-line friends are telling me first books generally don't sell and I should get working on the next one. As you can imagine, this distresses me greatly! Please tell me, oh, mighty writer, what's the secret to selling?

Anxious & Agitated


Dear Aggie,

Mighty writer? :::blush::: Aggie, you are too kind! It's almost as if I put those words in your mouth!

Sadly, dear Aggie, I'm not aware of the statistics of first manuscripts selling. Understand, I'm speaking of romance manuscripts, considering that's my area of "expertise" (you can decipher what the quotation marks mean for yourself<G>). However, I have been in this game a while, and my esteemed opinion is that your friends are right (sorry). While I have heard of some lucky writers selling their first manuscripts—and kudos to them!—the majority of us hit our heads against the publishing door several times before it opens. In fact, some of the hottest names in romance right now suffered multiple rejections before selling.

What is the secret to selling? Well, I don't know of just one. In my opinion, there are three. I call them TPT: Talent, Persistence, and Timing. Considering I listed Talent first, some might believe I think it's the primary ingredient to selling. Alas, I don't. I've known many a talented writer who has never sold, because the second T—Timing—has never come together for them and they didn't Persist long enough to allow it to. All the talent in the world won't get you anywhere if you allow market conditions and/or rejections to beat you into submission. So while Talent is important, in my opinion it's not the most important of the three. And, no, I'm not just saying this because I think I'm talented<G> and yet I still haven't sold to a major house. I'm saying it because it is, quite simply, true. Talent isn't enough. You also need Persistence or Perseverance or Refusal to Give Up—whatever you choose to call it.

Alas, Persistence can only get you so far, as well. I mean, when you think about it, if you have Talent and you Persist long enough, sooner or later you will sell. You might sell to a big house straight off (that's not to say with your first manuscript, but the first one you sell), or, like moi, you might sell to a small press first. If you persist, it will happen...once the last and trickiest element comes into play. Yep, you guessed it. That's Timing.

Why do I think Timing is the trickiest element? (Note I did not say Timing is more important than Persistence, and this is because I haven't fully decided if it is myself, but I do think it is just as important). Timing is the trickiest element, because basically it is the element over which the writer has no control. Some writers are born with talent; others study and learn their craft and thereby develop their talent. Persistence isn't the trickiest element, because it's a no-brainer. Those who don't give up are most likely to succeed, because when the Timing is right, their manuscripts are there, ripe for the picking. Example A, the paranormal market enjoys a resurgence while your manuscript (which has been sitting in the slush pile for two years) happens to get read by a paranormal-hungry editor. Example B, a new category line opens up that perfectly suits your voice and stories, and you have the perfect manuscript already polished and ready to go. You submit it, and voila—you have a sale. It might seem like you're an overnight success when in reality you had the Talent and you've been Persisting all along, but the market Timing wasn't optimal for your personal writer's journey.

And that's what it is—a personal and individual journey. You'll make it, Aggie, when the Timing is right. However, no one, least of all you (remember, you have no control over the Magic Timing Dust), knows when that will be, so in the meantime quit fretting and do as your friends suggest. Forget about that first manuscript waiting to be discovered by the perfect editor. If it's Time is now, it will sell. In the meantime, write Numbers Two and Three, even Four and Five if you need to. And keep submitting.

Lastly, let me know when it happens, so I can give you a cyber-toast!

© Cindy Procter-King, November 2003.





Dear Cindy:

Are you a POV slut or a PURIST?

Ruminating in Rhode Island


Dear Rhody,

You might want to re-think bandying about highly specialized writing terms like "POV slut" (who coined that darn term, anyway?) Some might not understand where you're coming from and take offense. Luckily, I am not one of them! However, in the event that some Non-Understandees are reading this column, let me preface my answer by explaining that "POV slut" refers to a writer switching Point of View (ie. which character is telling the story, whose "head" are we in, yadda) whenever she feels is appropriate (or whenever the heck she wants!) The polite term is headhopping, and it can be accomplished seamlessly (or, ahem, not).

Like you've noticed (if you're clever), any writing technique (if overused or sloppily done) can become annoying and risk drawing you out of the story (or column, as the case may be).

Heh, heh.

On to PURIST: Purposely Utilizing Regulated Instances of Stylistic Technique.

Sounds so much more socially acceptable, doesn't it?

POV purists generally restrict themselves to the point of view of one character per scene or chapter (or, in some cases, for an entire book). So Hero might get Scene A, then Heroine gets Scene B, then Hero gets Scene C (or Heroine or Heroine's dog or Hero's butler might get Scene C). But headhopping never ever under any circumstances occurs.

Okay, now that we've got my oversimplified explanations out of the way, I can tell you I'm a Slurist. I do lean more toward the Purist. In fact, I'm practically a Purist (from my point of view, anyway). I usually stick to one POV per scene. However, there is the odd time I'll feel the need to include both the hero and heroine's point of view. In these cases, I'll switch point of view maybe once in a scene, usually about halfway through, and then I'll remain in that viewpoint for the duration. The very rare time, I'll switch from character A to character B and then back to A again. However, I don't think I've done that in at least a couple of books. I get more caught up in books written with one POV per scene, so it only makes sense that I get more caught up in writing them, too.

As to why I'm a POV Slurist? Well, that's simple. Because I want to be. <G> There's a whole 'nother issue regarding what is termed "Deep POV," but you didn't ask about it so I'm not gonna get into it or pretty soon I'd run out of web site—and what a sad world that would be (depending on your POV).

©Cindy Procter-King, April 2003.




Dear Cindy,

How do you deal with rejection?

Sulking in Silk Panties


Dear Sulking,

Ah, rejection...the bane of a writer's life! Sulking, I feel your pain. Personally, I like to give Rejection a swift kick in the keister, reject the rejection so to speak. That's not to say I think you should ignore your rejections. Au contraire. Many valuable gems of editorial advice are often contained within. It's when a writer allows her rejections to consume her that she winds up in trouble. You know what I mean. Not writing for months. Putting a voodoo hex on the editor. Eating ten pounds of chocolate....

Well, the chocolate's okay. The chocolate can help you get through it. Your waistline might reject you as a result, but we all have our crosses to bear.

Seriously, rejection is difficult to deal with. Especially the first few. Believe it or not, the more rejections you endure, the easier they are to handle—as long as you take the right attitude. That means trying your darndest to see a rejection for what it honestly is: a milestone on the road to getting published. Very few writers sell a book without experiencing at least one rejection. Many of us experience several—and they don't necessarily stop once you've sold. So here's what I do:

Have a Rejection Day. Well, I have a Rejection Two to Six Hours, but that doesn't sound as good, so I'm going with Rejection Day. During my Rejection Day, I fully indulge the complete and total injustice of the rejection. I cry, I sneer, I refuse to open the envelope (I can tell by its thickness what's in there). If I have Pringles handy, I snarf 'em. Grab the kids and head to McDonald's (they make the best fries). I blubber all over my husband, email my critique partners, rail "Why me?" and shake my fist at the universe, then email my critique partners again. No pretending. By reveling in my rejection, I absorb its power. It's just a piece of paper. Maybe the editor didn't connect with your voice; maybe your story really needs work; maybe it's just not your time. But your time will come...if you keep writing and keep submitting and keep risking that you'll get rejected. Because your only other choice is guaranteeing that you'll never achieve your dreams—by not writing or submitting and therefore not risking more rejections.

I'm not saying it's easy. It's not. It's damn tough. But it works.

And now I must run—literally. I received a rejection a few days ago and I have enough French fries in my belly to open my own franchise. So I'm grabbing my jogging shoes and heading out the door...until the next rejection.

Care to join me?

©Cindy Procter-King, February 2003.


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