Taking the Next Step in a Writing Career
Thank you, Jessica, for sharing your blog with me today. (To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn she’d offered me the spot to shut me up. I’ve been driving her nuts for the past few weeks while waiting for the release of my first mass market paranormal romance, DemonFire, and I have a feeling she gave me today’s spot out of self-preservation. Did I mention the book is out today?)
Oh, maybe about a gazillion times. The funny thing is, this is far from my first book—I have a successful series at Kensington called Wolf Tales (the seventeenth in that series released in January and the eighteenth comes out next month)—but those books sell as trade-sized paperbacks with limited distribution due to their erotic content—no placement in the local Wal-Mart or Target stores for those babies. They’re limited to major bookstores—the big chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble, and online booksellers where erotic content isn’t an issue. DemonFire and the next three in the DemonSlayers series should be everywhere that paperback books are sold. They’re what I think of as “vanilla” romances—more for a general audience than my other books—which is a long segue into the main point of my post today, and that’s where an agent comes into managing an author’s career after the author is successfully published.
I’ve made no secret of the fact it took me forever to get my first New York contract. Even after I signed with Jessica, the running joke was that the best thing about having an agent was the fact she could get me rejected a whole lot faster than when I was submitting on my own. I was used to waiting a year—Jessica was getting rejections within weeks!
Luckily, I discovered I’d signed with an agent every bit as stubborn and hard-headed as I am, and eventually she got the right manuscript in front of the right editor at the right time. That submission, the first Wolf Tales, ended up launching Kensington’s new erotic romance line, Aphrodisia, in January 2006, and continues to be the best-selling series among all their titles. The first book is currently in its tenth print run, and I’m contracted into 2011 for more.
But where do you go from there, and how do you grow a career? Jessica and I talked over some different ideas, all revolving around getting out of erotic trades and into a more general audience mass market format, aiming for increased distribution. I gave her one proposal for a mass market paranormal series that she shopped around, but we couldn’t drum up any interest in it at all. We talked about it some more, and Jessica said I needed to think in terms of a “big” book.
Okay. Now I hate to admit this, but I didn’t have a clue what she meant. Agents and editors tend to toss out terms and phrases like we actually know what they mean, and usually I just nod and agree and figure that at some point it will all make sense. It’s like talking about “voice.” Until you find yours as an author, you probably haven’t got a clue what anyone means. Or that old standby, “write the book of your heart.” I hate to sound crass, but the book of my heart was whatever I could sell, and thank goodness I really loved my Chanku shapeshifters, because I’d hate to have to write over twenty books about characters I couldn’t stand.
But I digress. Jessica was still tossing out ideas, I was taking notes, and then she pulled that “big” book description again. So I shot back, “Okay. How about good versus evil?” It doesn’t get much bigger and I thought it was a nice, witty answer.
She said great. Go for it. Send me a proposal. Once I realized she wasn’t kidding, I went to work. I took the idea of good versus evil and localized it, setting a story in a small town on the flank of Mount Shasta in northern California. I’m familiar with the area, the fact Shasta is known for its energy vortex and the local legend of a lost civilization of technologically-advanced Lemurians supposedly living inside the mountain, and the more ideas I jotted down, the stronger my sense of the story became. I think it was the moment that I got a visual of demon-possessed garden gnomes that I knew I had something. I wrote the proposal, Jessica helped me tweak it, I wrote three chapters, she ripped them to shreds—nicely—but this is where trust comes into the agent/author relationship. I trust my agent’s take on things. She knows what works and how to make my writing stronger, so I adjusted my story, ignored a few of her ideas that didn’t work for me, but ultimately we worked together until I had three really great chapters and synopses for three books.
She began shopping it around in November 2008, and we didn’t hear a word. I was so busy trying to get my next Wolf Tales book written that I didn’t worry too much until she finally called and said we had an offer. It was disappointing, to say the least, and I was tempted to turn it down, but Jessica told me not to worry, that we still had a few other editors to hear from. What I didn’t realize is that often the fact an offer has been made will spur other editors to finally LOOK at the proposal that’s been sitting on their desk for weeks. A few days later, a counteroffer came in. Jessica took that one to the first editor who’d offered, and the auction was on.
I can honestly say that having your book proposal go to auction is just about the coolest thing that can possibly happen. And right before both publishers interested in my DemonSlayers trilogy broke for the Christmas holiday, Kensington came through with the winning bid—for four books, not three. I was thrilled to be able to stay with the editor who had first purchased Wolf Tales—Audrey LaFehr has championed my writing from the very beginning, and it’s made this release today even more special, to know that I have a publisher willing to bid good money for my stories and then turn them into books with gorgeous covers and send them out into the world. It wouldn’t have happened without an agent willing to take a chance on me, and it wouldn’t have happened if I’d given up when those rejections first started pouring in—back in 1985.
Twenty years from first submission to first signed contract, and I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s been a great ride and it continues to get better. I’ve never worked harder in my life or had as much fun, and if you want to see what a sixty-year-old grandmother, who always wanted to be an author, can write when she’s got a supportive agent and a terrific editor, pick up a copy of DemonFire.
Did I mention it’s out today? Thanks, Jessica!
Here’s a quick excerpt, just to give you an idea:
“You asked what would happen if things got out of balance.” Dax nodded toward the fireplace. “That’s a good example. It’s happening now. Demons are slipping into this dimension through a pathway that’s normally closed to them, a portal in the vortex which is your mountain, that gives them entrance.”
Not exactly what Eddy wanted to hear. “You’re kidding, right?” He didn’t look like he was kidding. In fact, he looked awfully serious for someone making a joke. “The vortex is all New Age folklore. No one around here really believes it exists, unless you count my father, who is the king of otherworldly theories, or the stores and companies catering to the tourists. The vortex is no more real than the Lemurians.”
“The what?” Dax frowned and stopped rubbing Bumper’s ears. Bumper growled and wagged her tale. Dax went back to rubbing.
Eddy couldn’t sit still any longer. She bounced to her feet and began pacing around the small living room. “Lemurians. They’re not real, unless you ask Dad.” She spun around and laughed. “He’s going to be thrilled when he finds out about you. Proof that some of his crazy theories are actually true.” Dax and the demons, she thought. It didn’t get any better.
“According to local lore, they’re a race of mystical beings, tall, beautiful people with strange powers who supposedly live inside Mount Shasta in rooms made of gold. Legend says they’re descendents of people from the lost continent of Lemuria that sank beneath the sea, that they had advanced science and technology thousands of years ago. They were even supposed to have flying machines, sort of like the old Atlantis myth.”
Dax shook his head. He twisted around in his seat so he could follow her erratic pacing. “Atlantis is no myth. It really existed and its descendants are still around. I’ve never heard of Lemuria. I’ll need to look into it. The vortex, though, is definitely real. How do you think I got here?”
Eddy stopped in her tracks and stared at him, looking for a twitch, a smile, anything to tell her he was teasing.
She glanced at Willow. As if the sprite knew she was being watched, she flashed bright blue and just as quickly faded.
Okay. Point made. Eddy took a deep breath. “Why don’t you tell me exactly how you did get here. Just promise to ignore me if I look incredulous.”
Dax stared at her for a long, slow moment. Then he shook his head and his gorgeous lips turned up in an unbelievably sexy grin. “Eddy Marks, I doubt I could ever ignore you . . . not for any reason.”
She felt it right between her thighs. A hot lick of heat that had no business firing her senses and making her muscles clench, especially after a hokey come-on like that. It took a tremendous amount of will to continue gazing directly into those smoldering eyes of his. Demon’s eyes. She had to remind herself that, for all his appeal, Dax was not only a stranger, he’d already admitted to being one of the bad guys.
“I’m waiting,” she said, planting her hands on her hips, ignoring his innuendo and her body’s traitorous response.
He still had that cocky grin plastered on his gorgeous face, but at least Dax settled back against the couch. “I was a demon. An immortal in a world of evil. It suited me for a long time, and then it didn’t.” He shrugged. “For some reason, I began to question the life, the constant desire to cause pain, to kill.” He shook his head, shrugged. Gave her a self-deprecating grin. “I guess I learned the hard way. One does not question evil. I got tossed out of Abyss.”
The snake tattoo crawling out of his waistband slowly writhed across his belly and chest. Mesmerized, Eddy blinked. She must be more exhausted than she’d realized.
The subtle motion stopped. The tattoo stayed put. She swallowed and raised her eyes. It was too unsettling to steal even the quickest glance at his body, not when things like that happened. “Where does a demon go that’s worse than hell?”
Dax ran his fingers lightly over his tattoo. Had he felt it move? He stared at her for a moment before he answered.