The Little Writer That Could

September 11, 2011 at 9:46 pm (Business of Writing, Hemingway's Girl, literary agent, Publishing, Revision, Writing)

I’m slowly emerging from the writing cave. My eyes are adjusting to the light. I’m sweeping the cobwebs off the blog and making sure everything’s in working order. I’ll be ready to put the wheels back in motion this week with a book review for one of my favorite fall books, but for now, I just want you to know that I’ve missed you and can’t wait to reconnect.

Here’s the deal: I had an aggressive deadline for my edits for HEMINGWAY’S GIRL because in October, my foreign rights agent is going to Frankfurt where, hopefully, she’ll get some foreign publishers interested in the book. The agent needs the complete, approved manuscript by October 1st, so I had to get my edits back to my editor at NAL/Penguin ASAP to give her enough time to read.

Now, if I have to make more changes, which is entirely possible and maybe even probable, we’ll miss the deadline. If my editor can’t get through the million other projects she has before October, that’s the way it goes. All I could do was rely heavily on family and babysitters, neglect my house, and not sleep to get the work done–which I did–but now it’s out of my hands, and I am at peace with that.

I’ll keep you posted every step of the way, as promised, but for now I look forward to a return to semi-normalcy, blogging, reading other people’s books, and diving back into my new manuscript starring Zelda Fitzgerald.

For which the first three chapters and a full synopsis are due on Nov. 1st.

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*Photo courtesy of traeton at DeviantArt.com

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New York in June

July 5, 2011 at 1:01 pm (Business of Writing, Hemingway's Girl, literary agent, Publishing)

Every now and then the stars align, and I was the happy recipient of that alignment last week. I was in NY City for about 36 hours and was able to have four meetings, take some research photos for my new WIP, and see MIDNIGHT IN PARIS.

Here I am at the Penguin offices.

My agent, Kevan Lyon, is on the west coast while I’m on the east coast, so we had not yet had the opportunity to meet in person. Since Kevan was in NY for the Romance Writers of America Conference we planned a meeting with each other. My editor at NAL, Ellen Edwards, was also able to meet with us, and we enjoyed a lovely dinner and conversation. I was also so pleased to get to meet my publicist at Penguin. We all seem to share a vision for the book and I feel very fortunate to have such a fantastic team.

With Ellen Edwards of NAL/Penguin

It also happened that the Women’s Fiction writers of RWA (which includes many members of Writer Unboxed) had a speaker and cocktail reception that night. I was able to meet so many fantastic writers who I’ve “known” from Twitter and blogs for so long, and I can’t thank Therese Walsh enough for including me.

With Marilyn Brant, Therese Walsh, and Kristina McMorris

With Jael McHenry

The next morning I had some time so I went to Woody Allen’s new movie, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. Many friends have recommended this movie to me because of “cameos” by Ernest Hemingway and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and it did not disappoint. It was so charming, in fact, that I’m taking my husband to see it next week. After the movie, I took a picture of one of the fountains in which Zelda Fitzgerald took a dip, and the church where Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were married.

Plaza Hotel Fountain

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

I was able to have lunch with my friend, Lindsay Ribar, who just got a three book deal with Penguin for her young adult fantasy series about genies. (I know—doesn’t that sound awesome?) We share a love of writing and an obsession with the band Carbon Leaf, who originally brought us together.

Finally, the NAL/Berkley Cocktail Party at Sardi’s finished up my trip. I was able to meet my publisher and just about the entire NAL/Penguin team, in addition to scores of fantastic authors, agents, publicists, and reviewers. It was truly overwhelming in the best possible way.

I was deeply grateful for the opportunity I had to make the trip. To my family for holding down the fort, to my publishing friends for fitting me into their busy schedules, and to the weather for being very cooperative, I am grateful.

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Hemingway’s Key West

June 20, 2011 at 5:16 pm (Hemingway, Hemingway's Girl, Historical Fiction, Writing Research)

Three years ago, I went on a tour of Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West, Florida. I’d always loved Hemingway’s work so I naturally had to tour his home. It was at some point between standing in the shadow of a chandelier in the master bedroom and staring at the typewriter on Hemingway’s work table in his writing cottage that I was overcome with inspiration. I knew that I would set my next book at the house in the thirties when Hemingway lived there.

Eager to put inspiration to application, I promptly began the Hemingway novel when I returned home. I had already started a sequel to my first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING, and was jumping back and forth between the two manuscripts, unsure which deserved more of my time.

In the meantime, I had my third son. Writing went on hold for a few months, though my mind often wandered into the landscape of both of the books I’d started before the baby arrived.

It was during a late night feeding, in the haze of sleep deprived half-consciousness, that I had a dream. In it, I was sitting in Hemingway’s home in Key West in 1935. Hemingway, himself, walked into the room and sat with me on the couch. He said, “You have to write my book because I’ve become irrelevant.”

When I woke up I was certain which book I’d write.

Three years later, with my novel HEMINGWAY’S GIRL set for publication by NAL/Penguin, I returned to Key West to do a final research trip, make connections for the book launch, and spend time with my husband for our anniversary. It was very emotional for me to stand in the house that inspired this incredible journey I’ve been on and I could feel Hemingway wherever I went in town.

I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to occupy that space on several occasions, and I think the book is better for it. Below, I’ve posted some pictures from the trip. If you’d like to see the entire album, it’s on my Facebook Author Page: Erika Robuck, Author.

Thank you so much for sharing this journey with me. Enjoy!

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Great Novel! When Can I Read the Next One?

May 6, 2011 at 3:19 pm (Business of Writing, Hemingway's Girl, Publishing, Receive Me Falling, Writing)

A question from blog commenter, Natalia Sylvester, inspired me to write this post about how I got a two book deal.  I’ll share my story in hopes that any writers reading this do something very important:

Keep Writing

Before I get to the specifics, I’ll take you back to some wise words from Donald Maass at his Breakout Novel Intensive Conference I attended in September. He said that the most common complaint of his authors was that they wish they had the time they’d had before publication to write stories. Many publishers expect a book each year once they sign you, and this can be quite a challenge.

When I finished HEMINGWAY’S GIRL and sent the book on submission to agents and eventually, to publishers, I was tempted to lean back, relax, and play more Jewelquest. After all, I’d just completed two and a half years of devotion to the book. I felt as if I deserved a break.

But something happened; I didn’t want a break. An obsession with a new historical figure had been brewing. While my agent submitted my novel to publishing house editors, I fed my new obsession and felt a story growing around it.

Then, an editor from Penguin wanted to speak to me on the phone. She loved HEMINGWAY’S GIRL and had many questions for me about the story and about my background. We had a great chat about the novel, but she was also very interested in what I was currently writing. My level of interest for my new subject was such that I was able to speak clearly on the new novel. It showed the editor that I was a serious writer interested in a career. I believe that question was the deal maker.

Writers, I know that saving the final revision on a novel is a moment of extreme triumph. Crafting a novel is an emotional journey–ask the spouse and family of anyone involved. When you complete a novel you do deserve to breathe for a bit, recharge your battery, and reset your mind for a new journey. If you need a significant amount of time, however, I’d recommend holding off on the query process until you are ready to jump into a new novel. There are several reasons for this:

First, it will give you something to focus on so you don’t obsess over agent/editor responses to your work. Nothing stifles creativity like a self-addressed stamped envelope carrying a form letter rejection. If you invest all of your energy and emotions into one project it places too much importance on it.

Second, when you do get an editor interested in your work, you will have an answer for, “What are you working on now?” I now know, firsthand, how important it is to have an answer to this question.

There is one final reason you should be working on your next novel: your readers. I self-published my first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING, and was blessed to have had wonderful reader responses. The most common, however, sometimes made me feel wrung out. It was this:

“When can I read your next one?”

Don’t get me wrong, this is music to a writer’s ears. On the wrong kind of day, however, it actually sounds like this:

“When can you mine history for obscure facts, make dozens of time lines, uncover universal themes important enough to share, while packaging them neatly within three hundred pages splattered with your deepest fears, longings, and judgments for my consumption?”  

Let me reemphasize, the former are words every writer longs to hear and provide the best possible compliment, but if you don’t have something ready to say in response, a dissatisfying experience in communication results for all involved.

Writers, if you are able, keep working on the next project. Life gives us both welcome and unwelcome breaks from writing that are beyond our control. If you’ve finished a story, recharged, and have the time and energy, start your next project. Your editor, the world, and your SELF will thank you for it.

*Photo courtesy of PszczolaM at DeviantArt.com

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After the Deal #1: The Contract

May 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm (Business of Writing, Hemingway's Girl, Publishing, Uncategorized)

This is my first post in my “After the Deal” series, designed to help inform writers and curious readers about the traditional publishing process. Today, I’ll talk about the deal memo and the contract.

Once all of the hoopla, champagne drinking *hiccup*, and general madness settles after the offer, the business of writing begins.  My agent and I received a deal memo from my publisher that outlined the basic terms of the contract that we’d agreed upon. Some of the information covered included: advance numbers for books one and two, a payout schedule for the advances, a listing of territory & other subsidiary rights, and royalty percentages.

ADVANCES AND SCHEDULES

Advances are typically paid in three installments we’ll call thirds (though they don’t always divide up equally into thirds.) The first third is paid upon signing the physical contract. The second third is paid upon delivery and acceptance of edits. The final third is paid on the publication date.

Most people outside of publishing (and let’s face it, most writers) think a huge advance is a good thing; and it is, but with it comes a lot of pressure. If you don’t earn out a huge advance, things can get a little dicey. That’s why it’s so important to have a great agent who can help you strike a balance between a good, fair advance sum and one that sets you up for success.

I am very blessed to have a two book deal, and the benefit of that is that the two timelines run concurrently. While I’m working on edits for HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, I’ll also need to work on planning and drafting the second book. The first draft of my second book will most likely be due before the publication date of HEMINGWAY’S GIRL. I’ll also be able to work with my editor at the publisher throughout the process on idea development, synopsis and scene reads, and troubleshooting for my second book.

My publisher had a scheduling meeting last week and has marked September of 2012 as the release date for HEMINGWAY’S GIRL. Now that we have that date, we are able to set the target dates for edits and drafts of both books.

It will take four to six weeks for the contracts department to complete the contract, and my editor plans on getting me the revision report for HEMINGWAY’S GIRL by this summer. In the meantime, I’m working furiously on completing research for my second book so I may begin drafting it.

RIGHTS

One of the most exciting things about publishing is the breadth of possibilities for reaching readers. My publisher has World English, ebook, and audio rights to my books specified in the deal. My agent was able to retain foreign rights and film/performance rights. My agent works at a boutique agency, so she has a subagent who will work to sell my books in foreign markets. It’s nice to have a balance of division of rights so both the publisher and author are satisfied.

ROYALTIES

Doesn’t that word have a nice ring to it? It’s the target for all authors, because if you’re earning royalties you’ve earned out your advance money and made your publisher very happy. This makes for a healthy long term relationship in publishing.

Writers, if you have anything you’d like to add, please include it in the comments. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment or email me directly.

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The Deal!

May 2, 2011 at 6:00 am (Business of Writing, Hemingway's Girl, Publishing)

Greetings!

The last two weeks have been very quiet on my blog, but they’ve been very active in my life. If you haven’t already heard, I’m thrilled to announce that NAL/Penguin offered me a two book deal for my novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, and my current WIP (work in progress.) This happened while I was on the North Carolina coast with my family last week. Needless to say, negotiating contracts with an agent and editor while sharing a beach house with three families and five boys under the age of nine is a challenge; but God bless my family for herding the children out of the house so I could hide inside, on the phone.

The week after the deal involved a roller coaster of emotions, announcements, and organization and I’ve finally (for the minute) settled into a joyfully optimistic professional working mode. The biggest mental adjustment I’ve had to make in this process is to fully acknowledge that I now have a full time job and I work for someone else. When I self-published my first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING, and even as I thought about self-publishing HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, I worked at my own pace and made all decisions myself. That has changed, and I’m ready to embrace that change and take my writing to the next level.

All along this process I’ve read so much about how to get an agent and a publisher, but I’ve read almost nothing about what happens after the deal. I’m going to blog about my own experiences in hopes of shedding light on the process for other writers.

But today, I’m just going to celebrate.  I’ve dreamed about this since I was a child, and I want to be mindful of this fresh new place and all of the promise it holds before it becomes my reality.

Thank you for all of your well wishes and encouragement. So many of you have given me so much along the way. There aren’t enough words to express my gratitude to my husband, children, parents, family, writing partner, and friends for how they’ve supported me.

Much love,

Erika

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Going With Tradition

March 17, 2011 at 3:47 pm (Business of Writing, Hemingway's Girl, Receive Me Falling, Self Publishing)

Some of you have recently asked why I’ve decided to try the traditional route to publishing HEMINGWAY’S GIRL after self-publishing RECEIVE ME FALLING. Here’s why I made my decision.

SELF PUBLISHING

I self-published RECEIVE ME FALLING for a number of reasons. It was very hard for a first time novelist with no other publishing credits or audience of any kind to find an agent, especially when that novel crossed genre lines. I felt very passionately about the story, however, and had a number of friends and book clubs asking to read it. I also knew that since the book was partially set in Annapolis, I’d be able to market it successfully close to home. I knew I’d have to work very hard marketing the book whether I had a traditional publisher or not, so I decided to self-publish, see what kinds of sales and reviews I could get, and then try to get an agent in the future if I met success.

I’ve been very pleased with my decision and feel very thankful for the readers and book clubs who have so enthusiastically supported me and my book. I also couldn’t have done it without the best husband, kids, and family ever.

THE NEXT NOVEL

In the meantime, I started working on a second novel set in Hemingway’s Key West, started blogging, and started expanding my platform in writing by guest blogging, hosting litchats on Twitter, joining various writing organizations, and attending lots of writing conferences.  After about two years of writing, revising, and editing based on personal and professional editor feedback, I felt that HEMINGWAY’S GIRL was ready for publication.

I thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to self-publish. On the plus side, the book would be ready to sell within a couple of months, the book clubs I attended were eager to read another novel by an author who visited them, and I had great results with local book stores (indie and chain) who were willing to stock future novels for me. On the minus side, distribution of paper books was a challenge. I also felt that HEMINGWAY’S GIRL had much broader geographic appeal that my first novel, so I wanted it in book stores nationally, or even internationally. Finally, no matter how many great reviews or positive reader letters I received, I confess that I wanted professional validation.

THE FUTURE OF PUBLISHING & MY DECISION

Something else is weighing on my mind. With the simple ebook publishing packages currently available, I foresee a flood of inferior, self-published books hitting the virtual shelves. There’s not going to be a lot of quality control out there, and I think that readers are going to look to tried and true publishers for a polished product.  I want my second book in that camp.

There are no guarantees. Even with an agent, finding an editor at a publishing house can be a challenge. Even finding an editor doesn’t make the book in print a guaranteed outcome.  All I can do is work as hard as I can to write the best book I can, and pray for a little luck.

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What’s a Literary Agent?

March 15, 2011 at 7:36 am (Business of Writing, Hemingway's Girl, Historical Fiction, literary agent, Receive Me Falling, Uncategorized)

I’ve gotten a number of emails over the past week from non-writer friends that read, “Congratulations on your agent! Now what does that mean?” As someone who’s been absorbed in this process for nearly a decade I sometimes forget that others don’t eat, sleep, and breathe publishing, so thank you for those of you who’ve asked. Below and in future posts, I will VERY GENERALLY walk you through the process. Keep in mind that I’m only speaking for fiction since non-fiction is a very different animal.

Once an author has a completed manuscript that she would like others to read on a large scale (and has edited and revised that manuscript to death based on feedback from  savvy, critical eyes outside of her household) it’s time to find a publisher. There are three basic choices (and a million offshoots): self publishing, small press publishing, or large house publishing.

Self and small press publishing do not require an agent. Large publishers generally do require an agent. An agent is an advocate for the author and is able to use her experience and connections to help authors navigate all aspects of publishing, including: providing editorial feedback on a manuscript, finding an editor at a publishing house as passionate about the work as the agent and author, handling contract negotiations with publishers, selling foreign, film, or other subsidiary rights, and many more specialties.

I had many great experiences self-publishing my first novel, Receive Me Falling, and I’m very glad I did it.  RMF had a lot of interest in my hometown, Annapolis, because it was partially set there, so grassroots marketing made sense. For my current novel Hemingway’s Girl, however, I wanted to reach a larger audience.  In truth, I also wanted some sort of external professional validation.

I researched agents, paying particular attention to those who had a keen interest in historical fiction, and was beyond thrilled when my top pick, Kevan Lyon, offered to represent me. It was a dream come true when I got the call from her, and I still get a thrill every time I think of it.

I’m currently working on a final set of revisions with Kevan. Then, with the help of her agency partner, Jill Marsal, we’ll craft a pitch letter. Kevan will pitch my project to editors at publishing houses to try to find a good match for the book and get me started on the process of working with a large house.

The only downside to this set up is the time it will take for Hemingway’s Girl to become available. First we have to find a publisher (in this increasingly difficult market), and then it usually takes about eighteen months before the book hits the shelves. Holding Hemingway’s Girl back from my wonderful readers who keep asking for it is a challenge.

I’ve always used this blog to talk about my writing process and experiences with self-publishing , and I’ll continue to talk about the process now that I’m trying traditional publishing. I want to formally thank my readers and book clubs for their interest and enthusiasm.  Please don’t hesitate to ask questions if you have them, and thank you for taking this journey with me.

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Book Giveaway

February 11, 2011 at 9:22 am (Giveaways, Hemingway's Girl, Historical Fiction, Writing)

Today, I’m guest posting at Hallie Sawyer’s blog, “Write for Me” on Hemingway’s influence on my writing. There’s also a chance to win a free, signed copy of my first novel, Receive Me Falling, if you leave a comment.

I hope to see you there!

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You Belong to Me

February 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm (Hemingway's Girl, Work in Progress, Writing, Writing Craft)

I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought, You belong to me…”

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

This theme of writers using others–those with a kind of power or rank using those without it–is prevalent in my work in progress, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL. It was inspired by Hemingway’s relentless use of his friends, enemies, and acquaintances in his fiction. He didn’t even always go to the trouble of disguising their names, and when confronted by them, passed it off as satire. “Can’t you take a joke?”

I’m careful in my own fiction about using others. To say that I’ve never done so would be a lie. After all, what am I but the blend of words I’ve read, songs I’ve heard,  a million conversations with thousands of people, an application of trend, time, civilization, geography, and religion. I’m the mathematical sum of all of my literal and figurative experience, so my fiction is naturally a product of it. It has to be.

But I’m not just a transmitter. I don’t record in the same manner a camera takes pictures, moving or otherwise. I have choices. I can create the myth I want to create, manipulate the facts, produce the evidence I want to convince others of what I’m trying to say. There’s power in that, but there’s also responsibility.

If you’re given a camera at a wedding, where do you point the lens? Do you take pictures of the best man groping a married woman, an underage cousin drunk and sick in the potted plants, the father of the bride arguing with the hotel manager over the bill? Or do you turn the lens to the newly wedded couple, forehead to forehead, while they dance to their song? The old woman seemingly watching her granddaughter, but seeing the ghost of her young self as a new bride? The nieces and nephews in undone buttons and untied ribbons, glorying in eating cake for dinner and the freedom of up-past-bedtime?

Writers, artists, musicians, everyone, the choice is yours. It’s all there before you. The question is where do you put your focus and why do you put it there? We could debate the merits of optimism versus pessimism, but I think the bottom line is that the artist, the writer, the transmitter must render her subjects true-ly without diminishing or exploiting them.

What about you? Where do you point your lens? Do you prefer to tell the tales from the shadows or the dance floor? Do you represent specific people or kinds of people in your work?

(This blog post was inspired by Dani Shapiro’s post On Being an Outsider.)

*Photo courtesy of Altingfest at Deviantart.com*

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