The long road of publishing

This entry is part 1 of 13 in the series All my novels

It’s September! It’s a special month for my writing, because September marks the anniversary of my “return” to writing. Six years ago this month, I started writing for publication, after a long drought.

SAMSUNGOf course, when I came back to writing, the first thing I did was write. This is very important, and probably the best first step for most people 😉 . I didn’t research the industry or the publication process or anything. But I know a little bit about setting goals, and I decided to put a deadline on writing. If I didn’t have a book published in five years, I said, I would stop pursuing publication. I put it on a Post-It note and stuck it on a pen holder on the desk: September 2012. (Recreation at right.)

Yep, five years. It happens for people—lots of people—but I didn’t know to take into account publication calendars of up to two years (sometimes more), plus all the time searching for an agent. Plus, of course, the time it would take getting really, really good at writing.

Or the number of novels it would take. I wrote six novels before #3 was accepted for publication. Incidentally, had all gone according to the original plan, that book would have come out last month—11 months after my original, naive deadline. things going according to plan never makes a very good story(But things going according to plan never makes a very good story, right?)

As I’ve finally gotten novel #10 looking something like I wanted it to originally, I want to look back at all those novels: the “drawer” novels, the “totally will come back to” novels, the “waiting in the wings” novels. Because I have to challenge myself with every novel, I’ve learned something new and different with each one. Starting next week, I’m going to look back at these books!

What have you learned from your novels? How many have you written? Do you ever wish you hadn’t written one of them?

My first finished novel (sort of)

This entry is part 2 of 13 in the series All my novels

I’d always dreamed of writing novels—not in the “Yes, someday we’ll have enough money to retire early and/or work until the day we die” way that 90% of people do, just wishing they’d written a novel, but in the “Yes, of course, that’s going to happen within 5-10 years, I’ve already got it in the plan” way.

The plan got a jumpstart when my oldest (and then only) child was about 18 months old. I was so, so, so bored much of the time, despite a nice work-from-home position in search engine marketing. But it took a vivid dream to get me writing what would become my first finished novel . . . sort of.

I grabbed a leftover multi-subject spiral bound notebook and a pen and started writing.


The book stats

Title: Uhhh . . . Never titled it. The file name was always just “Nick and Kate.”
Genre: Historical romance (set in the US in the 1920s)
Inspiration: a dream
Writing dates: September – October 2007. Four weeks. Writing longhand, that was pretty impressive.
Length: ~43,000 words—that’s the “sort of.” As I soon discovered, technically this isn’t long enough to qualify as a novel. But I still count it.
Elevator pitch: Kate is an average small-town girl with above average aspirations. Meeting rich and worldly Nick wasn’t part of her plan, but she’s ready to try anything—if they can both leave behind the scars of the Great War.

What I learned from writing this book

This book taught me the passion and rapture of drafting! I stood at my kitchen counter while my son was playing (in the next room, but in sight), and lost myself in the story until I couldn’t write anymore.

I was able to carry the story through to the end for the first time. Woot! I also realized how much I enjoy dialogue—natural dialogue comes very easily for me, and I can spot unnatural dialogue pretty well. (Natural, however, != good all the time…)

Webster's 1956 DictionaryMost importantly, this book proved to me that I can do this! I can write a whole story, start to finish. I’d started a few stories and would-be novels, but always ran out of steam or passion or ideas. For the first time, I was able to get through the whole thing.

I shared this book with two people, ever. They were both very positive and encouraging, but another important thing I learned: novels are long. Without the drive to expand this story with significant subplots, I decided to shelve it. Next time, I vowed, I would get to a “real” novel length.

How about you? What was your first novel about? Come share!

Photo credits: spiral notebook—Damon Grosso; dictionary—AJ Marx via Flickr/CC

Maybe this novel thing is for me . . .

This entry is part 3 of 13 in the series All my novels

My first novel was inspired by a dream, written longhand, and typed up. I rearranged the elements of one chapter (making it a pretty cool partial flashback)—and that passed for editing. Naturally, when editing doesn’t take any time, I figured it I should start on my next novel as soon as I finished this one.

ideaI just needed an idea.

As any writer can tell you, ideas are cheap. I come across several every day. But very few of them actually inspire novels (it usually takes combining a few ideas to get to that level). As I approached the end of my first novel, I began to worry about the next one. Would I have any ideas? Did I only have one novel in me?

I think that insecurity comes back with every novel and every fallow period. I put immense pressure on myself to be “productive.” I’m almost always multitasking, even on a day “off.” But it’s okay to wait until you find an idea you’re really passionate about.

Fortunately, I had another dream, and once again I had the seeds of a novel.

The book stats

Title: Finally settled on Con Artist
Genre: Semi-historical romance (set in New York in 1974)
Inspiration: another dream
Writing dates: November 2007 – about August 2008. Well, the actual writing didn’t take all that time, but I’m not sure when I finished writing. I stopped editing in about August 2008, soon after my second child was born.
Length: ~70,000 words?
Elevator pitch: Aspiring artist Margaux might be living with a killer. The only person who can help her is Charlie, a handsome reporter—and the one person who could ruin Margaux’s future.

What I learned from writing this book

Uh, wow. I learned a lot from this book. In the course of writing, I was thinking about one character’s backstory, and it just popped into my head: he was divorced, and here’s why, and here’s his ex-wife, and here’s his son. That kind of “speaking” to me is still kind of rare, so it’s still one of my favorite moments about this book.


This manuscript was also a big lesson for me in revision. I really didn’t like how the last third of the book or so ended, so I really began pulling it apart, tackling the events differently, rewriting and changing. Unfortunately, I never did get it to where I liked it okay.

This novel also brought me to my first critique group, which happened to be online. It was a very interesting setup, and it seemed to work well (though I moved on years ago, so I can’t really comment on how it’s working now). I made a good friend (hi, Marnee!) there, and learned a lot about characterization, motivations, character sympathy, etc. But that group also yielded my first experience with a toxic critique partner (not Marnee!).

Possibly the biggest effect this book had on my writing, though, was realizing that I needed to plot things out first. This book began to grow into a Winchester Mystery Story as I fixed problems pointed out by critique partners, while also rewriting and scrapping and revising and rewriting the last third of the book. Finally, I really couldn’t fix this, and I was beginning to hate the characters, the book, and writing.

Also, having just recently had a baby about the time I was drowning in edits, I was worried I would never be able to write a novel again. Fortunately, I proved myself wrong. (Next time!)

How about you? Are you a “convert” to plotting? Come share!

Photo credits: idea (lightbulb)—Juliette;
re-envision original series by Briana Zimmers via Flickr/CC

Third time’s the charm

This entry is part 4 of 13 in the series All my novels

I kept on writing in spite of my too-short and too-broken first novels. And as it turned out, the third time was the charm. This new project completely changed my writing career.

QUICK REMINDER: to receive your bonus reads for the book blast, you must email me your receipt! jordan at

El Padre y la ViudaAnyway. My best friend and I were chatting one day about a friend of hers who became a priest after college, and what it would be like to choose a celibate life at a young age. The conversation wandered off into paths of foreign soaps with Catholic priests pursued by young women (namely Ballykissangel and Abrázame muy fuerte). Sometimes these fictional priests would fall in love and leave the ministry, and my friend and I speculated what would happen if a priest fell in love.

That night, my mind returned to that theme. What if, I wondered, he wasn’t really a priest? For the first time, my mind went to what would later become my favorite fictional question: what if he were a spy?

I emailed my friend and within a day or two, we’d sketched out our stories and begun parallel novels: mine following the adventures of Father Undercover and the parish secretary, and my friend’s following the story of a teacher at the parish school (who happened to be Father Undercover’s sister) and a seminary candidate.

The book stats

Title: Finally settled on Saints & Spies
Genre: Romantic suspense (my first contemporary-set novel!)
Inspiration: a conversation with my best friend
Writing dates: 22 October 2008 – early December 2008. And then editing until February 2010. Seriously.
Length: Maxed out at 101,000, but submitted at around 90,000
Elevator pitch: An LDS FBI agent must go undercover as a Catholic priest to root out the mob in the parish—if he doesn’t fall for the parish secretary first.

What I learned from writing this book

Man. What didn’t I learn from this book?

From the initial writing, I was reminded what it was like to fall in love with a story. It had been nearly a year since I’d started a new project, and my enthusiasm for my previous books was as mired down as their plots. I realized I could write a book in a contemporary setting, and I learned how much fun it was to co-author. The best part was always writing the scenes with all four of our main characters interacting. My friend and I still squabble like our sibling characters when talking about a scene where they have opposite agendas 😉 .

But probably the farthest-reaching lesson I learned was how useful plotting really is. With four MCs, two main plots, intersecting subplots, shared scenes, etc., planning out our stories in advance was a must. The actual plotting took me less than a day and I was still very excited about the story. The actual book was very different from the original plot—we cut the rival mob that was the main plot entirely—but having a guideline in place was an amazing revelation. It didn’t stifle my creativity; the outline enabled it.

This book became my first submission, and thus my first rejection. That, right there, says a lot.

I would not give up. Editing the book again taught me more than I’d ever learned about writing. I went through each scene to perform a tension check, ensuring there was some source of tension in the scene, striving to weave in more interactions with antagonists, bringing out the suspense. I took my heroine from a crying waif to a proactive former policewoman. I learned how to better write character emotions from the inimitable Margie Lawson.


I learned how much real work it would take to get that book from first draft to publishable (my secret sauce of writing). It took more than a year of work after the rejection to get it that way.

After I finally learned what editing was, this book became my first contest win. Then it became my first acceptance from a publisher. And one day, it will definitely be available. Once upon a time, that day was going to be last month, but it isn’t now. Which is okay, too—because if you saw the dates above, I started this book five years ago and often I’m not sure I want to look back at where my writing was back then!

But, hey, if you do, you can read that prizewinning chapter right here on my website.

What do you think? How did you learn about the importance of planning, or editing? How many novels did you write before you had one ready to submit?

Photo credit: el Padre y la Viuda (the Father and the Widow)—Carlos MuLec

What you should never, ever, ever do

This entry is part 5 of 13 in the series All my novels

(Unless you want to)

After I finished my third novel, my next idea was to continue the adventures of the undercover agent/priest (now no longer undercover, of course) and the parish secretary (who quit).

Yep. I wrote a sequel to a book I hadn’t sold. Hadn’t even revised. I knew enough about the publishing industry by now to know that this was stupid. But I also knew enough about the publishing industry to know that I was in a very special phase of my career: one without contracted deadlines, publisher pressures, and reader expectations. I could really do what I wanted.

Pretty awesome time!


My co-author finished her parallel novel to Saints & Spies, and wrote a short story sequel, but from there she had no desire to write another parallel, so I was on my own again. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to stretch my own words and ideas to novel length, but (woot!) I made it!

The book stats

Title: Finally settled on Saints & Agents
Genre: Romantic suspense
Inspiration: an entertaining idea for a scene that would be uncomfortable for my characters. The scene never made it in the book.
Writing dates: January – April 2009. Editing in January – March 2011.
Length: About 75,000?
Elevator pitch: Happily ever after didn’t last nearly long enough. Now both working for the FBI, the exes may need one another to track down a pair of Irish terrorists. But getting in with the criminals—and working side by side with the one that got away—is even harder than breaking up the first time.

What I learned from writing this book

The joy of a sequel! Yeah, okay, that’s said with some sarcasm—sequels aren’t always easy. There’s a lot of pressure to do it the same, but, uh, different: hit the same emotional notes, have the same or similar characters, develop similar-ish conflicts—all while writing something that’s new and different enough to satisfy readers.

This book is the first time I used an “alpha” reader. My co-author and I wrote scenes together and showed each other our progress along the way. (Yes, the book that was to be my first published novel was actually drafted in Google Docs in 2008. Crazy times, eh?) She became my alpha reader for this novel, but it was a different relationship. Rather than creating our world together, she became a sounding board and semi-audience (although I relied on her for input with her characters’ actions).

I re-learned the importance of subplots and secondary characters. I had to work hard to tie in all the characters I loved from the first novel (well, all the ones who weren’t in jail). But I also had a new cast of secondaries—and, of course, new antagonists. This book was the first time I used the villain’s POV—and it made a world of difference! In a book where the protagonists spend much of the time not knowing what the villains are up to, it’s very hard to keep the tension going (don’t get me started). If you can add the villain’s POV—as I did in revising this novel, since it was already in 3rd person multiple POV—you can help to inject all the scenes with more tension and every 10th grade English teacher’s favorite thing, dramatic irony.

Good IdeaPossibly the most important lesson I (re)learned with this novel is that I will always be able to find another idea. I was most of the way through Saints & Spies believing it was a stand-alone when this idea came to me. I dismissed it at first (no sequels before sales!), but I fell in love with the story, and I had to do it. Not only did I have an idea for a novel, but I also had enough ideas to finish a full-length one by myself. Hooray!

What do you think? Have you ever done something you should never, ever, ever do in your career?

Photo credits: notebook—Tony Hall; idea quotation—Celestine Chua

I am novel number five

This entry is part 6 of 13 in the series All my novels

Since I had so much fun writing the sequel to my unpublished, unsubmitted, unrevised third novel, I decided to do it again. Yep. That thing you’re never never never supposed to do? I did it twice. With the same book.

I’ve told you I’m nuts, right?

This time, the idea for the book came about from reading a novel. In the book, the heroine defeats the villain in a finale sequence where she’s forced to kill him—alone. The police accept her story, fortunately, but I had to wonder . . . what if she were lying?

Some bright ideas...

The book stats

Title: Saints & Sinners
Genre: Romantic suspense
Inspiration: a what-if question based on an awesome book.
Writing dates: August-October 2009.
Length: About 75,000?
Elevator pitch: Hours before the wedding, the bride is kidnapped. The kidnappers’ grudges—and betrayals—run deeper than at least one of their own realizes. Can the groom find the truth—and his bride—before it’s too late?

What I learned from writing this book

It was really fun to be inspired by a friend’s awesome novel. The circumstances of the scene in that book (and the only reason I’m not naming it is because this gives away the ending) are very different from the scene it inspired in mine—so much so that I doubt you’d notice even if you read them back to back. It’s always pretty cool to take your inspiration and riff on it to become your own thing.

This was my first book to be plotted with Larry Brooks’s Story Structure (from the summary on his blog; his book Story Engineering wasn’t out yet). I found this sort of challenging, in that I felt like I had to kind of . . . putter around for a while until it was “time” for the First Plot Point. Importantly, with this book I realized that my first drafts tend to run about 70,000 words—so when I’m timing out my story’s milestones, I shouldn’t use the final word count (which might be closer to 85,000) to place them. (Man, I wonder what that will look like in revision.)

This was also my first, and so far only, book with more than three POVs. I think it got up to five: the hero, the heroine, the hero’s sidekick (without whom, the hero would get to do some really awesome listening via telephone), the villain, the villain’s sidekick (ditto, plus his motivations aren’t comprehensible without this—and several other spoilery reasons).

Another big lesson with this book was the value of writing against a timer. Racing the timer made this book go faster for me. I don’t know if that’s why, but I did manage to finish this book within one year of starting the first book in this trilogy.

Bunch of PapersThree books in a year. It’s a feat I now know I could replicate—but I probably won’t. I’ve got enough manuscripts sitting around, waiting to be edited!

I think it was good for me to get all those books done, though. As I finished this book, I started feeling very sick and tired—so much so that getting the last few chapters done was a challenge. Turned out I was pregnant with my third child. Between some burnout from writing so much, submitting the first novel in the trilogy for the first time, and all my “creative” energies going elsewhere, I took a big break from writing new stuff.

Looking back, part of me wishes I’d taken a longer one and skipped my next novel.

What do you think? What’s the most you’ve written in a year?

Photo credits: “Some bright ideas…” by DaMongMan,
“Bunch of papers” by Seiichi Kusunoki, both via Flickr & CC

The year I quit

This entry is part 7 of 13 in the series All my novels

Have you entered the contest to win a $25 gift card &
free books yet

After my fifth novel, I took a break. Which ended up being a lot longer than I’d planned. I got a rejection back for novel #3 and set about revising and rewriting it. The first chapter went on to win a contest to get fast tracked in the submission pile at several publishers, but then I got my teeth kicked in and sent it through three more rounds of readers and revisions.

"Journal of Universal Rejection" coffee mugAs you can imagine, the constant revising and rewriting drove me nuts. I’ve never been one to make sweeping changes based on one reader’s feedback, always waiting for consensus, consulting with people I trust, weighing out the options, but there was a ridiculous amount of work put into the revisions.

Meanwhile, I went and had a baby (my third). Frankly, that pregnancy was a very difficult time for me, but that’s a whole other post. On top of all that, I had no new projects for nearly a year. I wanted to move a bit slower—I was tired after writing three manuscripts in a year, and I knew it would be difficult to get back into writing until the baby was a bit older. I made it three or four months before I just had to write again.

The book stats

Title: Façade
Genre: Historical romantic suspense
Inspiration: a what-if question based on a commercial for a new TV series
Writing dates: September-ish 2010 – February-ish 2011.
Length: Right around 68,000
Elevator pitch: A female Soviet diplomat and an American spy must work together in post-war Paris to save the peace treaty negotiations—and her father—to forestall another world war.

What I learned from writing this book

I learned that I can still write! Or . . . not. I started with an idea I loved (still do), but I could tell the style was going to be more demanding than my previous, more conversational novels. Read: I wanted this to be more literary. That put a lot of pressure on me, so I set a goal quite low, probably 500 words a day. I didn’t want to pin myself down to too rigid of an outline. I needed to let this book take its own course and its own time, I thought.

This was my first novel since the very first to be written in first person. In fact, I did more than one first person narrator, and even added in sections with a third-person present narrator to heighten the tension but . . . this book just never worked. The longer that booked dragged out, the worse it got. I did a “Half-No” in November to add 25,000 words to it, and then I think we limped along until about February to get to its final word count.

I tried. Again and again I tried. I scrapped the middle section and tried to rewrite it. But every time I came up against a wall. To this day, I still don’t know what to do with that middle section. I really like the first couple chapters. I really like the last third or so. I really don’t know how to get from A to B. That’s a major blow to a writer’s confidence: after writing several books that did work, I somehow thought I knew what I was doing.

You never really know what you’re doing.

I still submitted the first couple chapters to contests, and at first I did well: first place. The highest score in another contest, out of all entries in all categories in the first round—in fact, out of 334 points, I got 332.

But then the final round judge, an editor at a major house, read my first few chapters and synopsis and really didn’t like them. She used an exclamation point to express how bad they were and placed my entry dead last. (It really didn’t feel like an “honorable” mention.) I pitched the book to an editor at a different house, and she was very nice and encouraging, but wasn’t interested. She offered to recommend some agents for the book; her assistant never returned my email.

Once again, I was left with a single foundering project. My other book was out on submission, but . . . I was so done. I wasn’t even sure I would be interested in accepting an offer at that point.

Then something happened to our family that only happens on television. Again, this is a whole ‘nother post, but a particularly unexpected death took place in my extended family. With that kind of suffering in the world—with the people I’ve known and loved all my life—I couldn’t face made up people and their problems.

It came down to this, I realized one day walking out of the library: I started writing because it made me happy. It wasn’t making me happy anymore. At all. So I gave myself permission, and I quit. Perhaps forever. But at least through the end of summer 2011.

this is what I am doing!

I don’t know if I’d take back any book I’ve written, but if I could forget a year in my writing career, October 2010 to October 2011 would probably be it.

Have you ever quit writing?

Photo credits: Journal of Universal Rejection mug—Tilemahos Efthimiadis; quit button—Tizzie, both via Flickr & CC

Lucky! Number! Seven!

This entry is part 8 of 13 in the series All my novels

After a maaajor crash and burn novel, I needed to quit writing, perhaps forever. And then fall (the season) came, and with it, NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month.

To this point, I’d never done a full NaNo. I made a sad attempt in 2006, but stalled out in the first chapter. In 2010, the year before this, I did a “Half-No” where I added 25,000 words to my ill-fated sixth novel. I’d written a book pretty quickly before: 90,000 words in 8 or 9 weeks, spanning over November (2008), but I started in October (five years ago today, in fact!), so it couldn’t count as official even if my word count was enough.

I like to challenge myself, so doing NaNo wasn’t enough. I heard of Candace Havens’s “Fast Draft” method, where you write your first draft in two weeks. I finally found the right characters to use for an idea that had been bouncing around in my brain for over a year, sketched out a plot, threw that away, took a deep breath, crossed my fingers, and dove in.

The book stats

Title: Bloodstone
Genre: Uhh . . . action/adventure romance, I guess? It’s a lot like National Treasure.
Inspiration: Umm . . . I think it was partially inspired by a History Channel pseudoscientific special on Vikings in the Americas. Also, some notes on a passage of scripture.
Writing dates: 1 November 2011 – 14 November 2011
Length: Just over 78,000 in the first draft; sitting at 85,000 right now.
Elevator pitch (or a little bit longer than that): Professor Cora Warren has an archaeological dig to conduct; her student Jack has his own agenda: an unbelievable archaeological theory. But it’s not his theory that challenges Cora’s faith the most—until they unearth an artifact that will drag them through a thousand years of incredible history, give them both a reason to believe, and bring them face-to-face with a secret society hellbent on keeping the treasure and the glory for themselves.

Dude. I love this book.

107/365 [Flying Fingers]

What I learned from this book

First and foremost: as soon as I got up on November 1, I dove into this book. AND WRITING WAS FUN AGAIN! It had been two years since I’d written something that I loved and enjoyed, and had it flow. I’d forgotten the joy of drafting, and how much my soul needed that creative energy. I also got to revisit one of my favorite conflicts in romance: forbidden love!

To date, this is the longest I’ve gone from initial idea to actual writing. In fact, I was sure I’d given up on that idea, that it didn’t have the spark or passion I’d need to sustain a novel. The characters I’d initially sketched out for the idea just didn’t connect with me: the “hero” had such an obvious agenda he came off as flat before I ever even gave the guy a name. Having let the ideas percolate so much—and building on something that has as much background as Vikings in America—gave me a lot of fuel to write very fast!

And speaking of writing fast, I wrote real fast. I wasn’t sure if I could really do the Fast Draft method, especially since I don’t write on Sundays, but sure enough, I hit “The End” on November 14, averaging 6500 words a day. This was majorly helped by my first ever writing retreat, where I wrote . . . darn, my records are on my old laptop still. But it was many words. Plus, I got to be there to receive the acceptance letter for what was to be my first published novel (third manuscript), and to get to share that news with friends in person was very cool. (There may have been a request for a cartwheel. I may have fulfilled that request.)

Writing fast also had some other advantages. I thought I’d end up with a super sloppy first draft, and yes, in some ways I did. However, having the entire novel in my head helped me to weave together threads that I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise, instead of dropping them and fixing it in revision. It really felt like weaving a novel, like all the craft and structure mechanics I’d spent the last four years beating into my head were really coming together. It was far from perfect—and I think it’s going to have to undergo a second round of revisions still—but it was surprisingly good.

COVEROne of the craft and structure mechanics that really came together for me during this time was the concept of the character arc, and most especially how I needed to use that arc at the climax. This was a major craft breakthrough for me, and I’m excited to share it with you in Character Arcs, coming next week! (You can add it to your Goodreads now. Just sayin’.)

This novel was also the first time I got to experiment with different timelines, something I love to read. I watched National Treasure to analyze the structure of the genre and I was struck that the beginning of the movie is a flashback (uh, sort of?) depicting part of the history of the secret/legend they’re pursuing. I ended up using three storylines throughout: one in Puritan times (the first time the stone is unearthed), one in the mid-nineteenth century (forming the secret society), and one modern (finding stone, coming up against secret society, romance, character arcs and more). Plus a scene in Viking times (remembering the creation of one of the clues).

Man. I love this book. I’m going to love it so much more when it’s shiny and perfect. Sigh.

Tell me about one of your favorite manuscripts!

Photo credit: The Hamster Factor via Flickr & CC