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Update on the Rodeo Ride to Get Published

RodeoI have this analogy at Carrot Ranch: That the path to publishing a book is like a rodeo ride. My father, his father and his father were all bull-riders. My father gave it up after high school. I really wanted to ride bulls, coming from a family that did so. I rode training barrels, goats and steers. I never made it to the level of bulls. If I had, all I would have needed was one eight-second ride at a rodeo to prove my merit. I never got the chance.

Now it’s about writing novels. I’ve been a professional writer for more than 20 years, mostly publishing in newspapers, magazines and business publications. But I’ve trained to write novels. It’s a bit like my childhood, comparing my writing experience to that of training with goats and steers when I really want to ride bulls. Every lesser step matters though. It’s how you develop skills and practice your craft.

Also, other life experiences matter.

Parenting teaches you a certain kind of dedication that a job does not — you can always change jobs. Every job teaches you something of value, even if it is the recognition of what you don’t want to do. It can teach you the value of teamwork, negotiation, administrative skills. When you feel stumped about how to ride a bull, think back to what it was like to ride a goat or steer. Back up to what you know and look for connections from your experience to take you down an unknown path.

Publishing is the big dream. Think big. Dream big. Publish. However, it’s not quick and easy.

When I first set out, I was so certain I’d ride the biggest, baddest Brahma bull the rodeo had to offer. I would get published. Turns out, that requires getting an agent and the agent brokers the ride. It’s a long process. In the meantime, I kept writing. With my third WIP, I discovered that genre really does matter when it comes to getting published in the bigger arena. This means I won’t get my chance to ride until I finish revisions on my third. And just because a publisher is interested to read doesn’t mean it will get picked up. I have much anticipation on one ride, but it is a strategy and I’m committed to see it through to success or failure.

Then what?

Well, no one can take from me what I’ve already written. If one ride doesn’t work out, there are plenty more rodeos to aim for. I will most likely consider a new strategy or shop it out to other publishers and agents. Then there is self-publishing.

Self-publishing has remained low on my list of rodeos to consider. To me, it’s like aiming for the county rodeo when I really want to ride at the Nationals. However, it can be a legitimate strategy for authors. Some start with the county rodeo with the intention to get picked up for the national ride. Others enjoy the county rodeo and that’s where they want to be. Many are successful there. It doesn’t matter which rodeo you want, as long as it fits the ride you seek.

While some might think self-publishing is an easy ride, they speak from a lack of experience. It requires a writer to provide more, and to understand book publishing regardless of your entry point. It’s one thing to know how to ride bulls, but do you know what each rodeo requires of you? Self-publishing requires specific skills and planning. It’s more than knowing how to upload a digital file. It requires every step that book publishers take. Thus the author becomes a publisher. It also puts your book into the same market. Thus the author becomes a distributor.

The P-word: planning. Not every author likes the p-word. In fact, a successful author I follow had a hard-truth-response to an author who said they’d self-publish and see what happens. C. Hope Clark, author of several mystery series and the weekly Funds for Writers, responded:

“I have no problem with people writing as a hobby. I encourage it, actually. I have no problem with people publishing as a hobby. I encourage that, too. But . . . when they hint that they do not have the time to do it right . . . when part-time is an excuse for not doing it thoroughly, I just want to get to a microphone someplace and rant!

Of course ranting to anyone is not the way to make them understand. I don’t want someone shaking their finger at me, either. So I try to educate.

I explain:

1) A book not prepared with a professional eye, will not sell.
2) A book not edited hard by people other than the writer, will not sell.
3) A book placed on Amazon with no steady promotion, will not sell.
4) A book published without the author marketing herself, will not sell.

One gentleman threw those words at me, “and see what happens,” and I simply replied, “It won’t sell.” He looked like I’d slapped him.” (Read the full post, “I’ll Throw it Out There and See What Happens.”)

Planning is essential. I love the craft of writing, too; I love creation, to create, to dwell in the hum of creativity. But I want to ride bulls to make the purse. In other words, I want to publish what I write to earn a living. I’m not so ignorant of the state of this profession to not see how difficult that is. In fact, it’s why I equate publishing books to making a rodeo ride. But consider this: I have student loan debt for a writing degree; I worked in the trenches at newspapers, magazines and in marketing departments; I workshopped my craft on my dime each year and invested money in craft-related books. This isn’t a hobby for me. And just as I have nothing against those who do write for a hobby — I know and admire many who are on this  path — I want to help myself and others who are serious to make writing a viable career.

If you do plan, understand it can take years to come to fruition. I wrote a guest post for Rachel Poli about planning and how it’s part of establishing your writer’s platform. You can consider three different plans, all or one. A vision plan is great for all writers. It helps you understand what you want out of writing, an answer only you can give. Once you clearly see your vision, decide if you need a business or marketing plan. If you are having trouble keeping to your plan, adjust it.

Don’t beat yourself up every time you fall off the bull. You will fall off the bull 8,000 times, but you only need one eight-second ride.

You will fail to meet your plans. You will be rejected by others. You will fail to convey your ideas in words. You will experience disappointment. Don’t linger in disappointment (back in the 1850s, it was a common reason for getting committed to an insane asylum). Connect with other writers who are on similar paths. Study the rodeo rides of successful authors and absorb that the ride can be done. Find your voice and use it. Acknowledge your falls, but get back up and try again. You might even want to quit for a while until the itch to ride brings you back to the arena.

The purpose of this post is to give a backstory to posts to come. I’ve been working to define a writer’s platform as what you build from branding, community, credibility and audience. Currently, I’m stuck on audience building. It’s similar to building community, but often harder to make the connection. Community is getting to know your fellow bull riders. But say you had to fill the grandstands with rodeo attendees. Sure, a few bull riders might attend, but most are going to be in the arena with you. So, how do you find people to come watch the show, buy tickets and see your ride? That’s the same question every author has — how do I get people to find my writing, buy my book and read it?

I’m also exploring the world of publishing, specifically self-publishing. Currently the Congress of Rough Writers are collaborating on our first anthology. Sarah Brentyn is riding as Trail Boss; she’s our editor. Volume 1 will include flash fiction from our first year of writing at Carrot Ranch and will introduce several chapters of new work, including essays from our memoirists and longer stories from our featured fiction writers. Sarah Brentyn is also writing a chapter to make this anthology a teaching tool for book clubs, writers groups and classes. Several writers are assisting on teams to guide the processes involved. We plan to self-publish. As Lead Buckaroo, the planning is my task.

What I’m learning is that the marketing channels for traditionally published and self-published books are the same. The difference is what and how distribution is available. Another difference is that as self-publishing, I’m the publisher.

Subsequent posts will explain:

  1. the marketing channels,
  2. the role of authors,
  3. each publishing requirement,
  4. the process of planning,
  5. ideas on pricing,
  6. target-audiences,
  7. how a writer’s platform applies to the anthology.

An anthology is a way to explore at low risk. Each participant is risking little on this ride. If it’s successful, it benefits many. It it fails, it doesn’t take down any one writer’s hard work, like a full novel. If I fail, I learn from it. We can always try again. My hope is that the anthology becomes a practice arena of sorts. We can experiment with self-publishing, pricing, distribution, platform and even craft and content, which are all lessons we can individually apply to our greater individual rides. As a group, we have greater experience and skills to share, too.

Stay in the saddle! Once a week, I’ll post something new from what we are doing, learning or discussing. Feel free to add to discussion in the comments.

NaNoReViSo Revelation

It’s Monday morning, 1 a.m. so technically, I think it’s Tuesday. But I have had a huge breakthrough, the one I needed. A mighty big THANK YOU to Geoff Le Pard who took time from his Nantholgy to review my research dilemma and explain it in clear terms that made sense. Not only did it make sense, but it led to a revelation.

Two secretes held by Sarah Shull — who shot Cobb McCanles and why was Cobb accused of absconding with taxpayer’s money in North Carolina. They both were intelligent. In fact, that’s the basis of their attraction. Mary was beautiful, a fine cook and loving mother and Cobb adored her, but he couldn’t resist his wicked urges or ambitions of the mind and body around Sarah.

The revelation is that the duo repeated their deed scheme in Nebraska. It’s been there all along in the documents and histories. No one has seen it for what it is. I even felt sorry for Cobb, thinking he kept selling land or bridges or wagons and having to collect them and sell them again to someone who would pay in full. But what if he never intended for anyone to pay in full? Geoff set off my realization when he said Cobb, as sheriff in North Carolina, would have kept the deeds in his dealings. So many historians have written about his selling terms which included…him keeping the deed. He’d get some money out of each buyer, but retain the deed and sell again to someone else. And all the while, Sarah kept his books.

I revised a scene tonight and feel like I have the right tone between the two. While this is a big breakthrough, revision continues to be daunting. Irene Waters said something last week about a page and a half a day; 179 to go! And I thought, that’s why this feels so intimidating — the mind only sees a mountain to climb when all we can do is muster a step or two, but have to reach the peak in an impossible stretch. To all fellow writers in edits and revisions and new drafts, stay the course!

And here’s a bonus scene from  today’s revisions:

KATE SHELL by Charli Mills

“You need to go by another name.” Sarah McCanles, Leroy’s pinch-faced wife cleared the evening meal.

Sarah slowly rose to help and calmly replied, “My name is Sarah, too.”

“Leroy, honestly, it’s confusing, two Sarah’s living here and working in the store.” When Sarah McCandles’s voice pitched to the volume of a whine, Leroy grabbed a jug and indicated with a toss of his head to Cobb that they should go out on the front porch.

Sarah envied the men their retirement to the cool evening air. “Do you ever go by another name? Like Sally?”

The other woman frowned, creating creases in her forehead. “Sally. That’s for old ladies. My mother had an Aunt Sally. Oh, do please change your name!”

After the dinner dishes were washed and dried, Leroy’s wife shuffled the two little ones off to bed and Sarah slipped outside. Cobb made room for her on the rough hewed bench. Leroy leaned against the post, staring out into the darkness. “Mountains, that direction,” he said.

“Pining for mountains again, Brother?” Cobb pulled back on the jug and took a long swig.

Leroy turned around and noticed Sarah. “Ah, it’s Sare-Bear.”

“Sare-Bear?” Sarah smiled at the silly name.

Cobb looked at her, his eyes slightly glazed. Liquor or lust. “How about Bare Sarah?”

She poked him in the ribs. “Behave, Mr. McCanles.”

“I’m behaving,” said Leroy.

Sarah shook her head. If ever two brothers had matching mirthful grins, it was this pair when in each other’s company. Too much whiskey though and they were trouble.

“Kate!” Leroy’s wife stepped outside and all three turned perplexed looks her direction.

“Who’s Kate, Wife?”

“She is,” pointing at Sarah.

Cobb chuckled low in his chest. “You were a bonnie Scot in disguise all this time.”

“I don’t think so. No one seems to be confused. Traders respectfully call you Mrs. Leroy McCanles, and they call me Sarah.”

“I hate that! My name ain’t Leroy! You can be Kate and they can call me Sarah. Kate Shell. That’s your name and I’m going to tell everyone it is, that’s all there is to it.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, woman!”

Everyone turned to look at Leroy who seemed more surprised than any at what he just said. His wife, eyes wide and filling with tears, screeched and ran back into the cabin. Coyotes across the flat responded with yips.

“Leroy, there’s a reason our father always said never swear in front of the women folk. You might be sleeping in the barn tonight.”

Sarah covered her face with palms to hide her want to laugh.

“Damn it. I—” Leroy looked sideways at Sarah. “Sorry.”

Sarah couldn’t hold back and laughed loud.

Leroy reached for the jug, but Cobb held it back. “Think you had enough, already.” He joined Sarah in laughing. Leroy headed to the barn, muttering and a few words Sarah could distinctly detect as swearing.

Cobb walked her across the dark yard to the back of the stone structure that would be the post office soon. She stepped through the door and turned to face him, leaning against the frame. “Come in?”

He breathed deep like a man smelling dogwood blossoms. “Best get home to Mary.”

Sarah nodded.

“Hey.” Cobb reached for her hand.

It felt small, gripped in his larger one. “Yes?” Her voice was breathy and inwardly she said a few of Leroy’s choice words.

“I’m thinking of selling the toll-bridge.” He kissed the palm of her hand.

“I wondered when we might get around to such.” She smiled like a real mistress.If she couldn’t have Cobb in her bed, she could have his clever ambitions to plan and hide.

“Think of some terms. Goodnight, Rosebud.”

Terms. Yes, there would be terms. Down payment. Deed, of course, she’d keep that filed. Difficult terms to meet. The new owners would never really own it. He who has the deed…it was her comforting thought as she readied for bed. Kate Shell. Maybe she could take an alias. No matter. Folk would be slow to catch on in this Territory. Rumors seeped out of North Carolina, but no one really understood how Cobb made off with the cold hard cash and left the bondsmen bickering over land deeds. It would take Weith years to sort it all out. Before turning down the covers she lightly tapped her fingers on the leather ledger.

No one knew Cobb like she did.


NaNoReViSo: Week 1

NaNoReViSo2015NanoReviSo is an acronym of my own making. It’s a nod to one of my favorite drafting tools, NaNoWriMo, which officially began yesterday, but acknowledgement of where I’m at in my writing process this November — revision.

Week 1 began with a bang; I might have broken my big toe. It’s swollen in all the wrong places and is a purple bloom of bruising. It’s my big toe on my left foot which has been my tripping toe for years. It’s the toe that I thought would cause me to break other bones, but ironically, I broke it and on the eve of NaNoReViSo.

It reminds me that I will revise Rock Creek by December 15, “no matter what.” No matter if I feel overwhelmed by the volume of material I have. No matter if I doubt my plot arc. No matter if I have holes in my history that I can’t find plausible answers for, including an entire year (1858) when none of my historical counterparts to my characters did anything. It’s like 1858 slunk into a fog. No matter. I’ll get this.

Even if I did break my toe.

What’s a big toe to a writer anyhow? Well, it can become a distraction. Distractions are why I’ve set an hourly increment to two vital processes, revising and reading. Revising is much messier than drafting. It’s parts of writing: part dismantling, part tinkering, part building up, part organizing, part tightening. When you are dealing with 70,000 words or more, it’s like looking at a Lego creation, one piece at a time strewn across the floor. Reading is yet another part. I need to find unanswered history questions, re-read vital primary documents, read chapters and scenes with a critical eye. Distractions easily upset the process.

Thus, I’m using hourly increments the way NaNoWriMo fights distraction through a daily word count.

I’m hoping to discover revision bliss. NaNoWriMo helped me discover that my drafting bliss occurs at word 900. It can feel like painful slogging to write a scene up to 900 words, but after that, the story takes shape or the characters reveal themselves through dialog and the remaining words flow. Will I find that with revision? I hope so!

My plan is to dive in and not be intimidated by the work I know I need to do. I have historical timelines to shore up and an arc to build from my idea of the original arc I wrote. I might have made this too complex, writing from multiple points of view (POV) and starting with a story timeline that weaves in and out of the 1930s and the 1850s, all headed to a final revelation of what really happened July 12, 1852 at Rock Creek Station in Nebraska Territory. I have to be prepared to defend my theories, my fiction that is rooted in fact and a plausible conclusion.

No distractions 5 hours a day while attending to other responsibilities and icing my purple toe. I prepared by creating to-do lists for the other responsibilities over the next six weeks and by designating a week off, even from those tasks. I prepared by finishing out the last of the firewood hauling from the mountains (and the weather agrees with my plan, it’s now to muddy and snow has hit the higher elevations). I prepared by cleaning my house, decorating with fall candles and leaves, shopping to stock up my pantry and freezer with groceries, and baking a cake.

It was in baking the cake (not hauling firewood) that I broke my toe. Who breaks their toe mixing batter for a yellow buttermilk cake? Me, apparently. I accidentally knocked over my heavy Pyrex measuring cup and it landed square on my big toe and felt like an iron rock. Kitchen accidents do happen, but they seem ridiculous. Sympathy withers when you say, “Oh, I did it baking a cake.” Was it somebody’s birthday? An anniversary?

No, it was just the start of NaNoReViSo.

To all my fellow writers doing (or not doing) NaNoWriMo and to my special NaNoReViSo buddy, Sherri Matthews, go punch someone in the gut! Make those readers feel your words! Stay the course, no matter what.


RodeoThe first time I ever rode in a car that had a Garmin GPS, I laughed at the voice prompt when when we missed a turn. It patiently stated, “Recalculating.”

As a writer riding the rodeo circuit to get published, my recalculations are not always because of missed turns or errors. Sometimes, I see a new opportunity or connection. I tend to grab the bull by the horns, but often find I have a corral full of bulls and have to figure out what next.

My corral is full at the moment, and for a pantser, that feels good. I like the energy of having multiple projects in the works. My overarching goal to publish books is always my priority. My motivation remains high when I feel inspired and connected.

However, my friend Kate, who despite having terminal cancer, remains a wise council for me. She pointed out that while I write down my goals, I should also write out my full plan. Another friend also once advised me to create an individual business plan for each of my books. I certainly know how, but as a pantser I tend to balance it all in my head. To that, Kate reminded me that when you write it down, you have a better chance of succeeding.

“Goals in writing are dreams with a deadline.” ~Brian Tracy

While I balk at self-imposed deadlines, I do know that I want my goals to come to fruition. I have several written down beneath my overarching goal of publishing, but perhaps it is time to plot more deeply. After all, that is a recalculation I do in my writing process: I draft freely like a pantser, but buckle down and revise like a plotter.

“Goals allow you to control the direction of change in your favor.” ~Brian Tracy

And change is blowing across the prairie, nudging me to change direction. My goal stands, but my tactics need recalculating because of recent opportunities. This is why I like having a corral full of bulls — more bulls, more rides and a better chance to make the ride I need.

I intended to publish Miracle of Ducks first. It makes sense; it’s complete, professionally edited and my first manuscript. I took it to LA, met with a publisher who advised me to find an agent, and met with an agent who declined. I messed up my first submission, uploading an earlier draft and was told that I didn’t have enough social media. I’ve not heard back from any agents since.

So weird thing happened on the way to the rodeo…a publisher answered an email I sent seven months ago. She asked if I was still working on the project, Rock Creek, which is my current WIP still in draft form, awaiting research for gaps I discovered in the writing. She expressed interest and advised me on how to submit the manuscript.

You might be wondering why I was contacting publishers about an unfinished manuscript. It began as a call to an editor of a western history magazine to ask if she’d be interested in research that I had from a distant cousin. I thought I could pitch the copious amounts of research I have on the topic of the shoot-out at Rock Creek, Nebraska. She was clear in what her magazine publishers wanted and I filed it away for the day I could pitch it as an author because magazine articles in big publications can help promote one’s book.

But first one must publish (write!) the book.

The editor also gave me two great leads in regards to my writing: one was for an association called Women Write the West and the other was for a publisher who is looking for new women’s voices in the genre of western historical. I wasn’t sure about signing up for the association until I was further along on my western book, but I took the opportunity to write the publisher.

In my mind, I hear Garmin stating, “Recalculating…”

No hard fast rule says my first novel has to be my first manuscript. Over the past two weeks, I’ve played out several what-if scenarios in my mind. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense to get Rock Creek finished and reviewed by an interested publisher. I could join the association, pitch my research articles and opt the manuscript movie rights to an interested feature writer and director. Um, yeah, about that…

While posting the flash fiction that got me started down the road to write Rock Creek as a novel, I was contacted by a feature writer and director who was working on an undisclosed television project that included the life of Wild Bill Hickock. The producers wanted to include the Rock Creek incident as a turning point in Hickok’s life. The feature writer found Carrot Ranch because I had tagged both the place and the gunfighter’s name.

As of last week, I now know the name of the series with which I shared my research. I’m not a conservative so it stunned me to realize that I shared with Fox News! The show is Bill O’Reilly’s Legends and Lies: Into the West. The episode about Hickok is called, “Plains Justice.” I already know that the producer’s goal was to show Hickok in a white hat and McCandles in a black one, so the outcome will not surprise me. The good news is that there remains much interest in Hickok in general and in what happened at Rock Creek.

My contact on the project told me:

“This is all very interesting. During my research, the Rock Creek incident is the most cloudy and confusing. After every email and phone call with you, it seems to gain clarity. You are at the forefront of knowledge of the subjects involved and what really happened that day. Keep tackling and uncovering, Charli!”

It seems the stars are aligning over Rock Creek.

So what is holding me back? I wanted to publish a novel before Rock Creek because I feel the need to build my credibility, after all I’ve not published a book before. Without a book, I feel like everyone is excited over my idea, but they might think my novel-writing skills are less than expected; they are unproven, and that creates the doubt I’m battling.

Also, I feel an odd sense of disloyalty to Miracle of Ducks. I know I’m not abandoning it, but I would shelve it. Instead of finding an agent for generalized women’s fiction, I would have a publisher in a genre I love. I could always self-publish Miracle of Ducks after I build up a better author name, or if I fail at Rock Creek, I could return to my original plan.

As I recalculate, is there any sage advise for me to consider?

Not All Arenas are Comfortable

RodeoThis post is a continuation of my ride to get published. I call it the Rodeo, and not all rodeo arenas are comfortable.

We tend to stick close to familiar territory. When I was a little buckaroo riding at the Bolado Rodeo and Saddle Show, I knew every inch of the arena at Bolado Park. I knew the back ways, where the stables were located and how to find my cousins to share a can of Coke. When I rode there, I felt at ease.

As a teenager, I entered a horse event with my friend who lived in Carson City, NV. I couldn’t trailer my horse so I rode one unfamiliar to me. The event was new and so was the arena. Trying to find where we were to queue up for a parade entry, we trotted our horses past a camel that spit at us. I felt unsettled.

My ride to get published has pushed beyond my familiar arenas. Anytime I read posts about marketing I feel connected. Marketing is familiar. But when I read posts abut the book publishing industry, my eyes boggle in my head. The temptation is to pass and bookmark such posts or articles for later.

But later is now. I need to get familiar with the different arenas of traditional, hybrid and independent publishing. Traditional is my first choice. So is riding my own horse. But sometimes our first choice is not what we get. The more familiar we can become with different arenas, the better.

In my own newness, I don’t have much to say about Amazon. I know it is the number one retailer of books. I’ve read posts on rankings and reviews. I buy lots of books from Amazon and I’m researching how to become an affiliate to boost the sales of books from the writers I know in my Bunkhouse Bookstore. Yet, not everyone likes or sells on Amazon. But that’s about the extent of my knowledge.

So I want to share an important post that I read today; one that gave me greater insight. You see, when we know more about the arena where we might ride, we feel more at ease. I hope you will find this post informative. It’s called, The Top 10 Things All Authors Should Know About Amazon by Brooke Warner.

Also, I’m researching Bibliocrunch, which is a platform that helps authors publish books by connecting them with pre-screened publishing professionals. One of my writing mentors sent out a letter from the CEO of Bibliocrunch announcing free downloads and books for authors through the first week of March. You do need to create a Bibliocrunch account to get these free books:

What insights do you have to share on the arena we call Amazon?

How to Find the Rodeo

RodeoIf the ride to getting published is a rodeo, then you need to find places to ride. In other words, you need a game plan for your manuscript. Just as a cowboy might map out the range of rodeos in his area, so will a writer map out her places to present her manuscript. If a cowboy rides broncs, he won’t be interested in the bull riding festivals. If a writer writes mysteries, she won’t send her manuscript to a publisher of romance. Thus it is important to research the rodeos.

First, let’s clarify different paths to publication.  We want to be clear on which rodeo we are seeking.

A writer has more options than ever to get published:

  1. Independent (indie) publishing (self-publishing)
  2. Commercial publishing (traditional publishing)

My rodeo arena of choice is the traditional publishing path. I received my Bachelor of Arts in creative writing in 1998. Back then, I was encouraged to seek an MFA to get published. I even met with a literary agent who voiced the same advice. Reality was that I needed to find a job before I could continue.

Fast-forward to 2012 and I was ready to make the leap to finish at least one of my manuscripts. In that span of time, an MFA lost some relevancy. First, too much time elapsed after my first degree and I no longer had professors to recommend me and second, I really didn’t care to go in debt any further on student loans. The return for income as a writer does not equal the debt for earning degrees.

So I skipped the MFA. But all along, I’ve worked at keeping my creative skills sharp by attending annual workshops on craft. And I built a writing portfolio from my freelancing. It’s important to keep creativity in tact, to learn and to grow. I also read books on craft and good novels that I truly enjoyed to read.

Next I had to do what I set out to do — write that novel! I took a different kind of workshop that focused on preparing a manuscript for book publication. It helped me arrange my scenes and eventually chapters. I sent it to beta readers and revised it. Then I sent it to an editor for an analysis and revised it twice more. After that, I sent it to an editor for copy-editing. And I revised, line by line in accordance to her changes and suggestions.

I mention all this because of the rodeo arena I have selected — commercial publishing. There is a higher standard and a concern for marketability. My choice means that I might be asked to use a different saddle or even horse if I get a chance to ride. That means, I might have to make changes to make it acceptable for publication because commercial publishing houses want what they think they can sell.

And the word “sell” is key here. It will make you answer questions like:

  1. What genre is your book?
  2. Who would want to read it and why?
  3. What other books are similar to yours?
  4. How is your book different?
  5. Will it sell?

If you are uncomfortable with these questions, take stock of that now. Because this rodeo arena is a hard ride! If you have a book that you want to publish the way you wrote it, traditional publishing may not be the right venue. In fact, you’ll most likely earn less profit. So why do it? Personally, it ties back to my own training in the craft and to get “picked up” would be to fulfill a long-held goal. It feels more “credible” to get published by a commercial house.

Those are merely my own thoughts. You need to think long and hard on your reasoning. However, if this is your chosen path know that we have greater opportunities than ever before.

For example, many large commercial houses have created imprints for specific genres. There are more smaller commercial houses and many are specific to the region where you live or to the stories you want to write.

Therefore, we’ve come to the most important strategy to make this publishing ride work: Research!

Once you have defined your genre and target audience, you need to decide if you are going to go directly to publishers or to a literary agent who can represent you to publishers. It depends upon the size of publishing house you are seeking (some only accept manuscript submissions from agents) and how much time you are willing to wait. It can be a long process to find an agent and longer yet for them to sell your manuscript.

If you are interested in smaller publishing houses, regional presses, or even the growing hybrids (like Booktrope), you most likely won’t need an agent. Whatever you decide, have your manuscript scrubbed clean (and don’t blunder like I did and send a dirty copy). While you are finishing the polishing touches (best achieved through a trusted and professional editor; I use the Write Divas) research the best matches for your manuscript.

How do you find the publishers (or agents)? Here’s several ideas:

  1. Subscribe to the magazine, “Writer’s Digest” or at least follow their editor blogs.
  2. Purchase a current copy of “Writer’s Market” that comes with an online publisher database (if this is not affordable, go to your local library and use the reference guide there).
  3. Subscribe to the free weekly newsletter “Funds for Writers.” C. Hope Clark often includes publishing houses and agents seeking clients.
  4. If you live in a large metropolitan area, use your telephone yellow pages.

What do you want to research once you find the resources?

  1. Look up your resources online because bookmarking your selections is the quickest way to organize and filter your search. I set up folders designating publishing houses by “commercial,” “regional” and “hybrid.” I keep a separate folder for agents.
  2. Find out if your manuscript fits. Even agents seek specific genres. Carefully read  what they do not accept. Sometimes, in our excitement, we miss the words, “do not.”
  3. Find out if they are accepting submissions.
  4. Find out how they want submissions. This can vary widely so read their guidelines thoroughly.
  5. Note how long they will take to get back to you, or if they will. Many agents or publishers will only contact you “if interested.”

Set up a strategy:

  1. Start with your best matches.
  2. Reread the guidelines and if time has passed since you last researched, make sure they are still accepting submissions.
  3. Be thoughtful and thorough with your submission (don’t blunder out the gate like I did, and if you do, get back in there and ride again).
  4. Just do it! Hit send! Post the package! Many a cowboy has sat on the bull’s back in the bucking shoot and decided not to ride; but he sticks to it. So will you! Set aside fear and doubt.
  5. Expect rejection. I know a writer who posts all her rejections with joy because it means she had the courage to ride and she’s one less rejection closer to her goal.
  6. If you are lucky enough to receive feedback, consider it.
  7. Explore options for attending conferences that focus on getting published more than on craft. Make sure the conference has a good line-up of literary agents and publishers. Don’t go to a huge conference; find something in between to give you the chance to meet publishers and agents.

I’m a new rider, so if you have further experience or knowledge, please share! How have you gone about finding a publishing house for your book?

Blunder Out the Gate

RodeoLast week I refined an idea to call my ride to publication, “The Rodeo.” The reality of today’s publishing market is as unforgiving as that bull once he busts out the gate.

Hitting the ground is part of the ride. It’s not personal when a bull stomps your belly; neither is it personal when an publisher or agent never gets back to you.

Today, I discovered an embarrassing blunder and at least I can say with great confidence, I know why this particular publisher will never get back to me. I sent the wrong manuscript. Right title; right revision; wrong edit version.

I don’t know about you, but I get lost in all my revisions. I don’t mean revising, I mean all the versions of my novel that hold space in my folders. They are organized numerically and by date. My revisions exist in Scrivener and as Word Docs. The latter, I share with beta readers or my editor.

When the last revision returned to me it was the final revision with the final edits. But wait — I had to accept the corrections and make recommended changes. I had to accept the commas and change awkward sentences. In my haste — yes, I recall Laura Ingalls quoting Pa, “haste makes waste” — I wasted my opportunity. I thought I had saved the changes, but I sent a file with the complete mark-up of edits on every single page.

Picture this: you are in a writing class. You spend the semester writing, revising and critiquing short stories. Your professor encourages you to send off your latest revision to a literary magazine. But instead of mailing your clean re-write, you mail the professor’s last round of remarks which leaves each page looking like a bloodbath.

Do you think the editor of the literary magazine is going to try to read your submission buried beneath red ink? Most likely, not.

Worse, I recall a similar scenario at work — reading resumes. I was part of the hiring team and often had to read numerous resumes while I was busy with my own department and work. Sometimes I would find such absurd mistakes that I would share the laugh with my team or the HR manager. I cringe to think my submission made someone laugh — look at that mistake!

Rodeo stock-riders make mistakes, too. Especially right out the gate (meaning, your first ride). So I’m going to share a laugh with you, courtesy of comedian, Bill Engavall. When he says, “I am a cowboy,” substitute, “I am a writer!” This is what my first ride felt like, but I’m all psyched up to try again!

Lessons learned from Ride 1:

  1. Now I know what the ride feels like.
  2. A friend cached me on how to save my changes.
  3. Next time I won’t submit in haste. This isn’t a race. It’s a rodeo.

A big buckaroo shout-out to the talented photographer, Jamie Miles. That amazing bull ride photo is her work. I’ve long been a fan of her photography (she covers country music concerts) and when she posted photos from a national bull riding event I asked her if I could purchase one. Consider ways that artists can support artists.

Any feedback for a newbie taking the ride to get published? What was your first ride like? Did you ever blunder? How did you bounce back?


In Search of Synopsis Advice

MOD Mock Up Cover

MOD Mock Up Cover

Calling all writers who have crafted query letters, book blurbs and synopses.

As I prepare to ship off my first manuscript, I’m trying my hand at distilling what the novel is about. I’ve read numerous posts that have been useful, own more craft-books on writing than the local library and I’ve even read a few.

I’m asking for feedback on my first attempt at a synopsis, and requesting any tips you’ve learned through experience. Thank you in advanced for any and all advice!

Synopsis for Miracle of Ducks by Charli Mills (152 words):

Archeologist Dr. Danni Gordon hides in her research to avoid the tourist bustle of Bayfield, Wisconsin. Despite their differences, Danni has a comfortable marriage to Ike Gordon, former U.S. Army Ranger. She believes in science; he believes in miracles. She likes solitude; he’s loud. She wears high heels to cook at home; he swills coffee at the local cafe.

Although past his Ranger prime, Ike answers a personal call of duty and leaves for Iraq. Danni suddenly becomes a soldier’s wife in charge of Ike’s exuberant hunting dogs, which leads to trouble with neighbors and the law. Chaos also brings new friends, including an unlikely pup. He socializes Danni and becomes a celebrity to local schoolchildren as Bubbie the Archaeology Dog.

Just when Danni begins to connect with her community and anticipate Ike’s homecoming, she receives devastating news from Iraq. In a hopeless situation, Danni is about to experience the biggest miracle of her life.



Revision Review: Genre Shopping

Revision ReviewI’m shopping for a genre. It’s kind of like shopping for jeans; tugging at zippers, wiggling into tight denim, frowning at the low waist-band. What’s the best fit, I wonder.

Some writers know exactly what genre they’re writing–mystery, YA, lit. It’s like knowing that Levis 501s will always fit. You don’t even have to go to that cold dressing room in the back of the feed store to see if Wranglers might be it.

When you write, just write. Don’t let these niggling thoughts of fit and function distract you. Write. But when you revise, you need to pause and consider the big picture.

Let me explain how I got to this point of looking at different genres on the shelf and why it matters at this point in revision.

When I began drafting “Miracle of Ducks,” the story seemed like one of faith. When I mentioned the word faith to a publisher at Rain-Taxi in Minneapolis, MN he smiled and kindly directed me to the Christian publishing house two booths down the row. With the reference to the Christian publishers–who were very welcoming and interested–I wasn’t sold that my story was Christian, but it easily could be with intentional revising.

In 2012 I completed the first draft. Revision has been slow for me. Much slower than writing, and I understand that I have tons to learn about mastering a project as long as a novel. It ain’t no 2,000 word profile on a cranberry bog or regional beer. And I’m in it for the long-haul, not the publish-quick-as-horse-spit fix.

Since this is not a quick process, I decided to crank out a NaNoWriMo project each year so that I’ll always have material to work. With my 2013 project, LuLu offered a free manuscript review to Wrimo winners. The DNA of my second project came back as a “sci-fi thriller.” That’s not what I expected!

However, when I read the reasoning behind the review results, it made sense. It described my writing style: expressive in dialog, rich descriptive passages, breezy language and kinetic motion. Accordingly, my manuscript placed a premium on plot and character, engaging the reader early and keeping the characters active. It is a common profile for mystery, thrillers and romance. The “sci-fi” tag recognized that my protagonist is a climatologist in the arctic.

More genres to try on: mystery or thrillers? No, I don’t enjoy reading them often so I wouldn’t want to write any. Romance? Yes, this cowgirl likes Julie Garwood and Jude Devereaux. And, according to the Romance Writers of America, it’s a mighty popular genre, generating over $1.438 billion in sales in 2012. I might have to kill off a character, though…tempting.

In order to progress, I’d have to make major structural revisions to craft “Miracle of Ducks” into a sci-fi thriller, romance or Christian novel. And what debuts as the genre, becomes the genre. Even Ann Rice writes about how difficult it is for even well-established writers to cross genres in their career. Not to mention, as I research agents and publishing houses, they are genre-specific. No use wasting my time or theirs with a genre-less orphan or a family of mismatched genre manuscripts.

But before I give up on the jeans, I have one more pair to try on: commercial fiction. According to, this genre “…uses high-concept hooks and compelling plots to give it a wide, mainstream appeal.” It also places a premium on plot and the characters are active. Sound familiar? But the best part is, “…commercial fiction maintains a strong narrative storyline as its central goal…” That’s what a storyteller likes to hear.

The zipper is closed on this shopping spree. I’ve found my genre.

Revision Review: Strategey

Revision ReviewWriting is the easy part. Revision is where the work resides and in order to slog through it with grace, you need to have a strategy. That is, you need to plan your approach otherwise you are just poking at words with a stick.

Start with a big-picture view of your manuscript and work down into the details. There’s no sense in fussing with punctuation and word omissions if your novel is not yet structurally sound. Be prepared to rewrite your book–my college professor used to tell his students, “It doesn’t begin to sing until at least the thirteenth rewrite.”

If that terrifies you, hang on. Let’s pause to do some math. First you had your idea. That counts. One. Maybe you outlined your chapters or developed and arranged scenes. Two. You wrote, word by word, scene by scene. Three. You rearranged your draft, added some research. Four. You renamed your character, changed his hair color, added his Meyers-Briggs type and gave him a quirk or two. Five. You shared sections with your writers group or took your first ten pages to a workshop. Six.

Even if your writing path has taken a different trail, chances are you have been tweaking your novel. You’re half-way to a singing manuscript. But now it is time to stop tinkering and start strategizing a revision plan. This is what mine looks like:

  1. Read for gaps in the big picture. Research missing details. Write missing scenes.
  2. Read for flow. Map the action. Read dialog out loud. Rewrite scenes to improve continuity and clarity.
  3. Cut. Ouch, yes, but necessary. Cut every scene, line and word that doesn’t serve a purpose. Be brave; cut your words. What you don’t say is as telling as what you do say.
  4. DIY corrections. Read for correctness and not just grammar–check your story for flaws. To be credible in fiction you need to be consistent with your details.
  5. Assign beta-readers. Review feedback. Make final changes.
  6. Hire a professional editor to proofread.

If you try to “revise” in one grand sweep, you will overlook too much. What editing publications has taught me is that you have to break down the process. When editing “This is Living Naturally,” the first read is simply for fit. Does the article fit the tone and message of the publication? Next I edit for clarity. Will the readers understand the story? Next I edit for correctness. Is the study cited accurate? Is that a comma splice? Did the writer mean “there” instead of “their”? Finally, I pass it off to a proof-reader because one set of eyes is not enough. And after that, I read it to to catch any omissions or errors in the final proof. If I tried to do all that editing in one sitting, I would either miss problems with structure, typos or facts.

No matter how big or small your writing project, you need to develop a strategy. It doesn’t have to look exactly like mine, but it needs to begin with the big picture and end with the smallest details. You also need to invite extra “eyes” to help see what your eyes have missed. Let your novel sing!