Saturday, May 9, 2009

Welcome Lisa Marie Wilkinson

One Writer’s Moment of Truth: "The Call."

One of the milestones in every writer’s career is simply referred to as "The Call." Every writer with aspirations of sharing his or her work with the world fantasizes about "The Call," whether in the form of a telephone call or an e-mail message from an editor at a publishing house.

After being offered the opportunity to become an honorary Prairie Chick, I began to think about my own encounter with "The Call." My experience was a multi-part process. Here’s why:

First, I am the worst kind of coward. I’ve always deferred to that insistent voice most writers seem to carry within us that says we’re terrible writers and we’ll never write anything worthy of publication. Added to that, I had a false start in the business at a young age when I was accepted for representation by a literary agent who ended up not being able to find a home for my work. This happens all the time, of course, but at the time I didn’t grasp the concept that if your book was rejected you simply wrote another and kept writing until you sold.

I took the rejection to mean that the door to the publishing world would always be closed to me and I’d never write anything good enough. I didn’t intend to seek publication again. I am sharing this information because I’d like to counsel those who are tempted to abandon their dreams to never give up. Persistence is the key.

Five years ago, I noticed many of the Romance Writers of America chapters held contests in order to provide constructive criticism. The brass ring was often the selection of the contest winner by an editor. I still had enough inflammation from having been bitten by the "writing bug," to prompt me to enter. When my score sheets arrived in the mail, I was surprised to find that one published author judge on the panel had gone to a great deal of trouble to note what she felt was good about my entry, and to call attention to aspects of craft that could be improved. She added that she was impressed by my entry and expected to find my book on her local store shelf one day.

Those comments from one anonymous, kind-hearted judge served to light a fire under me. I studied her remarks, saw merit in the advice she had given, and began revising my manuscript. I entered the revision in another contest, and later received word my entry was a finalist. A few weeks after that, I received "The Call," informing me my entry had won. Although this did not mean a sale, it was a critical milestone for me because it gave me hope.

From that point on, I became a contest junkie. There is even a blog dedicated to "Contest Divas," and just before I sold I was the reigning Diva:

How did this lead to "The Call" informing me of a sale? Medallion Press senior editor Helen Rosburg judged the Golden Palm contest and requested the full. I mailed the manuscript on Valentine’s Day and I received "The Call" on February 27th from the author liaison at Medallion. Not only were they interested in publishing my historical romance, but they were excited by the prospect! My work day had ended, and I took the call from the parking garage where I work. I sat in my car, my heart pounding and my hands shaking with excitement. I asked if anyone had ever screamed when they heard the news, and Kerry laughed and said people all reacted differently. The next thing I did was call my sister and leave her a voice mail that said, "Chris…you won’t believe this…Fire at Midnight is going to be published!"

Medallion Press published "Fire at Midnight" in March, and my second historical romance novel, "Stolen Promise," will be published in March of 2010.

I give credit to the RWA chapter contest circuit and one anonymous judge who took the time to put together an insightful critique and offer encouragement to a fellow writer.

From Medallion Press: Fire at Midnight (March 2009)

It is 1703, and Rachael Penrose is confined to Bedlam Insane Asylum in London after discovering her uncle Victor plans to kill her brother in order to inherit the family fortune. Victor leads a gang of criminals and uses French privateer/smuggler Sébastien Falconer as the scapegoat for his crimes. When Victor spreads the lie that Rachael informed the authorities of Falconer's smuggling activities, Falconer vows revenge on the girl.
A dangerously ill Rachael finally escapes from Bedlam, only to find shelter in Sébastien's carriage, and ends up in his care. It is a twist of fate that will alter both their lives forever.
Believing she is in danger from Sébastien, Rachael meets up with his estranged twin brother, Jacques, a customs officer intent on bringing his brother, the famous privateer, to justice. But the real criminal is still at large, and she and her brother are still in danger. Will she discover the truth and save both their lives . . . and her heart?

Be sure to visit Lisa's website for more information on Fire at Midnight and her upcoming historical romance Stolen Promise (March 2010).


Janet said...

Good morning, Lisa Marie. And welcome to The Prairies.

I am in awe of the number of contests you have listed on your website (and finaled in - well done). It's not something I have considered doing with my manuscript - although it is a step I should take for extra feedback (although my beta readers are fantastic).

Question - since I'm going through the submission process and trying to find an agent - do you have an agent now? Is that something Medallion Press requires of you? As you go forward in your career, would you consider getting an agent?

OK, that was more than one question. Looking forward to the day :)

Karyn Good said...

Hi Lisa Marie. Thanks for sharing your story of getting 'the call'.

I was also in awe of the number of contest listed on your website. I'm thinking I would like to enter a few contests. How did you go about choosing which contests to enter?

Metonia said...

HI Lisa Marie and Janet. I have left this site as an open site to pop up every time I get online ever since it was given to me in RWA chat roon not to long ago and low and behold I get on line and see Lisa Marie here too...

I love learning about you Lisa Marie and it gives me hope. My first MS a short novella for Nocture Bites was rejected but I had no help. I have since joined RWA, actually two chapters and the help has been wonderfully and warmly given. I also am a chicken but I have been given nothing but encouragement and I am rewriting my MS with hope. Thank you for putting your story out there. I was about to quit many times but my then I find a story... or the same story again of success and I continue on...

Darlene aka Metonia

Helena said...

What an inspiring story! I'm happy to welcome you as one of our honorary Prairie Chicks. Your guest blog will surely spur on the efforts of writers like me(not yet published, but still trying).

I'm also interested in your answers to Janet's questions. I've read some buzz lately about the value of agents in the literary genres, so I'm curious about what the trend/opinion is for romance.

Haven't checked out the 'diva' site yet, but will as soon as I leave here. (I'll be back later to keep tabs on the comments and your responses for the rest of the day.) I love Saturdays.

Lisa Marie Wilkinson said...

Good morning, Janet! Thank you so much for inviting me to be an honorary Prairie Chick today!

To answer your question, I sold my first two novels on my own, but I have an agent waiting to read my current WIP once it's completed. The agent initiated the contact; I have not sought an agent yet.

I subscribe to the theory that no agent is better than a bad agent, so I'm going to be very careful when I take that next step!

Lisa Marie Wilkinson said...

Hi Karen!
That's a terrific question!

I would recommend choosing your contest based on what you hope to get out of it.

For example: do you want to find out if your opening few pages are strong enough to keep the reader engaged? There are specific contests for that, like the "Hook, Line and Sinker" contest, and the "Gotcha" contest.

Do you want to know if the chemistry between your h/h leaps off the page? For that, you might enter the "First Kiss" contest, or a contest that focuses on a love scene.

Not sure if your ending wraps up all the details? There's a contest that judges the ending of the manuscript, called the "Happily Ever After" contest.

There are contests that focus on synopsis writing. There are contests that focus on writing an effective query letter.

The next consideration is cost...some contests are fairly inexpensive while some, like the Golden Heart, are costly when you consider you won't receive feedback other than a numeric score.

Another tip: many contests will publish the scoresheet they use on their website. Look over the judging criteria carefully, because sometimes your entry will not be a good "fit" for the contest. For example, if your hero doesn't appear in the first 25 pages and the scoresheet contains several items pertaining to the interaction between the h/h, then you won't do well in this contest despite the quality of your entry because you will be missing critical elements.

Are you targeting your manuscript to a particular publisher? Then look for those contests where an editor from that house will be selecting the winner.

Lisa Marie Wilkinson said...

You are doing everything right. Submit, revise, keep learning your craft, put your work out there. The rejections that don't tell you anything are really just that...they don't tell you anything! Without feedback, you never really know how close you're coming to your goal, and you might be MUCH closer than you think!

That's one of the reasons the contests were helpful to me. I had no concept whether I was missing by-this-much or missing by a mile. When we write, submit and are ultimately rejected without feedback, we're functioning in a vacuum, and the last time I looked at the contents of my vacuum bag, everything looked dusty, murky, and downright discouraging!

Lisa Marie Wilkinson said...

If you're writing literary fiction, I think an agent might be beneficial, but in the romance arena, there are more opportunities to approach publishers when you are unagented. Again, it depends upon which houses you are targeting because some will not consider unagented material.

I won't downplay the advantages of having a good agent because an agent worth his/her salt has industry contacts we writers can only dream about, they often have access to what types of stories editors are looking for long before word gets on the street. Agents are savvy about contract terms and it's in their own best interest to secure you the best deal possible.

On the flip side of that, anyone can hang up a shingle proclaiming they are a literary agent, so it's very important to do your research and not only make sure the agent or agency is reputable, but to also ascertain that they understand your goals as a writer. The analogy of an author/agent relationship to that of a marriage is an apt one.

Karyn Good said...

Thanks Lisa Marie. Those are great tips and will definitely use your advice when scoping out contests.

Thanks for joining us today.

Ban said...

WOW Lisa - so much good info ! Must admit I am in the dark about contests ... first of all, I'm the ultimate chicken and 'contest' sounds competitive - I haven't got a competitive bone in my body. Yes, I DO know the difference - these are just the excuses I give so I can stay in my safe little comfort zone :) Actually, I've come out a bit lately by sharing with all these wonderful gals - maybe someday I'll enter one myself. I like that there are contests for different aspects ie: HEA and First Kiss. That sounds really interesting ! And now I have a question ... can you enter these contests if your WiP is not finished ? It would be helpful to see if a scene (what-have-you) works even if you're not done ...

Lisa Marie Wilkinson said...

I'm so glad you found the tips helpful! You're always welcome to e-mail me (check the Contact page on my website for my e-mail address) if you have questions about contests.

Contests are wonderful for the uh, shall we say "courage-challenged" because they're conducted in an anonymous fashion. The judges don't know your name, you don't know theirs (unless the judge chooses to let you know by signing their name on the scoresheet).

I have never viewed contests as a competition. I've belonged to the Yahoo contest loop for a long time now, and the spirit there isn't one of competitiveness. Everyone commiserates about rejections and celebrates wins. It's a very supportive group and the folks on the loop also support former "Divas" who have gone on to be published by buying their books.

I'm not so naive that I don't recognize that publishing is indeed a highly competitive industry, but when you think of it, you're really competing against yourself on one level because you must face the challenge of putting those words on paper, revising them, submitting them, and so on.

To answer your question about whether you can enter a WIP without having a complete manuscript: in the case of most contests(check the rules first) the answer is yes. The only caution I would make is that when you final and the entry goes before the editor judge, you need to be prepared in case the editor requests the full manuscript. I'm speaking from experience here. I entered the prologue and first chapter of my current WIP "The Red Parrot" in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest last year only for the purpose of receiving feedback on the concept. This is one of the higher profile contests, so I decided I was "safe" from finaling with this rough first draft. They judge the beginning of the story, plus the synopsis, and I wanted feedback on the overall story arc detailed in the synopsis. To my surprise, my entry finaled and one of the judges (a prominent agent) contacted me following the contest asking to see the full manuscript. This was months ago, and I still have not finished the novel, so I feel like a total jerk for taking up the agent's time. Still, the agent drops me an e-mail from time to time asking how it's coming along and reminding me that she's still interested in reading the full.

Ban said...

Thanks so much for clarifying ! I haven't gone to your site yet but I'm assuming I'll find a few contests listed there ? Will have to check it out later (nap time is over) and see what other gems of wisdom I can dig up :D

Ban said...

oh ... and congrats on hooking an agent who keeps tabs on you !

Lisa Marie Wilkinson said...

What you might find useful on my website is a list of contest finals under the link "Awards." Not only are the contest names listed, but the RWA chapter sponsoring each contest is referenced also, in most cases. It's my way of trying to publicize that these contests exist because I feel I owe my first sale to them.

"Stolen Promise" had a short run on the contest circuit because once I had a contract for "Fire at Midnight," I was no longer eligible for contests geared to unpublished writers. I was fortunate in that Medallion Press allowed me to submit my second work to them and offered to publish it.

connie said...

Before I comment, I want to share an 'amazing' discovery with all of you.
For some reason, I googled my way to the blog site..or so I thought. I ended up with a menu. We weren't on it but great news was! We can write and sell a romance novel in 28 days, writing less than an hour a day. Further, we can edit in less than an hour!
It takes me longer than that to write a blog article!
Being 'somewhat suspicious' (!) I came home and read your blog instead Lisa. An excellent move.
I have never even thought of entering a contest. I cheerfully sent out my first manuscript and after six months or so, I received a we-don't-like-your-plot-or-your-characters etc. letter. I pinned it to the wall with pride. My first rejection letter! Consciously, I said it wouldn't faze me. Back to the computer.
But I guess it did make an impression because writing since has been a lethargic, now and then sort of thing.
Maybe contests are an answer for me. I'm willing to try. Thank you for so many leads on where to start.
I am adopting your answers to comments for my own. You are so clear and concise e.g. your answer to Karen.
Question: we have been debating the use of prologues. I see you have used at least one. What is your view on using prologues?

Lisa Marie Wilkinson said...

As you've probably noticed by now, I have an opinion on just about everything, LOL. It's interesting you would ask about prologues because I was just recently engaged in a discussion on this very topic, and there was no concensus.

You'll hear that some editors hate prologues, but never having posed that question to an editor, I can't state that as a fact.

My first two books did not contain a prologue. My third one does.

In my mind, the purpose of a prologue is to ground the reader in facts about setting or character before a dramatic shift takes place, such as a leap forward in time.

If I may use an example from my own experience, I felt the use of a prologue in "The Red Parrot" was necessary because the opening of the story introduces my female protagonist as a child in difficult circumstances, while Chapter One introduces the reader to the prologue character as an adult. The world in the prologue is vastly different, the circumstances are different, characters are introduced who will play important roles later in the story, but the first scene of the story and the second are not a linear progression.

My rule of thumb for determining whether Chapter One actually needs to be a Prologue is to ask myself if the flow from Chapter One into Chapter Two feels seamless.

I also believe that prologues should be shorter than a normal first chapter.

Lisa Marie Wilkinson said...

Janet, I'd like to thank you again for inviting me to be your guest, and to also express my thanks to everyone who dropped by to say hello.

Your questions have been terrific, and I've enjoyed my day with you.

I'll stop by again later to see if any more questions have been added.

Good luck to you all in your writing endeavors. Enjoy the journey!

B.G. Sanford said...

Congratulations Lisa Marie, You must be on top of the world right about now. I enjoyed the article and all the comments. If you will allow me before I go, I'd like to tell you a little something about my new book, "Beth:Love Along The B.G.Sanford," and just released by Eloquent Books. It's the amazing and entertaining story of one woman who overcomes all odds and obstacles that life has thrown at her, along with a couple of ugly divorces, to find real Love.......Along The Way. Should any of you be so inclined, my book can be ordered on line or have you local bookstore order it for you. Either way, the reader is in for a real treat!
Good reading my friends,

Janet said...

It's been a great day, Lisa Marie. I've enjoyed the comments and questions and you have been very candid on your writing journey. I know I've learned a few things.

Thank you so much for being a part of The Chicks today. And good luck with the agent (wow, to have an agent court you - a dream come true, eh?). We'll keep an eye out for Stolen Promise in March of 2010.

Thanks again.

Lisa Marie Wilkinson said...

Good luck with your release. I love stories about people who overcome obstacles.

Thank you again for inviting me. I've enjoyed being an honorary Prairie Chick!

connie said...

Dear Lisa Marie,
Thank you for your answer to my question about prologues. I think I have the answer I need for the current wip as well.
The charcter Jock shows strong emotion and he kills someone who has abused the heroine as a child. Although he gets killed off in the first chapter, his influence is crucial to the plot as is his devotion to the child/heroine.
So, I will go with the prologue as my gut feeling tells me to and thank you for your advice and all the points I can glean from all the other comments and answers.
best wishes

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey there, Lisa Marie. I enjoyed your post. I also use the contest venue, but I'm not a junkie. :) I've only entered about 8 contests over the last year and each one was specifically picked depending on the final judge. I'm a contest diva, too with 3 finals so far, although I don't think the 3rd one is listed yet.

I'm actually waiting on the results of the 2 biggest ones this month.

I love and write historical westerns and your book sounds wonderful.

Sorry I'm late but I spent a day with my young son yesterday.

Happy Mother's Day to all the Mom's and G-Mom's out there. :)

Lisa Marie Wilkinson said...

Anita Mae,
The first year I entered contests, I only entered 4. I don't know what happened after that. :-)

Congratulations on your contest success.

Happy Mother's Day to all!

Thank you again for having me as your guest. I've enjoyed the sharing with other writers!