Saturday, January 9, 2010

Welcome Pamela Callow

The Ten Turning Points That Led to "The Call"

It’s a pleasure to be a guest blogger at Prairie Chicks Write Romance. This blog post is especially dear to my heart, since I am writing about my journey to publication -- which culminated in a sale almost exactly a year ago to this day. As I mapped out this journey, I realized there were a number of turning points. Things that I believe got me to the finish line:

Several years ago, after diligently working on craft, I completed my first novel. It clocked in at 780 pages.


Turning point #1: I decided to revise that first book in an effort to understand story structure. I whittled it down to 420 pages. During the revision process, I also entered the book in a number of RWA chapter contests.

Turning point #2: Entering the contests gave me some perspective on subjectivity of readers. But most importantly, it allowed me to climb the next rung in the ladder toward publication because this book began to final in contests.

Turning point #3: The book won a contest and received a request from an executive editor at a major NY publishing house.

So what did I do? I noted that request in the opening paragraph of my query letter to agents.
And thus came Turning point #4: I signed with an agent.

Then came Turning point #5. This is a biggie. I DID NOT SELL THAT BOOK. It came close -- I had an editor interested but the book was a time travel and the publisher didn’t feel the market would support it.

What did I do? Turning point #6: I wrote another book. A contemporary biomedical legal thriller, drawing on my background.

You guessed it -- I sold that book. Plus a second one in the series.

I sold those books through a connection I had made about 18 months previously. One of the members of my RWA chapter had sold a book to an executive editor at Harlequin. This editor came and did a fantastic all-day workshop at our local chapter, including reading submissions and taking pitches. I was on the executive and organized the workshops. I developed a collegial relationship with this editor.

Turning point #7: During my pitch session with this editor, I pitched my thriller to get an industry professional’s perspective (even though she wasn’t acquiring thrillers). She encouraged me to write it. A year or so later this editor moved to MIRA. When it was time to sell DAMAGED, I contacted this editor.

But the story doesn’t end there -- she wasn’t the editor who bought my book...

At the same time, I was in need of an industry fix. I decided to attend the Surrey International Writers Conference.

Turning point #8: I discovered this editor was slated to attend so I emailed her about connecting at the conference. But at the last minute, her plans changed. A different editor was going in her place.

My heart sank. My chances of connecting with this new editor were slim to none. However, when the Master of Ceremonies introduced the conference’s industry guests, I scanned the ballroom, hoping to identify this MIRA editor. I didn’t have to look far -- she was sitting on the other side of my table! Her nametag had been obscured by the tablecloth. And thus, I introduced myself to Valerie Gray. To my surprise, she knew who I was. The editor who had read my time travel partial had told her to look out for me. So, over a glass of wine, I pitched my thriller. Six weeks later, Valerie Gray called my agent to tell her she wanted to take the thriller to Acquisitions -- but would I make some changes and draft a couple of proposals for subsequent books?

Turning point #9: I had done research for subsequent books just in case I was asked to create some proposals...

Turning point #10: On January 14th, 2009, at 3:30 p.m., my agent called with a two book offer from MIRA. And now a whole new journey has just begun.

Looking back, what are the things I learned? To persevere. To network. To be prepared. To have faith in yourself.

Happy 2010 and may you all achieve your goals!
What have been some of the turning points in your journey to publication?




Pamela's first book, Damaged, will be released by Mira Books June 2010 followed by her second release, Indefensible, in January 2011. Visit Pamela's website for more information.

34 comments:

Anne MacFarlane said...

Hi Pam.

What a great story. I'm still on the road to publication - I just hope it doesn't taking too many more turning points.

Can't wait to read your first book in June.

Stella MacLean said...

Pam,
What a wonderful journey! How true it is that when we write about what we know, what is in our background, we usually have a greater chance at success. And you succeeded in style.
All the best,
Stella MacLean
A Child Changes Everything,
Super Romance Release slated
for August 2010

Janet said...

I'm late this morning - I suspect some East Coasters have beat me to the punch!

Welcome to the Prairies, Pam! We are so pleased to have you as our first Honorary Chick of 2010.

What an amazing journey - and a great inspiration to us all as we start out the New Year with high hopes and lofty goals. I, like Anne, am still on the road to publication. I've looked back at my turning points and there have been many - the most influencial being the friendship of other writers who have pushed and encouraged me to continue.

This is a great way to look at the progress a writer has made - usually you look back and see only the struggles and disappointments. Thanks for bring us a new perspective.

Bev Pettersen said...

Enjoyed reading about your journey, Pam. What a great trip! Dan't wait to read "Damaged." Not long now.

Cathryn Fox said...

Thanks for sharing your journey. I always love to hear about the road to publication.

Renee Field said...

Pam, your points were all great and what an amazing journey you've undergone. I love your first book and it will sell, but I'm anxious to get my hands on your thrillers now. Wishing you mega sales- Renee Field (www.reneefield.com)

Pamela Callow said...

Hi Anne,

I'm thinking your turning points are nearing an end. I hope 2010 is the year for you!!

Pam

Pamela Callow said...

Hi Stella,

Thank you so much! I agree - I drew on a lot of experiences to write DAMAGED, both professionally and craft-wise. You've had such a fantastic journey yourself, truly an inspiration to our chapter.

Pam

Pamela Callow said...

Hi Janet,

Thank you so much for the warm welcome!I'm honoured to be the first Honourary Chick in 2010. I'm fluffing my feathers!

I do hope my post inspired other writers because as we all know, the road to getting published is rarely straight!

You hit on an important point - the friendship and support of other writers. It makes a huge difference and I couldn't agree more. The road to publication would have been longer and lonelier without my RWAC peeps!

Pam

Pamela Callow said...

Thanks for dropping by, Bev! Yes, I'm sure the time will fly between now and when DAMAGED hits the shelves in June.

Here's hoping 2010 is a great year for you!

Pam

Pamela Callow said...

Hi Cathy,

I remember one of my first RWAC meetings was attending a workshop where a HQ editor read aloud your query and said she wanted to read your book!

Your success and savvy have always been an inspiration to me.

Pam

Pamela Callow said...

Hi Renee,

Thanks for dropping by! I feel like we've been on parallel paths. I can't wait to buy your YAs for my daughter (and me)!

Pam

Jana Richards said...

Hi Pam,
Welcome to the Prairies! It sounds like you've been very focused on your road to publication and have done all the right things. Congratulations!

I was pleased to read that attending the Surrey International Writers Conference played a big role in your getting published. Several of us Chicks attended last October and we had a fabulous time. I learned a lot and made a few contacts. Conferences are a great place to network and to meet industry professionals face to face.

Glad you're with us today,
Jana

Pamela Callow said...

Hi Jana,

Thanks for having me over! I've always wanted to visit the Prairies.

It's always easy to have 20/20 on these things, but I think the most important thing I learned was to have faith. And listen to your gut.

That was why I went to SIWC. I just needed my industry fix and it looked like a fab conference - even though it was on the other side of the country! It turned out to be one of the most serendipitous things I've done. Based on your blog posts, it sounds like it's been very rewarding for you Prairie Chicks, too!

Hope great things come your way because of it.

Pam

Vince said...

Hi Pamela:

Your turning points are like a roadmap. I can see some of the places I’ve been and some new places I need to visit.

One thing I’ve noticed with authors who have just received the ‘Call’: today editors seem to want a series of books.

Do you recommend planning a three book series right from the start when plotting your first book? Would planning a series make your first book more robust and easier to write?

If it is helpful for an author to be very aware of her back story, even if it is not used in the novel, then wouldn’t it also prove helpful to have an equally good idea of the ‘forward story’? Nothing says you have to write the next two books in the series. It’s just knowing you could that might make the first book richer.

What do you think?

Thanks for your post. I found it very helpful.

Vince

Deborah Hale said...

Great blog, Pam!

I know there was a huge amount of hard work and some bitter disappointments behind many of those turning-points. Kudos for your talents and tenacity!

Love the cover for Damaged -- it is so evocative.

Deb

Pamela Callow said...

Hi Vince,

Thanks for dropping by! You ask some very interesting questions. First of all, from what I hear, editors are interested in series. I suspect it's because it's a big risk to launch a debut author and this will help their return on investment.

From an author's point of view, I have always planned to write a series, although I was open to whether it would be a series with a community of characters taking different leads in each book, or having one main character with other characters serving as counterpoint. My publisher really liked Kate Lange, my main character from DAMAGED, and thus the series with her as the main lead was born. However, both DAMAGED and INDEFENSIBLE have at least 4 or 5 POVs in them. It's just that Kate's is the most prominent voice.

I love your question about backstory and forward story. Yes to both. My process is to write a very detailed backstory for each character before I begin. It really helps with goal, motivation and conflict as I write, even if the backstory isn't fully fleshed out in the narrative of the book.

In terms of forward story, even before I sold, I did have several story ideas and character arcs I knew I wanted to play forward in subsequent books. It was useful to have them in my back pocket when my editor called my agent about MIRA's interest in my series, because I had very little time to whip up my proposals! After I sold, my editor spent a lot of time working with me on the overarching vision for the series.
So, to answer your question, it is a good idea to know where your characters came from and where you'd like to see them go.

Good luck on your journey! It sounds like you are well on your way.

Pam

Pamela Callow said...

Hi Deb,

Thanks so much! I'm not sure if you are aware of this, but you played an integral role in my first turning point. Because it was from you that I learned the Hero's Journey paradigm at a RWAC workshop. It was truly a light bulb moment for me. Your workshop really helped me with revising my first book. And that led to the next turning point...

So thank you.

Everyone - Deb is well known in our chapter for being a great teacher. Check out her website for some other articles about writing: www.deborahhale.com

Pam

Silver James said...

Welcome to the Prairies, Pam. What a journey you've had! Gives credence to the old "Write what you know" advice.

My first sale was a time travel, though small press because the "big boys" still feel there's no market. FAERIE FATE was a book I'd written some time ago, reworked and was ready when a series of networking/coincidences occurred. I can't re-emphasize your point about networking enough. Writers conferences and groups are instrumental to so many of us finding the support to keep trying and helping us get a foot in the door.

Good luck with DAMAGED!

Michelle Helliwell said...

What an amazing journey, Pam. It goes to show that perseverance and a dedication to your manuscript - that you were willing to learn and commit yourself to the profession - and it paid off. I think I'll be bookmarking this entry and re-reading when I need a little pick me up!

connie said...

Hi Pamela
Thank you. You have helped me plan a road map of my own.
The thought about a series is one for me to think on. My current wip will skip generations. I had planned one long book, but maybe a series would work better.
I was at SiWC and learned so much. It was my first conference and I didn't have a manuscript in hand, so, I lay back in the weeds and watched. I can't wait to go again. (I asked at the desk before I left if I could register for 2010 before I left).
I hope next year we can meet over coffee.
Jana is modest. She had some fantastic offers and so did others in our group, though not quite so spectacular. Keep an eye out for at least three other prairie chicks.
Certainly welcome to the prairies but wear as many feathers as possible. I live in Prince Albert SK which hit (with wind effect factored in) -46 and -52 two weeks ago. Yesterday was -34 and tomorrow is slated to be 0. Go figure!
July is good!
Nothing but good luck for 2010
connie

Karyn Good said...

Good morning, Pam. We're delighted to have you here today and discussing 'turning points' and 'The Call'. I'm very much looking forward to reading Damaged!

I was interested to see how entering contests and the feedback you received played a part in your journey, especially since this morning I received my results from the first ever contest I've entered. Very intersting to read the judges perspectives. Next on the learning curve - learning to interpret the comments. All part of the journey!

Thanks for an enlightening and inspirational post. I'll be thinking about my own turning points and the things I've learned so far on my quest.

Pamela Callow said...

Hi Silver!

Congrats on the publication of Faerie Fate (love that title!). There are certainly many paths to getting a book in print -- especially nowadays -- and it sounds like yours was very successful.

As you said, writing organizations and conferences really do open a lot of doors. Not to mention the great friends you make. One of the things I love about this field is the interesting people I meet! So many backgrounds, so many journies.

Nice to meet you!

Pam

Pamela Callow said...

Hi Michelle,

Thanks for your comments! I do hope this post inspires people, because we all need a little boost sometimes. I know I did, and I found reading about other people's experiences helpful. This is a tough biz. You gotta hang tight!

It's funny you should mention about learning the craft, because I remember when I first started writing fiction, I'd re-read what I wrote, groan, and remind myself that it took me four years to train to be a lawyer. Learning the craft takes a lot of work, a lot of words, and a lot of teeth gritting!

But it does get easier...

Good luck, Michelle. You are definitely moving closer to the end of your journey. Hope 2010 is the year for you!

Pam

Pamela Callow said...

Hi Connie,

It's always exciting to plan a roadmap, isn't it? A multi-generational story sounds like a real curl-up-on-the-sofa type of read, and I'm sure is challenging to write. My one piece of advice about stand alone vs. series is that I made the mistake on my first book of trying to put every idea I had into it - hence its non-marketable length. Breaking the story down into several story arcs makes writing much more manageable. It also gives you time to let your characters develop organically. For example, DAMAGED takes place in April/May. INDEFENSIBLE picks right up with the characters in August of the same year, so I could really explore the characters' arcs in each book.

I'm so glad you enjoyed SIWC. I think it's an amazing conference. I'd love to go back. How exciting for Jana and the other chicks!! It certainly was a conferenc that changed my life, and I hope the same for you Chicks. Lucky you for living so close!

Good to know I should visit the Prairies in July . It's always foggy in Halifax then. So the timing is perfect!

Stay warm!

Pam

Helena said...

I was a slug-a-bed this morning, so am late to the blog, but what a treat when I finally got here! I echo all the other welcomes, Pam. (Hope it's okay to call you that. I have a daughter-in-law named Pamela, and wouldn't think of calling her anything but Pam.)

It is so encouraging to read about the twists and turns in your journey. I feel as though I have barely set foot on the path, but I have partial drafts of two novels. I too went to SiWC in October '09, (without a finished ms) but I pitched to an editor anyway, and was encouraged to send a synopsis and chapters to her when I do get it written. I felt like I'd made a sale!

Hearing your story gives me a prod to keep all those resolutions I made not much more than a week ago. Thank you so much for being here today.

Pamela Callow said...

Hi Karyn,

Thanks for checking out my post, and congrats for entering a contest! It takes a lot of work and a lot of guts. I am a big believer in their usefulness, but it depends what your goals are.

I entered my first book, the time travel, in many contests. It was how I cut my teeth on revisions, writing synopses, and eventually getting editorial interest. But it was a long process (just like everything else in this biz!). I didn't final for the first round of contests. But I looked closely at the comments. Contest critiques are always a tough call. You need to trust your gut. Generally, if there were similar comments from the judges across the board, I'd consider them carefully and revise my work. Some judges really put a lot of thought into their critiques and can give you some very good feedback.

Of course, I have also received comments that were unnecessary and unhelpful, and you just have to move past those. I have always viewed the contest judge comments as a sample of what readers might say about me. Some judges loved my work, others hated it. Since I don't expect everyone to love my writing, I can live with that.

In terms of your own journey, if your goal is to get outside feedback, it is useful to enter a few contests with the same ms, just to put those judging critiques in context. As always, take what's useful to you and move on. If you are a finalist, you might begin targeting different contests with editors you are interested in.

On the other hand, you might just bypass the whole circuit and go straight to the publishing house. It really is a crapshoot because there's no guarantee if you final in one contest you'll final in another. Sometimes you just have to try a number of things and see what works.

Good luck with whatever course you take!

Pam

Anonymous said...

Hi Pam,

Wow,fascinating. It does go to show that things happen ina certain order for a reason...and that tenacity is necessary in life to get what you want in life.Your blog is a great "pep talk" for those who are trying to get published.-Carolyn, The Annex Bookstore

Pamela Callow said...

Hi Helena,

Please do call me Pam. That's what all my friends call me! Thanks for your comments. It sounds like the Praire Chicks ruled at the SIWC con! It's so exciting that you had a request from an editor there! (Okay, enough exclamation points but the SIWC con brings it out in me). You should celebrate your successful pitch. It's so important to remind yourself of these successes regularly -- stroke them and let them stroke you. You've got a marketable idea! You made a successful pitch!

I wish you great success with your ms and hope 2010 is the year for you!

Pam

Pamela Callow said...

Hi Carolyn,

Thanks for dropping by. I'm glad you liked my post. This journey has taught me it pays to persevere.

Speaking of tenacity, your achievements in running your own bookstore would merit a blog post or two!

Pam

Janet said...

Wow, what a great day! Thanks to everyone who stopped by and left a comment. As I said earlier, we love to read about a writer's success - and hope that in the reading a little 'magic' will wear off on to us (although we all know it's hard work and dedication).

Thanks Pam for joining us today. I have your book title written down in my "Book of Books" and will be waiting for release day (I love thrillers - and set in Halifax, even better). We all look forward to hearing more about you and your books.

Lilly Cain said...

Hi Pam!

I love the way you mapped out the 10 turning points in your progression to publication! What a great way to review it and affirm your belief in yourself and in your writing as each of those steps were so positive, even in the ones that could have been taken negatively you found the part that was instrumental in your success! Congratulation on your perseverence and on your book, I will be pre-ordering mine as soon as it is possible!

Lilly

Julia Smith said...

What an inspiring post, Pam. I've checked off a few of these, but have a ways to go on my journey. The best advice you're giving all of us is to dust yourself off and keep going.

I'm so excited for you, and it will be such a thrill when I can take a copy of your book to the cash register.

Julianne MacLean said...

Hi Pam - I'm late to be joining in, but just wanted to say congrats again the sales! And your story always inspires me.