…we're keeping our name but expanding our offerings!
Before you were published, what were you doing to scratch the writing itch?
I’ve been a lifelong journal-keeper, which has only fallen away now that I get up every day and write. This isn’t surprising, since much of my journal writing consisted of me bewailing how long it had been since I’d last written anything. :) I’ve got an entire drawer full of notebooks that include so much embarrassing scribbling (so much!) I’m pretty sure I should pick a date to burn them all before I die. I also wrote quite a lot of tortured poetry, of which enough copies remain to convince me that the world is much better off with my decision to switch to romance writing. Okay, there is one poem that I like, about an old woman who used to dance with the Folies Bergère, but the rest are beyond angst-ridden! I have a handful of short stories from high school that are rip-offs of Marion Zimmer Bradley stories, and the first three pages of a dozen books. But I never finished anything until I wrote my first romance novel.
How did you end up getting your first book published?
To be honest, it was a bit of an accident. :) I was working on writing a literary historical novel very loosely based on Gustav Mahler. (For “working on”, read “sitting around and thinking about it a lot, with two whole pages written.”) I had this idea that I should practice querying publishers, though. From everything I’d ready, it was nearly impossible to get anyone even to look at your ms., much less want to buy it. But I knew just enough to realize that publishing was a small enough world that if I practiced pitching by using my composer novel, I would have a worse time pitching it for real when it was done. So I decided to invent a book and practice querying that imaginary ms. instead. After doing my research, it was clear that romance publishers had by far the fastest turnaround times for responding to queries. Mind you, this was about twelve years ago, and all of this communication was happening via the U.S. postal service. Most literary publishers promised to reply to queries within twelve months. Romance publishers were responding in four to six months! Plus, I’d read romance novels all of my life, so I figured I wouldn’t have too much trouble coming up with a good one. (Ah, the arrogance of youth. At lease, my youth.) I figured Harlequin was the place to start, so I invented a book for their Desire line, wrote the first dozen pages, just to feel legit, and put my query together. I knew it would be rejected and I planned on sending it to a bunch of other romance publishers, hoping that I might get a personalized rejection or two that would help me learn how to improve my query.
Three months later, I got a letter from an editor at Harlequin saying, basically, “Sounds great! Send us your ms., please.”
I’m no fool. I wrote the book.
I know. I’m the luckiest, and most grateful, human on the face of the planet. It’s not supposed to work like that. The confluence of events that came together to produce that Harlequin Desire book (AT YOUR SERVICE)…suffice it to say that I still bow down with appreciation to that long-ago editor of mine.
There is a tiny part of me that wonders if, deep down, I was hoping all along that my imaginary romance novel would sell. I was in a mental place back then where I, myself, still looked down upon the genre as being “less than”, which makes me sad now. I think I might have needed that stamp of approval, of making it real, from someone else before I let myself imagine that I could really do it.
Was the process anything like you imagined? What fit the dream? What was different/surprised you?
Here’s the thing. I’ve entered publishing as a total newbie twice. After writing two books for Harlequin, I took almost ten years off to raise my son. (I’m a single parent.) By the time I got my act and my brain power together again to write, publishing had changed so much that it was a totally different world. So, I have two answers to this question. :) The first time I published, everything was mostly as I’d pictured it: mailing manuscripts back and forth to New York. Yeah. That was a long time ago. When I started getting back into publishing two years ago,everything was different. I pitched books on Twitter. I heard from editors in a month or two, instead of a year or two. There were one hundred bazillion review websites, not just Amazon. The pace felt so incredibly fast, and there seemed to be so many ways to go wrong, that I was completely intimidated. I mean, I opened an account on Twitter so I could pitch a ms. to Carina Press in a pitch contest, and I sent about ten tweets the day before so I wouldn’t look like I’d just joined. *eyes my tweet total, which I’m not sharing here out of embarrassment, and grimaces* I had no idea what I was doing. The great thing is that the entire community of romance writers and readers and editors and agents and bloggers is full of people who share knowledge constantly. I’ve learned so much, it’s mind-boggling.
How long did it take you to write your first published book?
Two weeks. And six months. :) I wrote half of it in a week, spent a few months stuck, and then wrote the second half in another week. That was a pretty short book (60k words) compared to the ones I write now (80-110k), and I got lucky in that I had an actual plot, which wasn’t always the case with my first few books. :)
What’s your advice to unpublished authors trying to get their work read?
I’m a big fan of Chuck Wendig’s words in his blog post 25 Things I Want to Say to So-Called Aspiring Writers: “I’m just going to type this out a dozen times so it’s clear: finish your shit. Finish your shit. Finish your shit. Finish your shit. Finish your shit. Finish your shit! FINISH YOUR SHIT. Finish. Your. Shit. Fiiiiniiiish yooooour shiiiiit. COMPLETO EL POOPO. Vervollständigen Sie Ihre Fäkalien! Finish your shit.” This is excellent advice. There is a ton of work that can be done to improve a manuscript once it’s written, but you can’t do much with a book that’s only mostly done. This may not be other writers’ problem, but I wrote the first 10-20 pages of a dozen or more books long before I ever finished one. Shoot, I had a hundred pages of a YA novel finished while I was in college. But I never got around to completing anything, mostly because the middle of a story is the hard part. For me, I’ve learned so much with every book I’ve finished (and that’s even before we get to the brilliant education that is being edited by a terrific editor), that the best advice I can offer is: get to The End. Power through. You can do it. Plus, it’s totally empowering. :) Knowing I had finished a book once made it that much easier for me to get there the next time. I just kept telling myself, “That was not a fluke! You can do it again, promise. Have some CheezIts and another Diet Coke. That’ll help, too.”
Is writing not as fun/as fun/more fun once you have your first book published?
All of the above! There are times when you’re having family crises or personal emergencies, and needing to keep up with the writing is less fun, because the only reason you’re doing it is that deadline hanging over your head. But writing and knowing the book is going to be read by others? That’s the absolute best. Terrifying and exhilarating, both. And really, what could beat having an excuse to read up on any subject you were ever curious about? I remember bingeing on a ton of Nora Roberts books in a row in my twenties and realizing that she’d been able to spend time researching glass blowing, Renaissance painting restoration, running a vineyard, and riverboat gambling. I was pretty sure that this was the job for me.
What’s next up for you?
My Bend or Break series with Samhain keeps growing every time I turn around! I’m working on book four, LEVEL HANDS, about Cash’s cousin, Denny, and Rafi, the guy Denny met in Chicago when he ran away from home after high school. They meet up again in college a couple years later, and Rafi’s suitemates have turned out to be a pretty eclectic group. Two of them are just crying out for books! We’ll see… I’d also love to write a whole series of books set in the world of my 1930’s drag dance hall, Lady Jane’s, from “Dance Hall Days”, although the research intimidates me, honestly. I know there are authors who write a sort of “historical lite” in romance, where they go pretty light on the details. I think I’d end up obsessing about getting everything right forever, and there’s so much to learn. But it was beyond fun to write a story set in that time, and I’m so tempted to do it again.
Leave a comment on this post to enter to win a copy of “Off Campus” by Amy Jo Cousins.
AMY JO COUSINS’ WEBSITE CAN BE FOUND HERE.
Title: Five Dates
Published Date: July 25, 2014
Publisher: Goodreads M/M Romance Group
Purchase Links: Amazon