The Writing Life

Getting Started on Cover Art!

Happy couple face to face

Things are getting real, folks! We’re taking the first steps toward creating a cover for my first book. My debut contemporary romance novel has now been firmly scheduled for publication by Harlequin Superromance in February 2017. Just in time for Valentine’s Day – yay!!

And what is the first step? Well….Harlequin sends a form to authors to complete that is loaded with detailed questions about the characters, setting, story, themes, etc. And when I say “detailed,” I mean DETAILED! Hair color alone has about thirty options. Along with eye color, hair style, clothing, and on and on. It’s really putting my brain cells to work!

My answers are important, because those answers are what the artists will use to create the cover art. Isn’t it frustrating when the people on the cover of a book don’t look anything at all like how they’re described inside the book? That’s why I really want to get this right. The couple in the photo above? I like them, and paid to use the image for quotes, etc. until we have an official cover, but they’re not quite right. Especially the guy – he’s way too neat and polished for Cole (who wouldn’t wear a white business shirt ever).

Fortunately, I already have an overflowing Pinterest folder for Hide-Away , so I can share those photos with Harlequin (and with you). Some of the images are just for fun, some might be just for clothing or mood shots, but they’re all part of the process of creating a setting and characters that feel real.

Some writers “cast” their books with real-world performers. They picture Chris Evans as their hero, and that’s that. I tend to have “types” rather than specific real-life people. In my mind, my characters are unique individuals, not clones of someone else. That makes my descriptions even more important, as I want the reader to visualize the same person I’m seeing – or at least as close to it as possible.

So when I say Cole is a “Scott Eastwood type” I’m not picturing Scott exactly. I’m picturing Cole, who looks similar to Scott, but also a lot like this guy . Does that make any sense? Yeah, I know – writers are weird.

And Bree? She looks a lot like Sarah Rafferty. Not exactly, but pretty darned close. And the setting? Well, the setting is a small town North Carolina farm. And one of my favorite scenes happens on a tractor. But there’s also a hot (in every way you can imagine!) scene that takes place in the hayloft.

Hmmmm – I wonder which scene they’ll use? Stay tuned – we should find out in the next few months……..

IMPORTANT NEWS! Welcome, welcome, welcome to all my new followers from the wonderful Facebook party last week: Romance Writers Gone Wild! I’m so glad you’re all here, and I hope you’ll hang around as I get ready to have my first contemporary romance published. And CONGRATULATIONS to the winner of the random drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card: Tracy Fowler! Thanks so much for the follows, everyone.

The Writing Process

How I Became a Romance Writer – A Timeline

By tree croppedSo the website is getting fired up again, less as a log of my struggles to get a contract (mission accomplished) and more as a conversation about the writing and publishing process. Hopefully readers will enjoy not only hearing about the books I’m working on (and reading excerpts from them), but will also enjoy my observations about the writing process, which is definitely not for the faint of heart, and about the publishing business and all its twists and turns.

If you’re an aspiring writer, you might learn something from my journey (Lesson One: NEVER GIVE UP!). If you’re a published author, you might be able to teach me and my followers a thing or two – feel free to share! And if you’re a reader of romance or any other genre, I hope you’ll find this “peek behind the curtains” interesting.

Let’s start with the timeline of my journey so far:

HOW I BECAME A ROMANCE AUTHOR

1968 (approx.): My best friend and I started writing our “Great American Novels”. We were ten. Mine was a romance. I no longer have it, but I remember it took place on a farm, there were horses and a tornado, and the heroine’s name was Destiny.

1970s – 1980s: I grew up, got a job, and dreamed of writing “someday”. In the meantime, I devoured books by Victoria Holt, Danielle Steele, Jude Deveraux (my all-time favorite romance: A Knight in Shining Armor), Johanna Lindsey, Kathleen Woodiwiss (my all-time close-second-favorite romance: A Rose In Winter), and many, many others.

1990s: I call these years “The Oprah Effect”. Suddenly the only cool thing to read was “lit-er-a-ture” (spoken with a fancy accent). If it wasn’t tragic, it wasn’t considered serious writing. I finally had the time to write, but I allowed myself to be intimidated by the book snobs who were convinced that romance was tacky and somehow undesirable. I tried to make myself write “lit-er-a-ture”, but damn it, I like happy endings!

2000s: Buried myself in a corporate career.

2013: Heard a lot of buzz about a sexy romance called Fifty Shades of Gray. Yes, that book. And the next one. And the next. By the time I got to the end of it all (and I’ll admit I enjoyed a lot of it), I realized it was basically a regular romance novel with some naughtiness added and enough mind-numbing detail to stretch the story over three books. It made E.L. James a boatload of money, and it showed me that romance novels were far from dead. Where had I been, and why the hell wasn’t I writing? That summer I sat at my laptop and started my first romance novel. It was basically a learning experience only, but I did get some positive feedback from agents/editors. And the hook was set. I was going to be a writer, come hell or high water.

2014: Wrote Halcyon, the first of four stand-alone romance novels about four cousins finding love. Submitted it, got some nice rejections with some encouragement. Entered it in the 2015 Golden Heart Award competition at the Romance Writers of America conference in New York City. While it didn’t make it into the finalist division, it was in the top 25% of entries.

July 2015: Completed The Hide-Away (second in the series) just in time to pitch it at the RWA Conference in NYC (my first conference). That’s where I met Victoria Curran from Harlequin’s SuperRomance collection, and she loved the concept and requested a full manuscript.

August 2015: I started working on my next book, The Wishlist (all titles here are working titles only), and completed a couple chapters of the first draft.

September 2015: Victoria, like all editors and agents in the industry, is swamped with work. She sent very encouraging updates on Hide-Away, but no commitment yet. In a bit of a panic, I decide to start submitting Hide-Away to a few agents…just in case. I pick five agencies that are at the top of the food chain in the industry (in my opinion). Why not dream big?

October 2015: I get The Call from Victoria on October 16th. Harlequin SuperRomance wants to offer me a contract for Hide-Away. Angels sing, bells ring, rainbows arch through the sky and unicorns dance in the front yard. Yeah, I’m that happy. My dream was to get a contract, and now I had one! All I had to do was rewrite a couple of major scenes and cut 8000 words. By Thanksgiving. Piece of cake. Oh, and I created a Twitter account (@JoMcNallyAuthor).

November, 2015: Once I have the signed contract for Hide-Away in my hand, I reach out to the literary agencies I’d queried to let them know the book was now under contract. It’s a professional courtesy to keep them from wasting time reading the book if it’s already taken. I received a couple brief thank yous and congratulations. One agent seemed sincere in her regret that she missed it. And another was not only sorry to have missed it, but asked me some interesting questions about representation on other projects. We emailed back and forth. The emails became phone calls, and Veronica Park of the Corvisiero Literary Agency became my agent, representing Halcyon. Unicorns danced again! Of course, first I had to complete the rewrite of Hide-Away. That was accomplished just in time, and it was submitted on Thanksgiving morning.

December, 2015: One deadline down, and another is already looming. I have to rewrite the beginning of Halcyon, and have three chapters and a synopsis (outline) ready to submit to Harlequin by the end of January. And oh, yeah. It’s Christmas. My church choir tackled a simple little ditty for the holidays called Handels Messiah. Parties were planned and attended. Family time. Did I mention I work a Monday-Friday, 9-5 office job? And have a marriage to pay attention to? Writing got squeezed into every spare moment, but it was stressful!

January, 2016: With the tireless assistance of my now beloved agent, Veronica, I work like a madwoman and complete three brand-new chapters for Halcyon. And I like them! We will be meeting our deadline (again). And I start messing with this website again. And I made my Pinterest research pages for the books public (JoMcNallyAuthor). Came in First Place for Contemporary Romance in the Windy City Romance Writers Four Seasons writing completion (Hide-Away). My first win!

Windy City Contest Winner

Wow. No wonder I’m tired. And very, very happy. Thanks for joining me on this crazy ride, and stay tuned for more adventures!

The Publishing Process

They Like Me! They Really, Really Like Me!

PillowI’M GETTING PUBLISHED!!!!!!!! That’s right, folks – I’ve been offered a contract for “The Hide-Away” (officially just a working title now – it will not publish as that). It will be published by Harlequin SuperRomance! I am absolutely on cloud 9, and still feeling a little whiplashed by the ride I’ve taken over the past eight days.

So picture this – on Friday, Oct. 16th [semi-interesting side note: 16 has always been our lucky date. My birthday is on a 16th, Hubby’s birthday is on a different 16th, our anniversary is on another 16th, and now, I found out I was being published on October 16th!] , anyway – I’m at my 9-5 job and it is The Friday-From-Hell. Of the five people in our little office, three are on vacation together, and the fourth is at an appointment. Every call is another deal getting ready to burst into flames. So I’m manning the front desk alone and playing virtual whack-a-mole. I’m on one phone line, and the other line is ringing and I’m just watching it ring because I can’t get off line 1. Then my cell phone lights up with a call, which hardly ever happens. And the caller ID reads “Ontario Canada”. There is only one caller who would be calling me from Ontario, Canada, and that’s Harlequin Books.

AND I CAN’T TAKE THE CALL.

More than one friend has suggested I should have hung up on the office call, but that’s not how I do business. I let the Harlequin call go to voicemail while I started to shake all over. I finally connected with the most wonderful senior editor at Harlequin later that afternoon, and she confirmed that Harlequin SuperRomance wanted to offer me a contract for The Hide-Away. Like…a real contract, with an advance and everything, like a real writer would get. The word “joy” doesn’t quite capture how I felt. How can you possibly describe a moment when a lifelong dream comes true?

Harlequin SR 10.25

Since then, I have been on an emotional rollercoaster of ecstasy and panic and everything in between. On that first call with the editor, I casually mentioned that Hide-Away was actually the second book in my series of four stand-alone titles. Harlequin rejected the first book, Halcyon, a while ago, and I acknowledged that the beginning needs major changes (like I need to throw out the first two chapters and start over kind of changes). SuperEditor agreed to take another look at Halcyon if I could make the changes. So now we’re talking the possibility of TWO books! Unreal. Midweek, it looked like they wouldn’t take Halcyon after all (which was oddly a bit of a relief in my panicked state), and then we went back to thinking maybe they would take another look at it. Holy crap!!

My dear SuperEditor and I came up with a plan later in the week, after my adrenalin rush began to settle. For the next four weeks, I am doing revisions on Hide-Away. While she felt the book is mostly good as written, there were a few suggestions made that I agreed with right away, and now I have to implement them. Most involve making minor changes to the ending so that things aren’t quite so tidy all of a sudden. Oh, and we also have to cut 8000 words from the book to fit the current parameters for the SuperRomance line. That’s 10% of the book. But it’s okay. It’s going to be fine. Totally cool. I can do this.

After Hide-Away is resolved, I will immediately begin the MAJOR revisions required for Halcyon. If I can have those completed by the start of the new year, I will resubmit them to SuperEditor and we’ll see what happens. If she likes it, I could have another book deal, and Halcyon would be published first, then Hide-Away. Which is just amazing. I’m still pinching myself.

And then this happened on Twitter (where you can follow me at @jomcnallyauthor):

Twitter 10.25

I am officially part of the Harlequin SuperRomance family, and I could not possibly be happier. At the very least, Hide-Away will definitely be published. Right now the SuperRomance line is primarily digital, but I’m hoping that will change so that folks can order paperback versions of my work. It will not be sold in stores, which is a tiny disappointment, but in the big scheme of things, I’m not losing sleep over it. It’s an online world, and I, for one, read nearly all my romances on my Kindle.

I’m walking on air. It occurred to me the other day that the only time I remember feeling like this was when I was first falling in love with my now-husband. I’m in the same exact state of mind: distracted, giddy, nervous, emotional, occasionally teary-eyed, at other times ready to leap up and dance just for the hell of it. Pretty appropriate that learning my romance novel is going to be published has given me the same sense of joy that falling in love gave me – can’t get much more romantic than that!

So this blog will now swerve away from “how will I ever get published?” to “what’s it like to get a book deal?” Follow along on the ups and downs that are surely ahead of me as I negotiate this new world of success. I’m not quitting my day job (yet), but I’m definitely looking forward to an exciting year in 2016 (look – another lucky 16!).