Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Welcome Guest Blogger: Deborah MacGillivray

When Best Laid Plans Go Astray~~~

Robert Burns is oft quoted about best laid plans. A fine Scotsman, he had the right of it―they can surely go astray!

Sometimes, this business is not about what you have done or will do, but it’s about realities that pop up in your journey and how you handle them. Any writer serious about being a career author should learn the business. It’s vital. Knowledge is, as they say, power. The more you learn about publishers and editors, the better your chances are of getting that call. You might have the next Gone With the Wind penned, but unless you pay attention to what a publisher is selling, submitting your work to the wrong publisher or editor nearly always guarantees a rejection. Good doesn’t always sell. Why? Publishers have a style, and they are searching for authors who match that. Therefore, knowing what their style is, that imprint, and what an editor likes, can really put you ahead of the game.

Once a serious writer gets that far, then they should develop a long range plan. Not just pushing for the sales of that current WIP, but what books three, four and five will be if you sell book number one! Generally, publishers buy two to three books plus an option in a contract. You have that Gone With the Wind to sell and happy they want it. Then comes the big question…what is your second book? After that you face what is your option book? If you haven’t planned that far ahead, then you are in big trouble. I’ve seen this happen to friends, and they quickly toss out some idea to land that contract, locking themselves into a half-baked concept and setting up a weaker second book. So plan ahead. Know where you are going with your books. It doesn’t have to be a series, mind, but see what books you will be writing in the future. I am never solely focused on the current project, but books one to two years down the road. This business moves fast and it won’t wait for you to figure out where you want to go with your career.

That said, once you become the efficient, well-planned author, you must learn to cultivate a crucial trait for survival―the ability to adapt. Why? After all, you are organized now, knowledgeable and ready to face New York and all it has to toss at you. Because until you sell that first book and go through the whole process, you really don’t know just what you will be facing in being a published author. Well, duh? True, it is slightly rhetorical to make that statement. Only, until you are on the other side of the process, you will never understand the frantic demands on your time that detracts from your writing. Interviews, PR, chats, loop chats, book ads, book signings, conventions, and blogging―all this gobbles up your valuable writing time that you need to make those deadlines. You are used to producing a book in two-to-four months, and think you can do two to three novels in a year? Sure. Piece of cake, right? When you give those promises to a publisher you are not figuring in the time for all the PR. Most writers will tell you they had no idea just how much precious writing time is lost promoting your book.

Worse, life has a way of coming along and tossing a spanner in the works. Health is one issue you have to keep on top of. Becoming sick can really mess up schedules. Family time and issues are another. If you are still working, factor in possible overtime, etc. We won’t discuss natural disasters such at Katrina, tornadoes or floods! An author is like a performer up on the high wire―balancing on the ball of his foot, holding a chair by the leg in one hand, a broomstick with a spinning plate in the other, and trying to keep a ball from falling off the tip of his nose. If one thing falls, it all comes tumbling down!

Aside from the practicalities of time scheduling, health and planning for your future WIPs, you face the most aggravating thing of all―actual shifts in your writing plans. This time, it’s summoned by troublesome characters who think they know best―and often do―or publishers suddenly asking for a novella for an anthology or even a book you hadn’t thought up much less plotted out.

Such is the case of my historical novels. Originally, my Dragons of Challon series for Kensington Zebra Historicals (A Restless Knight, June 2006; In Her Bed, July 2007) were part of a series of seven books. As I was going to contract on the second set of two books in the series last August, I was working feverishly on Guillaume’s story, to be followed by Simon’s. Well, as the contract was negotiated, my editor suddenly asked me to do a Christmas book for my third book. Super plum! Naturally, I jumped at the chance. Christmas novels are a coveted slotting; they sell more than your regular books since readers will buy it simply because it’s a Christmas story. It’s a quick way to double your reader base. So, I had to scramble to come up with One Snowy Knight (October 2009). Being an adaptable writer who loves a challenge, that didn’t prove too hard to come up with a whole new book in my series. But then, as I was finishing up this novel, and beginning work on Guillaume story (Yield to the Knight, TBA), another book I had set as book seven, Redemption, suddenly started clamoring to be written. I spoke to my editor to see if I could move Guillaume story back, yet again, and do this one in its place. Fortunately, it hadn’t gone into physical production (covers and PR, etc.) so I was able to move it up in the series. Poor Guillaume will have to wait until book five to have his romance with Rowanne finished.

Being an author with contracts to two different publishers, and having series with both, this situation is doubled for me. My Sisters of Colford Hall for Dorchester (The Invasion of Falgannon Isle, December 2006; Riding the Thunder, October 2007) is moving into the third and fourth books. A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing is set for June 2009. The series was set on seven sisters finding love better the second time around, so that much is fixed. However, one sister is already screaming to be moved up in the queue!

So get clued-up. Plan, plan, plan. But then, expect the unexpected and learn to rock with changes, as they may happen for the very best.

~~~ Deborah Macgillivray

Deborah is author of four novels and twelve novellas in the past two years. Her novels have been sold for translation in Germany, Japan and Brazil. They have won many awards, including Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, The Beacon, The Laurie, The Lories, More than Magic, PEARL Award Winner and more. She is also a reviewer for Paranormal Romance Reviews, The Best Reviews and Sensual Romance Reviews.


Jacquie Rogers said...

Great advice, Deborah. Wow, who knew that you had to be a graphic artist and a movie maker to write books?


Lesli Richardson said...

You always have such great advice, Deborah! Yeah, dang those pesky characters telling us what to do. *LOL* I totally agree with everything you've written, what a great post!


Deborah Macgillivray said...

When I tossed out this topic a few weeks ago, I think Marianne caught me one of those characters dictating. Little did I know how bad that would be hitting today! mwahahaaha


Windlegend said...

Many writers just starting off in this business have some very strange notions about what it is. Most find out the hard way what it isn't. I have always said seasoned authors should take those newbies under their wings and try to instill the truth in them right off the bat. Otherwise, those elevated expectations of talk show appearances, limo rides to the airport, throngs of screaming fans waiting in line to get an autographs and Hollyweird knocking down their doors are going to get crushed in the junkyard of ThatAintTheWayItsGonnaBe. The simple truth of the matter is this is a tough, uncompromising business most of the time. You must adapt, learn patience and a whole lot of humility or else run the risk of not only having your expectations crushed but your dreams right along with them.

A wise writer looking to make this a career needs to pay attention to authors like Deborah who take the time to give sage advice. Listen to the voice of experience; it won't stir you wrong.

And learn...ABOVE all keep your big mouth shut. This isn't a playground. This is real life. This is where you put on your big girl panties and get over it. Airing your dirty laundry in public, dissing your publisher or your editor in a public forum or on someone's blog is professional suicide in this crazy business. Pubs and Eds have very long memories and you just might encounter them again at another house!

Thanks for the advice, Lady D. As always, it is excellent.

RowenaBCherry said...

Fabulous advice, Deborah, and fascinating insights. I really enjoyed reading your blog.

Great job.


Marly Mathews said...

You've done it again. You have given your wisdom to the masses! Your blog commentary was exciting and informative!
I was hooked from the beginning to the end!
My hats off to you!


Deborah Macgillivray said...

Thank you, ladies, for the comments. I must say I did have two very caring authors who helped me, both bestseller authors--Lynsay Sands and Maggie Davis (Katherine Deauxville). Often times they didn't tell me things I wanted to hear. They told me what I NEEDED to hear. Without them truly caring enough to tell me the truths and the realities I could have had a much tougher times facing the stark realities of this business.

I owe them thanks for giving me the tools I needed.

Donna Michaels said...

Hi Deborah,

I couldn't agree more about planning but be prepared to go with the flow of change. Yes, something always comes up and a surprise wip is usually that 'something'. lol

It's so super you're able to adapt and fit them all in. Bless you for not going insane.

...or is that the key? LOL

Have a super LASR blog day!!


Erin E. M. Hatton said...

I really identify with your blog, Deborah. As a relatively new writer, I have been amazed at all the "other stuff" a writer has to do aside from the writing. It has been a learning curve for me, that's for sure!

Gerri Bowen said...

Great blog,and important facts. How about expanding on this and write another artical for RWA magazine?

Brandy said...

I wish I wrote so I could use your advice! *G* Thanks for the post!
I hope you have a nice day.

Deborah Macgillivray said...

Gerri, I covered some of this in the article I did for RWA about 14 months ago, under the umbrella of writing for more than one publisher at the same time; how it seems like a grand idea, but all the complications that can arise, especially for the newer writing that is still seeing this are her dream come true, instead of it's a job, a business.

Deborah Macgillivray said...

I want to thank Marianne and Judy for allowing me to borrow a small corner of their space. I appreciate all they do!

thanks you!

Deborah Macgillivray said...

I want to thank Marianne and Judy for allowing me to borrow a small corner of their space. I appreciate all they do!

thanks you!

Alisha Paige said...

Great blog, Deborah! This is wonderful advice for the newbies out there like myself. I'm learning to juggle my time and find out what works and what doesn't with regards to promo. It's so very true that some characters will just nag, nag, nag us to tell their stories.

Every new author should tape this article to their desk.

Victoria Houseman said...

As always, you are a wealth of information, Deborah, and as always, I thank you for your willingness so teach and to share. I have learned so much from you! Victoria