Holly WestThe winners of the Amazon gift cards are: Stephen J., Pop Culture Nerd, and John B. Thanks for playing, everyone. And more importantly, thank you for your wonderful comments.

Today is February 3, 2014.

Today I am a published author.

I started writing Mistress of Fortune (then titled Diary of Bedlam) in June 2008, but the dream of writing and publishing a novel started much earlier, borne from the reading I did as a child. I wanted to write novels too, to inspire others with stories the way I’d been inspired. And now, I’ve finally done it.

I’m nervous, of course. Now that Mistress of Fortune is out in the world, there are so many things to worry about: Will it sell? Will people like it? I’d like to say that just for today, I’ll put those concerns aside and enjoy this moment. That’s not likely to happen, but I’ll do my best.Mistress of Fortune Cover

There will be other stories that capture my imagination and compel me to put them to paper. I’ll spend more long hours alone at my computer, attempting to bring new characters to life and trying to figure out what drives them. But there will never be another first novel for me. And so, today, I celebrate.

Yesterday's Echo by Matt CoyleMay 2013 marked the long awaited (by me) launch of my debut crime novel, Yesterday’s Echo. It has been a dream come true and a lifetime goal achieved and never would have happened without the help of many people, most of whom I mentioned in the book’s acknowledgments. But I never would have had the chance to thank anyone if I hadn’t been willing to break out of the comfy confines of the Cocoon.

I knew I wanted to be a writer ever since I was fourteen when my dad gave me The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler. The hard part was actually doing the writing and that didn’t really start in earnest for about thirty years. I’m a slow starter. However, even when I buckled down and consistently put my ass in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard, I still had a lot to learn.

Being a fledgling author is a fun and exciting time. You’re finally doing something you were put on earth to do, and dammit, you’re pretty good at it. You start each day reading over the literary gold you spun the day before and realize that you’re home. You’ve found your niche. If you stay with it, you’ll have a draft in around a year, give or take. Then it will only be a matter of time, a short matter at that, before your brand new novel is on the bookshelves between Connelly and Crais.

Or so I thought. But why wouldn’t I? I read what I’d written every day and it was genius. The couple members of my family whom I’d let read the book even agreed with me. Now they might have just been happy that I’d finally started writing instead of just talking about it, but they wouldn’t lie. Would they?

Still, I’m Irish and with that comes self-doubt. So, I decided that before I quit my day job and found an agent to get me the big contract, I’d better vet the work with a professional. Let someone outside the warm, snuggly, cocoon of my family and myself read what I’d written. That is sort of the point of being an author, isn’t it? Hopefully, at some point strangers will read your work and they’ll have opinions.

So, I took some night classes at UC San Diego from a mystery author turned writing teacher. Well, apparently she wasn’t that good of a teacher because she failed to recognize my genius. I was shocked and disappointed. I’d paid good money and I got some flunky as a teacher. It was a beginner’s novel class and most students never really began writing so my stuff was on the chalkboard each session. It was ugly. The teacher asked me questions that I’d never thought of, like what does your character want in a scene and what is he thinking?Matt Coyle, August 24, 2012

It took a while, but I started to realize that the teacher wasn’t that stupid and I wasn’t such a genius. It hurt. I’d jumped out of my cocoon and let strangers see my work and been slapped in the face. Hard. I lost some of that confidence earned writing in anonymity. Maybe I couldn’t do this. Maybe I wasn’t good enough and never would be. But after I stopped feeling sorry for myself (in just a few days…okay, a few weeks) and started revising through the teacher’s prism, the book got better.

Then I joined a writers group and exposed my work to other writers. Like the teacher, they tore it apart and helped me put it back together. Stronger. It took years of tearing and mending before I knew, that, finally, it was ready for an agent and then a publisher. Ten months later was just last month and the publication of Yesterday’s Echo.

Writing in a cocoon will make you feel good. Breaking out of it might get you published.

Matt Coyle grew up in Southern California, battling his brother and sisters for respect and the best spot on the couch in front of the TV. Yesterday’s Echo is Matt’s first novel. He drew from his days in the restaurant business and his extended family’s law enforcement background in creating this book. Matt lives in San Diego with his wife, Deborah, and their Yellow Lab, Angus.


Yesterday, something happened that I’ve been waiting for, for like, ever. The announcement of my book deal showed up in Publishers Marketplace. Here it is in all of its luscious glory:

Holly West’s DIARY OF BEDLAM and DIARY OF DECEPTION, in which the secret identity of a lady as soothsayer – also a favorite mistress of King Charles II – is threatened when a plot to murder the King is revealed as her diary goes missing and one of her clients ends up dead, to Angela James at Carina Press, for publication in 2013, by Elizabeth Kracht at Kimberley Cameron & Associates (World).

The only gripe I have (there had to be at least one, right?) is that it’s classified as “Women’s Fiction/Romance.” Say what? I’m a crime fiction writer, people! I thought I’d made that clear!

But the thing is, who really cares what I am? These classifications are somewhat arbitrary anyway. And frankly, if being a writer of “women’s fiction” or romance helps to sell books, I’m down with that. Girlfriend wants to get paid.

The thing that bothers me more than the classification, I think, is my own reaction to it. I do think there is a stigma attached to women’s fiction and romance and I’m as guilty of perpetrating it as anybody. The fact is that there are great and not so great books in every category and I hate that something that’s labeled “woman” is somehow considered lesser, especially in my own mind.

So whatever DIARY OF BEDLAM and its sequel are considered for the market, my only real concern is that they are KICK ASS books. Oh, and that girlfriend gets paid.

AKA: FInish Your Manuscript Before Querying Agents

I'm at the tail end of this latest revision on Diary of Bedlam. So close I can taste it, in fact. And frankly, it's tasting pretty darned delicious.

This was a huge revision. I cut about 30,000 words, re-arranged many scenes, wrote new scenes, etc. The result is a much stronger book, there's no question about it. It's taken about six months to complete, but after reading this version I can confidently say it was worth the extra time.

That's not the reason for this post, however. I'm close enough to finishing that I have a case of "premature query-itis." What does that mean? It means I'm itching to start querying agents again. After all, it takes awhile to get a response, right?

Actually, that wasn't my experience in my first round of querying. Agents who were interested in seeing fulls or partials pretty much replied within days (sometimes hours). I was thankful I had the manuscript ready to send as soon as I got their requests.

Even agents who rejected me replied fairly quickly.

I'm not saying that every single agent had their finger on the send button as soon as they received my query, but enough did that I know how important it is to have a finished manuscript when you begin querying. You don't want to get a request for more material and not be able to send it right away. Well, at least I don't.

I've never seen an agent's submission guidelines that didn't say something to the effect of "Only query a finished manuscript." So yeah, all of this is rather obvious. But I can't be the only novice who thinks "I'm so close to being done, let me just send a query to see what response I get."

It happened before my first round of queries (but I somehow found the strength to resist it) and it's happening again now.

So really, this post is just about me telling myself "Whoa there, take your finger off the send button. FINISH YOUR MANUSCRIPT!"*

*And by finished, I mean properly formatted, copyedited, ready-to-go, no exceptions.


Dani Amore is the author of DEATH BY SARCASM and DEAD WOOD. Today she was kind enough to stop by the blog and tell us about her path to publication.

I decided to become an independent author because a famous writer gave his reason for why you shouldn’t self-publish.  Basically, he said that if you’ve written a novel and can’t attract interest from an agent, you probably haven’t written a good enough book. So don’t self publish.

I had written a novel that attracted attention from an agent. In fact, I’d written two different novels that had attracted two different agents.

The agents had several things in common:

1.  They both represented New York Times bestselling authors.
2.  They both believed in my respective crime novels.
3.  They each represented me (one in 2003, the other, in 2005)
4. They absolutely could not sell my respective crime novels.  Despite going out to many publishers.

So I after the second agent couldn’t sell the second book, I found myself without agent representation.

I’m feeling pretty low.  I’ve taken to calling myself Miss-Can’t-Sell-A-Book.

Of course, I can’t stay away from the blank page.  So I write a thriller.  My most ambitious work to date.  The manuscript is 600 pages or so.  110,000 words.  It’s dark. Gritty.  Bad-ass. I love it.

Hey Author Friends:

I have a few features on my blog that I've been ignoring for far too long, and now, with your help, I'd like to put a little more effort into them.

I'm looking for authors (mainly crime fiction, but I'll consider others as well) to contribute to "Path to Publication," "Author Interviews," "Question o' the Day," or any other topic you might like to guest blog about. This blog is kind of geared toward aspiring authors, so anything in that vein would be great. I'd especially like to beef up the "Path to Publication" section because everyone loves a good success story, don't they?

The only caveat is I reserve the right to refuse if I don't think your content is right for my audience. Oh, and I don't get paid, so neither do you, except in all those book sales your presence on my blog might generate. I may add more caveats if I find I get too many requests or something like that. We'll see.

Anyway, I like to promote authors whose work I like. So that's what the purpose of all this is, as well as to give readers some content that informs, inspires, and/or entertains.

Contact me here in the comments, on Twitter, or on Facebook if you'd like to participate.

Spring Warren is the author of Turpentine and most recently, The Quarter-Acre Farm: How I Kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, and Fed my Family for a Year. Today, she stops by my blog to tell the story of her path to publication.

Turpentine I spent a couple of years after graduate school not only writing a novel, but also writing query letters trying to interest some publisher, some agent, some anybody in my work. I’d send out half a dozen letters, then over the next months watch the form letters dribble in, all of which said sorry but they weren’t taking any new clients/reading any new work/interested in what I was doing. 

I didn’t care much for this process. Not only did I feel like I was constantly volunteering my chest for the plunging sword of rejection, but the combination of investigating editors, agents, publishers and then crafting the letters to them, made for days and days of tedium that felt, increasingly, like wasted effort.

To make matters worse, the few houses that did respond to my queries and which then read my novel all said pretty much the same thing  – the writing was good but that it was almost impossible to sell “quiet character novels” written by unknown authors.   

I read “quiet” to mean boring.

I started another novel and I swore no one would call it quiet. I put big characters in it who got blown up, shot at, trampled by buffalo, hanged, drowned, and who fell disastrously in love.

I also stopped sending query letters to presses. I decided that I would focus on finding an agent.  If I got an agent, I reasoned, not only would this agent provide me with a better chance of being published, but the agent would also be in charge of the query work (and hopefully be much, much, much better at it than I was) and I would be free to spend my time writing fiction. QuarterAcre-newvines png

I’m not so sure that was such a good plan, as I had no publications. No short stories or essays in print  doesn’t exactly inspire confidence among those who print things. Luckily, about the time I’d decided to curtail my query writing I won the inaugural Maurice Prize, an award for the “best unpublished novel by a UC Davis alum.” I was then able to contact agents with this feather in my cap. Two of those agents were willing to represent me. After speaking to both of them I chose the agent who was sharp and funny and sounded like Julie Andrews (I had visions of her as Mary Poppins pulling my novels out of her carpet bag in front of gawping New York editors).

My agent was all I dreamed of. She busily prepared to send out my Maurice winning novel about the time I finished my “unquiet” novel, Turpentine. When my agent read Turpentine she put the prize-winner aside and began sending out the new (and unquiet) work.

Within a couple of months my agent had two houses that wanted to buy Turpentine. They each offered the same amount of money. Then they each went up a smidge – the same smidge – to the penny. I talked to both editors on the phone. I liked both editors. This should have been delightful. 

I was miserable. There was no easy choice. There wasn’t even a charming accent to consider. I was afraid I would certainly make a big mistake when deciding between the two houses. 

The best advice I got was from the novelist John Lescroart, who said the worst thing that can happen to a book is for the editor to leave the publishing house and “orphan” your book. He recommended I choose the house where this is least likely to happen. I did just that, and Turpentine was published by Grove Atlantic Books where it was edited by Morgan Entrekin – who also owned the company. The other editor did indeed take a job at another house within the year, by the way.

Two years later I sold my second book. I’d heard that it is harder to get the second book published than the first, but my agent, once again, did most of the hard work. Not the worrying, however, which I am so good at it would be a crime to delegate. I was growing most of my food in my suburban yard that year and my husband had doubted I could do so. I was talking to my agent at some point about it and telling her that in spite of all my errors and ignorance about farming and my husband’s nay-saying I was quite sure I was going to be able to finish the year not only feeding myself, but the family as well.  My agent was intrigued with the story and then said she thought it could be a great book, and that I should write up a proposal.  It took a few months to sell the book, but The Quarter Acre Farm; how I kept the patio, lost the lawn, and fed my family for a year is out with Seal Press now.

I am surprised at how easy it sounds. I got published twice in only a dozen or so paragraphs! It didn’t seem so easy when I was going through it, however; not the first time nor the second. I suspect trying to get published the third time won’t be a cakewalk either. My best bet in dealing with the process is to sidestep the feelings of rejection and doubt while hoping for the happy phone call that a book has been sold by not waiting.  Instead, I start another book. When I am immersed in the new project, the book that is making the rounds ceases to feel so consuming and I can remember the part of being a writer that I really like – the writing.