Category Archives: Publishing Industry

Getting a manuscript ready for submission

In the not to distant future, my romance novel will be published. This is the first in a series of blog posts about my path to publication. I hope it is inspiring and helpful to other aspiring writers out there.

I’ve wanted to write a novel worthy of readers’ delight since I first went to university, saw creative writing on the course list, and realised that real people wrote books. Maybe, just maybe, I could be one of them.

I struggled on my own for years before I found my tribe at the Romance Writers of Australia. With the support and guidance of various members, I’ve made steady progress. I finalled in one competition, learnt from others, and eventually finished my first manuscript. It placed second in the Emerald Award for unpublished manuscripts. I was thrilled but still plagued by doubts. The praise received was consistent; readers liked the setting, my heroine and the dialogue. The criticism coming back was also consistent – my hero was hard to know. Although I spoke to a few publishers, I never submitted, choosing to rework it instead. I say ‘choosing to rework’ and that’s partly true. Part of me was also retreating. If I wasn’t good enough to win, was I really good enough to publish? Would I make a fool of myself submitting it to publishers? Fear of failure can be crippling. It can also be a strangely comforting bedfellow, one which makes sure you never move out of my comfort zone.

But … I really wanted to be a published novelist. I wanted it more than I feared failure and humiliation. So I set myself a goal. By the next year’s conference I would be ready to pitch my revised and improved romance to publishers. I added 30,000 words to the story and thought about the story a lot, what worked, what didn’t. I also thought about what I would do if no one wanted it. I could self-publish. However, I really wanted to take my first steps in publishing with someone more experienced holding my hand. I wanted the support and the learning curve an author gets when working with an experienced editor and publisher. I’ve worked in the industry for years, so I know how valuable that experience can be.

When the annual RWA conference came around again in 2017, I was ready and prepared to face the threat of rejection again. I’d changed my title from the sweet-sounding Alpine Kisses to the sassier The Millionaire Mountain Climber. I put in my pitch request for the speed dating sessions with editors and agents. As a backup, I also made myself a list of romance publishers who accepted submissions direct from authors. I composed the list from the names of publishers who have attended RWA over the years as well as those who publish the books I like to read. I went online to their submission pages and copied their requirements. If the pitches didn’t go well, I had a plan B.

The pitches went okay. One agent was, frankly, rude, but said I could submit anyway. I did so, but didn’t hold my breath. Just as well because neither I, nor anyone else who pitched, ever heard back from her. One publisher was delightful and enthusiastic, and I submitted with some confidence. Another publisher said I didn’t fit their criteria, so that was a no.

However, with only one genuine show of interest, I didn’t like my odds. A month after conference, I hauled out Plan B and submitted to another ten publishers and one agent. It took time. Each one had different submission criteria. Some requested only the first five pages. Some wanted the first three chapters. Some wanted the whole manuscript. Everybody wanted a synopsis and to know a little about me, but not a one of them matched another. Each submission was unique. Some of the publishers I targeted were Australian; others English and American. I changed spelling according to the submission. While I didn’t get it all right, I reckoned it was respectful to at least make the effort. Those submissions took me another month, to the end of October 2017. I meant to submit to more agents, but decided to first see what came of round one. I also decided that if I didn’t get interest from anyone by end February, I would self-publish. I felt my story had legs now.

Next time: The call … make that the email.

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Small steps beginning of big change

Sometimes, the iniquities of the world we live in overwhelm me. It’s easy to be dragged down into a space where it seems change for the better is impossible. Then an individual or organisation will do something to prove me wrong and remind me of the best qualities of humanity, like resilience, resourcefulness and hope. Last year the world seemed to going backwards, reverting to hate and bigotry, focusing on stirring up fears of  ‘otherness’ rather than looking for commonalities and humane, empathetic solutions.

This year bad things continue, but in this first quarter I have seen things to restore my hope. Teenagers marching in the US demanding better gun control. And the Romance Writers of America making a small but significant change to level the playing field of their important RITA awards for indie authors. This year, publishers and authors were required to enter a PDF not a paperback. Why is this important? Because corporations (like publishers) will always tread the conservative, proven path to success. Until proven otherwise by a massive bestseller produced at somebody else’s risk, they will confidently declare is no viable market for:Dreams Key Representing Hopes And Visions

  • wizard boarding school books in the 21st century
  • LBGTQI heroes and heroines
  • romances featuring POC
  • steampunk
  • authors from non-mainstream (read English-speaking, white, heterosexual) cultures)
  • etc. You get the idea.

The authors for these stories have found their voices in independent publishing (self publishing). Many critics still rail against the standards of indie publishing. It’s true the barriers to entry are lower. It is not true that the best of traditional publishing is better than the best of indie publishing.

The changes to the RITAs resulted in 22 indie authors making the finals – out of a total of 78 finalists, almost one third and the most ever. Other minority demographics are also better represented even if not to the same extent.

Jackie Horn has done an excellent job of analysing the data of the RITAs and what it means for diverse authors and characters. I recommend reading her post at Romance Novels for Feminists.

Small changes, big results. Go RWAmerica! Thank you for leading the way.

And go students of America! Thank God for the passion and idealism of youth.

Diversity in Romance: US report finds only 7.8% of romance titles by people of colour

Diversity in romance is a hot topic at the moment. It’s fuelled by questions around cultural identity and sales.

Who has the right to create characters from different backgrounds? On the one hand, no one is better positioned to write a character with, say, an African American background than an African American. On the other hand, taken to extremes, that argument would mean no Othello, no Ophelia and no romance heroes with their own POV, at least not when written by female writers. And does this mean that a writer from an Asian background can’t write Regency Romance, even if she wants to? And what does it mean about aliens and shape-shifters? The world would be a much duller place if writers only wrote what they knew.

There is also, of course, the issue of unrepresented minorities in history. We think of medieval Britain as an island predominantly populated by white people, but what of the descendants of the African Roman soldiers stationed along Hadrian’s Wall before the collapse of the Roman Empire?

Then there is the thorny issue of sales. Which comes first, the demand or the story? I’m inclined to favour the perspective that the way forward is to ensure diversity within publishing houses. If editors and publishers have diverse interests and backgrounds, they will find those great books which have universal appeal regardless of the cultural identity, nationality or race of the characters.

The publishing industry certainly isn’t there yet. Bookseller and Publisher covered an 2rippedbodicereport2016Entertainment Weekly story on The Ripped Bodice’s report on the racial diversity of romance publishing in the US during 2016. The Ripped Bodice is a romance specialist bookstore. They found that only 7.8% of romance titles published were written by people of colour. ‘People of colour’ is a broadly descriptive term that not all writers of non-Anglo Saxon heritage will identify with. However, given that US census figures indicate that up to 28% of the American population identifies as either black or Hispanic, the diversity book is clearly not balanced.

Half of the 20 publishers surveyed had fewer than five percent of their books authored by people of colour, and only three publishers had at least 10% of their books authored by people of colour.

The report co-authors and owners of The Ripped Bodice, Leah and Bea Koch, said they were motivated to conduct the study ‘because they often found themselves short of options when customers come in looking for traditionally published books by authors of color’.

‘We have found it difficult to continue the conversation about diversity in romance without hard data,’ said the Kochs. ‘For many years the common refrain from publishers has been “we’re working on it.” Every year we will track industry growth and see if that promise rings true.’

The report notes that all of the publishers mentioned were invited to contribute statistics to the study. More than half engaged directly, with the missing data gathered from publisher and distributor websites.

I think this is an excellent initiative by The Ripped Bodice. I’m also giving a shout-out to all those publishers who participated willingly and all the indie authors who publish diverse romance but weren’t covered by this study. The more we talk, the more answers and solutions we’ll create and the more great romances we will have to read.

Australia has a very diverse, multicultural society. It would be interesting to see a similar study done here. I suspect the numbers would not look much better although I do know many publishers who actively hunt for and publish magnificent stories by individuals from marginalised or misunderstood groups, whether because of their cultural background, sexual preferences or other factors.

If you’re looking for a reading list of diverse authors and characters, try one of these four books, or have a browse on GoodReads, where there are many recommended book lists complete with comments.

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