Something Strange Happened on the Way to the NYT Bestsellers List: Author Suzanne Warr

Sometimes an author’s plans go awry, and things don’t turned out the way we planned. This is a new feature, dedicated to how our plans twist and turn in our hands. Today my guest, Author Suzanne Warr, talks about how things didn’t go exactly how she thought they would…

The Bump in the Road

Rain-and-Flowers-blog-head-shot As writers, we love to tell stories and listen to them, too. Daydreaming of my agent story was one way I kept myself going when my chocolate ran out but my rejection letters didn’t. In the end, none of the stories I dreamed up could compare to the story as it actually unfolded—which story of how I signed my amazing dream agent you can read here.

But today I want to share a different tale. One that I was sure would lead to my magical signing moment…but in the end took a bit of a turn. It came about when I went to the fall 2011 SCBWI conference determined to find out if I’d only deluded myself, and my writing was really the stuff a skunk would sneer at, or if I just needed to try a new book and see if it could find it a niche. I’d been getting so many full requests which turned to regretful passes, that my heart felt it was being used as a roller coaster crash dummy, and I just wanted to know what was wrong.

As you can guess, that’s not an easy thing to divine, and I found no fortune tellers hiding amongst the conference guests. But, as we neared the end of the last panel I found myself sitting near a certain reputable agent, whom I’ll call Gwen. She’d delivered a keynote earlier in the conference, and I’d had the opportunity to wish with all my heart that she hadn’t already passed on my manuscript. So, sitting in that chair one row back and two seats over, I decided that I’d approach Gwen and spread my dilemma at her feet. Paying no attention to the panel, I watched my target and groaned inside when she slipped out before the end. But as I gathered my things when it was time to leave, joy of all joys, she came back!

I talked to her, and tried to be fun and friendly—but not scary-stalker friendly—while she was warm and kind. We chatted for a minute or two, then I took a deep breath, and asked her if she remembered my book and could suggest any pointers as to what I could change? Despite being intrigued by the premise, she had to shake hear head that she didn’t remember. However, hooray! She said she’d be willing to look at the first ten again, so long as it was clearly understood that she’d just be looking in order to give me her thoughts. I thanked her, managing to keep some sense of calm as I did, and scurried off to logon to my computer and send her the pages. Then I waited.

A short eon later I opened her reply email with butterflies, hoping against hope that the answer wasn’t the one about the skunk with the snotty nose, but the other one where I wrote a brilliant book and the industry took to it like peanut butter to jelly. What I found instead was a kind note thanking me for this chance to take a second look, then telling me how much Gwen was enjoying the pages I’d sent, and could I please send along the full manuscript?

Well, we all know how easy it is for story tellers to exaggerate, but you couldn’t find words too ecstatic for how I felt. I was convinced—all the way to my little gnome-writer core—that this would be my story. Gwen would love my book, I’d have an agent in no time, and a big sparkly contract weeks after that. And wow! What a story it would make. The kind to rock the blogosphere.

Except for the teensy issue where my agent-signing-story didn’t end there. Not even one exciting chapter. Instead, it turned out that Gwen’s first impression had been right all along, and even after taking a long second look she still had to pass. Rather than a big beautiful glowing tale with glitter and rainbow colored confetti, I ended up with one sweet little foot note that might make up an almost-was blog post. But, the thing is, I still learned what I needed to learn from that conference and found my way out of my dilemma. My writing wasn’t skunky, and my book had merit, but it was time to move on and throw my whole self into writing a brilliant new book. So, I did.

Well, alright. I ate some super dark chocolate and washed it all down with eggnog. But then I wrote my brilliant new book! And two years later I was back at that conference, this time to pick up an award for the manuscript I’d written, and accept the happy hugs from my friends on having signed my dream agent, Christa Heschke, that summer. So, what’s the moral of the story? Is there a moral? Or is that the stuff we put in pretty fiction, while in real life we muddle along as best we can? Yeah, that might be true, but it’s also true that our lives are epic in scale. The stuff of hero’s tales. Stories like that can’t be written in one flash of inspiration—they take perseverance, and plot twists, and crazy character arcs that dive down a dark hole in the hopes that they’ll come out above a sunny green meadow on the other side of the galaxy. We’re writing our story, but we’re living it, too. So hang in there, it’s going to be a bumpy ride, but if you’ll give your story a chance to grow you’ll find it comes with happiest of all happy endings.


The Proposed Steps to Publication

One of the things we’ve been talking about on this blog is where the path to publication sometimes goes wrong.


But what is that publication process? One of the first things you’ll be told is that it’s different for every writer. It is. But the LA Times compiled a rather amusing game here that compiled answers from a whopping 200 writers to chart the ‘average’ publication path. (I got Shakespeare, BTW.)

Anyhow, I’m going to put down here a couple I’m familiar with:

Spec-fic Author, trad-pub
1) Write Short Stories
2) Accumulate Rejections
3) Sell a story
4) Sell a few more stories
5) Get nominated for an award (winning that award is optional)
6) Write your 7th novel (on average, isn’t it supposed to be the 7th that sells?)
7) Query agents while writing 8th novel
8) Accumulate Rejections
9) Get an agent
10) Agent subs novel
11) Accumulate rejections
12) Agent sells novel
13) Do lots of edits
14) Novel comes out, YOU’RE FAMOUS!

Various steps can be skipped in this structure, but that’s the basic one I was taught. Also, the mileage varies on the ‘You’re Famous’ statement.

Romance Novel
1) Write novels
2) Enter novels in various contests
3) Accumulate contest wins for that novel
4) Query agents while writing next novel
8) Accumulate Rejections
9) Get an agent
10) Agent subs novel
11) Accumulate rejections
12) Agent sells novel
13) Do lots of edits
14) Novel comes out, YOU’RE FAMOUS!

Again, mileage may vary, but it’s interesting to see how the first steps are different between the two.

What do you think the actual steps are? (Please write them out in step format for uniformity’s sake.)


Locus Awards

J. Kathleen Cheney:

Just a last reminder…

Originally posted on J. Kathleen Cheney:

So now that the nomination for the Hugos and Nebulas are pretty much behind us, I thought this might be a good time to remind people that The Golden City is in the preliminary ballot over at Locus.

If you’ve got time to vote there, and are fondly inclined toward my first novel, I would love to get some love there…

Locus Awards Poll and Survey

(The Golden City is under consideration in the “Best First Novel” category!)

(Also, I’ve just learned that the Mass Market version will be released in the UK, July 28th! Yay, I’m intercontinental!)

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Something Strange Happened on the Way to the NYT Bestsellers List: Author Patrice Sarath

Sometimes an author’s plans go awry, and things don’t turned out the way we planned. This is a new feature, dedicated to how our plans twist and turn in our hands. Today my guest, Author Patrice Sarath, talks about how things didn’t go exactly how she thought they would…

It never goes as planned, (or, The Writer’s Blues)

I had it all planned out. My road to publication was a series of steps that would eventually lead to world domination and/or the NYT Bestsellers List.

See, it was supposed to happen like this — cut my teeth on short stories, make a name for myself in the science fiction/fantasy literary world, and then when I marketed my novel, I would find a genre agent and editor who would have heard of me through my short story background.

And for a while, it all went as planned. I had some great sales, including pro markets, and my story “A Prayer for Captain La Hire” that was originally published in Black Gate was republished in the 2003 Year’s Best Fantasy anthology.

I even had an agent call me on the basis of that story, because editor David Hartwell mentioned my name to her.

But she passed, along with dozens of other agents. I kept hearing the same thing: “You write well, but…” with the “but” being, “I can’t sell this.”

I gave myself a deadline; if after querying fifty agents this novel didn’t sell, I would put it aside and move on. I did not want to be that author who flogged the same book for years. I knew I needed to write more.

Then… the very last agent I queried picked me up. Non-genre — she knew nothing about my track record in the fantasy short story world. Then a few weeks later I got an offer from Ace. Sweet! That’s how Gordath Wood and Red Gold Bridge came to be published. You can read the rest of the story at my blog: Gordath Wood

But that’s not the end of this story. Because the unexpected part?

That was when my agent told me what my Ace editor said to her: “So who is this Patrice Sarath? I’ve never heard of her before.”

So much for making a name for myself.

Now, this is not to say that writing short stories wasn’t a necessary apprenticeship; it was, and I do appreciate all of the training I gave myself. However, it may be that it’s not necessary for novel publication. Indeed, as many writers can tell you, short story writing and novel writing are two very different skillsets, and there are many writers who do one well but are not as comfortable in writing the other.

Anyway, the best-laid plans, and all that. Publication is a strange and mysterious process; I don’t know who it goes smoothly for. It’s only looking back that we think it was easy. But when we’re in the thick of things, it’s hard to have that perspective.

Patrice Sarath is an author and editor living in Austin, Texas. Her novels include the fantasy series, Books of the Gordath (Gordath Wood, Red Gold Bridge, and The Crow God’s Girl) and the romance The Unexpected Miss Bennet. She has been published by Penguin in the US and Robert Hale Ltd. in the UK. You can read more of her work at

Buy the book that started it all: Gordath Wood


Something that’s always baffled me…

Physical description of Character 1

A man entered who could hardly have been less than six feet six inches in height, with the chest and limbs of a Hercules. His dress was rich with a richness which would, in England, be looked upon as akin to bad taste. Heavy bands of astrakhan were slashed across the sleeves and fronts of his double-breasted coat, while the deep blue cloak which was thrown over his shoulders was lined with flame-colored silk and secured at the neck with a brooch which consisted of a single flaming beryl. Boots which extended halfway up his calves, and which were trimmed at the tops with rich brown fur, completed the impression of barbaric opulence which was suggested by his whole appearance. He carried a broad-brimmed hat in his hand, while he wore across the upper part of his face, extending down past the cheekbones, a black vizard mask, which he had apparently adjusted that very moment, for his hand was still raised to it as he entered. From the lower part of the face he appeared to be a man of strong character, with a thick, hanging lip, and a long, straight chin suggestive of resolution pushed to the length of obstinacy.

“You had my note?” he asked with a deep harsh voice and a strongly marked German accent. “I told you that I would call.”

(later in text) The Count shrugged his broad shoulders.

Physical descriptions of Character 2 (All of it, more or less, accumulated from throughout the text.)

She has the face of the most beautiful of women…
She is the daintiest thing under a bonnet on this planet.
…she was a lovely woman, with a face that a man might die for.
…she stood at the top with her superb figure outlined against the lights of the hall…
…the beautiful creature…

Given these two descriptions by the author of two characters in the same story, you would think that the first is the main character and the second a throw-away. I mean, seriously….if a character’s important, you would think the author would make some effort to describe her.

But the author chose not to do so, whether because he wanted to be mysterious, or simply lacked the ability to describe females in anything other than the vaguest terms.

The first character is the King of Bohemia, and the second Irene Adler. Despite being the focus of the investigation, it appears that no one can give the police a description of her or her clothing….

I have always found this rather annoying.

On wrapping things up…

I’ve said several times that I’m working on the third (and final) book in a series.
Joint Cover2

It’s been an interesting learning experience for me. So here are some of my conclusions:

1) Getting every minor plot line cleared up is tough.

I now feel a lot more sympathy for J. K. Rowling’s 7th HP book, where she tried to include the fate of EVERY LAST CHARACTER mentioned in the previous 6 books. At the time, I recall finding it clunky and contrived. Seriously, we’re trying to include the bus driver?

Now I better understand that desire to include the bus driver. It’s hard to balance what’s an extraneous plot line, and what really needs to be included in your book.

2) At the same time, you’re getting ready to step away.

I feel strange about this, almost traitorous. Yes, I’m planning to do a couple of novellas in this setting (one’s already written), but I don’t have plans to do another novel here.

And yet, I also can’t wait to move on. As soon as I turn this book in, I’m turning around and working in a second-world setting. My brain is already trying to go there a lot, as things from that proposed world seem to be cropping up in my daydreams a lot more than what I’m suppose to be working on.

3) You’re working a couple of books ahead of what’s published.

That’s one of the things that’s become crystal clear to me in this process. I might be turning in Book 3 two months before Book 2 even comes out. As the author, that means to me that if someone asks me a question about Book 1, I have to think back to what I was writing 3 years ago. Seriously. There’s an incredible lag…which also means a disconnect for the author.

4) I’m so very happy to have gotten these out. Seriously.

Not every writer gets to write all the books they want in a setting. Sometimes your publisher just doesn’t think there’s a market for the later books in a series. I’ve got a very good feeling that I’m going to be able to finish this series….so that makes me happy.

Anyhow, I’m reaching the ‘done’ zone, which is nothing like the Senior Slump save in its awareness of eventual separation. Soon my Portuguese babies will be in the bag, and I’ll have moved on. Perhaps I’ll even get rid of some of my Portuguese research books, stop listening to Fado, and stop wearing all my lucky Portuguese jewelry….

Nah, probably not.


Something Strange Happened on the Way to the NYT Bestsellers List: Fantasy Author Beth Cato

Sometimes an author’s plans go awry, and things don’t turned out the way we planned. This is a new feature, dedicated to how our plans twist and turn in our hands. Today my guest, Fantasy author Beth Cato, talks about how things didn’t go exactly how she thought they would…


When Gremlins Attack

by Beth Cato

When I started work on The Clockwork Dagger, I figured that the biggest selling point would be my healer, Octavia. No one else makes that class the protagonist, and for me personally, it would be a huge selling point. Add that onto a steampunk fantasy world, and it seemed like something fresh and new. At least, I hoped so.



I added another unique element to my book, too: gremlins. Flying biological constructs that are compared to green-skinned naked cats with wings. Beings so ugly, they end up cute. Octavia ends up saving one and names him Leaf. Leaf doesn’t have a constant presence in the story, but he has a tendency to steal his scenes with his chirps, scampering antics, and an abiding fondness for cheese and silver.

When my early critique feedback came back, one of my most reliable readers was not sold on gremlins. The concern was that gremlins might seem too weird or gimmicky. Were they really needed? Could the book work without them?

I fully embraced the majority of the feedback from this person, but on this one point, I fought. The gremlins were needed. Leaf was necessary to the plot. If the book sold–knock on wood–gremlins were vital through the full story arc. Every draft stage I went through, though, I couldn’t forget that major dissenting voice about the gremlins. I did want to create something like a cute sidekick–a familiar for Octavia, as one reader noted–but was that really too gimmicky?

In any case, the gremlins stayed. I did not commit delete-key genocide. My agent sent the book out on submission.

It was surreal when we had multiple offers come in. I accepted a two-book deal with HarperCollins Voyager. The most resounding feedback? Not the romantic chemistry of my leads, not the grim world. “Everyone here loves Leaf!” My gremlins–my ugly little flying pests–had sold the book.

It amuses me to no end to see people continue to react to Leaf. My front cover blurb from author Kevin Hearne reads, “Just what I needed: A steampunk adventure with an uncommon heroine, a fascinating magic system, and a young gremlin! I’m hooked and can’t wait for more!”

The Edelweiss page with the marketing information for The Clockwork Dagger goes so far as to mention gremlins as the key selling point for the whole book, saying it, “features an extremely charming gremlin named Leaf.”

I never would have expected my gremlins to be so pivotal after they almost met an early draft demise. Now I only hope that my readers (and editor!) won’t come after me with pitchforks for what I put Leaf and friends through in book two…

Beth Cato’s debut steampunk novel THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER will be released by HarperCollins Voyager in September 2014. She’s originally from Hanford, California, but now resides in Arizona with her husband and son. Her short fiction, poetry, and tasty cookie recipes can be found at

Preorder links: