Before writing a romance novel and joining Romance Writers of America, I had only the vaguest of notions about writing contests. I had worked in publishing, so I had heard of the big contests, such as the RITA Awards because if an author won a RITA, it was a good thing to put on the book cover. It makes those in the know salivate.

Then I went to the RWA conference and discovered that the RITAs warrant their own fancy dinner ceremony, which they share with the Golden Heart Awards. The RITAs (named after RWA’s first-ever president) are awarded to published novels, and the Golden Hearts recognize excellence in manuscripts written by as-yet unpublished authors.

Those are the biggies, the Oscars of the romance world. I did not enter the Golden Heart contest. Why not? I wanted to wait to see what an agent says about my manuscript. After she weighs in and I make some improvements, I may think about it. Like chicken soup, it couldn’t hoyt.

In the meantime, just for kicks, I entered two other contests that are sponsored by local chapters of the RWA. Let me tell you, there’s a plethora (love that word) of contests out there, for published authors, unpublished authors, for beginnings, for love scenes, for query letters (the cover letter that accompanies a manuscript), even for cover art. I chose two contests for unpubbed writers, both for beginnings, where you have to submit the first 25 pages or 6,000 words, which comes out to be about the same amount of real estate.

Contest one is sponsored by the Yellow Rose Romance Writers of America, in Texas. It’s the Winter Rose Romance Contest. Contest two is the Cleveland Rocks Romance Contest, thrown by the Northeast Ohio Romance Writers of America. Both contests are for unpublished authors, or authors who haven’t had anything pubbed in the last five years.

When I first saw these contests on the RWA website, I thought, “Hey, I think my story has a pretty good opening scene. I’ll enter these.” I figured I’d enter the contests just for giggles, and I’ll get a “score sheet,” or a structured evaluation of my work. What the heck, right?

When I read all the rules for these contests—and there are many rules—I considered hiring an attorney just to prepare my entries. There are rules about methods of paying the entry fee, formatting your partial manuscript, what fonts you can use, and how to format your entry to email it (I learned how to make an rtf file; never even knew there was such a thing). I felt like I was filling out a job application for the CIA.

But I made it through and the contest people have cashed my checks. Now I can sit back, relax, and wait to hear from them. In April. (Yes, April.)

What do you win if you win, you ask? In the one contest, an agent will read your manuscript. In the other, you can use the contest winner logo on your website. Good thing I didn’t plan a career around winning romance writing contests.

As always, I’ll let you know what happens. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. And I’ll press my thumbs, which is what they do in the Czech Republic for good luck.

Thank you for your support!

  • If you read the last post, then you know I compared waiting for Gail (literary agent extraordinaire who has my manuscript) to contact me to meeting a great guy (when you’re single) and having him promise to call you, but you don’t know if or when he will.

    So guess what? He texted!

    Or at least that’s what It feels like. This morning I checked my email and to my vast delight, found an email from Gail. Yep. She said she’s been busy with the holidays, etc., but that she’s started reading “Thrown” and likes it so far! She added that she wrote so I wouldn’t worry, which was awfully nice of her.

    It’s like the cute guy texted and said he’s been thinking of me. Sigh. Swoon! I’m not picking out china patterns yet, but I sure am happy.

    By the way, Gail’s at, and represents several fine romance authors, including Jodi Thomas.

  • Will he call?

    15 Jan


    Today my manuscript has been with an agent for one month exactly. I feel like I’m still single and met this amazing guy one month ago. He was gorgeous, smart, funny, charming, sincere, sweet. We talked for hours, he took my number and promised he’d call (he put it in his cell phone and I made sure he got all the numbers right). He told me that although he WOULD call, he was leaving the next day for Europe to spend the holidays with his family, and that January and February are notoriously busy in his line of work. So he might not call SOON, but he WOULD call me. When he had time.

    What does this all translate to? I know Gail will get back to me, eventually. She had a FEW things to do over Christmas and New Year’s besides reading my manuscript. As if anything else could be more important than reading my manuscript. Like watching her children’s eyes as they open their Christmas gifts. Spending valuable time with family and friends. Listening to carolers. Eating sugarplums. Crap like that.

    And really, from what I’ve read online and on the Romance Writers of America chats, it’s not unusual for an agent to take even two months to get back to you. One friend suggested that she’s reading it a second time to give me terrific feedback and prepare for the bidding war among major publishers. I just hope she likes it.

    In keeping with my budding romance parable, I’m hoping to hear at least by Valentine’s Day. Wouldn’t that be appropriate? And I’m hoping he not only calls, but wants to take me to dinner. And marry me. In Vegas. Right away.

  • So. In order not to go mad as I wait for my agent friend to read my manuscript, I have been busy rereading my next story, “Love in the Time of Colic.” I made few corrections—things like getting rid of “markers” in dialogue, like “he said” when it was perfectly clear who was talking. But I didn’t do much, I just wanted to read it in its entirety.

    I still love the characters…but I think they need more drama.

    Hence me looking to create more conflict, or become a literary drama queen. Don’t get me wrong, there’s SOME drama, it’s not all butterflies and moonbeams by any stretch. But I think our heroine and hero—the free-spirited Peyton and the straight-laced, scientific Mason—even though they are intrinsically at odds, need more to keep them going at each other.

    I think of it as a sea they float upon. Their little ship is on too-tranquil seas and that simply won’t do. I need to start a tempest. Boil the ocean. (This is a business term I have only just met, usually said in the negative—“we’re not trying to boil the ocean”—but really, who wants to boil the ocean? Wouldn’t that be bad?)

    This challenge is going to take some time, I think. I have a few ideas—Elizabeth, my California reader and dear friend—suggested another horse plotline, which intrigues me. Or I can look at what’s already there and pump up the volume, or were Emeril helping me write, add some BAM!

    This is not a new issue for me, as I tend to go for more subtle stories and scoff at what I consider to be overly dramatic plots. I likely need to do more than I think is enough and I’ll hit the right note.

    And if all else fails, I’ll throw in some zombies.

  • As of approximately ten minutes ago, I’m tweeting.

    You can all blame Hal Katkov (see previous post, “I LEFT MY ICEBREAKER IN SAN FRANCISCO”), who reminded me tonight that although I have this blog and a Facebook author page (and if you have a moment, please “Like” me on it if you haven’t already), I am not on Twitter.

    So I bit the Twit bullit (I know it’s spelled wrong) and signed up. Ironically, I just got a new phone and insisted I be given the “dumbest” phone they had. Which means I can’t tweet from my phone. But I’ll tweet to keep the mojo going, and I’ll tweet when I have a notion you might be interested in, but not a notion that’s worth a whole blog post.

    I’m feeling so much like Paris Hilton now, I can’t even stand it.

    In the spirit of Twitter, I’ll keep this short. Plus, I have to get back to cleaning off my dog Galley’s, crate, which has been an improvised storage area lo these many months. It’s been fun to look at all the romance novels I had stacked there, ready to read. The books are mostly by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (—check out her new video letter, and be sure to wait until the end. She is funny), and my friend in nearby Cheyenne, Joanne Kennedy ( I’ve been meaning to clean this thing off for AGES. It drives me crazy, but obviously not enough to sacrifice my precious weekends when I could be napping or riding Brooke or…well, let’s face it, eating. Or writing.

    And just in case I don’t make it back on here before Saturday, Merry Christmas to those of you who do the Christmas thing. And as always, thank you for reading!

  • The title of today’s blog refers to the date and time of the e-mail that whisked the manuscript of “Thrown” to one Gail Fortune, founder of New York’s Talbot Fortune Agency ( That’s right, my first manuscript ever is now in the hands of a real live literary agent!

    Naturally I had to go to one of my favorite Colorado restaurants, the Empire Lounge in Louisville ( to celebrate. The picture above, taken by our most competent server, Sam (who is also a wildlife biologist), features, from left, Jean (, who is a spectacular designer and did this website; Helen, a friend and champion from the barn; me; Belinda, the first person to read “Thrown,” back when it was a bloated 130,000 words long; and Piotr, Helen’s swell husband. Not pictured are Gillian, who is another friend from the barn and a fellow writer, and Tom, my husband, who has been a bastion of support during my writing endeavor. I’m not sure why they’re not in the picture, Tom said he thought it was too crowded. If I had known they weren’t in the picture, I would have herded them in, but I had no clue. Plus, by then I’d had two splits of celebratory bubbly…

    How did it feel to finally send my story out into the world of professional publishing? Exhilarating and scary, like pushing a baby bird off a cliff and seeing it fly. I actually squealed. I’ve gotten a flood of support from friends via texts, phone calls and e-mails, and even a dozen red roses from Wendy. I am humbled, blessed and exceedingly grateful for all the good wishes bolstering my little story. I am one lucky writer!

    It’ll be weird to leave “Thrown” alone after working on it almost every day since the beginning of August. I’m not sure when I’ll hear from Gail, but since it’s the holidays I assume it won’t be until February. Now I can start in on revising “Love in the Time of Colic,” since it’s always good to have a second manuscript ready to go. You know, when you’re a big fancy romance novel author who has SUBMITTED A MANUSCRIPT TO A LITERARY AGENT. As I have. Today. Yeah.

    So. Again, thank you all for your support, and keep your fingers crossed that Gail will love “Thrown” and soon I can write a blog entry as a PUBLISHED AUTHOR!!

  • Below is a New York Times article about how romance ebooks are all the rage, which, I hope, means nothing but good things for the likes of me.

    I’ll admit I’ve been worried about the advent of ebooks and have cursed the writing gods for inspiring me to write a book when traditional publishing is in such trouble. Why, I ask those gods, didn’t I have the urge to write “Thrown” in 2000, or even 2008? Why now, when ebooks are seemingly taking over the world, Kindles are hotter than Indonesian volcanoes and new authors are being paid less than ever for their stories, especially those that are only published electronically?

    But you know what? I hope against hope that someone will pay me for writing “Thrown,” and even if Amanda, Grady and their cohorts face the world from a screen and never  on a printed page, it still means someone thought my story was good enough to pay money for. And that’s something to shake a stick at. If nobody pays me for my book, did I waste my time? No. There’s still a chance I could self-publish, although my ten years at Warner Books make me want to go through traditional publishing channels, narrow and dark though they may appear. The other challenge to self-publishing, as far as I can tell, is you have to do more self-promotion because you’re all you’ve got. Not that a publishing house is going to spend a lot to promote a brand new, unproven author. But still, you have a publisher giving your talent some credence. And if neither of those avenues work, if “Thrown” stays put on my MacBook forever, the fact is I have a completed manuscript to my credit and it was an out-and-out blast to write. That alone makes it worthwhile.

    (Writing update: Tom finished proofing the latest version of “Thrown” yesterday, and I’m thrilled to report that he cried at one of the new parts (!!!). SO happy about that. Still on track to send my manuscript to Gail-the-agent on Wednesday. The celebratory bubbly will flow that evening.)

    Without further ado, here’s the article, with input from the woman who has the delightfully titled blog, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books at

    Lusty Tales and Hot Sales: Romance E-Books Thrive


    Sarah Wendell, blogger and co-author of “Beyond Heaving Bosoms,” is passionate about romance novels.

    Except for the covers, with their images of sinewy limbs, flowing, Fabio-esque locks or, as she put it, “the mullets and the man chests.”

    “They are not always something that you are comfortable holding in your hand in public,” Ms. Wendell said.

    So she began reading e-books, escaping the glances and the imagined snickers from strangers on the subway, and joining the many readers who have traded the racy covers of romance novels for the discretion of digital books.

    If the e-reader is the digital equivalent of the brown-paper wrapper, the romance reader is a little like the Asian carp: insatiable and unstoppable. Together, it turns out, they are a perfect couple. Romance is now the fastest-growing segment of the e-reading market, ahead of general fiction, mystery and science fiction, according to data from Bowker, a research organization for the publishing industry.

    Publishers and retailers, spying an opportunity, have begun pursuing in earnest those enthusiastic romance readers who have abandoned print for digital.

    “Romance,” said Matthew Shear, the executive vice president and publisher of St. Martin’s Press, which releases 40 to 50 romance novels each year, is “becoming as popular in e-books as it is in the print editions.”

    When “Maybe This Time,” a lighthearted ghost romance by the best-selling author Jennifer Crusie, went on sale in August, it sold as many e-books as hardcover books in its first week, Mr. Shear said, a phenomenon that he began noticing this summer with other romance titles.

    At All Romance, an online retailer that sells only e-books, sales have more than doubled this year, and the most sought-after titles are usually the raciest.

    “It’s easier to check out some naughty little title online than in a brick-and-mortar store where your pastor could step up in line behind you,” said Barb Perfetti, the chief financial officer of All Romance. “We’ve had lots of customers write to us and say, ‘Now I don’t always have to show my husband what I’m reading.’ ”

    Barnes & Noble, the nation’s largest bookstore chain, is courting romance readers more aggressively than ever. William Lynch, the chief executive, said in an interview that until recently Barnes & Noble was a nonplayer in the huge romance category, but that it now has captured more than 25 percent of the market in romance e-books. Sometime next year, he said, he expects the company’s e-book sales in romance to surpass its print sales.

    “This is a new business for us,” Mr. Lynch said. “Romance buyers are buying, on average, three books a month. That buyer is really, really valuable.”

    Dominique Raccah, the publisher and chief executive of Sourcebooks, an independent publisher in Naperville, Ill., said her romance e-book sales had grown exponentially this year, outpacing any other category. In the first quarter 8 percent of total romance sales at Sourcebooks were from e-book sales. By the third quarter that number had gone up to 27 percent. (Major trade publishers say e-books now make up about 9 to 10 percent of overall sales.) “You’re seeing the real development of a market,” Ms. Raccah said.

    Romance is a natural leader here. The genre took off in the 1980s, when it expanded from the typical dreamy or bodice-ripping historical novels to include contemporary, plot-driven stories with characters drawn from real life. (Happy endings, though, are still required.) In 2009, when more than 9,000 titles were published, romance fiction generated $1.36 billion in sales, giving it the largest share of the overall trade-book market, according to the Romance Writers of America, which compiles statistics on romance books.

    Nearly 75 million people read at least one romance novel in 2008, the group said. (Ms. Wendell and her co-author, Candy Tan, wrote in “Beyond Heaving Bosoms” that romance novels are “easily the most-hidden literary habit in America.”)

    Romance readers tend to be women ages 31 to 49 who are — contrary to the popular image of Miss Lonelyhearts living vicariously through fictional tales of seduction — in a romantic relationship, according to the writers group. They frequently fly through a book or more a week, and from the beginning they have jumped at the chance to store hundreds of titles on a single device — where the next happy ending is a download away.

    Print sales of romance novels are still strong at retailers like Wal-Mart and Target. But Mr. Lynch of Barnes & Noble predicted that chain drugstores like CVS and Duane Reade would eventually decrease the shelf space devoted to print books.

    It is difficult to predict what expanding e-book sales will do to print sales in the long term. Kelly Gallagher, the vice president for publishing services for Bowker, said that e-book sales were “definitely cannibalizing print,” a prospect that worries publishers. But some, like Random House, are rushing to convert their backlist books into digital form to the delight of romance readers, who tend to be fiercely loyal to authors. Harlequin Enterprises has digitized nearly 10,000 titles, dating back to 2002.

    “Once a romance reader acquires an author they love, they will often go in and buy all the backlist,” said Allison Kelley, executive director of the Romance Writers of America. “When books were out of stock or out of print, they were hard to find. But e-books have changed all that.”

    Kathryn Popoff, vice president for trade book merchandising for Borders, said backlist titles were especially popular with romance readers because the print books had such a short shelf life in stores — usually only a month.

    “If you missed it, you have an opportunity to go back to the Borders site and download that book,” she said.

    To pursue these readers Barnes & Noble has started a “romance store” for its Nook Color, a new dedicated e-reader that the company is marketing heavily to women. Some publishers have tried to hook readers by selling the first book in a series for as little as $2.99 — a discount from the more typical $5 or $8 for the most popular romance e-books on, for example. (The price for a mass-market paperback is often about the same as its digital version.)

    Small-press publishers that specialize in romance e-books have popped up in recent years, along with Web sites that exclusively sell digital books, like All Romance. Last summer Harlequin created Carina Press, an imprint that specializes in digital romance books.

    “We want to make it super convenient for readers to access that material however they choose to do it,” said Donna Hayes, the chief executive of Harlequin.

    Even if, lately, many of the e-book versions of romances arrive without a cover. Jane Litte, the pseudonym of an Iowa lawyer who writes the popular romance blog Dear Author (, said she had noticed that about half of the romance novels she downloaded had their covers missing.

    “It’s an irritant,” she said, blaming publishers for not securing the digital rights for cover art. “I don’t love the covers, but I’d rather have them than not have them.”


  • As I take a break from revising “Thrown” to blog, I am on page 312 of 369. The manuscript will get a bit longer, pagewise, as I haven’t made all the chapter breaks yet. I am in the homestretch, and I feel a little like Secretariat in the Belmont, because it’s been a long run, but exhilarating and fast, and I can smell the finish line. I don’t know if Secretariat smelled the finish line, but if any horse could, he could. I mean, come on, look at those nostrils.

    What am I doing now? I’m cutting, mostly. I have to chop off a a little more than 1,000 more words to get to 100,000 words, which I’m sensing still might be weighty, but better than being over 100,000 words. It’s kind of fun, seeing where I can delete a word or two and make the sentence stronger, or make the scene read more smoothly. It also takes some discipline to kill off what Susan Elizabeth Phillips calls “precious darlings,” the phrases I love that are superfluous and must be sacrificed. I’m still not sure I’m ruthless enough! I made a file named “Orphanage” and that’s where they go to rest. I tell myself that I’ll use them in a future book, but really, I think I’m kidding myself and them. But we live in denial, my precious darlings and I, and happily so.

    Can I gush a little? I still love my characters. I wish I could be friends with Amanda, and if Grady were a real person, I’m sorry, but I’d leave Tom for him. Ah, the beauty of fiction!

    I visited the Romance Writers of America website ( today and poked around. When you send your manuscript to one of RWA’s approved agents, you can take advantage of their PRO program, which is geared to help you go from being a submitter of manuscripts to a published author. It was encouraging and fun to scan the list of agents and see what they’re looking for. Of course, I’m hoping that Gail, the first agent to get a gander at “Thrown,” will fall in love with my story and insist on representing me, so I’ll skip right over PRO and go right into PAN—Published Author Network.

    My finish line is December 15th, when, come hell or high water, I send my baby manuscript out into the world. I may buy myself some real champagne that night… Or, if I stick with the Secretariat metaphor, perhaps a nice bran mash. Served in a champagne flute.

    Thanks for reading!

  • It was a Friday night several weeks ago. I was writing on my MacBook, and had saved everything (THANKFULLY), when the screen went black and I restarted the machine. It blooped on, but instead of the little apple icon, there was a file with a question mark icon. Not good. But hey, not that scary bomb icon, either.

    I was unhappy, as I had planned to write all weekend long. Now my plans were dashed, and visions of having to sell my husband Tom to purchase a new Mac danced in my head. (He would understand, and I would buy him back as soon as I could.)

    Saturday morning found me at the Genius Bar in the Apple Store, where they couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful, which always surprises me, since basically, come on, geeks usually aren’t so good with the talking to people part. Because my computer is ancient and out of warranty, I ended up buying a hard drive at Best Buy (only because the genius wrote everything down for me), a set of tiny screwdrivers at Lowe’s (again, with a little note from the genius), and as though I had worked in a clean room in Silicon Valley all my life, I INSTALLED A NEW HARD DRIVE ALL BY MYSELF, RIGHT THERE IN MY KITCHEN.

    And nothing blew up. Or broke. Or electrocuted me.

    Was I impressed with myself? You betcha. So was Tom (who I didn’t have to sell). Luckily, I have a Time Machine, which automatically backs up everything, so I didn’t lose a single word of “Thrown.”

    So that’s why I haven’t blogged for so long—I used to have this site bookmarked, along with the password, but I lost those and I’m ashamed to say it has taken me this long to return. (I won’t tell you how ridiculously easy it was to set a new password. It’s too embarrassing.)

    As for the rewrite of “Thrown,” I am still one enthusiastic bear. I have gotten through the entire manuscript’s worth of my friend James’ comments (he wrote a lot on the hard copy), which included tweaking the ending again. Elizabeth, one of the original four critiquers, reread the vastly revised beginning third and thought it was much better (phew). Now I’m 5,000 words over the upper limit of 100,000 words, so I have to go back in there and slash and tighten a bit more. THEN I’ll read it over one more time (as will Tom and Elizabeth), make a few petite edits because boy oh boy I had better be done with the big ones by now, and WHOOSH! off it will go to the kindly agent who said she’d look at it.

    The goal is before Christmas. I said it here so now I have to do it.

    Thanks for reading!!

    P.S. One complaint about the Genius Bar—it’s a “bar,” shouldn’t they serve drinks while you wait to hear what’s wrong with your Mac gizmo? I think sales would go way up. But that’s just me.

  • I am still revising, and feel like I should be making faster progress. It didn’t help that when I was in our local grocery store, King Soopers, I saw Christmas cards. CHRISTMAS CARDS! Way to make me feel like I have even less time than I do, King Soopers. Thanks a chunk. I’m not letting them carry my book, no matter how much they beg. Okay they can carry my book. They can SO carry my book.

    At any rate, I’ve copied a web article I saw on the Writers Digest site that really spoke to me. Even if you’re not a writer, you may find it interesting to hear something about the process from an New York Times bestselling insider. It gave me hope! I hope you enjoy it, and thanks again for your support!

    And now: The Four Golden Rules of Being a Writer
    By Anne Fortier, author of the
    New York Times bestseller Juliet,

    Here are four lessons about writing and finding an agent that I have learned the hard way. I hope you will read them and save yourself a lot of time and trouble. It is hard to calculate writing time, but I would estimate that, over the past ten years, I have wasted up to eighteen months by not figuring all this out earlier.

    1. Start at square one. The world is full of people who know people who know an agent … but you can save yourself a lot of time and disappointment by ignoring them. Because the truth is, no one really knows anyone, and even if they did, it is probably not going to help your chances one bit. So, instead of chasing after those elusive people and waiting in vain for introductory e-mails and phone-calls, simply tell yourself that there are no shortcuts in this race; if you run around looking for them, chances are you will still end up back at square one, wondering why you just wasted six months on hearsay.

    2. Do your homework. Yes, I’m afraid so. Just as there are no shortcuts when it comes to finding an agent, there are no shortcuts when it comes to your manuscript and query letter. I hardly need mention that your manuscript needs to be 1) finished, 2) brilliant, 3) formatted correctly, and 4) edited to near-perfection, but allow me to emphasize that the same goes for the query letter. You can save yourself a lot of time and unnecessary rejections by following the established rules about query letters. So, go ahead and buy that annoying book about how to compose and format query letters … and follow its recommendations. Don’t rush. Don’t try to squeeze through loopholes in your smarty pants. Invest the time and do a proper job; this is the most important page of your entire manuscript.

    3. Pitch your book before you write it. What I mean by this is that you can save yourself a lot of time and headaches by thinking ahead to your query letter as early as possible in the writing process. Once you’ve done your homework and know what a query letter needs to accomplish, you are very likely to look at your finished manuscript and groan. Because how do you pitch that rambling, pointless, dead-boring excuse for a book? Hey, it looked so good while you were writing it, but now that you have to pitch it to someone else, you realize just how un-pitchable it really is. There are no murders, no explosions, no secret society … Well, too late. So, make a point of thinking through the story early on, with the pitch in mind.

    4. Don’t jump the gun. Or, perhaps more to the point: Don’t foul your nest. The book world looks pretty darn big from your office chair, but it actually isn’t. So, once you have compiled that beautiful list of desirable and reliable agents (once again: by doing your homework), make sure you don’t waste it. Don’t send query letters to more than one agent at a time. Don’t say you’ve finished a book if you haven`t. And above all: Don’t test the water by sending your second-best. Be patient. Finish the book. Write the most attractive query letter ever. And then sleep on it. And sleep on it again. Remember: an agent is not some opponent you need to blitz; an agent is someone who would like nothing more than to be your ally. All she/he needs is a good reason.