Friday, December 11, 2009

Authors Advising Authors #7 - Anne Calhoun

After doing time at Fortune 500 companies on both coasts, I found myself living in the suburbs of a small Midwestern city. The glamour of various cube farm jobs had worn off, so I gave up making a decent living to take Joseph Campbell’s advice and follow my bliss: writing romance.


How many books did you write, and how long were you writing, before your first acceptance?
I wrote 3 books over about 18 months before hitting my stride and writing Liberating Lacey. That sold 2 years after I started writing.

What is the most important piece of advice you would give an aspiring (not yet published) author?
Write. You don't have to write every day, but I highly recommend writing 4-5 days a week. Not long ago someone asked me if I wrote when inspiration struck.
"Do you only go to work when you feel motivated to work?" I asked.
"Of course not!" he said.
"Me either!" I said.

Now, he worked for my husband (who was present) so this may have been obligatory, but it made my point. Frankly, most days I feel I have a better chance of being struck by lightning than by inspiration.

If you want to write and be published, you have to work at it. Craft, promotion, voice, story structure, finding a process that works for you...all of these things take time, and trial and error. If you're not writing a majority of days in the week, whether you feel like it or not, then publication will be difficult to achieve.

And while a career as a writer will involve all kinds of fun-with-sharp-objects stuff like contracts and promotion and figuring out your process (plotter or pantser? storyboard or writing software?), by "work 5 days a week" I mean "put words on the page 5 days a week". The rest of it is all extracurricular, that is, important but not the stellar grades that get you into college. I set a daily page goal of 5 pages, and work in the rest of the job after that's done.

Is there a “warning” you would give an aspiring or new author about the writing profession or the publishing industry, something to watch out for?
Watch out for fitting your story ideas or voice to whatever is popular at the moment.
Write what comes to you naturally, what fascinates you, what you love. Knowing your inclinations plays to your strengths and, in the early stages of your career, keeps you focused on writing, not on learning all about a world/market/craze you didn't care enough to read, so why would you write?

Also, watch what you put into the compost heap that is your story-generating brain.

Yes, you need to be familiar with your sub-genre and the current trends, but it's vital to read outside the genre as well. Find authors who blow you away, writers who, when you finish the book, make you think, "I want to read that again and FIGURE OUT HOW SHE DID IT." You'll learn from writers who make you think, "I can do that." You'll be energized and inspired by writers who make you think, "I can't do that...yet."

What was the most surprising thing you learned after you became published?
How much I had yet to learn. I feel like I'm just beginning to really hone my craft. Some days that's terribly depressing. I try not to dwell on it. I also self-medicate with chocolate.

What is your best advice or enlightening story about dealing with revisions and working with editors?
It's impossible to overestimate how busy editors are. Be kind to them. By and large they are overworked, underpaid, and in this for the love of the written word, much as you are. Also, an editor is supposed to read your work with a critical eye. That's her JOB. Submit your book knowing you've done the best you can in writing it (very important!) but that other people (editors and your critique partners) have a crucial distance that allows them to suggest ways to improve it. I have yet to undertake a round of revisions that didn't teach me something about craft or my own process. That's not to say I haven't stood firm on a suggestion or revised then gone back to the original version--I have--but for the most part, revising is where I learn the most.

My best advice for dealing with revisions and working with editors: get a very, very thick skin if you're serious about writing as a career, and above all, be professional. Aim to be remembered for your exceptionally polished behavior. One editor rejected my work in such scathing terms I was left sobbing like a bleating sheep (imagine the gasping hunnnnnnh, hunnnnnnnh noise small children make when they're in complete meltdown mode). The next day I sent her a thank you card for taking the time to call me...because she DID take the time to call (and in hindsight, some of her comments were dead on). This goes for email, blogs, posts to groups/loops, chat boards, forums, Twitter, elevator conversations at conferences, etc. If you wouldn't say what you're going to say in front of your dream editor/agent/publisher, don't put it in writing, electronic or otherwise.

When in doubt, hit delete, not send.

What is your favorite promo tip?
Write the best book you can. Spend more time writing than you do promoting. If you write a book that makes it to keeper shelves, you have a built-in sales force of readers.

Did you have an agent when you sold your first story? Do you have one now? At what types of houses are you published: e-publisher, small print press, traditional (NY) publisher, Harlequin/Silhouette category lines?
No agent, pre-pubbed or now. I'm published in electronic format only, with Ellora's Cave and Harlequin.

Anne Calhoun gave up business suits and cube farms to write but instead went to graduate school...then stayed home with a baby...then finally got around to doing what she loves most: writing hot romantic stories with unforgettable characters. Her husband thought hot meals would come with this career choice and has been sorely disappointed. Liberating Lacey is her first release with Ellora's Cave.

1 comment:

Yaz said...

Thanks Anne! Can't wait to read Liberating Lacey!