ROBERTA: Lila Dare is visiting today on the occasion of her book launch, TRESSED TO KILL. Most amazingly, after five years of slogging through the process of writing and trying to sell a novel, she sold 10 in one year (writing as Lila Dare and Laura DiSilverio)! I am tired just thinking about her writing schedule. Welcome and congratulations! And by the way, your author photo is hysterical! Will you tell us how you stuck this out while you awaited your big break?
LAURA/LILA: Thanks for inviting me to Jungle Red today. It’s the first blog I read every day. As to my “overnight success” in selling ten books in twelve months . . . As with many such stories, it took much longer than one year to make this happen. I started writing full time in August 2004 and gave myself two years to land a book contract. Hah! (That’s the sound of the universe laughing at my naivete and hubris.) Then I came up against reality. My mystery, when I finished it, was 120,000 words long and I was convinced every one of them was a sparkling gem, the removal of which would lessen the whole. You writers, published or un-, can see where this is going. I couldn’t get an agent. I’m pretty sure agents I didn’t even query sent me rejection letters, just to get in on the trend. So, I took the advice of an editor I met at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference and started trimming, then cutting, then full-scale slashing and burning. The new version was a much better paced, tighter 80,000 words. And it got me an agent. My unpublished days were over, I rejoiced. Publication was just around the corner. (Cue evil laughter.) My agent tried hard to sell the book but we never found a home for it.
In the meantime, however, I’d been working on other projects, attending writing seminars/conferences, taking an on-line writing class, and working with a critique group. When my agent came to me and said Berkley Prime Crime was looking for someone to write a series about a Georgia beauty shop, I was ready for the challenge. (Note: This is one reason you want an agent—s/he will hear about things you’d never get wind of.) They signed me to a three-book deal on the basis of a couple of chapters and a synopsis. The first of my Southern Beauty Shop series, Tressed to Kill, debuted on 4 May. While I worked on those books, my agent sold one of my other manuscripts to Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Minotaur, and then we pitched another idea to Berkley and they bought three books in the new series. Less than a month after that, we got an offer for a series idea I’d pitched a whole year earlier, so I had another three book contract. I’m writing like a maniac through 2012. As you can see, there was nothing “overnight” about my “success.” Actually, I hesitate to use the “S” word until sales to readers warrant it . . . and that may be a long way down the road.
LAURA/LILA: It has been suggested by my nearest and dearest that I am a bit obsessive. I prefer to think of it as organized and focused. At any rate, I do treat my writing like a career. I write five days a week and try to take weekends off. I set goals for number of words written per day (2,000—a number I got from Steven King’s book On Writing), and rely on schedules and to-do lists to get promotion and marketing tasks done (everything from writing bios and short synopses, buying bookmarks, writing blog posts, updating social media, etc.).
My “individual development plan” includes the things I plan to do to become a better writer, everything from conferences to classes. This year, for instance, I attended a seminar taught by Donald Maass. And I’m teaching a two-hour seminar on revision at the Colorado Gold conference in September, which will require me to develop some exercises and analyze the revision process more closely. I’m considering attending the Sisters in Crime-sponsored class the day before Bouchercon. I am constantly working on my craft.
I give myself performance reviews, too, and rate such things as meeting my words/day goal, meeting deadlines, and improving the weak areas in my writing. I might reward myself from time to time with a day off to go hiking or shopping with friends. My overall goal is not “Sell more books.” My goal is “Tell better stories more effectively” (which I hope translates to more sales).
I am passionate about writing and feel blessed to be able to do it every day. I know that the long slog toward my first book contract made me a better writer and made me appreciate that first sale even more when it happened. I wish a similar satisfying journey to each of you in pursuing whatever your passion is.
ROBERTA: Lila/Laura is giving away two signed copies of her new book to two folks who leave comments today. You will love this book--it's a perfect, funny cozy with wonderful characters and a terrific voice. Read more about it at Lila's website.