Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tressed to Kill

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 My unpublished days were over, I rejoiced.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.

ROBERTA: You mentioned to me that you treat your writing career like a job (complete with “performance reviews” and “individual development plans” for growth. Please share some of that with us!

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.


  1. Welcome, "both" of you! Laura/Lila had a fabulous tour together in Annapolis and Oakmont..and enjoyed the hospitality of the amazing Marcia Talley along the way.

    ANyway, I will not spill any of the secrets.

    Except that while I was sleeping like a lunk, at the crack of dawn on a Monday, Laura was out JOGGING.
    And it started to POUR while she was out, but she just kept going.

    I do think this is an apt metaphor for her career.

    (Not, I hope, for mine.)

    Thinking about it--exercise, which I used to do diligently, was one of the first things to suffer when I started writing. How do you make time for it?

  2. Wonderful interview! I, too, love the pic. Laura,your words were encouraging for all who love writing and devote hours to improving our craft.

    Betty Gordon

  3. Wonderful interview--and you give me hope. Not only on the rejection front, but in your ability to reduce the size of a 20,000 word ms. I've managed to hack out 8,000 with 17,000 more to go. I won't give up, I won't give up, I won't give up. (Oh look, I could have gotten rid of six in this post....)

    Looking forward to reading you books!

  4. There's got to be plenty of juicy material with a salon at the center of a story!

    As a writer I appreciate hearing about another writer who made it after keeping several irons in the fire - in both her creative work and on the marketing/social media side. While you were waiting for an agent or a deal, you were not really "waiting." You were still writing, still pitching ideas, still building up a name for yourself and a following. Thank you, Lila, for keeping hope alive!

    And thanks for a great interview, Roberta :-)

  5. Great interview, Laura! Great interview questions, Roberta! I'm curious to know if you are generous in your personal evaluations on your progress or are you tough on yourself??? Thanks for sharing your process!

  6. I had the opportunity to hear Laura/Lisa at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Great interview here. Salons seem to offer great writing fodder.

  7. Hi Jungle Red Writers! I want to start by saying thanks to you all for having me here today. This is the very first blog I ever read! Anyway, Hank, I wasn't jogging, I was walking (much better on my aging knees). If I don't exercise, I'm not a very pleasant person to be around (just ask my hubby and kids), so I make a point of doing something almost every day. You work full time AND write--now that's impressive!

  8. Betty--I'm always happy to hear that my five years of frustration and unpaid writing labor encourages someone else!

    Susan--You have the right attitude: Never, never, never quit. I even got to the point of making myself cut five words from every page. It adds up! (Altough cutting un-needed scenes is better and adds up quicker.)

  9. Hi Sue--I've got three Southern Beauty Shop mysteries written and ideas for several more, so you're right about lots of fodder in the salon world. My mother maintains that perseverance has been my defining trait since I was a toddler. She said it with a long-suffering sigh, though, so I'm not sure she meant it as a compliment. :-)

  10. Paige--I'm pretty tough on myself. Too tough, actually, I've come to realize. I don't take enough time to celebrate the milestones along the way and that's important. I'm trying to get better at that, to share a nice bottle of wine with my hubby when a contract comes through, or take a friend to lunch when I finish a first draft. There is such a thing as TOO driven/disciplined!

  11. Terry--Thanks for dropping by JRW today. I hope you found the PPW conference worthwhile--I learned an awful lot there in my pre-published days (and learn more every time I go).

  12. I read Tressed to Kill and truly enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to more books in this series, and I'll be looking for your other books, too.

    Obviously, I don't need to win another copy, but thanks for a great read.

  13. Hi Janet--Thanks for reading and liking TRESSED TO KILL and taking the time to comment about it today. You can still win a copy and gift it to someone!

  14. Lila, I'm looking forward to reading this series. My mother is one of those Southern women who gets her hair done every Thursday morning at the Beauty Shop. My cousin Linda is the shop owner. Her mother, my Aunt Mildred, does the hair washing. Her daughter, Tara, sweeps the floor.

    My mother calls it her therapy appointment. Material? Enough to fill ten lifetimes!

  15. Wow -- what a life you lead -- but it does look like things are coming together ... congrats!

  16. Ramona--Wow, it sounds like your family stepped straight out of TRESSED TO KILL. What state are they in? I like the idea of getting hair done as a "therapy appointment." May I use that?

    Lynn--I've found that whenever things come together in one area, they fall apart in another. Sometimes, it's hard to keep a balance! Thanks for commenting.

  17. Lila, my folks live in a little town called Larose, Louisiana. Yes, you may use "therapy appointment." It's a joke, but I don't think she's kidding.

    My cousin, the beautician, also goes once a week to a nearby old folks home. She starts in the first room and goes down the rows of rooms, doing hair for anybody who wants it. By the end of the day, Linda knows EVERYTHING.

  18. OMG Lila, with all the dope from Ramona's family, you can keep this series going a long, long time...


  19. Hey Welcome, Lila, Laura or any other identity you might have hidden away.

    What a great story -- and what an inspiration. I wish I had your stamina. (and or obsessive/compulsive disorder).

    Congratulions and best of luck!!!

  20. Thanks for the welcome, Jan. I am not work-obsessed--really! I knock off for the day when my kids get out of school, I go for walks/hikes with my dog, I enjoy a glass of wine with my hubby before dinner, and I even watch "Dancing with the Stars." :-)

  21. My goodness Laura, I thought I was crazy writing two books a year.
    But three or four series at once?? Wishing you good luck and a strong constitution!

  22. Rhys--It felt a lot more doable before I got caught up in the marketing/promotion end of writing. Luckily, several of the books are already written, so it's not as bad as it sounds.

  23. Winning names for copies of Tressed to Kill are Ramona Long and Sue Repko--congratulations and hope you enjoy the book!